The World, October 30, 1906
AMONG THE IMMORTALS.
The scene is a pleasant, wooded valley. Down the centre flows a silver stream, each bank of which is covered with flowers and trees laden with ripe fruit of every description. Dotted here and there throughout the valley, alone and in couples, are figures which seem, somehow, vaguely familiar. As one’s eyes become accustomed to the curious golden glow in which everything is bathed, one realises that these must be the Fields of Elysium, of which one has heard so much. Two figures reclining on a bank of asphodel, with a jug of nectar between them, are easily recognisable as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Under a tree to the left the Hound of the Baskervilles is barking spasmodically at a large cat.
Dr. Watson. This nectar isn’t as good as the last we had. I must write to the committee about it. Bacchus is a good fellow, but he needs keeping up to the mark. Speaking as a doctor, I consider it highly inadvisable to drink stuff like——
Sherlock Holmes (impatiently). Oh, never mind the nectar. We aren’t talking about that. What I say is, that we ought to take steps.
Watson. Oh, is it worth it, do you think?
Sherlock Holmes. Worth it! The thing’s getting a perfect incubus. A fellow doesn’t mind working when he is working. It’s the being dragged from one’s retirement that’s the mischief. Do you follow me, Watson?
Watson. You mean——
Sherlock Holmes. I mean this: magazine duty and book duty are all in the day’s work, and must be gone through cheerfully. But to be made to go on the stage just when one was looking forward to a well-earned rest is too much, and we must protest against it. The thing only needs a little organising. A round-robin to some person in authority—the Lord Chamberlain, for instance—would do it. At present life’s not worth living. Look at poor old Raffles, for instance. Just because of this abominable practice of making us go on the stage, he’s missed the cricket season. First choice for the Elysium team for the Hades tour, and had to chuck the engagement at the last moment because he was wanted at the Comedy Theatre! He nearly cried when he told me. He said that these soft asphodel wickets suited his slow bowling better than Lord’s on a wet day.
Watson. It is a shame, of course. Hullo, Nikola.
Dr. Nikola. I say, Holmes, it’s too bad. I’ve had to speak about this before. Your beastly dog has bitten a piece off my cat’s tail.
Sherlock Holmes. It’s only his fun. I believe the luminous paint excites him. Nikola, Watson and I were discussing the dramatisation of popular characters in fiction. What do you think about it ?
Nikola (with a bulbous, Stanley Wooden stare, full of sinister meaning). Aha! I too have suffered. And not even at a West End theatre. Yes, it is true. I and my cat were staged in the purlieus. A suitable place, you will say, for a cat—but, ha! well, well!
[Relapses into a tense silence.
Sherlock Holmes. Poor fellow, poor fellow! Yours is indeed a sad story. You, at least, will sign the ultimatum. But here come some of the others. Let us ask them. Here, Gerard, Kettle, one moment. Rassendyl, just a second. Who’s that down by the stream?
Watson. Dick Heldar, I think. Yes. Hi, Dick!
Sherlock Holmes. Now, you men, in a nutshell this is the trouble. You know that every fellow who makes a bit of a hit in a book or magazine is made to go and work overtime on the stage?
Captain Kettle. By James, yes! I wrote a piece of poetry about it which you might care to hear. It goes to the tune of “Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” This is how it starts—
“In Pearson’s lurid pages,
In Newnes’s pale-blue Strand,
Our prowess all the rage is;
We’re read throughout the land.
From us large profits flow, and
Increase our author’s hoards;
Why, therefore, should he go and
Send us upon the boards?”
Rudolf Rassendyl. Why, indeed?
Sherlock Holmes. You don’t like it?
Rudolf Rassendyl. I look on it as a profound bore.
Captain Kettle. I’d sooner tackle a mutinous crew of Dagoes with a belaying pin than go through another London theatrical season.
Sherlock Holmes. Just so. My idea was something in the shape of a round-robin to the Lord Chamberlain, putting forward our grievances.
Rudolf Rassendyl. I suppose I ought not to complain. I was certainly dignified. But it’s the extra work I object to.
Sherlock Holmes. Exactly my point. They’ve no right to make us enter the arena again, after we’ve definitely retired. It isn’t fair.
All. Let’s do something about it.
Professor Moriarty. If only you hadn’t, in your officious way, smashed up my splendidly organised band of criminals, Holmes, I could have had every popular author in England murdered in his bed within a week.
Sherlock Holmes (apologetically). Awfully sorry, old man; but duty, you know, duty. You’re a business man, and you know how it is.
Professor Moriarty. Oh, I suppose it’s all right. I’m not blaming you. I’m only saying it’s a pity.
Sherlock Holmes. Just so. But—hullo, hullo, what’s this?
[Raised voices are heard through the foliage, and Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, and Colonel Newcome burst upon the scene.
Colonel Newcome (soothingly). There, there, Vicar! Be a man, sir, be a man. We all have to go through it. Bear it with fortitude. Why, I’m ordered back to active service immediately, and you don’t find me complaining. Be a man, sir.
The Vicar of Wakefield (tearfully). It’s a shame! Do white hairs command no reverence in this benighted age? Is respect for the heroes of the classics dead in England?
All. What’s the matter?
Colonel Newcome (aside). It’s all right. He’ll be better presently. He’s just heard that he’s to be dramatised—that’s all; and he hasn’t got quite used to the idea yet.
The Vicar of Wakefield. But that is not all, Colonel. That is far from being all. If I were to be in Tree’s hands, as you are, I should bear it with Christian fortitude. Irving did me, and I liked it. But I am going on the stage—(frantically)—in musical comedy! [Sensation.
Tom Jones (moodily). So am I. Curse them! I’ve been through a good deal, but this will be the worst of all my adventures.
The Vicar of Wakefield (shuddering). Perhaps—I—may—even—perhaps I may even have to sing—(sinks his voice to a whisper)—a topical song! [Renewed sensation.
Sherlock Holmes (in a crisp, hard voice). Gentlemen, this settles it. This is the last straw. If this is to be allowed to continue, none of us is safe. That ultimatum shall be written here and now. You will sign it?
All. We will!
Sherlock Holmes. All?
All. Every one.
Sherlock Holmes. Stout fellows! ’Tis well. Watson, your stylographic pen and a piece of paper. Thank you.
[Begins to write as scene closes.
p. g. wodehouse.