Sherlock Holmes and the Devil's Sonata

by Carl Sundell

v

Anyone who reads crime stories should be well versed in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes so brilliantly narrated by his devoted sidekick, Dr. John Watson. It is still difficult for me to believe that I am privileged to be the fourth buyer (it cost me a small fortune) of the elegant mahogany desk originally owned by Dr. Watson and sold at auction upon his death. While I was working to repair several cracks in the wood of that desk, I found a secret compartment containing a manuscript rolled up in several musty smelling sheets of paper. It was a story hand written by Watson (I had this confirmed by a handwriting expert), so the author seems to have had serious reservations about whether to type it up and send it to his publisher. There is no mention of the story among his other documents, nor in his will, which now being a matter of public record I have studied in great detail.

I am convinced this very last narrative concerning the life and tragic death of Sherlock Holmes should be shared with the world, though perhaps many will read with surprise, dismay, and resentment that their beloved crime fighter should have fallen to so low an estate. I can understand, as the reader will understand, Dr. Watson's reluctance to publish it, even though he must have felt a compulsion to write it. Anyway, I have waited until now and can wait no longer … my health is failing ... to share it with the world. In truth, we should remember that Holmes is only one of many shining heroes with feet of clay, or should I say with an Achilles heel that could have been his own undoing. I hope and trust the reader will forgive me and Dr. Watson for exposing the inner demons of Sherlock Holmes as never before. Here now is the complete text of the story, slightly edited by me for spelling and punctuation.

My name is Dr. John H. Watson. Readers of my books will remember that many years ago I was the constant companion of my friend Sherlock Holmes, no doubt the greatest private detective in the history of the world, with whom for some years, until my marriage to Mary Morstan, I shared an apartment on Baker Street in London. It was my privilege and pleasure, with the permission of Mr. Holmes, to be the public chronicler of his many fascinating exploits in crime detection. To give the reader an idea of the genius of our now legendary detective, I offer below verbatim in italics a slightly edited passage from The Sign of the Four, a book which I wrote under the indispensable authority of my editor and publicist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes and I are sitting alone in our parlor as the scene begins. My friend, an accomplished musician, has just finished playing a very interesting violin sonata. I supposed it was by Mozart. As will be revealed later, I was much mistaken.

I said, keeping in mind Sherlock's love of flattery, “Holmes, is there anything in the whole blasted universe that you have not observed with your keenly analytical brain?”

Sherlock replied with his usual air of confidence, “In fact, old man, I have just finished a monograph, which I expect to see published in a French journal, on the hundred and forty-nine types of ash left by cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.”

Well, good for you old man,” I said, hoping that Holmes did not detect the slight note of sarcasm in my voice. “By the way, Inspector Lestrade just rang you up a while ago. He'd like you to call him for a consultation.”

Holmes answered wearily, “Lestrade's a good fellow, if a little dim. I'll call him in the morning.” Holmes took his pipe out, filled it, lit it, and took a few short puffs. Without further comment he stared dreamily into space, apparently absorbed in thought.

Lestrade admires you greatly, Holmes, as we all do,” I said, thinking this might help dispel what appeared to be mounting gloom in Holmes' face. The mood I observed was typical of his recovery from a bout with cocaine or opium. I decided to flatter him, which based on past experience was sure to please and lift his spirits. “I say old man, your powers of deduction are astonishing, but I don't think they are based solely on minute observations. How do you do it, Holmes? What is the secret of your success?”

Elementary, my dear Watson,” Holmes answered. “Once you get the hang of it. The science of deduction is a wonderful thing to behold. You should read Aristotle's book on logic. Very edifying.”

Come now, don't shove it on that old Greek,” I protested. “Tell me your secret.”

Well then, I will.” He puffed briefly on his pipe. “Listen carefully to how I put the problem and its solution. Observation tells me that you were in the Wigmore Street Post Office today, but deduction lets me know that when there you sent a telegram.”

Quite right,” I replied. “But how did you know that? It was an impulse on my part and I mentioned it to no one.”

Holmes chuckled. “Simplicity itself. Observation tells me that you have a little reddish clay on your shoe. Just opposite the post office they have taken up the pavement and thrown about some dirt that is difficult to avoid. That dirt, so far as I know, is found nowhere else in the neighborhood. So much is observation. The rest is deduction.”

How then did you deduce the telegram?” I asked.

Well, I knew you had not written a letter since I sat opposite you all morning. I notice on your desk that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of postcards. Why else would you go to the post office except to send a telegram? Eliminate the other possibilities, and the one that remains must be the truth. N'est ce pas?

Yes, it's all true,” I remarked after a brief silence. “But as you say, it was a very simple deduction. Would you think me impolite if I put your logic to a more severe test?”

I'd be delighted,” Holmes said, seemingly recovered a bit from his blue mood. “Fire away.”

I removed my watch from my vest pocket, detached it from its chain, and handed it to Holmes. Now warming up to the challenge, I said, “I've heard you say before that no man can have an object on his person without leaving some trace of his personality on it. This watch recently came into my possession. Would you like to tell me something about its owner?” Holmes studied the watch from every angle. He opened it, examined the inside, then took a small spy glass from his pocket and examined further. At intervals he muttered an approving or disapproving sound. Finally, he closed the watch and handed it back to me.

There's not much to say. The watch was recently cleaned, which robs me of many clues.”

At this point I was getting irritated. “Yes, I had it cleaned. But if that's all you can tell me, it's not much, is it?”

A haughty tone overcame Holmes. “My inspection did yield some things, I daresay.”

You daresay indeed!” I retorted.

Subject to your correction, I should judge that the watch belonged to your elder brother, who inherited it from your father.”

That you gather, no doubt, from the H. W. upon the back?”

Quite so. The W. suggests your own name. The date of the watch is nearly fifty years back, and the initials are as old as the watch: so it was made for the last generation. Jewelry usually descends to the eldest son, and he is most likely to have the same name as the father. Your father has, if I remember right, been dead many years. It has, therefore, been in the hands of your eldest brother.”

Right, so far. Anything else?” I asked, hoping to conceal my amazement.

He was a man of untidy habits, very untidy and careless. He was left with good prospects, but threw away his chances, lived for some time in poverty with occasional short bursts of prosperity, and finally, taking to drink, he died.” Shrugging his shoulders, Holmes concluded, “That is all I can gather.”

At this point I could not contain my emotions. “This is unworthy of you, Holmes. I cannot believe you have descended to this. You have sneaked about inquiring into my unhappy brother's fate, and now you pretend to deduce his life by staring at his watch. Shame on you, sir. You have gone too far, I say!”

But I knew at once I had over reacted to my friend's insight into my brother's fate. Holmes seemed all at once deeply apologetic rather than prideful. “My dear doctor,” he said, “accept my apologies. I took your challenge as an abstract exercise in logic, forgetting how personal and painful a thing it might be to you. Please do believe, old fellow, I never even knew you had a brother until you handed me this watch!”

Then how in the name of all that is wonderful did you get these facts? They are absolutely correct in every particular.”

Ah, that is good luck,” Holmes replied. “I could only say what was the balance of probability. I did not at all expect to be so accurate.”

But surely it was not guesswork,” I objected.

No, no. I never guess. It's a shocking habit destructive of the logical faculty. What seems strange to you is only so because you do not follow my train of thought or observe the small facts upon which large inferences may depend. For example, I began by stating that your brother was careless. When you observe the lower part of that watch case, you notice that it is not only dented in two places, but it is cut and marked all over from the habit of keeping other hard objects, such as coins or keys, in the same pocket. Surely it is no great feat to assume that a man who treats a watch so recklessly must be a careless man. Neither is it a very far-fetched inference that a man who inherits one object of such value is pretty well provided for in other respects. It is very customary for pawnbrokers in England, when they take a watch, to scratch the number of the ticket with a pin-point upon the inside of the case. It is more handy than a label, as there is no risk of the number being lost or transposed. There are no less than four such numbers visible to my lens on the inside of this case. Inference … that your brother was often without funds. Secondary inference … that he had occasional bursts of prosperity, or he could not have redeemed the watch. Finally, I ask you to look at the inner plate, which contains the keyhole. Look at the hundreds of scratches around the keyhole … marks where the key has slipped. What sober man's key could have scored those grooves? But you will never see a drunkard's watch without them. He winds it at night, and he leaves these traces of his unsteady hand. Where is the mystery in all this?”

It is as clear as daylight,” I conceded. “A masterful performance, Holmes. I should not have doubted you for a moment.”

Thank you, Watson. So there it is, your lesson. Go thou and reason likewise.”

But now I detected the look of melancholy that so frequently overcame him when he had just finished any kind of intellectual exertion. “What consolation will you seek tonight?” I asked my companion. Opium, heroine, or cocaine?”

Does it really matter, so long as I find release,” Holmes replied. “Brain work, Watson, is what I was born for. Without it I am helpless … useless to myself and to the world. I take what gives me the most restful sleep.”

This account of Sherlock's reasoning skill is based on an actual exchange between him and me, but our discussion did not end there. I omitted the remainder of that evening's conversation because it was too personal and not fit for public consumption, at least not while Holmes was alive. However, now that Holmes is deceased due to an overdose of heroine, I think it is fair to return to the event and describe its real conclusion. I hope there will be a worthy moral to this story that will overcome any reader's belief that I have betrayed the confidence of a very great man and a true friend. What I have to say now I'm afraid will disappoint many of his admirers who recognize in Holmes a sort of unparalleled genius, and worship him for that reason. So now we continue the dialogue begun above, if memory serves me well, to its conclusion.

A long silence had passed between us, which I finally broke.

Sherlock, do you believe in God?”

Ah, the ultimate mystery … never to be solved in this life, I'm afraid.”

How so?” I queried.

Where's the evidence? I have never seen a trace of evidence. You know how I love evidence.”

When you say trace of evidence, what do you mean?” Holmes remained silent, almost scornful. “Do you mean that you have not seen God in a laboratory test tube or through the end of a telescope?”

With his arms Holmes flailed the air as if I had become hopeless. “Come now, Watson ….!”

Come now yourself, my friend. Do you expect God to be some physical entity floating majestically on Cloud Nine, or do you expect that we could see God on a clear summer day?”

Let me put it this way,” Holmes said, a certain stridency entering his voice. “I see no more reason to believe in God than to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. These are, I grant you, pleasant illusions that children sooner or later outgrow when reason overcomes them. Perhaps some day God will be overcome by clear thinking adults.”

I believe in God,” I said.

Then may you one day be blessed to outgrow your belief,” Holmes said mockingly, though with a wrinkled brow he seemed to wish he hadn't said it.

I sensed myself simmering beneath my usually calm manner. “A moment ago you compared belief in Santa to belief in God. One thing you did not consider is that Santa is supposed to live at the North Pole. Theoretically, it might be possible to prove by a thorough search that there is no Santa living at the North Pole. But how would you be able to prove that God, who by definition is not of this world, does not exist?”

By the same token,” Holmes objected, “if God is not of this world, how can you prove that God does exist?”

Ah, there's the rub!” I said. A silence overcame us. I was uncertain about going on the attack, then gave in to my instinct to convert a soul. I finally got up the nerve to speak.

Holmes, what time is it?” I asked.

Holmes took out his watch and looked. “10:15,” he said.

How do you know that,” I asked.

Holmes curtly remarked, “The short hand points to the ten and the long hand to the three.”

Why does your watch do that?” I asked.

Holmes, I could see, was fuming now. “What in blazes? Do what?”

Why does it tell the time?”

Are you being silly, Watson?”

I was trying to be polite. “A watch does not exist in a vacuum. Look at all the intricate parts that work together in harmony after you wind it.”

You are laboring the obvious. Get on with your case, please.”

I will if you will stop interrupting.”

Give it up, old man,” Holmes said. “I know where you are going with this … Paley's so called 'design' proof for the existence of God.”

Well, let's give the proof a chance to be heard. Do you deny that a watch is designed?”

Of course not,” Holmes said with more than a hint of arrogance.

So it must have a designer?”

So it would seem.”

If you happened to be walking on the moon, and thought you were the first person on the moon, and you came across a watch such as yours lying on the ground, would you not assume that someone had been there before you?”

A reasonable assumption.”

Someone with intelligence and imagination who had some use for that watch?”

I suppose so.”

You would not say the watch merely came together by itself, and even wound itself by accident, and even told the correct time by accident?”

This is brutal,” Holmes objected. “You are turning the lesson I gave you back upon me. Don't try to be clever, Watson. It doesn't become you.”

In what way do I seem unbecoming?”

If the universe is infinite and eternal, as I think it is, who knows how many permutations and combinations of atoms and molecules might by coincidence in time join together to produce, by pure accident, the watch I found on the moon?”

And yet you must extend your range of coincidence even further, when you consider how immensely more complex a human being is than a watch. Have you an ounce, even one scintilla of scientific proof … the kind of observable proof you cherish so much … that an infinite and eternal universe is capable of producing the wild and extravagant number of coincidences required to create all of the plant and animal kingdoms, never mind the right association of stars and planets, that keep all of us rolling merrily through the heavens without turning into a ball of flames or a block of ice?”

I am getting a headache from this endless fantasy drivel,” Holmes remarked wearily.

Is what I have said about that watch on the moon, drivel or not, any less probable than every deduction you have made about my brother's watch? Could there not be another place in London where I could have picked up that reddish clay on my shoes? Could there not have been another reason, say poor eyesight, or palsy, rather than drunkenness, why my brother's watch had scratches scored near the keyhole? You reasoned on the basis of possibility, not probability. Yet you gave credit to your reasoning. And, as it turned out, you were right. Why not give credit to Paley's equally plausible reasoning concerning that watch … that all the grandeur of Creation might have been designed by the Almighty rather than fumbling its way into existence on the desert floor of a barren moon by way of an unlikely and incredible trail of coincidences?”

Hmm. What you have said is food for my hungry thoughts. Shall we continue this discussion another time, when I'm more refreshed?” Holmes yawned, rose up from his chair, turned away from me, then stopped in his tracks and did an about face. “Watson, I wonder if you have read anything by one of your colleagues in medicine, Dr. Sigmund Freud.”

A little … I'm afraid he is not so very scientific for a medical man. He is a rank pessimist and gives himself to spinning trashy theories about human sexuality. ”

I wouldn't know about that. One gathers, from reading him, that all life is pathetic and futile. Is not every man's personal sad story a microcosm of mankind's futile effort to survive? We reach ... we grasp ... and what is left in our hands at the end? A fleeting shadow of what we were? Dr. Freud says that religion is an illusion which derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our desire to live forever. What say you, Watson?”

I daresay it does fall in with our desires. Why shouldn't it? But if you change one word in Dr. Freud's premise, you get another very interesting thought. Atheism is an illusion that derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our desires. That is to say, the atheist desires that God should not exist. Here again Dr. Freud demonstrates that most of his published thoughts are ineffable twaddle. Holmes, above all, I would dearly love to know the secret of why some men do not desire anything to do with God.”

Maybe it's none of your business,” Holmes answered curtly. “Let people keep their secrets to themselves. Did you ever consider that?”

But my dear Sherlock, that has never been your attitude toward thieves and murderers. They too have secrets that you seek to unveil. And you know that their secrets cannot be unveiled just by asking them to do so. You have to track them down, which requires effort and persistence and the kind of cleverness you possess. Just as there are clues to the existence of a devil in the evil men do, there must be clues to the existence of God in the good we do. Does God have his secrets that must become known in the same way? Does He require that to know Him we must all do some spiritual sleuthing of our own?”

Now I began to recognize that my friend's secret was unfolding itself, despite his vigorous, even rude, attempt to resist. Where it concerns someone whose friendship I cherish, I cannot be blamed for wanting to make it my business to detect his secret, just as he could not resist the desire to make the secret of the thief or the murderer his business to detect.

After a lengthy and thought-filled moment, Holmes replied. “Then I will tell you that religion holds no sway with me, and for a very particular reason. I love the world of facts. We can reason from one fact to another because the laws of logic allow us to. But emotion and imagination are of another order. A thing cannot be true just because we want it to be true. Surely you know that.”

I do indeed,” I replied.

Then how is it that when you say you believe in God, you are dealing with God as a fact?

Tell me, Holmes, how is it that in denying God you are dealing with no God as a fact? Surely you have no proof there is no God.”

I agree. I don't have proof, and that is why I do not call myself an atheist. I am on the fence there, or you could call me agnostic, but certainly not atheist.”

So you think you can leave the door open?” I asked.

Slightly ajar perhaps,” Holmes answered testily.

Slightly ajar as an insurance policy? There is a passage in scripture I wish you would think about now and then. 'He who is not with me, is against me.' That is to say, without belief the door is closed, not ajar. And according to scripture, that is a fact.”

I could tell Holmes was a bit hot under the collar and was about to erupt.

Watson,” he blurted out, “I do not object to the idea of God so much as to the religions that claim God to be on their side. You might try reading William Reade's The Martyrdom of Man published a few years ago. You will find that he correctly shows how religions historically have done so much more evil than good, and he argues rather interestingly that the world might be a better place without religions than with them. That's all I want to say on that subject.”

And a good thing too, my friend. Since the world has never been without religion, I wonder how such a claim against religion could reasonably be made. My own view would be that without a religion of love the world would disintegrate under bullets, bombs, torpedoes and tyrants everywhere. Modern inventions of war are making that prospect increasingly likely year after year. So you see, it doesn't really matter so much whether you could solve the mystery of my brother's watch. What matters a whole lot more is whether we can solve, or at least begin to solve with a religion of love, the mystery of why we are on this planet and whether there is another world waiting for us to be born into.”

Ah Watson, your thoughts whiz by me like bullets. I think I shall have to duck them by going to bed. Good night, old man.”

As for you, Holmes, I think God is in you. Or perhaps I should say the secret of God is in you. I heard a fragment of that secret in the violin piece you played earlier this evening. By the way, your violin skills have improved superbly.”

Holmes grinned and raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know that was not the devil's own secret you heard … and the devil's own music?”

But wasn't that Mozart you played? Mozart was an angel of light, not of darkness. Good night, Holmes,” I said.

Without answering, Sherlock abruptly turned away and retreated down the hall to his bedroom. His secret he was going to keep to himself, but perhaps he knew I was onto him. Indeed, at one point I recall meeting his somewhat older brother, Mycroft, who took me aside and confided in me, just in case I noticed anything troubling in Sherlock's personality, that their father had been an evil maniac, forever given to malicious mischief and insanely criminal acts. Mycroft remembered that Sherlock at the age of six woke up one morning screaming at the sight of his little panda bear, with a knife in its gut and a hangman's noose around its neck, dangling from the chandelier in his bedroom. It was Mycroft's belief, which he confided in me, that Sherlock had chosen the career of crime sleuth as a correction and penance for their father's hateful ways. I was able to believe it, for I had come to be convinced, based on listening to Mycroft speculate on the bizarrely corrupt politics of London, that his powers of deduction were even greater than Sherlock's. Yet, due to some evidence of laziness, and perhaps lack of personal courage possibly beaten out of him by his deranged father, Mycroft had not bothered to actively exploit his talent so spectacularly as Sherlock did when he battled the criminal underworld.

Some years passed and Holmes became more drug soaked and increasingly remote from the world. He moved from Baker Street into a smaller apartment and let his hair grow long like a woman's. He continued to work with Scotland Yard and still on rare occasions was able to solve crimes that baffled the police. But of course by then I was married, no longer able to accompany him on his cases and narrate his brilliant deductions for the public's pleasure and applause. On one occasion some years ago I received a peculiar letter from Holmes in which he speculated on whether Professor Moriarty's criminal empire had expanded beyond England into Germany and Italy, even breaking through the walls of the Vatican, the only institution that had even more tentacles reaching into every nation on earth. This seemed to suggest a great war was in the making, and a lot of criminal money was to be made waging that war. Holmes wondered if Moriarty could have survived the death blow he thought he had dealt him at the Reichenback Falls in Switzerland. Who else but Moriarty could have had the brainpower and the necessarily long tentacles to reach beyond England and possibly even into collaboration with the governing cliques and crime syndicates in the United States? Then he promptly dismissed the notion and asked me not to report his suspicions to anyone, especially his brother Mycroft. I didn't, wondering if Holmes had reached a point of paranoia excessive even for him.

Finally I report that my wife never really approved of Holmes. Finding him altogether aloof and sad, she complained that he was too much head and too little heart. She mentioned that he never made eye contact with her and she subtly discouraged my friendship with him. I had long ago detected several signs of Aperger's Syndrome in Holmes, including the lack of eye contact. It is true that, so far as I could tell, Holmes never had a romantic streak in him and spoke disparagingly of the female intellect, though he certainly admired from afar a certain grand opera singer, Irene Adler. In the course of time I regrettably followed my wife's advice and drifted gradually out of Sherlock's life, only to return at last to visit the scene of his death.

Early one morning, some years after my break with Holmes, I received an urgent telephone call from Inspector Lestrade. Sherlock's housekeeper had frantically reported to the police that he apparently died in his sleep. Lestrade wanted to know if I would do the honor of meeting him at Holmes's lodgings to certify his demise and perhaps do a preliminary assessment of what caused his death.

When we opened the door to his apartment, we were assaulted by the stench of rotting flesh. Sherlock's nearly seventy year old corpse was propped up against a pillow on his bed with his violin askew on his lap, one hand frozen around its neck, the other clutching the bow. His jaw had yawned wide open, revealing a hideous cavern of yellowed teeth and blackened tongue. His eyes, normally at best the windows to a troubled soul, very nearly bulged out of their sockets and stared vacantly at me, even so revealing perhaps surprise and awe by what Holmes glimpsed the moment he entered eternity. The whites of his eyeballs were heavily veined red, almost demonically so from a distance; but I knew at once that he must have been suffering from the overproduction of thyroid hormone known as Graves disease.

On the floor next to his bed was a very soiled copy of The Dynamics of an Asteroid by Professor James Moriarty, of whom Holmes once said after reading this book that the author was so evil, if there really is a hell, he must have been born there and rode a red hot asteroid from that world into this one. Under the bed sheet I found an empty syringe between Sherlock's legs. Scattered about the bed and floor were pages of the Devil's Trill Sonata by Giuseppi Tartini, which a friend of mine recently remarked was the most “wickedly” beautiful violin music he'd ever heard. No wonder I had likely been confused by thinking Holmes played Mozart when he was really playing Tartini and kept that secret to himself.

What had possessed my old friend? Why did he leave others to find his remains surrounded by evidence that he had performed a musical homage to the devil? Tartini himself, I recently learned, admitted that one night, during sleep, his ambition to be a great composer made him dream of making a pact with the devil. During the dream his new master, the devil, played at the foot of his bed a violin sonata so beautiful that all he could do was sob himself to sleep at the end of it. When he awoke the next morning he began to compose immediately every note of the sonata he could remember. He later admitted that the beauty of the work he composed was but a faint reminiscence of the diabolically ecstatic music that had exalted him during the dream. We do not know how Tartini came to his end, whether in confession and penance, or in self hatred and despair, or even in suicide. No one can know that now.

So, I reason, the secret of Sherlock Holmes was at last coming into clearer focus. We often hear it said, by thinkers who have studied the matter, that extreme and twisted brain power is often accompanied by the desire to improve the world and create utopias, perfect worlds, where none had existed. Holmes had dedicated himself to advancing the cause of such a world by solving as many crimes as he could. In this he was eminently successful, but was a price to be paid? Did he make a Faustian pact with the devil in return for his success as the world's greatest detective? Was it the devil's bidding that Holmes should deny God? Had the devil now come to claim his due, the soul of the great Sherlock Holmes? I dread to think, I am dared to believe, that this bizarre spectacle, the seemingly startled and wide-eyed corpse vacantly staring at me from his bed, was the unmistakable hint of such a fate.

I do not offer this next thought expecting to convert my more skeptical readers, but I say the dead are truly immortal. I believe we will rise again for Judgment. If what we choose to believe in should make us feel that we may be liberated from sin, and not only that but come to know joy as well, we should believe most of all in this: that there is a loving God who is both merciful and just.

Sherlock, my friend, standing before the altar of God, I ask: Did you ever forgive your father and pray for his immortal soul? You fled Heaven's Gate, but I pray the Hound of Heaven pursued you to the very end, and as you lay dying breathed His spirit of mercy upon you. You helped to track down, arrest, and incarcerate the villains of this world. You gave them pause to meditate on their crimes, that they might suffer and be redeemed in the prisons where they were sent to languish, to grow old in wisdom, and hopefully to die with a prayer on their lips. God knows all this was in your favor. I know not how many souls you helped to save; but, helping to save others, I hope you unknowingly helped to save yourself. I pray the Dragon and dark angels did not prevail over you. My friend, did you die with a prayer on your lips? Having played the devil's sonata so very well, do what purgatory you must and go with God, Sherlock. Go with God!

Vaya con Dios, amigo. Ve con Dios, mi querido viejo amigo.

__________________________________________________________________________________

When I first completed the reading of Dr. Watson's story, I was puzzled by the fact that the circumstances of Sherlock Holmes' death were never published in detail. Was this arranged by Inspector Lestrade out of respect for Holmes and to avoid publicity about the more gruesome aspects of the great detective's demise? I did my research. There was a brief notice, seven lines of an obituary in the London Times, and that was it. It's true that it had been some time since Holmes had been celebrated in the news. That was because Dr. Watson had no longer been his partner in crime solving. But now the closing paragraphs of Watson's narrative left me horribly unnerved. There was a mystery here that Watson had not fully addressed. I have to wonder if, as Dr. Watson had originally surmised, the mighty physical struggle between Holmes and Moriarty really did end with both plunging to their death down the Reichenback Falls in Switzerland.

I know that was the account written up by Watson in The Final Problem. But at first Watson thought Holmes too had fallen to his death along with Moriarty. Holmes, it was later discovered, saved himself by landing on a protruding ledge that broke his fall. Fearful that Moriarty's powerful and malicious crime machine would seek revenge for their leader's death, Holmes then went into hiding for several years, in contact with no one but his brother. But what if Moriarty also survived the fall, perhaps severely wounded enough that he could not operate as he had in the past, but was still able to plot horrible revenge once he learned Holmes was restored and back in consultation with Inspector Lestrade. Did Moriarty, over more decades to come, spend himself building up his already international crime empire? Did he wait patiently for the right moment to bring down Sherlock Holmes once and for all? Was it Moriarty himself who administered the final dose of heroine to Holmes, unconscious and helpless in his bed? Was he that hateful and insane? It is truly not beyond belief for anyone who has seen an old police sketch of Moriarty, one clandestinely drawn by order of Inspector Lestrade during a public lecture given by the professor. Clearly the sketch artist must have feared the model who inspired him, given the demonic features of a malignant narcissist rendered in Moriarty's repulsive face and thin, almost serpentine anatomy.

Why was that curious book on asteroids by Professor Moriarty found near Holmes' corpse? Did Moriarty place it there as a trophy of sorts after several years of surreptitiously supplying Holmes, by way of his criminal syndicate, with enough heroine to kill a cadre of Scotland Yard's finest? So, at last, following these and other clues no longer available to us, perhaps Dr. Watson finally deduced that Moriarty might have been the more clever villain than Holmes was the brilliant detective.

Yet, from what we know of him, Watson was a very decent man and I would say spiritual in his way. He wrote the story of the Devil's Sonata, but after reflection hid it in his desk, lest someone else finding it should dissect the plot to its possibly frightful conclusion: namely, that Moriarty had survived the supposed fall to his death and there was no Holmes any longer alive to end Moriarty's quietly sinister mastery over London's criminal underworld. Moreover, Watson would have been careful enough about his own safety to protect himself and his wife from Moriarty's revenge should the master criminal be outed as still alive and working his unholy schemes throughout the British empire and the entire world. Watson no doubt would have been satisfied that Moriarty would suffer at least the ignominy of the world at large still believing that Holmes had finished him off when he threw him over the cliff. And surely Watson would have wanted to console himself with the knowledge that, if the supreme criminal in England had successfully plotted to kill the supreme detective, and was still alive himself, he was yet likely soon enough to be riding that red hot asteroid back to the hell that had spewed him forth ... because, after all, God is both merciful and just.

Isn't that what Dr. Watson said? By all the saints in heaven and devils in hell, I heartily agree! It's not that I would rejoice in the damnation of Professor James Moriarty. It's that I see no other way to regard him. If mercy cannot prevail over unrepentant monsters, justice surely will, for it is the next best thing in the world after truth, love, and mercy. There, I've said it, and I'll stick by it even if some day I should stupidly make my own pact with the devil to occupy the hottest furnace in hell.


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