Sunday, May 29, 2016

That time they set fire to Baker Street.

It's a small enough thing. Something we don't like to dwell upon.

"You haven't seen about Baker Street, then?" Sherlock Holmes asks John Watson in "The Final Problem."

"Baker Street?" Watson replies.

"They set fire to our rooms last night. No great harm was done."

That last was Mr. Sherlock Holmes speaking, of course. Think of it in that light . . . Sherlock Holmes saying "No great harm was done." His view of "harm" might be a little different from what the rest of us consider "harm." Especially Mrs. Hudson.

The basket-chair. The bearskin hearthrug. The deal-topped table that held the chemicals. What burned in that fire? What would any of us wish to see gone from the sitting room at 221B?

We know that chemical corner table survived, as Watson references it in "The Empty House" as being still a part of the familiar scene. The basket chair isn't referenced again post-Reichenbach. And was that bearskin rug even there before the fire?

When setting fire to a room, something has to go first, and my money is on that basket chair. And surely some papers, as Baker Street was full of paper. Recent newspapers perhaps? Unanswered correspondence? Holmes's scrapbooks survived, as Watson reports them in "Empty House" as he does the chemical table. But any document that saw the inside of Baker Street would surely be a treasure to us, and many of those had to be lost, despite Holmes's "No great harm was done."

Maybe it was all in Holmes's bedroom, which we are not nearly as familiar with. Burning a man's bed sends a message, even if the rest of the house doesn't go up with it. And Holmes wouldn't consider sleep all that important when there was a Moriarty to deal with.

"Mycroft preserved my rooms and my papers exactly as they had always been," Holmes says upon his post-hiatus return, so it would seem everything of import to him was still there, in line with his "no harm" statement. Yet we have to wonder . . . fires don't occur without some damage, unless Holmes was there while the criminals were actually igniting the blaze, or some equally rapid-response situation.

A fire starting in what hadn't been Watson's bedroom for some time would imply some very incompetent criminals . . . except for the way Holmes refers to the fire being in "our rooms." Watson has been married and out of Baker Street for years. The year before, Watson only participated in three cases with Holmes. And yet . . .

What might have remained in Watson's old room that would have felt like "no great harm" to Holmes and yet something both men would have left there even after Watson's marriage?

Watson's notes and papers dealing with the publication of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four . . . attractive representations of Holmes's detective success to the potential firebug in Moriarty's employ, and yet to Holmes?

"No great harm."

I still worry about that basket chair, though.

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