Three Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Steve Earle
This Play is the copyright of the Author and may not be performed, copied or sold without the Author's prior consent
27 December, 1888
Lights rise to reveal Sherlock Holmes asleep on a sofa by the
fireplace in his bohemian flat. He is dressed in a purple dressing
gown. Across from the sofa is a table and 2 wooden chairs. On the
angle at the back of one of the chairs hangs a very seedy and
disreputable hard-felt hat, much worse for wear and cracked in several
places. A lens and forceps on the seat of the chair suggest that the
hat has been suspended there for examination. There is a large
painting of an English landscape in a gold-gilded frame over the
fireplace mantle. The fire is almost dead. On a table beside him we
see a pipe, a bag of tobacco, an ashtray in need of emptying and
medical vials. The flat is unkempt and full of empty plates,
glasses, open books and newspapers. Letters and pieces of paper are
stacked everywhere. There is a gas lamp giving off the tiniest bit of
light into the room.
As Holmes lies fast asleep, we see a video projection of his dream.
(Note: this play may be performed with or without stage projections.
The projected photos and videos used in the original production are
indicated in the script). A floating silhouette of Holmes joins a
crowd of silhouettes standing in a theatre shouting “Brava” as Irene
Adler, a bouquet of roses in hand, bows after an opera performance.
In a flash, we see the silhouette of Holmes now standing in the wings
staring at Irene. She turns to him, beckoning him to come to her.
He moves toward her and almost takes her in his arms as she disappears
and Holmes is left center stage facing a jeering crowd. They, too
abruptly fade away as Holmes is left alone in a dark, empty theater.
During the Video, we hear Watson's voice.
Watson (Voice Over)
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him
mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and
predominates the whole of her sex. It is not that he felt any emotion
akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions and that one particularly,
were abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind. He
was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that
the world has seen: but, as a lover he would have placed himself in a
false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a
gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the
observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and
actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into
his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a
distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental
results. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was
Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
A sharp rap at the door of his flat wakes him from his slumber and we
are out of the video and live onstage. Holmes rises and goes to the
door. Watson enters and Holmes eyes him up and down.
Ah! Of course, Watson! Only you would visit me so early in the
I beg your pardon, Holmes! I was out on an early errand and noticed
the light in your window. I can come back later.
Nonsense, old man. It is so good to see you! Wedlock suits you. I
think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I
Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I
fancy Watson. And back seeing patients again, I observe. You did not
tell me you intended to resume your practice.
Then how do you know?
I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting
yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless
My dear Holmes, this is too much! You would certainly have been
burned at the stake had you lived a few centuries ago! It is true
that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful
mess; but, as I have changed my clothes, I can't imagine how you
deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has
given her notice; but there, again, I fail to see how you work it
It is simplicity itself. My eyes tell me that on the inside of your
left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored
by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by
someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in
order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double
deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a
particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavery.
As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of
iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right
forefinger, and a bulge on the side of his top-hat to show where he
has stored his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed if I do not
pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession.
(Laughing) When I hear you give your reasons, the thing always
appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it
myself! However at each successive instance of your reasoning I am
baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my
eyes are as good as yours.
Quite so. You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is
clear. For example you have frequently seen the steps which lead up
from the hall to this room.
Well, some hundreds of times.
Then, how many are there?
How many? I don't know.
Quite so! You have not observed, and yet you have seen. That is
just my point. By the way, since you are interested in these little
problems, you may be interested in this (pointing to the hat). The
matter is a perfectly trivial one, but there are points in connection
with it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even of
Ah. But Holmes. . .
Yes. Seventeen steps. That was to be your question was it not?
Ah. Yes. Seventeen. (Sitting down to look at the hat) I suppose
that, homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked onto
it—that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some
mystery and the punishment of some crime.
(laughing) No, no. No crime. Only one of those whimsical little
incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings
all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles. Amid
the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity every possible
combination of events may be expected to take place and many a little
problem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without
You know Peterson, the commissionaire?
Yes. It is his hat?
No, no; he found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you will look
at it as an intellectual problem. It arrived upon Christmas morning,
in company with a good fat goose, which is, I have no doubt, roasting
at this moment in front of Peterson's fire. The facts are these:
about four o'clock on Christmas morning, Peterson was returning from
some small jollification, and was making his way homeward down
Tottenham Court Road. (a video of the following action replaces the
landscape painting in the frame above the fireplace). In front of him
he saw, in the gaslight, a tallish man walking with a slight stagger
and carrying a white goose slung over his shoulder. As he reached the
corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out between this stranger and a
little knot of roughs. One of them knocked off the man's hat, on
which he raised his stick to defend himself, and swinging it over his
head, smashed the shop window behind him. Peterson had rushed forward
to protect the stranger from his assailants; but the man, shocked at
having broken the window, and seeing an official-looking person in
uniform rushing towards him, dropped his goose, took to his heels and
vanished amid the labyrinth of small streets which lie in that area.
The roughs also fled at the appearance of Peterson so that he was left
in possession of this battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas
Which surely he restored to their owner.
My dear fellow, there lies the problem. It is true that “For Mrs.
Henry Baker” was printed upon a small card which was tied to the
bird's left leg, and it is also true that the initials “H.B.” are
legible upon the lining of his hat; but that there are some thousands
of “Bakers,” and some hundreds of Henry Bakers in this fair city of
ours, it is not easy to restore lost property to any one of them.
What, then, did Peterson do?
He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning
knowing that even the smallest of problems are of interest to me. The
goose we retained until last evening, when there were signs that, in
spite of the slight frost, it should be cooked and eaten without
delay. Its finder has carried it off, therefore to fulfill the
ultimate destiny of a goose, while I continue to retain the hat of the
unknown gentleman who lost his Christmas dinner.
Did he not advertise it in the papers?
Then what clue could you have as to his identity?
Only as much as we can deduce .
From his hat?
But you are joking! What can you gather from this old battered
That the man is highly intellectual is obvious upon the face of it,
and also that he was fairly well-to do within the last three
years—although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight,
but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression,
which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate
some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may
account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love
My dear Holmes!
He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect. He is a man
who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of physical
training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had
cut within the last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream.
You are certainly joking, Holmes.
By no means.
I have no doubt that I am very stupid; but I must confess that I am
unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man
(Places the hat on his head—it falls over his eyes and rests on the
bridge of his nose). It is a question of cubic capacity! A man with
so large a brain must have something in it. (They both laugh
The decline of his fortunes, then?
This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge
came into style then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at
the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this man could
afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has not bought a
hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world.
Well, that is clear enough certainly, but what about the foresight
and the more retrogression?
(Putting his finger on a the little disc and loop of a hat-securer)
Here is the foresight—-a hat securer. They are always sold
separately. If this man ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amount
of foresight, since he went out of his way to take this precaution
against the wind. But since we see that the elastic is broken and he
has not troubled to replace it, it is obvious that he has less
foresight now than formerly, which is a distinct proof of a weakening
I suppose so. . .
On the other hand, he has endeavored to conceal some of these stains
upon the felt by daubing them with ink which is a sign that he has not
entirely lost his self-respect.
Well, your reasoning is certainly plausible.
The further points that he is middle-age, that his hair is grizzled,
that it has been recently cut, and that he uses lime-cream are all to
be gathered from a close examination of the lower part of the lining.
There we find a large number of hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors
of the barber. They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a
distinct odor of lime-cream. This dust, you will observe, is not the
gritty, gray dust of the street, but the fluffy brown dust of the
house, show that it has been hung up indoors most of the time; while
the marks of moisture upon the inside are proof positive that the
wearer perspired very freely, and could, therefore hardly be in the
best of physical shape.
But his wife—you said that she had ceased to love the poor man.
This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear
Watson, with a week's accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when
your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you
also have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife's affection.
Ah ha! But he might be a bachelor!
Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to his wife.
Remember the card upon the bird's leg.
Confound it! You have an answer to everything! (laughing) Well, it
is very ingenious, but since there has been no crime committed, and no
harm done, save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a
waste of energy.
EXCERPT FROM SCENE 4
Holmes flat goes away and is replaced (video?) by a stables with a
few stage props such as a barrel and haystack to sit on. Three
groomsmen are drinking pints, smoking pipes and telling tales.
Simon (a Groomsman)
Agh! 'twas the funniest sight you ever laid yer eyes upon! So's
he's bendin' over so as to remove the shoe from the old chestnut mare
when Ollie comes runnin' in screamin' bloody murder, “Ah! The devil's
after me, Oh, lord, save me, the devil's after me.” Ruddy jerks
hisself up to see what in the bloody hell's goin' on—in doin' so he
frightens the daylights outa' the mare and she kicks back with such a
force as to knock him out cold—lost two of his front teeth, he
did—and Ollie goes flyin' by with an ole' milk bucket tangled up in a
bit a' rope draggin' behind him and makin that awful racket!
Ollie (a groomsman)
Ah, fer Pete's sake, Simon. How many times you gonna tell that awful
story. How was I to know it was a bucket caught in that rope? It
was dark as pitch out there that night.
And if that weren't enough of a scare for 'ol Ollie here, after Ruddy
come's to and recognizes what's done happened to him; he clobbers
Ollie real good for scarin' the daylights out 'f 'im! Look, here!
(goes to Ollie and pulls back his hair exposing a scar on his
forehead) He give 'im this permanent reminder to always hang his
milkin' bucket on the hook where it belongs from here on out!
(Everyone except Ollie laugh heartily—a stranger enters to break the
(Dressed as a drunken-looking groom). Afternoon all. Sorry ta
interrupt yer tea time, just wanderin' if you know anywhere a
hard-workin' horseman can make a few shillings?
Nah. Sorry mate. Times is rough right now and work's hard to come
by. But if ya want to help me rub down them three horses in a bit,
I'll share a pint and a fill or two of shag with ya.
I'd be much obliged. (he sits and takes a glass). So I take it
there's nothin' to be had over at the Briony Lodge there? I noticed a
neat little landau there and a stables out behind the garden.
(Laughing) Oh, now don't we all want to be workin' there! There
lives the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this here planet!
Aye, don't she though! There resides Miss Irene Adler. She turns
all the men's heads down in these parts!
Sure she does. Ollie's especially! You'll find him sneakin' outside
the Lodge most days at five o'clock tryin' to catch a glimpse of 'er
all dolled up and leaving for her daily outing.
Aw, stuff it Simon. You do the same—and you'll be caught waitin'
for her to return every evenin' at seven sharp.
She lives real quiet-like, but she goes out every day regular as
clock work to sing at the church.
Every now and then she'll sing at a local concert. Used to be a
famous operatic star they say.
Is she ever in the company of anyone?
A man you mean
Yeah. Only one. But she's with him real regular-like. He calls at
least once each and every day.
Often twice! He's dark and handsome. Right dashin' you might say.
He's a lawyer. I know, I've driven him dozens of times.
You don't say.
His name's Mr. Godfrey Norton of the Inner Temple. He's quite
Well, you wouldn't know it by his lousy tips. Stingy ol' bastard!
Hardly a shilling for driving him through the rain and the mud.
Godfrey Norton enters DSR and does not notice the others. He is
trying to hail a cab.
Wait, hang on a minute. Here comes the stingy ole' geezer now. And
ain't he all decked out in 'is finest threads.
That's him sure enough. What's he up to now? (We hear a
horse-driven coach arrive and stop).
(To an offstage cab driver) Driver! Drive like the devil! First to
Gross &Hankey's in Regent Street, and then to the church of St.
Monica in the Edgware Road. Half a guinea if you do it in twenty
minutes! (He rushes offstage and 'into the cab.”).
Fascinating! What's this about?
Irene Adler rushes out. She goes to the same DSR position as Norton
and we hear her carriage approach and stop.
And wouldn't you just know it. There's the lady herself.
Ooo eee! And would you look at the dress she's wearin'!
The Church of St. Monica, John! And half a sovereign if you reach it
in twenty minutes! (We hear the carriage quickly pull away)
Somethin' strange is brewin' I just know it!
Don't that just beat all!
[end of extract]
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