uring the hectic summer months of ’95, it seemed at times as if my friend Sherlock Holmes were nothing more than a shadow glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, leaving no traces other than a discarded newspaper strewn across the breakfast table, or a pipe found smoldering on the mantelpiece. In glancing through my notes for this singularly eventful period I find a record of no fewer than seven distinct cases that not only showcased his remarkable powers of deductive reasoning, but also demonstrated his uncanny grasp of the latest advances of criminal science. Among these was the odd affair of the clotted mastiff, which so perplexed the leading minds of the Royal Society of London, as well as the curious problem of second stickpin, which required the services of forty-seven toshers and rat-catchers for its successful conclusion.
Of all the cases that crossed my friend’s path in that memorable year, however, perhaps the strangest was that of Mr. Isadora Persano, the well-known journalist and botanist, who was found stark staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a remarkable worm, said to be unknown to science. I have made a passing reference to this matter elsewhere in my chronicles of my friend’s remarkable career, but the peculiar sensitivities of Mr. Persano’s secret, once we had uncovered it, prevented me from offered any detail. Now, to my sorrow, that gentleman has passed beyond the reach of earthly concerns, and the time has come at last to place the matter before the public.
It was the third Saturday of July when I arose to find Holmes lounging at the breakfast table in his dressing-down, glancing through the agony column of The Times. As it was rare to find him at home during this period, and I naturally pressed him for details about his latest case.
“A trifling matter, Watson,” said he. “I knew, of course, that Harcourt had murdered the coachman by the state of his left thumbnail.”
“But Holmes,” I responded, “what could possibly —”
He waved my inquiries aside. “So, Watson,” he said, abruptly changing the subject, “has last night’s lecture convinced you of the value of Professor Roentgen’s cathode rays?”
“A fascinating idea!” I replied, instantly warming to the subject. “A device that would permit medical science to peer at the inner workings of the human body without recourse to a scalpel! It must be admitted, however, that the very notion seems outlandish, and the reports of Professor Roentgen’s work are little more than rumors at the present stage. I fear that—but Holmes! How could you have known that I attended a medical lecture last night?”
My companion set down his newspaper with a gleam of amusement in his eyes. “A simple chain of inferences, Watson. Nothing more.”
“I’m sure there was nothing simple about it,” I replied. “It is almost as if you have used Roentgen’s ‘X-rays’ to reveal my thoughts! Unless you happened to catch sight of me emerging from the Queen’s Hall last night?”
“Nothing of the kind, Watson.” Holmes stood and took up a glowing cinder with the fireplace tongs, turning back to me as he used it to light his morning pipe. “You had already retired when I came in last night, but I observed your black leather boots drying in the hall, the ones you invariably wear when on a professional errand of some kind. Had you been called out to see a patient? No, your medical bag lay undisturbed upon the sideboard, showing no traces of last night’s rains. What, then? A meeting with a colleague? Your ulster was drying on the coat rack, but no amount of rain could wash away the distinctive odor of Egyptian cigarettes. That particular type of tobacco is favored by your friend Harkness, suggesting that you had passed a long evening in his company. Harkness is a professional colleague, and on two previous occasions you have attended medical lectures in his company. A notice of last night’s event in the newspaper—‘German Discovery Stirs Debate’—provided the final link in the chain.”
“How absurdly simple!” I cried.
“Indeed?” Holmes narrowed his eyes, clearly nettled by my remark. “Perhaps this morning’s news from Richmond will present more of a challenge. See what you can make of this.” He passed over a folded page of the newspaper and pointed a long finger at a headline reading: OUTRAGE AT RICHMOND. “The reports in the press are incomplete,” he continued, “but I’ve had a note from Lestrade with additional details. It seems that early this morning there was a disturbance at the home of a visiting American newspaperman named Isadora Persano. The police arrived to find Persano amid a scene of utter chaos, and bleeding badly from an injury to the head. On the floor was a single-shot gun that had been recently fired. Various objects were scattered wildly about the room, and partially burned books were found in the fireplace.” Holmes paused and sent a cloud of smoke to the ceiling, regarding me with a peculiar gleam in his eye. “Strangest of all,” he continued, “was the match box found upon the injured man’s desk.”
“What of it?” I asked.
“It contained a most remarkable worm, Watson, a worm said to be unknown to science.”
“But, Holmes,” I cried, “what can this possibly —”
I was interrupted by a ring at the bell. “That will be Lestrade, unless I am mistaken,” said Holmes. “I suggest you put your questions to him.”
The Story Continues at The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes …