Saturday, March 1, 2014

From the Case-Files

[Soundtrack for this episode:

(1)  The Adventure of the Botanical Monograph

I was alone with Holmes in his upstairs lodgings, one dreary February late-afternoon, which  in shading into evening, turned but from a wan  to a gloomier grey,  myself flipping fretfully through the evening papers  in a vain search for something to distract my dyspepsia, while Holmes sat deep in a brown study -- a burnt-umber study -- pondering I knew not what, motionless but for his long and bony fingers drumming a slow but steady devil’s tattoo, which (truth to tell) was beginning to play upon my nerves.  It was, then, with something of relief, when we heard a muffled knock at the downstairs door, followed by a brief exchange of words, not individually audible, but among which I could make out the familiar tones of Mrs Hudson, our housekeeper, then booted footsteps leading up the stairs to our rooms.

“Come in, sir!” barked Holmes, before even our visitor could rap or otherwise announce himself.  “You’ll be wanting to rest your legs after your long walk through the London fog, the moreso as you have been limping on your left leg.”
            The door opened, and a gentleman  a bit above the middle age  stood on the threshold, somewhat flushed, whether from his recent exertions (which themselves presented something of a mystery, whose meaning I could not divine, since  to all appearances  he could easily have afforded a hansom and spared himself the effort) or from (perhaps additionally) some discomfort at having thus been so cleanly pinned to the descriptive butterfly-board, sight unseen.  It is indeed disconcerting when Holmes indulges in such show-offy flights of transspection;  one always wonders whether he might likewise be discerning disorders yet deeper than shortness of breath or a game leg.
            “I--“ the stranger stammered.
            “Come in, Mr Landstrasser, come in, come in!” cried Holmes, suddenly all hospitality, waving our visitor over to a comfortable chair by the hearth, and proceeding to the sideboard, from which he retrieved a cut-glass flagon.  “Brandy?” he enquired, with a lift of one brow and holding forth the flask;  then set it down again, adding, “But I forgot;  you don’t drink.”
            For a moment our guest was predictably nonplussed, but then relaxed and almost smiled.  “I’ve heard tell of these diagnostic tricks of yours, Mr Holmes,” he said, good-sportingly enough.  “I won’t inquire how you arrived at your conclusions, which are of course quite accurate.”
            Holmes shrugged off the compliment, if such it was, simply murmuring “Elementary” under his breath, before likewise taking up a chair before the fire, and, steepling his fingers, gave the visitor his full attention.  “Proceed.”

            “I have come to you,” he began directly, manfully taking the bull by the horns, with no coyness or shilly-shally, “about a most delicate subject,  -- But perhaps you have already guessed what it is?”  This last was said as though in teasing jest, a tiny thrust at Holmes’ rather irksome habit of intrusive insights, but possibly also privately wondering whether such might actually somehow be the case.
            “No, no,” said Holmes with a dry and deprecating laugh, “I assure you, I have not the faintest idea.  That you have been lately bereaved of a loved-one, after a long illness,  and that you harbor growing concerns about your unavowed ipsigeneric paraphilia -- which you disguise very well, and do well to disguise, --“  Brought up short by an annoyed expression from our visitor, Holmes let the sentence end unfinished, and went on in a more matter-of-fact voice.  “But these are conditions that you have been living with for some time, and I do not suppose that they supplied the crisis that sent you forth from your house in such haste, without even pausing to collect your gloves--“  A glance at his red chapped hands confirmed the accuracy of this observation “-- and halfway across London to Baker Street, where you have been pacing up and down upon the sidewalk beneath these windows for the past ten minutes, before working up the courage to knock. -- You have my full attention.”
            “Quite correct,” our visitor said, less stunned by this effrontery than one might have expected, though I personally was not surprised:  the secret of his inversion was something he had been carrying about in his bosom for many years, no doubt since the first fumblings at Eton, and as a physician I can report that, though such a habitus may, in a well-regulated gentleman such as our visitor, be imperceptible to a layman, yet the sufferer himself goes through life as self-consciously as though covered richly in pimples.   In any event he went on, still self-composed,  “The matter at hand does not concern my affective life -- which is, at all events” (he added with a touch of asperity) “entirely my own affair.”  He paused, as though in challenge, and Holmes nodded assent.
            “The problem rather involves a … an object;  a simple … item, but one whose presence I cannot explain.  I found it in the drawer of my escritoire.”
            “I see,” said Holmes, nodding.  “Have you perchance brought along this … item, with you?” he added  in a sort of counter-challenge of his own, knowing that the visitor had not.
            Our guest shook his head in something like embarrassment or irritation.  “No I -- forgot.  Clean slipped my mind.”
            “Well, no matter,” said Holmes easily.  “It wouldn’t have fit into your greatcoat pocket in any case, the moreso as the latter is already largely occupied by your service revolver.”
            “Yes, ah -- a souvenir from the Crimea,” returned our guest, coloring slightly.  “That’s where I got this leg.”


By now I had set the newssheet aside, and was discreetly taking notes.  If the reader imagines that these narratives  which it has been my privilege to lay before the public over the years, are spun out of mere memory, long after the events, he does me too much credit:  my mnemonic powers are no more than average.  But I conscientiously take copious notes. 

            “It was,” continued our visitor, warming to his own tale, “a sort of monograph or notebook, bound in dark morocco, and imprinted in the lower corner of the cover with a monogram in an alphabet I did not recognize.”
            Holmes motioned for him to proceed.
            “I turned it over in my hands in some perplexity, as though mere handling of the object might induce it to give up its secrets, for I could not imagine how it could have made its way into my drawer, which is always kept locked.  Moreover, the discretion of my manservant, who has been with me for upwards of twenty years, can absolutely be relied upon--“
            Holmes interrupted with an impatient wave;  he was not interested in the details of some puerile Locked Room Mystery.
            “Thus at length, with reluctance, I opened the cover.”
            Holmes visibly tensed.
            “Then what was my bafflement at beholding, on the title page, in large gothic letters,

Das Seelenleben der Pflanzen:
eine intime Monographie.
Vom Herrn Dr. N. Landstrasser verfasst.

            Holmes, seeming startled, dropped his pipe and stared.
            “On each page,” he continued, “was depicted a different herb, etched in the style of Linnaeus, labeled in Latin, and delicately tinted with watercolor.  But what most astonished me was that, pinned to each page, was an actual specimen of the plant itself, dried and pressed -- these must have been assembled by a master botanist over the course of travels around half the globe, not omitting Tibet and Patagonia.”
            Holmes, by now, was growing visibly disturbed.
            “I had been especially admiring the depiction of the Cyclamen cyprium, one of my favorite plants, most artistically depicted, and to the accompanying specimen of which there seemed to cling, though dried and faded, a distant fragrance, as though of Mediterranean meadows. 
            “And yet, turning the page, what was my horror upon finding--“  (here he paused for effect) “-- a portrait of a professionally well-known medicinal specific, lately much investigated in Vienna, but without a specimen attached.  It yields an alkaloid with which I believe you are familiar, Mr Holmes.”
            Erythroxylum coca,” Holmes muttered;  and his voice was hoarse.
            “Now, the problem, as you will already have gathered, was this:  Whoever could have abstracted and made off with that specimen  -- who so desperate as to force the drawer in a locked room of a house well shut-up for the night, circled by a spike-topped wrought-iron fence, its grounds guarded by savage mastiffs?  -- Naturally I though of … coming to … you.”
            At this, Holmes leapt to his feet.
            “R-r-raus !” he shouted, flinging our visitor his cape and cane, his straight arm pointing rigidly towards the door.
            I stared dumbstruck.
            Weg mit Dir, du Schuft.  So’n Schabernack, ‘ne Schweinerei.   Diese sogenannte ‘Monographie’ hast Du nicht mit Dir gebracht, weil es sowas gar nicht gibt!  His voice gave way, and he stood mutely trembling with rage, as our guest, no longer limping, left laughing  by the door.

            “Moriarty,”  I thought, suddenly grasping the situation.  “You fiend.”

~ ~ ~
Für psychologisch tiefgreifende Krimis,
in pikanter amerikanischer Mundart,
und christlich gesinnt,
klicken Sie bitte hier:


(2)  Der Traum vom einsamen Radfahrer

Es war eben nur kurz nach meiner Promovierung zum Doktor der Medizin, als ich noch mich als Forscher im Physiologischen Institut Brückes in Wien tätig machte, da kam es zu mir im Labor  eine mir bisher unbekannte junge Dame -- fast würde ich sagen, ein aufgeblümtes Mädchen -- in herkömmlicher Volkstracht;  diese äußerte sich bescheiden, ob ich vielleicht der Herr Doktor S. Freud wäre.   Ich bejahte knapp -- denn es war mir in jenen Tagen  viel zu viel zu verrichten aufgeladen: “Bin Arzt”, und zuckte die Achseln.
Leicht lächelnd.  “Mm.  Und was für denn einer?”
“Bin Nervenarzt.” 
“Also Nerrrven-arzt,” sagte sie, nachdenkend.
Ich blieb stumm, und starrte sie an.
“Aber… doch so … wenn ich störe …” und machte sich daran, sich zu entfernen.
“Ach nee -- Herein.  ‘tschüldigung.  Bißle überarbeitet, jetzt im Augenblick.  Aber bitte.”  Und ich lud sie ein, sich niederzusetzen.

Das tat sie eben, mit wohlerzogener Niedlichkeit;  worauf mein Herz hörte momentan auf, zu klopfen …

“To what do I owe the honour?” frug ich -- auf englisch;  weiß nicht genau warum.  Und dann erstaunte, als sie mich  leise, und auf leicht provinziel-gefärbter Sprechweise, ansprechend bat, einen Traum von ihr zu deuten.

“Einen Traum?  Aber weshalb stören Sich mich, ein so erbärmlich kleinliches Ding, oder Unding vielmehr!  Das ist alles ja doch nur sovieso Quatsch im Kopf -- vergessen Sie das lieber!”
“J-ja, das wissen Sie bestens, Herr Doktor;  aber wenn Sie doch meine Lubie nichtsdestoweniger  schon gütigst dulden möchten, die kitzelt mich und kitzelt, wie der Ohrwurm im Ohr!”

Ich überlegte eine Weile (aber was ich mir nur da alles überlegte, blieb mir zunächst unklar), und dann willigte ein.
“Aber doch nit hier, im Labor.  Bin beschäftigt und,  nu, was weiß ich -- all die Leute, hinaus, herein … Sie möchten ganz bequem hinauf zu mir in die Bude kommen, diesen Abend, nach Arbeitsschluss.”  Und ich nannte ihr die Strasse.

Das mochte sie gern.  Sie ließ mir ihre Karte, und ging weg.

"Wenn ich komme, 
küsse ich Dich
rot und dick …”


Ganz wie verabredet, kam sie zu mir, die lange dunkle Treppe hinauf, bis ins Logis. 
Ich fühlte mich ein bißchen verlegen, als wäre diese Verabredung ein “rendezvous”, ein “Stelldichein”.   Was gar nicht der Fall war.

Sie trat ein, und liess ihre Nerz-Stola langsam von Schultern hinabgleiten.  Dann setzte sie sich.

Ich wollte nicht plaudern, nur die medizinische Angelegenheit verrichten und dann -- Schluss damit.
“Nun ja also.  Zur Sache.”
Ich sah sie an.  Sie erwiderte meinen Blick, aber ohne zu reden.
“Den Traum, bitte, wenn Sie wollen.”
Sie überlegte ein weilchen;  endlich sprach sie.
“Ein Mann.”
“Ein Mann,” wiederholte ich, unsicher.
“Auf einem Fahrrad.”
“Auf -- na und?”
“-- Ist alles.”
Da fing ich an, eifrig meine Brille zu polieren, um einen Augenblick zum Nachdenken freizuhaben.  “Nun, meine gnädige -- allerdings --  wenn ich nur fragen darf -- Was ist denn das für ein Satz?  Ihm fehlt das Zeitwort, ohne wessen ein Satz ist lahm!  Subjekt, meinetwegen -- aber Prädikat, mein gnädiges Fräulein, ich bitte beflissen -- Prädikat!”
Ihre Augen sanken ab.  “Noch gibt’s keines.”
Einen Seufzer.  “Nun ja denn, so soll es sein.  Bis nächstes mal.”


Merkwürdigerweise, träumte ich jene Nacht, und zwar so:  daß ich selbst auf einem Fahrrad sass, ganz im Lande, und -- sie verfolgte …


Es verging dann drei Wochen, ohne dass sie zu mir im Labor käme;  ich meinte, sie hatte mich wahrscheinlich vergessen.  Sie aber vergass ich gar nicht.
Dann plötzlich, einen Sonntagmorgen sogar, da ich ganz allein im Labor mich bei meinen Versuchen beschäftigte, trat sie ein, diesmal ohne mal anzuklopfen.

Sie setzte sich, und ohne weiteres, sagte vorher:  “Ich habe einen Traum gemacht.”
Als wär’ ich nur leicht interessiert.  “Na und?  Was für einer?”
Leicht errötend.  “Denselben.”
“Sie haben jenen Traum also wieder- und weiter-geträumt?”
Und dann, ohne zu antworten -- stand sie plötzlich auf, und floh aus dem Zimmer!

[ Fortzusetzen/To be continued … ]

[Still unwritten:  Note to self.
Have an interlude in which Freud goes about his business in the town, without thinking overtly of his visitor.
He wonders if he will run into her -- in the small world of Vienna -- but he does not.  No:  It is the enclosed hothouse of the laboratory -- and of his own dream-world -- in which alone her existence is privileged.

Dazu -- at this early date in Freud's career:  Hypnosis!]

{ For further particulars,  compare our essay here. }

{{  And for a similarly enigmatic Übertragung-based mystery,
try this  }}

{{{ For additional Victoriana,  this  }}}


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