Tonight was another lively gathering of Peoria Public Library's Sherlock Holmes Story Society, and there was a particularly tenacious theory running through our discussion of "The Beryl Coronet."
It first came to me when I saw Mary Holder described by John Watson . . . a medical doctor . . . as follows:
"She was rather above the middle height, slim with dark hair and eyes, which seemed darker against the absolute paleness of her skin. I do not think I have ever seen such a deadly paleness in a woman's face. Her lips, too, were bloodless, but her eyes were flushed . . ."
She's been seeing a man of noble rank in the evenings, who has "been everywhere, seen everything," who has "a great personal beauty," and a "glamour of his presence." A "fascination of his manner" that is hard to resist. He draws her away from a household she was devoted to, and into the night.
Mary Holder's last words to her uncle, written in a note, run thus: "Do not worry about my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search for me, for it will be fruitless labour, and an ill service to me. In life or in death, I am ever . . . Your loving Mary."
In life or in death?
Sherlock Holmes, known for bending fireplace pokers in "Speckled Band," confesses that he is "exceptionally strong in the fingers," and yet when he tries to bend the broken coronet, he admits "it would take me all my time to break it. An ordinary man could not do it."
And yet, Sir George Burnwell, Mary Holder's creature of the night, snapped the coronet in an instant.
Sherlock Holmes keeps John Watson at a particular distance during this case, telling his friend, "I only wish you could come with me, Watson, but I fear it won't do. . . . I may be following a will-o'-the-wisp." A will-o'-the-wisp? A legendary creature of the night?
We wondered, as we discussed "The Beryl Coronet" tonight, why Arthur Conan Doyle would name the son in the story "Arthur." Writing a character with your own name is ridiculously awkward, and he must have had a reason for going that route. In love with his own cousin, like Arthur Holder? Or was Doyle naming the man for the actual person who figured in the story.
An Arthur who was loyal and loving to a woman who was spirited away by a creature of the night? A man written of five years later under the name "Arthur Holmwood" in the novel, Dracula?
Consider how insane Alexander Holder seems when he first shows up at 221B Baker Street: Renfield insane. And consider the end of the tale, and Sherlock Holmes's words there: "I think we may safely say that she is wherever Sir George Burnwell is. It is equally certain, too, that whatever her sins are, they will soon receive a more than sufficient punishment."
A wooden stake, perhaps?