‘To the man who loves art for its own sake,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, ‘it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived.’
‘My dear friend, how can you say such a thing?’ I exclaimed with some surprise, for I had expected a more indignant response than this, ‘such ineffectual bosh as this so-called Holmes and Watson is surely proof that triviality affords little, if no pleasure at all.’
‘It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson,’ Holmes continued, too bound up in his own discourse to take any note of mine, ‘that you have so far grasped this truth, that in these little records of our cases which you have been good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, that you have given prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres and sensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province.’
‘And yet,’ said I, frowning, ‘I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against my records’.
‘You have erred, perhaps,’ he observed, taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood— ‘in attempting to put colour and life into each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing.’
His meaning struck me like a bolt of lightning.
‘You imagine that I have played some role in this infamy!’
‘In degrading what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales,’ said he, ‘this piece of work seems to do you full justice!’
‘Do me full justice?’ I raged, ‘in which of my poor scribblings have I reduced you to assassinating mosquitoes with cricket bats, or despairing of my inability to conduct myself like a civilised individual when it is always I who must despair of yours?’
‘For heaven’s sake, Watson, you are becoming quite riled up!’
‘When have I ever so much as suggested that I approve of violence on the croquet lawn, or presented myself as appearing in full dress uniform, no matter what the occasion!’
‘Indeed, one must admit that you are far too occupied with representing my ‘cat-like cleanliness’ –’
‘Cleanliness? That’s a lark!’
‘ – to pay much attention to your own fastidiousness.’
I paused, seething.
‘If you refer to my concern about the place’s hygiene,’ I ventured, ‘it is only in response to your own habitual slovenliness.’
‘My slovenliness, do you call it!’ Holmes clamoured, ‘when I come down in the morning, the place is always restored to perfect order.’
This beggared belief.
‘And whom do you imagine is responsible for such cleanliness?’ said I.
Holmes paused, thought and shouted.
‘Yoohoo!’ trilled the lady in question, appearing at the door with a great deal more speed than she was often wont to do.
‘Are you responsible for the sinister goings-on in the drawing room at night?’
‘No, indeed, Mr Holmes; I am more than confident that the fairies may be trusted to perform the necessary nettoyage – oh, chance would be a fine thing!’ cried she, as Holmes commenced ripping up the newspaper.
‘Mrs Hudson,’ Holmes bristled, ‘it would seem that Watson has touched bottom by engaging in an enterprise that takes every opportunity to ridicule deduction’ (rip), ‘analysis’, (rip), ‘and the mastery of disguise,’ (rip rip), ‘while advancing every cliché imaginable, including the – ‘
‘How contrary you are, Mr Holmes!’ Mrs Hudson replied, ‘the dear doctor would never consent to your being pictured in that ridiculous hat.’
To my amazement, he fell silent, and cast about for something clever to say.
‘It wasn’t my hat.’
‘Tea, Mr Holmes?’
‘It wasn’t. My. Hat.’
‘Tea would be lovely, Mrs Hudson,’ I interjected.
The lady smiled at me, cast a withering look at Holmes, who paid her no mind, then descended the stairs to the kitchen. For several moments, only the rattling of the tea things was to heard. Then, a crash of broken china and a shrill cry of ‘Oh! Thumbs!‘ gave every indication of Mrs Hudson’s having discovered Holmes’ recent appropriation of the ice box.
‘If you are trivial, I cannot blame you,’ Holmes sighed morosely, ignoring the screams from the kitchen, ‘the days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality.’
‘This piece of work certainly seems to suggest so,’ said I, consulting the ruins of the newspaper as I determined to ignore both Mrs Hudson’s cries and Holmes’ damned persistence in discussing my literary shortcomings, ‘consider, for instance, this interesting point: ‘solve this case in four days or I will kill the queen. Signed, Professor James Moriarty.”
‘It is most insulting to the Professor’s memory to suggest that he would be so foolish as to sign a threat against Her Majesty the Queen under his own name,’ Holmes huffed in response.
‘My dear fellow,’ I protested, ‘how can you profess to be concerned with the legacy of your own assassin?’
‘My assassin?’ cried he, ‘if any assassination took place, then the chief arbiter of it was I myself. And indeed, as I have just stated, criminal man has declined in brilliance to the point of reducing my little practice to an agency for the recovery of lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding schools. The Professor was a welcome reprieve from the horrors of peace and quiet.’
Holmes plucked a fragment of newspaper from the floor, consulted it and wrinkled his nose.
‘At least the piece is prudent enough to suggest that in the wake of any threat against the person of Her Majesty the Queen, it is I who should be consulted before all others.’
‘The piece also suggests that you and I are enamoured of Her Majesty the Queen,’ I ventured to remark.
Holmes turned abruptly to me, alarmed.
‘I am flattered, Holmes, by your concern for my reputation,’ I snorted.
‘I?‘ he persisted, indignant, ‘enamoured of Her Majesty the Queen?’
‘While I am condemned to the impropriety of a public declaration of love for Her Majesty,’ I observed, consulting my shred of newspaper, ‘you are quoted as proclaiming her to be stunning.’
‘Stunning whom?’ cried Holmes, ‘I was not aware that royal protocol permitted Her Majesty to carry a cane about with her.’
‘I believe the term refers to Her Majesty’s appearance, Holmes.’
‘I do not concern myself with trivia!’ he exclaimed.
‘I would recommend that you concern yourself with it long enough to efface that,’ I recommended, eyeing the initials “V.R.” that were inscribed into the drawing room wall in bullet holes, ‘though I am sure that following this piece of work, a great number of highly respected British actors will wish to efface this Holmes and Watson from all living memory, never mind from their drawing room walls.’
‘Yes; Mr Fiennes; Mr Laurie; Mrs Ferris and Miss Hall.’
‘Who?’ Holmes drawled, dipping once again into the newspaper.
‘ – and little Miss Ramsey,’ I continued, ‘what a shame for such a promising career to end when it has only just begun. Then there is the questionable wisdom of entrusting our legacy to two comedians from so uncivilised a place as the United States.’
‘Everything nowadays involves a fight with an American,’ Holmes declared, looking up from the newspaper, ‘I am far more concerned at the piece’s suggestion that a murder at Buckingham Palace would leave me transfixed with horror.’
‘No, indeed; I think such a thing would transport you with delight. Though I would beg you to attire yourself more appropriately in the unlikely event of our ever being summoned there again.’
‘Since the purpose of my attire was not to show respect to the British nation, but to annoy Mycroft, I would say it was perfectly appropriate.’
‘The public, which was much entertained by the occurrence, would no doubt agree with you. Perhaps the makers of this Holmes and Watson have similar intentions.’
‘Holmes and Watson, indeed! They would have done much better to call it Burke and Hare.’
‘Perhaps this piece of work is merely intended to entertain the public in some novel and interesting way.’
‘Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb, care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction!’
‘Without the great, unobservant public who are good enough to read my stories, Holmes, your little practice would have closed down long since.’
‘I am quite capable of keeping my little practice afloat through the regular publication of my monographs.’
‘ – in which you enumerate two hundred and forty different types of tobacco ash.’
‘Two hundred and forty-three!’
‘ – no one is reading your monographs!’ I remarked with some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had more than once observed to be a strong factor in my friend’s singular character.
‘No, it is not selfishness or conceit,’ said he, answering, as was his wont, my thoughts rather than my words, ‘if I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing – a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.’
‘It is upon boredom rather than upon excitement that I should dwell?’ I shot back.
Any consequence of the tightening of Holmes’ fist around the already-destroyed newspaper was delayed by the abrupt clang of the doorbell.
‘Single ring,’ said I.
‘Maximum pressure just under the half-second,’ said he.
‘Client,’ said we, and listened for the footsteps on the stair, our dispute forgotten and a new game already afoot.