A Terrible Shock
December of 1893 dawned with the nastiest winter on record; indeed it was so cold my sister Mary couldn’t be troubled to go out. Instead she sent me out early that morning to fetch the latest issue of her favorite magazine. Why I had to go rather than Will was a puzzle, but Mary was eighteen and always had her way, and so I trudged into the cold London streets to do her bidding.
It required all of ten minutes for me to travel to the newsstand and back, although I did have to wait in the queue behind others eager for their copies. After delivering the precious magazine directly into Mary’s hand, I asked if I might run down the lane to Tommy’s house for a time. Mother said yes, and I passed a most pleasant morning playing dominoes in my friend’s parlor.
Just before luncheon we overheard Tommy’s mother and father talking from the drawing room. The volume of their conversation was quite outside the normal range, so Tommy and I were intrigued.
“I just can’t believe it!” Mrs. O’Brien said in a quivering voice. “I’m shocked, I tell you, just shocked!”
Mr. O’Brien’s tones were more placid. “My dear, I am certain it was all for the best.”
Tommy glanced at me with eyes round as saucers. “That doesn’t sound good. You’d better go, George.”
With a heavy heart I left Tommy’s and hurried down the lane through the bitter December wind. I tucked my neck deep into my collar, but despite my cover I couldn’t help but notice my neighbors. Mr. Hughes brushed past me, his magazine in hand, muttering and clenching his fist. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby huddled on the front stoop, hunched over their copy, gesturing wildly at its contents.
“It’s really too astonishing!” Mrs. Willoughby’s whisper caught on the wind as I scurried past.
I halted my pace and glanced about me. Surely we were not at war with France? And Her Majesty – she was well, wasn’t she? Wouldn’t there be cannon shot or something of the sort if she had suddenly died?
Something troubled me about the distress I saw etched on those dear faces. I quickened my pace and reached my own step, where I met my father. A magazine was tucked under the arm of his greatcoat. He saw me and smiled, but his face was pale and drawn.
“It’s a crying shame, Georgie,” he said with a sigh. “He was a fine bloke. We’re all dumbfounded that he’s died in such a manner.”
“Who?” I gasped, but Father had already ambled away.
An unseen force drove me forward. I pushed at the door and heard Mary’s cries issuing from the kitchen. My mother stood before me in the foyer. She heaved a great sigh.
I removed my coat. “What’s wrong with Mary?”
“Your sister’s a tad distraught. It’s nothing serious.”
She extended a hand to me, a copy of The Strand Magazine folded in her fingers. It was by far Mary’s favorite read; for two years she and Father had followed the exploits of Dr. Doyle’s brilliant detective religiously.
I scanned the periodical and found “The Final Problem,” Dr. Doyle’s story for December. A quick read revealed the great blow afflicting my friends and family that day: Sherlock Holmes was dead! In order to save the world from the nefarious Professor Moriarty, Holmes had flung himself over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, taking his nemesis with him.
Just like that, the great detective was dead.
Poor Mary. She must have been awful surprised.
After a year of immersion in Holmes-lore, I recently read “The Final Problem.” At its conclusion I wondered, “What would it have been like to be there that day? To pick up The Strand Magazine with excitement, only to find Doyle had killed my hero without warning? How shocking!”
The public outcry was so great that Conan-Doyle was forced to resurrect Holmes three years later in “The Empty House.” He continued to write Sherlock Holmes stories for twenty years.
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