As usual, our monthly meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Story Society at Peoria's North Branch Library was full of lively conversation tonight, ranging from why the St. Louis library-meeting society can only handle a story every two months to the cursed "glass-strewn" versus "grass-strewn" variants of "Charles Augustus Milverton."
Along the way, however, I was struck by two little details that never crossed my path before, and very important details they were.
For one, we all know this is a very different case for Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Not a mystery, but a problem to solve. And we never see just how his client first comes to him as we normally do. We assume it's just consulting detective business as usual. We assume a lot of things.
But two words triggered something in me that changed my entire view of this case. Lady Eva Brackwell, "the most beautiful debutante of last season" in Sherlock Holmes's own words (Let me say that again with emphasis: Sherlock Holmes's own words.)has come to Sherlock Holmes with her darkest secret laid bare to ask his help with Milverton. And Sherlock Holmes goes after Milverton with all he has, and quite emotionally, at that. Milverton raises Holmes's hackles like no other criminal. But just because of the crime of "blackmail" in general? Or something more specific?
Holmes tells Watson of just what Milverton is blackmailing Lady Eva with: "several imprudent letters -- imprudent, Watson, nothing worse -- which were written to an impecunious young squire in the country." And where are we told in another tale that Holmes's people come from? Country squires.
Was this poor country squire who is so aware of what was in those letters Mr. Sherlock Holmes?
Ah, you might protest, debutante Lady Eva is too young to have been sending letters to a young country Sherlock! But a.) The letters could have been written by a crushing-on-Sherlock tweener Eva Brackwell, and b.) The Milverton case is never dated, and could be a very early Baker Street matter.
Which brings me to point number two about this case: Watson runs two miles after he is nearly caught as one of the two burglars who murdered Milverton. In A Study in Scarlet, John H. Watson is wounded in the shoulder. In The Sign of the Four, Watson is wounded in the leg. What happened in between those two cases? The Milverton matter.
Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard is looking for a guy who can run two miles who had something to do with killing Charles Augustus Milverton. Sherlock Holmes jokes, "Why, it might be a description of Watson!" and Lestrade repeats those very words. Not so funny to the guy who might go to prison for a murder he didn't commit, right? How best to quickly cover up his fitting the description of that suspected killer?
"... a six-mile limp for a half-pay officer with a damaged tendo Achilles." Oh, Watson's aching leg! No way was he that escaping Milverton murderer with that leg! No way at all!
Did Lady Eva come to her "impecunious young squire" to remedy the fallout from her youthful crush? And did Watson fake one of his wounds to avert Lestrade's lawful gaze?
Charles Augustus Milverton wasn't the only one who could draw out the secrets. And another evening with Peoria's Sherlock Holmes Story Society can do that as well.