The Curious Disappearance of Gold Crown Town, by Dr. John Watson
By Moon Shadow Magic
[A manuscript found in a tin box in the effects of Dr. John Watson, and transferred to his literary executor. It seems never to have been submitted for publication during his lifetime; if it was, it was never published. The subject matter and lack of a tangible, logical conclusion would have not, in all likelihood, been deemed appropriate for a work connected in any way to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. On the dates given in the narrative, Sherlock Holmes was missing and presumed dead, as the author intimates; yet a few 'Holmes' stories, of cases in which Watson was actually involved, are dated in the interim between May 1891 and Holmes' return in 1894. It may be concluded that in those accounts Mr. Holmes had been inserted in a successful attempt to render the works publishable (if not at all superior in quality,) but that this one presented no such clear opportunity.]
IT WAS early November of 1893, some two and a half years after I had left Reichenbach Falls and Switzerland, and had abandoned the search for my friend Sherlock Holmes to the local authorities. There had been no trace of him discovered in all that time, living or dead, but hope had long since dimmed. Only once was there a brief spark that held out any promise, and that only because the problem might have engaged Holmes' faculties; that, and the location. The place was hardly near to the fatal site, but Bavaria was closer to Meiningen than was London.
Of all people, it was Inspector Lestrade who dropped by my consulting room one grey afternoon, just as I was about to finish for the day. I, in my longstanding grief, had not fully realized that he also felt closely the loss of Mr. Holmes, certainly not to the point of bringing a libation and proposing a toast so long after the event.
"To Mr. Sherlock Holmes, wherever he may be," said Lestrade solemnly. "His methods may have fallen short of the rigorous and systematic procedures of the police, but one cannot deny his occasional spectacular success," and to that faint praise we drank; knowing Lestrade as long as I had, I knew that there was no correcting his bias. But, before a half- feared tide of reminiscence emerged, the Inspector begged to lay a case before me.
I say a case, but there had been no crime that we could discern; or rather, if it was a crime, it was devastation on a scale unprecedented apart from wartime- and yet without war's destructive presence. The Inspector had no jurisdiction in the matter at all. The place in question was in Bavaria. There was only a frantic schoolboy's tale to go by, but that tale had naturally been carried with all speed to his older brother, studying abroad at Oxford. This student had asked advice of a professor, who had referred him to Lestrade, a name remembered from a case in which the professor had been a witness.
I could not disguise my incredulity when Lestrade described the problem. An entire village had vanished, or been somehow mislaid. Aside from the intrinsic impossibility, anyone familiar with the methodical Teutonic character will immediately grasp the absurdity of such a statement, as there had been neither artificial nor natural disaster in the region. Nor was it an out- of- the- way mountain hamlet, but a thriving lowland town; Holmes, I remembered, had gone so far as to mention its Academy favorably in connection with several famous musicians and artists.
Lestrade, just as sceptical, asked if my wife and I would receive the boys after supper. I agreed, concluding that this was the best way to halt a case of hysterical delusions, and that it was no accident that the Inspector wished them to see a medical man.
Herr Anton and Herr Richard Moller were, to my surprise, typical specimens of their race. They were very much alike, these brothers, the only difference being the several years between them. Both were tall, square and solid, with bright blue eyes and yellow hair, and the precise manners and convoluted diction of the English language common to their countrymen.
Their tale was therefore very much at odds with what proved to be their stolid, unimaginative personalities. It was this last that, to my mind, had magnified their distress. I concluded that something had indeed happened, some event so far beyond their comprehension that they were totally out of their depth. It was difficult to credit for, although they were thus unimaginative, both were very well- educated and well- travelled.
This town of Goldkrone, they reported, was a fine example of a mediaeval walled town, similar to several still extant on the Continent such as Rothenburg and Carcassonne. Its intact wall was nearly circular, pierced by five main gates surmounted by distinctive and dissimilar towers, and furthermore by several lesser gates. As is the case with our own mediaeval boroughs, most of the town now lies outside the walls, the population having long since outstripped the area inside.
The Moller residence was located within the walls. The father was a prosperous shopkeeper who, with his own father's legacy, had striven to see his sons educated in the best manner possible. Anton had come to England to read Classics under a famous professor, while Richard had been enrolled in the Goldkrone Academy (which he termed a gymnasium) for the study of music, specifically the pianoforte and the organ. He praised the pipe organ in the town church in the highest of terms, and he had hopes of someday serving as its organist.
With the social pleasantries concluded, I requested Richard to relate the complete circumstances of the afternoon of the thirty- first of October. I repeat his story here, altered only so far as to render his torturous grammar in a more succinct manner.
"My classes had finished for the day. I had just concluded an hour of practice when my friend and fellow- student Herr Rudolf Eckher entered my practice room with the news that one Herr Dieter Drosselmeyer, a writer of some fame, lay murdered not two streets away in his own study. Herr Eckher is the son of the town clerk. He invited me outside the walls to his parents' house for dinner, hoping to hear what facts were known from his father rather than relying upon the outrageous and fanciful gossip then circulating like wildfire within both the school and the town.
"Goldkrone is a very small and close- knit place. I can remember only one violent death in my lifetime that was investigated as a murder, and even that was deemed an accidental manslaughter. This event caused quite a sensation of course; such a small and quiet town, even with a considerable proportion of students, is not known for more than a few Hallowe'en pranks, and those not harmful.
"I let the dormitory attendant know of our intended whereabouts and arrived at the Eckher residence without incident. After two hours or so, my friend walked with me to the town gate that lay on the usual route to and from the Academy. But instead of being wide open as was usual, the gate was closed.
"Assuming some seasonal practical joke, we both proceeded to walk around the circumference of the town wall. Each gate was examined and tried, but all were shut fast. It was well after dark by then, and I was worried that we would be missed at the dormitory. Then even more curious things began to happen.
"We tried to open a gate one last time, and succeeded. However, instead of facing the street as we knew it, the gate opened onto the far side of the town, with no intervening space; and when we passed through, we found ourselves outside the walls once again, having walked no more than the usual number of paces! When we turned and looked, the gate tower from which we had emerged was not the same as the one we had entered."
The boys returned to the Eckher residence and raised the alarm, and in short, the town clerk soon had authorities high and low gathered in Goldkrone, but none had any explanation as to how a town wall should exist without enclosing any space– much less why the town inside should be suddenly inaccessible.
Then the disappearances began. Richard's orderly recital here took an even more fantastic turn, for of course others among the townsfolk had also been stranded outside the gates when they had closed. Of these, some were seen to try the gates, but vanished within. Richard himself heard one elderly woman exclaim 'There it is!' before hurrying through a gate. By the time he left for England to join his brother, she had not been found.
No questions I could frame could elicit any inconsistency in Richard's tale. Anton, not having been an eyewitness, could add little save to categorically deny that the account could be fraudulent. He had been contacted by both friends and relatives who confirmed his brother's report but had not yet gone home himself; he intended to make travel arrangements while he was in London, abandoning his studies for the moment with the blessing of his instructors, until the matter could be resolved.
So it came to be that I, feeling very much alone without the acumen and logical presence of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, stood facing a pair of solid wooden gates a few days later. Lestrade could not be spared from his duties as easily as could I, for the winter's ills had not yet taken hold of London that autumn and my patients could be divided amongst my colleagues; nor would my wife suffer the young men to travel alone. I accompanied the boys to the home of relations living outside the walls of Goldkrone.
As expected, the journey had been uneventful, from London aboard a steamer to Hamburg, and by train from Hamburg south through Germany to the northern parts of Bavaria, to the final few miles in a hired trap. Exactly as the boys had said, there was nothing remote or hidden; quite the opposite. The area was taken up by farms and villages and towns and, as they explained, a short journey to the south would bring the traveller to the banks of the great Danube itself.
I was hardly surprised by the presence of scientists, scholars, military officers and engineers of all descriptions and nationalities, several of whom were in fact Englishmen or Scotsmen. The latest arrival before us was one Dr. Montgomery, an engineer and author from Aberdeen who had read some of my records of Holmes' cases; he attached himself to our party and proved a useful companion. My German was somewhat limited, whereas he was fluent in that tongue. He had just spent the autumn on a walking- tour in the Alps, and was ready to return home to Scotland when he heard of the events in Goldkrone. He had detoured from his route for a look, arriving only hours before ourselves.
He was beside me now. Anton and Richard had been taken in hand by their relations. Anton had done the same thing as his brother and made circuits of the walls, trying each and every gate in turn. He had ended with an injury to his hand when, in a fit of desperation, he had been reduced to pounding on the thick planks and shouting for his parents. He had done no differently in this than others of his distressed neighbors.
Now that I was there, facing strong walls and closed gates, I felt entirely helpless myself, frustrated at my inability to aid the Mollers or the stranded townsfolk. Around the walls strolled veritable constellations of the greatest minds in the modern sciences, devising their theories and revising them and withal failing to open a single door.
Once again, someone had procured a ladder and was attempting to scale the wall. Beside me Dr. Montgomery sighed.
"It'll no happen, ye'll see. Did ye hear, the Army was to try to batter through with artillery twa days sin? Th' folk put a stop to that themselves. The last thing they want is someone on the other side hurt by sich a thing, when there's nae proof that they're sufferin' within."
By now this did not surprise me. I replied, "The most remarkable thing I have observed is the increasing equanimity of the citizens. If it were not for such as ourselves, I do believe the phenomenon would be quickly forgotten–" We were interrupted by the ladder, which had indeed begun to topple. It was steadied long enough for the young gentleman to slide down most of the way. He had gotten as far as the top of the wall but had seemed unable to actually surmount it.
"Weell." Dr. Montgomery dismissed the ladder from his thoughts. "And if your Mr. Holmes were here, what would he be thinkin' of all of us, walkin' aboot, debatin' and tryin' the same fool stunts over and over again? Would he no be laughin'?"
Framed as it was, the question raised my spirits higher than they had been for days, and I had to laugh myself; for I had done no better than all of these, and myself once acquainted with a mind so trained in the art of detection! "Indeed he would be. I cannot tell what the answer may be, but if scientific investigation can discover it, there are many here more qualified to perform such investigations than a mere medical doctor."
"Aye," said my companion. "Moreover, I must be home within the week, and as diverting as the problem is, I canna stay long. Sae, tell me. What would Mr. Holmes have done, finding all the usual methods sae well done, and sae useless?"
It was the question I had unaccountably failed to ask. What indeed would Holmes be doing at this moment? I had been confronted with a wall and closed gates, and along with the distraught residents had tried to open the gates and watched as others tried to scale walls and towers, thinking only of using the same brute force.
After some thought, I replied. "I believe Holmes would find the clues that others are not properly observing. He would perhaps ask what it was about the residents who found their way inside that enabled them to do so; and there are those here asking that very question. He would also have taken every item, every word spoken by Richard to myself and Lestrade in London and ever since, and even then found lines of enquiry to pursue."
"So tell me," pursued the Scotsman. "What did the lad Richard say?"
I repeated all, from his visit to his friend to talk over some gruesome murder, to the finding of the sealed gates and walls. Until then I had not given the murder itself any thought.
"It's an odd story," mused my companion. "He was a writer of fantastical tragedies and horrors, and a few out here will tell you that what he wrote came true– not as a prediction based on facts might, but that his writings made sich things to happen. None know all the truth of his death, for it happened just before the town was sealed off, but rumor has it that some in black hoods stole upon him and chopped off his hands, and that's how he was found, still tryin' to write wi' his ain blood. A grand story for a penny- dreadful; but, y'see, in physics there are nae coincidences, and I canna bring myself to use such in my ain stories, though they be but for children. I find it hard tae credit that the one happened and then t' other, and nae relation between them."
I concluded that Sherlock Holmes would have enjoyed the conversation of this Aberdonian, and went so far as to mention Mycroft to him, promising an introduction should the occasion arise. Indeed, I thought perhaps I should write to Mycroft of this business, but put it off. There would be opportunity whilst in London to visit the Diogenes Club. Any missive I sent from Goldkrone might not arrive until after I had returned myself; for I had determined that, as our routes lay together so far as Hamburg at least, I should depart for home with Dr. Montgomery and several others by the week's end. I could do no more good here.
That afternoon saw a number of others reach the same conclusion. To my astonishment, some of the best minds I have ever had the privilege of meeting simply lost interest in the problem, even as a few of the inhabitants of the immured town emerged, unharmed and remarkably unshaken! The day after saw the exodus continue. For whatever reason, thankfully, both Dr. Montgomery and myself seemed able to avoid the apathy that seemed to be spreading outwards, with the townsmen politely tiring of the invasion of their peace.
In the case of Richard and Anton, I was grateful to see that the spreading disinterest meant that their distress was assuaged. Indeed, the boys took a last turn around the walls with us on the day prior to our departure, troubled but no longer desperate; their conversation was of what Anton had read of both my works and Dr. Montgomery's, and of stories by the local writer who had been killed in such a spectacular manner. Upon reaching the gate nearest their home, we slowed, and naturally Richard reached out to try it.
To our astonishment, it opened. Wordlessly we all four crowded through, without a thought of blocking it open or shouting for reinforcements.
What happened thereafter is not clear in my mind; that is to say, I remember the events, and can describe them down to the least detail, but they have never seemed any more real to me than certain passages in my writings, in which I had been forced to resort to speculation as to happenings and participants' actions. Excited, the Mollers led the way through the quaint, beautifully- kept town to their father's shop, where Herr Moller embraced his sons and called for their mother.
We were pressed to stay for luncheon, with the parents most grateful for the attention to the welfare of their offspring. Afterward, we accompanied the entire family on a tour about the town, seeing the fine church though not ascending its tower. The only other points of interest in the town were a municipal museum, with artifacts dating from before the town's founding as a Roman outpost, and its lawn with a few well- preserved menhirs; the town's magnificent theater; and of course its Academy. Richard was welcomed back by his schoolfellows as if he had merely spent a few weeks traveling abroad, and the reaction of himself and his family was as if that was all that had happened!
Dr. Montgomery and myself were treated to a tour of the school. There is a fine clock, with animated bronze figures to mark the hours; the facilities are of the finest and well- kept- up, with certain buildings dating back several centuries. My companion paused at a bronze plaque of benefactors' names, pointing out the topmost: D. D. Drosselmeyer, the man who had been murdered the selfsame afternoon as the mysterious closing of the town.
I confess that even thinking that thought produced no sense of urgency in me. Immediately, also, Herr Moller gave us the detailed account of Drosselmeyer's grisly murder, which agreed in every particular with the gruesome rumors that Dr. Montgomery had heard, and added some small details. I was surprised to learn that not only were the murderers indeed held to be secret society members in black robes, but that as of yet there had been no arrest in the affair.
Around midafternoon we made our way back to the gate, said our farewells, and passed through to the outside world once more. Incredible as it may seem, once outside we looked at each other, and as one turned and tried the gate. It was once more shut fast. Just as incredibly, we had not been missed. Of course it fell to us to explain what had happened to the boys to their relations. We were astounded that our tale produced no anxiety, only a sense of relief that the gates had been somehow repaired for long enough for the boys to go home. Indeed, that afternoon marked some sort of turning point: as the day wore on, more people emerged from the great gates even as others were able to disappear through them. Not everyone who tried was able to get in; still, carts of staples and fodder were soon plodding through unopposed, empty ones reemerging.
By the time our party departed on the morrow, we were the ones receiving odd looks for our insistence that something out of the ordinary had happened, and Dr. Montgomery and myself were struggling to understand why we seemed to be alone in our convictions. To this date I have reached no conclusion, save that the lateness of our arrival meant that the ennui had not had so much time to work on us as on others.
There was the one last thing, also, that we did not speak of until we parted at the wharf, myself bound for London, and the good writer for Aberdeen. Speaking for myself, this last part will never be published, for of all the fantastical elements of this case, this was the most bizarre aspect. Finding ourselves apart from the crowd for a moment, I was startled to hear Dr. Montgomery say in a low voice:
"I'll say, Dr. Watson, that ye made the finest bloodhound I've ever seen, though ye scarce credit yourself as such in your work."
Of course the remark might not have been taken literally had anyone else heard, but I was careful to reply in the same tone.
"I have had the privilege of seeing you ferret out the facts of this matter, in a manner worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself," I responded. "There remain many questions, but for us only one, I believe: why were we permitted access and egress so freely, when we had watched both force and reason fail so consistently?"
"Do ye remember our conversation as we went round the walls, Dr. Watson?" he asked. "When we took that last walk with those boys, we were talking not of Holmes' methods, but of our stories, and those of the writer who died within the walls. It occurred to me, waking last night, that perhaps it wasna our science that let us into the town, but our art. And the town is known to all for its arts. Had that not occurred to me I would never have said a word about bloodhounds."
We parted then, on the most cordial of terms, and have since maintained our acquaintance by correspondence; and if I could not send this to a publisher, I am relieved to say that The Curious Disappearance of Gold Crown Town was printed in a Scottish weekly as a children's fairy- tale, and is one of a collection of such by the same author bound in one volume. A hard- bound copy remains on my shelf, as this account may not.
Author's Notes: Once upon a time, I started to look up dates...
I thought it would be appropriate to make the date of Drosselmeyer's death the same as Tchaikovsky's, especially since it falls on Hallowe'en. As far as I can tell from the genealogy that Autor shows to Fakir, and given that the main storyline is current with the release of the series, it might be plausible.
Then I noticed something else: This fell within the period between Sherlock Holmes' supposed death at Reichenbach Falls, and his return in 'The Empty House.' This meant that any involvement was Watson's, alone.
But- I have wondered what exactly happened that day, when the Story overcame the town, and how the rest of the world reacted. Holmes might indeed have found the problem entertaining, I don't feel that I can write Conan- Doyle well at this point, and despite months of looking- at- later, I'm content with this piece- not enthusiastic. But, I hope you enjoyed it.
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Disclaimer: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson and all related characters and elements are the property, copyright and trademark of Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. In the United States of America and no ownership or claim on said property, copyright or trademark is made or implied by their use in the work(s) of fan fiction presented here. This fan fiction constitutes a personal comment on the aforesaid properties pursuant to doctrines of fair use and fair comment. This fan fiction is non-commercial, not for sale or profit, and may not be sold or reproduced for commercial purposes.