Sunday, July 25, 2021

"It was an old acquaintance"

 Looking at the cases of Sherlock Holmes from a chronologist's point of view (Don't run away! I'm not writing about Sherlockian chronology in this post!), gives one a slightly different perspective on Watson's texts. Certain words jump out more strongly in the desperate hunt for clues as one reads a particularly date-cryptic tale. And so it was tonight with "The Dying Detective."

You may remember the tale, and the Scotland Yard man we are introduced to therein: "It was an old acquaintance, Inspector Morton of Scotland Yard, dressed in unofficial tweeds."

As I was currently debating the decade of this tale in my mind, those words "old acquaintance" were pointing me toward this case taking place later in Holmes's career. They also puzzled me a bit. For how was this "old acquaintance," a Scotland Yard man whom Sherlock Holmes trusted for a particularly important trap, someone we had never heard of before? One would expect old friend Lestrade to be the one waiting outside to catch Culverton Smith, as he came for Sebastian Moran in another very important moment of capture.

But if this was a later case, and The Strand Magazine had boosted Lestrade's reputation as someone who worked often with Sherlock Holmes, there was a chance Smith might recognize Lestrade on the street and sense the trap about to be sprung. But Inspector Morton, to both readers of Strand, Smith, and also ourselves, is an unknown. Yet an unknown who was a trusted friend to Holmes and Watson.

Here's where I got a really good idea that fell apart quickly, because it was based on a flawed remembrance -- as in who was the fiance of Helen Stoner? Well, it wasn't Cyril Morton! I always found the opening of "Speckled Band" interesting because Watson promised someone, most certainly Helen Stoner, that he wouldn't tell the story until after their death . . . and somehow he knows when that day has come, like he stayed in touch with her after she married Percy Armitage. And with the possibility that both his wife and the man who saved her from snakebite death dying around the same time, I had this really great theory that Percy Armitage became inspired to become an investigator of crime.

Well, when I thought his name was Cyril Morton . . .

But we all know that Cyril was Violet Smith's fiance, right? Of course, we do.

So is it still possible to shoehorn Cyril Morton into giving up electrical engineering and getting on at Scotland Yard out of his admiration of Holmes? (Or perhaps because his wife kept going on and on about how great Sherlock Holmes was, and he felt he had to compete?) I don't know, but man, do I hate to give up on Inspector Morton having an origin earlier in the Canon.

So how old was that "old acquaintance?" Hmm.

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