The Dissecting Room . . . July 1997
“There goes the neighborhood!”
If you thought a league of red-headed men, citrus seed cults, or Garrideb bequests were the ultimate in Sherlockian strangeness, I've got a new one for you. Of course, without Watson to write it up or Holmes to make matters plain it might not have the punch of those other events, but see if you still don't think it a wee bit outre.
Consider, then, the plight of the settled Sherlockian. He has too many books for his little library and no room to store back issues of his new publication. His wife complains of no room to redecorate, and his cat — a house cat, mind you — can't wait to get outside just to stretch. So the settled Sherlockian finds it necessary to bestir himself from his Canon-wrapped nest and seek larger digs.
There's nothing shameful about that. Holmes and Watson were both doing it in the opening to A Study in Scarlet. They had Stamford to set them on the track, and so, too, did our settled Sherlockian have a guide toward his new home.
"That's a strange thing," remarked the neo-Stamford; "you are the second person to-day that has mentioned real estate to me."
"And who was the first?" the settled Sherlockian asked.
"A neighbor who was working in her yard just across the back fence. She was bemoaning herself this morning because she would have to get someone to buy the nice three bedroom villa which she has owned."
And so, history began to repeat itself, as history so often does.
The settled Sherlockian met with the homeowner the next day as he had arranged, and inspected the rooms, the yard, the whole house. So desirable in every way was the place, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided over a thirty-year mortgage, that the bargain was concluded within the month, and the once-settled Sherlockian at once entered into possession.
Except in this little tale, the empty house across the way wasn't empty. The neo-Stamford had lived there many years, and for most of those years had been a Sherlockian as well. And now he was about to change his role from that of Stamford, to Stapleton, the quirky neighbor who secretly hopes to inherit the settled Sherlockian's collection after frightening him to death. No, wait ... that's not exactly the right metaphor. Perhaps he is to become the old Scottish nurse who would care for the settled Sherlockian's secret offspring from a previous marriage. Well, no, that's not it either. Old Frankland, the crank, ready to sue at a moment's notice? No ....
I think in this case we must turn to that owner of the Bar of Gold, the notorious opium den, who was willing to keep his upstairs neighbor's nosey wife at bay. Not perfect, but since the neo-Stamford in our tale is really a fellow known as “the Rascally Lascar," it will just have to serve. The "settled Sheriockian" is yours truly, the writer of this column, and in case you haven't heard elsewhere, the
In other words. Bob Burr and I are now neighbors. I can sit in my upstairs window with an airgun and wait for him to come out on his patio. He can signal me with a candle from his kitchen window, spending countless hours spelling out "Attenta! Pericolo!"
As old Trevor says in GLOR:
"I was glad, then, to find that he was my neighbour, and gladder still when, in the dead of the night, I... found that he had managed to cut an opening in the board which separated us."
It might not have been the dead of night, but almost the minute the papers were signed. Bob was out cutting an opening in the boards of the fence between our houses.
But the Canon is full of good neighbor quotes that I intend to use wherever possible, such as:
"It is not the baronet—it is—why, it is my neighbour, the convict!"
"The beating of drums, the rattle of tom-toms, and the yells and howls of the rebels, drunk with opium and with bang, were enough to remind us all night of our dangerous neighbours across the stream."
"He was well liked by the few neighbours who called upon him, and he has the reputation down there of being a very learned man."
"Yet, though looked at with some curiosity and reserve by his more cultivated neighbours, he soon acquired a great popularity among the villagers, subscribing handsomely to all local objects and attending their smoking concerts and other functions, where, having a remarkably rich tenor voice, he was always ready to oblige with an excellent song."
What fun being a good Sheriockian neighbor would seem to be!
I expect that our cat may even give us cause to one day hear, "Ah, it bolted, and was cared for by one of your neighbours." Bob is good at looking after the cat, and he doesn't even try sneaking it into the Wessex Cup.
The best part of this new neighbor situation, however, is that this very column can now be hand-delivered across the back yard the very minute it is finished. And, as I'm coming to the end of the page, you'll have to excuse me. I have to go pay a call on my new neighbor and drop this off.
(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, July 1997)