S03 THE FALLS*

In a story called The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes and his enemy, Professor Moriarty disappear from a viewpoint halfway up the side of a gorge in Switzerland. Dr Watson deduces that, while fighting, they rolled over the edge.
Then, in The Adventure of the Empty Tin, Sherlock Holmes explains how he escaped.
But he didn’t tell the truth about that.
This is what really happened.

 

1

2x + 3y = 17. If x = 4…. I was alone in my room, doing maths homework, when a quiet cough made me whirl round. Sherlock Holmes was sitting on my bed – looking weird, because he was wearing modern clothes – blue anorak and trousers.

In his hand was an incorporator, a gadget like a small e-book reader. It can take you into any story. Sherlock Holmes is leader of the Guardians, who sort out problems in stories. I had just become a junior Guardian, especially for children’s stories.

He held out the incorporator. “Good evening, James. You must use this immediately.”

“What story story do you want me to go to?”

“It is one of my own stories.”

“What will I have to do?”

“I shall be there to tell you. This is an urgent matter. Do not delay with trivial questions.”

“How long will it take? What happens if Mum or Dad come up here, looking for me?”

“They will not. Their stories will be adjusted. Now will you go? I advised Professor X not to entrust you with such a vital mission, but he suspects that a boy is involved, so he ordered me to send you. Now, will you go before it is too late?”

“OK.” I held the incorporator, took a deep breath, and pushed the button marked Go.

2

In an instant, I was on a path cut along the cliff face of a gloomy gorge that gashed deep into a mountain of black rock. To my left, a huge waterfall tumbled over the head of the gorge. I couldn’t see where it landed, but it filled the air with a thunderous roar, and clouds of spray that swirled high above me. Nobody was in sight.

The incorporator always gives clothes to suit the story. I was wearing a scruffy leather jacket over a rough grey shirt, baggy blue trousers that stopped above my ankles, and heavy black shoes. I glanced at the screen of the incorporator. Title showed, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The Final Problem. Final: I didn’t like the sound of that. I slipped the incorporator in my pocket.

The path, about a metre wide, cut round a shoulder of rock, to end at a wider place – a platform for people to view the gorge and falls. It had no fence, and nobody had been mad enough to stand near the edge, so grass and small bushes were growing there, dripping with water from the spray. I stood as near the edge as I dared, and leaned out to look over. The fall plunged into a pool far below, sending up the clouds of spray, then foamed over rocks to rush down the river, out of the gorge.

Two men came round the shoulder of rock. The first was Sherlock Holmes, in his usual tweed suit and cloak. A few steps behind him was a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a dark suit, including a waistcoat, and a collar and tie.

I backed to the end of the platform, in the corner at the cliff, where a bush, nearly as high as me, was growing.

Sherlock Holmes said, “Ah, James. You have arrived. I thank you.”

The other man said, “What is this, Holmes? I would not expect you to bring assistance.”

“What assistance could James give?” said Sherlock Holmes. “James, this is Professor Moriarty. Professor Moriarty, this is James. I swear that he will take no part in our contention. I arranged for him to attend here, for my convenience afterwards.”

“For you, there will be no afterwards.”

“That remains to be seen. I prefer to be prepared.”

“When I send you down into that gorge….”

Sherlock Holmes murmured, “If, my dear fellow. If.”

Professor Moriarty laughed. “Let us say – if I send you down into that gorge, I can permit no witness to survive. I must send the boy after you.”

“Hey!” I began, but Sherlock Holmes said, “Hush, James. Moriarty, if by some chance, you send me down there, you are of course free to send the boy down after me, but that is not necessary. He will never be a witness against you.”

“As long as he lives, he can be a witness against me.”

“No. He comes from a time and place very different from ours. He will return there immediately after our contest.”

“That statement requires an explanation, Holmes.”

“James is carrying a device which can transport its owner to any story he may please. James comes from a story set in the twenty-first century. When our business here is settled, he will return there, and I shall use the device to escape to a story with surroundings more pleasant than these.” He waved an arm at the gloomy gorge.

“Hmm!” said Professor Moriarty. “That is a useful device. You have provided an interesting prize for our contest.”

“A prize that you shall never win,” said Sherlock Holmes. “We were fated to meet, Professor Moriarty. When that Swiss boy brought the message that took Dr Watson away, I suspected it was false, but I welcomed it because this contest must take place between us two only. It has become impossible that both of us should live.”

“With that, I agree,” said Professor Moriarty. “Are you ready to decide?”

“I am ready,” said Sherlock Holmes. He unclipped his cloak at the neck and, with a sweep of his arm, threw it away. It billowed up among the spray, then fluttered down into the gorge, sinking towards the foaming river.

“A dramatic gesture, Holmes,” said Professor Moriarty. “However, I expect to require my jacket later.” He slid off his jacket, and laid it carefully on the wet grass at the edge of the platform. Then, in spotless white shirt sleeves, he stalked towards Sherlock Holmes who crouched, waiting for him.