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Kaplowitz Media.: On Barker: A Hated (Sherlock Holmes) Rival

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On Barker: A Hated Rival

A note as to what you are about to read. Each of these four parts was originally published here as an individual blog post. I do make mention of this later on but felt it necessary to let you know immediately. I have minimally edited them to read as lesser-so. Minimally because I am lazy and also busy and also wished to leave intact the feeling of my real-time researching and learning. It was quite a ride. It most likely reads as quite a ride, as well. Hopefully an enjoyable one. The again minimal editing is also on account of my attempt to facilitate that enjoyment.

Part 1 The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

As the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2022, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman [RETI] entered the world of the Public Domain. Soon thereafter, Twitter was blowing up at the newly found free-usage of Watson’s in-canon hotness… “With your natural advantages, Watson, every lady is your helper and accomplice. What about the girl at the post-office, or the wife of the greengrocer? I can picture you whispering soft nothings with the young lady at the Blue Anchor, and receiving hard somethings in exchange. All this you have left undone.” It continues to strike me odd, how everyone is always grasping at the sexualizing of these famed characters.

Me? I was being re-introduced to the character of Barker via a re-reading of the tale. But we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s dwell where all the others did. You see, instead of leading with his own beautiful face, Watson returned to Holmes with a strangely precise and ornate description of a wall. This led to the most excellent rebuttal of “Cut out the poetry, Watson,” said Holmes severely. “I note that it was a high brick wall.” Our poor, poor, beset upon hunk of a beefcake. The story itself is not the topic here but I will say that I deviate from many, in that I really do appreciate the later ACD Sherlock Holmes installments. It’s well-worthy of a read and, as I say, READ MORE.

Nevertheless, below I have pulled the instances which regard our man Barker. Note he appears just once in canon (making him tied 1-1 with the famed Irene Adler) here within the RETI pages. After each instance from those pages is pulled, I’ll supply you with my two-cents in the hopes of fleshing out his character. Unfortunately due to the on-going coin shortage, I cannot in good conscience accept your kind offer of change in return.

Why this exercise?

Because I’m much more interested in another private investigator living in the Holmes Universe, and the somewhat maybe pastiche adventures that might be told of him, perhaps even by myself if I can ever find time (I have since been made aware of the Barker and Llewelyn books of Will Thomas) than in the studliness of Dr. Watson. Call me weird, fine. I’ve been called worse. But do also understand that somewhere along the way, sticks and stones began breaking bones. With that, we do commence.

“No doubt! No doubt!” said Holmes. “A tall, dark, heavily moustached man, you say, with grey-tinted sun-glasses?” … “And a Masonic tie-pin?”

Here, Watson is detailing his laying eyes on our man to Holmes. There was no interaction between the two, to be clear. So what to extrapolate from this? Well, let’s see: a swarthy fellow, a big one, and what says testosterone as much as a heavy mustache? Nothing, in answer to my own question. I am not sexualizing, mind you, in noting his high T-Levels, I am just adding here ‘muscular’ (or at the least solid) to “tall.”

It is not said that he is taller than Holmes, who is known to be six-feet even. The average height of a man then was about five-foot-five. So I’d put Barker at around 5’11 and carrying it taller. Just a gut-feeling.

The sunglasses say much. They say that although a swarthy-leaning fellow, he had pale light eyes, as they are most sensitive to sunlight (thus potentially securing his English descent beyond his surname, which we will come to). They also might speak to his want of a certain amount of anonymity, which could stem from his either dabbling in or having had dabbled in, transversely darker realms.

I mention the past-tense partly because of the name Barker itself. It is of English descent, dating back to the 1200s. It’s an occupational surname referring to those who stripped and prepared bark as part of the leather tanning process. Leather tanning is a rather gross bit of business. One so singularly stinky that its practitioners were often confined to the outskirts of town.

So, we can say his ancestry is of the lower working class. This in turn makes much of the Masonic tie pin he proudly displayed. Why proudly? Because he took strides to conceal his eyes but then prominently show his brotherhood. How better than a fraternal organization with which to create contacts and attain knowledge not born into and/or readily gotten in your own hand-dealt given circles?

Suffice to say, his Masonic connection and its display quite-well might show he is the first of his family to climb the social ladder unto this particular rung. If he was a 2nd-generation member would he be so proud or would it simply be the norm to have gained such inclusion? So, a brawny detective of a lower class than Holmes. A real bootstrap puller-upper, he. (I’ll not get into Holmes’s lineage here, but you can on your own dime.)

“That was a surprise, but an even greater one was to find that he was not alone in the sitting-room of our client. A stern-looking, impassive man sat beside him, a dark man with grey-tinted glasses and a large Masonic pin projecting from his tie.”

Wearing shades in-doors. Sketchy af!

Mainly though, this bit simply rehashes the previous in most ways insofar as Barker’s visual characteristics. Beyond that, it does show the two, Holmes and Barker, kept company, and most likely not for the first time here as we’ll soon see. Ah, the stern outward appearance of a self-made man. “Impassive.” Emotionless. I don’t believe him to be a soldier but I’d hazard he has a code. Dark. Again, we read dark. We do not read black, and ACD would have written that (most likely more profanely).

I could be biased but wouldn’t a touch of Semitic blood work here? Sephardic peoples were in place, and are typically taller and darker than their Ashkenazi brethren. Perhaps that places his ancestry more in-town however (banking LOL). Gypsies are an oft-mentioned lot in canon, and often out-on town’s edges or other less desirable locales. Although I’d stab that a man of Jewish lineage would have more luck becoming a Mason, and Jews relegated to the outskirts of towns is not new news. I mean the two have mixed elsewhere, see: Klezmer music, and me. Plus, he could be a mere mutt, of a bit this, a bit that.

“This is my friend Mr. Barker,” said Holmes. “He has been interesting himself also in your business, Mr. Josiah Amberley, though we have been working independently. But we both have the same question to ask you!”

Friend. Another pointed finger toward them being previously familiar. How Barker comes into play is that whilst one concerned party sought the aid of Holmes, the other tapped Barker for assistance. Of perhaps some interest here is that the man who hired Holmes is actually guilty; having the hope that hiring the great Sherlock Holmes would, of itself, clear his bad name. BECAUSE WHO WOULD BE THAT DAMNINGLY DUMB?

From that, as if there were any doubt, we can calculate Holmes as being a good stretch more famous than Barker (athough he was conceivably the second hire here). However, the simple act of Holmes conferring with Barker here shows the latter in a decent and legitimate light. I do not see the two being direct rivals, although we’ll hear canonically differently in a mere tick of time,

“I have a cab at the door,” said our taciturn companion.”

Aha! From this bit of canonical evidence, it is clear that Barker has a cab waiting at the door. Although he is reserved about it. Add ‘reserved’ to the stoic stillness of his growing character traits list–but I feel that this is all more of a deviation from his normal ways–which would be indicated by his overplaying the soft speaking, big stick carrying in the presence of a man he wants to impress most & presently (Holmes). He is at his Sunday best, I feel, so much that it continued to catch Watson’s eye.

“The old colourman had the strength of a lion in that great trunk of his, but he was helpless in the hands of the two experienced man-handlers.”

Our Barker is an experienced man-handler then. Interesting. Much of grappling is learned quite young and often passed-down at least in its impetus. Not to brag, but I recently became quite winded rolling around on the living room floor with my 11-year-old son. But because of our scrappings, he does know some holds and some escapes. Also, my shoulder hurts.

Forgive me if I take some license by positing that perhaps Barker might, this in mind, come from grapplers–man-handlers. Perhaps, even from the way-back Thief-takers, who begat the Bow Street Runners, who would go on to eventually become the modern police force. Thief-takers of the ~1700s were hired privately to capture criminals. (The BSRs were a cleaned-up version of the oft-dirty that, and again–led to Bobbies.)

(Parenthetical redundancy.)

But granted that’s far-fetched and not so pressing. More than likely, Barker was, however, a different sort than Holmes. He operates in Surrey. Now posh to my meager understandings, it was then quite rustic and somewhat underpopulated as compared to Holmes’s London. We do recall how Holmes felt about the country-side, don’t we?…

“But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of country which makes the danger.” – The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Simply, and taking nothing away from Holmes and his self-defense (swordsman, boxer, single-stick, and of course Baritsu) skills, Barker was operating alone on an island for much of the time. Of note here is that he appears unarmed. I’m guessing he spoke threats quite well in certain situations prior to employing his large swarthy frame. This is not to say he’d be at all averse to a bit of pew-pew. I simply have him pegged as a blunter instrument than Holmes in every way.

“I’ve left Barker to look after the formalities,” said Holmes. “You had not met Barker, Watson. He is my hated rival upon the Surrey shore. When you said a tall dark man it was not difficult for me to complete the picture. He has several good cases to his credit, has he not, Inspector?” “He has certainly interfered several times,” the inspector answered with reserve. “His methods are irregular, no doubt, like my own. The irregulars are useful sometimes, you know. You, for example, with your compulsory warning about whatever he said being used against him, could never have bluffed this rascal into what is virtually a confession.”

To be considered a rival! An endorsement of good cases! Praise from Caeser! “He has certainly interfered several times” speaks to a more ham-fisted assist. When Holmes likens his methods to his own here, it’s just insofar as they are both not official police. Not that Barker shares his modus operandi. Quite the contrary from the picture drawn on the scant lines given. We see a man of lesser thought and greater action. Blunter. A burly fellow swinging his phallus, Excusez mon français. A bit of a wild west bounty hunter, I daresay. (Still, though, more upright of an associate than the limited felon Shinwell “Porky” Johnson.)

A man who wants credit. ‘Hated rival,’ I am certain is tongue-in-cheek and for the amusement of the official police inspector in their midst. Of note, I feel as though Holmes is really feeling his naughty anti-hero self here–perhaps a contact high from rubbing shoulders with a man like Barker? Although Holmes is ‘irregular’ he is by now quite the regular insider. Barker just ain’t.

“and as to Barker, he has done nothing save what I told him.”

Here, we see Holmes easing-over Inspector MacKinnon’s nerves about who exactly gets the case-cracking credit. Yes, Sherlock Holmes is very much in the lead, as it should be. Hmmm… I wonder if Barker has ever worked under Holmes’s employ? I bet he has. Especially as the great detective inched closer and closer toward his own bee-keeper retirement in Sussex Downs. Hey, is that only about 40 miles from Surrey? I’m bad with maps.

“Now, you rascal, what are you doing in there?” [Our man Barker to Holmes himself whenst the two met whilst Holmes was half in-half out a pantry window.] “When I could twist my head round I looked into the tinted spectacles of my friend and rival, Mr. Barker. It was a curious foregathering and set us both smiling.”

Wow. I did so save the best for last. Let’s dissect, shall we? Of course, we shall.

“Now, you rascal, what are you doing in there?” RASCAL? He did not know it was Holmes yet, but that’s mighty big talk for a man I see as substantially younger than the other. That alone connotes all sorts of personality traits. Or perhaps he did recognize him and not let on as a rib? “when I could” … meaning he could not immediately upon being nabbed. Remember: man-handler. Remember: Holmes as no slouch. Then the noted familiarity and finally–“smiling.”

These are ::: very ::: deep waters.
etc: While the information listed above is all we know of Mr. Barker according to RETI, we can see a bit more of him–literally see–as (says IMDb) the character appeared on May 1, 1965, in the BBC Sherlock Holmes series. Naturally in “The Retired Colourman” (Season 1 Episode 11). 

There, he was portrayed by Peter Henchie. His attire is (from what I can make of a single still-shot) that of a more rough and ready look, somewhat of a disheveled longshoreman vibing, perhaps due to him seemingly wearing a sort of pea coat. Full disclosure: I have that one noted image of him, and have not watched the episode. Maybe later, I will.

Part 2 The Valley of Fear

This is a sort of unofficial or at least somewhat unexpected second of a further unexpected three-part series wherein we thrice meet a man named Barker in Sherlockian canon. Perhaps the same man named Barker. We shall see. Not long ago at all, depending upon how you individually process time, I wrote and posted to my blog an article titled, “An Introduction to Mr. Barker (from The Sherlock Holmes Adventure of the Retired Colourman)” I mentioned therein that his lone appearance was in those RETI pages. I might have been… less than correct. Although I stop safely shy of claiming full-blown incorrectness.

However, as stated, we do meet other Barkers and perhaps they are all he. The focus here is on one Cecil Barker, more precisely, the focus here is on sussing-out if they are one and the same, the Retired Colourman and Valley of Fear Mr. Barkers. According to William Stuart Baring-Gould and his chronology of canon, RETI took place in July of 1898. Before that, Cecil Barker plays a role in The Valley of Fear, circa January 1888. Again, could this be our first introduction to our man? If so, we know a lot more about him or at least have a lot more potential information with which to hypothesize upon his character-build. This VALL role is a meaty role.

The Barker in VALL is introduced as “Cecil James Barker, of Hales Lodge, Hampstead.” This immediately does two things, one offers somewhat of a pro and the other somewhat of a con, in connecting the two Barkers as one. First, the full name. He is known only as Barker in The Adventure of the Retired Colourman, as well as (in which we will delve in pt. 3) The Adventure of the Empty House. Although the allusion to EMPT is admittedly misleading, as he is not mentioned by any name at all. Although a VALL full name, an EMPT cameo, and a familiar surname in RETI as acts I, II, & III of his saga, can well be a designed thing.

Nevertheless, ‘Hampstead.’ puts him near enough to his RETI base of Surrey. Thus far, it’s inconclusive at best. Looking further, what is his role in the Valley story? He was a regular guest at Birlstone House and quite cozy with Douglas/Edwards and his wife, and with D/E from the way-back. He was first on the scene of the murder. Posited his own ‘very definite’ theory (although he did know the truth) and even went so far as to seem adept at handling said scene, or at least not tainting it. (Adept up to manipulating it.) “Nothing has been touched up to now,” said Cecil Barker. “I’ll answer for that. You see it all exactly as I found it.”

Let’s get physical. “A tall, sunburned, capable-looking, clean-shaved man looked in at us. I had no difficulty in guessing that it was the Cecil Barker of whom I had heard. His masterful eyes traveled quickly with a questioning glance from face to face.” Tall jives with his RETI description. Sunburned could be in step with ‘dark’ from those pages as well. An out-of-doors sort of fellow. But clean-shaved. I suppose he could later-on have decided to grow a mustache. Also, ‘stern’ fits. His taking-in of the room seems quite detective-y. He comes to offer the new evidence of a found bicycle. And again, an investigator would be proficient at steering an investigation.

Barker was, as noted, first on the scene. He then turned back to Mrs. Douglas. “Poor Jack is dead! You can do nothing. For God’s sake, go back!” She heeded his trusted words silently. Holmes noted the oddity of this behavior but what if she had known of the potential scheme? I say potential because I do not believe she knew it all until she congregated by the hedges with Barker quite gleefully, in a scene that all but convinced Watson they were, if not knew, her husband’s murder(ers)*… probably the former. Actually, “He entreated her to go back, and she answered him, but what she said could not be heard.” Could be an “Easy. I will explain later,” sort of quick kayfabe convo.

I believe that the most convincing look at Cecil Barker as a detective in-the-know was slipped in with, “He imagined that some secret society, some implacable organization, was on Douglas’s track.” To me, this obviously alludes to the presence of Moriarty–not Scowrers. (Holmes too would acknowledge Moriarty by this adventure’s end.) Remember, word of the Scowrers was no secret, as news of their horrid misdeeds spread throughout America, so why not across the pond? (A trip Cecil took.) Barker’s mind, and here his words, were a step-ahead. From that interview, “Some inquiries are offensive,” Barker answered angrily. Here we see the short-fuse I cited sensing in what is now pt. 1 of our look at him… how he kept it overly in-check during RETI.

More physical traits. Watson likes hands. He freely notes Holmes’ and here in VALL he notes Barker’s “… great, strong [man-handler?] hands.” Remember this from RETI (and from Part 1 here): “When I could twist my head round I looked into the tinted spectacles of my friend and rival, Mr. Barker. It was a curious foregathering and set us both smiling.” WHEN HE COULD. This is strength, as we recall Holmes capable of bending a fire poker. More-so, “strong black eyebrows,” is a match for his I say now probable RETI description. Add too, “broad shoulders” to the growing list.

Now then, what of the VALL lack of ‘grey,’ ‘coloured,’ or ‘tinted’ glasses made mentioned in RETI and EMPT, respectively. Recall this is the first meeting, chronologically-speaking of this character. Perhaps his sensitive eyes were prone to later worsening? Perhaps some unmentioned injury in the interim twixt? Or, perhaps, as his renown grew larger over time so did his need to secret his identity or at least make it a tick obscured. Also, look at the William Stuart Baring-Gould dates. This eye-protectionless VALL appearance occurs in dull-sunned January. EMPT is in April, and RETI, July. It’s sunnier in his shades donning months.

*This is the clincher passage perhaps, in proving these two Barkers are one-in-the-same indeed. “Now all pretense of grief had passed away from her. Her eyes shone with the joy of living, and her face still quivered with amusement at some remark of her companion.” A few ticks later, Mrs. Douglas wants to let Holmes and Watson in on all she’s just learned. At first, Barker rejects the idea but quickly changes his mind: “Yes, that’s it,” said Barker eagerly. “Is he on his own or is he entirely in with them?” In other words, will he work with me, together as private investigators, at the expense of not working with the official police?

And we see here Barker’s plucky bootstrapping attempt at pulling himself up to Holmes’ level. He’s just not been deemed ready yet for primetime. So comes the response of “I wish none of their confidences.” The great detective simply requires eating a fourth egg (cholesterol levels be damned) and then will show how he has the case in hand. He knows Barker lied and so did the Mrs., and furthermore that they are not the actual murderers. “Mrs. Douglas and Barker are both in a conspiracy to conceal something; that they aided the murderer’s escape,” the master is almost there if not silently already arrived.

We now come to Holmes baiting Barker via the direct correspondence of a letter. Long unnecessary story short, enter the not-dead at all previously thought brutally murdered Douglas. He says, “I hadn’t much time to make it all clear to Barker and to my wife; but they understood enough to be able to help me. I knew all about this hiding place, so did Ames; but it never entered his head to connect it with the matter. I retired into it, and it was up to Barker to do the rest.” So she did know and what I mentioned before between Barker and wifey was simply a notification of all going according to plan. With Barker taking the lead because, again, who better to steer an investigation than an investigator? That or it’s a high-probability-percentage utter fabrication.

Finishing up what we do know of our man, our one-man, Barker, he amassed a fortune alongside Douglas. Deep pockets are mandated if pursuing a career similar to the one which Holmes invented if you wish at all to play at or near his level. He’s an Englishman, as I deduced in pt.1, and at this tale’s completion–he is in league with Sherlock Holmes. It’s he that brings word of the death of Birdy Edwards to 221b. He “beat his head with his clenched fist in his impotent anger. “Do not tell me that we have to sit down under this? Do you say that no one can ever get level with this king devil?” ‘WE.’

“I don’t say that he can’t be beat. But you must give me time–you must give me time!” We all sat in silence for some minutes while those fateful eyes still strained to pierce the veil.” A meeting of all those employed under the Holmes Detective Agency. I’d imagine with Barker allowed to moonlight later, then inheriting upon Holmes’ retiring to the bees. Why then, do we not know of Barker’s own adventures, even as we know of Holmes’? One word: Watson. Everyone plays a role in the HDA. The Master, the hot-headed apprentice, and the loyal chronicler.

REMINDER OF TIMELINE
(William Stuart Baring-Gould)

VALL: 7 January 1888
EMPT: 5 April 1894
RETI: 28 July 1898

Part 3 The Adventure of the Empty House

Here we are at the third and final chapter of our look into the Barker character(s?) found within the Sherlockian canon. While preparing this particular part, a thought crossed my mind: chronology. Chronology as to a thing Holmes has said. Holmes has stated that he is the lone representative of his chosen career. What to make of this? Does it blow this all out of the water? Parts of it? Gee, I would kinda feel foolish if it did.

“Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I’m a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is.” That from A Study in Scarlet, which is well-before the time that any Barker is mentioned/introduced. Funny how he ‘supposes,’ however. A lazily stated thing, that. In any event, this hurts neither our cause nor case in any conceivable way. Excelsior! Also, whew.

I note the blase though because in his next (and minorly problematic) claim to the same, he is far more definite: “The only unofficial consulting detective” Holmes’ clearly flatly states in The Sign of the Four. The detective doth protest too much? Well, they are each different conversational confines, but also maybe he wants to overtly un-acknowledge an upstart competitor? Remember, there are nine months of overlap (see timeline somewhat below). (VALL/SIGN)

There is a moderate-sized chance that he knows of Barker already by the time he’s introduced in VALL during said overlap, even if they perhaps haven’t yet met or laid an eye on one-another. “I had no difficulty in guessing that it was the Cecil Barker of whom I had heard.” Muses Watson. Holmes, of course, always knows more and often opts not to share that more. Could it be though, that Watson was speaking of items slightly-prior to the current case, as well?

Another thought is that I’d say he had perhaps already had designs to bring Barker on-board, making him in Holmes’ eyes somewhat of an employee-in-waiting and by his possible definition not a private individual, per se. And furthermore not an unofficial consulting detective by Holmes’ standards. More of a Pinkerton Agent, really. So not what Holmes himself did. Is it that much of a stretch to think Holmes saw in himself a highly evolved Allan Pinkerton?

Yes, it kinda actually is. Although he did have his Irregulars, his street urchin intelligence agent network. Perhaps it’s Barker not wishing to inherit that named career mantle. Maybe our guy had his own way of stating his occupation. Perhaps this is all linguistic nit-pickery between the two men and in their own heads at that.

Of course, another scenario (and the most-likely one) is that Barker simply wasn’t on his radar until he was in VALL. It can read that way quite well. It makes some sense and slights Holmes’ sights none, seeing as Barker’s locale is noted to be a different one than the Baker Street area.

Regardless of that look into sausage making, and in the conclusion of any timeline quirks, Holmes has stated that he is the lone representative of his chosen career. Then RETI happens wherein Barker is listed as a private detective. What to make of this? Things change. Time marches on. I’m shrugging my shoulders right now, relieved. In any event, and as promised, the William Stuart Baring-Gould timeline. Note that the year of publishing is listed parenthetically:

STUD: 4 March 1881 (1887)
SIGN: 18 September 1888 (1890)
VALL: 7 January 1888 (1915)
EMPT: 5 April 1894 (1903)
RETI: 28 July 1898 (1926)

And now, we at last arrive at the potential Act II of the three-part Barker play within a play. It’s a quick, as noted, cameo-style role of a canonical appearance.

“A tall, thin man with coloured glasses, whom I strongly suspected of being a plain-clothes detective, was pointing out some theory of his own, while the others crowded round to listen to what he said. I got as near him as I could, but his observations seemed to me to be absurd, so I withdrew again in some disgust. As I did so I struck against an elderly, deformed man, who had been behind me, and I knocked down several books which he was carrying.” Watson, [EMPT]

‘Thin?’ Could it be he was thinned out from not eating well while teavelling the road and world with Holmes? That elderly, deformed man of course would later in this tale prove to be Holmes himself, back from the not at all really dead. (Great Hiatus.) Funny, he and our man (Barker?) find themselves in such close proximity, isn’t it? Those ‘absurd’ observations to Watson’s ears are notable, indeed. How often did the good doctor chronicler find Holmes’ own observations some form of absurd prior to them being explained away into elementary simplicity?

But what have we to go on with this possible meeting? For one, the coloured glasses that don’t appear in VALL but do in RETI, are seen here. Granted that’s really only evidence if you buy this whole supposition. Or at least the VALL/RETI connection. Perhaps this EMPT Barker and the RETI Barker are one and the same but Cecil is just Cecil in VALL. It’s all quite possible. We also might be looking at three distinctly different humans… We aren’t.

Regardless, the look of plain-clothes detective fits with his given trade. That’s it and that is all we get here. So why take this for anything greater than what it’s presented as? Because it was presented at all, would be my reply. This cameo appearance runs as ::: very ::: out of place if it is indeed a bit of nothing more than atmospheric setting. At the end of the day, or of this series, I feel quite convinced all three Barkers are one “Cecil James Barker, of Hales Lodge, Hampstead.” [VALL]

A final note here to address Watson’s vague description of who, to be clear, I believe is Barker. Think of his frame of mind. He’s not met much success in emulating Holmes and misses the man as well. Confusion atop grief. That would dull one’s take considerably.

In case it isn’t obvious, I have elected to employ the perhaps somewhat odd method of allowing you Gentlepersons along for the ride as I thought and researched. Apologies if this served to complicate reading. At the end, which is where we are, I hope we had some fun. But are we at the end? I hope you’re not. (Unless you’ve been reading along as these installments were published.)

Part 4 The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

It’s been a tick of time since last we’ve visited our good friend Mr. Barker. If you’ve not been along for the ride at all or not in full, this marks the fourth installment of a three-part series regarding the perhaps recurring character. Yes, you read that correctly. We have taken a whirlwind tour of The Retired Coulourman [RETI], The Valley of Fear [VALL], and The Adventure of the Empty House [EMPT]. But you most likely recall that.

Now, we look at our perhaps-Barker in The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton [Chas]. Also, and more accurately stated, at one Ms. Agatha, a housemaid in Milverton’s employ and fiancee to Holmes when he poses as “a plumber with a rising business, Escott by name,” in order to surveil Milverton’s premises. Yes, you read that correctly, too. Fiancee. Nevertheless, Holmes counters Watson’s in light of this news quite appropriate “Surely, you have gone too far?” comment with…

“You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned.” Now let’s take it back to The Retired Colourman and Holmes’ direct mention of our on-going man of interest. “You had not met Barker, Watson. He is my hated rival upon the Surrey shore.” Hated rival, see.

There are those who feel this ‘hated rival’ points also to the same Barker and furthermore, that when Holmes canned the faux engagement, Barker stepped in and married Agatha the housemaid. Mrs. Agatha Barker, then. Do I count myself amongst those? Well, let’s see–CHAS was first published in Collier’s on March 26, 1904. More importantly and according to (as ever) the chronology of Baring-Gould, the tale takes place on January 5, 1899.

A reminder of the involved Adventures B-G time-line. (For funsies, the year of publishing is listed parenthetically.)

VALL January 7, 1888 (1915)
EMPT April 5, 1894 (1903)
RETI July 28, 1898 (1926)
CHAS January 5, 1899 (1905)

I mean, it certainly seems plausible then. “This agency stands flatfooted upon the ground.” Says Holmes to Watson in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire [SUSS]. He says so in regards to not partaking in the supernatural realm and says so in, again according to B-G, November 19, 1896. (Published January 1924.) Agency. That would indicate having others under his employ, although his rag-tag Irregulars would alone qualify there, but only somewhat. Those street Arabs first appear, after all, in A Study in Scarlet [STUD], the ::: very ::: first chronicled Holmes tale.

But I highly doubt Holmes would elevate the then-current crop to be his Agency. Although, he does pay them handsomely and says nice enough things like they’re “as sharp as needles, too; all they want is a little organisation.” – STUD. Organization. Agency. The problem here is that none of these are of the marrying type (of even a housemaid) or age at the CHAS time, so this must be dismissed. If Barker was once an Irregular, as I suspect, he has some greater age on him at this point. STUD, chronologically, happened March 4, 1881–some 18 years prior.

Come to think of it, that would place Barker at quite a decent and ready marrying age. A figure ten-year-old Study in Scarlet street kid becomes a 28-year-old professional fellow over that time, and under the tutelage then the employment of Holmes. The average marrying age of Victorian Era gents actually seems placed at 26 and a half years. THE CLOCK WAS TICKING, perhaps. I still at least see nothing to conflict here. So then what to make of a Holmes so ready to toy with Agatha’s affections as to treat them as fungible?

We could save his soul by offering him the grace of elaborately playing match-maker in an albeit icky manner. After all, he does not like women but never does treat them harshly. I mean, there is also a sort of precedent set within the canon, with Watson meeting his Mary awhile earlier (B-G 1888) working in The Sign of the Four. The fact that it fits, coupled with the just-mentioned precedent, and adding-in the fact that Holmes admittedly had his back against the wall in dealing with Milverton–

I’d say sure to Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Barker. And to a slew of kids, why not? A thing to recall is that ACD is writing all these stories; years apart, but nevertheless. They are not, as we play at believing, random cases made public by Watson. Therefore, any plausible connection was probably penned purposefully-so. What are the odds of them being accidental? “Hated rival” is not a common phrase and therefore seen as barely less than “Barker.” Only a tick less than a pointed finger. It’s not as if it’s only a character of a certain height to go on.

As an aside, chronologically-speaking, my headache began somewhere between the second and the fourth paragraph of writing this installment. I’ll admit, chronology is most definitely not my most comfortable suit. I thankfully (I’d imagine) cannot taste the passage of time. A little synesthesia humor puts a wrap on things here.Online resources for the CHAS section include: Lit2Go (you can read the full text of most Holmes stories there), Sherlock Peoria, The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, Wikipedia (Baker Street Irregulars), Baker Street Wiki (Mary Watson), University of Cambridge (Populations Past). A special hat tip to The Sound of the Baskerville BSI scion group and a gentleman therein whose name I cannot recall for bringing this ‘appearance’ to my attention. As far as other sections, in retrospect, Wikipedia (RETI, VALL, EMPT, CHAS), and I hear of Sherlock Everywhere (& Trifles).

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