DISCLAIMER: The Great Mouse Detective and its characters belong to Eve Titus and Disney.
THE PROFESSOR'S PORTRAIT
Dates: June 19th, 1897: Battle on Big Ben; June 20th: day after the battle, setting of this story; June 21st, morning: Queen honours Basil; evening: Flavershams say goodbye.
Solicitude to Celebration
The evening of June 20th, 1897, began pleasantly enough for Doctor Dawson, Mr. Flaversham, his daughter Olivia, Mrs. Judson and Mr. Basil. Just the night before, the nefarious Professor Ratigan had fallen to his demise from the hands of Big Ben after a fierce battle of life and death with Basil. However, it was, for the most part, due to a stroke of luck that his considerably physically weaker opponent survived; Ratigan had failed to balance himself as he was thrown off the gigantic clock arm which, with extreme momentum, sent him tumbling into the abyss as it struck 10 p.m. Nevertheless, in spite of being under great stress, Basil never lost the keen awareness of his surroundings that was so characteristic of him, and realized that the chimes would be his saviour. Although Ratigan, mad with rage at his triumph gone awry, made certain that he plunged into his death at least together with his foe and not alone, Basil was able to rescue himself with the last bit of strength he had in his injured body, rapidly and determinedly pedalling his way upward again, where his friends, overwhelmed with their radically alternating emotions, from terror to grief to euphoria, received him on their makeshift dirigible.
They had spent the remaining night at Basil's flat on 221 ½ B Baker Street; the generous landlady, Mrs. Judson, had arranged for two normally unused small extra bedrooms to be available for Mr. Flaversham and his daughter Olivia, and Dr. Dawson. The horrified expression on Mrs. Judson's face, upon having seen the dangerous state her tenant was in, had soon faded as she realized he was, luckily, in the medically capable hands of a former army surgeon, who knew instantly what measures were to be taken in order to prevent Basil's condition from deteriorating further. Though he felt that he had miserably failed as Basil's assistant during the very first detecting case he ever witnessed, he possessed other strengths, and some knowledge of medicine that his newly found friend, as well as everyone else present, lacked.
After a burdensome, almost sleepless night for the detective's acquaintances, they were eventually roused by the rays of rising sun that shone through the small windows. Mrs. Judson, with only their best interests at heart, saw to it that they were prepared for the challenges of the day with an abundant breakfast; however, their appetite was not the greatest, for their minds were still anxious due to the events of the day before. Little Olivia hardly ate anything, but sombrely stared at her plate, not uttering a single word.
"Do eat something, dear!" her father urged, though he himself had left most of his food untouched. The girl shook her head miserably.
"I cannot," she then said quietly, pushing her plate away with a trembling hand. "Oh Daddy, I'm so afraid for Mr. Basil! I hope he's going to be alright! It's all my fault! If he wouldn't have had to save me, he could have escaped Ratigan! All of this happened because of me!"
Distraught, Olivia burst into tears, burying her head in her hands and sobbing terribly.
"There now," Dawson said, patting her, "For heaven's sake, don't blame yourself, my dear! In fact, it is thanks to you that Basil found out that Ratigan was behind your father's abduction! After all, it was you who caught a glimpse of the peg-legged bat and mentioned this vital clue to Mr. Basil."
"Dr. Dawson is absolutely right, Olivia darling," Mr. Flaversham added, "And you were so exceptionally brave throughout the entire case. You couldn't have made me any more proud, and you should be proud of yourself!"
After some moments, Olivia ceased to cry and dried her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket before her father handed her a tissue.
"Perhaps you're right," she then said with a rueful smile which soon faded.
Thankfully, the subsequent circumstances would relieve the brave little girl, as well as the others, from their anxieties, for Mr. Basil was exhibiting signs of rapid recovery. In fact, although prevented from being his usual energetic self, he was well out of bed around noon, while covered in several bandages that made him appear like a walking mummy.
"Basil, I really don't think it wise to overexert yourself while in a critical condition such as yours," Dawson remarked reproachfully. The headstrong detective, subtly rolling his eyes as what he perceived to be excessive worrying, retorted with a defiant smile,
"Critical? My dear fellow, you greatly exaggerate. These superficial scratches are nothing to be so anxious about. I assure you that I am quite alright!"
With these words, Basil reached for his pipe and filled it with tobacco, which, eccentric as his habits were, he kept in a Persian slipper above the fireplace in the living room. Needless to say, the good doctor was aghast at the statement, and looked at Basil open-mouthed, uncertain of how to persuade him from resting himself for at least a few more hours. However, he knew not that his friend had an iron constitution which tended to strongly rebel against immobility.
"Don't look so scared, Dawson. It's really not as bad as it seems…" To put the medical mouse at ease, he then walked back to his bed. Since Dawson's face clearly indicated disbelief, Basil added, "I do confess I've never felt as stricken as I did yesterday night, but I shall be as fit as a fiddle in no time. Speaking of fiddles… would you please be so kind as to hand me my violin?"
"Surely you don't intend to play!" Dawson exclaimed.
"How can I?" Basil replied, "Don't you remember, Dawson? I wrecked it accidentally by sitting on it. No no, I only wish to have a look at it to see if anything can be done to mend it somehow… I haven't had the opportunity to do so ever since the most unfortunate incident."
"Here you are," Dawson said, handing him the instrument. Basil examined it a few moments, then laid it aside. Dawson detected a trace of sadness in his eyes, but which seemed to have vanished a second after its appearance.
"Negative," Basil murmured bitterly.
"I'm very sorry about it," Dawson said, genuinely disappointed.
"She has lived for long enough… sometimes permanent farewells come earlier than expected," Basil mused, as though alluding to something else.
Though somewhat reluctantly, Basil allowed himself to be convinced by the others to rest himself properly for the remaining day. Dawson went out for a walk with the Flavershams, returning in the evening. They sincerely thanked Mrs. Judson for letting them stay at Baker Street, for, as it looked like, yet another night. Luckily, Basil's condition had further improved, and after dinner, around 7 p.m., he sat, as was his custom, cross-legged in his favourite armchair clad in his purple dressing gown, smoking a pipe, while the others, also in the room, cheered that their friend was feeling better, and that the evil Professor would never wreak havoc in London again.
"Thank God, the despicable villain will never return! Indeed, I never wish people ill, but someone such as Ratigan truly deserved his fate. What a blessing it is that he is gone!" Dr. Dawson cried. "To Basil of Baker Street!", he then exclaimed, raising the glass into which Mrs. Judson had poured him, and Mr. Flaversham, some champagne in celebration of the occasion. Olivia, sipping from a cup of peppermint tea and helping herself to some of Mrs. Judson's cheese crumpets, curiously examined Basil's chemistry set while the adults chinked glasses, rejoiced and laughed.
"Mr. Basil, I don't know if champagne will do you good, but if you please, I might as well also pour you a glass!" Mrs Judson said, turning to her tenant with a friendly smile.
"Very well, Mrs. Judson, you may do so!" he replied, winking at her mischievously.
"Basil, come over to the table and join our toast!" Dawson cried. Basil slowly got off his armchair, took a glass of champagne out of Mrs. Judson's hand and raised his glass as well.
"To everyone present!" he said, and subsequently, a pleasant ringing sound came from the colliding crystals. Olivia heard it and went towards the others.
"Can I toast too?" she asked.
"Of course, my dear!", her father said, and soon, the little mouse raised her little cup of tea and toasted with the others. When Basil saw her, he felt a bit awkward, but, though initially hesitantly, he raised his glass to the beaming Olivia's little cup, chuckling a little.
"Mr. Basil, I really don't know how to thank you," Mr. Flaversham said. "Olivia and I both owe you our life."
"It's quite alright," Basil said modestly, "It is you who should be thanked, for if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have found out about Ratigan's diabolical scheme."
"Thankfully, Olivia knew just the right mouse to contact in her time of need," Dr. Dawson said. "By the way, Mr. Flaversham, how did you find out about Basil and his work?"
"An old acquaintance once recommended him to me," Flaversham replied, "He had read about Mr. Basil in a newspaper article about a case he was involved in helping the Scotland Yard detectives… My acquaintance said that if ever found myself in a situation where I needed help of an extraordinarily clever mouse, I should contact one Mr. Basil of Baker Street."
Dawson said, "Indeed, how lucky I must consider myself to have accidentally come across Olivia after the terrible event… Otherwise, I would not have made Basil's acquaintance, and nor yours, Mr. Flaversham! I say, you do have a remarkable talent for creating original toys… quite an extraordinary gift indeed!"
"Thank you very much," Flaversham replied with a modest smile.
"I quite agree with Dr. Dawson," Basil said, "Your robotic Queen Mousetoria imposter was the work of sheer genius… although it was designed with Ratigan's malicious intent… but for what it was, it was astoundingly crafted. You should be awarded for your exceptional talent, I would suggest." Blushing, Flaversham faced the ground before nodding at Basil as an expression of gratitude for the sincere compliment.
Basil then distanced himself from the group and went back to sit in his armchair, while Dawson and Flaversham animatedly conversed.
"Can I get you gentlemen anything else?" Mrs. Judson asked them.
Dawson said, "Mrs. Judson, you are truly most generous! Don't you want to join us in our conversation?" The landlady coloured.
"Indeed, Doctor, if you insist… I shall gladly participate!" She added, smiling, "In all these years with Mr. Basil as my tenant, I've never had so many guests at once under this roof! He never receives anyone, actually, except clients… but naturally, I don't get to talk to them!"
She laughed, visibly overjoyed at the lively company. Eventually, they reverted to their talk about the late Professor Ratigan, and Dawson cried, "The devil is finally dead!"
"Wait a minute…. that reminds me of that folk song! Irish, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Judson, who was a very gregarious lady when she was not forced to deal with her tenant's odd habits.
"You're right!" Dawson cried, and, having had a little too much champagne, immediately broke into song, slightly altering the original lyrics: "Some say the devil is dead, the devil is dead, the devil is dead, some say the devil is dead and buried 'neath Big Ben Tower! He'll never rise again, he'll never rise again, he'll never rise again, he's reached his final hour!"
Mrs. Judson laughed. "Doctor, you do have a wonderful sense of humour!"
"Care to join me for a duet?" he asked her, charmingly as always, and the landlady, flattered by the request, said, "I'm warning you, I'm not much of a singer, but I'll do my best!" A moment later the two plump mice were singing and dancing across the room like children. Mr. Flaversham, somewhat embarrassed, sat down at table and watched them from a distance. Olivia came to sit next to her father, incredibly amused by the landlady's and the doctor's strange behaviour.
"I wonder if Basil would approve of our lyrical variation," Dawson said with enthusiasm.
"Mr. Basil? I daresay I doubt it," Mrs. Judson whispered, shaking her head. "He's got his own bizarre sense of humour, such as frightening me out of my wits by appearing in some crazy disguise in the middle of the night after returning home from hunting down some delinquent...just to hear me say that his disguise was so effective… well, it always is, there's no denying that, Mr. Basil's an extraordinary gentleman, but his behaviour can be excruciating when one is forced to experience it every day, such as myself, Sir… But anyway, for all his faults, as I said, he's an extraordinary gentleman, and just saved his country from, as he described him, the most devious criminal that ever walked England's earth… that's why I can never stay too angry with him, though admittedly, he does drive me bonkers every now and then!"
"Oh…I see… Well, indeed, when I first met him, I thought he was a lunatic, so… your point is entirely valid, Mrs. Judson…"
"It's strange, sir, but somehow, I can't help myself from being quite fond of him, in spite of all… Believe it or not, he does have his own ways of being courteous, though sometimes, if I didn't know any better, I'd think he was downright rude, ordering me about and such… but I tell you Doctor, I'm so glad to see he's recovering from that nasty battle! You wouldn't believe the terror I felt when I saw him, the fine clothes tattered and the poor thing covered in slashes and such – I hoped it was only a nightmare!"
"Indeed, it was terribly dreadful, for all of us," Dawson said. "But thankfully, he's got an iron constitution and a strong will. My good deal of medical knowledge proved itself valuable once again as well."
"Absolutely… and Mr. Basil loves his life far too much to seriously consider surrendering to anything that threatens him. He'd even go so far as to deny the very existence of peril when it comes to himself… Well, until his depression sets in, that is."
Dawson nodded, but did not comment on her last words, having experienced what she had meant himself. He was content with himself for having motivated a defeated and pessimistic Basil to think of a solution how to escape Ratigan's sophisticated death trap. And it had worked.
Mrs. Judson then went over to clear the dishes off the table. Dawson's eyes wandered towards the fireplace on the other end of the room, over which hung the infamous Ratigan's portrait.
"Eh Basil!" Dr. Dawson exclaimed, having noticed that, for whatever reason, his friend did not seem to share his company's merriness. Basil sat in his armchair, hugging his knees to his chest, apathetically staring into the crackling fire. "Eh, Basil!" Dawson repeated, as Basil had not reacted to his previous interjection. "I say… if I may ask… I've been wondering, for some time now… Why do you actually keep that fiend's portrait? I may of course be mistaken, but it appears to me that you've been gazing at it for quite a while now… Unless you were only gazing into the flames…"
"Hm? What? Oh… Forgive me, Dawson… I suppose I'm just not the most sociable of mice… I only felt the need to retreat a little."
"Fair enough," Dawson said, a hint of concern in his expression, "But it's only the celebration of your greatest victory over the most depraved mind in all of London, as you referred to the villain yourself!"Basil smiled to himself for a second. "You look pensive, Basil. What's the matter? It is painfully obvious, at least to my eyes, that something is troubling your mind. It's that likeness, isn't it? It's got some demonic power, I would think, were I superstitious…"
Mrs. Judson and the Flavershams were now also aware that Basil had withdrawn for some time and stopped talking. At first, Basil didn't face the Doctor. Then he said, "Demonic power? What nonsense. It's merely a painting, a couple of brush strokes made on a small blank piece of canvas. Hardly likely for demons to channel their power into that... It's not the Picture of Florian Brown, Dawson. Have you read the novel, by the way? I haven't. No time to indulge in such fancies. Though admittedly, it does seem a compelling story." The room was quiet, save the crackling sound of the fire.
Dawson shook his head as an answer to Basil's random inquiry. "Why do you keep a likeness of a villain such as Professor Ratigan? Now that he's gone, it may be natural to dispose of it," he said.
After a few moments of silence, Basil moved his chair towards the others, put some fresh tobacco in his pipe, lit it, took a smoke and exhaled quite a large amount of it. "Very well, I shall reveal it to you, this 'mystery' of Ratigan's portrait… though it is an extremely long story – I emphasize, extremely long – but which I am certain you won't mind."
"By all means, no!" Dawson cried. "I would have supposed it must have a very solid reason."
"Alright. Mr. Flanger-Flaversham-", Basil corrected himself, "Miss Flaversham, Mrs. Judson. What you are about to hear I have never told anyone else before. But, Dawson is right, since you were all involved in the Ratigan case – and you, Mrs. Judson, as the one woman who knows me almost as well as my own mother did – you have a right to know about it."
The ears of his audience were perked up, waiting impatiently in suspense for Basil to disclose the secret of the portrait. Drawing a further puff of smoke, Basil continued, "Let me begin by saying that, though this will doubtlessly surprise you, Ratigan and I weren't always enemies."
As he had expected, his listeners were taken aback at this statement. "Unbelievable!" Dr. Dawson cried. "Oh, but it is worth believing, Dawson. …Where and how should I commence?" Basil thought about it for a moment, then continued, "I find it necessary to first tell you what circumstances led me to actually become what I am now. It all started with a chemistry book…"
His eyes wandered across the room, not focusing on anything tangible, as memories from the past began vividly returning to his mind, as though they had not been so long ago.
"As a child, I was exceptionally curious. I remember always being fascinated by the way things worked; as soon as I had learned how to read, I used to spend countless hours in my school library, devouring as many books as I could, preferably from the science section. Machines, plants, animals – they especially interested me. Though my mother used to read a lot of fiction to me when I was little which I did enjoy, I soon developed a preference for non-fiction. When I was older, I almost exclusively read academic books about my favourite topics – naturally, many of them were beyond my comprehension as a child. I was perfectly happy living in my own world, in my own head, discovering things on my own. However, though I had far greater knowledge about scientific subjects at a rather young age compared to my peers, in contrast to them, I was quite undeveloped in the social realm. I never found it particularly pleasing to play with the other children; they quickly bored me and I tended to withdraw into solitude. This was only a minor issue until I was sent to a boarding school at age ten, quite far away from my home. There, I was virtually forced to incessantly interact with my peers, which I found quite unnerving. Needless to say, I didn't have many friends. In fact, the only person I associated with was a girl named Esther, the only one capable of understanding, or rather, tolerating me and my idiosyncrasies. Everyone else stayed away from me, and I from them. What use was it to me, after all, to waste time conversing with a bunch of dunces who were absolutely disinterested in anything other than sports, games and fun?
"Additionally, to make things worse, I excelled in school at most subjects that involved more intellectual than practical skills, without needing to study excessively. In fact, I always thought of myself as a bit of a sloth, since I rarely took out many of my schoolbooks – save the science ones – in my spare time to study. Despite that, I always did well on my exams. As you may have guessed, being the strange and unsociable mouse that I was, coupled with my good grades which I didn't obtain by sacrificing much free time, made me quite the unpopular person at school. I would not have minded that in the least, had some of my classmates not enjoyed ridiculing me for my ways to the extent that they often did. But I was consoled by reminding myself that they were below my level of intelligence, not to mention, appallingly ignorant – for example, I remember asking some of my peers whether they knew that solar activity was finite, and that one day in the distant future, the sun would cease to shine – and they laughed at me and said, "Who cares?", only because this piece of information did not affect their own petty lives.
"One day, when I was in my third form of secondary school, it chanced that a first-year girl had her diary taken from her by some malicious student. The culprit was unknown, and two weeks later, she discovered her diary in her bag. At first relieved at having it back again, she screamed in horror as she opened it and found that someone had scribbled obscenities over the pages onto which she had disclosed her most personal thoughts. But the worst of all was that some pages had been torn out, and she feared that they were being shown around to people who should rather not be reading her writings. The girl didn't stop crying for the entire day, and the teachers were naturally extremely infuriated that one of their students should commit so vicious a deed. Nobody knew who was behind it, until, two days later, a student was called into the headmaster's office, who allegedly was the offender, according to a few of his so-called friends who told on him. He denied the accusation so vehemently, that the entire building could hear him yelling. However, he was being honest about his innocence, as I found out; and as I knew the defendant quite a bit – he was a rather quiet, unassuming child, in my opinion an unlikely candidate for a wicked act – I decided to make it my mission to seek out the real evildoer and make the headmaster discharge the innocent from his penalty, which was to be expelled.
"I spent many hours trying to get to the bottom of all this, as I believed that no innocent person should suffer because of another's cruel intentions. However, looking back… I'm not so certain to what extent I actually sought to reveal the truth in order to help the unjustly accused, who was merely an acquaintance, and apart from that, meant little to me, but as rather to prove myself capable of solving a little crime with my observation skills. I won't go into detail about how I discovered the true delinquent, who had blamed the wrong person in order to revenge himself for a petty dispute he once had with him, but I will say that most students were impressed with, the others jealous of my achievement. The teachers were impressed most, and praised me for my perseverance and sense of justice, which, understandably, did my at the time still rather fluctuant self-confidence much good. However, I could have done without their kind words, for I had proven myself capable to myself, which was what mattered most to me.
"That same year, some months later, I had some highly enjoyable chemistry lessons, in which we were taught simple experiments. My classmates were evidently bothered by the fact that I could seldom keep my hand down, for I actively participated in the lessons, and nearly always knew the correct answer to my teacher's questions. Chemistry had become my favourite subject, and I aspired to know as much about it as thirteen-year-old me possibly could. I didn't care as much for some of the other subjects, such as English or History, but Chemistry… that was entirely different. I had developed quite a passion for it. Apparently, my enthusiasm during lessons greatly annoyed some of my classmates, and a group of bullies had, as I later found out, plotted to play a prank on me to amuse themselves…
"One evening, I returned to my dormitory that I shared with a colleague, who, during that week, was absent due to illness, so I had the room all to myself. As I walked in, I realized the room was filled with the most sickening stench you could possibly imagine. I found out it was a foul trick, due to someone having placed a plate with rancid butter into the corner of the room. Apparently, somebody was trying to be funny… I was angered, but, as I did not think it worth the effort to tell the teachers, I made certain I disposed of the plate outdoors, and kept my window wide open the entire night, and morning after that. Thankfully, the stench was cast out by then, and the boy who shared the room with me didn't return to school until another four days had passed. Undoubtedly, the ever so clever pranksters took his temporary absence into consideration as they had been concocting their plan to disgruntle me. They had of course succeeded; but I swore not to show any outward signs of being offended by their silly prank, and ignored their giggles during the next Chemistry lesson. It seems that they had paid attention to our teacher while he was explaining to us the horrendous effects of butyric acid.
"Anyway, this didn't keep me from continuing to actively participate in Chemistry classes, and I was lauded by our teacher when I, as the only student, succeeded at an experiment we were assigned to conduct under his supervision. After that lesson, I recall, he asked me to remain in the lab for a few minutes, as he wanted a word with me. He told me that he was impressed by my talent and precise approach to the assignment, and wondered whether I took a deeper interest in Chemistry outside school. I told him that I did, which little surprised him, and he advised me to keep up with my efforts, saying that perhaps one day, I would become a chemist if I pursued this interest in the future.
"Indeed, his prediction turned out to be correct. Though the years at the boarding school were often tough, I had gained much confidence in my abilities, and was no longer dreading any kind of derision from my nastier peers. I graduated with honours, and was prepared to face anything then, for I had realized that I possessed a certain gift on an intellectual level which would make my life considerably easier. Relieved that I could finally leave that rather confining institution, I was greatly looking forward to the freedom of University. Without much consideration, I decided to matriculate at Oxford for studies in chemistry.
"My first semester passed by incredibly quickly. I had grown much attached to the University environment, and identified strongly with the ideal of freedom in science and the questioning of every piece of information one is presented with. Further, I was glad that I didn't have to interact with those I'd rather not want to; and I enjoyed studying with other talented people, occasionally exchanging ideas and debating for the sake of comparing opinions and acquiring more knowledge, seeing things from different perspectives and such. Yet, I still was a loner, and never made close friends with anyone. People were always something my mind was simply unable to comprehend, and their behaviour was often inscrutable to me. I was more apt at understanding the complexities of inanimate objects and concepts – as that had always been my forte. I am well aware that most might argue that real beauty is found only in our own kind; however, in my opinion, true beauty exists even more frequently in the workings of the mysterious inanimate realm and in all sublime creations of Nature itself, indisputably the greatest artist there ever was and will be.
"It was at my second semester at Oxford that I happened to get to know one Professor Padraic Ratigan. He used to work as a lecturer and University assistant at Trinity College Dublin until he was appointed to a vacant chair here at Oxford. By far the youngest professor at our Department – he was only fifteen years my senior – and the most gifted, he immediately caught my attention, for I had read several of his publications and greatly admired his extraordinary research, which was more innovative and detailed than anything I had ever come across before, and I had in fact read a good deal of academic publications. Fortunately, in my third term, I was able to register for one of the classes he taught, and my high expectations were met. He was truly a brilliant and unique scientist who stood out from the rest – besides the obvious fact that he was, well, a rat, in contrast to his colleagues and students, who were without exception, all mice. His intelligence quotient must have been higher than any of the other lecturers I knew, for the way he would describe his methods during classes, demonstrating his incredible ability to immediately recognize the abstract concepts and patterns behind small and seemingly unconnected details, was absolutely amazing. It vexed me somewhat that the majority of my fellow students failed to appreciate his ingenuity, but I ascribed this to their limited ability to actually recognize genius when it stood right before their eyes. What is more, it seemed to me that even some of the other lecturers were a little prejudiced against the Professor, for it was not every day that a rat was given the opportunity to obtain the position he had.
"As during my chemistry lessons at school, I enthusiastically participated in Ratigan's classes, and excelled at the assignments and occasional tests we had to take. I read every single book on our recommended list of further reading, and did my best to regularly impress the Professor, who had become my academic idol. Though I enjoyed all my lessons, I looked forward to his courses most, and was always one of the first to arrive at his classes, 15 minutes prior to their beginning which was generally cum tempore; for every minute I might have missed would have been a grave disappointment to me.
"In my fourth term, and my second one of knowing Professor Ratigan, came that fateful February day when he approached me after a lesson and praised me for my superb achievements and commitment. Though I tried to keep calm, I was exceedingly nervous on the inside, and could feel my face crimson at his compliments. He told me I was an outstanding student and exceptionally intellectually gifted… and – this is how it all started – he asked me whether I would like to work for him as a research assistant for some of his larger projects. As you can imagine, I was thrilled beyond words, and without further reflection, immediately consented.
"And only a week later, after signing an employment contract that would expire after two years, I was already assisting Ratigan with his lab research. There couldn't have been a more appropriate way of spending my time outside lectures! My passion for chemistry almost developed into a kind of obsession. I fancied becoming a Professor myself some day, so I could earn a living constantly discovering new things and learning more about how the world functioned. Pure bliss, so I thought. On one occasion – I was in Ratigan's office, handing in some project reports – he said that he used to be just like me as a student, and saw so much of himself in me. That gave my ego quite a boost. He advised me to pursue an academic career, for I was made for one, and, so he said, possessed all the necessary presuppositions to succeed and make a name for myself as a scientist in the field. Ratigan became my mentor, my inspiration to pursue my dream. And this is why I kept a portrait of him where I would always see it. I aspired to be like him one day. His genius and capital work ethic were my primary source of motivation.
A Perilous Plan
… "But then – something happened!"Dawson exclaimed. Basil nodded, and put some more tobacco into his pipe, of which he then drew a deep puff of fresh smoke. He continued,
"One late afternoon, about a year later, I was in the lab working on an experiment. I suddenly realized that an important tool I needed to complete it was not there, so I figured it must be somewhere in Ratigan's office. I went upstairs and found his door open, though he was absent, which astonished me, for the man usually never forgot simple things such as locking the door before he went out. Nevertheless, I decided it would be without consequences if I simply went in and looked for the device. There could only be one place where it was, and since I had spent much time in his office in his presence, I didn't think it a crime to quickly take something and then proceed with my work, even though he was not there.
"As I searched for the tool in his drawers, I coincidentally came across a few still unfinished papers of his. Judging by their titles, they seemed interesting, so I skimmed them quickly, curious as I always was. And at that point, it happened – one particular paper, which was, in contrast to the other typewritten manuscripts, mainly a handwritten abstract, especially caught my attention. However, unlike the Professor's other works, which always, without exceptions, managed to enthral me somehow, reading more and more of this one caused me to shudder. As I saw that Ratigan had not yet returned, and I couldn't hear anyone else walking outside the open office door, I decided to inspect this piece of writing more closely. Luckily, the man had an exceptionally neat, in fact even often flamboyantly flourished hand, so it was of no difficulty for me to decipher. The pitch-black ink seemed not to have dried properly on some places, for several words on the final page were, judging by their appearance, definitely unintentionally obliterated somewhat. This combined with the fact that there existed no typewritten copy of solely this paper led me to assume that the manuscript was still quite fresh, and that the writer – undoubtedly the Professor himself, for I knew his writing from his classes – had most assuredly finished it in great haste; at least he had had no time to let the ink dry properly, and what is more, the last few paragraphs seemed to have been written in a hurry, for they lacked the extravagant embellishments of the preceding passages, and the writer had misspelt a few words, which he then had thickly crossed out and rewritten correctly. I therefore came to the conclusion that he was indeed in a hurry while writing the last paragraphs, for it seemed likely that he was going to be interrupted by someone entering his office – and, judging by the most sinister content of the work, it is very likely that he did not want it to be seen by anybody on any account. So, he had quickly finished the last sentences, not let the ink dry anymore, and had speedily hidden the paper between the other, typewritten ones, shutting the drawer in which he kept them, but not locking it – presumably, again due to the time pressure he was in. Since he evidently had not rearranged everything after the fact, I assumed that the paper was hardly older than about three days – it was a Monday, as I remember, when I found it, so the weekend when he was not in his office is a plausible explanation for this – there simply had been no more opportunity for him to conceal the paper.
"I did wonder, of course, if he had played with such ideas as those presented in his paper, why he was apparently unmindful enough to leave his office door unlocked; but later, it occurred to me that perhaps he had actually wanted me to see the abstract – curious to see my reaction to it. It is quite possible that he had left the tool I needed in one of his drawers on purpose, because he knew I would go looking for it there. Still, the circumstances were all so strange and nebulous to me, that even today I am not certain what this was all exactly about."
"But, pray, what in Heaven's name were the contents of this paper?" Dawson asked, visibly impassioned.
"I shall tell you. I think I have not mentioned yet, that the projects Ratigan was working on, involved producing industrial and other chemicals which were primarily intended to facilitate and aid the population's everyday life. Brilliant creations, which gradually led to products which- from the moment of their selling – instantly became household names. Anyway – while great and beautiful things can be done with chemistry, there is at least as much, if not more, evil that can be achieved with a vast knowledge of it. As everything, the science of chemistry, too, has a dark side to it. So this is what Ratigan's sinister paper was about: he had contrived an elaborate concept of a most diabolical nature. You see, there exist chemicals, such as methylphenidate and amphetamine, which, if taken in in certain doses, can enhance one's cognitive abilities; they are called nootropics, and were widely unknown to chemists at that time. They improve one's attention and memory, and are now, almost two decades later, generally used to cure diseases, for example, insomnia, dementia, or hyperactivity to name a few. Naturally, if they are taken in by healthy people, they do not lose their effect – quite the contrary. Since virtually anyone in this world would give anything to be more reasonable, more alert, and more productive in their everyday life, the Professor, who by nature possessed the cognitive abilities to forgo the aid of any such chemicals, had devised a plan to admix those drugs into a product-to-be he referred to as Cogito – a pill, designed for oral use. Aware that it would sell extremely well, he knew that soon, the whole of London would be taking it… Anyway, the devilish thing was not that, somehow ironically, Ratigan desired to increase people's intellectual capacities – this was merely the argument he had for selling the product to the masses – but his real intention was to, so to speak, destroy their brains. The thing was this: small doses of these drugs are indeed beneficial; but higher doses are toxic, and inevitably cause considerable, irreversible damage to the brain. Ratigan's intention was to make Cogito easily, and for a cheap price, available to the masses, and to include an instruction booklet in its packaging which stated that one should first start with one pill and then, after about three weeks, increase the dose to two, and then more pills daily. An overdose would cause one's dopamine level to decrease extremely, which would lead to being able to only focus on one single activity at a time, and behaving like a robot – one feels disconnected from one's own perception and emotions, becomes passive and depressive, loses complete interest in interacting with others, and, worst of all, suffers from cognitive deficits – which is the exact opposite of what small doses of the drugs achieve. Actually, the hazards are similar to those of cocaine; the only thing is that cocaine is not available to the masses in average drug stores, but only at the chemist's, and at quite a high price. Cocaine is, I would say, more a kind of chic drug used by more affluent people, whereas Cogito was designed to be affordable for everyone who had some money.
"Now just imagine the situation if everybody would be taking these drugs. Initially, people think it is harmless, because it works – after all, as I said, taking low doses, one pill a day, they immediately shows signs of having improved cognitive abilities, especially if their intelligence is average or below that. Then they gradually increase the amount of pills they take, and because they increase it slowly, they are not immediately aware of the negative effects. In the end, they lose whatever average intelligence they had, and become alienated from themselves, emotionless, and above all, easily manipulated because of their lack of judgment. They cease to be curious, do not wish to learn anything new, desire no relationships of any kind, and lose any kind of creativity. Therefore, Professor Ratigan's intentions were to send London's inhabitants into their own doom; once their brains were damaged by an overdose of the product, there was no more remedy; they would be void of an own free will and could be easily controlled by someone who did have the ability, and desire, to do so. Someone who wanted power over millions – someone who wanted to create a world that would serve him, and only him. Someone who had no conscience, no feelings of guilt or remorse whatsoever. Someone filled with hatred towards all of mousedom."
"Good Heavens… that is absolutely despicable!" Dawson cried. "Preposterous, monstrous, unbelievably repulsive!" Flaversham agreed, violently shaking his head.
"Quite so," Basil said, nodding.
"So what happened after you had become familiar with the content of Ratigan's paper?" Flaversham asked. Basil continued,
"Well, you may imagine that although I was horrified, I refused to believe that the man I held in such high esteem would want to inflict such damage over so many who had not done him any harm. The paper was actually basically a summary of the effects of the chemicals mixed together, and a series of hypotheses, of what would happen if one would gradually overdose on the drugs, et cetera. It looked just like any other piece of academic writing. So although my instincts told me otherwise, I tried to convince myself that it was out of pure scientific interest that Professor Ratigan had researched the effects of this mix of drugs that he named Cogito. After all, it is a belief of the University, as it is my own, that nothing should remain unexplored, as danger is less frightening when one knows as much about it as one can.
"So, what I did was, I put the paper back where I had found it, closed the drawer, and was just on my way out of the door with the tool in my hands, when suddenly Ratigan entered! I greeted him, as usual, and upon his inquiring look, I told him why I was in his office, showing him the tool I had allowed myself to take from his drawer. 'Ah, good afternoon, Basil,' he said. He seemed unusually aloof and scanned the room, and since I was quite obviously emotionally charged, which did not occur too often, and his keen eye rarely missed anything that was out of the ordinary, he asked me what the matter was, for he noticed I was quivering a little. I was unsure whether to tell him the truth about what I had discovered at first, but upon some moments of reflection, I decided that it was natural to do so. So I told him about looking for the tool which I knew must be in one of the drawers of his writing desk, and that I was astonished that his door was open, and that I had then seen some of his unfinished papers. I confessed that, curious as I was, I read through them, and then told him about the one which had made me feel extremely uneasy. I instantly detected a surge of emotion in his expression – he seemed appalled that I had read the document – it was as if he had become a different person – I had never seen that look upon his face before – and I asked him, 'Surely, Professor, the findings you presented in that paper were out of purely academic interest?'
"His face darkened, and he fixed his gaze on me with narrow eyes. It felt as if being swallowed by them. After some seconds of silence, he said, 'What do you think?' – a counterquestion he often posed his students. I hesitated, then replied, 'I cannot imagine that anyone of sound mind should wish to put those findings into action. It would mean the downfall of masses of people. Why aspire to do anything as abominable as that?' And then, I swear I saw one end of his mouth curl into a vicious, wry half-smile – even though it lasted for merely two seconds or so, I shall never forget it. He said, in a steady, controlled voice, 'Why, any scientist would be a fool not to put his research and inventions into practical use. Haven't I done the same with all my other research?' 'You have,' I replied, 'but none of your other research was of a nature such as this.' 'The time has come for the tides to turn,' he cryptically remarked, as if it was the most ordinary thing to say. 'What do you mean?' I asked, looking him straight in the eyes. 'Professor, what is this all about?'
"He took some time to think of how to best explain what was on his mind. I waited, tense, for his reply. After a brief chuckle, he said, 'Basil, you are, I presume, aware that you and I have much in common? An outsider, like me, with a brilliant brain capable of accomplishing extraordinary things. An eccentric genius, not appreciated by his peers as much as he should be, because he is… different? A lone wolf, who does not blend in with the herd of sheep surrounding him? One who does not suffer fools too gladly? A cool soul that has suffered rejection for being simply… what he really is?' I didn't answer, for I knew not what he was driving at. He continued, 'I remember the first few times I saw you in my classes; your undisguised ambition and worship of science and logical reasoning instantly attracted my attention. I knew at once that you were different from the rest. A handful of your colleagues have talent, no doubt, but you have a rare gift that I have, as yet, observed in no one else save myself. You are made for things far more magnificent than what the average Joe will ever manage to achieve in his undistinguished career. Wouldn't you agree?'
"I said that while I was extremely flattered by his exorbitant praise and comparison of myself to him, I still did not know why any of that mattered at this particular moment. He went on, 'Oh, but it matters more than you think. We are both intellectually gifted to such an extent that we should aspire to make better use of this gift. We are creators of the future, Basil. We are meant to shape the world into something that will benefit us, and only us. Have you never felt as though those imbecilic sheep surrounding you hated you for no good reason? I know that you have. You told me so yourself, remember? That time you came to speak to me during my consultation hour… How you had been bullied countless times by morons who did not know your worth, as soon as you had left your mother's nest and entered the 'real' world?'
"I crimsoned at his words, which brought back terrible memories I had suppressed for a long time. He then said, 'Unoriginal fools crawl this little world of ours, like simple worker ants, whose sole purpose in life is to simply survive it, because they have nothing of extraordinary merit to give. Only one – the queen – she stands above them all. She is the ruler of imbeciles and the reason why they do what is appropriate for their puny, unsophisticated minds – serving her.' It was beginning to dawn on me what kind of message he wanted to convey. He said, 'Why not seize power when Nature has endowed you with it? Why not strive to rule this community of ignorant ants? Why not make the others pay for their cruelty towards you? Why remain confined to the earth when you can reach for the stars with the knowledge you have gathered? Why not climb the top of the highest mountain and look down upon those too weak to join you?'
"His manner of speaking had altered so radically from what I was used to seeing and hearing from him. I thought he was a different person, a stranger. With every additional question, the audible passion in his voice increased, until he was positively shouting out his frenzied thoughts. Until then, I had known him to always be as a cool as a cucumber. I couldn't believe that the man whom I idolized for, amongst other qualities, his even temper and intellectualism, was raving like a complete maniac about wanting to rule the world, paradoxically giving his elevated intelligence as a justifiable reason to desire to do so, while no sane and truly reasonable person who walks this earth would even think of revenging himself upon the whole of mankind because of having experienced slander and rejection by some. And he was trying to convince me that I, too, had sufficient reasons to agree with his perverted views, because I, like him, had experienced similar torment, which, however, I learned to deal with perfectly well.
"I then slowly but surely realized that I had let a madman take me under his wing, who had succeeded at keeping his insane, power-hungry fantasies well concealed for years. Though there is no denying I was, by that time, quite afraid of him, I said that I couldn't disagree more, and that while I was aware that the majority of people around me were foolish, and while it was true that I knew my place was not with them, that was no motivation for me to want to seek any kind of power over them. I was happy behind the scenes, in my own world, and had no desire to control and manipulate others to suit myself, only because, in theory, I had the ability to do so. Having heard my words, I noticed he was seething with rage. With clenched teeth, having approached me closely, he said, 'Do you even know… what it feels like… to be… something like me… among a colony of mice? To be disdained, spurned, despised, because you stem from a lower background? Do you know how many times I have been refused stellar jobs of prestige that would have suited my education and superior mind, just because of my appearance? Because I didn't look small and dainty… like all of them? In fact… like you…?' I was horrified, and shuddered as he, with intense, glaring eyes, suddenly caressed my head with his gloved hand as if I were his pet kitten. I took a step back, my heart pounding. How dared the dastardly fiend lay a finger on me!
"'So your plan is to assume control over mousedom, so people can serve you because some have treated you unfairly? To fool the common people into believing they are improving their cognitive abilities by taking those pills, until it's too late for them to realize that they have been deceived and are by then too stupid to even know what's going on around them? Is that truly what you seek most? Control? Aren't you finally content with the excellent position you hold now? Wouldn't you rather work on more ways to truly improve society than to ruin it and mould its population into your slaves?' I asked.
"'They deserve no better!' he cried. 'That's what they are made for. They have no sense of individuality! They are a bunch of sheep, an army of clones! They want everybody to be like them. They need a leader to tell them what to do. Once they are blinded, they will bow to whoever stands above them.'
'You intend to blind them because they wouldn't respect you if they saw you for what you really are… a sewer rat?'
'I AM NOT A RAT!' he yelled, grabbing the Oriental teapot that stood next to him on the table and throwing the porcelain against the wall with all his might, shattering it to pieces and spilling what was left of the dark copper-coloured liquid it contained onto the floor, creating a small puddle. I shall never forget the sight of it. Unfortunately, there was nobody at the department anymore who could have heard the noise, not to mention Ratigan's ravings, for it was shortly before six o'clock, and everyone else had already left the building.
"After drawing a few heavy breaths, Ratigan calmed himself, resumed his usual softer tone, and said, 'You know, Basil, I would have been proud to see a surprisingly singular mouse such as yourself reigning side by side with me. You have so much potential. It would be absurd not to make the most of it. I have placed a golden egg, a great opportunity, into your skilful hands, by letting you help me with some of my projects – yes, you have also started working on that one… unknowingly, perhaps… and you have done marvellously well, I must say. Didn't you always dream of becoming a renowned scientist? I could easily help you realize that dream… and remove some of the annoying obstacles along the way, if need be… Imagine the great things we could do together, as a team, as partners! Do you accept my exceptionally generous proposal...or do you refuse it?'
"I hesitated for a moment, for I knew not exactly how to form what I wanted to be a dignified answer. I then replied, as sovereign as I dared, that while I appreciated his recognition of my mental capabilities, I would most certainly decline the offer. 'As you wish,' he said, again fixing me with his gaze. 'You disappoint me, Basil. I misjudged you. I thought you were cleverer than this.' I answered, trembling all over, but trying desperately not to show any more visible signs of fear, 'It may not be the cleverest decision, of that I am aware. But it is undoubtedly the right decision. Professor, I have never, ever come across anyone as amoral as you. Do you even realize the extent of your wickedness? You have successfully deceived everyone, including me, you never were truly interested in nurturing any of your students' talents. You just needed an instrument, a means to an end, to develop your evil scheme, so you decided to use me because I was good enough. So that is why you took up the vacant chair here. You were only after power and prestige, instead of being content with yourself, with being more anonymous. You desperately depend on others' approval, instead of embracing the state of absolute independence from the world. Actually, you are a most pitiable creature. Mark my words: I pity you, Padraic Ratigan! You lied to me, yet at the same time you claim you want us to act as equals. I refuse to have anything further to do with you and your research.'
"As I had said this, I saw such rancour in his eyes, yet I knew that he would not dare to physically attack me, for I was still a student, and under his employment; though for a second it seemed likely that he would. His mouth quivered, and then he cried that if it were so, he would see to it that I was bereft of my good reputation at the Department. It was especially then that I got to know the true vengeful, villainous nature that lay buried behind the cool, cultured and refined facade. How he had managed to delude me so! Sometimes, even later, I still couldn't get over it. And in spite of his history of painful experiences… he was without a doubt a brute, or he would not have gone the dark path that he did, positively revelling in doing evil. Only a madman would act in such a fashion. The fact that his primary motivation was an emotional one makes it all even worse.
"He asked me, if I left him, what my next steps would be. I said that I would leave the University and try to earn myself a living. He then laughed and asked, did I seriously believe any respectable company would employ a young chemist without a degree? I replied that I didn't care, for I intended to go into business for myself and dedicate my life to hunting down criminals such as him as soon as I had earned some starting capital by working elsewhere. After all, I always did have a knack for solving mysteries. I would make my own way without his 'help', and I would be successful at whatever I set my mind out to do, for, as he had said himself, I had a brilliant brain. He called me an arrogant, self-righteous fool, and said that he regretted ever having laid the 'chance of my life' before my feet. I answered that he apparently mistook confidence for arrogance. I simply was conscious of my abilities, and knew what I wanted – and what I did not. I said that I would not let anyone intimidate me, and especially not him, the beguiler! He then smiled that vicious smile again, and went on, 'You are merely an undergraduate. You do not stand a chance in hell to hunt down me, Professor Ratigan, mastermind of chemistry!' I tried to keep my calm at the offence, and said, resolutely, 'No. But I certainly shall hunt down Padraic Ratigan, mastermind of evil.' The diabolical smile faded, and he scowled, 'You shall suffer for this!' I said I would see him behind bars first. 'Insufferable braggart!' he shouted. I knew extending the conversation was of no sense, so I made towards the door. 'Leaving so soon?' he crooned. Before closing it behind me, I faced him one more time. 'Goodbye, Professor,' I said, and left.
Fraudulence and Fruition
There was a moment of silence in the room. "I…I'm lost for words, Basil!", Dawson then said, breaking it. "What a horrific story…and experience! And you actually succeeded at remaining so composed in the presence of that vile scoundrel?"
"Admittedly, it was extremely trying," Basil replied. "Yet it's been so long ago that I've mostly forgotten the intensity of my agitation. For years, I have been regarding Ratigan as an absolute enemy… I'd almost forgotten how I much used to idolize him before he revealed the dark secret of his true nature. Somehow, I'm so disconnected from him now, that it's almost impossible to recall to my mind the admiration I once had for him. Unfortunately, it was all based on a masterfully executed lie." He sighed quietly, then, seeing that his pipe had been smoked, he put it aside, took out a packet of cigarettes out the pocket of his coat that hung loosely over the backrest of the armchair, lit a cigarette with a match, and took a pull. "Basil, you really shouldn't be smoking so excessively, and especially not in your current state!" the Doctor, ever concerned about others' well-being, cried, looking aghast at the unhealthy sight. "Besides, there's a child present, do not forget that!" At those words, Basil, for a splitsecond, raised his eyebrows, swallowed, and said, rather abashed, "Oh—I'm sorry, I- didn't realize-" He didn't finish the sentence, but briefly looked at little Olivia, who had been hearing everything he had been saying with keen, but sad, eyes. "Forgive me, Miss Fla…versham," Basil apologized, awkwardly. Looking at Dawson and Mr. Flaversham, he said, "The girl has been so unusually silent – I almost forgot she was here with us." The two mice exchanged looks, but then Flaversham smiled briefly. "May I just… smoke till it's half-burned? I promise I shall put it away then," Basil asked his audience. "I don't mind!" Olivia said, sincerely. Basil gave her a faint, but rapt, smile, and then said, "I'll put an end to this in a moment." After a few more puffs, he tapped the ash off the cigarette and finally stubbed it out into an ashtray. "Thank you," Dawson said. "So…what happened after you had left the office?" Basil continued,
"I hurried home, drained and distraught, as anyone would be who had to accept that his greatest hero was but a fraud, not to mention one so vengeful and vicious…" His eyes wandered upward as he attempted to recall the details of the terrible memory. "I don't think I had ever felt so forlorn, so hollow in my entire life, but luckily, I've never had reason to feel as I did on that evening anymore thereafter. All my attempts to remain composed were futile – you can probably imagine my doleful state." His face froze for a moment. "Anyway," he then continued, in his usual sober manner, "After I had vented my feelings, I figuratively slapped myself on the head and returned from my state of affliction back into the present reality. I knew that I would have to keep a new picture of the Professor in mind, and that I would have to instantly inform the Head of Department and vice-chancellorship about his maniacal intentions, which I did. The following morning, as early as I could, I went to both of them and asked if I could see them in private, for I had something of extreme urgency to tell. Naturally, they were outraged, and asked me if I was absolutely certain. I affirmed, and implored that they immediately dismiss the villain before it was too late, and dispossess him of his academic title. Having done that, I sent Ratigan a telegraph saying "The game is over". I soon received his replying message: "Not yet. It has only begun. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. R."
"The day after that, Ratigan was fired and sentenced to imprisonment. He had counted on this happening, so he had prepared for it. He did not deny any of the allegations, and apparently, declared himself insane, claiming that this was common amongst geniuses of his calibre, who frequently got bored, and, as a consequence, began devising obnoxious plans to divert themselves. Anybody who hears a statement such as that would believe that it is indeed the talk of a madman. For a week, his name was all over London's newspapers. "Mad genius fired from Oxford University", read the headlines. It was pitiful. Though I was angry at the public's, but especially, the University's ignorance and gullibility, I knew that Ratigan had successfully deceived hundreds of people, and perhaps, I shouldn't blame them for believing he was something he wasn't. He was an excellent actor, actually, and additionally possessed a certain charisma that often helped him get his way. His entire life revolved on playing pretend, in so many ways!
"I of course knew the Professor much better than the rest. I knew his manner of thinking. He was indeed a genius – but a genius twisted for evil, as he had proven. I knew that he was intending to fool the prison by pretending to be a true lunatic, who should rather be sent to an insane asylum. He did stay behind bars for three weeks, I think, until his bizarre antics caused him to be discharged, and indeed, sent to an a psychiatric hospital, where, I am certain, he must have thoroughly enjoyed playing the madman. Although – evidently, he was mad in some way – but in spite of all his actions, he was most definitely compos mentis, for no lunatic possesses the clarity of mind, combination skills and logical thinking ability to the extent that Ratigan did. No no – he was always fully conscious of his actions, they were always coolly calculated, and, the work of a truly ingenious mind. Until his final hour, that is…
"Whilst in jail, he, as I later discovered, made the acquaintance of Fidget, the peg-legged bat, who had once broken into a bank, but was caught. He was not so much of a villain himself; rather a former thief, a persistent minor offender, who had been raised in poverty, an agent, who was not as intellectually capable as those who had decided to make him carry out their crimes, which is also what Ratigan did. After deceiving the psychiatry, he, one night, freed Fidget from his cell and arranged for a little place for him to stay in, until he escaped from the asylum shortly thereafter. Once again, his name was all over the newspapers – but since everyone was under the impression that he was simply a madman, they did not make the effort to search for him, having enough other problematic patients to deal with. The ex-Professor must have laughed himself sick at their stupidity; and during his stay in the cells, had plenty of spare time to concoct another devious plan, now that his Cogito idea was obsolete.
"I, in the mean time, decided, though with a heavy heart, to leave Oxford and forget about my degree, for I figured I did not need it. I had almost completed my studies anyway, and had knowledge of many areas of chemistry that were never even covered in my classes. I could not bear to visit the place again, after the grievous disappointment I had experienced. I cannot deny that he was the best Professor around – and if I had already learned from the best, there was nothing more that his intellectually more inferior colleagues could teach me. My former dreams of pursuing a University career were shattered. I decided to dedicate my future to catching the Napoleon of Crime, and catching others who haunted the streets of London with their criminal acts. I knew I did not belong at Scotland Yard – most of the police detectives there were incredibly dim-witted and short-sighted, as far as I could tell from multiple experiences – but I wanted to do detective work, for it was analyzing, hypothesizing, and combining seemingly unrelated pieces of information which was what I could do best. My knowledge of chemistry, I thought, would be greatly beneficial. I planned to become a private investigator, but I needed some money to begin with, and would have to work and make a name for myself. By a stroke of luck, my uncle died, and I inherited some of his fortune, which sufficed for me to rent a small room. I worked at the police for a while, and saved however much I could of my salaries. When I felt that I was ready, I began my own practice as a private consulting detective, a profession I had created myself. People would consult me after the police had failed to handle their cases, and, quite often after I had left Scotland Yard to become self-employed, a few of the inspectors still asked for my help with the most complicated of their cases. Thanks to me, they succeeded at unravelling the mysteries and tracking the criminals, yet they nearly always took the entire credit themselves, save for a few very important cases which were known to the public; my name was mentioned in some newspaper articles on those. Initially, I was quite offended at their conceited attitude, believing themselves superior to me because they regarded me as an amateur. But I learned not to mind – in fact, those rare occasions when I was given official credit for finding the final missing link that chained events together, greatly benefited my still budding career, for people knew me from reading the newspapers and thus, came to me when they didn't wish to consult the police, or they recommended me to their family, friends and acquaintances. Fortunately, after half a year of only minor success, clients began to increase rapidly, and soon, I was often working on more than one case at a time. I finally knew that I was on the right path.
Crime is common, Logic is rare
"Some months after Ratigan's escape, several crimes were committed for which I had been given the commission to find the culprits. The felonies were so atrocious that journalists had written about them. At first, I was unaware of the fact that many of them were actually part of a grander scheme, which could be traced back to their root, one and the same person – you might have guessed who. For a long time, Ratigan had been thought merely one of several escaped asylum patients, who could not do any truly severe harm while he was at liberty... until the murder of one of our country's most successful physicists, Donald McIvors. There were a number of clues which clearly indicated that this had been none other than Professor Ratigan's doing – naturally, he saw to it that he kept his hands clean, but instead, arranged for an assassin, who had already been imprisoned before, to commit the crime, which is why none of the Scotland Yard detectives suspected there was much more to this case than met the eye. When I informed them that I had clear evidence that this was no ordinary killing, they simply laughed at me and said that I read into it far too much –Ratigan was a lunatic incapable of a carefully calculated criminal act, they said, completely ignoring the fact that he once was a prize-winning, highly intelligent scientist! Obviously, he fooled the prison and asylum so remarkably well that people were even blind to the truth when I laid it before them. Well…Ratigan was right about the majority of citizens – too blind and foolish for their own good. I knew that he knew perfectly well that I would recognize the crimes as little games of his to amuse himself at people's naivety. Scotland Yard would not attempt, or rather, I would suggest, dare, to hunt down the scoundrel, unable to realize that the supposed insane genius was in truth an exceptionally, mortally dangerous criminal, and in fact, London's most dangerous, freely roaming about, undetected, in the city! After a while, I gave up on trying to make the police realize that I was telling the truth. I knew I had to find and expose the villain myself – more than that, I knew that he had designed many of his wicked acts especially for me to investigate, because he knew I would. The cases were often so incredibly tangled and complex that I am certain he was aware that only I would possess the determination and attention to details to discover that he was the mastermind behind the crimes, which, to the casual observer, were not linked to each other in any way. He must have been relishing the amount of attention I was giving him. Years and years passed, and at least twice a year a felony was committed which I could trace back to him. Of course, crime is common in this superficially secure city of ours, and most cases I dealt with – excluding those which were not related to crime but other types of strange and often foul business – had nothing to do with him. Yet I knew that he was hiding somewhere, secretly spinning his web of evil behind drawn curtains. He had become a master of puppets, who viewed his life as a constant stage play. He needed no training to play the role of the villain so convincingly, for he was the villain.
"Nevertheless, to his displeasure, I had, after some years, worked abundantly enough on 'his' cases that I had conceived a vague suspicion about where he was hiding, though I had only discovered the exact location of his lair when working on the Flaversham case with you, Doctor. It had become clear that he had assembled a whole little army of followers, mostly uneducated thugs and former jailbirds, who would do his dirty work for him whilst he, living amongst lowlifes in the underworld, was respected by his lackeys as a refined gentleman, though in reality he was only an unemployed criminal and public enemy. Though he had lost his title, he still had his people address him as 'Professor', and if I'm not mistaken, he never got rid of his top hat, cane and gloves, in spite of dwelling near the sewer, far away from more sophisticated areas. As he had predicted – if people are blind, they will bow to anyone who stands above them. It appears he did not even need to manipulate their minds with his nootropic pills… Yet, as it turned out, he never ceased to truly seek control over the population, as he was not satisfied with having solely the adoration of a bunch of vandals. Which is why he, after 13 years of plotting and scheming, came to the idea to have someone build a mechanical robot for him which was to impersonate the Queen, so he could do away with her and claim the empty throne, power-hungry as he was. Thankfully, as we all witnessed, not everyone allowed themselves to be deceived by the fiend, as he, finally, after years of absence, appeared before the public in an ermine coat and excessive amounts of jewellery…
"But why did he abduct poor Mr. Flaversham instead of creating the robot himself? After all, you said he was a highly gifted scientist…" Dawson inquired.
"True, my dear fellow. But his forte was mostly theory. He did the thinking; but let others do the acts. I highly doubt he was so good with his hands as to build a machine as workmanlike as Mr. Flaversham. That's a sort of ingenuity on a different level," Basil smiled briefly at Flaversham, who blushed. "Yet of course, it was his idea. I presume he had somehow found out about Mr. Flaversham's outstanding talent at toy making, and therefore knew whom he needed to extort so he could have his vision realized as perfect as possible." Olivia gazed in horror at this statement.
Interdependence and Inspiration
"So, for years I had tried to catch him, and knew that he was concocting a significant number of crimes – though not all of them – solely from spite towards me, the first person to ever see his unmasked self revealed. On the other hand, working on his cases considerably honed my detecting skills, for hardly any other cases I have been asked to work on have been as intricately woven and intellectually challenging and stimulating as those that were of his doing. It may sound absurd, but in a way… I depended on him, to escape boredom when cases were few and far between, for my mind is like a racing machine which instantly begins to rust away during periods of stagnation. I guess Ratigan, in a way, depended on me as well, for he conceived such abhorrence for me ever since I left and exposed him, that he thoroughly enjoyed trying to plague me with the often barbaric nature of his deeds, and nothing could have made him happier than revenging himself upon his archenemy. He used to truly admire my abilities, and must have greatly amused himself knowing I was trying to find him whereas the police did not even consider it worth an attempt. He never ceased to admire my intellect, nor I his, yet the difference between us was that while I had succeeded at regarding him as merely an object of my quest, without feeling any strong emotion towards him – though I confess, recovering from the anguish he had caused me did take some time – he never let go of loathing me with a passion. He made it his life's goal to put an end to me, yet I can say I did the same. He followed me, I followed him…"
"So, to conclude, the reason I never got rid of his portrait was that Ratigan remained to be my life's inspiration – even after he had showed his true colours. He inspired me to think faster, work harder, and grow an even thicker skin. To keep my tail up, and let no one prevail against me. Every time I saw his likeness, that charming smile which belied his true savage nature, I felt a new motivation to carry on with what I had set out to accomplish. No one, I repeat, no one, shall ever create such elaborate schemes as the late ex-Professor, for his capacity for truly sophisticated crime is unmatched. Any other criminal pales in comparison." Basil paused, looking at the portrait. He then added, slowly, "Now that he is dead… somehow it is as though I have been deprived of my life's purpose. This…somehow depresses me." He swallowed and faced his listeners again. They were silent.
"Now that I come to contemplate the matter… it is quite the tragedy, isn't it? I mean—" He sighed. "Ratigan and I… we could have achieved some great things together. But his lust for vengeance and power turned out to be far greater than his thirst for acquiring knowledge for the sake of improving the present to create a better future. Initially… he used to equip me with knowledge and encourage me to live my dream… and 13 years later, he tried to slay me with his own hands."
The speaker's audience was visibly saddened by the dreadful account of Ratigan's tragic development from mentor to murderer. Basil continued to muse,
"During our battle, for a moment, as I stood defenceless on the edge of the clock tower and was on the verge of surrendering, I looked into his eyes with the most desperate, pleading expression for mercy. Somehow, I couldn't make myself accept that he truly had murderous intentions – but I was sorely mistaken. Never in my entire life had I witnessed so much raw emotion, so much loathing and disgust in anyone's eyes as in Ratigan's as he victoriously looked down at me, utterly prostrated, cowering before him. When his last blow sent me falling from the clock's hand and he thought I was gone, though he did cry out in triumph that he had won, deep down, he knew I had actually defeated him, for he had sunk so low as to finally accept that he was what he was and, having succumbed to his emotions, to use his physical advantages over his mental ones – and there was no way that anyone would ever let themselves be deceived by him again, after the incident at Buckingham Palace. In reality, he had lost his life's purpose. Because I had, figuratively, destroyed him, and continued to constantly interfere with his plans, he swore he would live to destroy me. And Ratigan had always been a man of his word; I knew he was in earnest. When, by the irony of fate, the clock struck 10 p.m. and the vibrations forced him down from the minute hand he was balancing himself on, he made certain I was dragged down with him. He couldn't bear to know I would survive while he was about to fall to his death. He would have rather known us both dead, buried together… master and apprentice. However, he had not considered that I was my own master then. Though admittedly, it was by pure chance of time that I survived the battle, it was also because, unlike Ratigan, I didn't let my emotions get the better of me. His weakness was his short temper; it ultimately led to his own destruction."
He paused for a moment. Then he said, "But all is over now. Professor Padraic Ratigan shall be no more." Having said those words, Basil got up and, melancholically, took down the portrait and turned it over so the picture was no longer visible. Olivia had tears in her eyes once more; though but a child, she possessed a highly developed ability to empathize with others that was not commonly found in others her young age.
No one else uttered a word, for the situation was strange and uncomfortable. Basil sighed, and, tacitly, with bent posture, walked past his audience and headed towards the entrance door, which he opened, and, after having gone out of the house, closed again behind him. He stood outside for some minutes, pondering. It was raining, as usual, and it was quite chilly. Big Ben had just begun chiming 11 p.m. A slight shiver ran down Basil's spine. Was it the cold?
"We could have been sublime as partners..." he thought to himself. Dejected, he rolled up his left sleeve, sluggishly unrolled the bandage covering his left arm, and scrutinized the concealed injury, one of several deep slashes courtesy of the wroth rat's razor-sharp claws. With a barely audible sigh, he rolled back the bandage and stared at the pitch-black overcast sky. He did not care that heavy drops of rain were pouring down on him. "All of this... all because of some kind of hurt he was once caused because he was different…" he thought. "Ratigan made pain the centre of his life's motivations… I wonder what would have become of me, had I been more like him… I guess we weren't so similar after all. Perhaps I am indeed an unfeeling robot, like Flaversham's creation."
Suddenly, he realized that tears had welled up in his eyes. Mingled with the raindrops, they slowly trickled down his face, whilst he, stoically as ever, stood still, facing the sky without even twitching. He knew this state of abject misery was only a temporary condition that would very soon be over. He then thought to himself, "Whom are you fooling, Basil… You know perfectly well that your feelings are simply too deep for anyone to see… Yet thankfully, your brain's power is far greater. ... Farewell, Ratigan… Indeed it was goodbye too soon." He looked down, swallowed, made sure he dried his eyes completely, and went inside again.
Mrs. Judson, Dawson, Flaversham and Olivia all looked at him, pityingly yet somewhat curiously. In the same manner as he had gone out, he walked past them in silence, but more quickly this time. "Basil?" Dawson said, expecting some kind of response – in vain, for there came none. The only thing that the four mice heard was the sound of Basil's bedroom door closing with a very slight bang.
Notes and References:
-Basil telling Dawson "It's not as bad as it seems" is a reference to the Sherlock Holmes story "The Illustrious Client"
-Some say the devil is dead is an Irish song; it is included here in spite of not being written at the time this story is set. The actual lyrics are: "Some say the devil is dead, the devil is dead, the devil is dead, Some say the devil is dead and buried in Killarney. More say he rose again, more say he rose again, more say he rose again, And joined the British army."
-Picture of Florian Brown: Reference to the gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
-In the Disney movie, Ratigan mocks Basil for arriving at his hideout later than he expected: "I expected you 15 minutes earlier. Trouble with the chemistry set, old boy?"
-Cogito: Reference to the famous phrase coined by French philosopher René Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum" (Latin: "I think, therefore I am"; "cogito" = "I think")
-The scene where Basil asks whether Ratigan's reasearch is out of purely academic interest is similar to the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Tom Riddle asks Professor Slughorn about Horcruxes, and the latter hopes that it is "for purely academic purposes" that the student is interested in this piece of extremely dark magic.
-The telegraphs between Basil and Ratigan: in the Disney movie, Basil tells Ratigan "The game's not over yet" after Ratigan cries "I won".
- "Crime is common, logic is rare": reference to Sherlock Holmes's statement in The Copper Beeches
- Basil's statement "He followed me, I followed him" is a reference to the lyrics of Goodbye so soon (Lyrics by Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh) from the Disney Film: "You followed me, I followed you, we were like each other's shadows for a while…"