Author Topic: His Final Bow (Short Story)  (Read 1468 times)

Offline SteveJ

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His Final Bow (Short Story)
« on: May 07, 2008, 07:15:17 AM »

His Final Bow



'It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.'

'Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms...'
Sherlock Holmes

'One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the
punishments that the good have inflicted.'
Oscar Wilde



From the casebook of Dr John Watson M.D

 As I look back over these pages, chronicling the singular feats of that singular man, my friend
Sherlock Holmes, I pause in wonder at the curious turn of events which led us both to make the
acquaintance of that extraordinary symbol of the fin de siécle, Monsieur Sebastian
Melmoth.

 Early one morning in the Summer of 1898, a telegram from Holmes arrived, which the maid
duly brought to my attention:

 'Paris in August! Will you join me on a matter of utmost secrecy and intrigue? Leave Paddington
at 10am. Holmes.'

 My dear wife had become so accustomed to my disappearing acts that she hardly registered a
protest; 'the game was afoot!', as Holmes might have said, so she, sensing my excitement,
helped me to pack and wished me well. And before very long, my intrepid colleague and I were
on our way.

 A steam yacht had been commissioned for us, much to my surprise, and this informed me of
the seriousness of Holmes' mission. But when pressed, this eternal man of mystery kept me in
suspense:

 "A plea for vital assistance from the French government, no less, Watson; I'm afraid that I can
say no more until the time is right."

 "I must say, Holmes, this is most unlike you, you know that you can count on my discretion,
and have done on many occasions in the past - what is so different this time?", I asked. I was a
little hurt, and perplexed.

 "Forgive me, Watson, but it truly is for your own good - knowledge is both desirable, and in this
instance, dangerous...".

 I was still a little nonplussed, but trusted Holmes well enough to know that he had good reason
for denying me information.

 We landed at Dieppe, and some hours later, arrived in Paris. I followed behind Holmes' brisk walk
on the boulevards, hoping to catch a glimpse of our mysterious destination.
I suppose that I should not have been surprised that someone so unknown as Holmes was in
general public life should have been noticed immediately by the Paris underworld. Holmes'
disappointment at this turn of events was evident in his hawk-like face, as he read aloud the
scrawled note which had been handed to him by a pale young man dressed in a rather
ostentatious variation of a sailor's outfit.

 "'Please come to the Hôtel d'Alsace, Mr Holmes. I very much wish to make your acquaintance,
and to beg your assistance in a quite personal affair. Yours, Sebastian Melmoth.'"

 "Who is this 'Sebastian Melmoth'?", I asked, "And how did he know you were in Paris?"

 "He may be a detective or a scoundrel...or perhaps, someone in great need."

 "But-"

 My words were left on the breeze, as Sherlock Holmes stepped into the street and hailed a
passing hansom. Once seated, he rapped the doorframe, and we were off to the Hôtel d'Alsace
on the Rue des Beaux-Arts.

 Upon arrival, we spoke to the owner, M. Dupoirier, a friendly gentleman who directed us to a
rather shabby room, shrouded in darkness. I was about to warn my colleague to exercise
caution, when a loud, mellifluous voice bade us welcome:

 "Please, do come in! At last, a friendly face in an alien land!".

  I'm afraid that I stopped in my tracks when I finally matched the voice to the face of our host -
the notorious Oscar Wilde stood before us.

 "Mr Wilde - delighted". Holmes stepped forward to shake his large, fleshy hand. I was slightly
less pleased to meet the disgraced playwright, and Wilde seemed to shrink at my gaze. All at
once, he appeared ashamed of his atire, his surroundings, and I suppose, his reputation with his
fellow Britons. This giant of a man wore a faded dark blue suit, obviously the worse for wear,
with a lacklustre carnation buttonhole. A straw boater lay abandoned on a bookcase; it looked
as though it had seen better, brighter days, much the same as it's owner. Wilde often covered
his lips, or rested his hand on his chin when speaking, to hopefully distract one from his wretched
teeth. But his words belied the misery of his hand-to-mouth existence; once he spoke, all
listened in rapt attention.

 "As one of my peers once said, I have sent my household effects into the country...". He waved
a long arm as if to dismiss his current home, as though his poverty was merely a transitory
affair. One had to admire his esprit.

 An embarrassed silence enveloped me, but Holmes smiled generously at the jest. Wilde directed
me to his bed, in lieu of a seat, as Holmes made himself comfortable in a rickety wooden chair.
Perhaps unaccustomed to consultations outside of his Baker Street lair, the great detective
gathered up his dignity and addressed the shady figure in the corner as if he were at home, the
master of ceremonies once more:

 "Mr Wilde, may I ask how you fathomed my presence in Paris?"

 "Ah, when one has fallen to the depths as I have, one's ear is permanently to the ground...the
company I keep would have made Christ himself envious - the vagabonds, the streetwalkers,
the dissolute and the desperate - they add such colour to one's entourage, a vertitable
pageant of sinners and reformed saints!"

 Holmes kept his counsel, and thus obliged Wilde to explain himself in less outlandish fashion.

 "That charming boy who accosted you and your friend is named Jean-Pierre, an aspiring author 
- aren't we all, n'est-ce pas? His prose is not as perfect as his profile just yet, but he is
developing swiftly...When I heard the café gossips and the pickpockets speaking in hushed tones
of your appearance on the boulevards, I immediately dispatched the best of my young
disciples to waylay you, Mr Holmes. You see, I too have a cast of admiring irregulars. Did
you bring any of your boys over from the curséd Isles? No? A pity...I could have taught
them so much...from my experiences...".

 "Was it Pope who said 'A little learning is a dangerous thing'?"

 "Unfortunately, he said many things, and worse, he wrote them down - if there were any justice
in this world - which there is not - he would have died in prison, and not I."

 Sherlock Holmes enjoyed an admirable command of the language, a clear and concise manner
of expression, and of course, a level of intelligence beyond most of his fellows. Our host,
meanwhile, may have 'played to the galleries' with his flights of fancy and his curious turn of
phrase, but one divined a deep intelligence at work, and despite Wilde's tarnished reputation,
Holmes and I myself fell under his spell, at least, for a while; one was in the presence of either a
superb liar - this much was made clear from the following exchange - or a great storyteller;
perhaps, in Wilde's twilight world, there was no difference...

 "I'm afraid you must pardon me, sir, but time is of the essence, I must-"

 "Ah yes, another daring mission awaits, another magnificent adventure looms on the horizon for
you, no doubt, Mr Holmes. What I wouldn't give for such a life...without the necessary
expenditure of activity, of course; one can desire anything as long as it doesn't require
physical
effort...even imagination exhausts me in my Autumn years...Forgive me, to business
- as you may have heard, recently I was 'away' for a very long and tedious time. While I retained
the fundamental equipment of existence, I was unfortunate enough to lose the reminders of my
previous life.."

 "You mean your...marriage, sir, and, forgive me for being so blunt, your children?", I said quietly.

 "My poor dear boys...how I miss them...but I refer to the plunder of my belongings - my Burne
-Jones drawings, my Whistler sketches, my Monticelli, my Simeon Solomons, my china - all
the material things so vital to a truly spiritual, that is to say, truly artistic life. I'll break the
habit of a lifetime - and surely Saint Walter of Oxford smiles benevelently at me from the
heavens as I do so - and cut to the chase: I would like you, Mr Holmes, to trace my
possessions, recover them and return them to me - they are all I have left, and I don't even
have them; you can recapture my past glories. And now, gentlemen, while you consider
my request, I will permit you to ply me with drink at le Café de la Paix."

 Wilde allowed himself a wry smile, as if he already knew Holmes' answer, and fully expected it,
almost desired it. I felt saddened, not only for the waste of my friend's valuable time, but
for the man Wilde also; to have come to this, after he had entertained Kings and
courtesans with his peerless conversation, and barnstormed the arts with his theatrical, poetic
personality. Now, he was reduced to waylaying complete strangers in the hope of a free glass or
two of alcohol, as he sought to drink himself inevitably, gratefully towards death or delirium.

 Noticing our reticence, Wilde tried to hypnotise us with words again - any delay in our departure
was a small victory for him, for his memory of what he had once been, and precious
human company for this lonely man.

 "Mr Holmes, I hardly believed my friend Renard the assassin when he told of your arrival - I had
always assumed that you didn't exist. I too know how it feels to be a fictional creation...indeed,
one could say that I am wholly responsible for my own genesis - I have no need of an external
Creator, I forged my own legend: is that not the case for you also?"

 "I only wish that I could concur, Mr Wilde, yet despite what dear Watson calls my 'brilliant mind',
I fear that another hand guides my every move, my every whim and conviction...if it wasn't for
the total lack of material evidence, I would have to conclude that a superior being has mapped
out my past, my present and my future!"

 I had never heard Holmes talk this way before, or since; Wilde the seducer had struck again.

 "And I fear that you are facing Christian temptation, the church bells call you to service, to
servitude, the hand of a manmade God beckons to you, does it not? Resist it, Mr Holmes! You
are the master of your destiny. The thunder in the mountains we hear heralds the birth of our
own genius, and is decidedly not the backstage rumblings of a distant God."

 "This is tantamount to blasphemy! Holmes, I am leaving - I trust that you will join me."

 Sherlock Holmes stood up, and walked over to shake the arch-heretic's hand once more.

 "I am sorry, Mr Wilde, but I cannot help you. My colleague would not permit it."

 Once again, Holmes left me open-mouthed. Did he really desire to help this charlatan?

  "I am sorry too. I am even more sorry for your friend. I would have liked you to have
experienced absinthe, Mr Holmes - it builds worlds upon worlds, in an abstract manner which
even the mystic cannot see. I have a tale about absinthe that you would enjoy...but I haven't a
sou to buy some; but I will tell it in a fashion which is relatively new to me, but sadly a
staple of my days - I will tell it for free. One morning, the notorious Marquis de Sade woke to find
his cell door open, and the guards asleep on the rough prison floor. As he passed them, he sensed the
aroma of absinthe, and..."

 Holmes picked up his cane. I couldn't help but observe that it bore a marked resemblance to the
one which Wilde owned, though his was crowned with a gaudy counterfeit jewel. Holmes
replaced his hat, and walked in that brisk, businesslike way peculiar to him towards the door.

Oscar Wilde looked stunned - he was obviously used to a captive, captivated audience; now, just
like the Marquis, the captive was escaping. Holmes bade the storyteller a brief farewell:

 "Goodbye, Mr Wilde."

 And he went out.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2008, 07:22:20 AM by Steve08 »
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