Reading the summer cases of Sherlock Holmes on the dates they began has had some interesting turns along the way, but here, at summer's end, we encounter something we haven't seen since June 1 -- a double event.
According to my reckoning of the case dates, "The Crooked Man" and "The Cardboard Box" both begin on August 30, two years apart. The former takes place in 1887, the latter 1889. Unlike when this date-sharing occurred on June 1, however, this time I thought I'd take on both cases together. And that's where we practically get into fan fiction territory.
"The Crooked Man" begins with a social situation unlike any other in the Canon. John H. Watson has married. He's working exhaustingly hard as a doctor, struggling to afford multiple servants and a house big enough that those servants can lock up the hall to their quarters at night. And yet, as exhausted as John Watson is, he can't seem to go to bed at the same time as his wife for some reason. As midnight approaches, he sits by the fireplace trying to stay awake and read a novel.
And the doorbell rings. Another patient, Watson thinks, and grimly drags himself to the door.
And there stands Sherlock Holmes.
Watson is astonished, and relieved.
"You told me that you had bachelor quarters for one, and I see that you have no gentleman visitor at present," Holmes says . . . a statement that sounds extremely odd to the modern ear. Sherlock Holmes has just showed up at nearly midnight, and asked Watson to spend the night. It's a reunion of sorts, as Watson seems to have been playing husband and doctor to the exclusion of his old room-mate and lifestyle. And does Sherlock Holmes come in and go, "Quick, Watson, I have a case!"?
Nope. Sherlock Holmes comes into John Watson's home in the middle of the night, Watson is relieved to see him, and the two men sit down and smoke in silence for a time. Silence, after a time apart -- not talking about Holmes's case or Watson's job -- almost like they're both struggling to find words for something. Sherlock Holmes finally breaks the ice with some observations and deductions, and a little emotional outburst occurs between the two men.
"Excellent!" cries Watson.
"Elementary!" says Holmes.
And then something even more interesting occurs. Sherlock Holmes says this about Watson's first attempts at writing up their cases: "The same may be said, my dear fellow, for the effect of these little sketches of yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to the reader." Holmes's eyes grow bright and his cheeks grow red as those words are spoken.
Never imparted to the reader. Never. Not "clues you hold to the end of the case," no. "Never."
There is something about Holmes's cases Watson is never going to tell us. And Sherlock Holmes is sure that the case of "The Crooked Man" is missing the same element that Watson with-holds from his readers. What is that element?
Get ready for a spoiler, because I'm skipping straight to the end of the case on this one.
The missing element is the former love of a now-married individual. The case ends with a discussion of whether or not that scandalous truth needs to be brought forward. It apparently doesn't, and a little Bible discussion ends the case on the straight and narrow path.
With that, we skip ahead two years to the events of "The Cardboard Box."
Sherlock Holmes has John Watson back in a blazingly hot Baker Street, and Watson writes of his "companion" many times in the opening. That companion who knows him well enough to read his very thoughts. And what does the case they are about to become involved in center around? Get ready for more spoilers, as I'm skipping to the end once more:
Something about this case's topic of marital infidelity would later hit Watson's literary agent so hard that he would retract the story's publication and keep it out of the public prints for years, so it would end up in a different collection of cases than the one it started it. But was it the infidelity of that story's sister and the sailor that affected Watson's agent so strongly? Or another infidelity it represented to him . . . one never imparted to the reader.
In August of 1887, John H. Watson is a hard-working medico with a wife and household that he may have been struggling to hold together. The house, like many a house, needed a lot of work, and a lot of work needs a lot of money. And needing a lot of money can make things rough in a relationship.
In August of 1889, the wife, the household, and the problems all seem to be gone. Did that state somehow tie to a midnight visit by someone Watson cared about in 1887?
Well, I've never been a great proponent of the relationship that many fans are wanting Moffat and Gatiiss to eventually get to on Sherlock, but on some occasions in reading the Canon, one can easily get the impression that it was there already. Or was it?
Part of the joy of Dr. Watson's writings, from dates of the cases on up, have always been those things never imparted to the reader and left to our own perogatives and imaginations. And this will always be one of them. Enjoy deciding for yourself.