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Sherlock Holmes and the Autumn of Terror 63

 
 
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER LXIII: JACOB THE FORMER 
13 January, 1892.  Royal London Hospital


 
 
   The Ripper was dead.  And it was not only the fourth anniversary of my marriage to Mary Morstan, whom I had the blessing of meeting while assisting Holmes in the case of The Sign of Four, but it was also the day of the other great blessing in my life.  A son was born to us on the very anniversary date of our blessed union.  It seemed a sign, and the coincidence of my having met Mary during a case about a ‘sign’ was not lost upon me, although I could not discern what significance the ‘four’ might eventually come to mean to my new-born son, Jacob. 
 
   Jacob had been delivered at 01:08 of that morning by our old friend Doctor Michael M. Braeden, who in the years since we had first met had been elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians for his work in Obstetrics and had also become a consulting physician at The Royal London Hospital.  In the distinguished career that would follow, he would go on to become Physician in Ordinary to the Princess of Wales, Mary of
Teck.127  In 1896 he was made a court physician and in 1899, he was made a baronet.
 
   Mary and I had been anxiously awaiting this day for nine months, but it could also be said that I had waited all of my life for the arrival of a son and heir.  And that he would be born on our wedding anniversary was extra cause for celebration.  Once my wife was resting comfortably with the baby asleep in her arms, Braeden and I slipped out to search the wine shops of Soho for a bottle of the finest Montrachet available.  We eventually found one in a free-vintners shop in Shaftesbury Avenue and took it to Baker Street to find Holmes and share the happy news with him.
 
   With our precious cargo in hand, Braeden whistled down a trap, and we presently found ourselves back in Baker Street, where our work together had begun nearly four years prior. 
 
   We found Holmes sitting alone in his study, with his old black briar pipe curling forth slow wreaths of acrid smoke, and only the shad tobacco, his index books, and his beloved violin to keep him company.  He was in a rather melancholy mood, and even the blessed news of my son’s healthy birth did not seem to lift his spirits overly.  Although his gallant actions had brought to an end the series of ghastly murders, it still pained him greatly that he had been unable to save so many of the victims from the clutches of a fiend during the years it had taken him to do so.  Each of their deaths weighed upon him heavily.
 
   ‘We’ve brought a bottle of your favourite Montrachet,’ I told him.  Upon uncorking the bottle, I remarked, ‘This is an occasion to celebrate!  It is my marriage anniversary and also the birthday of my first child -- a son -- Jacob S. Watson.’
 
   ‘That’s a very fine name you’ve chosen, Watson.  As I’m sure you are aware, Jacob was the biblical hero who wrestled the Angel -- quite the opposite of your own recent actions, but no less brave.  And also quite appropriate, given his assumed date of conception, nine months ago tomorrow.’  At this I started with a certain realisation. 
 
   ‘But for what does the “S” stand?’ asked my old companion.
 
   ‘I would have thought you’d have deduced that, Sherlock,’ was my sardonic reply.
 
   We celebrated into the night, smoking pipes and cigars, drinking from the gasogene when the wine was gone, and reminiscing over some of the more memorable occurrences of the tangled skein of the Whitechapel and D--- investigations.  Holmes decided the occasion called for music.  He sent for Wiggins, who presently arrived and was instructed to go to the home of Doctor Cyril West, with a request for him to join the festivities and to bring along his own violin.  While we waited for West to arrive, Holmes regaled us with Brahms’ Lullaby on his violin, in honour of his namesake’s birth, which he followed with stirring renditions of the very demanding Hungarian Dance No.5, St. Saens’ Danse Macabre, Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C Major and a Paganini Caprice.  When Doctor West later arrived with his own instrument, we were treated to the two of them playing Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor.
 
   ‘I must say, Watson, it is quite an honour that you have chosen to name your firstborn son after me,’ he said after the impromptu performance, with a hint of warmth I’d rarely seen him exhibit towards me through the years.
 
   ‘It was quite a natural decision for both of us, Old Boy,’ I assured him.  ‘Although I must admit, we had initially considered calling him 
Sherrinford.’128
 
   The four of us said our goodbyes outside in the frozen silence of Baker Street and Holmes went back upstairs.  It was half-nine by the time the driver prepared the horses of Braeden’s awaiting hansom, and we left Holmes alone in his sitting room in front of the fire.  From the road, I chanced to look up at the window as I climbed aboard.  His rooms were still brilliantly lit and, even as I glanced upward, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind.  He was pacing the room swiftly, with his head sunken upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him, as if in deep contemplation as we rolled away from 221B.  We drove Doctor West back to his home in Tottenham with snowflakes pelting the leathern top of the carriage and wheels swashing as they rolled through frozen puddle and mud, then Doctor Braeden and I returned to the hospital for another check on my wife and son.  By the time I reached home, it was nearly midnight, and I was happily greeted at the door by Byron, my faithful St. Bernard, who fairly danced and jumped for joy at the very sight of me.  I’ve kept other dogs in the years before and since, but for loyalty and love, Byron has had no equal.  I tethered him, and took him for a late-night walk through the snow-covered streets surrounding my home.  It was a blazing full moon.  She was sailing along in the high up heavens, filling the streets with her brightness as we turned corners, and came upon places where the flood of her silver beams showed forth solemnly.  A great winter moon in London is a beautiful thing, with a something belonging to it that is unknown elsewhere.  The ice crystals upon the trees and rooftops glimmered in the moonlight, giving the entire street a surreal beauty and tranquillity that has remained unmatched in my memory ever since.  When we were finished with our stroll through the frosty lane, and after I had dusted myself off and brushed the snow from Byron’s heavy fur, I knew I had one more important task to complete before the day was done.
 
   With Byron following upon my heel, I went to the warmth of my study, where our rather clumsy but efficient servant girl had kept a fire burning, and I turned up the gas lamp to brighten the room.  From the uppermost corner shelf, I brought down the tin lockbox in which was kept my collection of those case-histories deemed by Holmes to be unsuitable for publication within our lifetimes.  I turned the key, which always stuck before opening.  There were far fewer cases in the box than would eventually be placed inside after Holmes’ penultimate case was completed in 1907.  I lit my favourite meerschaum pipe and by the light of the gas, I looked through some of the names on the sealed parcels with a sort of nostalgia, and sat staring into the fireplace, reliving parts of each in my mind’s eye.  Here they were:
 
   The cases of Bert Stevens the mild-mannered murderer, the singular affair of the Aluminium Crutch, the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis of the Netherland-Sumatra Company, the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca, Vigor the ‘Hammersmith Wonder,’ the Abernetty family (at this, I recalled the case having turned upon the depth of which the parsley had sunk into the butter), the Bishopgate Jewel case, Wilson the notorious canary-trainer, the Camberwell Poisoning case (in which I fondly remembered Holmes winding a dead man’s watch), the Addleton Tragedy, the Nonpareil Club Card Scandal (as it involved Colonel Upwood), and, of course, the giant rat of Sumatra in the Matilda Briggs case were there, among others.
 
   The largest of the packets -- and the only one left unsealed and unfinished -- contained all of the notes, information, photographs and bits of evidence we had retained from the so-called ‘Ripper’ case, as it was known to the public, though I had never once heard Holmes refer to him directly by that pseudonym.  There are many who will still bear in mind the singular circumstances which, under the heading of the ‘Ripper Mystery,’ began to fill many columns of the daily press in the autumn of the year 1888 and continued to do so for many years to follow.  I had labelled it simply ‘JACK,’ for that was the name that would go down in history as the world’s greatest inexplicable and unexpiated series of murders.  And I knew that with certainty, because it was already solved and, although the Crown and the Home Office had elected to keep the killers’ identities secret, I was also sure they would never allow another man to swing for it. 

   With the steady ticking sounds of snowflakes blowing against the frosted windowpanes of my study, I lit a candle on my desk for additional light and, with old Byron sleeping peacefully with his head resting upon my slippered foot, prepared to put my pen to paper once again.
 
   Dearest Reader,
   [I wrote]
   If my instructions have been followed precisely, to-day’s date would be 13 January, 2017, and you are in the offices of Cox and Company at Charing Cross, having been allowed access to this box by your credentials as heir to myself, John H. Watson M.D., late of the Indian Army, or that of Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, W1, Westminster, London…

 
THE END
 

Footnotes
127. Mary of Teck (9 November 1901 – 6 May 1910) — Married George, Duke of York, on 6 July, 1893 and became Duchess of York; became additionally Duchess of Cornwall on the accession of her father-in-law as Edward VII of the United Kingdom on 22 January, 1901; became Princess of Wales on 9 November, 1901; became Queen Consort upon the accession of her husband George V on 6 May, 1910; became Queen Mother (generally known as Queen Mary) upon his death on 20 January, 1936. During her marriage, she successively held the titles Duchess of York, Duchess of Cornwall, Princess of Wales, Queen-Empress and Queen-Empress Dowager. Queen Mary died 24 March, 1953.
128. According to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he had originally considered calling the Holmes character “Sherrinford Holmes” rather than Sherlock.



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