Saturday, December 29, 2012

Grey Markings.

It is night and I am writing about something of significance I experienced soon after waking today.

My home is a top flat in a Victorian villa over-looking Morecambe Bay. Directly across the sands lies the small town called Grange-over-Sands; behind it range upon range of Lakeland Hills.

Picture me. Picture the dawning morning.

 Coffee. The customary internet tasks. Equable. Rested. Serene. Alone but not lonely. The whole grey bay before me. 

Absorbed, drawn out across the flats, unbidden I write a series of measured tweets, inevitable as the sluggish tide away out there.

There is no struggling for words. No emotion but the measure of the lines that pulse from the natural scene through me as streams impregnate soil.

The spell broken, the lines re-read, I thought it fit to copy and unite these fragments which. though presumptuous to term 'a poem' are perhaps 'poetic prose'.

I liked (and still do) very much what I wrote this morning and went about my day satisfied, exhilarated by the whole experience.

In the interim before returning to Twitter, some lovely friends out there had left messages of concern I think for my state of morale, reading these 'grey markings' as expressions of depression or faltering hope. I promptly thanked them and corrected these well-meant misapprehensions, in the process identifying the predominant feeling: achievement in giving faithful voice to inarticulate murmurings from the sands, the sea and the sky.

"Grey Markings".

Here on the edge of Lakeland it is the kind of day whole Roman legions march into mists and just disappear.

Grey the sand, grey the land, grey the grumbling sky:
Just another late December; just another year to die.

No one wins battles on days like this.

There is something fearful and wonderful when Leviathan India awakes.

The trick is to see the colour in the grey and accept the stain.

I don't know whence or how these words are coming...they are just lying out there in the bay I look on each day.

When events of great moment occur even the prose is poetic.

Nature is...adjusting. I feel it in the sullen tide.

As the bird trusts air so we place our faith in words.

Ray Wilcockson (Saturday December 29, 2012). (copyright).

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Day Post -The Blue Carbuncle - (2) "A Gem of a Short Story".

Jeremy Brett in Granada's gem of an episode.

"A bonny thing"
(Sherlock Holmes, The Blue Carbuncle)

Compliments of the Season to the Readers of 'Markings' [Do not begin reading until you have checked the crop to begin an investigation in which, also a bird will be the chief feature: your Christmas Dinner!]

Note: A clear, illustrated online text is HERE

1. Laying the Table. Conan Doyle may not have listed this story amongst his favourites but it has attracted an abundance of commentary and, as I write, gives every indication of joining that illustrious Pantheon of books and films we re-visit to celebrate Christmas.

I have no problem with the Sherlockian detectives who question the existence of white swans with barred tails (even, famously, whether geese have crops), who consult the gemologist or time the journey from Covent Garden to Baker St.

Nor do I quarrel with Granada's invention of a wife for John Horner or the BBC's (1968) spiriting of the Countess of Morcar to a 221b she never in fact visits.

These are entertaining and respectful approaches that, at their best, take the reader back to Doyle's short story. Too often, however, we are lead away from The Blue Carbuncle as imaginative fiction - as a work of art in a traditional form, the short story.

This post is about artistry.

I acknowledge Logan Pearsall for this Blog image.
2. The Nature of the Dish.
Sometimes the obvious is the best place to start. The Blue Carbuncle is not a precious stone: it is the defining label chosen for a short story. Painting, music, sculpture and poetry more readily remind us of this essential distinction when experiencing a work of art.

"Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion" 1954, Salvador Dali.

As Holmes would say: "The parallel is exact!"

Holmes is closer too in naming the goose as chief feature (as opposed to the stone) because neither he nor the reader has cared significantly for the lost jewel or the Countess of Morcar.

As I observed in the notes appended to my TIMELINE , the stolen jewel has in fact been in Holmes's possession for two days, did he but know it. Tellingly, the detective does not for a moment regret this irony...because, for him, the hat-and-goose-chase has made his Christmas. 

Similarly, for Watson and the reader, the adventure resides not in the mere recovery of a piece of crystallized charcoal but in the animated kaleidoscope of London scenes and characters limelit (or, rather electrically lit) through the prism that is The Blue Carbuncle.

3. The Grace. Jeremy Brett looks into the piece of paste from Granada's prop cupboard - but the image says so much more.
Filmically, we are guided to look, with the detective's eye deep into this glinting objet d'art.

'Carbuncle' is a hard, colourless word that conveys mass and shape. This one is highly polished, multi-faceted and electric blue. I would remind the reader that the piers in my present seaside home of Morecambe were, in the 1890's, delighting thousands by the simple exhibition of the new electric lighting.
Doyle's readers appreciated the special power of this description of the jewel's all-seeing light.

Hence, I would argue The Blue Carbuncle works as a twin-pronged metaphor: for the detective's expertise; and for the very structure of the kaleidoscopic story. Just as the sonnet is a highly condensed form of verse so the short story seeks to mimic the diamond - deceptively small, yet super-hard, rare; intrinsically, richly complex.

Through his art, Doyle draws us into the heart of the stone and it is no accident that we lose focus and concern for the jewel: we are within The Blue Carbuncle, visiting facet after facet, on the coat-tails of the Great Observer. And what a feast he lays out therein! The hidden scenes unveil as with the childhood magic of the Victorian parlour kaleidoscope.

Image by ImagoKaleidoscopes.

4. The Feast.
One reason this story is so readily absorbed into the Christmas tradition is its proverbial nature - at its simplest a wild goose chase is dramatised. There is something of the nursery rhyme and the pantomime here. More specifically it's no accident that BLUE shares the theatricality of A Scandal in Bohemia, a recent predecessor. We encounter a similar succession of set pieces, shifts in scene and frenetic action. The use of aliases and masking recurs here (in Ryder's 'John Robinson' (not "Harrison"!); in what may be thought of as 'The Two Geese of Verona' - identical twins; in the 'masking' of the jewel.

Dr. Watson is on his rounds when he calls on Holmes simply because that is an economic, comic introduction to the surprise 'round' he is to experience in the company of Holmes on a scent.
The pace (for the two investigators and even more for James Ryder) is that of farce. For this reason Sherlockian comments on the accuracy of distances, times and location references miss the point completely. Watch Joe Orton, a Brian Rix farce or the enchanted Bottom - surreality rules.

Jeremy Brett - a Whimsical Little Incident.

Jeremy Brett is precisely right to play the drama from the outset as vaudeville. It is this knockabout Twelfth Night whimsy that makes a mockery of Malvolian concerns for the fate of stock characters like Horner. In the shorthand of the whimsical short story, the author expects the reader to cotton on to the tone and style - hence the initial hat business. Of course, this scene displays the detective's observational and deductional powers but it does so in a holiday mood. Of course Horner will be released! ( uneconomic to state the obvious). Of course the stone seems less realistic and more like theatrical paste jewellery - it is! 

The reader's capacity to read this shorthand releases the full flavour of this festive story  and we embark on a whistle-stop tale of a winter's Victorian London, savouring momentarily the best beer at an Alpha Inn (A is for 'any'), all the market stall holders in the metropolis rolled into one in B for Breckinridge and the comforting presence of upright honesty and easily recognised authority in C for Commissionaire Peterson (to whom I shall return).

On the way, there are some delightful cameos with the depth and detail of a Hilliard miniature. I am thinking of Mr. Henry Baker, a moving portrait of many a man caught in a loveless marriage, enduring his private, bleak mid-winter:

Granada TV - Frank Middlemass as the Disjecta Membra.

Of Breckinridge (he of the pink 'un) in this classic passage of comic business and social realism (via Youtube):

   ...and that ferret, Ryder, whose Backyard scene in Brixton plays out the proverbial wild goose chase with period realism from the 44th minute in this full Granada episode video, courtesy Youtube:

All, even Ryder, are cherished in their contribution to the evocation of a bustling, hustling, vibrant city. All are treated sympathetically.Ryder is afforded (Malvolio again) seasonal forgiveness and the opportunity Horner has already taken to go straight

Some may balk at the initial implication that what turns out to be a robbery was probably to be a case 'entirely free of legal crime'. In the end this is closer to the story's tone and truth.
Few are the Sherlock Holmes stories that do not feature at least one policeman. Here their absence is as telling as...dogs that do not bark in the night. The message is: this is a different kind of story.

In the world of The Blue Carbuncle Holmes is licensed to dispense what justice is required. And in keeping with the holiday mood the malefactor (such as he is) is a bungling amateur easily snuffed out of success by a combination of unruly geese, an intractable market stall-holder and sheer rotten luck.
5. The Dessert.
Any sense of the criminal is, additionally, more than balanced by the presence of decent folk. Baker is one of them; Horner another. And when Doyle needs an immediately recognizable figure of honesty and authority, his artistry for short story shorthand calls upon the familiar Commissionaire to be seen, respected and trusted in every London thoroughfare, going about his duties.

Frank Mills as Mr. Honest in Granada's BLUE.
Peterson loses much if we visualise the modern 'doorman', pale shadow of the Victorian commissionaire, who would have been in the military and now a member of the the Corps of Commissionaires set up for wounded members of the armed forces  at the time of the Crimean War.
1880 photograph.

Please click on the link to read a contemporary account of the work and pay of the Corps: COMMISSIONAIRES CORPS

Doyle has selected the ideal man for his story's needs - the uniform scares off Henry Baker's molesters; his legendary honesty and trustworthiness render his interaction with Holmes credible; even Dr. Watson knows Peterson; and, most satisfyingly, he deserves a windfall if anyone does, having suffered for his country. (Doyle would enjoy this touch.)
NB: To go straight to my 3rd post on BLUE please click HERE

6. Il Digestivo.

In conclusion, this Christmas Day, may I offer (to follow your late supper of woodcock perhaps?) something to help the digestion.

In writing about this gem of a short story I recalled how often in my years as a teacher of English Literature I had to remind students of what they very likely appreciated naturally as children but 'forgot' (ironically) in the process of 'learning': that writers of poems, fiction and plays are artists as surely as painters and musicians.

Vaughan Williams' Wasps swarm only in the imagination; entomology is irrelevant. Van Gogh's Cypresses are...Van Gogh's and no one else's. So we respond to his and set aside images stored (learned) from life observation.

The same applies to Conan Doyle's The Blue Carbuncle.
For what it is worth, I used to find D.J.Enright's poem (Oh! Happy accident!) Blue Umbrellas invaluable as a digestivo for the feast that is literature.

My present under your tree:  TRUST THE CHILD IN YOU 
(always click on 'trust').

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Follow That Goose! - The Blue Carbuncle (1) Timeline.

The Goose as cooked by Granada TV.
For Christmas, I am writing about the artistry of Conan Doyle's short story The Blue Carbuncle.

It was useful to deduce a Timeline of events, which I present here as an orientation for the main blog post on Christmas Day.
The action takes place in the morning and evening of the 2nd day after Christmas - 27 December (a Friday if the consensus year, 1889, is accepted.)

A retrospective picture of the sequence of events since Sunday 22nd December emerges in the course of the action. 


Sunday 22 December.
- the robbery. The jewel secreted on James Ryder.
- (evening) Horner arrested. Ryder panics/flees to sister in Brixton. Jewel in goose. Ryder takes wrong goose to Kilburn.
- Mrs. Oakshot sells goose in batch of 24 to  Breckinridge (@7s 6d). Breckinridge immediately sells on to Alpha landlord (@12s).
- Jewel is now at Alpha Inn when Ryder discovers error. Ryder back to Brixton.
- Ryder to Covent Garden - no joy from Breckinridge.

Monday 23 December.
- Morcar's first Times reward ad (given that was possible following a Sunday robbery).
- Horner languishes in jail ( case referred to Assizes).
- Ryder makes persistent attempts to quiz Breckinridge.
- The goose awaits collection by a Member of The Goose Club at the Alpha Inn.

Tuesday 24 December.
- Second Times reward ad.
- Horner's second full day in jail.
- Ryder continues to question Breckinridge.
- The goose awaits collection at the Alpha Inn.

Wednesday 25 December, Christmas Day.
- No Times ad being Christmas Day (?)
- No Covent Garden Market being Christmas Day (?)
- Horner's third full day in jail.
- 4 am. Henry Baker attacked. Goose and hat picked up by Peterson.
- later that morning. Peterson brings goose and hat to Sherlock Holmes. Holmes keeps them for examination.
- No goose on the Baker table/ no jewel for Morcar to wear/ Ryder waits, miserable, for the market to re-open.

Thursday 26 December, Boxing Day.
- No Times ad being Boxing Day (?)
- No Covent Garden Market being Boxing Day (?)
- Horner's fourth full day in jail.
- The goose (and jewel) are in 221b.
-Morcar distraught/ Ryder surely crazed by now.

Friday 27 December. ( the 'present' of the story's action).
- Peterson calls early, takes goose home to cook.
- Watson calls during his rounds to wish SH compliments of season.
- Horner begins fifth full day in jail.
- Morcar's latest Times reward ad published.
- Ryder back to Covent Garden Market.
- Peterson returns with jewel wife has discovered.
- SH writes Henry Baker ad. Peterson takes it to newspapers & buys/returns with a replacement goose.
- SH retains jewel in his strongbox while he writes to Morcar.
- Watson resumes rounds.

6.30 pm.
- Watson & Baker arrive together at 221b.
- SH clarifies he has retained goose and hat for some days.
- 7pm dinner of woodcock is postponed till supper.
7 - 7.15 approx.
- SH and JW to Alpha Inn on foot ( 15 mins to Bloomsbury).
7.30-45 approx.
- SH & JW proceed to Covent Garden on foot.
- Breckinridge confirms purchase of goose on 22 Dec.
- Ryder taken back to Baker St in a 4-wheeler (half hr journey).
8 - 8.15 approx.
- Ryder's confession & release.
- late supper of woodcock.


1. In the story as written, Holmes & Watson are to eat supper leaving Morcar still jewel-less, the police uninformed and Horner still in jail.
2. Horner has had a wretched Christmas. The Countess will not have celebrated. Ryder has (almost farcically) miserably revisited Breckinridge time & again (completely powerless on 25/26 if the Market was closed).
3. Deliciously ironic that Holmes had the goose (and therefore the jewel) at 221b from 25th am to 27th am).
4. SH does not give Peterson any money to pay for the ad or the replacement goose - I assume he thinks P can well afford these as he will collect £1000 reward (about £80,000 today).
5. There was clearly demand for geese after Christmas - Breckinridge could provide 500 if need on the 28th.
6. I have gone with the year 1889 as this seems the most generally accepted date for the action of The Blue Carbuncle.

My main post on BLUE was published on Christmas Day.

To go straight to the Main Post please CLICK

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Parable of the Good Sherlockian.

'The Good Samaritan' Jean Milet 1846.

Testament of Isa Whitney.

 (as dictated to his loving wife, Kate. Bethlem Royal Hospital 1889.)

The Parable of the Good Sherlockian.

[from The Book of Isa.
Apocryphal Canon.]
ch. XVII vv. 212-227

212. Hearken, all Ye of Little Faith, to the Testament of Isa of the Tribe of Whitney, who once was Lost and now is Found!

213. There came about, in the Time of the Great Queen, the Passing of an Elder of my Tribe, one Elias, God-fearing Brother to this thy Prodigal Sinner. And was there Lamentation in the House for most Beloved was the Good Elias.

214. Turn Ye from  False Idols! For did I then (no Brother being my Guide) render myself, Body and Soul, unto the Reading of the Forbidden Scrolls of the Wandering Tribe of Quincey.

215. Yea! Even as I took unto myself as Wife the Fairest in the Land, the more did I enslave my very Being unto Unholy Rites that Droopeth the very Eye Lids, Pasteth the Face in Ashes and 
Huddleth the Man upon his own Divan. Oh! Wreck-ed! Ruin-ed! Most unfortunate Isa of Whitney!

216. To Swandham then I came; and entereth in a Tent of  Barr-ed Gold which hous-ed Denizens of Vileness and Iniquity.  Noxious the Poisons in the Very Air! And had they King over them  Abaddon, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Prince of Opiates, also call-ed 'Lascar'. 
 217. And did there befall a Time when there was no Time more. 

218.  Take Heed! Ye of the Desert Tribes of Moran; then was there only the Wailing of the Wilderness.

219. Isa of the House of Whitney did Stumble forever Lost upon the Stones of Unhallowed Ground. 

220. Yea! Prayeth he Days in Vain for the Rains that Water the Soul; calleth to the Passing Pharisee; to the Hideous Lascar; to He of the Twisted Lip for Charity! Nor was there any Thing or Person of Charity in that Place.

The Good Sherlockian with the  Master.
221. But a certain Sherlockian, as he journeyed, came where I was, and when he saw me, he had Compassion on me.

222. And went to me, and Rouseth me, saying (in a strange Holmesian Tongue): "I tell you it is Friday, man! Your wife has been waiting this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!" 

223. And he, a Man of Medicine, call-ed John of the House of Watson, a Disciple of the Way of Sherlock, giveth unto my Lips sundry Draughts of Healing, seateth me within a Hansom Cab at his own Expense, and delivereth me thus unto my Wife and Tents. 

224. Oblations made I at the Temple of the Seventeen Steps, in the Street of Bakers; Yea! Offerings of Tokay, Oxen and Tobaccos of the Turk. 

225. Such is the Testament of Isa as it is written; such the Parable of the Good Sherlockian.

226. Go Thou and do likewise!

227. Climb! Crawl out from the Low, Vile Alleyways; and Stride thou Tall along the Broad High Way of Baker!  

Blessed be 221b!

[In the time of his extremity my husband, I fear, was, for some months, quite overcome by the most hideous of hallucinatory bouts, from which he is blessed to be wholly liberated. The foregoing represents much the mildest of such fancies - and, I believe, his inherent goodness of soul. I trust the reader will forgive and acquiesce in my beloved husband's extravagant style and read it for what it is - the bravest of essays in gratitude to dear, dear John Watson and his friend and colleague, Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.
Mrs. Kate Whitney, 1889]

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Whom God Hath Joined" - Conan Doyle and Divorce.

"The First Cloud" by William Quiller Orchardson 1887.

Orchardson's quietly dignified painting (imbued with a sense of Hardy's "darkling" fate) poignantly illustrates that resignation to "the knot there's no untying" experienced by Victorians trapped in unhappy marriages.

The Background.

30 years before this painting "The Matrimonial Causes Act" of 1857 set up a civil Divorce Court, replacing the traditional Ecclesiastical Court. While a husband seeking divorce had only to prove adultery, wives must additionally prove aggravating circumstances such as desertion, cruelty, incest, bigamy, rape, sodomy or bestiality.
'Mariage de Convenance' by Orchardson, 1883.

Manifestly unfair by today's standards, the controversial Act was one small step taken in the teeth of strong opposition (including Gladstone and The Queen, who likened the sensationalist news accounts of court proceedings to 'the worst of the French novels...most pernicious to public morals'.)

There is a delicious description of (bachelor) Sir Cresswell Cresswell, the first ever Divorce Court judge in the Quarterly Review:
 "He has no ugly prejudices, no reminiscences, pleasant or unpleasant, to stand in the way of equitable decisions. He has no dread of a curtain lecture at night for dealing heavily during the day with some erring one who might have attracted his wife's pity. Besides, a judge who has just left a scolding wife, depend upon it, does not assume composure with his wig."

The success of the new law would seem to be largely due to this inspired appointment as his Wikipedia entry asserts:"The new law increased petitions for divorce one hundredfold and there were fears of chaos but Cresswell took a managerial role in regulating the new flood of litigation. He showed great sensitivity in dealing with genuine grievances but upheld the sanctity of marriage and was capable of being severe when necessary. However, he was also instrumental in moving the legal view of divorce from that based on a sacrament to that based on contract. He worked with colossal speed and energy, deciding over one thousand cases in six years, only one of which was reversed on appeal. He achieved some public fame and huge respect popularly being held as representing the five million married women of Britain. His activities in this field are referred to in Anthony Trollope's Framley Parsonage: 'most marriages are fairly happy, in spite of Sir Cresswell Cresswell'"

Much remained unreformed however. The procedure was very expensive and tilted firmly in favour of male petitioners. (though even Lord Russell had to endure scandal and jail before securing his divorce). 
'Mariage de Convenance 2' by Orchardson, 1883.

Hence, we find, prior to the 1911 Strand cartoon above, moves for further reform reflected in the literature of the times. Dickens's Bleak House and Hardy's Jude the Obscure are major contributions to the debate. In 1906, Arnold Bennett was on topic with Whom God Hath Joined which may be read online at

Conan Doyle and Divorce.

What follows may come as a surprise. The Strand's cartoon  illustrated Conan Doyle's contribution to a symposium of prominent people invited to describe the most important action they would take if they had absolute power for a day. I quote in full:
"If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were given supreme power, a power as great as both Houses of Parliament, for a single day, he would exercise it in the direction of the reform of the divorce laws. 'The divorce laws,' he writes, ' are so arranged at present that divorce is practically impossible for a poor man, that people are tied without hope of release to lunatics, drunkards, and criminals, and great numbers (more than two hundred thousand people) are separated by law, and yet are not free to marry again - a fact which cannot be conducive to public morality." 

Doyle's views are echoed by Hardy in Hearst's Magazine the following year:

"the English marriage laws are. . . the gratuitous cause of at least half the misery of the community."
Hardy's wife, Emma, died that very year. Doyle too had lost his first wife, Louise (to tuberculosis), in July of 1906. It was the year the creator of Sherlock Holmes accepted (for the next 10 years) the Presidency of the newly-formed Divorce Law Reform Union.

By the close of 1907 Doyle had married Jean Leckie and moved from Undershaw to Windlesham. All changed: changed utterly.
ACD marries Jean Leckie, Sept 18, 1907.

Given his prominence in the campaign for divorce reform during this period of change, I think we have to be careful in any speculation on motive. To assert Doyle was reacting to the experience of his first marriage takes no account of the kind of man he was. Biased as she cannot help but be, I warm to his daughter, Jean's views on the matter as expressed in conversation with Christopher Roden An Interview with Dame Jean Conan Doyle
"Chivalry" by Frank Dicksee 1885.

In any summation of Sir Arthur we have to acknowledge the chivalric code by which he lived. This is an honourable man, of iron self-discipline and Quixotic idealism. It is this trait which informs his interest in divorce reform and resolves the apparent paradox of his negative stance toward the suffragette movement. The system was unfair and he saw himself precisely as a knight coming to the rescue of damsels in distress, rescuing tens of thousands of women 'from the embraces of drunkards, from bondage to cruel men, from the iron which fetter locks them to the felon or the hopeless maniac'.

Doyle's pamphlet of 1909, Divorce Law Reform, contributed along with Earl Russell's work in The Lords to the establishment of a Royal Commission. As this article from July 11, 1913 Votes For Women newspaper shows, his work on divorce was valued by the Suffragettes but they remained frosty about his opposition to female suffrage Votes For Women Article . Doyle had however taken on the establishment in irrevocable opposition to religious attitudes: No church 'has the right to impose its own views upon the general public' .

On October 28, 1917, Doyle wrote to his son, Innes:
"I have a rather contentious life as I have two big subjects on which I seem, with no deliberate intention of my own to have become a leader, that of devil-made marriages and...psychical research...The latter is of course far the...more permanently important. "

Nevertheless, typically, he feels duty-bound (as with the Olympic Games) to press on, approaching Edward Shortt (the next Home Secretary) on the subject of Divorce Law Reform, writing (this time to Mary Doyle):

"Why is it that when you try to do any helpful thing in this world it is always the so called 'good' whom you find in a solid lumpish block against you. I suppose that was just what Christ found with the Pharisees...yet he won through in the end. A strange world! The next one is better."

It would be 1923 before the church's stubborn resistance to the Commission's work was overcome.

I would urge the reader at least to take a look at Arnold Bennett's passage describing his character,  Lawrence Ridway's observation of a divorce court in Whom God Hath Joined because it superbly encapsulates Doyle's response to the current unhappy state of affairs. The passage is available here: A Day in the Divorce Court (please scroll to find the quotation).

The Holmes Connection.

'Divorce' is mentioned by name in only two Sherlock Holmes stories. Those familiar with Hound will recall the experience of Mrs. Laura Lyons. But that of Dr. Leon Sterndale is more thought-provoking and closer to the time period I am examining.

'I at least am not prepared to prevent you' Brett and Quilley in Granada's 'The Devil's Foot'

The date of Strand publication of DEVI was December, 1910. Of Brenda Tregennis, in mitigation of his crime of murder, Dr. Sterndale pleads:

"For years I have loved her. For years she has loved me. There is the secret of that Cornish seclusion which people have marvelled at. It has brought me close to the one thing on earth that was dear to me. I could not marry her, for I have a wife who has left me for years and yet whom, by the deplorable laws of England, I could not divorce. For years Brenda waited. For years I waited.'

The story concludes with one of those rare moments when the reader glimpses the man beneath the logical detective: "I have never loved, Watson, but if I did, and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-hunter has done. Who knows?"

And one may add Who knows how Dr. Doyle would have acted too.
Frank Middlemass as Mr. Henry Baker (Granada 1984)

What is certain is that Doyle created in Mr. Henry Baker and his hat as fully rounded a picture of Everyman Resigned to Marriage as you may wish for. I leave this December post with that most Christmassy of Sherlock Holmes stories The Blue Carbuncle and invite you to watch Frank Middlemass's definitive performance in Granada's 1984 production.

I imagine Mr. Henry Baker strikes many a chord even today in his remarks on the Christmas spirit to Windigate, Landlord of the Alpha Inn.

Happy Christmas!