Contrary to popular thought, Dr John H Watson was not Sherlock Holmes’s only friend in London, nor his sole narrator. There were times when Watson, whose outlook was as pragmatic as Holmes’s, would have been baffled by events, as in the incident at the Natural History Museum. There, Holmes turned to Roger Sherrington, a clubman of some note, a gentleman of independent means, and a scholar of ancient books, arcane mythologies, and vanished civilizations. He was the polar opposite of Holmes, a whimsical arch-romantic and a believer in many odd, occult and bizarre notions. He had an intuitive understanding of the world that ran counter to Holmes’s analytical mind, and while we might at times consider him a flippant and ‘unreliable narrator,’ he provided, for some of the events that night, a point of view of which Sherlock Holmes himself was quite incapable of achieving.
Sherlock Holmes believes me a fool. Once, he actually voiced that opinion, though not in an entirely unkind tone, and at the time I could hardly contest the charge. Be that as it may, I felt he at least understood my sincerity even if he did not give any credence to my admittedly odd beliefs. I knew he would never budge from his Gibraltar of Logic, that unassailable redoubt of rationality from which he surveys and judges the world, just as I would never abandon my belief in a cadre of banished monster-gods awaiting the proper alignment of stars to reestablish their rule over Earth for the purpose of enslaving and devouring humanity.
Ah, yes, admittedly odd.
I well know how such outré ideas might rest with even the most liberal-minded, but I never would have accused Holmes of having such a mind. His was the keenest intellect of his age, and I always counted humanity fortunate his nature dictated a predilection toward law and order rather than crime and world domination. Me, I would have been constantly tempted. I assumed Sherlock Holmes and I would forever be at antipodes of belief and philosophy.
As it turned out, I was mistaken.
At least I think so, though, even now, I cannot say with any great confidence what beliefs truly reside in that magnificent mind of his. In any age, Sherlock Holmes will ever be the Great Enigma.
It was late one autumn night, 1898, as I prepared to retire. An urgent knocking sounded at my Westminster Mansions flat. I waved off my man, Giles, who himself was making to retire for the night, and answered it.
“Good, you’re at home, Sherrington,” Sherlock Holmes said to me. “Grab your hat and coat, we must hurry!”
“But where, Holmes?” I cried, even as I scurried to collect my outer garments. “What has happened?”
“A death,” he explained.
“A murder?” I jammed on my hat and struggled into my coat.
“Perhaps,” he replied cryptically. “Hurry, man!”
“Well, can you at least tell me where we are going?”
“The Natural History Museum, South Kensington.”
We bustled out the door. “Who was killed? How? Why?”
“There is no time for explanations.”
Just as I was about to close the door, a hand shot out bearing my Webley-Fosbery Automatic. I stuffed it into my coat pocket.
“Very good idea, Giles,” I murmured.
“Yes, I thought so, sir,” my man replied in that dry, even tone he used for announcing brunches and the end of the world.
The door closed, the latch shot, and I hurried to catch Holmes, who had already clattered down to the first floor. I finally caught up with him at ground level, nearly out of breath—me not him—and followed him into an evil night of yellowish roiling fog.
A hansom waited. At Holmes’s approach, the driver at the rear of the fly vehicle pulled a lever, opening the low panels at the front. I followed him in immediately, but so quickly did the cabby push the lever back into place I was nearly snapped in a most indelicate fashion, if you know what I mean.
“Natural History Museum,” Holmes called up through the trap. “Exhibition Road, near the Southern Galleries, via the Imperial Institute Road.”
The trap shut like a crack of thunder and we were off.
“Holmes, surely the Museum’s frontage is on Cromwell Road.”
“We shan’t use that entrance for reasons which will become obvious,” Holmes explained, explaining nothing, as usual.