Monday, October 5, 2020

Scriptor Subpono: The Solitary Cyclist by Andrew Basford

The Scriptor Subpono series is an ongoing collection written by Andrew Basford. Not only is Andrew a member of the Parallel Case of St. Louis, but also the Pilot Whale of the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn in St. Charles, MO. He always brings a fun take to Sherlockiana, and since our last meeting was on The Solitary Cyclist, he graciously allowed us to share his take on it here on our blog:

Scriptor Subpono: The Ghost Writer Series

Vol. 9-- "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist"

As always with this Scriptor Subpono series of writings, I attempt to take another look at how the story we observe in any given month may have differently been handled had another author tried to create the story (this month, "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist") or some other means by which it might have been approached.

This month, come with me into the future: the year is 2025 and BBC is coming out with Season 5 of Sherlock. And the first story from the Canon that they tackle?  “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist.”

The particulars on the plot: 

Miss Violet Jones and her mother have come upon hard times of late with the recent passing of her father.  Despite all the welfare and other programs throughout the British Empire to help families in such a situation, there doesn’t seem to be much help for them.  But one day, she receives an email from Messrs Carruthers and Woodley, recently returned from Nigeria, wishing to speak to her about a “business proposal”. She laughs it off, only mildly surprised that they didn’t claim to be princes or barristers.  However, she is surprised to see them waiting for her one day when she returns from job- and assistance-hunting.  They and her mother have been discussing the business proposal and they bring her into the discussion.

It turns out that they were associated with her Uncle Ralph Jones who died almost penniless (something Violet and her mother knew nothing about as they never heard from him since he had left for Nigeria 25 years earlier!), but his last request on his deathbed was that the survivors of his late brother’s family should be taken care of somehow.  So Mr. Carruthers makes a proposal to Miss Jones to teach music to his daughter for £100 per day on weekdays.  Considering this is pretty much an hour per day, and the going rate from the UK Musicians’ Union is a THIRD of that, this is a golden opportunity.  However, she is limited to her own transportation (a second hand DB50QT-11 Chinese scooter), which would require her to live on their premises.  But, since it’s only weekdays, she could use it to drive to the train station to go home to her mother on the weekends.  With that, she accepts the offer.

This arrangement seems to be working well for a while until one time when Mr Woodley comes to stay for a week.  He’s rather creepy to begin with, but appears to be even worse during this time when he makes several awkward and despicable romantic advances toward her, promising that he could make her rich beyond her wildest dreams if she gives him her hand in marriage[!].  At one point, he grabs her, demanding a kiss, which brings Mr. Carruthers in to pull him off of her, almost decking him, and kicking him out of the house [thankfully, she has never seen him since].

But the strange recurring incident that transpires afterward (which bring her to seek the services of Sherlock) is that, during her weekend trips to and from the train station, she’s being followed from afar by somebody on a Suzuki GSX-R1000.  He wears a helmet with heavily tinted glass disguising his face and making him pretty much unrecognizable (although he has enough beard hanging out from underneath).

As has been done previously to tweak ANY of these turn-of-the-20th-century tales to fit with more recent times, the title would have to be adjusted.  This has mostly been done by modifying at least one of the words in the original title; some are quite blatant (“A Study in Pink”, “A Scandal in Belgravia”, “The Sign of Three”, and “The Six Thatchers”), others a little more subtle (“The Hounds of Baskerville” [switching plurals], “The Empty Hearse” [a somewhat close phonetic relationship with “The Empty House”], “His Last Vow” [ditto with “His Last Bow”], and “The Lying Detective” [rhymes with “The Dying Detective”]).  So what could we make of this month’s story (and what details might change, even from what has been originally introduced here)?:

  • The Salutatory Cyclist - as the mystery man on the Suzuki follows Miss Jones, whenever she looks back to see what he’s doing, he lifts his hand up as if to simply say, “Hi!”

  • The Salutary Cyclist - “Salutary” is defined as being favorable to or promoting health.  So the guy on the Suzuki who is trailing Miss Jones looks like a bearded version of Richard Simmons!

  • The Sanitary Cyclist - Miss Jones takes a rowboat from Mr Carruthers’ island home.  Whenever she gets to the jetty leading to the pier where she disembarks to the train station, she is followed in a motor boat (or perhaps a Suzuki Jet Ski?) by somebody who looks like a bearded version of the Ty-D-Bol Man!

  • The Sanatory Cyclist - considering that “sanatory” is defined as “favorable for health; curative; healing”, how would YOU redefine this one…?

  • The Salivary Cyclist - although the helmet is concealing the face of the guy tailing her, she can see through his beard that he has a major drooling problem!

  • The Saltatory Cyclist - [saltatory: proceeding by abrupt movements; pertaining to or adapted for saltation; saltation: a dancing, hopping, or leaping movement; and abrupt movement or transition] the dude tailing Miss Jones is following her on a dirt bike and, although the road they are traversing is level and smooth, he looks to be flying from hill to hill in some less-than-level way(?).

  • The Salty Cyclist - Miss Jones’ mysterious benefactor cusses a lot to tell her to mind her own business and keep looking forward.

  • The Saltier Cyclist - said benefactor cusses like a sailor to tell her to mind her own business (could still be looking like the bearded Ty-D-Bol man).

  • The Salto Cyclist - the Suzuki being ridden by the mystery man is littered with emblems of the city of Salto, Uruguay; perhaps it’s even a constabulary vehicle. 

  • The Saltirewise Cyclist - [“SAL - ter - wize”; rhymes with “gal”] the Suzuki is riddled with decorations related to the flag of Scotland (and perhaps the dude ON the bike is wearing a kilt [actually, that would NOT be a good idea as it would be very immodest; remember what they say: when a REAL MAN wears a kilt, the only thing between the kilt and the floor MIGHT be socks and shoes; if he wears underwear, he’s gone from wearing a kilt to donning a skirt]).

  • The Solitary Cyclone - the dude follows her on the open road in a fully restored 1968 Mercury Cyclone.

  • The Sultry Cyclist - when Sherlock and John confront the cyclist near the end of the story, they find out it was Mother Jones all along (...and she’s kind of a hotty in that motorcycle outfit[!]).

  • The Solitarily Cyclised (SIGH - klized) - “Cyclization” is defined as “the formation of a ring or rings”.  This would describe the person on the Suzuki who has disguised himself as a bearded version of the Michelin Man!

  • The Solitary Cyclops - the guy’s helmet has NO glass whatsoever, just a very small camera on the front to show him where he’s going from the viewscreen inside (?)

  • The Solitary Recycler - in a particular section she drives by, there is always some bearded dude out on the side of the road picking up and bagging aluminum cans.

To be honest, Sherlock was a fun series from BBC (although granted, I am in the minority it seems as one who still liked it in seasons 3 and 4, though taken aback by their huge deviation from canon), but I TRULY HOPE that they DO NOT go here with “The Solitary Cyclist”.

----(Definitions gathered from

Saturday, September 19, 2020

September Meeting: The Solitary Cyclist

Another record-breaking turnout this month as Sherlockians from 11 states as well as Canada, England, and Germany met on Saturday to discuss The Solitary Cyclist!

After introductions, we kicked off our news segment talking about the Enola Holmes movie coming to Netflix in two weeks.  Everyone agreed that it looks like a fun romp, and those of us who have read the book series it is based off of enjoyed the series.  Whether it's Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, or another Holmes media interpretation, there was plenty of positivity around this film!  And as an added piece of fun, one of our participants, Maria, consulted on the upcoming film!  Unfortunately, she couldn't give any good gossip due to contractual obligations.

What didn't have positive feelings, however, is the lawsuit that the so-called Conan Doyle estate filed claiming that Enola Holmes is a copyright infringement because in the film, Sherlock Holmes shows emotion, and that only happened in the last few stories of the Canon, specifically the ones that aren't under copyright.  We talked about this group's long history of nuisance lawsuits and how they are only interested in Holmes interpretations when it's by a company with lots of money that wouldn't be bothered to throw a few thousand their way instead of battling them in court.

In lighter news, a new Sherlockian podcast starts next month, However Improbable.  It is hosted by two women who are detective literature enthusiasts who will have a diverse cast read the stories in chronological order each episode.  The two host will then talk about the story's "history and politics, adaptations, and why we're still so captivated by the detective and his good doctor."  The first full episode will air on October 1, but an introductory episode where you can get to know the hosts is available now.

The next issue of the amazing Sherlock Holmes Magazine is now available to order.  Fans can sign up for a single issue or a yearly membership.  The contents of the upcoming issue include three articles on Jeremy Brett, two one BBC Sherlock, an interview with Clive Merrison, stage adaptations, Sidney Paget, bees, Jack the Ripper, Enola Holmes, lost movies, and an article by David Stuart Davies.  Everyone at our meeting who ordered the first issue of Sherlock Holmes Magazine were impressed with its first outing and are looking forward to the next.

The latest edition of the Baker Street Journal's bi-weekly interview series, The Fortnightly Dispatch, had longtime Sherlockian and world-renowned collector, Peter Blau in the hot seat.  Peter is a natural storyteller, and hearing him speak for an hour on our shared hobby and Sherlockians was a enough of a treat, but seeing his personal library was icing on the cake!  Peter's interview even had a St. Louis collection, as he bought Doyle Beckemeyer's collection, and a fun story was included in this interview.

It's back-to-school time, so the Beacon Society has rolled out their programs for Sherlockian students and educators.  The R. Joel Senter Essay Contest is back again this year and students can win $100, $200, or $300 for submitting an essay on a Sherlockian story.  Any educator, librarian, or person who is educating young folks about Sherlock Holmes are eligible for the Susan Diamond Beacon Award, which recognizes an outstanding Sherlockian educator.  And the Beacon Society is preparing library display kits that will be shipped to any library in the country to help publicize the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The Beacon Society also has something for the rest of us to continue our own Sherlockian education, The Fortescue Scholarship Exams, a fun test to encourage your familiarity with the Canon.  Even if you've passed the test once before, you can always take one of the re-certification exams.

And next month is the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium!  On October 10, Sherlockians from around the world will log in via Zoom to watch a panel of speakers talk all things Sherlock Holmes, followed by social hours that are sure to ramble into the night.  Speakers for the Symposium include Mina Hoffman, Leslie Klinger, Bonnie MacBird, Angela Misri, and our own Rob Nunn.  You can name your price to sign up and merchandise is available at the Left Coast Sherlock website.

Because our next meeting was scheduled on the same day as the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium, we have moved our discussion on The Priory School to October 17.  

We had lots of other scions represented at our meeting, and here is a quick list of some upcoming Zoom meetings:

September 14: The Six Napoleons of Baltimore

September 18: The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn

October 17: The Priory Scholars

Elaine announced that the International Poe Festival will be taking place online October 3-4.

Maria also let everyone know about the Edinburgh Conan Doyle virtual conference on September 24-25.  

And of course, don't forget about next summer's Holmes in the Heartland weekend on July 9-11!

It was finally time to get down to discussing this month's story, and Rich led us off with a great toast that debated just who the solitary cyclist actually was.

After that, Rob noted that the story starts off with Watson discussing how busy Holmes was from 1894-1901, but that he only published cases "which derive their interest not so much from the brutality of the crime as from the ingenuity and dramatic quality of the solution."

Bob pointed out that Watson cites a case where Holmes was involved with the American tobacco millionaire, John Vincent Harden.  Bob said it was typical for Watson to slightly change a famous person's name for these stories, and he posited that Holmes had something to do with the American gunfighter John Wesley Hardin.

Violet Smith arrives at Baker Street and Holmes muses that she isn't there for a problem related to her health as she is such an ardent cyclist.  Watson doesn't need this deduction explained to him, as he notices the scuffs on the side of her shoes.

Stacey then treated us to a great history on women and bicycles in the Victorian age, complete with her Victorian bicycling t-shirt.  The 1890's had quite a bicycle craze, kick-started by the safety bike that made it easier and more affordable to ride.  Manufacturers specifically marketed to women, and this led to changes in skirt, bustle, and corset fashions.  Backlash eventually followed, arguing that bicycling would make women ugly due to muscle formation and what was called "bicycle face."  

Some more background on this can be found in an article by the Guardian from 2015.

But Violet Smith isn't just a cyclist; she's also a musician, as Holmes can tell from her fingertips.  He almost says she's a typist, but the spirituality in her face convinced him otherwise.

There's a brief mention of Archie Stamford, the forger and Rob cited some scholarship that has tried to say that Archie Stamford was either the Archie from REDH, the Stamford from STUD, or both.  No one was quite convinced by any of these arguments, though.

This led to a discussion about one of Steve's Baker Street Elementary cartoons where Stamford disclosed that his first AND last name were both Stamford.  

Violet Smith tells Holmes and Watson her story.  She and her mother answered an advertisement looking for them.  Apparently, her uncle's two friends, Woodley and Carruthers, had been asked to help them out after he died in South Africa.  She was repulsed by Woodley, but Carruthers offered her a position teaching music to his ten year-old daughter.  Miss Smith would spend the week at Carruthers's house in Forsham and return home to her mother each weekend.  

After this had been going on for a few weeks, Woodley arrived at Carruthers's house for a visit.  He harassed Miss Smith and proposed to her.  When she refused he grabbed her.  Carruthers came in and rescued her from his embrace, knocking the man down and sending him off.  Violet has not seen Woodley since.

Rob noted that Woodley may be the character that hits the ground the most in the Canon.  First Carruthers knocks him down here, later Holmes knocks him down in a fight, and one could imagine that the gunshot knocked him to the ground a third time.  Not that he doesn't deserve it, but maybe Roaring Jack Woodley should be renamed Falling Jack Woodley.  Mike wondered if we should all start singing Chumbawamba for Woodley.

So every Saturday, Violet rides to the Farnham train station on her bike, six miles from the house where she is staying.  On this ride, she has to pass through a mile-long wooded section of road that goes by Charlington Hall.  Two weeks ago, a bearded man was behind her on this stretch but soon disappeared.  He followed her again on Monday when she was on her way home from the train station over the exact same stretch of road.

The same thing happened the following Saturday and Monday.  When she told Carruthers about this, he said that he would order a horse and trap so that she wouldn't be bothered by this anymore.

But the horse and trap hadn't arrived by the day that our story is taking place, so she rode her bike again.  Violet was curious about the man when he appeared, so she slowed down.  So did he.  She stopped.  He stopped.  She finally rounded a sharp turn and waited, but the man never appeared.  Holmes decides that the man had to have gone toward Charlington Hall to avoid her trap.

Holmes asks about Miss Smith's admirers, and she says that she has a fiancee who is an electrician in another town.  Does she have any more admirers?  She admits that Carruthers has shown an interest in her as well.

Holmes promises to look into her matter and says she should be careful in the meantime.  After Violet leaves, Holmes and Watson discuss the problem, and Holmes feels that the bearded cyclist is an admirer of Miss Smith.

Stacey, Kevin, and Edith talked about how hard it must have been to ride a bike in a corset, while her follower could lean over the handlebars.  Joe wondered if this was the only story that let us discuss women's underwear.

Elaine and Heather said they can remember their first time reading the story and they expected the bearded man to turn out to be her fiancee.

Rob asked why Holmes was interested in this case?  At this point, he thinks a man is interested in Violet Smith, but won't speak to her.  Rob said that from this viewpoint, Holmes isn't doing much more than recovering lost lead pencils or giving advice to a young lady, the exact thing he complains about in COPP.  

Tom said Holmes would be able to see that there was something amiss even at this point of the case.  Joe agreed with Tom, but wondered why Holmes didn't investigate the backstory of what happened in South Africa.

Watson finds it interesting that the man is only appearing at a certain point, an insight that Holmes compliments him on.

After more discussion, Holmes decides that it is important to know who is renting Charlington Hall, the relationship between Woodley and Carruthers, and why someone would pay twice the going rate for a governess, even though he can't afford to keep a horse and cart at his house that is six miles away from town.

It's decided that Watson will go to Forsham on Monday to investigate, as Holmes is busy.  Elaine offered that maybe Holmes just wanted Watson out of the apartment.  When he gets there, he stakes out Charlington Hall and sees the mystery man ride down the road and hide his bike in a hedge.  Violet shows up fifteen minutes later and the man comes out of the bushes to follow.  She stops and he stops.  This time, the turns her bike around to come toward him and he races off.  She continues on her way, and Watson sees later that the man rides toward the hall.

Watson then goes into town to meet with the local house agent about Charlington Hall, but they send him to an agent in Pall Mall.  He follows that up to find out that a man named Williamson rented the hall a month ago.

When Watson returns to Baker Street, he reports this information to Holmes, who says, "You really have done remarkably badly."

Heather said that this was the third or fourth time that Holmes has sent Watson out to collect information and he screwed it up.  Kevin offered that maybe he was training Watson.  Crystal offered that we all have that "one" friend that you keep trusting, whether they deserve it or not.  Tom made a point that even though Watson wasn't great, he at least brought some information back to Holmes.  Charlene said that Watson had some good information, it just wasn't up to Holmes's standards.

Steve made a great analogy.  When he was a kid, his dad would ask him to hold the flashlight while he worked and little Steve was scared to disappoint him.  Watson was in the same position hoping to do well for Holmes.  Peter said he didn't have to hold the flashlight for his dad, but had to pick out the right book from his collection!  

Bob pointed out that Watson is often given extremely hard tasks, such as becoming an expert of Chinese porcelain or convincing a murderous doctor to come visit Holmes as he lays dying.  Beth argued that Watson is the one telling the stories and he is tough on himself.  And, Tom pointed out, it always comes down to the fact that Holmes trusts Watson, no matter what happens.  

Rob said it shows what Watson is not good at (collecting information) and what he is good at (bravery and trustworthiness).  Ed cited Conan Doyle's interview where he called Watson "Holmes's rather stupid friend," and disagreed with that sentiment, saying Watson was just as intelligent as the reader, just not as smart as Holmes.  

Holmes believes that Violet Smith would know the bearded cyclist and that is why he won't let her get close to him.  Holmes tells Watson that he should have gone to the local pub for gossip.  But there's nothing that can be done now until Saturday.

But the next day a telegram from Violet Smith arrives, confirming everything Watson has reported, and also saying that Carruthers proposed to her!

Holmes decides that its his turn to scout things out and goes to Forsham that afternoon.  He returns to Baker Street that night with a cut lip and a lump on his forehead.  He starts laughing and tells Watson the story.

He went to the pub that Watson should have visited and asked the landlord for information.  Williamson is an old man that rented Charlington Hall.  He may also be a clergyman.  Woodley spends time there as well, and the whole lot of them are a bad bunch.

Woodley happens to be in the next room and overheard all of this, when he confronts Holmes on his snooping, Holmes described him as having "adjectives [that] were very vigorous."

Woodley backhands Holmes which leads to a fighting lasting a few minutes.  Holmes reports that "Mr. Woodley went home in a cart."  But he admits that his afternoon wasn't much more profitable than Watson's fact gathering.

On Thursday, another telegram from Violet Smith arrives.  She is quitting her position.  She knows that Woodley is back in the neighborhood and Saturday will be her last day.  Holmes says that they should be there on Saturday to make sure that she leaves safely.

Watson admits that it doesn't seem so serious to him.  "That a man should lie in wait for and follow a very handsome woman is no unheard of thing."  Rob pointed out that John Watson is usually a great guy, but this is a gross sentiment.

On Saturday morning, Holmes and Watson are in Forsham.  They see the trap coming down the road earlier than they expected and catch it, but no one is in it.  It's too late!  Stacey pointed out that if Holmes had communicated his plans with Violet, the following issues could have been prevented.  But we all agreed that a lot of our stories wouldn't exist if characters actually used good communication!

Holmes and Watson load up in the dog cart, and turn back toward the hall.  On the way, they see the bearded cyclist.  He wants to know where they got that cart.  They want to know where Violet Smith is.  He wants to know the same thing: "They've got her, that hell hound Woodley and the blackguard parson!"

The three men run into the bushes.  There they see the driver knocked unconscious and continue on Violet's trail.  A scream rings out, and they burst into a bowling alley (or open glade) to see a gagged Violet Smith, Woodley, and the old clergyman, Williamson.

Rob wondered why Woodley wasn't surprised to see Sherlock Holmes at this point.  Holmes had just given him a beat down a few days ago, and now the man comes out of the bushes at his wedding?  Carruthers's fake beard must have been very distracting.

Woodley announces to Carruthers, "You're too late.  She's my wife!"

Carruthers responds, "No, she's your widow," and shoots him.

This may be the first published instance of action movie dialogue.

After Carruthers shoots Woodley, Williamson starts cussing and pulls a gun on him.  Holmes pulls out his own gun and aims it at the cleric.

Once things have calmed down enough, Watson takes Williamson's and Carruthers's guns.  The driver regains consciousness and appears.  Holmes sends him for the police.  Everyone else is marched into Charlington Hall.  Watson examines Woodley and says that he'll live.  Carruthers announces, "I'll go upstairs and finish him!"

Rob noted here that we don't actually see much of Carruthers in this story, but from all accounts, he seems like a wimp until this point.  When he burst in on the wedding ceremony, he transformed into a hero ala George McFly in Back to the Future!

Bob pointed out that Watson only examined the gunshot wound after Holmes's requested it.  He argued that any doctor would immediately attend to that wound, unless they were deferring to a more qualified person.  Bob's argument was that Holmes was actually a physician, and Watson waited for permission from his superior.

Edith offered that they weren't worried about Woodley because one of them actually shot the villain.

In the meantime, the clergyman, someone who had very little to do with the whole scheme is the mouthiest of all, and Holmes is not putting up with it.

Holmes: It's not a legit marriage.

Williamson: Yes it is!

Holmes: Shut up.

Carruthers weighs in saying he loves Violet Smith, but she doesn't love him.  But he protected her.  He couldn't let her know about the danger she was in or she would have left.  Watson says, "You call that love, Mr. Carruthers, but I should call that selfishness."  Holmes isn't the only one here that's calling people out on their idiocy.

Holmes asks Carruthers to explain things and Williamson jumps in again.

Williamson: Don't you squeal on us, Carruthers!

Holmes: Again, shut up.  I already know it all.

Woodley and Carruthers knew Violet's rich uncle in South Africa.  He was about to die so they came to England so one of them could marry her.  They decided by playing cards for her and Woodley won.  So Carruthers hired Miss Smith while Woodley tried to woo her, but in the meantime Carruthers had fallen in love with her.  They fought and Woodley started making his own plans on how to get her fortune.  Randy said this was just another example of women being objectified so often during this time.

Two days ago, a cable arrived telling Woodley that the uncle was dead.  He decided that it was time for one of them to marry Violet.

The police show up at the house and Holmes and Watson escort Violet to the train station to take her back home to her mother.  They plan to telegraph her fiancee to meet them there.  But before they leave, Holmes gives Carruthers his card and offers to help the man at his trial because of how he turned over a new leaf today.

In the end, Violet Smith inherited her uncle's fortune and married her fiancee.  Williamson and Woodley were sent to prison for seven and ten years, respectively.  As for Carruthers, Watson says, "I have no record... I think a few months were sufficient."  Rob wanted to know out of all the players in this, how does Watson not keep track of the one person that Sherlock Holmes helps in his trial?

Another question that was brought up was about Carruthers's daughter.  Where was she during all of this?  Was she in South Africa with her dad?  Who was with her on the day that her father busted up a wedding and shot his old friend?  Elaine said the housekeeper could've been watching her on the day of the fake wedding.  Heather figured that Carruthers's wife was alive in South Africa.  And what happened to her?  Probably brain fever.

Srini pointed out that so often in these stories, the rich guys don't have to work for their money.  You don't really see people earning a fortune in the Canon.  Beth agreed that a lot of this played into class structure.  

The discussion wrapped up a lot of folks could get to their next Zoom meeting!

We look forward to seeing everyone again next month for our discussion on The Priory School on October 17.  Come at once if convenient!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

August Meeting: The Dancing Men

Twenty-four Sherlockians logged in for our latest meeting to discuss The Dancing Men this month.  We had a great turnout of 13 locals, Heather, Rob, Elaine, Andy, Michal, Adam, Ed, Wayne, John, Bill, Tom, Stacey, and Michael.  

The other half of our group was from around the country and Canada including:

Rich from Michigan

Vince from Indiana

Regina from Michigan

Dan from Ohio

Steve from Texas

Chris from New Jersey

Carla from Maryland

Nancy from Ontario

Elinor from Oregon

Howard from Florida

Paty from Oklahoma

The news this month was all about upcoming events.  

The 2021 BSI Birthday Weekend will be online this year.  The Distinguished Speaker Lecture will be on Thursday and the Birthday Dinner on Friday.  Carla reported that the Gaslight Gala may be on Saturday night, but arrangements are being made to work around the Lost in New York dinner so that people can enjoy every event.  Details on these events to follow.

Elinor gave the rundown of the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium, happening online October 10.  Talks will occur the morning of 10/10 and social hours will be on Zoom the Friday before.  Tickets are available on their website and it is a name your price event.

Holmes in the Heartland will be next summer on July 9-11 in person.  Description of the weekend events can be found here.

Carla announced that the Red Circle of Washington DC will be hosting Nichola Utechin on September 5 and information can found on their website.

Chris announced that The Priory Scholars of New York will be hosting a meeting on October 17.  Details to come soon.

Steve invited everyone to the next Crew of the Barque Lone Star meeting on September 5, where Monica Schmidt will be speaking.  The group is also publishing their fourth book and details on the meeting and book can be found on their website.

Vince announced that the Bootmakers of Toronto will be hosting an online meeting on September 5 that he will be speaking at.  Details to come soon.

Andrew shared that the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn will be meeting on August 21 to discuss The Veiled Lodger and details can be found on their website.

Steve plugged the Fourth Garrideb's anniversary and their live reading of the Three Garridebs script on their Facebook page

That's a lot of events to keep up with!

Our story opens in 221B Baker Street where Holmes pauses his chemical research to ask Watson if he's not going to invest in South African securities.  Before He explains himself, Holmes says, "Confess yourself utterly taken aback... because in five minutes you will say it is all so absurdly simple."

Holmes breaks it down: There's a groove in your left forefinger.  You came home from the club with chalk on your hands last night.  --->  You played billiards with Thurston.  Four weeks ago Thurston had an option on South African properties that he wanted you to join him on.  Your checkbook is in my drawer.  You haven't asked for the key.  --->  You decided not to invest.

"How absurdly simple!"

Rob cited Felix Morley's theory that Watson was an isolationist from this discussion.  Watson was a gambler, but choosing not to gamble outside of England's realm showed his political leanings.

Holmes then shows Watson a sheet of paper with drawings of stick figures on it and says that it came in the morning's post from a man named Hilton Cubitt, who will be on the next train to see them.  Sure enough, Cubitt arrives and says that the drawings are scaring his wife to death.  Even though she won't admit it, he can see it in her eyes.

Cubitt says that he came to London last year for the Queen's Jubilee and met Elsie Patrick.  Within a month they were married and she returned to Norfolk with him.  

Although Watson doesn't give us a date for this story, Vince informed us that all 29 chronologies he has agree that Cubitt is talking about the Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

Before they were married, Elsie told him that she had "some very disagreeable associations in her life" and that she wished to forget them.  Basically, don't ask and I won't tell.  Cubitt promises not to ask.

Elaine noted that these are famous last words.

A month ago, Elsie got a letter from America.  When she read it, she turned white and threw the note in the fire.  She's been nervous ever since.

Cubitt says, "She would do better to trust me."

Spoiler: yeah she would.

Last Tuesday, Cubitt found dancing figures drawn on a window sill in chalk.  He thought it was the stable boy, but no.  He had them washed off and mentioned it to Elsie in passing later on.  She begged to see any future drawings.

Yesterday morning, that paper that Cubitt had sent to Holmes was on the sundial in the garden.  Cubitt showed it to his wife and she fainted.

Holmes tells Cubitt that he should ask his wife what is going on but he refuses, saying, "A promise is a promise."

Cubitt tells Holmes that no strangers have been in his neighborhood, but area farmers take in lodgers and there are some public houses in the vicinity.

Holmes tells the man that he can't do anything with just one sample of the drawings.  He tells Cubitt to ask around about strangers in the area and to let him know of any more dancing men drawings.

For the next few days, Holmes would pull the drawing out of his pocket and look at it.  After two weeks, Cubitt returns.

Elsie has hinted to him about trouble but won't explain.  He does have a few more pictures, though.  And Cubitt has seen the man that is bothering his wife.

The day after Cubitt's first visit to Baker Street, another message appeared.  There was another two days after that, and again three days later.

Finally, Cubitt waited up with his revolver ready for the man.  Elsie saw him and begged for him to come to bed, saying all of this was just a joke.  But if the jokes were bothering him, they could travel to get away from it.

During this conversation, the man delivered another message.  Cubitt saw him, but Elsie held onto her husband so that he couldn't give chase.  Cubitt eventually broke free but found no one.  When he came back to the house, another drawing was written on the door beside the first.

Kevin wasn't able to join us, but sent the following thought in: "Elsie is foolish. She could have told her husband about her past and no one else needed to know and avoid scandal. She could have told him and then they could have told the police. Elsie knew exactly what kind of man Abe is. He's a murderer. He is dangerous and she did nothing knowing what he is capable of. If she told him, maybe he would have consented to leaving on vacation for a while to protect her. Like I said, her choices are foolish."

Stacey thought that maybe Elsie would have been afraid of Cubitt judging her for her past, but ultimately thought that once a stalker shows up, she should've told her husband.

Heather pointed out that historically, women kept quiet about their pasts.  At any time, the husband could leave their wives for the smallest indiscretion.

Carla figured that Elsie was beyond reason and was working from blind animal panic that dug herself into a hole that she couldn't logically think her way out of.

Bill thought it was very simple.  Elsie loved Cubitt, but her husband is in danger.  He wouldn't have changed his opinion of Elsie.  Bill said Watson is a romantic, and he wanted to play up the romantic sacrifice of this story.

Michal said Else loved her husband, but is afraid to leave a mark on the Cubitt name.

Elaine thought Elsie was an idiot.

Elinor said that it would've made things much simpler if Elsie had come clean, but there wouldn't have been much of a story.

Cubitt wants to hide half a dozen farm lads in the bushed and beat the intruder the next time he came along, but Holmes says that the problem was too serious for such a simple remedy.  Those of us that grew up in farm country disagreed, knowing just how much damage six farmhands with sticks and cudgels would be capable of.

Holmes says that he can come to Norfolk in a day or two and Cubitt leaves.

Once he's gone, Holmes is very excited, working for hours on what he knows is a cipher.  After that, he writes a telegram, hoping for a quick answer.  Instead it took two days for a reply.

In the meantime, Holmes tells Watson, "You will have a very pretty case to add to your collection."  Rob pointed out that Holmes goes back and forth on his opinion on Watson's chronicles.  Some times it's romanticized nonsense, while others Holmes wants to make sure that Watson is getting the information down.

Cubitt telegrams to Baker Street reporting that things have been quiet, but another message was on the sundial today.

After Holmes decodes the new message, he says that they have to go to Norfolk today.  But the last train has already left so Holmes and Watson would have to wait.  Rob wondered why they didn't look into the mail trains, but Tom pointed out that the author wasn't a stickler for factual details in these stories.  Vince noted that if the stories were super accurate, his blog, HISTORICAL SHERLOCK wouldn't have much to post.  Chris cited Lyndsay Faye for saying the literary agent wasn't too worried about these facts, and that's why she calls him Arthur Continuity Doyle.  Steve said you should never let facts get in the way of a good story!

At this point in the story, Holmes clearly knows that danger is afoot.  "We should not lose an hour in letting Hilton Cubitt know how matters stand, for it is a singular and dangerous web in which our simple Norfolk squire is entangled."

Heather said Holmes didn't wire ahead because he's a drama queen and his narcissism made him wait until he could be there in person to stop it.  And Elinor agreed that Holmes wouldn't alert the constabulary when he could do it himself.

Carla said she always feels like yelling, "For God sake, man!  Use some common sense!" in this story and The Five Orange Pips.

Steve pointed out that at the end of The Blue Carbuncle, Holmes says that it's not his job to make up for the deficiencies of the police, so he wondered how seriously he took that.  Is it his job to protect people?  Heather said it was, because Cubitt was his client.  If Holmes couldn't be there, he should have sent someone to guard the house.

Nancy thought that Holmes underestimated the danger because he was "utterly despondent" after hearing the news from the station master.

John wondered if Holmes had warned Cubitt, would Cubitt have escalated things and gone after the intruder on his own.  Rob agreed that the text backed up his thought by saying that Cubitt had waited with his gun and was willing to send out farm boys to fight him.

Stacey thought that Holmes understood the criminal mind and expected him to play cat-and-mouse with Hilton and Elsie.  He wasn't prepared for Elsie to invite the criminal to her own home.

Steve pointed out that Holmes failed a client twelve years earlier in The Five Orange Pips, and he hoped that Holmes would live up to Watson's assessment as being the best and wisest man he's ever known by not being so cavalier with his actions.

Vince offered a theory popular among chronologists that the reason Holmes couldn't get to Norfolk sooner was because he was busy with the Retired Colourman case at the same time!  Howard backed this up that not only could it have been that case, but one of the many other cases Holmes would have been involved with.

The next day, Holmes and Watson disembark from their train to find that Inspector Martin from the constabulary has already come through.  The station master asks if Holmes and Watson are the Scotland Yard detectives.  Holmes scoffs and the station master asks if they are surgeons instead.  It turns out that Cubitt and Elsie were both shot last night.  She shot him and then herself.  He's dead, but she is not.

They engage a carriage for a seven mile ride to Cubitt's house where Holmes was lost in "gloomy speculation" and a "blank melancholy" while Watson describes the passing countryside to the reader.

Rob cited a typographical error from the original manuscript here that has been passed down for decades.  According to Dancing to Death: A Facsimile of the Original Manuscript of The Dancing Men, the original manuscript read "black melancholy." An error by the original typist changed it to "blank melancholy," leaving readers to wonder at the phrase for years and years.

When Holmes and Watson arrive, Inspector Martin is surprised to meet Holmes.  "How could you hear of it in London and get to the spot as soon as I?"  Holmes replies, "I anticipated it."

Watson gets some Victorian shade at the police in when he wrote "Inspector Martin had the good sense to allow my friend to do things in his own fashion."  That's right, watch and learn.  Stacey appreciated that Martin knew to take notes from Holmes, and Heather expected him to get a promotion eventually.

The surgeon comes downstairs and reports that Elsie's "injuries were serious, but not necessarily fatal.  the bullet had passed through the front of her brain."  Think back to the first time you read this story.  That's some pretty graphic stuff for a Sherlock Holmes tale!

The housemaid and cook are questioned, and report that they had been awakened by an explosion and a second one a minute later.  They smelled gun smoke and ran to the study to find that the window was closed and Cubitt and Elsie were both shot.  Holmes points out that the smell of the gunpowder will prove important.

The surgeon announces that two bullets were fired and there are two wounded people.  Case closed.  Holmes asks then why there is a third bullet hole in the window sash?

He then points out that an open window would have pushed the gun smoke into the house, but it could not have been opened long because the candle had not sputtered.

Dang.  That is some solid attention to detail.

We discussed why Elsie would close the window after the first gunshot.  Steve wondered if she was worried that the intruder would come back.  Elaine offered that maybe she was scared of other members of a gang.

Holmes finds Elsie's purse with a thousand pounds in it.  Michael explained that this would be over $100,000 in today's American money.  Rob was surprised that no one had noticed a purse full of cash.  And Andrew said a thousand pound purse would be way to heavy for someone to carry.

Michael shared a theory that Elsie actually stole this money from the gang of crooks and married Cubitt to help him maintain his estate.  Just another landed man marrying a rich American woman.  Thus, she could never reveal the source of this money (and this problem) to her husband.  Sure, Abe wanted Elsie back, but he also wanted his damn money!

Holmes, Watson, and Inspector Martin go to look at the garden outside the window.  Flowers were trampled with foot marks.  Holmes finds a cartridge that had been ejected.

Kevin sent in "The revolver Abe Slaney uses is one that ejects shells. Those are rare today and probably uncommon when this was written. Not many companies made revolvers that ejected shells after being fired. They were originally designed in the 1840s but no one really used them and they were built for a couple European armies but not many were made. The Webly-Fosbery was designed in 1895 but released to the public around 1900-1901. Depending on the setting, a shell-ejecting revolver would be uncommon to rare."

Nancy pointed out that the villain was from Chicago, so he probably wouldn't have used a European gun.  What would have been an American style?  Rob cited Dante Torese's article in an old Baker Street Journal that said the Colt Single Action Army revolver would eject one cartridge at a time and as an American firearm, would have been familiar to a Chicago gangster.

Michael argued that he had a small semi-automatic that could have been concealed, possibly the same style of gun 007 used in the early Ian Fleming novels.  In fact, Michael expanded his thoughts into this blog post.

Holmes asks where Elridge's is.  The stable boy said it was a lonely farm, some miles off.  Holmes made a dancing men note and sent it off to Mr. Abe Slaney and then tells the inspector to get backup to deal with what's coming.

In the meantime, Holmes explains how he broke the Dancing Men cipher.  During this explanation, Holmes talks about his knowledge of the "crooks of Chicago."  Rob wondered why there wasn't a Sherlockian society with that name.  Michael said it was already taken by the Board of Alderman and Bill thought it would also work for the city council.

Bill called the Dancing Men code "Encryption 101" because it was such a simple code.  And the code on the page had mistakes in it!  Rob pointed out that there are some theories in scholarship that the code was actually extremely hard, so Watson substituted an easier code so his readers could follow along.  Stacey thought that theory held up because this code seemed almost tailor made so that readers could stick with Holmes's logic.  And Vince agreed that many things in the Canon were changed just to be more accessible to readers.

Carla cited Brent Morris, a retired mathematician for the NSA, who has given some great talks on this story.

Michael shared that he has an add-on file for Microsoft where he can turn text into the Dancing Men code.  Another version of that can be found HERE.

Howard brought up the history of the Dancing Men code and how it was inspired by a code from the Cubitt Hotel made by a seven year old.  

Elaine shared how Donny Zaldin had shared his research on the origin for this code at a Torists International meeting.  Zaldin found that the Cubitt Hotel may have been an inspiration for the code, but Doyle was also influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug."  And the hotel even has a plaque up saying that The Dancing Men was written at their hotel (even though it's been proven that Doyle was at another location when the story was written).  The autograph album in question was actually lost for years and years until it was discovered in 1954!

Ed made a good point that it is often said that E is the most common letter in the alphabet.  But each letter is used only once in the alphabet!

Abe Slaney arrives at the house, a servant shows him to the study, and Holmes puts a pistol to his head while the inspector cuffed him.

Abe asks where Mrs. Cubitt was.  Holmes says she's hurt.  Abe says no, that was her husband.  She wrote me a note.  Holmes says, no I wrote it.  Eventually, Abe comes to see that he is busted and tells his story.

Elsie's father was a gang boss in Chicago and invented the Dancing Men code.  Else ran off from the gang but Abe tracked her to England because they were engaged.  When he found his fiancee, he started leaving her notes in the Dancing Men code until she agreed to meet him the previous night.  But she wasn't going to run away with Abe.  She tried to bribe him to leave.  Cubitt interrupted this meeting and he and Abe shot at each other at the same time.

The case is closed, but Watson gave us a nice epilogue from the case.

Abe Slaney was condemned to death, but his punishment "was changed to penal servitude in consideration of mitigating circumstances."

Stacey cited the text saying that Cubitt shot first, but Elaine wondered if that was true.  Rich said that Abe wasn't going to kill anyone, he had been invited by Elsie.  This made him question the quality of the defense Slaney received at trial.  Rob argued that Abe had made threats against Elsie.  Ed said that Abe invaded the property and Cubitt didn't know why he was there.  Ed and Rich are both attorneys, so you can imagine how good of a debate we got on this topic!

Tom wondered how the Assizes could be certain that Cubitt shot first, and Carla said because they weren't listening to Holmes.  This made Rob wonder just how involved Holmes would be with actual court cases.  Tom pointed out that often Holmes would hand everything over to the police and be done with the case, making him think that he wouldn't be very involved with the trials, especially because he probably had plenty of other cases happening.

And Elsie Cubitt "recovered entirely" from shooting herself in the front of the brain.  How do you recover entirely from a bullet passing through the front of your brain?  Rich said it was brandy.  Carla cited many other cases of brain injuries in this area, including a man that had a railroad spike pass through his head, as well as Malala Yousafzai who fully recovered.  Tom pointed out that the back of the brain is the much more dangerous part to damage.

Stacey loved the last line of the story that said Elsie devoted her whole life to the care of the poor.  She came back from this tragedy and used the rest of her life to do good works.  Carla thought maybe Elsie Cubitt was really Eliza Hamilton!


And we are now going to a monthly meeting schedule!  So plan on meeting again on September 12 to discuss The Solitary Cyclist

Monday, August 10, 2020

What gun did Abe Slaney use in Adventure of the Dancing Men?

By Michael W.

In Adventure of the Dancing Men, I contend that Abe Slaney used a semi-automatic handgun, and not a revolver. I started to explain my observations and conclusions during the meeting, and continue here. After some observations below, I offer two choices for the make and model of gun Slaney used.

1. Elementary observations about handguns: A revolver has a cylinder which holds multiple rounds of ammunition. Think of the typical side arm of a cowboy, with a spinning cylinder. The cylinder revolves when the trigger is pulled (hence the name “revolver”), bringing the next bullet into the line of fire to be ready for the next shot. The spent casings (the back portion which holds the gunpowder used to expel the projectile) remain in the cylinder until the gun is opened to expose the cylinder for emptying out the spent casings and reloading with fresh cartridges.

In contrast to a revolver, a semi-automatic handgun does not have a round, revolving cylinder, but instead uses a clip or a magazine to store bullets, and a spring mechanism to push each successive bullet into the line of fire. In a typical semi-automatic gun, after firing a bullet, the projectile portion shoots out the barrel of the gun, and the spent casing is ejected automatically and immediately. It was such an ejected spent casing that Holmes finds outside in the grass.

2. Holmes finds the “little brazen cylinder,” i.e. brass bullet casing, outside in the grass. Slaney reportedly took only one shot from his gun, and the casing was ejected, so Holmes concluded Slaney was using a weapon that ejected the casing upon firing each round.

Holmes exclaims “…the revolver had an ejector…” Watson is well known to not understand firearms, in spite of his frequent use of his army revolver. (An aside: the only thing I can recall Watson actually shot in the entire Canon was the unfortunate dog Carlo in Adventure of the Copper Beeches). Watson often refers to various guns by incorrect terminology. He tells us that Hilton Cubitt’s pistol was found in the room, “two barrels of which had been emptied.” In Hound of the Baskervilles, he tells us that Holmes fired “barrel after barrel” into the hound. He mentions shooting off many “barrels” from a revolver, when what he probably means is that a multi-chamber revolver fired off many rounds from the cylinder. We can forgive Watson calling the chambers of a revolver’s cylinder “barrels.” But he should know better, after his military service. Perhaps if he had known a little more about weapons he could have avoided getting wounded in Afghanistan?

3. Historically, there have been revolvers which had ejectors for the spent cartridges, but most of them would eject all the spent casings from the cylinder at the same time, after all the rounds had been fired and it was time to reload the cylinder. For a weapon to eject a single cartridge, in 1898, it is far more likely to have been a semi-automatic handgun than some very unusual type of revolver. I have not been able to find a single picture of any revolver that could eject a single spent casing automatically after each shot.

4. Abe Slaney was a gangster from Chicago. He ran with a rough crowd, and he probably was always armed with a gun. (A few slang terms for a gun: heater, rod, gat, equalizer, iron, piece, Roscoe. If you think of more, please post them!) In 1898, there were semi-automatic rifles which ejected the spent casings after each shot, but for Slaney’s purposes, a handgun which could be concealed was better than a large, long gun, such as a rifle or shotgun.

5. In 1898, there were two likely semi-automatic handguns available, and I contend that Abe Slaney had one of these in the gun fight at the Hilton Cubitt farm:

Browning Model FN-M1900

This is a photo of the Browning FN-M1900 which was owned by President Theodore Roosevelt, and which he kept in his bedroom nightstand. The website where I found this photo said TR’s gun was made in the year 1900.

John Browning, an American gun inventor, designed a small, semi-automatic pistol in 1896 which was manufactured, starting in 1898, by the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale de Herstal. Abe Slaney could have owned one of Browning’s prototypes, made between 1896 and 1898. Or he may have purchased a commercial version beginning in 1898.

This gun is small: under 7 inches long, and 22 ounces. In the roughly 11 years this model gun was manufactured, they sold over 700,000 of them. It uses .32 Caliber rounds, which were not typical in 1898. The 32 Cal. round was more powerful than most other popular handguns of the time, but today would be considered underpowered. Still, the .32 bullet became a very popular size for half of the 20th Century, thanks in no small part to the design of the M1900 by Browning. The iconic James Bond Walther PPK was a .32 Cal, which is about the same size bullet as the European designation of “7.65mm.” Lightweight, small, easy to conceal, easy to aim, relatively quiet for the power it has, the M1900 was a good gun for an assassin, or a gangster from Chicago.

Mauser Model C96

The German gun maker Mauser started producing the semi-automatic Model C96 in 1896, and continued to make them until 1937. The handle, with its rounded bottom, looks like a broom handle, which gave this gun its nickname: the “Broomhandle.”

Mauser sold a wooden holster (shown it the photo) with a shoulder strap for carrying. The wood holster could be attached to the handle of the pistol to create a shoulder stock, converting the pistol into a carbine (a short rifle), for greater stability and accuracy in shooting. This made the C96 a good gun for officers to carry in wartime. It was used by both sides of the Boer War (1899 to 1902), and was a favourite of Winston Churchill, from his wartime service in South Africa. The literary agent Arthur Conan Doyle also served in the Boer War, and would have been exposed to the C96 being carried about by officers.

The C96 used a 7.63 cartridge with more fire power than most handguns of the time. It weighs 2.5 pounds, and is 12.3 inches long, so it is larger and harder to conceal than the Browning M1900 above. But the power, range, and accuracy make it a good choice for an assassin’s weapon, well suited for Abe Slaney, described as “the most dangerous crook in Chicago.”

The C96 was an original look, with the broomhandle grip, long barrel, and magazine storing the bullets located in front of the trigger guard. Parts of the design were copied by other gun manufacturers. Some feel the look of the C96 inspired the design for the laser gun used by Flash Gordon, and the Blaster used by Han Solo in Star Wars.


For anyone who has read this far, a small reward: here are links to two videos on YouTube, showing live demonstrations of each of these handguns being fired. If you watch closely, you can see the spent casings being ejected after each round is fired, being tossed into the grass for a detective to find. You may need to endure a short ad to view these videos on YouTube:

C96 Broomhandle Mauser

Browning FN-M1900

Question: between the Mauser C96 and the Browning FN-M1900, which one do you think Abe Slaney used? Post your answer in the Comments section by clicking below.

Post Script:

My observations may not be entirely original, because in the distant past I am sure I’ve read one or more essays about guns in the Canon. I did not research those essays, or look at any of the traditional Writings on the Writings, for today’s meeting on Dancing Men. If I publish my thoughts anywhere permanent, I will first research and check to see if I need to add some citations to prior articles, to avoid being accused of plagiarism. In this little posting, any duplication of observations by others in prior publications is entirely accidental and unintentional.