Sherlock Holmes: One of my favourite passages

Sherlock Holmes was one of the first detectives whose exploits I began reading. I still remember that issue of a mystery stories magazine – whose name I cannot recall-  dedicated to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  in which I made the acquaintance of Mr Holmes in  ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and then in ‘The Red-Headed League’. I soon bought my first Sherlock Holmes book …. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes way back in the early 1980s and remember those long evenings when I sat reading the grim ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, ‘The Adventure of Engineer’s Thumb’ and particularly ‘Five Orange Pips’  and others. The book  was soon followed by others containing the canon and even after all these years, I can well remember that lazy Sunday when I sat with the ‘Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’, through the gloomy ‘The Greek Interpreter’ and ‘The Resident Patient’ and  then experiencing a profound feeling feeling of loss as I reached the end of ‘The Final Problem’. Fortunately, I did not have to have wait almost ten years for the resurrection, but just the next visit to the market to pick up ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’.

The attraction of Holmes is hard to define. He may have his detractors but there is no disputing the fact that the character has become the benchmark for detective fiction – though not the first in the genre. The number of film adaptions, TV miniseries, papers, pastiches, parodies and other forms of imitation are proof of his popularity. And as writers are getting aware, the Victorian Age is the perfect stage for popular fiction from romances to murder mysteries to the supernatural and the new genres like ‘steampunk’. However,  much can be said on all this and I shall return to this theme later.  Here my sole pupose is to display one of my most favourites pieces from a Holmes’ story.

I shall not tell which story is it. Those familiar with the works will be able to place it, and for those who are not, it may not make much difference. Nor will I forsake the temptation to be casually indolent by refraining from adding a brief sketch of the plot. My purpose is just to display the brilliant dialogue often encountered in the canon. One prevailing feature of the Holmes’ stories is a fierce sense of egalitarianism, which is remarkable in the early 20th century.  Look at Holmes’ indifference to the concerns of two powerful figures, with whom he acts in almost a brusque manner underneath a facade of charm .

…..Holmes considered for some little time.
“Now, sir, I must ask you more particularly what this document is, and why its disappearance should have such momentous consequences?”
The two statesmen exchanged a quick glance and the Premier’s shaggy eyebrows gathered in a frown.
“Mr. Holmes, the envelope is a long, thin one of pale blue colour. There is a seal of red wax stamped with a crouching lion. It is addressed in large, bold handwriting to —“
“I fear, sir,” said Holmes, “that, interesting and indeed essential as these details are, my inquiries must go more to the root of things. What was the letter?”
“That is a State secret of the utmost importance, and I fear that I cannot tell you, nor do I see that it is necessary. If by the aid of the powers which you are said to possess you can find such an envelope as I describe with its enclosure, you will have deserved well of your country, and earned any reward which it lies in our power to bestow.”

Sherlock Holmes rose with a smile.
“You are two of the most busy men in the country,” said he, “and in my own small way I have also a good many calls upon me. I regret exceedingly that I cannot help you in this matter, and any continuation of this interview would be a waste of time.”

The ending to this story is one of those rare examples – which will be effective in any form or medium of expression – be it the printed word, a drawing or being enacted . 

~~ The Premier looked at Holmes with twinkling eyes.
“Come, sir,” said he. “There is more in this than meets the eye. How came the letter back in the box?”
Holmes turned away smiling from the keen scrutiny of those wonderful eyes.
“We also have our diplomatic secrets,” said he, and picking up his hat he turned to the door.

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