I bade a cursory ‘good morning’ to Mrs Hudson, and hurried up the seventeen stairs to 221B, where my old friend was sitting facing the window.
“Good morning, Watson,” he said without turning around. “I gather there is some item in the news you wish to discuss?”
I shook my head slightly as I walked into the sitting-room. One might have expected that time would have made Holmes’s deductive skills less surprising, but the singular nature of his mind never ceased to startle me.
“Holmes, how did -“
“You know my methods, Watson,” he said, and turned to face me. “Attention and reason, nothing more. If you consider the sequence of events immediately preceding your entry into this room, you may well be able to duplicate my conclusion.”
I paused for a moment, retreading that familiar path in my mind. Holmes had cautioned me to pay attention to detail many times before, and yet there was little of note about my arrival in our shared lodgings; or so I thought.
“Once again, I am at a loss, Holmes,” I said, collapsing into the vacant armchair, and glad of the warmth of the nearby fire. “You will save us both time if you explain how you came to your conclusion – which is, I must add, quite correct.”
“Well, Watson,” he said, and leant forward, with a look in his eye that I had often seen before. “I have heard you enter this building many times, and therefore the sound of your footfalls is known to me. The overall pace and stride changes little, even if it is cold or wet outside – I know that, as a gentleman, you will always pause at the door to wipe your feet or dispose of your umbrella should it be snowing or raining.”
“That much is true,” I agreed, nodding slowly.
“On this occasion, however, you did not stop – as, once again, a gentleman would do – to greet Mrs Hudson with your customary warmth, and nor did you ask her for tea or any other form of refreshment. Clearly, you were in something of a hurry to speak to me, and considered you had something of considerable importance to discuss. A notion which was made all the more evident by the manner in which you ascended the stairs.”
“Yet you knew it was an item from the news I wished to discuss,” I pointed out, only now producing the torn-out section of that morning’s Times from my trouser pocket. “How could you have known that?”
“There are many sounds in the city, and I have made it my place to know as many of them as possible. The sound of the ragged edge of a torn piece of newsprint in a man’s pocket – especially one as well-lined as would be expected in a suit from Saville Row, Watson – is as distinctive to me as the sound of a man’s voice. The rough susurrus is not, I might add, unlike that of the wind through sere grass in the Himalaya.”
The reminder of Holmes’s time abroad, when I had thought my friend dead, was an unwelcome one, but his point was well made; I had been faintly aware of the sound of the piece of newspaper in my pocket, but had paid it no mind. It was this insistence on attention to details – details which others might have ignored as being commonplace – which made Holmes peerless in the field of investigation.
“So, Watson,” he said, “what news is it that you wish to bring to my attention?”
“Grave news, to my thinking,” I said, and unfolded the section of newsprint. “There are plans afoot to sully your name.”
“Really?” he asked drily, arching an eyebrow. “An attack on my reputation and standing? Interesting.”
“It’s not interesting, surely, Holmes!” I blustered, unable to understand how he could remain so calm. “As a Consulting Detective, much of your income derives from the public perception of your character and abilities. This perception is endangered by the plans of which I speak.”
“A reputation as fragile and easily destroyed as you suggest,” he replied, reaching into the nearby slipper for his tobacco, “is one which appears to be of little merit. What are these plans, that I should be as concerned as you seem to be?”
“There is an intention,” I read from the section of newspaper, “to take your name, and your well-regarded skills, and portray them in a fashion more befitting a common brawler, in a medium most vulgar and unseemly.”
“You speak of the moving picture, I fear,” said he.
“Indeed,” I replied. “Financiers are even now emptying their coffers to provide backing, and a man of questionable reputation and ability has agreed to take the reins of this ill-considered venture.”
“A man willing to do such a thing,” Holmes said, stuffing the last of the tobacco into his pipe, “must have little to lose. He may well be a man who has known success, tasted and delighted in its fruits – including the adoration of womenfolk – but who has started to fail. A man for whom the memory of the good fortune, now seemingly out of reach forever, must cause restless nights.”
“You know of the person involved?”
“I know his kind,” Holmes said, striking a match and holding it to the pipe until a warm glow emitted from the bowl. He puffed twice. “I know of the effects of fame, and the artificial world of the moving picture, on a man. Especially a man who may have but one tale to tell, one song to sing. When that has been done and his mental resources and creative abilities are exhausted, he will seize on any apparent opportunity to earn his money, or to cling to the last vestige of success.”
I said nothing. In my fashion, I was relieved that my old friend had not been as alarmed as I, and that he seemed confident that no matter the words said about him or his characteristics, the lasting memory of Holmes would be that of a man whose brain was always to the forefront, and whose fists were a last resort.
“Tell me,” Holmes said suddenly, “what is his name, this man? I’ll admit I should ideally know it already, as I know the names of criminals, but the world of the moving picture makes a man’s status rise and fall with shocking speed – to keep track of such individuals would require a greater memory than even I possess. Who is this man, who would deliberately seek to portray me as other than I am, in order to gain a few pounds, a few more paragraphs of coverage in the London News?”
“His name,” I answered, offering Holmes the germane section of newspaper, “is Guy Ritchie. “
“Ah, Ritchie,” Holmes said with a rueful shake of his head. “I suspected that this time would come, sooner or later.”