The practice of disguise is not an art; to believe otherwise is to fall into an error of logical thinking, to fall prey to the kind of sentimentalising followed by my good friend, Dr. John Watson, a man of otherwise robust virtues and stoutheartedness. Disguise is a tool of detection, as necessary as a magnifying glass; it is the means by which the investigator can pass unnoticed into worlds unreachable by a gentleman, the sordid worlds of poverty and crime.
It was with both jubilation and regret that I watched Professor Moriarity fall into the waters of Reichenbach Falls; and no less deep feelings as I watched, hidden from view, as Watson and the police came to the conclusion that I as well had fallen to my death. I understood that I would need to hide myself for some time in order to avoid the forces of revenge that would impel the criminal underworld, now masterless, to seek my own death. I walked to the village of Schattenhalb, from whence I took the funicular, avoiding Meiringen and the possibility of recognition not only by my friend John but also by members of the professor’s gang. Eventually, I reached Lucerne, where I intended to contact my brother Mycroft with the purpose of requesting his silence and adequate finances to facilitate traveling south and east to Alexandria, a city whose tortuous streets have hidden many a refugee.
On the third day of visiting the Poste Restante in the village of R________, outside Lucerne, I was surprised to see none other than Moriarity’s third-in-command lurking outside the building, a man of restless intellect and abominable debauchery. Only three things were possible: the man was there by chance, my telegram to Mycroft had been intercepted, or Mycroft himself had been detained and information about my whereabouts taken. The possibility of coincidence was too remote; even more improbable was the taking of Mycroft, who as the most valuable member of Her Majesty’s more recondite staff, lives a sequestered and protected life. As fanciful as it seemed, my telegram, written in a code devised by the near infallible brilliance of my brother, had been intercepted and deciphered, a task possible only by the dead professor.
Turning again toward the train station, I decided to travel west rather than south as I had relayed to Mycroft. And so I found myself, still in the disguise of an ancient, feeble man, on a train heading towards Paris.
I have no fondness for the frivolities of the French capital, but as such it provides its own form of disguise for a man of my genius. I secured a small, coldwater room on an upper floor in a grimy building in the Latin Quarter, and set about transforming myself into Rudolphe Dumont, a penniless, an increasingly true condition, and modestly talented journalist. Given my superlative French and my ability to enact the overweening personality of the Parisians, I was able to obtain a position writing obituaries at a larger foreign newspaper. It was at this position that I endeavoured to reach Mycroft, and weekly, through a series of newly formed codes, which I knew my brother would recognise immediately as my own, I began to send out messages via the obituaries.
It was with chagrin that I heard nothing in reply.
I cannot say that I have ever believed poverty to be anything but a quagmire which sullies the soul and eventually leads to the demise of all that is valuable in civilised man. I continue to believe that to this day and despite the events that passed during my time as an impoverished writer in Paris. Perhaps it was the combination of poverty and writing, a pastime which I have ever held in contempt, but there was some change that the two wrought in me, which I have yet to explain. I record these events in the spirit of investigation.
After a year of demeaning work only slightly mitigated by the task of devising codes to be recognized by my brother, who daily read all the significant newspapers of all the major capitals of Europe, I felt impelled to write something other than the endless and dreary catalogue of deaths, couched in conventional expressions of sentimentality. I have never been afraid of death. I do not believe in God or the pandering preached by his followers. My own death will be abrupt and sudden, but not unexpected. There is, however, a mystery attached to life, which becomes deeper when limned by everyday death, the death of the sick, the fragile and the old. I have never faced banal death so unrelentingly.
An unasked-for desire to write poetry overcame me.
For a year I struggled with my inability to manifest this desire into reality. I have never seen the point of philosophical wanderings such as those posited by Mr. Wordsworth; and the overheated posturings of Lord Byron are exemplary of the effects of drugs on a weak mind. I wanted to strike at the mystery of death, to unravel it scientifically but through words. My poetry was abysmal, and as I was able happily to confirm one especially cold winter, much more worthy of being burned for warmth than my impetuous roommate’s shabby paintings.
That same night I fell in love. I use the term unwillingly. Dr. Watson would claim that I have been in love before but he has never understood me. My respect for Irene Adler was for an intellect that deserved recognition, not love. No, what I felt that evening for Lucie was of a different source altogether; one that abandoned the reasoning mind and dwelt in some emotional, I have no other word for it, state.
Many men, I am told most men, fall in love with a woman’s beauty, but Lucie was not beautiful. When she passed me on those offensively narrow stairways that the French prefer, I found her immodest, her eyes meeting mine in a way that was meant to be provocative. I would describe Lucie as plain, but that evening, in the freezing night, when she came to my room to ask me to light a candle that had blown out, I felt a distinct thrill when my hand touched hers in the darkness. Perhaps it was the coldness of her fingers, the sign that she was in the grips of that mystery of death, prosaic death, which had become the center of my world as a journalist and poet, but not as the world’s greatest detective.
For a year death and I pursued her; the closer death pulled her into its bosom, the dearer she became to me. I became a desperate man, and she faded, slowly, inexorably, until that night, when she collapsed on the ragged and filthy divan in my solitary flat, and expired. With her died that ecstatic emotional madness which had gripped me and caused me great unhappiness, and which worked as my ultimate disguise.
Within the month Mycroft had found me, and I returned to England and my life.