Opinion

Sherlock Holmes and the mysterious Dr. Bell: The Final Chapter

“I am afraid I can tell nothing of either man. They are both a mystery.” - Original illustration Sydney Paget - public domain
“I am afraid I can tell nothing of either man. They are both a mystery.”
— image credit: Original illustration Sydney Paget - public domain

Jim Cameron

The dismal November day turned inevitably into night as Sherlock Holmes and I, comfortably ensconced in our London apartments at 221B Baker Street, considered the letter recently arrived. At first glance it appeared nothing more than queries directed towards the great detective from a fellow by the name of Jim Cameron, of Cranbrook, British Columbia.  I reviewed the contents as Holmes paced about the sitting-room.

"It would seem that Mr. Cameron has long been intrigued by the fact that the main thoroughfare in his home town is named Baker Street"

"Quite so, Watson," Holmes replied.

"Most probably named after a bakery that once stood there," I surmised.

"Not in this case. The street is named for town founder Colonel James Baker."

"Indeed? I knew he travelled to the colonies but I had no idea he was responsible for an entire town."

"He is, and according to Mr. Cameron it is a place of some substance. But there is more to the Baker story that concerns us"

"Mr. Cameron attempts to connect you to his hometown but is there any connection between you and James Baker?"

"If Mr. Cameron states the truth then, indeed, there is a connection to James Baker through his brother Valentine."

"Pasha Baker? I know of him from my army days. He was somewhat of a legend among the lads."

"Then you are aware of the scandal that fell upon him? He was accused of accosting a lady in a private train carriage thereby destroying a very promising career and placing him in gaol for a time."

"Of course, but how does that signify?"

"Mr. Cameron states that a gentleman by the name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has written a story based, in part, upon the scandalous events involving Valentine Baker. Further, it would appear that you and I figure largely in the tale, Watson."

"That is preposterous!" I exclaimed, reaching instinctively for my Webley service revolver, only to recall it was locked in the desk drawer.

"No need for that." said Holmes, noticing my reaction. "Apparently the characters in his story, "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," reflect closely our actual selves. The tale concerns a gentleman by the name of Colonel Valentine Walter, his brother James and the murder of a man on a train. We, along with my brother Mycroft, discover Colonel Walter to be the murderer, whereupon he is sent to languish in prison."

"More than a coincidence, to be sure. It certainly ties us indirectly to the Baker family."

"It is not all, Watson. Mr. Cameron is searching for information regarding a Dr. J.H.M. Bell, apparently a relative of Dr. Joseph Bell. Do you recognize the name?"

"It doesn't ring a —" A curt glance from Holmes prevented me from continuing.

"According to Cameron, there is some evidence that a Dr. J.H.M. Bell worked and resided in Cranbrook for a period of at least three years beginning in 1911, the year his supposed relative Dr. Joseph Bell died. He has had no luck tracing the connection between the two and has asked for our assistance.  Apparently Dr. Joseph Bell was renowned for his use of deduction in criminal investigation and using methods very similar to mine did a great deal for modern forensics. As it is, I am afraid I can tell Mr. Cameron nothing of either man. They are both as much a mystery to me as the letter itself."

"I'm afraid I don't take your meaning?"

“I am just coming to grips with it, but apparently it all connects by way of Arthur Conan Doyle.”

“The writer who based his detective story upon you?”

“No, Watson. Rather the writer who based me upon Dr. Joseph Bell.”

At this I was struck dumb. Holmes’ words seemed to make no sense and I supposed I had misunderstood.

“What precisely are you saying, Holmes?”

“I am saying, my friend, that I deduce from Mr. Cameron’s letter that I am a fictional character based upon a doctor who may or may not have had a relative who lived in the town of Cranbrook in the year 1911.”

“It can’t be, Holmes. If you are a fictional character then I, as your colleague, would have to be ...” Words escaped me as the full import of the matter slowly came clear. I collapsed in the nearest chair.  “How can you possibly believe this to be fact, Holmes?”

“It is the date that the letter is written, among other things. See for yourself.”

“But there was no date upon the letter.”

“Not the letter Watson, the envelope.”

Holmes passed me the same and I gasped involuntarily upon viewing the postmark. “Good Heavens, November 2013, nearly a century from now.”

“I have undertaken numerous scientific experiments and have determined that the paper, the ink, all is unknown to me. It is either produced by a hand much more clever than I, a feat I sincerely doubt, or it is,” Holmes paused, “exactly what it claims to be.”

“But surely that is impossible.”

“The impossible is often simply the unknown, as you well know.”

“Are we to believe that our names will be known one hundred years from now?

“Indeed. Mr. Cameron states that in his time all and sundry know of the deeds of Sherlock Holmes and his colleague Dr. John Watson. Every library in the land holds accounts of our doings. Why, the tales are studied from university to the lowest scholastic levels, including –

“Don’t say it, Holmes.” I pleaded.

“Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.”

I could swear the great detective suppressed a smile as he turned towards his desk. “But come, there may be little we can do for Mr. Cameron but, fictional or otherwise, the world of crime awaits us.”

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