The Therapist Emeritus was generally right when she said that the best way of getting rid of a ghost was to go looking for him; but, the Ghost of William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, was no ordinary ghost. He hadn’t had a part since 1935, when, at the age of eighty-two and still partly alive, he appeared in a radio play, as Holmes. So, when the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat came to offer him a part, he was eager to perform.
The Ghost was sitting in his Holmes dressing gown, smoking his Holmes pipe, enjoying the setting sun from his Castle’s portico. There was nothing he liked better than to sit here at dawn and at dusk with his pipe and a glass of sherry; but, having done so every morning and night since his death seventy years ago, it was getting a little routine. Even the tourists who swarmed the Castle failed to interest him, for they didn’t know he was there. To an actor, when people don’t know you’re there, they may as well not exist.
If ever there was a character who so exemplified the rational ideal of modern man, it was Sherlock Holmes; and, if ever there was an actor who defined a part, it was William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. Gillette came up with the pipe, curved so as not to hide his face, the magnifying glass, the dressing gown, and the archetypal line, Elementary, My Dear Watson. It ought to be enough for an actor to know that he so completely influenced the work of those who came after him; but it wasn’t.
One reviewer made a crack that Gillette was perfect to play Holmes because he was unable to emote. However, Gillette had been emoting about one worry pretty well, for a dead man these seventy years. He was mindful that, as a stage actor, his work disappeared as quickly as it was produced. His only substantial legacy was the Castle, constructed in every particular for permanence, so far as there is such a thing, out of the solid rock of Connecticut. He would’ve liked it if his life had meant more. He would’ve liked to have solved an actual crime.
Therefore, when the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat addressed him and asked him for help in solving a murder that had occurred on his own grounds, he readily accepted. The man would do as his Watson. He already had his dressing gown and pipe. He swiftly went into the castle to get his magnifying glass and deerstalker hat.
“Can you tell me who murdered the girl?” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat.
“Not yet,” answered the Ghost of William Gillette, already into his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”
The area at the foot of the stairs leading down from his portico had been taped off by the police. You might have imagined Gillette, as Holmes, would’ve immediately hurried to the scene and plunged into a study of the mystery. Nothing appeared to be further from his intention. With a nonchalant air, bordering affectation, he sauntered up and down the stairs, gazing vacantly at the ground, the sky, the trees, and the railing. Having completed his scrutiny, he proceeded slowly to the bloodstained area, or rather to the grass flanking the area, his eyes riveted to the ground. Once or twice he halted, and once he smiled, and uttered an exclamation of satisfaction. There were so many footsteps in the soil, made by the police, the dogs, and curious onlookers, that you wouldn’t think he could learn anything from them; but he had such extraordinary perceptive faculties that there could be no doubt he would see a great deal hidden from an ordinary person.
He took a tape measure and a magnifying glass from his pocket. With these two implements he scurried around the scene, sometimes stopping, occasionally kneeling, and once lying flat on his stomach. He was so engrossed he appeared to have forgotten everything else. He muttered under his breath the whole time, producing sounds suggestive of encouragement and hope. He was like a well-trained hound, dashing back and forth, until it comes across the lost scent. For an hour he continued his research, measuring with care the distance between marks that were almost invisible, and applying his tape to the stairs in an equally incomprehensible manner. Once, he very carefully gathered up a small pile of soil from the scene and packed it away in an envelope. Finally, he examined with his glass the blood on the ground, going over it with minute meticulousness. This done, he appeared to be satisfied, for he put his tape and his glass in his pocket.
“Come along, Doctor,” he said. “I’ll tell you a few things which may help you in the case. There has been murder done, and the murderer was a man. He was six feet high, just past the prime of life, had size twelve shoes, and wore a tweedy sport coat, like a professor. He ran up the stairs to his victim, who was standing on the portico, with an unkempt man, dressed completely in leather. He grabbed her, threw her down the stairs, and left in a car from the parking lot. In all probability the murderer had a pale face, and his back was stooped from bending over too long at a computer. These are only a few indications, but they may assist you.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” said the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. “I know who that is from the coffee shop. I’m flabbergasted. How did you know?”
“Elementary, my Dear Watson. I was smoking on the portico while the murder occurred and saw the whole thing. It happened before my very eyes.”