The Chronology Corner (Stud, Sign, Adventures)

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A Study in Scarlet

SIGNIFICANT YEAR REFERENCE:
"In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London . . ."

SIGNIFICANT HISTORICAL TIE-IN:
"I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand." (June 27, 1880.)

SIGNIFICANT PASSAGE OF TIME:
"I was removed, with a great train of wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Peshawar . . . improved . . . was struck down by enteric fever . . . . For months my life was despaired of, and when at last I came to myself . . . I was despatched . . . landed a month later on Portsmouth jetty, with my health irretrievably ruined, but with permission from a paternal government to spend the next nine months in attempting to improve it . . . London . . .There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand . . . I soon realized . . . that I must make a complete alteration in my style of living."

SIGNIFICANT YEAR REFERENCE OF QUESTIONABLE VALUE:
"There was the case of Von Bischoff at Frankfort last year."

KEY WATSON DATE OF CASE:
"It was upon the 4th of March, as I have good reason to remember, that I rose somewhat earlier than usual, and found that Sherlock Holmes had not yet finished his breakfast."

KEY HISTORICAL REFERENCE OF THE CASE:
"I want to go to Halle’s concert to hear Norman Neruda this afternoon."

SEEMING BAD REPORTAGE BY THE STANDARD:
"The two bade adieu to their landlady upon Tuesday, the 4th inst., and departed to Euston Station with the avowed intention of catching the Liverpool express. They were afterwards seen together upon the platform. Nothing more is known of them until Mr. Drebber’s body was, as recorded, discovered in an empty house in the Brixton Road, many miles from Euston."

LESTRADE CONFIRMS WATSON:
"They had been seen together at Euston Station about half-past eight on the evening of the 3rd. At two in the morning Drebber had been found in the Brixton Road."
"On Thursday the prisoner will be brought before the magistrates, and your attendance will be required."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
March 4, 1881. Of course, Bring-Gould’s original thought in a 1948 BSJ was March 4, 1882. Methinks he bowed to popular opinion.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
March 4, 1881. He does reiterate a nice point about Holmes and Watson meeting at Bart’s on January 1st, because the lab was empty, something we might make use of later.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Call me contrary, but certain warped impulse has always made me want to go with that "bad" Standard date. As March 4 fell on a Tuesday in 1884, The Standard would seem to be placing the date at March 4, 1884. If Watson copied from actual newspaper clippings in his scrapbook, this could be a very reliable date. It would mean, of course, that "Speckled Band" actually took place *before* the Drebber-Stangerson murders, and Watson’s desire to write a novel of tragic romance in America caused him to condense time in his first chronicle of Holmes, making a later case his first with the detective.
In his original introduction to "The Date Being . . ." Andrew Jay Peck makes a good case for the Moriarty-involved opening of The Valley of Fear having been transplanted on to the Birlstone case, which didn’t necessarily involve Moriarty. He cites the precedence of the mind-reading passage from "The Resident Patient," which we all know was transplanted from the suppressed tale "The Cardboard Box." I think a good case can be similarly made for separating the "meeting Sherlock Holmes" portion of STUD from the "Drebber case" portion. The coincidence of Holmes getting a letter from Gregson just as the consulting detective concludes an explanation of his trade seems a bit much (like something from fiction, for heaven’s sake!), but the transplant notion explains even that quite nicely.
I have to conclude that the initial meeting, the days of Watson studying Holmes, and the incident of the article "The Book of Life" all took place some time long before March 4, 1884, the obvious beginning of the true Study in Scarlet.

 

The Sign of the Four

CURRENT STATE OF HOLMES’S DRUG HABIT:
"Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance . . ."

CURRENT STATE OF WATSON’S HEALTH:
"My constitution has not got over the Afghan campaign yet."
"What was I, an army surgeon with a weak leg and a weaker banking account, that I should dare to think of such things?"

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCE TO ANOTHER CASE:
"But you have yourself had some experience of my methods of work in the Jefferson Hope case."

SIGNIFICANT PASSAGES OF TIME:
"More than once during the years that I had lived with him in Baker Street . . ."
"For weeks and for months we dug and delved in every part of the garden without discovering its whereabouts."

SIGNIFICANT EVENT REFERENCE OF QUESTIONABLE VALUE:
"I was consulted last week by Francois le Villard, who, as you probably know, has come rather to the front lately in the French detective service."

THE MANY DATES OF MARY MORSTAN:
"I was quite a child . . . placed . . . in a comfortable boarding establishment at Edinburgh, and there I remained until I was seventeen years of age. In the year 1878 my father, who was senior captain of his regiment, obtained twelve months’ leave and came home. He . . . directed me to come down at once."
"On reaching London I drove to the Langham and was informed that Captain Morstan was staying there, but that he had gone out the night before and had not returned."
"He disappeared upon the third of December, 1878 — nearly ten years ago."
"If she were seventeen at the time of her father’s disappearance she must be seven-and-twenty now — a sweet age . . ."

THE YEARLY PEARL DELIVERY:
"About six years ago — to be exact, upon the fourth of May, 1882 — an advertisement appeared in the Times asking for the address of Miss Mary Morstan . . ."
"I published my address in the advertisement column. The same day there arrived through the post a small cardboard box addressed to me, which I found to contain a very large and lustrous pearl."
"Since then every year upon the same date there has always appeared a similar box, containing a similar pearl, without any clue as to the sender."
"She . . . showed me six of the finest pearls that I had ever seen."

SIGNIFICANT MONTH AND DAY REFERENCE:
"This morning I received this letter . . ."
"Post-mark, London, S. W. Date, July 7."
"Be at the third pillar from the left outside the Lyceum Theatre to-night at seven o’clock."
"LOST — Whereas Mordecai Smith, boatman, and his son Jim, left Smith’s Wharf at or about three o’clock last Tuesday morning . . ."

THE DATES OF MAJOR SHOLTO:
"He retired some eleven years ago . . ."
"The major had retired some little time before." (Captain Morstan’s disappearance)
"I have just found, on consulting the back files of the Times, that Major Sholto, of Upper Norwood, late of the Thirty-fourth Bombay Infantry, died upon the twenty-eighth of April, 1882."
"Captain Morstan disappears. . . . Four years later Sholto dies."
"Early in 1882 my father received a letter from India which was a great shock to him. He had suffered for years from an enlarged spleen, but he now became rapidly worse, and towards the end of April we were informed that he was beyond all hope . . ."

SIGNIFICANT MONTH REFERENCE:
"It was a September evening and not yet seven o’clock, but the day had been a dreary one, and a dense drizzly fog lay low upon the great city. Mud-coloured clouds drooped sadly over the muddy streets.

SIGNIFICANT PRIOR ACQUAINTANCES:
Holmes to McMurdo: "Don’t you remember that amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison’s rooms on the night of your benefit four years back?"
Athelney Jones: "It’s Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the theorist. Remember you! I’ll never forget how you lectured us all on causes and inferences and effects in the Bishopgate jewel case."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
September 18, 1888. There’s long been two camps on SIGN, the July camp and the September camp, and Baring-Gould is firmly on the September side. Of course, there’s always one person who goes completely off the chart . . .

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
April 16, 1888. Zeisler trusts Watson’s mentions of twilight and moonlight as if the doctor was an astronomer, yet doesn’t believe Watson knows what month it is?

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
The year in which The Sign of the Four occurs would seem a straightforward calculation. Captain Morstan’s disappearance, December 3, 1878 is described as "nearly ten years ago." The ad in the May 4, 1882 newspaper is described as "about six years ago." Holmes’s research seems to back up these dates.
The next choice one has to make when pondering the dates of SIGN is whether one wants to go with Mary Morstan’s "This morning I received this letter" (said letter postmarked July 7) or Dr. Watson’s "It was a September evening . . ." As Keefauver’s First Rule of Chronology is "Trust Dr. Watson," I have to go with September. Apparently most of my predecessors do as well, making Holmes’s statement "Women are never to be trusted" from this case especially timely.
Why was Holmes so emphatic about the untrustworthiness of women when Watson announces his engagement to Mary Morstan? Is it that he really doesn’t trust women in general, or that he’s trying to break the news of Morstan’s duplicity to his friend? That envelope postmarked July 8 seems ample evidence for collusion between Mary Morstan and Thaddeus Sholto, who were simply using Holmes and Watson to force Bartholomew Sholto to play straight in dividing up the treasure. Add to that bit of evidence the fact that Mary Morstan shows the Baker Street boys six pearls when anyone who does the math knows she should have seven, and her credibility breaks down rather swiftly. Holmes knew this was not a woman to be trusted. (And this chronologist is also very fond of the script of Crucifer of Blood.)
As for the exact date, we know the case starts on a Tuesday, thanks to Holmes’s ad. Watson’s opening words, "Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance," lead me to believe that it was the first Tuesday in September, as the three summer months would be a natural bracket for Watson to track Holmes’s drug habit in. Thus, the Birlstone Railway Timetable has to go with Tuesday, September 4, 1888 for the start of this case.
It might be noticed that I’m dating SIGN based on internal evidence and, for the moment, totally ignoring Watson’s marital status in other tales. Well, as Sherlock Holmes once said "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
My feeling is that presupposing Mary Morstan to be the only wife Dr. Watson ever had is definitely theorizing before the data. Thus, Keefauver’s Second Rule of Chronology states: "It is a capital mistake to theorize marriages before one has dates. Insensibly one begins to twist dates to suit marriages, instead of marriages to suit dates." (And we all know that dating must properly come before marriage!)

 

"A Scandal in Bohemia"

KEY WATSON DATE OF CASE:
" . . . it was on the twentieth of March, 1888 . . ."

KEY WATSONIAN EVENT:
"I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other."

SIGNIFICANT PASSAGE OF TIME:
"Then I must begin by binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years . . ." says the king. "A Scandal in Bohemia" was published in July of 1891.

THE MANY DATES OF IRENE ADLER:
"Born in New Jersey in the year 1858."
"Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I (the King) made the acquaintance of the well-known adventuress, Irene Adler." (As Irene had "Prima Donna of the Imperial Opera of Warsaw" in her bio, it would seem she attained that position around the age of 25, also, it would seem, the age of the King at that time. "I am but thirty now.")
According to Watson’s date of the story, Irene married Godfrey Norton on March 21, 1888. (A Wednesday.)

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
May 20, 1887. How Baring-Gould can, in good conscience, print that date on a page facing a date Watson which writes as March 20, 1888 is beyond me. If Watson was mistaken, shouldn’t a good editor fix that mistake? And if Watson *wasn’t* mistaken, shouldn’t a good Sherlockian agree with him?

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
March 22, 1889. Here’s a prime example of twisting dates to fit marriages. Zeisler thinks Watson met Mary Morstan in April of 1888. That being the case, there’s no way Watson can be married to her a month earlier. Thus SCAN becomes the square peg that must be pounded into that round hole, and if said pounding must destroy Watson’s best date reference, so be it.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
This tale seems to make chronologists crazy, but I really have to go with Watson on this one. He’s clear and precise this time with no internal contradictions. As this was his first short story, the good doctor probably paid greater attention to detail on SCAN than any other tale. Let the marriages fall where they may -- in my book SCAN is rock solid at March 20, 1888.

 

"The Red-Headed League"

KEY WATSON DATES OF THE CASE:
"I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of
last year . . ."
"It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago."
"THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890."

SIGNIFICANT CANONICAL TIE-IN:
"You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went
into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland . . ."

WILSON’S ACCOUNT OF TIME PASSED:
"Will you be ready to-morrow?" (Duncan Ross’s words to Wilson on the day of the newspaper ad.
"This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week’s work. It was the same next week, and the same the week after."
"Eight weeks passed away like this . . ."
"And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual at ten o’clock, but the door was shut and locked, with a little square of card-board hammered on to the middle of the panel with a tack. Here it is, and you can read for yourself."
"THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890."
"This assistant of yours who first called your attention to the advertisement — how long had he been with you?"
"About a month then."

HOLMES’S DETECTION SCHEDULE:
"To-day is Saturday, and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion."

KEY HISTORICAL REFERENCE OF THE CASE:
"Sarasate plays at the St. James’s Hall this afternoon."

SIGNIFICANT PRIOR ACQUAINTANCES:
"Watson, I think you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard?"
"I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr. John Clay."

BANKER MERRYWEATHER’S RECORD 1404 CONSECUTIVE WEEKLY RUBBERS:
"It is the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
October 29, 1887.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
October 19, 1889.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Well, at least the year seems a no-brainer on this one: 1890. And the day does seem to be Saturday, the day of concerts and rubbers of whist. But when Watson starts telling us that April 27 was two months prior to October 9, all chronological Hell seems about to break loose.
But is Watson the true culprit here? The good doctor occasionally seems to be blamed by chronologists for quoting what came out of the client’s mouths inaccurately, when those clients may have been totally in the wrong to begin with. (Think about it -- most of them are in no frame of mind to cite accurate dates.) I’ve gone on record prior to this stating that Wilson was lying about his true twenty-four weeks of work to keep Holmes’s fee down ("Upon the Relative Reliability of Watson and Wilson," Baker Street Journal, June 1983), and will stick with that thought. October 9 was the date on that sign. April 27 was the date on the newspaper. Both are pieces of physical evidence actually presented to Holmes and Watson, and yet Jabez Wilson keeps referring to the interval between as eight weeks, even though the digging of a tunnel and copying of all that encyclopaedia material would both fit more comfortably into a twenty-four week span. Plainly, Wilson is lying.
All the Saturday evidence, however, makes me now agree with chronologists like Blakeney, Dakin, Hall, and Thomson . . . October 11 has to be the beginning date of the case. "Duncan Ross" just didn’t know exactly what day it was when he wrote the sign, or else was a little bit late in posting it after he originally wrote it. So the Smash’s final judgment this time out: Saturday, October 11, 1890.

 

"A Case of Identity"

NOTABLE SINGLE RESIDENT AT BAKER STREET:
". . . Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street."

UNCHRONICLED CASE REFERENCE:
"But here" — I picked up the morning paper from the ground — "let us put it to a practical test. Here is the first heading upon which I come. ‘A husband’s cruelty to his wife.’"
"This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it."

SIGNIFICANT PASSAGE OF TIME:
"Ah," said he, "I forgot that I had not seen you for some weeks. It is a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for my assistance in the case of the Irene Adler papers."

NOTABLE STATE OF WATSON’S WRITING CAREER:
"I cannot confide it even to you, who have been good enough to chronicle one or two of my little problems."

PRIOR ACQUAINTANCE OF QUESTIONABLE VALUE:
"I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs. Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up for dead."

AGE REFERENCES OF QUESTIONABLE VALUE:
"Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds funny, too, for he is only five years and two months older than myself."
". . . she married again so soon after father’s death, and a man who was nearly fifteen years younger than herself."

SIGNIFICANT DAY REFERENCES:
"That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him."
"I advertised for him in last Saturday’s Chronicle."
"Missing [it said] on the morning of the fourteenth, a gentleman named Hosmer Angel."

EVENT REFERENCE OF QUESTIONABLE VALUE:
"You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, in Andover in ‘77, and there was something of the sort at The Hague last year."

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES TO PRIOR CASES:
"Once only had I known him to fail, in the case of the King of Bohemia and of the Irene Adler photograph; but when I looked back to the weird business of ‘The Sign of Four’, and the extraordinary circumstances connected with ‘A Study in Scarlet’, I felt that it would be a strange tangle indeed which he could not unravel.

STATE OF WATSON’S MEDICAL PRACTICE:
"A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at the
time, and the whole of next day I was busy at the bedside of the sufferer."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
October 18, 1887.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
October 9, 1889.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Spring is the time of courtship and mating urges, and it is spring to which we must inevitably consign "A Case of Identity," based on biology alone. Weeks have passed since Holmes saw Watson, and the detective has been rewarded for the Adler affair in that time, easily placing this case in spring of 1888, weeks after the late March doings of SCAN.
The ad in the Saturday paper advertises that Hosmer Angel is missing as of the morning of the 14th, which many chronologists assume means that the 14th was the day of the intended wedding (Friday). To me, Hosmer Angel wasn’t truly missing until the next night had passed without a word from him, and since the 14th of April 1888 falls handily on a Saturday, it seems to fill the bill quite nicely. Since Miss Sutherland has demonstrated her speed in taking recourse by getting the ad in Saturday’s paper following Friday’s wedding desertion, I have no doubt that she was on Holmes’s doorstep by Monday, making my date for this case’s beginning: Monday, April 16, 1888.
(One note of defense against an obvious question: When Holmes refers to "the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland" in October of 1890 (in REDH), he is not necessarily referring to IDEN. Like every good businessman, Sherlock Holmes did have repeat customers. As for the reference to SIGN, Watson is simply thinking about it as he writes the tale -- we can’t expect him to remember every though from years before.)

 

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"

WATSON’S MARITAL STATE:
"We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I . . ."

STATE OF WATSON’S PRACTICE:
"I have a fairly long list at present."
"Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you."

CURIOUS REFERENCE, NOT NECESSARILY REFERRING TO MRS. WATSON:
"I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained through one of them."

HOLMES’S STATEMENT OF THE DATE:
"On June 3d, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house . . ."
"Under these circumstances the young man was instantly arrested, and a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ having been returned at the inquest on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday brought before the magistrates at Ross."

PREVIOUS ACQUAINTANCE OF NOTE:
". . . and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with ‘A Study in Scarlet’, to work out the case in his interest."
"In spite of the light brown dustcoat and leather-leggings which he wore in deference to his rustic surroundings, I had no difficulty in recognizing Lestrade, of Scotland Yard."

YOUNG MCCARTHY’S TESTIMONY:
"I had been away from home for three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon the morning of last Monday, the 3d."

THE DATES OF MCCARTHY AND TURNER:
"McCarthy had one son, a lad of eighteen, and Turner had an only daughter of the same age, but neither of them had wives living."
"This fellow is madly, insanely, in love with her, but some two years ago, when he was only a lad, and before he really knew her, for she had been away five years at a boarding-school, what does the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol and marry her at a registry office?"
"About sixty; but his constitution has been shattered . . ."
"I have had diabetes for years. My doctor says it is a question whether I shall live a month."
"It was in the early ‘60’s at the diggings. There I parted from my old pals and determined to settle down to a quiet and respectable life. I bought this estate, which chanced to be in the market, and I set myself to do a little good with my money, to make up for the way in which I had earned it. I married, too, and though my wife died young she left me my dear little Alice."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
June 8, 1889.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
June 27, 1890.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
The key date around which "Boscombe Valley" revolves is plainly Monday, June 3rd, the day of the murder. As June 3rd falls on a Monday only in 1889 in the decade prior to BOSC’s publication, that is the date most chronologists begin their work with (others making much too much of a casual remark in STOC, but more on that when we get there). An inquest on the 4th follows the murder, followed by the magistrates on the 5th. Holmes read all this from newspapers in London, so Holmes and Watson’s involvement could not have possibly begun before Thursday the 6th . . . which is still quite a rush, especially since one of the papers came all the way from Herefordshire. And while Friday would seem a likely date, Dr. Watson and his wife are breakfasting very late for a weekday. Thus the Smash must go with conventional wisdom and actually agree with Baring-Gould: Saturday, June 8, 1889.

 

"The Five Orange Pips"
SIGNIFICANT PASSAGE OF TIME:
"When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years ‘82 and ‘90 . . ."

SIGNIFICANT YEAR REFERENCE:
"The year ‘87 furnished us with a long series of cases . . . the Paradol Chamber . . . the Amateur Mendicant Society . . . the British bark Sophy Anderson . . . the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa, and finally of the Camberwell poisoning case."

SIGNIFICANT MONTH REFERENCE:
"It was in the latter days of September . . ."

WATSON’S MARITAL STATUS:
"My wife was on a visit to her mother’s . . ."

PREVIOUS ENCOUNTERS OF NOTE:
"I heard from Major Prendergast how you saved him in the Tankerville Club scandal."
"I have been beaten four times — three times by men, and once by a woman."

THE DATES OF THE OPENSHAW CLAN:
"When Lee laid down his arms my uncle returned to his plantation, where he remained for three or four years. About 1869 or 1870 he came back to Europe and took a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham."
"He didn’t mind me; in fact, he took a fancy to me, for at the time when he saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so. This would be in the year 1878, after he had been eight or nine years in England."
" . . . by the time that I was sixteen I was quite master of the house."
"One day -- it was in March, 1883 — a letter with a foreign stamp lay upon
the table in front of the colonel’s plate."
"The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks later,
upon the night of May 2d."
"Well, it was the beginning of ‘84 when my father came to live at Horsham, and all went as well as possible with us until the January of ‘85. On the fourth day after the new year I heard my father give a sharp cry of surprise as we sat together at the breakfast-table."
"On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home
to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody . . . . Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits
"It was in January, ‘85, that my poor father met his end, and two years
and eight months have elapsed since then."
"It was headed, "March, 1869," and beneath were the following enigmatical notices:
"4th. Hudson came. Same old platform.
"7th. Set the pips on McCauley, Paramore, and John Swain, of St. Augustine.
"9th. McCauley cleared.
"10th. John Swain cleared.
"12th. Visited Paramore. All well."

WATSON PROMOTES HIS PREVIOUS BOOK:
"I think, Watson," he remarked at last, "that of all our cases we have had none more fantastic than this."
"Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
September 29, 1887.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
September 24, 1889.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Here we have an excellent case of a Watsonian fork in the road: on one hand, Watson makes clear year and month references that are backed up by the client’s date-filled tale. On the other hand, we have a reference to "The Sign of Four" and a wife who has a mother. More conservative Sherlockians of the past tried with all their might to keep Watson married to only one woman, and have that one woman be Mary Morstan. As a result, they want to ignore the year and keep the month, ignore the mother and keep the SIGN. The Smash has to go back to his Number One Rule on this one: Trust Watson.
And following that rule, I have to lay down my second rule of chronology: If one argues in front of Watson’s dates, one inevitably starts twisting dates to suit marriages, rather than letting dates dictate marriages. (And everyone knows dates lead to marriages.)
Accepting the dates and the wife with a mother, we are left with only that pesky SIGN reference, which is easy to see as shameless self-promotion on Watson’s part: "If you think this case is great, buy ‘The Sign of Four,’ available at all better book stalls!"
Which, in turn, leaves us with only one question: what was the day this case started? For that, we must turn to the handiwork of Captain Calhoun of the Lone Star. On Wednesday, May 2, 1883, Captain Calhoun killed Elias Opensaw. On Friday, January 9, 1885, Captain Calhoun killed Joseph Openshaw. And on Friday, September 16, 1887, Captain Calhoun killed John Openshaw. Why that particular day? Why five orange pips and only five? Ritual, of course. Calhoun was a pattern killer, and even though life at sea made it hard to adhere to his patterns perfectly, they’re still there. He killed Openshaw #2 exactly one year, eight months, and seven days after Openshaw #1. Then Openshaw #3 dies exactly two years, eight months, and seven days after Openshaw #2. Was the added year a purposeful change, or just the result of fitting his pattern around his seagoing schedule?
Who knows with these mass murderers? Whatever the reason, I’m dating this case at Friday, September 16, 1887.

 

"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
WATSON’S DEFINITE DATE REFERENCE:
"One night--it was in June, ‘89--there came a ring to my bell . . ."
"Of Friday, June 19th."

WATSON’S MARITAL STATUS:
"Or should you rather that I sent James off to bed?" (In other words, married, but to a wife unsure of his name.)

ISA WHITNEY’S DRUG SCHEDULE:
"But now the spell had been upon him eight-and-forty hours . . ."
"I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday."
"I tell you that it is Friday, man."

THE DATES OF NEVILLE ST. CLAIR:
"Some years ago--to be definite, in May, 1884 — there came to Lee a gentleman, Neville St. Clair by name . . . in 1887 he married the daughter of a local brewer, by whom he now has two children."
"Last Monday Mr. Neville St. Clair went into town . . ."

INSPECTOR BRADSTREET’S ELAPSED CAREER:
"Well, I have been twenty-seven years in the force, but this really takes the cake."

DURATION OF MRS. ST. CLAIR’S ORDEAL:
"That note only reached her yesterday," said Holmes.
"Good God! What a week she must have spent!"

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
June 18, 1887.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
June 21, 1889

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Funny thing about "Twisted Lip" -- Watson argues with a man who has supposedly been smoking opium for two days straight about what day it is, and only succeeds in confusing him (and us) all the more.
When Watson tells Isa Whitney that it’s Friday, June 19th, what is Isa’s response? "Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday." Watson assumes the "it" in Whitney’s statement refers to the current day, but it’s obvious to anyone with a calendar for 1889 that what Whitney is really saying is "I thought June 19th was Wednesday." And June 19th was a Wednesday in 1889.
For a man supposedly in an opium stupor, Isa Whitney seems to be on the ball about what day June 19th was on. Had he really been smoking for two days straight? Watson trusts Kate Whitney’s word that Whitney has been lost to dope for 48 hours. But was she exaggerating, just to get the Watsons’s help? I think so. Whitney knew he’d only been at the Bar of Gold a few hours, just as he knew that the 19th was Wednesday.
Like most of us, Watson knew what day of the week it was. He just wasn’t clear on the number attached to it. Thankfully, he had a friend like Isa who was unselfish enough to try to straighten him out, even when embroiled in massive problems of his own (opium and a scheming wife).
The Smash’s final conclusion: Going with the crowd, Friday, June 21, 1889 for this one.

 

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

THE MOST FAMOUS DATE REFERENCE IN THE CANON:
"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas . . ."

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES TO OTHER CASES:
" . . . of the last six cases which I have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legal crime."
"Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers, to the singular case of Miss Mary Sutherland, and to the adventure of the man with the twisted lip.

LENGTH OF TIME SINCE BAKER HAD CASH:
"If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world."

RECONFIRMING THE DATE:
"Precisely so, on December 22d, just five days ago."

STATE OF WATSON’S PRACTICE:
"I shall continue my professional round. But I shall come back in the evening . . ."

THE ARRIVAL OF THE BIRD:
"This year our good host, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club, by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to receive a bird at Christmas."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
December 27, 1887.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
December 27, 1889.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
It’s a testimony to the power of "Blue Carbuncle" that no one, but NO ONE denies that this case began on December 27 -- a really remarkable thing, when one considers how fast and loose Sherlockian scholars have played with much more plainly stated dates. As for the year, well as the latest of the three cases Watson refers to as most recent in his chronicles in TWIS, which has 1889 written all over it (literally). Thus the Smash must go with the crowd once more on this one: Friday, December 27, 1889.
Added note: Holmes’s statement of the three cases of Watson’s last six sounds as though the chronology student is now limited to placing five, and only five, cases between SCAN and BLUE. Could Watson have participated in a case and not taken notes on it during that period, only to write it up later?

 

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"

THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE OCCURRENCE AND THE WRITING:
"On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes . . ."

SIGNIFICANT COMMENTS BY WATSON:
"The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given."

SIGNIFICANT DATE REFERENCE:
"It was early in April in the year ‘83 . . ."

SIGNIFICANT MORNING REFERENCE:
"He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits."

THE TIMES OF THE ROYLOTTS:
"In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage. As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed man."
"When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, the young widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my mother’s re-marriage. She had a considerable sum of money--not less than L1000 a year--and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return to England my mother died --she was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establish himself in practice in London and took us to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran."
"Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet . . ."
"She was but thirty at the time of her death . . ."
"She died just two years ago . . ."
"Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred . . ."
"Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the honour to ask my hand in marriage."
" . . . we are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building . . ."

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES TO NATURAL EVENT:
"It is a little cold for the time of the year."
"But I have heard that the crocuses promise well."

THE SCHEDULE OF THE WORKMEN:
"Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building . . ."
" . . . there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
April 6, 1883.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
Early in April 1883, probably April 4,1883.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
The statement "early in April in the year ‘83" is clear enough, and no chronologer disputes it. The day is the item of question on this case, and my first impression on that score is that Watson would not be so annoyed at being awakened at 7:15 if it were not a day he fully expected to sleep as long as he wanted . . . a Sunday. Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler argues that it was not a Sunday, as Watson would not have felt compelled to state that the workmen were not at Stoke Moran if it were a Sunday, as the assumption would have been obvious to the reader. Yet Watson does not tell us that it was Sunday, so we have no basis for making Zeisler’s assumption. Zeisler also argues against Sunday, stating that Holmes could not have visited the Doctors Commons to check out Roylott on a Sunday . . . which I think shows little faith in the resources and connections of Sherlock Holmes. A regular person might not have been able to do the research on a Sunday, but the master detective on a mission of immediate life-or-death importance? That is another story. Quarter past seven is only a resentful hour to young bachelors on the morning after their Saturday night recreations, and thus I’m sticking this tale on Sunday, April 1, 1883.
Was SPEC the true first case of working with Holmes that Watson recorded? I find nothing in SPEC that disproves my earlier assertion in the STUD Chronology Corner. Watson’s confession that he promised to keep this tale secret until after a certain lady’s death gives him a good reason for using STUD first, even though SPEC was the more remarkable tale . . . perhaps even the thing that inspired him to start writing up Holmes’s cases to begin with. He surely must have had the writing of it in mind while he was still in contact with Helen Stoner, or else the promise not to write of it would not have even come up. And that promise also shows us exactly why he decided to publish STUD first . . . all of the main players in the crime are dead by the time the case is done.
In VEIL, Watson makes the statement, "When one considers that Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings . . ." Knowing that Watson was doing so in September of 1903 (CREE), subtracting the three years when Watson thought Holmes dead, one gets the year 1883 as the year that Holmes started allowing Watson to "cooperate with him." Unless one can prove a falling out between the two during some other period, I think the VEIL statement backs up my assertion of SPEC’s claim to being the prime Canonical tale.
Having said all that, I’ll go one step further and proclaim April Fool’s Day as a new Sherlockian holiday . . . the day our Canon truly begins. Not in the Afghan war, not as Watson graduated from medical school, and not as he and Holmes became room-mates, innocent of each other’s career plans. It all truly began on a day when Holmes woke a resentful Watson from a peaceful morning-after slumber to head into what is perhaps THE classic among their adventures together. On April Fool’s Day . . .

 

"The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb"

SIGNIFICANT SEASON AND YEAR REFERENCE:
"It was in the summer of ‘89, not long after my marriage, that the events occurred which I am now about to summarize."

STATE OF WATSON’S PRACTICE:
"I had returned to civil practice and had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms, although I continually visited him and occasionally even persuaded him to forego his Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us. My practice had steadily increased, and as I happened to live at no very great distance from Paddington Station, I got a few patients from among the officials."

TIME OF WATSON WAKE-UP:
"One morning, at a little before seven o’clock, I was awakened by the maid tapping at the door to announce that two men had come from Paddington and were waiting in the consulting-room."

THE TIMES OF VICTOR HATHERLY:
"He was young, not more than five-and-twenty . . ."
"I have had considerable experience of my work during the seven years that I was apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-known firm, of Greenwich. Two years ago, having served my time, and having also come into a fair sum of money through my poor father’s death, I determined to start in business for myself and took professional chambers in Victoria Street."
"During two years I have had three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my profession has brought me. My gross takings amount to L27 10s. Every day, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my little den, until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should never have any practice at all."
"Yesterday, however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, my clerk entered . . ."
"He was plainly but neatly dressed, and his age, I should judge, would be nearer forty than thirty."

SIGNIFICANT DAY REFERENCE:
"It appeared in all the papers about a year ago." "Listen to this: ‘Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged twenty-six, a hydraulic engineer.’"

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
September 7, 1889.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
September 8, 1889.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
It’s the summer of 1889. Watson is not only married, his practice is well established, and he is high on Holmes’s abilities over Scotland Yard, steering Hatherly away from the police and toward his old friend. Watson is also still in close enough contact with Holmes and Mrs. Hudson to expect that showing up with a guest for breakfast will not be an imposition -- the kind of thing only a close family member can get away with, so he is not far out of their lives. As both BOSC and TWIS took place in June of that summer, and both featured Holmes succeeding significantly where the police had failed, I would have to place ENGI close on the heels of those two cases, the latter of which occurred on June 21.
As "the 9th inst." means "the 9th of this month," we know that Jeremiah Hayling’s disappearance was in all the papers sometime in the latter two-thirds of the month he disappeared in, which was "about a year ago." This would seem to confirm dating the case in the final part of June.
The fact that the maid has to wake Dr. Watson up at 7 a.m. during the early-dawn month of June says "sleep-in Sunday" to me, and adding that to all the preceding data, I place "Engineer’s Thumb" on Sunday, June 30, 1889.

 

"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"

WATSON’S MARITAL STATE:
"It was a few weeks before my own marriage, during the days when I was still sharing rooms with Holmes in Baker Street, that he came home from an afternoon stroll to find a letter on the table waiting for him. I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds . . ."

AND THE SEASON ONCE MORE:
"Draw your chair up and hand me my violin, for the only problem we have still to solve is how to while away these bleak autumnal evenings."

LORD ST. SIMON’S LIFETIME:
"Born in 1846. He’s forty-one years of age . . ."
"Lord St. Simon, who has shown himself for over twenty years proof against the little god’s arrows . . ."
"As it is an open secret that the Duke of Balmoral has been compelled to sell his pictures within the last few years . . ."
"It is in the personal column of the Morning Post, and dates, as you see, some weeks back."
"There was a paragraph amplifying this in one of the society papers of the same week."
"An important addition has been made during the last week to the list of the prizes which have been borne away by these charming invaders."
"When did you first meet Miss Hatty Doran?"
"In San Francisco, a year ago."
"My wife was twenty before her father became a rich man."
"Her father brought her over for this last London season."

THE WEDDING DAY:
"Two days later--that is, on Wednesday last--there is a curt announcement that the wedding had taken place . . ."
"Such as they are, they are set forth in a single article of a morning paper of yesterday . . ."
"The ceremony, as shortly announced in the papers of yesterday, occurred on the previous morning . . ."

FHM’S HOTEL BILL:
"Oct. 4th, rooms 8s., breakfast 2s. 6d., cocktail 1s., lunch 2s. 6d., glass sherry, 8d."
"More valuable still was it to know that within a week he had settled his bill at one of the most select London hotels."

FRANK AND HATTIE’S DATES:
"Frank here and I met in ‘84, in McQuire’s camp, near the Rockies, where pa was working a claim. We were engaged to each other, Frank and I; but then one day father struck a rich pocket and made a pile . . ."
" . . .then Frank went off to seek his fortune . . ."
" . . . there was my Frank’s name among the killed. I fainted dead away, and I was very sick for months after. Pa thought I had a decline and took me to half the doctors in ‘Frisco. Not a word of news came for a year and more, so that I never doubted that Frank was really dead. Then Lord St. Simon came to ‘Frisco . . ."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
October 8, 1886.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
December 7, 1888.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Well, taking Lord St. Simon’s birth year and adding his age (also considering the fact that it’s autumn and his birthday has most likely passed for that year), the case probably takes place in 1887, with 1888 as an outside possibility if his birthday was past mid-October. Frank and Hattie met in 1884, and over two years have passed since that time, seeming to confirm an 1887 or 1888 date.
But then comes the matter of Frank Moulton’s hotel bill for October 4th, used as note-paper for a note he slipped Hattie Doran on the day of her wedding. As the wedding was reported the next day in a Wednesday newspaper, it plainly occurred on a Tuesday. In 1887, October 4 occurs on a Tuesday. In 1888, on a Thursday. As it would seem much more likely for a fellow to be carrying his hotel bill on the same day he received it, rather than sometime the next week, we find confirmation of 1887 as the year.
For Holmes and Watson,then, the case begins two days later, on Thursday, October 6, 1887.

 

"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"

WATSON’S CURRENT PLACE OF RESIDENCE:
"Holmes," said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window . . .

STATEMENT OF THE MONTH:
"It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun."

THE DAYS OF THE TRANSACTION:
"Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bank when a card was brought in . . ."
"Next Monday I have a large sum due to me . . ."
"I should not dream of doing so were it not absolutely certain that I should be able in four days to reclaim it."
"I leave it with you, however, with every confidence, and I shall call for it in person on Monday morning."

AGES AND TIMES OF THE HOLDER FAMILY:
"He was a man of about fifty . . ."
"She is my niece; but when my brother died five years ago and left her alone in the world I adopted her . . ."
"She is four-and-twenty."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
December 19, 1890.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
February 19, 1886.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
While my usual method is to follow Watson’s dates and let marriages sort themselves out later, "Beryl Coronet" is the first example of a situation where Watson’s marital status must be used to help determine part of the date. We know it is February and Watson is unmarried and at Baker Street, speaking of "our bow-window." As the tale was published in 1892, that bachelor limitation holds us to the years 1882 thru 1887.
Within that six year span, I would conjecture that 1886 is the most likely suspect, for one reason and one reason alone: Holder’s client has that large sum of money coming due on Monday. And while Monday is a fine day for debts to come due, I think it much more likely that the first of the month was the real day that the debt came due. As March 1st fell on a Monday in 1886, I would then place this case’s beginning on Friday, February 26, 1886.

 

"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

THE SOLE SIGNIFICANT TIME REFERENCE:
"It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street."

REFERENCES TO CASES PAST:
"The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law."

THE ABSENCE OF MORIARTY:
"But, indeed, if you are trivial, I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality."

THE LIFE AND DATES OF VIOLET HUNTER:
"I have been a governess for five years in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia . . ."
"Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual, but I found that Miss Stoper was not alone."
"I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in my mind now. I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair to-night, and start for Winchester to-morrow."
"For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was very quiet; on the third, Mrs. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whispered something to her husband."
"Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactly similar circumstances."
"I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs. Rucastle drew down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again in the window, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road."

THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE DOG:
"On the very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a small outhouse which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about."
". . .for two nights later I happened to look out of my bedroom window about two o’clock in the morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered over and almost as bright as day. I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was aware that something was moving under the shadow of the copper beeches. As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it was. It was a giant dog."

HOLMES RESUMES THE CASE:
"The telegram which we eventually received came late one night just as I was thinking of turning in and Holmes was settling down to one of those all-night chemical researches which he frequently indulged in."
"By eleven o’clock the next day we were well upon our way."

THE SEASON ASSERTS ITSELF:
"It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a man’s energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and gray roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage."
"I had no difficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must be back before three o’clock, for Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle are going on a visit, and will be away all the evening"
"Mr. Fowler and Miss Rucastle were married, by special license, in Southampton the day after their flight."

WHAT THE BARING-GOULD ANNOTATED SAYS:
April 5, 1889.

WHAT ZEISLER, THE KING OF CHRONOLOGY, SAYS:
April 7, 1890.

THE BIRLSTONE RAILWAY’S TIMETABLE:
Watson has saved the best test of a chronologer for last in the "Adventures" tales. "Copper Beeches" has astoundingly little data -- no years, months, or days of the week mentioned directly. All we get is "early spring," a Watson who is plainly at Baker Street (though refers to the sitting room as "old"), and a number of cases that are in the past.
Based on that list of cases Holmes mentions, and the dates I’ve already assigned to them, SOLI must take place after 1889. The fact that Holmes is complaining about the lack of criminal challenges means the matter pre-dates Moriarty and Holmes’s 1891 war on the Professor’s organization. Only 1890 remains.
And while Watson was surely married at that time, his words "the old room at Baker Street" would tend to confirm that he was just back for a lengthy visit. Why was he visiting? The tale’s opening paragraphs should be enough to answer that question. Watson was back in Baker Street making his first attempts at writing up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, soaking up the old, familiar atmosphere and having full access to Holmes’s notes to supplement his own. As The Sign of the Four was just published in February of 1890, it would seem only natural for Watson to be making such an endeavor in March of 1890.
As a considerate husband, of course, Watson would not just pack up and leave his wife if she were not already away on a visit of her own . . . a fairly long visit, it would seem, as Watson is still at Baker Street when Miss Hunter’s telegram arrives. Why would a husband and wife be apart for so long in the spring, that time when romance is at its peak? My answer would be this:
They gave each other up for Lent.
Sacrificing that thing they loved the most for the period between Ash Wednesday (March 5, 1890) and Easter Sunday (April 20, 1890). Considering that Watson has already presented Holmes with four tales at the story’s outset, which is sixty pages worth in the Doubleday complete, estimating Watson’s writing speed at a solid six pages a day, factoring in the most likely days for Miss Hunter to be checking Westaway’s for job openings, my conclusion is this: COPP begins on Tuesday, March 18, 1890.

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