Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are the creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a work of fan fiction, written by a fan for the enjoyment of other fans and no harm is meant by its creation. The characters and incidents described are completely fictitious, and spring from my curious sense of humour and warped imagination.
The Case of the Adventure without a Title
In committing to paper some of the many cases in which my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes has had a hand, I would fervently hope that I have done my level best to convey some sense of dignity in the telling of the tale. Holmes of course would have it that my style is somewhat too romanticised, pandering to what he considers to be the reader's frivolous need to have something before them that is perfectly readable as opposed to a textbook dissection of the logical deductions therein.
He is entitled to his opinions as much as I am to mine. Since he is either too lazy or unwilling to make the effort, it falls to me to construct these stories as I see fit. Generally speaking, we have our boundaries when it comes to criticism – I do not tell him how to solve cases and he does not tell me how to practise medicine.
On the subject of my literary endeavours, however, he is inclined to meddle.
It usually occurs when he is bored and listless and falls to resenting the fact that I am busily occupied with my writing. It begins with some wry comment about the last story to appear in The Strand, generally pertaining to some grammatical error that I may or may not have committed, and then proceeds to a lengthy diatribe on how he should do it, if only he had the inclination.
Painful experience has taught me all the warning signs and normally I am able to remove myself from his immediate proximity long before any of his so-called advice comes my way. On this occasion, however, I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts to notice the beginnings of Holmes' burgeoning interest in what I was doing and quite missed my opportunity to flee.
"Are you having trouble, Watson?" asked he.
I must confess that at times I am positive Holmes has eyes in the back of his head, for certainly he had his back to me and to my knowledge had not moved once from the fireside to look in my general direction.
"No," I lied, poorly as it transpired.
He swivelled in his chair and gave me a reproving glance. "Now, Doctor, you will admit that you have been sat at your desk for the last fifteen minutes and have yet to write more than three words on that almost blank sheet of paper before you."
"No, there is no doubt about the matter. You have sighed, tapped your pen against your teeth, sighed again, sat back in your chair, sat forward in your chair. What else am I to conclude but that you have encountered some difficulty with your latest account of one of our adventures?"
I was loath to admit it, even though he must have been able to tell from my expression that he was correct. "Oh, very well," said I. "Yes, I am somewhat stuck."
His eyes gleamed. "Stuck, Watson? Perhaps I can help. What is the case?"
"The Orpington business."
"Ah, yes, the heiress and the family of spendthrifts. So, what is the problem?"
"The title, Holmes. I don't know what to call it."
He looked nonplussed. "Haven't you just told me? What's wrong with 'The Orpington Business'?"
I lay down my pen, certain now that I had made a mistake by telling him this much. "I have never yet had to resort to calling a case by the area in which it was based. It's not descriptive enough."
"But that is exactly what it is. The case happened in the proximity of Orpington. Watson, you make too much of trifles."
"So, by that reckoning The Hound of the Baskervilles should have been called 'The Dartmoor Case'?"
With a disparaging sniff, he returned to his paper. "Well, you have my opinion on the subject. What were you going to call it?"
I looked at the few words I had scribbled on the page and knew instinctively that if I told him, he was likely not going to be best pleased. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, I reasoned. He would find out soon enough when it appeared in print.
"No matter, Holmes. I'll think of something."
I heard the chair creak as once more he turned to look at me. "Watson," said he. "Your tone suggests you have already made up your mind, but for some reason are reluctant to tell me."
With almost feline grace and equal speed, he had leapt to his feet and come to stand behind me to look over my shoulder. I was not quick enough to cover my poor scribblings and as I had suspected, they met with a snort of contempt.
"'The Mysterious Affair'?" he read out disapprovingly. "Now, Watson, you know my thoughts on this topic. I investigate cases, which you then write up as adventures. I do not have affairs!"
There was no answer I could give to that with a straight face and so did not try while Holmes continued in his merry fashion.
"What are my investigations to become? Titillation for the masses? Shilling shockers about lovelorn maidens and hearty lads? Whatever next!"
He took a moment to pause in his indignation and lit himself a cigarette.
"I tell you, Watson, it's but a short step from 'Mysterious Affairs' to abstractions with the word 'murder' in the title and little else."
"Actually, Holmes, that was going to be my next choice," I confessed. "'Murder in the Garden', I thought, had a nice ring about it."
He fairly choked at the prospect. "My point exactly. That title has nothing to do with the case at all!"
"It does. Orpington is on the borders of Kent, and Kent is called the Garden of England, so –"
"You're too subtle. Do you seriously think for one moment that the public will have any idea to what it refers?"
In my defence, I had thought it rather a good title. Nor could I allow Holmes to have the final say. "Titles like that are very popular nowadays. Just because you didn't understand it doesn't mean nobody else will."
"No, Watson. I will not allow myself to be associated with mindless and irrelevant drivel."
"Mindless and irrelevant drivel?" I echoed, rising to my feet to negate his height advantage in this argument. "I'll have you know, Holmes, that I've given much consideration to the title of this piece. Have I ever let you down?"
"No," came his grudging reply.
"Well, then, trust me."
He waved an airy hand. "My dear fellow, I cannot stand idly by while you degrade these interesting mysteries further with nonsense headings. Bad enough that we must endure the incessant touches of colour and description you feel the need to include to pad out the material at your disposal. But the title, Watson, that should set the scene immediately." He sent up an indignant cloud of blue smoke. "'Murder in the Garden' indeed!"
At times, I am sure that Holmes believes that all I have to do is spend a few hours before my desk and the words pour of my pen with little effort from me at all. What he does not understand is the sheer amount of work involved. For a start, there is presentation to be considered. Also, he seems to forget that there are certain things one can and cannot say, and what to him is nothing more than a series of words may have meanings which could be misconstrued.
However, since he believed he had won the upper hand in this argument by placing so much faith in his own literary judgement, I decided it was time to call his bluff.
"Holmes, I bow to your superior skills," said I, taking a seat on the settee. "I leave the choice of title to you."
He regarded me with narrowed eyes. "Watson, if you play this game with me, I will win."
"My dear friend, if you do, then from hereon in, I will faithfully follow your direction."
This seemed to appeal to him. He considered for a moment, his brow knotted in thought.
"Well, now," said he, "if I understand your usual custom, and take my own advice, I should say that the title must be specific as to place. Therefore, the choice is absurdly simple."
"I'm all ears."
With a palpable sense of triumph, he stated his selection. "'The Adventure of Pratts Bottom'."
It was my turn to be unimpressed. "Holmes, that sounds salacious, like the sort of novel that you yourself were not five minutes ago decrying."
"But that is exactly the location where the case took place."
"I don't doubt that. But what of your reputation? Are you happy for your name to be spoken in the same breath as 'bottom'?"
He gave me a long, hard look. "Watson, you are a prude of the first order."
"And so are a good many readers of The Strand. How are they to know that Pratts Bottom is a perfectly respectable village in Orpington?"
Holmes, as ever, had an answer for everything. "You must state that in your opening line."
"Along with an unnecessary description of the place no doubt."
"Very well then," said he. "'The Case of Pratts Bottom'."
"Why, that sounds like something one would read in a medical journal. No, Holmes," said I, selecting a cigarette for myself, "it simply will not do. In fact, shall we endeavour to leave all mention of 'bottoms', Pratts or otherwise, out of the title?"
He looked a trifle annoyed at the stricture I had imposed upon him. Clearly, this was proving to be more difficult than he had anticipated. He flopped down into his chair and sighed.
"In that case, we must look to the people involved. The heiress, where was she from again? Hertfordshire, wasn't it?"
"The manor of Ugley."
"Then there you have it. 'The Adventure of the Ugley Heiress'."
There are times when Holmes can be the densest man in London. He said it without any trace of humour, as though the very thought that it might be in the slightest way demeaning to our client had not even occurred to him. In all honesty, that to me made it all the funnier, and to my shame, I burst out laughing.
"I fail to see what you find so amusing," said he in all sincerity.
"Think about what you just said."
The light slowly dawned. "Ah, yes, unintentionally unkind, I take your meaning. What of her name then? She was related to the Dorset Piddles, as I recall. What was her first name?"
"'The Inheritance of Lady Penelope Piddle'."
He saw my look of dismay mingled with stifled amusement and his enthusiasm subsided.
"Watson, your sense of humour is at times most infantile. That is a perfectly acceptable title."
"For a comedy, yes. For a serious tale of murder and dark intrigue, no."
"Then we must concentrate on the family at the heart of the case. The Pokes, as I recall." He rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. "'The Adventure of the Pokes of Pratts Bottom'."
I fought and abysmally lost the battle to contain my laughter. The sound of Holmes' hearty guffaw joined mine to confirm that he had at last seen the funny side of the situation and we laughed until the tears rolled down our faces.
"I do declare," said he, trying unsuccessfully to contain his mirth, "that this is a most troublesome business. The case did not give us this much difficulty."
"But now at least you do see my problem."
"See it? Watson, I have new respect for your creativity and skill. I had quite underestimated the degree of complexity involved in crafting a suitable tale from these pretty problems which are presented to us." He wiped the last traces of moisture from his cheeks and gave me a most sympathetic look. "Well, my dear fellow, you are the victor. What will you call this tangled business of Piddles and Pokes?"
I had hoped that something would have occurred to me by now, but I must confess that I was stumped. The choice seemed to be either something wildly hilarious or wholly inappropriate, neither of which option greatly appealed.
"Are you quite sure," said I after giving the matter serious consideration, "that you wouldn't countenance an 'affair'?"
This time, it was his turn to be amused. "Watson, my blushes. Really, this pawky humour of yours is fast getting out of hand."
"You know what I mean."
"And the answer is still no."
"Then all I have is 'The Piddle Inheritance'."
A smile twitched at the corner of his lips. "I'm starting to think that you are a bad influence on me," said he. "There was a time when I would have considered that to be a most fitting title for the piece, but now I see how it lacks a certain dignity and grace."
He rose abruptly to his feet and went to the sideboard, where he poured us both a drink.
"Would you care for my advice, Watson, for what it's worth in this matter?"
"Gladly," said I, taking the glass he held out to me.
He stood with his back to the fire and regarded me placidly. "Return the notes to your despatch box. This is one case, I fear, which will never see the light of day."
I took a sip of my drink and considered. "Perhaps you are right, Holmes. It seems a great shame, however, for it was a most intriguing mystery."
"'For want of a title, the story was lost'," he mused. "Ah, well, I dare say there are other cases you can find to supplement your meagre income."
And so it was that the records of the curious events of Pratts Bottom, a respectable village near Orpington, were returned to Cox & Co. to be buried away once more in their vaults and that was an end of the affair, sorry, business.
Place names - don't you love them? There really is a Pratts Bottom in Greater London, an Ugley in Hertfordshire and a River Piddle in Dorset. Still, I have heard worse... :D
So what should Watson have called this egregious story?
As ever, reviews are muchly appreciated!