The Sherlock Holmes Story Society comes around again this Thursday night in Peoria, and this time up we're discussing "The Red-Headed League." And just starting to re-read this particular story has me very interested in John Watson's particular place in Sherlock Holmes's life at the time of this case.
"The Red-Headed League" is definitely an 1890 affair. Watson is definitely living away from Baker Street, and has definitely chronicled some of Holmes's adventures already. The partnership is in full swing.
"This gentleman," Holmes says as he introduces Watson to Jabez Wilson, "has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also."
Now, one might suspect that Holmes is blowing smoke just to get Wilson comfortable with the new arrival, but consider how Sherlock also accuses John of embellishing the cases somewhat in his writings. Sherlock Holmes is not a man to embellish, and the statement he makes above can surely be taken at face value.
Watson is also, in this case, practicing his own skills at observation with no prompting from Holmes. And then something interesting takes place: "Sherlock Holmes's quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances."
Sherlock notices John observing.
John notices Sherlock notice him observing.
John shoots Sherlock a couple questioning glances.
Sherlock Holmes smiles, shakes his head, and seems to admit that he couldn't see much either. Of course "not seeing much" for Sherlock Holmes is: "Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else."
Those facts are so obvious to Sherlock Holmes that at this point, it seems like he could be assuming Watson got all that himself. And why not? As the Latin phrase Holmes quotes a few lines later states, "Everything unknown passses for something splendid," and that applies to Holmes as well as the rest of us. He does not know what Watson made from his observations, only that Watson didn't think he got much, which is the same thought Holmes had about his own efforts.
Did John Watson's absence from Baker Street make Sherlock's intellectual heart grow fonder? When the doctor wasn't present from day to day, did Sherlock Holmes's memory give his friend a slightly enhanced set of detective skills, raising John a little close to himself?
"You could not have come at a better time, my dear Watson" Holmes says after physically yanking Watson into this case. He doesn't need Watson's help with a rough sort, an aid in dealing with a bore, or a friend with an experience of women he lacks. Sherlock wants John on this case because it's exciting him already and he needs his friend to share it with.
And it is one of the most terrific adventures a couple of friends could have. A little exploration, some lunch, a concert by the popular Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate (Oh man, do you have to love YouTube -- here's a link to hear the same artist Holmes heard that afternoon.), and then a late-night vigil, the capture of a master criminal, and then back to Baker Street for a glass of whiskey in the wee small hours of the morning!
If you want to talk bromance (or even Johnlock), "The Red-Headed League" is a place to begin that discussion -- a truly wonderful time in the partnership.
Can't wait to discuss it Thursday night!