I was re-reading "A Scandal in Bohemia" for Thursday night's discussion of it at Peoria's North Branch Library (at 6:30, if you're local), when I was struck by a particular pair of statements.
"I understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you alone," the king of Bohemia says to Sherlock Holmes.
Dr. Watson rises to leave immediately. Sherlock Holmes pushes him back into his chair and says, "It is both or none."
And while we love Holmes's sentiment, look again at what the king actually says. He seems to know who Watson is, and actually compliments him. All Watson has to say is "Thank you, I shall be honored to show myself worthy of your trust," or something similar. Even a simple, "You can count on me!"
But Watson seems to have doubts as to his own standing as a man of honor and discretion. Or whether he's worthy of trust. He's quick to try to excuse himself.
And, also rather notably, Sherlock Holmes doesn't say anything at all about Watson's trustworthiness, or vouch for him in the slightest. He just goes "Both or none," and "You may say before this gentleman anything which you may say to me." In other words, "We're a matched set. The same." Holmes doesn't say anything about his trustworthiness either.
The king binds them with a promise, however, with a two year duration. And both men give a verbal affirmation of that promise. The first vows in a matter in which vows become very important.
Yet I still have to wonder at this hint of an unworthy, dishonorable Watson. Almost like he had failed such a test on a case prior to this one, and requires Holmes's absolution. Was it just Watson's marriage that had "drifted us away from each other," as Watson writes in the story's beginning? Or was there something else?
One of the things fans and writers, be they professional or amateur, have long enjoyed about Sherlock Holmes is the way the stories inspire other stories, and even a couple of lines like those just mentioned seem to be "heavy with child," so to speak. What was going on with Watson in "A Scandal in Bohemia?"
I'm not entirely sure, but I'm looking forward to discussing it, among other things, this Thursday night.