Sunday, June 4, 2017

Out of the city.

Writing under the heading of "Sherlock Peoria," I'm well aware of the impression Peoria can give to the unenlightened. Corn fields, rustic small town folk, and none of the urban culture of our Chicago brethren to the North. One of my ex-employers used to specifically route visitors so that they would enter town from the East, coming down the interstate to a lovely view of a riverfront crowded with big buildings and the aspect of an actual city of size, rather than state highway approaches from the North, which are all fields and little river towns.

I mention this to illustrate that even for a Peorian, there's much deeper in the country one can go, which I did this weekend, heading to a destination wedding that took us on a long drive down smaller and smaller roads eventually spending many miles on  a one-lane gravel road leading to a hunting lodge, then out to a wedding by a pond and a reception in an actual barn built in 1887 . . . the year Sherlock Holmes was created/investigated many a case.

Getting away from the city is a great break in your routine, but it doesn't come without a touch of discomfort, being disconnected from the web we urban Moriartys sit in the center of. But it wasn't Moriarty I was thinking of at such a remove -- it was John H. Watson, in "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman." Now there was a guy who had some discomfort.

We often talk about the abuses Watson occasionally suffers at the hand of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but that subject doesn't usually bring up Little Purlington. Even with our lack of mentioning it, it seems such an abuse that one can imagine that in the final years of their partnership, it wasn't "Norbury" that John whispered in Sherlock's ear when he wanted to chide him, but "Little Purlington."

Their client in the case, the crabby old miser Josiah Amberly receives a telegram beckoning him to see the vicar of the village of Little Purlington -- a telegram that even sounds like Sherlock Holmes wrote it: "Come at once without fail. Can give you information as to your recent loss." And, oddly, Sherlock Holmes shows no interest in following this apparent clue in a murder investigation. But he's glad to send Watson with Amberly to follow up on it.

"Little Purlington is not an easy place to reach," Watson wrote, long after the trip was done. "My remembrance of the journey is not a pleasant one, for the weather was hot, the train slow, and my companion sullen and silent, hardly talking at all, save to make an occasional sardonic remark as to the futility of our proceedings."

Of course Amberly thinks it's futile, because  . . . SPOILERS! . . . he's the murderer.

When they get to little Purlington, "what seemed to me to be the most primitive village in England," Watson eventually finds a phone and calls Holmes to tell him it was all a wild goose chase. Holmes's response?

"I much fear, my dear Watson, that there is no return train tonight. I have unwittingly condemned you to the horrors of a country inn. However, there is always Nature, Watson -- Nature and Josiah Amberly -- you can be in close commune with both."

And then Holmes laughs.

He just sent Watson off to Timbuktu with no sense of the facilities or lodgings available there and knowingly has set John up to spend the night with an old murderer, apparently out of doors if he doesn't like the local lodgings. (And Amberly is a miser after all.) We hear nothing of how that night passed, or where, but you can be sure it wasn't one of Watson's better overnights.

Later, when Amberly is locked up, Holmes explains it all to a Scotland Yard inspector who calls Holmes's work "masterly." And what was that masterly plan? "I sent an agent to the most impossible village I could think of, and summoned my man to it at such an hour that he could not possibly get back. To prevent any miscarriage, Dr. Watson accompanied him."

Sherlock Holmes has burgled other people's houses without sending Watson to an "impossible village" to spend the night with a killer. Or warning him ahead of time about it.

"You can file it in our archives, Watson," Holmes says after tossing Watson a newspaper whose story gives neither he nor Watson credit. "Some day the true story may be told."

But Watson, generous soul that he was, never tells us the full true story of his awful night dragged out of London and dropped in Little Purlington ("The Most Primitive Village in England!" probably being added to its welcome sign after it got mentioned in The Strand Magazine thanks to Watson). But you know from his "primitive" line alone, it wasn't a good one.

 My own weekend in parts unknown was much more pleasant, especially being surrounded by generous family and friends and not a murderous miser like Watson was. (I had full cable access, plenty of pizza, and Mexicokes.) But I could well imagine how he might have felt, given the remote location.

Poor John Watson.

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