Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"A Tired Police Captain" - The Doyle Bust Business (Part Two).

Jo Davidson with Conan Doyle at 15, Buckingham Palace Mansions,1930.
On 7, November, 1929, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was carried ashore at Dover by two sailors, taken by train to Victoria Station and thence by bathchair to his apartment in Buckingham Palace Mansions. Ill before he left, he had committed himself to a life-threatening Spiritualism lecture tour of the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Well aware he had not long to live, he (typically) arranged his affairs (including the programme for his funeral on 11, July, 1930) in the few months that remained to him. 

In this context where every action had special significance Doyle sat for the famous sculptor, Jo Davidson. That bust now resides (not currently on display) in The Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art. Here is the museum description:
Jo Davidson (United States, New York, New York City, 1883 -
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1930
Sculpture, Bronze, 18 3/4 x 24 x 8 in. (47.63 x 60.96 x 20.32 cm), Signed and dated back on back, below collar right: JO DAVIDSON / LONDON 1930 Signed by Conan Doyle on front, right: Conan Doyle Foundry mark of A. C. Rehberger in circular cachet on back, on socle lower left
Gift of Maury P. Leibovitz (M.83.206.8)
Modern Art Department.
In The Connoisseur 88 (August 1931) p126, F.G.R., Men of Letters describes the bust as "an almost speaking likeness."
Dr. Leibovitz was the ultimate owner of the estate of Jo Davidson (see this article on him HERE ).
The sitting would appear to have taken place during the second half of December, 1929 and I refer the reader to Davidson's own fascinating book Between Sittings which may be read on-line HERE .
A glance now at the Wikipedia entry for Jo Davidson HERE will illustrate the standing of the sculptor in 1929 and just why Conan Doyle went out of his way to sit for him.
Davidson had come to England on commission from George Doran of Doubleday, Doran & Co. to do the heads of the best-selling American and British authors. Upon arrival , mid-December, in London (having managed to track down Joyce to sit for him), Davidson had difficulty pinning down his subjects. Doyle he describes as "under die weather" and "momentarily inaccessible". 
He manages to sculpt busts of Hugh Walpole, Frank Swinnerton, Kipling (from memory) and Edgar Wallace, before Conan Doyle becomes available. Here is Davidson's description of the sitting:
  "I will never forget meeting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Somehow I had
visualized him as tall and thin, Sherlock Holmes with double-peaked
cap and a perpetual pipe in his mouth. Instead, there was a big man
with a round heavy face and drooping mustaches, looking for all the
world like a tired police captain.

Conan Doyle received me in his apartment. It was musty and filled
with overstuffed furniture. He was dressed in an old, faded woolen
dressing-gown and wore carpet slippers. I had heard that he was a
spiritualist and was not surprised when he talked about the hereafter.
But when he said that after we die we will all continue doing in the
hereafter exactly what we were doing on earth, I asked him if he was
describing Heaven or Hell.

All the time I was working on his bust, I kept looking for Sherlock
Holmes, but what I found was Dr. Watson. I tried to talk about
Holmes and Watson as if they really existed, but Sir Arthur was inter
ested in other things. Pointing to an old armchair by the fireplace, he
said, "The other day I was sitting in that very chair and my son, who
has been dead for some years, came over and kissed me on the brow,
something he never did in his life."
Soon after, Davidson left for France, where he secured sittings from Aldous Huxley, H.G.Wells, Somerset Maugham & D.H. Lawrence who died on 2nd March two weeks after his sitting.
On April 17, 1930, the sculptor travelled to New York to "do" Booth Tarkington and Christopher Morley. He says "the making of these busts would be the cause of Doran's withdrawal from Doubleday, Doran & Co. The last time I saw George Doran was when I was in London arranging for my show at Knoedler's. I have been ever grateful to him for the opportunity of "busting" my friends."
In June, 1931, Knoedler Galleries of Bond Street, London, exhibited the busts under the title "Portrait Busts of some Contemporary Men of Letters", by which time were added the heads of Shaw, Galsworthy and Barrie. 
"It was held for die benefit of the Royal Literary Fund. There were posters in the underground announcing my show, with reproductions of the busts of Shaw, Maugham, Lawrence, Wallace, Bennett and H. G. Wells. The afternoon of the opening was a gala affair. Many of my sitters and their friends were there. Luigi Pirandello, whose bust I had modeled in 1926, came to the show. The "free" day brought people who came to see their favorite authors whose pictures they had seen in the posters in the tube stations. The show was acclaimed by the critics and pictures were published in all the illustrated papers. Even the London Times carried an editorial about it.
  "In her column 'I Said to Me,' Rebecca West commented (July 28, 1931): 'A New Yorker, George Doran, did one of the things best worth doing that have been done during the last few years in the way of artistic enter prise when he got Jo Davidson to make bronze busts of a dozen or so of the great. Now Jo Davidson has put them in a room in Bond Street, with an other dozen or so of his own picking, and going there is a great experience. There they all are. The men who make one think as they do, who think as one makes them because one is part of the present, which even the greatest cannot get away from the embodiments of that queer thing, the mind of the age, which is both inside and outside each of us
'Jo Davidson knows who is no good. All the people whose work has no stuffing, who get in here because of some accident of fashion, look as if they were made of butter. . .I have never read a book of criticism that so subtly and completely in ventoried the mind of the age as this room of Jo Davidson's. It is a superb exercise of lively, sensitive, well-informed intelligence.'"

Conan Doyle had been dead 11 months but I like to think that, in his final days, he made what must have been a supreme effort given his health, sensing he had earned a deserved place in the pantheon immortalised by Jo Davidson.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Some Deep Organising Power" - Professor Moriarty and Doyle's Imagination.

Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty in the BBC SHERLOCK.
Nice PALACE, Sherlock!  Mine Now!
  I put all your PEGS in one basket.
                 Hope you MIND:)

1. Of Memory & Imagination.

In considering Conan Doyle's creation of Moriarty in The Final Problem I have been thinking of the inherent importance of imagination in building a memory palace. The method of creating dramatic, even bizarre images in the mind's eye reminded me of Holmes's repeated reference to the importance of imagination.

Einstein wrote that "logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." 

America's great artist, Edward Hopper, noted that "no amount of skilful invention can replace the essential element of imagination."

My hat goes off to those writers like Dickens and  Doyle who must (in a pre-electronic age) have developed effective Sherlockian Indexes to organize their busy lives. Consider their Memory Palaces.

It seems to me that uniquely a writer must house in a special wing products of imagination formed by himself and garnered through reading.  Think of those pictures of Dickens surrounded by his characters. It is estimated he invented 963 named characters, all of whom persisted in the imaginative memory.
I counted 230 entries in the Who's Who section of The Sherlock Holmes Companion. And that is only the total for Doyle's Holmes stories.

Keeping these in some kind of order, maintaining  authorial control is a much more difficult feat than retaining knowledge of the kind learned by London taxi-drivers or Dickens himself: "I thought I knew something of the town, but after a little talk with Dickens I found that I knew nothing. He knew it all from Bow to Brentford". This comment from George Lear, a fellow clerk, was made when Dickens was but 16. Lear also noted Dickens's powers of observation and love of the theatre.


Memory and Imagination whilst not identical are close relatives. We know this best through the common experience of bereavement where emotional acceptance lags far behind knowledge of the fact of death. The Classical Greeks knew this. At the close of Keats's Hyperion the only Titan left alive is Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory and mother of the Muses. She embodies the mythical and emotional memory of a whole race.  

2. Of Doyle's Mind Palace.

Along with all the other calls on a man of unusual energy, multiple interests, a crowded diary and iron self-discipline, I sense,in Doyle's decision to 'kill' Sherlock Holmes, a timely assertion of personal control. "If I had not killed Sherlock Holmes I verily believe he would have killed me" echoes Dr. Jekyll's dilemma. Doyle had been very ill with the killer influenza; in January, 1892, he took a break after finishing The Copper Beeches writing to Mary Doyle: 'poor...Maupassant has written 30 books since 1880, and has now gone mad, so it is bad policy to do too much."

Perhaps in this age of Sherlock fandom, we omit to observe the effect on the creator when contemplating how some fictional characters are so consummately drawn they are readily believed to be real people. 

Letter to Holmes in the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Doyle had (by his own admission) to be 'utterly callous...to have a chance of opening out into new fields of imagination' for, as Jeremy Brett found (and Cumberbatch will need to address), Holmes can be over-powering if not held in check. For me, The Final Problem is the necessary imaginative enactment of Doyle's inner struggle with the monster he had brought forth. A balance, a perspective, a pinning down had to be achieved...and,after all, killing a fictional character is not homicide. It is as if the master craftsman  returns the sword blade to the forge for ten long years to achieve a truer Toledo-tempered steel.

When Holmes returns (in Hound of the Baskervilles) it will be by invitation. The physician has healed himself. Dr. Doyle sensed the threat to his burgeoning imagination and sought how best to deal with a personal Mr. Hyde.

This was a crisis of relationship between an artist and his imagination. Ironically, Holmes the hero was very much the villain looming too large in the throne-room of Doyle's mind palace. The final problem is how best to unseat him.

3. Of Moriarty.

The Hand of Moriarty.

The most interesting (and optimistic) fact about The Final Problem is its very existence. In theory, Doyle might have quietly closed the Canon with The Naval Treaty...and moved on.

David Burke as Dr. Watson as Mnemosyne.

 Intuitively, Doyle rejects mere abandonment and instead constructs a legend. Upon Dr. Watson, so naturally, falls the mantle of Mnemosyne,reminiscing in bereavement upon the passing of greatness. Only the Great may defeat the Great and in a mere 2300 words at the centre of this story Doyle bodies forth a Nemesis worthy of Holmes.

 Fact-seekers may hunt the alleyways of history for Moriarty models but the answers are already there in the language and construction of Doyle's text. 

There the operative vocabulary , images and structures unite to impy distanceelevation, balance, mind, power, organization, invisibility, inevitability and darkness.

My next Markings post (see links below) will look in detail at this passage which Doyle places entirely in the narrative voice of the dead detective. By the time Watson has transcribed Holmes's introductory biography of Moriarty and the detective's account of their unique meeting in Baker Street, the myth has been unforgettably forged.

4. Of Alchemy.

I am sure the reader delights, as I do, in those Canonical moments where Holmes conducts some new, ground-breaking (often highly dangerous) experiment.

Literary imagery (by which I mean simile, metaphor, personification and characterization) originates through similar alchemical processes. Images drawn from life, history, nature and reading associate, coalesce and mint novel powerful apparitions hitherto unimagined.

If you ask "Where did Moriarty come from?" I must reply, with Holmes: “Ah! my dear Watson, there we come into those realms of conjecture,"

5. Of Thoth.

At the close of Chapter 12 of The French Lieutenant's Woman John Fowles intervenes as author to ask:

"Who is Sarah?
From what shadows does she come?"

Chapter 13 is devoted to reminding the reader that novelists are not always in full control of their characters. It is prefaced with this quotation from Tennyson's Maud (1859) :
"For the drift of the Maker is dark, an Isis hid by the veil".
The statue above features Thoth, Egyptian god of Imagination inspiring the scribe, Nebmeroutef, who, absorbed in his writing, does not return the god's gaze. The inscription is Keatsian: "Imagination brings back truth."

Conan Doyle would never read Fowles's novel of 1969. But he had himself written very recently The Ring of Thoth and Lot 249, short stories of Egyptian horror that feed into the image of Moriarty and inspire, notably, the moving Boris Karloff performance in " The Mummy" (1932).

Stevenson's Hyde and Mary Shelley's Creature also lie behind Professor Moriarty - all three created only for eventual destruction. And behind them all is the over-arching figure of Milton's Lucifer - hideous, murderous all...yet how we take to them, even empathise and sympathise! How we miss them when they fall! ("Moriarty is real" insist the badges  and t-shirts of the faithful).

5. Of the Dark Stranger.

Holmes has sensed for years, we understand, "some deep organising power" which surfaced eventually in the person of Moriarty. I sense too, in this most complex, courageous and superbly constructed short story a deeper organising power than Doyle's conscious artistry.

It is a power that lead Conan Doyle into supreme irony - "killing" Holmes in the short term ensured his immortality. It is the sign of a true artist that he drink from the truth of his imaginative fountain (however unpalatable it may taste).


AND , guess what, (irony of ironies) : the name Doyle is from the Scandinavian.. and translates "the dark stranger".
This was the 2nd of 4 posts on The Final Problem.
Please click on the title to go to 1,3 or 4.

1. The Letter Edged in Black

3. The Seventh Napoleon.

4. The Singular Interview with Professor Moriarty.

I do not own the copyright to any images and wish to acknowledge the following sources:

Andrew Scott as Moriarty courtesy the BBC.
Einstein image courtesy Harvey Mackay.
Memory temple - The Temple of Time by Emily Willard courtesy Mnemotechnics.
Image of Dickens's characters from George's Journal.
Mnemosyne image from Mnemosyne's Ledger.
Holmes letter courtesy The Sherlock Holmes Museum.
Still from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde found at Dedleg.com.
Moriarty and Mona Lisa/David Burke as Dr. Watson courtesy Granada Television.
Holmes as chemist original by Sidney Paget.
Statue of Thoth courtesy the excellent website THE MNEMOSYNE FOUNDATION
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle image found on avisermasini Blog.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"The Storming Party" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

At Bay, 2nd Anglo-Afghan War 1880 by W.H.Overend.
On February 6th, 1892, The Speaker published Conan Doyle's poem The Storming Party, which would later be included in his 1898 collected Songs of Action.

Slight as the poem is, unread as Doyle's poems may be these days, The Storming Party does possess (as Sherlock Holmes would say ) some points of interest: in its circumstances of publication, literary nature and relation with the Holmes Canon. Here, first, is the poem itself.

Said Paul Leroy to Barrow,
'Though the breach is steep and narrow,
If we only gain the summit
Then it's odds we hold the fort.
I have ten and you have twenty,
And the thirty should be plenty,
With Henderson and Henty
And McDermott in support.'

Said Barrow to Leroy,
'It's a solid job, my boy,
For they've flanked it, and they've banked it,
And they've bored it with a mine.
But it's only fifty paces
Ere we look them in the faces;
And the men are in their places,
With their toes upon the line.'

Said Paul Leroy to Barrow,
'See that first ray, like an arrow,
How it tinges all the fringes
Of the sullen drifting skies.
They told me to begin it
At five-thirty to the minute,
And at thirty-one I'm in it,
Or my sub will get his rise.

'So we'll wait the signal rocket,
Till . . . Barrow, show that locket,
That turquoise-studded locket,
Which you slipped from out your pocket
And are pressing with a kiss!
Turquoise-studded, spiral-twisted,
It is hers! And I had missed it
From her chain; and you have kissed it:
Barrow, villain, what is this?'

'Leroy, I had a warning,
That my time has come this morning,
So I speak with frankness, scorning
To deny the thing that's true.
Yes, it's Amy's, is the trinket,
Little turquoise-studded trinket,
Not her gift--oh, never think it!
For her thoughts were all for you.

'As we danced I gently drew it
From her chain--she never knew it
But I love her--yes, I love her:
I am candid, I confess.
But I never told her, never,
For I knew 'twas vain endeavour,
And she loved you--loved you ever,
Would to God she loved you less!'

'Barrow, Barrow, you shall pay me!
Me, your comrade, to betray me!
Well I know that little Amy
Is as true as wife can be.
She to give this love-badged locket!
She had rather . . . Ha, the rocket!
Hi, McDougall! Sound the bugle!
Yorkshires, Yorkshires, follow me!'

* * *
Said Paul Leroy to Amy, 'Well, wifie, you may blame me,
For my passion overcame me,
When he told me of his shame;
But when I saw him lying,
Dead amid a ring of dying,
Why, poor devil, I was trying
To forget, and not to blame.

'And this locket, I unclasped it
From the fingers that still grasped it:
He told me how he got it,
How he stole it in a valse.'
And she listened leaden-hearted:
Oh, the weary day they parted!
For she loved him--yes, she loved him --
For his youth and for his truth,
And for those dying words, so false.

1. 1892 publication.

To put the poem in context, The Speckled Band is appearing in the February issue of The Strand and Conan Doyle is living in South Norwood. Having played cricket the previous summer for the Allahakbarries, he is now a firm friend of J.M. Barrie who has already written a gentle pastiche on Holmes for The Speaker.

In October, 1891, Doyle applied for membership of the all-male Reform Club, whose committee included Wemyss Reid, editor of The Speaker. Doyle's membership is confirmed in June, 1892. Meanwhile he has joined the informal, Bohemian set The Idlers, a group close to The Reform Club. In January, 1892, Doyle had already been published in The Speaker - a piece on British humour that praised Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. Jerome was an Idler.

2. The Poem's Literary Nature.

Doyle's poetry is easily and superficially dismissed in toto as sub-Kiplingesque and jingoistic. Much of it is, but The Storming Party is more reminiscent of Thomas Hardy in two main ways. First, both Doyle and Hardy flirted with less successful forms of writing, notably drama. Just as Hardy attempted to write plays so, in 1892, with the encouragement of Barrie, Doyle essays to be a dramatist.

My previous post Doyle's Waterloo tells the story of the success he had with A Straggler of  '15.

Still flexing his nascent literary powers, we also see Doyle attempting verse.

The Storming Party consists of nine stanzas, the last two forming a climactic epilogue. It's a regular, military-sounding form - octets of lines which march between six and eight syllables,  rendered song-like by a repetitive rhyme-scheme, which departs for variation and effect as the poem progresses from its initial aabcdddc format. 

Two soldiers of The Yorkshire Regiment prepare for a 5.30 attack, members of the initial storming party. As they await the signal rocket, married Paul Leroy observes Barrow take a locket from his pocket. It was, lies Barrow, stolen from Amy Leroy while they had a dance (rather than being given as a love token). He has reached for it now having felt his time had come.

Just as Leroy is berating his mate for the theft, the bugle sounds for action. In the poem's consequent hiatus we understand Barrow to have died in action and Leroy to have tried to forget the transgression and mourn his dead pal.

The final two stanzas record the husband and wife in conversation upon his repatriation. The predictable rhyme-scheme is abandoned rather effectively to mirror both the nobility of Barrow's lie and the hidden bereavement suffered by Amy, who must deal with the death of her secret lover in utter loneliness.

Such a story of private, domestic rivalry in love , couched in soldierly slang played out against the backdrop of nations at war is Hardy-esque in its ironies and reverses. The title's full implications become apparent - an altogether different 'fort' had been assailed even before they set sail.

3. The Poem's Relationship with the Holmesian Canon.

One of the issues the reader is left wondering about is whether the poem has in mind a particular campaign and mention of The Yorkshires gives a basis for speculation.

From the modest research I've conducted, I think it reasonable to identify The West Yorkshire Regiment as most likely candidate. In 1890, when they were called across from their Portsmouth barracks to help quell the Sounthampton Dock Strike, Doyle was still resident in Southsea and would be familiar with them.

As for campaign - the most recent in which the regiment took part were the 1860 New Zealand Maori campaigns & the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-80.

Now, while there are some interesting echoes in the poem's language of that employed in this description of The Storming Party at Ohaeawai , I think the much more recent Afghan war to be the poem's setting. If I am right, we have in this little poem a poignant connection with Dr. John Watson who returned wounded from that very campaign to take up rooms with Sherlock Holmes at 221b. Baker Street in A Study in Scarlet. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Good Night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes" a short story.

Stradivarius with Score.

"Good Night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes" is the opening story in a projected series "Parts for First Violin" which will feature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective as actor and master of disguise. 

[ “His Last Bow” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle records the capture of Von Bork, a German agent, by Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson on the evening of 2nd August, 1914. Holmes has infiltrated the spy ring in the guise of ‘Altamont’ with a confederate posing as ‘Martha’, the German’s elderly housekeeper.]


London. Just before dawn, 3 August, 1914.

'Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still”

But already the sky was mauve with a dawn reluctant to face a third day of the most terrible August in the history of the World.

Any return to the Baker Street rooms was, for the foreseeable future, quite out of the question. That little stage upon which he and Watson had shared so many scenes must stay as dark as the locked, silent cottage he also called home.

The good doctor would be safe. He had seen to that. Anticipating his friend's voluntary recall, it had been a simple matter to arrange a domestic posting that would keep him out of harm's way. Moreover, for Watson's immediate protection, there must be no traceable current connection with Sherlock Holmes.

Drury Lane, otherwise briefly deserted at this hour, stood silent witness to the man with a goatee beard watching the Ford disappear for ever with Wiggins at the wheel.

“It's abracadabra, Mr. Holmes. Now you see her...Henry himself wouldn't know her by tonight.”
And his parting shot had raised a smile: “We're your standing army now, see, The Irregulars!”

More than Wiggins knew they were coming into their own from this night on until the thing was done. By 1914, that network of unofficial agents would have been the envy of any Von Bork. Through them he had informal access to every hotel, railway station, taxi rank, theatre and restaurant that mattered in the city. And, thanks to them, did they but know it, he could now, for a while, go home.

Turning on his heel, alert for any sign of life, he melted into shadow and moved sure-footed down back alleys, taking a roundabout route before halting in the black entrance to an overgrown mews courtyard. The four-storey silhouette of a former stable block filled the entire opposing boundary.

“Hang on to that key, now you're back, okay? Bunk in the office – home from home! You just come 'n go as you please and the lads 'll let themselves in to work as usual.”

This most senior of The Irregulars gloried in his nickname - 'The Gaoler' - and his prize possession was “Mr. Holmes' Tool box”, now on permanent loan. He used it well. So well that 'Wiggins' and 'access' had become synonymous in certain circles.

You'll find everything in good order, just as you left it. Bit of profit on the books if you care to..Right! I'm away. Motor keys. Letter for the Doctor. And I'm to leave this Martha one at Claridge's for collection.”

“At reception–Brewster, if he's on. Otherwise the duty concierge.”

'My dear Watson,', he had written in haste, 'It may be some time before you hear of me. Absence of news will mean I yet live and go about, as you, the work I must do. God willing we shall meet after the storm abates. Very sincerely yours, Sherlock Holmes.'

Nothing would have pleased him more after two long years as 'Altamont' than to take up Watson's invitation to a clean-shaven, civilised breakfast or to savour at length the inimitable street gossip of Wiggins.The Germans, however, could already be on the streets, baying for revenge. James and Hollis had been small fry but last night’s taking of Steiner in Portsmouth was another matter. Questions would be asked and all fingers logically pointed to Altamont. Besides, the traitorous British paymaster constituted a real and present danger while still at large. Altamont's goatee must be gone just as the Irish-American himself had already been consigned to oblivion.

And Sherlock Holmes must vanish.

Though he deeply regretted the brevity of their reunion, there was some compensation in avoiding any repeat of the Reichenbach deception. The irony that war (inevitable now) was enough to guarantee Watson's safety did not escape him. And it was crucial to his plans that the enemy expend time, resources and energy in vain pursuit of a phantom.

At this moment, however, he was all too aware of being flesh and blood, of the hunt he must believe was underway and his own probable role as quarry.

Standing stock still cloaked only by slanting shadow took iron nerve. Safe harbour was in sight:and that is the moment of greatest danger. Without visible threat, experience (and the head Lama) had taught him the value of imagination. Deliberately, he conjured and held the image of a grey submarine lurking beneath the waves, His pulse slowed until he had attained an utter immobility and heightened awareness to which human animals rarely need resort.

When he did move it was as the brush of ebony velvet on black silk. Urgency screamed across the brightening courtyard; the walls behind him surrendering to a pallid straw even as he kept pace with the dwindling dark.

Nature determined the instant of no return. One seamless moment witnessed the key flourish, locate, turn and soundlessly withdraw.

A beat. Only the advancing sun. Hold! Now.

Use yourself in the service of good,” said the monks, “Then bless yourself with suitable, modest reward.”

Two decades had shown him the efficacy of a wisdom carried back from high Tibet. He was now for the first time in two years secure in the only other haven on Earth he trusted. There were official 'safe' houses, official agents he could have used but all were untrustworthy if not fatally compromised by the Von Bork papers. No, the logical arrow of safest recourse pointed through Watson, to Wiggins and the old stables.

Flickering monastery lamps and the olfactory memory of rancid burning butter eased his overtaxed imagination even as the logician in him prioritised for action and his lean frame crossed the room.

He was brought to a jarring halt by a change in the light. The room was cavernous, having long ago lost much of its upper flooring, but the ever- resourceful Irregulars had in recent years provided safe access to a double tier of side galleries encircling the lofty space. At this moment that space was swimming with tiny triangles, snowing wafers of coloured mille-feuille!

Ha! Watson!”,he almost ejaculated aloud. He had forgotten the church windows. Ten years or so ago, Wiggins' sister it was!- turned up one day with a cart load of stained glass.

“Look real nice up there, Mr. 'Olmes!”she had cooed. “We can 'ave our very own church to usselves, we can!”.

And they did. And it was. They knew people in the Salvation Army (they knew people everywhere) and, by chance calling in one Christmas Eve, he had been privileged (yes, that was the word!)... privileged to attend an impromptu urchins' carol service.

A year or so ago, in far away America, in mortal danger one lonely Christmas he had summoned to a faltering spirit the unforgettable icon of hundreds of bare-footed children knelt in unquenchable faith on unhallowed ground.

God knows how they had gotten up there, but somehow every upper window had over time been glazed with reclaimed church glass. Only HE could fathom also how The Irregulars had raised, secured and flown a fantastical chandelier of glass for that towering ceiling – Cinderella's Coach.

He smiled as the fractured dawn fluttered down in rainbow dust. His Grace the Duke of Holdernesse would be rendered speechless were he ever to learn to what purpose the saviour of his son had committed a portion of his bounty –that is, to “Pantomime House”.

That nobleman's largesse had come at the right time. Wiggins and some of the other seniors were of an age, ability and ambition to make something of themselves. By 1902, deeds to the property in the name of Wiggins were deposited with Cox & Co and much of the Irregulars' former ad hoc modus vivendi formalised into a working business. What had been their nominal home since childhood, their retreat, shelter, church and storage house now drew on years of contacts and expertise to make a living from All Things Theatrical.

In the broader motes of light now streaming from above, a vast grotto from fairyland unveiled. Here were stored (renovated or built to order) whole sets for pantomimes, costumes and props. The most hard-nosed theatre manager was reduced to speechless rapture by the sheer volume, panoply and magic of this Mountain of Miscellanea. Here was a Giant Beanstalk 'growing' next to a Gingerbread House, occupied by various stage-y snakes and a pile of scimitars. Wiggins prided himself on either having or being able to 'find' or construct any mortal (and all fairy!) things you desired. You needed an Excalibur for King Arthur? - he had a choice of five full-size,(real metal!), complete with scabbards. Cannon? No problem. Silken canopied tents camped incongruously amid pirate vessels.

“Pantomime House” was unique, invaluable and all theatreland knew it. Sooner or later everyone passed through here. The Irregulars never bothered to put up a sign –Sir Henry Irving himself (legend ran) had stood open-mouthed like a child in Gamage's on his first visit, able only to blurt, ecstatic:“It's...it's...Pantomime House!”

The name stayed and so did the growing children, all of whom were seasoned theatre performers and stage hands from an early age. They became very good very quickly: they had to. For most it was the sole regular source of legal income. Demand for labour often outstripped supply. Drury Lane alone required hundreds of extras on stage and battalions behind the scenes for its spectacular pantomimes. Irregulars thrived, brought up in a tradition which produced seasoned actors with single figure ages who could sustain a character for five hours, then go 'home' in pitch dark.

Now, as he stood in this Palace of All Illusions, he felt grateful for that grounding. Time and again, it had stood him in good stead.

And speaking of illusions.

Certain areas of the building were not forbidden as such to the Irregulars but practically so difficult to access as to make it not worth the effort. Chief among these was that side of the room set aside for stage machinery. Here were many frequently used, portable items–pulleys, flying harnesses, wheeled dollies and the like. Behind were permanently moored, like beached vessels, heavy duty under stage gearing for revolves, traps and such.

Well before even the time of Wiggins, he had acquired a re-claimed 'star' trap of massive proportions and weight, a prototype of the lighter, more manoeuvrable design now universally adopted. Consequently it was viewed as an antique, a symbol and, like the Cinderella Coach not for sale or rent.

This Leviathan of the stage now lay in state as centrepiece to the machinery section. To move it was a Herculean Labour, constructed as it had been to transport several actors through the stage boards in trompe l'oeil,as the exquisitely wrought triangular light wood flaps petalled open and re-folded on leather hinges to mask the solid platform winching back into place.

Deceive Wiggins and you deceived the World.

Not that he underestimated the younger man's resource. By nature acutely observant and curious, rest assured Wiggins would have examined more closely had his antennae been aroused. They never were. On those infrequent occasions he passed that unremarkable scene he saw only what he was intended to see - inactive machines and patent illusions.
There was simply no reason to disturb the Sleeping Giant - any more than a man should examine the crop of every goose encountered for precious stones.

The illusion of illusion!

The steel maintenance hatch (countersunk below operational stage level) incorporated safety features to guard against accidental release. He knelt beside the sealed access , leaned over the very back of the machine, aligned the familiar handles and felt the lid tremor free .It amused him to note in passing the analogous mode of entry to a submarine as he drew from his greatcoat pocket and lit a pocket lantern.

His feet found the steps. Shutting the hatch behind him, he descended through the floor joists of Pantomime House, to the most secret passage in London.

Jonas Oldacre, that rogue Watson had chronicled as The Norwood Builder, erred if he imagined his deception to be unique. The simple erection of a false wall in the old stable cellars, suitably camouflaged, pre-dated the employment of street urchins, and provided both priest hole and private route whenever circumstance required. And here as day broke on August 3rd, 1914 it shepherded Sherlock Holmes to pastures new.

A few strides brought him to an obsolete boiler-room door from the adjacent property. He occasionally mused on the total mileage and volume of forgotten empty spaces – an archaeology bequeathed to subterranean London by successive bouts of superficial re-building, done on the cheap and often with undue haste.

As he stepped through the back panel of a wardrobe of costumes into Drury Lane Theatre, the re-assuring scent of greasepaint and face powder greeted him like an old friend.

It was a veritable rabbit warren here in the Drury's bowels and that suited him down to the ground. Caught up as they were in the all-consuming business of profit through pleasure, the blinkered,avant-garde management of 1914 had simply forgotten whole suites of superfluous, de-commissioned rooms, left intact but as invisible as landscapes blanketed with snow.

The room was nondescript, one of a corridor of identical disused dressing rooms. To the casual eye it remained as left some mid-Victorian night when the theatre went dark.
He had used it for years. The absence of a water supply and reliance on portable lanterns was no discomfort: he never stayed long. It was a staging-post, a country halt between one identity and the next. All he needed was to hand. Before the pitted mirror, on a dressing shelf, lay scattered in seeming disarray an actor's modest box of tricks.

Some of this make-up had once graced the face of Kean himself. Probably the only memento of Charles Macready's farewell to the stage in this very theatre lay in the sticks of greasepaint thrown up on this subterranean shore by Time's fortuitous tide.

He thought on Edmund Kean and the great Macready as he went about his transformation. He thought too of the present generation – men like John Hare, Eille Norwood (who could fool his own director with thespian skill) and of the American, Gillette, who had taken up the baton and proved worthy. And he thought on Peterson.

He really owed it all to Peterson. Before the Carbuncle affair of '89, he had favoured the London cabby as Disguise of First Choice, though it possessed its drawbacks - not least of which was the tiresome provision of horses and stabling.

The best place to hide is in open view. Commissionaire Peterson's role in conveying Mr. Henry Baker's hat and goose to 221b had inspired the notion that here was the perfect disguise. As a uniformed member of the Corps you were both accepted, respected and (crucially) invisible on any London street at any hour of the day. A uniform called for the minimum in the way of physical transformation. With his hair adapted, the discarded goatee replaced with a military tache, his body had already slipped into the familiar role. When he stood the left leg gave way reliably to an old soldier's injury. Peterson even, never to this day cottoned on that the new boy, old Charlie (Mac) Macready, veteran of three campaigns, was one and the same with Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.

All was arranged. His re-commissioning request from an obscure government department lay ready at the Corps Headquarters in The Strand, 200 yards from Charing Cross Station. He would be expected, and welcomed at his own convenience that morning.

So! (As he inspected the cut of his jib in a full length mirror) the Order of the Day was:
1. A measure of repose.
2. Down The Strand.
3. To Claridge's.
4. Well, Four would depend on Martha's report.
5. Ha! Five: a Turkish bath and good, clean British linen.

Two hours elapsed. The eyes of ‘Altamont’ closed. When they reopened ‘Mac’ saw himself in the mirror. And away in one dark recess of his mind’s attic another person mused upon the state of nations this fateful August morning.

Out of the stage door alley he emerged exhilarated, imaging the brave new world of a butterfly on the wing. His head held high, all the authority of status thrust to the fore, Charles Macready, Lance-Corporal in the Corps of Commissionaires, strode purposefully into work.

The Strand 8.30 a.m.

Wotcha, Mac!” said The Old Guard, sat about the courtyard with pipes aglow. “Livin' yet, then!”

Survivin'. Just survivin'.”

Anywhere special?”

Jus' doin' my bit. Lord Kitchener, 'e needed a bit of an 'and. Asked specially for me. 'Mac', says he 'I don't mind tellin’ you, we've 'it a bloody brick wall!’ I set 'im right.” He winked.

They chuckled, spat and went back to their pipes.

The formalities done, the reunions navigated, he set off in the brisk loping fashion they all recognised, with a morning’s worth of commissions over one shoulder.

He's back then!” said The Old Guard, with no more interest than they gave to anything that for a moment stirred the sleeping yard to vacant awareness.

Claridge's. 11 a.m.

In those few remaining days of feverish, doomed diplomacy, Claridge’s vied for sheer drama with the surrounding theatres, presenting, in miniature, events of global scale and tragic denouement.

In more settled times, the smoking room of the Charing Cross Hotel was much favoured by foreign agents as a place of assignation for its proximity to the boat-train. In recent years a sea change had occurred and they were much more inclined to frequent the floral Art Nouveau pillared foyer and bars of London’s royal watering place. For here foregathered the reigning houses of Europe. Grandmama Queen Victoria had set her seal of approval on the old Claridge building and for the last fifteen years a regal flush of Continental cousins had made a home from home of Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s reborn phoenix.

Where power lies there the spy must go and he smiled to think on the novel location for intrigue afforded by a Claridge’s private lift.

They were here now - he recognised several, endlessly re-reading their newspapers, while Germans marched into France, eking out pots of well-stewed tea., as the fate of little Belgium hung in the balance, their hooded eyes trained on the ever-revolving main doors , on each soft swish of a lift door’s opening. All saw but none observed the commissionaire who had come via the Staff Entrance and concierge passage and now exchanged the time of day with Mr. Brewster.

Rum day? Aye, so it is! Joined up again, then, Mac? Good on you, son! Never too old to serve, that's what I say,” opined Brewster, with a well-meaning salute.

“This lady, though, she ain't here no more, but she has left a note for Mr. Holmes. Best get it straight into his hands now! You know how perticlar he can be!”

Thanking you, Mr. Brewster, sir. For your trouble.”

Oh, generous to a fault as per. Sure to give 'im my best now! Yes, Ms. Van Ryn! You wish to make a deposit?”

And he moved to another station of his luxurious concierge domain.

You really did it very well and I sincerely regret the manner in which I must wish you a fond adieu.

As you see, I am gone. And with me dear old ruddy-faced ‘Martha’ and her country cap. The Baron von Herling whom you passed like a ship in the night in his limousine prefers younger, altogether more sophisticated society. We have become delightfully close these last few months, the Legation Secretary and I ,meeting whenever Herr. Von Bork’s housekeeper must dutifully visit her poor dear invalid mother.

He suspects nothing. I retain his full trust and with it the most privileged of entrees to Berlin’s highest circles . You will, I know, appreciate also the security for a vulnerable widow of an indulgent private Treasury as travelling companion.

It gratifies me to be the facilitator of your escaping any imminent act of personal retribution. I have entertained the enemy in the isolation of his suite until the early boat-train from Charing Cross, while the good Brewster sent night messengers with a naughty little note I signed ‘Von Bork’ to the seven addresses you were to look into today.

In my own hand, I wrote one more - to our own dear treacherous paymaster requesting urgent funds in the present crisis.

At noon today the normal tranquility of Claridge’s Hotel will I predict experience some slight commotion when several irate German spies converge upon The Fumoir to accost a paymaster ‘Von Bork’ insists has been unmasked as none other than the famous Detective of Baker Street, a British triple-agent in disguise!

You may I trust sleep a little safer this night and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
Very truly yours,
A Friend.

And he thought of a passing greeting in the night long, long ago and a cabinet photograph locked in a drawer.

A conception of such elegance from the mind of so resourceful a woman deserved its sporting chance and may just save him weeks of labour. Let the wolves devour one of their own.

A telegram to Wiggins would presently put an invisible army of urchins on the streets of Mayfair. Beyond that, his task was to do nothing, which, on occasion, against the grain as it was, he knew to be the most productive option. Irregular shadows clinging like burrs would serve to locate a crop he could reap at leisure.

He scribbled a telegram from the concierge pad, handed it to Brewster and slipped away., leaving the convocation of international spies to their cold tea and vain devices.

[ Epilogue.]
Northumberland Avenue 1pm.

If Dr. Watson were a building he would be Nevill's Turkish Baths on Northumberland Avenue and in a world drowning in horrific uncertainties, Charles 'Mac' Macready now gravitated instinctively to that Moorish oasis of civilised permanence.

Mounting the steps he collided with a heavily built, elderly man with a grey moustache, accompanied by two burly medical orderlies.

Oh, what am I? Beg pardon, Guv!”

Perfectly all right, Commissionaire. Not looking where I'm going. Mind elsewhere, what!”

It's Doc..it's Doctor Wilson, ain't it, if I'm seein' aright?”

Watson. Watson. Doctor Watson of 221b...”

Baker Street! Lor! Wait'll I tell old Peterson and the lads! I've only passed the time o' day wi' the famous friend and biographer of Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself! How is his nibs? 'Ow's he doin' then? Or is it all too 'ush 'ush, eh, Doctor... eh?!”

Puffed with pride and exuding the most spontaneous affection, the Good Doctor replied, with a knowing tap on his bulbous nose, “Well, I don't mind telling you, I was with him just last night. In fact...”(he checked himself) “...My friend and colleague Sherlock Holmes lives yet and enjoys a life of tranquil retirement keeping bees on the Sussex Downs.”

Good old Watson.

Well, I never! Bees is it? Well, then. May Gawd bless 'im, I say! And Gawd bless you an' all, may I say. I give you Good Day!”

Watching his elderly colleague pick up the familiar doctor's stride as he blended into the lunchtime throng of City clerks and an Empire marching to war, he found embodied in one dear friend quite sufficient motive for the deadly work ahead.

[Copyright © Raymond P. Wilcockson 2013. All Rights Reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without written consent from the author.]