The Painful Predicament
of Sherlock Holmes
A Fantasy in about One-Tenth of an Act

William Gillette

and two valuable assistants are the people most concerned

It all transpires in Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street apartments somewhere about the date of day before yesterday.

The time of day is not stated.


SHERLOCK HOLMES is discovered seated on the floor before the fire, smoking. There is a table with various things on it, an arm chair right of it. A high upholstered stool is at its left. Firelight from fire. Moonlight from window.

Strange lights from door when it is open. After the curtain is up and the firelight on, there is a pause.

Sudden loud ringing at front door bell outside in distance continuing impatiently. After time for opening of door, loud talking and protestations heard, GWENDOLYN pouring forth a steady stream in a high key insisting that she must see Mr. Holmes, that it is very important, a matter of life and death, etc., BILLY trying to tell her she cannot come up and shouting louder and louder in his efforts to make her hear. This continues a moment and then suddenly grows louder as the two come running up the stairs and approach the door; BILLY leading and the voice after him.

Enter BILLY, very excited. He pulls the door shut after him, and holds it while he turns to speak to HOLMES.

BILLY:  I beg your pardon, sir— (The door is pulled from outside and BILLY turns to hold it, but turns again quickly to HOLMES.)

(Same business.)

I beg your pardon, sir— If you please, sir!— It’s a young lady ‘as just came in, an’ says she must see you — she’s ‘ere now, sir, a-tryin’ to pull the door open — but I don’t like ‘er eye, sir! … I don’t it at all, sir!

(HOLMES rises and turns up lamp. Lights on.)

‘Er eye is certainly bad, sir! An’ she — she don’t seem to be able to leave off talkin’ long enough fer me to tell ‘er as ‘ow she can’t see you, sir!

(HOLMES watches BILLY and the door with interest)

I tried to tell ‘er as you give orders not to see no one. I shouted it out tremendous — but she was talkin’ so loud it never got to ‘er — so I run up to warn you — an’ she come runnin’ after me — an’ — an’ — 

(Door suddenly pulled upon from outside while BILLY is talking to HOLMES.)

An’ … an’ ‘ere she is, sir!

(Enter GWENDOLYN COBB with unrestricted enthusiasm.)

GWENDOLYN (entering joyously): Oh! There you are! This is Mr. Holmes, I know! Oh — I’ve heard so much about you! You really can’t imagine! (Going toward HOLMES.) And I’ve simply longed to see you myself and see if … oh, do shake hands with me. (They shake hands.) Isn’t it wonderful to realize I’m shaking hands with Sherlock Holmes! It’s simply ripping! To think that I’ve lived to see this day! (Looks at him.) Of course, I suppose you’re the real one —detectives have so many disguises and things that it might be you were only pretending — but still, why should you?

(He motions her to seat, she does not pause an instant for any business.)

Oh, thank you. Yes — I will sit down.

(She moves to chair beside table and sits on arm of it.)

(HOLMES motions BILLY to go.)

(Exit BILLY.)

Because I came to ask your advise about something! Oh yes, it wasn’t just curiosity that brought me here — I’m in a dreadful predicament — that’s what you like, isn’t it? — predicaments! Well, this is one — it is a lolla! It’s simply awful! You’ve no idea! I don’t suppose you ever had such a frightful affair to unravel. It isn’t a murder or anything like that — it’s a thousand times worse! Oh — millions of times worse. There are worse things than murder — aren’t there, Mr. Holmes?

(HOLMES nods again to indicate that he thinks so too.)

Oh, how nice of you to agree with me about it — few would do it so soon. But you can fathom my inmost soul — I feel that you are doing it now — and it gives me strength to go on — indeed it does, Mr. Holmes! Just your presence and your sympathy encourages me! (Looking at him admiringly.) And it’s really you. And there’s the fire.

(GWENDOLYN jumps up and runs to it, going around the table.)

(HOLMES stands regarding her.)

I suppose it’s a real fire, isn’t it? You know can never tell in these days when everything seems to be adulterated — you don’t know what you’re getting, do you?

(HOLMES shakes head emphatically.)

No, you don’t! There you go again agreeing with me. How nice of you! It’s inspiring! (Looking at him in rapture.) And it’s so perfectly ripping to see you there before my eyes! But you’re not smoking. Oh, I do wish you’d smoke. I always think of you that way! It doesn't seem right! Do smoke!

(HOLMES lights pipe.)

Where’s the tobacco? (Looking on mantel, takes jar.) HERE! (Smells.) It is true you smoke that terrible shag tobacco? What is it like? (Drops jar.) Oh, I’m so sorry! (Steps back and breaks violin.) Oh! Isn’t that too bad!

(Stamps about on violin trying to extricate herself. Continues talking and apologizing all the while. Suddenly sits on lounge to get loose from violin and breaks bow which lies across the arm of lounge.)

Oh, dear me! I’m so sorry! Mercy, what was that? 

(Takes out broken violin bow.)

I’m afraid you won’t want me to come again — if I go on like this! Oh! (Springs to her feet.) What have you got there cooking over that lamp — I would so like a cup of tea!

(Goes up to retort, etc.)

But I suppose — (Smells of thing.) No — it isn’t tea! What a funny thing you’re boiling in it! It looks like a soap bubble with a handle!  I’m going to see what— (Takes up retort and instantly drops it on floor.) Oh! it was hot! Why didn’t you tell me it was hot? (Gesturing excitedly.) How could I know — I’ve never been here before — one can’t know everything about things, alone and unprotected.

(Backing up in her excitement upsets lamp, etc. which goes over with a crash.)

(Lights off firelights again. Moonlight from window.)

There goes something else! It does seem to me you have more loose truck lying about — oh — I see! It’s to trap people! What a splendid idea! They break the glass and you have them. (Moving toward him admiringly.) And you can tell from the kind of glass they break where they were born and why they murdered the man! Oh, it’s perfectly thrilling! Now I suppose you know just from the few little things I’ve done since I’ve been here exactly what sort of a person I am — do you?

(HOLMES nods quietly. He lights a candle.)

(Lights on.)

Oh, how wonderful! Everything seems wonderful! All the things about here … only it’s so … oh! Why that looks just like a friend of mine!

(Turning up papers on wall.)

And there’s another! What a handsome man! But what has he got all those lines running across his face for? I should think it would hurt —and here’s — oh, this is beautiful! (Tears it off) You must let me keep this — it looks so much like a young man I know.

(The other sketches fall down.)

Oh, dear, there go the rest of them. But you’ve got plenty more, haven’t you? (Looks about.) See that lady’s foot? Why do you have such an ugly foot hung up here! It isn’t nice at all!

(Pulls it down. Other sketches hung up fall with it.)

I’ll send you a pretty water-colour of cows drinking at a stream— it’ll look so much better! Mercy — did that man’s fingers grow together like that? How it must have hurt … What did you do for him? I suppose Dr. Watson attended to him — oh, if I could only see him! And I want him to help you about this dread affair of mine! It needs you both! And if Dr. Watson wasn’t with you it wouldn’t seem as if you were detecting at all. It’s a terrible thing — I’m in such trouble.

(HOLMES motions her to sit)

Oh thank you. I suppose I’d better tell you about it now— and— 

(She is sitting on stool by table HOLMES remains standing)

—then you can talk it over with Dr. Watson and ask him what his idea is and then it’ll turn out that he was wrong and you knew all the time oh — that’s so wonderful — it gives me that delicious crawly, creepy feeling as if mice were running up and down my spine — oh! (Facing toward front) Oh!

(HOLMES has edged round on the upper side of table and as she shudders, etc. he quietly takes a handkerchief out of her dress or pocket and moves quietly to other side of table and sits. He examines the handkerchief while she is not looking, using a magnifying glass etc.)

Now this is what I came to ask you about — I’m sure you’ve never had such a painful case to attend to — because it affects two human souls … not bodies … pah … what are bodies … merely mud … But souls … they are immortal — they live forever … His name is Levi Lichenstein He’s what they call a Yankee. Of course you know, without my telling you, that we adore each other!  Mr. Holmes, we adore each other. It couldn’t be expressed in words! Poets couldn’t do it! What are poets? Pooh! (Snaps fingers) We adore each other Do I need to say more?

(HOLMES shakes head)

No! Of course I don’t … ah, how you understand! It’s perfectly wonderful! Now listen — I want to tell you my troubles.

(HOLMES quietly scribbles on a pad of paper)

That’s right — take down what I say. Every word is important. He’s in jail! Put that down! It’s outrageous. And my own father did it. I’m not ashamed of it — but I f— (affected) —if — Oh, my God!

(Grabs for handkerchief to weep but is unable to find it.) There!  (springs to her feet.) It’s been stolen. I knew I should lose something if I came here … where the air seems simply charged with thugs and pickpockets.

(HOLMES rises and politely passes her handkerchief to her and sits again as before.)

Oh, thank you! (Sits.) My father put him there! (She sobs.) 

(HOLMES rings bell on table.)

(GWENDOLYN gives a convulsive sob on ringing of bell. But she goes right on talking, not paying any attention to the business and going on excitedly through her sobs and eye-wipings.)

(Enter BILLY. HOLMES motions him. He comes down back of HOLMES. HOLMES hands him the paper he has been scribbling upon and motions him off)

(Exit BILLY.)

Oh, Mr. Holmes — think of one’s own father being the one to bring disgrace upon one! Think of one’s own father doing these cruel and shameful things. But it’s always one’s own father — he is the one out of the world who jumps headlong at the chance to be heartless and cruel and — and — (Three heavy and resounding thuds heard in distance, as if someone were pounding a heavy beam on the floor.)

(GWENDOLYN springs to her feet with a scream.)

(Melodramatic music.)

Oh! … There it is … those awful three knocks! Something is going to happen. Is there any danger — do tell me …

(HOLMES scribbles on piece of paper.)

Oh, don’t keep me in this dreadful suspense — I have dreamt of those three awful knocks … but why should they come to me? Oh, heaven … you’re not going to let them …

(HOLMES pushes the paper across to her. She snatches it up and reads it in a loud voice.)

“Plumbers — in — the — house.”

(Stop music.)

Oh, I see! Plumbers! (She sits again.) And you knew it … could tell it was the plumbers without once leaving your chair! Oh, how wonderful … do you know, Levi is a little that way. He really is, Mr. Holmes. That’s the reason I adore him so! Perhaps he can see too much! Do you think there’s any danger of that? Oh, Mr. Holmes — tell me — do you think we’ll be happy together? Oh — I’m sure you know — and you will tell me, won’t you?

(HOLMES scribbles on piece of paper)

It’s perfectly clear to you without even seeing him. I know it is and so much depends upon it when two souls seem drawn to each other. Tell me … I can bear anything and I’d so like to know if we shall be happy together or not.

(HOLMES pushes piece of paper toward her. She picks it up quickly and reads it in a slow loud distinct voice)

Has — he — ever —spoken —to —you? Oh yes?  Indeed he has … He once told me …

(Melodramatic music)

Oh, heavens … And he’s in jail. He’ll never speak again. I haven’t told you yet … take down all these things … my father put him there. Yes — my own father! Levi has lent a friend of mine some money —a mere pittance — scarcely as much as that — say half a pittance. My friend gave him a mortgage on some furniture his grandmother had left him and when he couldn’t pay, the furniture came to Levi. Then they found another will and it left all this furniture to a distant aunt out in America and the lawyers issued a writ of replevin and then Levi sued out a habeas corpus and signed a bond so that he was responsible — and my father went on this bond — and the furniture was taken back! Levi had to get another bond, and while he was swearing it the distant aunt arrived from America and had him arrested for obtaining a habeas corpus under false pretenses and he brought suit against her for defamation of character — and he was right — she said the most frightful things. Why — (rising) — she stood there — in the office of his own barristers and spoke of him as a reprobate and a right angle triable!

(Raises voice in excitement and moves about wildly.)

That miserable woman — with painted face and horrible American accent actually accused him of having falsified some of the furniture. And my father, hearing that we loved each other, swore out a warrant and he is in jail! (Screams, etc.)

(Enter two uniformed men, followed by BILLY. They stop an instant, looking at GWENDOLYN. In the height of her excitement she sees them and stops dead with a wild moan. They go down to her at once and get her quickly off at door. She goes without resistance.)

BILLY:  It was the right asylum, sir! (Exits.)

(HOLMES rises. Takes an injection of cocaine. Lights pipe with candle which he then blows out.)

(Lights off except red light of fire, etc.)

(HOLMES goes to lounge before fire, and sinks down upon it, leaning back on the cushions.)

(Lights gradually off)

(Stop music.)



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