The Adventure of the Bishop (Part 1 or 2)
The following manuscript was found among my father's effects some years after he passed away. The family connection to John Watson was a matter of some pride (in 1991 my aunt Sarah took his medical bag onto the Antiques Roadshow) but neither my sister or myself have any recollection of this ever being mentioned. We believe my father likely wrote it either very shortly before he was sent to war or when he was invalided home in 1943. That he wrote it at all is a surprise to us both. My father was never a great reader and had no literary ambitions. There is no evidence that he ever attempted to publish it.
Of the fishing tackle box, or its contents, there is no sign.
The Adventure Of The Bishop
That the discovery of a new Sherlock Holmes adventure, written by his friend Doctor John Watson, would cause a sensation among the reading public might be considered a statement of the obvious, yet, having now such a thing in front of me, I find myself doubting how well it will be received. The story is unfinished, being only a few lines of introduction and then a series of letters, documents, and contemporaneous notes that, I am afraid, lack the doctor's usual literary style. Even taking this disadvantage into account, I worry it will disappoint the reader. It features the great detective but a little, and there are no great leaps of deductive reasoning and few other demonstrations of his many skills. More than this, there is - I think- a darkness to it that is absent from even the foulest murder the doctor published. And yet it is obvious that the doctor's intention was to publish and, as custodian of the work, I feel it is my place to assemble what there is into a readable form.
I should perhaps first explain how I came by such a thing, and why the provenance is not to be doubted. When Amelia Watson, the doctor's widow, died without issue in 1937 her estate passed to her nephew, who was myself. The family believed -and it was certainly Amelia's intention- that all her late husband's papers had long since been donated to the University of Edinburgh but, in the attic, with some other items of fishing gear, was a locked tackle box containing the bones of one last adventure.
I have the tackle box in front of me as I write, the lock broken for we could not find the key. Within it was a bundle of papers tied up with parcel string. On the top, facing up, was a note in blue ink reading Not to be published while the protagonists live. It is safe to say that this condition is now met. Beneath was a page of foolscap on which John Watson had begun the story. He had titled it first The Adventure of the Shoreditch Poisoning and then crossed that out and written instead The Adventure of the Bishop.
The rest reads as follows.
It was a bitterly cold November morning in Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes would not be persuaded from his bed. I contented myself by drawing a chair up near the fire, confident that Mrs Hudson, at least, would treat a visitor with all due hospitality. When she entered the room, however, it was not with hot coffee but with the card of a client. "A woman," she explained.
I attempted to rouse Sherlock one more time but he merely commanded that I see her instead of him. "Write everything down Watson," he shouted hoarsely from behind the door, "and I shall review it later."
I returned to the living room where Mrs Hudson had sat the woman down in my chair by the fire and furnished her with a hot cup of coffee. She was a stern faced, rather haughty looking woman in, I would guess, her early thirties. I knew that Sherlock would ask so I took note of her clothes which were obviously fine, but of dark blues and greys with scarcely a hint of colour about them. I had the immediate impression that she was a spinster but, conscious Sherlock would demand evidence if I mentioned it, I found on examining my preconceptions that I had none to supply. She did not rise on my arrival and, in fact, regarded me with an distinct air of disapproval.
"I am afraid," I said after introducing myself, "that Sherlock Holmes is indisposed, but he has asked that I record the particulars of your case and he will attend to it as soon as he is able." I sat down at the writing desk, regretting its position away from fire, and armed myself with a pen.
"Very well," the woman said after a short pause, "I suppose that will have to serve. Doctor Watson my name is Anne ____, I am niece to the Lord ____ ____,Bishop of ____ and keep his Lordship's household. I am here because he is being poisoned."
"Poisoned!" I remarked. Here at least was a case where my own expertise might serve.
"That is my belief and has been for some time," Anne went on. "His Lordship returned to London in August in his usual robust heath. Normally he prefers to spend the entire summer at his residence in ____ but this year renovations are being carried out on a certain church in Shoreditch, the architecture of which His Lordship has a particular fascination with, and he wished to be present to document anything that might be discovered. Three weeks after arriving His Lordship complained of listlessness and exhaustion. At the time we thought it was due to the heat but even when the weather improved his condition only worsened and these last two weeks it is worse than ever. His Lordship had always been a man of robust constitution, wont to rise at six every morning and work till gone eleven at night. Now he sleeps through to nine or ten o'clock some days and often sleeps again at the dinner table. He has become pale in colour and slow in thought and his appetite is much diminished. It is like living with a different man entirely."
"But madam," I said, "this could be any number of common natural maladies. Why do you suspect poison?"
"His Lordship is not given to suffer from common maladies."
"I do not wish to contradict you," I said, "but I am a practising doctor and I have seen many patients who never suffered a day's illness in their lives until the day they did. If nothing else, in the end age weakens us all. How old is your uncle?"
Anne regarded me for a moment with pursed lips and then said, "There were threats made. I understand that poison was mentioned."
"Threats!" I exclaimed, "Mister Holmes will certainly want to know everything of this."
"They were not shown to me."
"Could your uncle perhaps provide them? It is Mister Holmes' method to examine such documents carefully. The handwriting, the paper, even the ink can reveal worlds to him." I was about to relate to her times when whole cases had hung from such tiny details but she cut me short.
"Impossible," she said. "They were all destroyed."
"Then please state all you know of them," I said. "Anything you can tell of the contents or the material form can be of use."
"Doctor," she said sharply, "the service I require of Mister Holmes is to determine how the poison is being administered, not by whom." she said. "The only use those tawdry letters might have, if they still existed, would be to confirm such a service is required. I would hope that both Mister Holmes and yourself would take my word for that."
I sat for a moment, pen paused in hand, taken aback by this very singular statement. When I had collected my wits I eventually replied "Madam, You may relate what you know to me now, or to Sherlock Holmes later, for I am certain that he will want to pass his own judgement over what is relevant and what is not."
She sighed, and if meaning can be put into a sigh much was put into this one. "There are elements in the country," she said as if it were the most tiresome and obvious fact which must be explained to a child, "who would see society torn up by its roots and inverted. Why they are permitted is beyond me. My uncle's name appeared in the papers last year connected to a political matter and these..." she searched for the right word, "Chartist mobs spoke against him. As a result of which he received threats. If Mr Holmes wishes to know the details then I am sure he can do his own research."
I saw that this statement was as much as I was going to get and took time to write it down word for word for Sherlock's benefit. When I looked up I found her staring me straight in the eyes. "Mark my words Doctor Watson," she said, "there is evil at work here. I know it." It was plain that even if I was not convinced, she was.
I remembered my medical training and thought about how to approach the problem from that standpoint. "Has anyone else in the household been similarly afflicted?" I asked.
"Does the bishop ever eat or drink alone?"
"Before his habit of rising late I always took breakfasts together with His Lordship. Now he rarely has any appetite before noon and only wants fresh tea upon waking. Likewise we take luncheon and dinner together if we are both at home. Often His Lordship is at the Shoreditch church for the entire day and in which case he will dine with the vicar and his wife. Business sometimes takes His Lordship to Westminster in which case he will dine at the House of Lords. His Lordship is a sociable man by nature and rarely dines alone."
I wrote all this down while Ann sat with pursed lips and her hands folder in her lap. "I must ask," I said eventually. "Do you trust your servants?"
"Without qualification," she said. "There is not a member of the household who has been with us fewer than ten years. Nevertheless I have taken to, on occasion, swapping plates and glasses with His Lordship after they have left the room."
"I am struck by your bravery madam."
The compliment did not please her. "Doctor Watson I am not a child," she said. "I have taken all the obvious precautions and satisfied myself as to the innocence of all the obvious suspects. I require now the service of a professional. If you have no further questions then Mr Holmes may write to me with his fees and I will decide then if I shall employ him."
She rose as if to leave and, feeling the interview has served all the useful purpose it was going to, I rose too and bid her a good day.
I did not return to Baker Street until the following week, when I found Sherlock Holmes in a much improved mood and eager to relate to me findings he had made on how certain aspects of the time and manner of death might be deduced from the burned remains of a mouse. Mrs Hudson, who entered halfway through conversation with tea and toast, remarked that she was thrilled Mr Holmes had made his discovery as he would no longer be burning mice in the grate. After we had talked of this and other matters I asked whether he had pursued the matter of the bishop at all.
"Pshaw!" he exclaimed. "The man obviously requires your services more than mine, though I suppose I should congratulate you on your report of the interview. You limited yourself to facts with admirable restraint. I imagine you have theories of your own to explain his symptoms. What would you do if he presented at your surgery?"
"I should listen to his heart," I said, "and check his breathing. I should want to eliminate a tapeworm or any other parasite. I should ask if he suffered from dizzy spells, headaches, or mood swings."
"Yes, yes," Sherlock agreed, cutting me short. "You are of much the same mind as I. Nevertheless I have written to the lady with a list of vectors other than ingestion by which a poison may be administered. If nothing else it should keep her busy. If she still requires my services when she has eliminated these then I will be happy to take her money. She can afford it and my well threatens to run dry this month."
Here the manuscript ends and I am left to piece together the rest of the tale from other documents. The next of these, so far as I can tell, is the following letter, dated in December. It has been torn into four pieces. I imagine Doctor Watson rescuing it from the fire at Baker Street.
Dear Mister Holmes,
I include the second of your monthly remittances as we agreed, however it shall be the last unless I see some evidence of work on your part. Without visit or word from you since you agreed to investigate it is hard to see what service I am paying for.
The letter is signed, and the return address is legible, but as it was obviously the doctor's intention not to reveal the Bishop's identity I am also omitting that information and will continue to do so.
The next document, dated the following day, is a telegram from Holmes to Watson.
COME BAKER STREET AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE