The Dissecting Room . . . February 1988
Mrs. Turner's Beer
Was there ever a Sherlock Holmes story so topsy-turvy as SCAN? Even though it is the first of the Holmes short stories, and therefore, one would think, an example of all that was to come, SCAN breaks rules that haven't been laid down yet. Holmes fails. Holmes openly admires a woman. Dr. Watson actually practices medicine. And topping it all off is that queer business with Mrs. Turner.
"When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you," Holmes tells Watson during one of the cases restive moments. Watson then writes of "the simple fare our landlady had provided." The logical conclusion for a reader to make is that Mrs. Turner is Holmes's landlady. Yet we know from numerous cases in the Canon that Mrs. Hudson was the landlady at 221B Baker Street. So who was Mrs. Turner?
A maid, a cousin, a sister-numerous possibilities have been postulated over the years. After all, the story doesn't actually state that Mrs. Turner was the landlady. All we know of her is that she was going to bring a tray, a tray which, for all we know, may never have arrived. True, Holmes does "turn hungrily" on some food, but let's look a little more closely at that passage:
"When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now," he said, as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided, "I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time."
Barely any time elapses between Holmes's "Mrs. Turner" statement and his turning on the food provided by the landlady. No tray arrives in those seconds, so we must conclude that the tray coming with Mrs. Turner is not the food provided by the landlady. Mrs. Hudson had already set out some bread and cheese or some equally "simple fare," probably for Dr. Watson while he waited for Holmes. "Simple fare" may have even referred to some leftover scones and the like from tea-time.
So what was on Mrs. Turner's tray?
At the end of his tale of Irene's hasty wedding, Holmes says, "They drove away in different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements."
"Which are?" Watson asks.
"Some cold beef and a glass of beer," Holmes tells him.
If the beef and beer were to be provided by Holmes's own landlady, why would he have to make special arrangements for them? What Holmes was doing was treating himself to a small victory celebration following Irene's wedding, the act he knew made her blackmail photo harmless. Not far from Baker Street in that year there must have been a pub particularly well-loved for both its beef and its beer. Pleased with the unexpected turn of events in the case, Holmes slmply stopped by that pub on his way home and made arrangements to have some of their specially cooked beef and fine draft beer sent around to 221B. The proprietors of the place, perhaps old clients of the detective, would have been happy to bring it 'round for Mr. Holmes.
The proprietors of that pub were, of course, the Turners.
Holmes may have been celebrating a bit too soon, however, for that tray from the Turners' pub was inevitably one of the factors that led to his downfall in retrieving the photograph for the King of Bohemia. In his disguise as an amiable, benevolent-looking clergyman, Sherlock Holmes had taken every step to prevent Irene Adler from becoming suspicious except one -- and once her suspicions took root, that flaw helped speed their growth. What was the flaw, and how did it relate to Mrs. Turner's tray?
Holmes's clergyman had beer on his breath! What was perfect for the guise of a drunken groom was certainly not going to work with the innocent man of the cloth he played. Even though Holmes admits to being bested by a woman in SCAN, that woman was not Irene Adler. Yes, she was clever and handy with a disguise, but no mere adventuress could deliver as fine a beer as Mrs. Turner. It was she who really caused the detectives downfall.
After a few beers, a lot of fellows encounter "the woman," even if they're not Sherlock Holmes.
(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, February 1988)