My esteemed readers will surely remember the so-called Agadir Crisis of the summer of 1911. In July of that year, the Kaiser sent a gunboat to the Moroccan city after the French had made moves to add the country to their African empire. My sympathies for the French do not extend particularly far, but here they had a point. They could not well let the Germans set up shop next to Algeria. So the French put down their foot, the Germans dug in their heels, and soon the only topic of conversation at my club was the coming war. Despite having long since joined the ranks of the middle-aged, I wondered whether I would be called up. There can never be too many surgeons on a battlefield. The war did not come, of course. We backed the French and so did the Americans, and eventually the French traded the Kaiser some patches of jungle, and the whole affair blew over.
As I write this, three summers later, I am less sanguine that we will once again be spared the trials of war. I was walking home from a house call this afternoon, when, upon turning a corner, a newspaper boy thrust a copy of the Telegraph under my nose and yelled: “Austrian crown prince shot in Sarajevo!” I tore the paper from the boy’s hand, and indeed, the prince was dead, shot at point blank range in his car. They had even killed his wife! I am at a loss for words when I think of the poor lady’s fate. An unprovoked attack on a man is low and cowardly, but the killing of a lady puts the attacker beyond the pale of humanity. The Austrians will clamour for revenge, and then what will the Russians do, and the Germans, and the French, and we? All of us have been very lucky for the longest time.
But was it luck? This brings to mind one of the strangest encounters I had at the side of Sherlock Holmes. It took place as the Agadir Crisis neared its zenith. I never wrote up this story as I am to this day unsure as to what exactly occurred. Yet as I now stare at the headlines of the newspapers beside me on my desk and ponder what the coming weeks may bring, I cannot help but think back upon that strange individual who called himself the Count of Saint Germain, and upon what he said to Holmes and me.
As so often, the first link in the chain of unusual events was an exceedingly usual one. I was sitting in a comfortable chair by an open window of the Watson residence on Queen Anne Street, enjoying a cigarette and flicking through the latest issue of the Lancet. There was still some light in the evening sky. By my side on the table stood a glass of lemonade that my solicitous wife had brought me a while ago. A breeze rustled the leaves of the ivy on the wall and somewhere in the poplars at the end of the garden a night bird began hooting.
The telephone rang, and I sighed inwardly. I take pride in my calling and in being able to contribute my small share to lightening man’s lot in life, but on occasion I have caught myself in the unreasonable wish that patients might restrict their medical emergencies to daytime hours. I levered myself out of my seat. As I walked into the hallway, I saw that my wife had already picked up the receiver and was listening intently.
She smiled at me, nodded, and spoke into the mouthpiece: “No, Mr. Holmes, I’m sure he has no pressing engagements … Yes, I agree, he tends to mope around a lot … Absolutely, a break in the routine will do him a world of good … Very well, Mr. Holmes, we will see you shortly, then.” And with that she hung up.
“He seems quite animated,” she said.
“Of course, he’s animated,” I snapped. “He must just have taken a new case. He’s as animated as a hound is who’s being let out of the kennel and knows it’s off to the hunt.”
“Shush, darling,” she said, brushing past me. “You’ve always enjoyed these little adventures with Mr. Holmes. Just stay out of harm’s way. Otherwise, who will write the story?”
“That’s all you worry about, I see,” I called after her.
Her blue eyes sparkled when she turned. “Well, they do bring in a few extra pounds.”
Holmes had officially retired to the South Downs some years ago, but he did keep a pied-à-terre in the city, and if the right person called he could be distracted easily enough from bee-keeping and other more staid endeavours. The leopard does not change his spots. Ten minutes later, the doorbell chimed.
“Ah, Watson,” my friend said as I opened the door. “It’s good to see you, as always. Are you ready?”