During our years together, Sherlock Holmes surprised me countless times, but he astonished me the afternoon he invited me to join him for the film programme at the Empire Theatre. He had just finished reading about it in the morning paper, and something in the article had piqued his interest. This piqued my curiosity because I had proposed similar outings in the past, museum exhibits and the like, only to be rebuffed with a list of what he considered more productive ways he could be spending his time.
In the first film we watched, a young boy was boxing a kangaroo. Because of Holmes’s propensity for the sport, I expected him to be somewhat amused. I had not, however, expected him to be mesmerized. Yet, there he sat, his eyes locked onto the screen. If he blinked, he did so while I wasn’t looking. It was like that with the film that followed and the one after that. He was even transfixed by the rather mundane scene of a young woman lighting and then blowing out a candle. When two seats opened up in the front row, he insisted that we relocate.
On our way home, I told Sherlock, “You certainly enjoyed yourself today.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” he replied.
“You don’t need to say it,” I told him. “I saw you in there. You couldn’t take your eyes off the screen.”
That fact he would concede. “It does not, however, mean that I was enjoying the experience.”
“Not even the boxing kangaroo?” I asked.
“That boy should be taken away from whatever parents allowed such a fiasco. He could have been seriously injured. As for your misinterpretation of my experience,” Holmes informed me, “I was studying the technology, thinking of ways that it could be put to practical use.”
I understood all too well Holmes’s definition of the term practical use. “You think it can be utilized during criminal investigations.”
In this case, Holmes was thinking in terms of the courtroom. “Imagine being able to show a jury a film where they could see the defendant committing his crime. They would have no choice but a guilty verdict.”
I could not disagree with that conclusion, but I could take issue with his use of the word practical. “How likely is it that a criminal will allow himself to be filmed?”
“The camera would need to be hidden. And these films would need to run longer than a minute or two.” In order to create this secret weapon, Sherlock needed to study the craft of filmmaking.
In my head, I tried to imagine what a Sherlock Holmes film would look like.
A carriage was waiting outside our door on Baker Street. A dark-haired woman in green velvet stepped out. Although she looked young, the driver needed to assist her. As we drew closer, I noticed her eyes. They had the rheumy glaze of one recovering from a bout of the influenza epidemic that had felled much of London.
Early in the month, I myself had wound in bed for a week, during which time I lost ten pounds. Sherlock noticed the weight loss, but no one with less formidable powers of observation had. Poor Mrs. Hudson had fallen sick while caring for me. Despite sharing quarters with the two of us, Sherlock had managed to avoid taking ill. To listen to him, he had “outwitted the virus.”
The woman in green introduced herself as Mrs. Edgar Rathbone. “My husband’s uncle, William Rathbone, insisted that I reach out to you.”
William Rathbone VI had served in the House of Commons until recently and was known throughout the country for his philanthropy. I had been introduced to him many years ago at a fundraiser for The Queens College of Nursing. It was at this same event that I had the honor of meeting Miss Florence Nightingale.
Thanks to a once again healthy Mrs. Hudson, a fire was waiting for us in the sitting room. Sherlock helped Mrs. Rathbone to the section of the couch closest to the warmth. As soon as she was seated, he asked her, “What kind of danger is your family in?”
“Has Uncle William already been in touch with you?” she asked.
“We’ve been out,” Sherlock said.
He did not appreciate my adding, “We went to the film programme at the Empire.”
“My oldest boy, Basil, has been hounding me to take him.” Mention of her son brought Mrs. Rathbone back to Sherlock’s question. “If you haven’t spoken to Uncle William, how did you know that my family is in danger?”