The Missing Preface
One morning in about 1881, near as I can figure, my great-grandfather George Stephens’s life was turned upside down. He had only been married a year. He had just been made a master mason after a seven year apprenticeship. (Whether he was a member of that other Masonry the record does not show, but he was a good Catholic, and the Church frowns on such associations.) He was working in the mason’s yard, shaping Mabe granite (for he was a banker mason, shaping stone for exteriors) for a splendid new cathedral being built for Truro Diocese. It would be the making of him. They had moved to St. Clement near Truro from St, Dennis earlier in the year. A mason goes where his work takes him.
Then all at once he was 65. His children were all grown. Marryanne had died in 1900. And the woman he’d wedded three years later had never been to England, nor wanted to go. And for the first time, he heard the name Sherlock Holmes. His brother Sidney was a great reader. One day he’d heard enough complaints, and over a pint of beer, he said that if he really wanted to fight the Crown, if he really wanted to prove the prince was wrong after all this time, he’d need the greatest, most fearless detective in all the world: Sherlock Holmes. And he lived at 221B Baker St., London. Well, his brother-in-law was full of cock-eyed ideas, George knew, but he couldn’t help brooding over the idea, He borrowed all his brother’s Sherlock Holmes books and read them—at first grudgingly and then avidly. Finally, as you may have guessed, he got up the nerve to travel back across the Pond to the Old Sod, to London,(where he’d never been in his life), to 221B Baker St., to the home of Sherlock Holmes. This was in 1930.
Times had changed. For one thing, Sherlock Holmes had been dead since 1927. He was buried in Sussex, a fact that Sidney had evidently overlooked. George Stephens found himself looking up at a sign that read “Sherlock Holmes Memorial Museum. Hrs. 8a.m.—6p.m.”
It was now getting on for five minutes after six. As he stood there crestfallen, an old man came out the door, locking it behind him. He took in George’s forlorn expression.
“Open at 9 tomorrow. Come back then.”
“Yes, but… where can I find Sherlock Holmes?”
“You can find... his remains down in Sussex. He passed on three years ago.”
The news hit George like a hammer-blow. “Then I’ve come all this way for nothing.”
The old man saw the desperation his eyes. “Come all the way from Cornwall, did you?” The old man had an ear for accents. He’d been trained in it.
“All the way from America.”
We might say today that the old man was privileged if he found it was that simple stuff to get an audience with the king; he was. But George was not used to kings, except when he was boxing their ears; it sounded a reasonable plan to him. Although the idea of apologizing rankled. “Where are you staying?” asked the old man.
*By the by: Prince Albert Victor is considered by many a leading candidate for the true identity of the terrible slasher Jack the Ripper. This is conjecture, but one fact is certain: he was partially deaf.