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Winner: The Adventure of the Dartmoor Scarf
By Regina Williams

London was experiencing another of her bleak fall days; the wind howling around the buildings and the rain pelting the windows. Holmes and I sat companionably before the fire, myself perusing the pages of The Times, having dispensed with The Daily Telegraph and The Standard. Holmes was in lethargic stupor, sunk in his chair, his feet stretched before the fire, exuding a cloud of blue smoke from his pipe.

There had been no cases of interest for several weeks and Holmes was growing ever more restive. As he puffed on his pipe, his gaze fixed — not for the first time — on the morocco case in the corner of the mantelpiece. Rustling my newspaper imperiously merely brought a thin smile to Holmes' aquiline features.

“Holmes,” I said, “why not do something constructive instead of resorting to cocaine? Perhaps you could play the violin?”

He remained silent, fingertips together, enigmatically studying the ceiling.

“I completely fail to see your attraction to the use of drugs, Holmes.”

“Am I to be burdened with another of your lectures, Doctor?” Holmes' tone was frightfully calm.

In desperation, I remembered my wife's knitting circle and how much pleasure it brought her. “You could knit yourself a scarf to ward off London's icy winter weather.”

“Bah!” he countered acidly, getting up to refill his pipe.

“Perhaps you find it beneath you to knit? You're certainly adept enough, having played the violin for so many years.”

“But music, Watson,” Holmes gestured broadly with his Persian slipper, “fulfills the inner man. It is creation itself!”

“And making something useful isn't? Besides, knitting involves counting, just like music.”

“Do you mean knitting is an algorithm?” Holmes looked querulously at me through the heavy smoke drifting in the room. “Watson, do you seriously expect me to equate Mendelssohn's Lieder with knitting?”

“If not a scarf,” I continued doggedly, “perhaps a pair of those fingerless gloves you're so fond of when you go skulking around the alleyways of London. Do tell, would a study of knitting be any more arcane than a monograph on tobacco ash?”

“I have traced murderers through the ashes left at a crime scene, Watson,” he fairly snarled, “do you expect the same result from a knowledge of knitting?”

“You, Doctor,” said Holmes, indicating me with his pipe and throwing himself onto the sofa, “are merely trying to thwart my use of drugs as relief of ennui.”

“Certainly!” I cried, “Learning something to keep yourself occupied would be a deterrent to the use of cocaine.” (I must say, after Holmes' uncivil attitude, I was enjoying acting as devil's advocate.)

“Ah idle hands and all that, eh, Doctor?” Holmes nested himself more comfortably amidst the papers on the sofa and sat blowing smoke rings. “Why should I make a scarf myself when I can easily purchase one ready-made?” His tone effectively put an end to our conversation.

The next morning, having returned to our rooms from making my early morning rounds, I found Holmes busy graphing diagrams of some sort. He wore his purple dressing gown and the room was wreathed in a miasma of cigarette smoke. There were papers and musical scores scattered over the desk. His mind must have been working feverishly, for there was evidence that he had missed the coffee saucer more than once.


“Ah, Holmes, developing a new code?”

“Cipher, Watson, cipher.” He grumbled, but provided no further explanation.

Holmes donned his ulster and cloth hat, bidding me farewell with no mention of his destination. The remainder of the day passed slowly; I busied myself with my backlog of medical journals. Holmes was back late, and said little over a supper of cold beef and beer.

The following morning, Holmes was again working on his diagrams, his coffee cold and cigarette mostly ash. This time, however, there was a most curious object among the papers.


“I can create a motif for the notes, but once knitted, there is no delineation between them. I'm at a bit of a loss as how to construct the fabric so the cipher is readable.” I gave a start of surprise at his remark.

“Watson,” he said exasperatedly, “I noted your intake of breath as you spied the knitted swatch on the table. I have been attempting to transpose Mendelssohn's Opus 102 into a cipher for a scarf.”

“So those are knitting needles?” I queried?

“Certainly not,” countered Holmes, “they are laboratory skewers.”

His attempt at wry humour was not lost on me, but now I was truly alarmed. “Holmes, this isn't one of your cases to be puzzled out. It's knitting! There's no need to devise something as obscure as transposing an entire concerto into wool.” (Was Holmes exhibiting the first symptoms of brain fever?) “Where did you get the wool and needles anyway?”

“From Dartmoor, Watson. The family of Colonel Ross were only too glad to let me have some of their wool and spare knitting needles. The women were even good enough to show me the rudiments of the craft.”

Holmes sat tapping his pen on the table, and lit another cigarette. “Perhaps you're right, Watson. What say we go for a ramble?” We spent a pleasant couple of hours ambling through the side streets of London, talking little as befits friends comfortable with silences.

Upon our return to Baker Street, Mrs Hudson had a note for me from Henry Friar, one of my oldest patients. Calling a hansom to take me round to his lodgings, I bid Holmes farewell. When I returned, it was late, but Holmes was awake, sprawled in a chair in front of the fire, lids drooping.

“And how is your patient, Watson?”

“Not as dire as I was led to believe. He likely wanted company as much as medical advice.”

After I had settled in front of the fire with hot coffee and a cigarette, Holmes surprised me once again.

“Do you know Watson,” he queried, “that there is only one stitch in knitting?”

I looked askance at him, sipped coffee, but said nothing.

Holmes went on as if I had responded, “The purl stitch is certainly the knit stitch produced from the opposite side. While I was testing this one-stitch theory, I realised that I could learn to knit from both directions. He sat forward in his chair, elbows on his knees and eyes glittering with enthusiasm. “Also, with variations of this one stitch, an infinite amount of constructions can be knit. Twisted stitches and cables are merely stitches worked out of order. Just think, Watson, the simple expedient of adding rows or shifting a motif a half-drop opens up more possibilities than can be imagined.”

My mind was reeling to the extent that I was unable to speak. Surely this was not the world's first consulting detective, but some being who had taken on his likeness much as he himself took on the likeness of a common loafer or drunken groom.

Holmes arose and shuffled through the papers on the table. “See here, Watson,” he plucked a piece of knitting from amidst the papers, dropping a needle and sending yarn and papers skittering across the floor. “I have knitted another swatch. These patterns are reversible, but not quite what I'm searching for.”


Pacing back and forth, and lighting another cigarette, Holmes continued. “Speaking of wool, I've made a nominal study of sheep breeds.”

“Ah, sheep,” was the only comment I trusted myself to voice.

“The Blue Faced Leicester produces the most sought after wool. The Blackface or Linton breed is the most plentiful, but there are also Romney, Hampshire and Herdwick breeds. The Oxford Down is popular, having originated some sixty years ago. The Blackface Shropshire sheep are a more recent cross, dating from 1858. Then there are the Hebridean sheep, all black. Very Celtic, don't you agree Watson?”

I groaned under my breath and reached for another cigarette. Fortunately, Holmes was caught up in his recitations and failed to notice my reaction.

“However, to return to the original dilemma of a scarf design, you must understand that the knit stitch is wider than it is tall — ”

“Holmes,” I interrupted, “surely there are printed patterns readily available?”

He waved me away impatiently. “Most surely, Godey's, Petersons', and even Weldon's have patterns. However, there is no ready resource for stitch patterns. Do you realise, Doctor, that in many places, knitted designs are still taught orally; that there is no written record for many stitches? In fact, if it wasn't for Descartes, graphs of patterns would hardly be possible.”

Once again I was overcome with concern for the mental health of my long-time companion. (I recalled some mention of a Doctor on the Continent in one my medical journals who was developing fantastical psychological theorems. Freud, I think the name was.) “Holmes,” I ventured, “does this really need to be so complicated?”

“On the contrary my dear Watson, Flaubert put it quite well when he said, ‘Anything is interesting if you study it long enough.’ Perhaps we need a brisk walk to clear our heads. I'm sure I shall need another set of needles.”



Notes on the text:
1. Holmes' use of cocaine is discussed extensively in The Sign of the Four.
2. Watson's wife did needlework — The Man With the Twisted Lip — although knitting is not specifically mentioned.
3. Holmes was particularly fond of German music — The Red-Headed League. He played Mendelssohn's Lieder (Lieder De Onne Worter) at Watson's request in A Study in Scarlet. Mendelssohn's scores used here are in the public domain.
4. Holmes made a study of various tobaccos and ashes: The Sign of Four, A Study in Scarlet. He did identify murderers using ashes left at the scene in A Study in Scarlet and The Boscombe Valley Mystery.
5. Holmes had done a monograph on ciphers — The Adventure of the Dancing Men.
6. The Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal, now The British Medical Journal, was founded in 1840. The Lancet was founded in 1823.
7. The Adventure of Silver Blaze took place in Dartmoor and lame sheep were one of the clues Holmes uncovered. Silver Blaze belonged to Colonel Ross. The Hound of the Baskervilles was also set in Dartmoor.
8. Knitting needles were called woods, needles, skewers, or wires — Mary Thomas's Knitting Book, page 17.
9. Among Holmes' many disguises, he was a drunken groom in A Scandal in Bohemia, and a common loafer in The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet.
10. Godey's Lady's Book, The Delineator, Peterson's, Beeton's Book of Needlework and Weldon's were available in the late 1800s.
11. Rene Descartes essentially invented graph paper. Graphs showing grids are sometimes called Cartesian.
12. Although Freud didn't publish until 1900, it is not incongruous that Watson had heard of his work. Interestingly, Freud was a user of cocaine and advocated it as a cure-all for many disorders. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freud]
13. Holmes quoted Gustave Flaubert in The Red-Headed League.





 
 
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