Monday, 5 September 2011

Doctor Watson's Railway Journeys (1)

   "Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from the West of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy. Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect. Leave Paddington by the 11.15."
   Standing outside his house, complete with a hastily packed valise, one blast of the whistle carried in every gentleman's waistcoat pocket will bring Watson a four-wheeler, and two a hansom. In his first recorded railway journey with Holmes they are off to Hereford. Holmes will spend part of the journey reading newspapers, scattering them on the floor before rolling them into a ball and throwing it onto the luggage rack after the train has passed Reading. The date is between 1889 and 1894, and the train the 11.15 to Gloucester and from there to Ross-on-Wye. Watson doesn't mention changing trains anywhere along the route but one was probably necessary. The pair will make a lunch stop at Swindon. This was unavoidable before 1895 as the Great Western Railway had a contract with a catering firm which obliged it to stop its trains in Swindon for at least twenty minutes.
   After dealing with the newspapers Holmes gives Watson a run-down of the case but then retires behind his 'pocket Petrarch'. Was his companion bored? He says, "It was nearly four o'clock when we at last, after passing through the beautiful Stroud Valley and over the broad, gleaming Severn, found ourselves at the pretty little country town of Ross." Lestrade meets them at the station and takes the pair to 'The Hereford Arms'. Later, Holmes is reluctant to travel to the murder scene that evening. Instead he goes with the Inspector to Hereford jail to interview the prime suspect in 'The Boscombe Valley Mystery'.
   After seeing them off, Watson returns to the inn and tries to interest himself  in one of the 'yellow-backed ' novels sold at all station bookshoops. But "The puny plot of the story was so thin...when compared with the deep mystery  through which we were groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the fiction to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room."     

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