Decoding the Subtext
Sherlockian Theory
Canon Companions

Decoding the Subtext: The Three Garridebs


Baring-Gould dates The Adventure of the Three Garridebs in June of 1902. As this is the exact date that Watson gives (and indeed, 3GAR is one of the few stories dated consistently) we have no reason to question Baring-Gould's date. The story was first published in October of 1924.


Holmes, having received a curious letter from a Nathan Garrideb, soon learns that the name Garrideb is worth a considerable bit of money. In his letter, Nathan Garrideb explains that he has been contacted by an American named John Garrideb, and that if they can find a third male Garrideb to stand alongside them, they stand to inherited five million dollars a piece. Holmes has just remarked on the singularity of the case when he is visited by the John Garrideb mentioned in Nathan's letter. John Garrideb is not at all pleased that Nathan Garrideb has involved a detective, and yet short of giving himself away, there is nothing he can do save accept Holmes' aid. A curious case, and yet Holmes is soon able to uncover John Garrideb's true identity, his scheme to get Nathan Garrideb out of his home a stroke of genius. Sadly, the conclusion of the case will cost one man his reason, another man a blood-letting, and yet another man the penalties of the law.

The Subtext:

In order to fully comprehend the staggering implications of this story, we must first examine its placement within the chronology. As we have accepted Watson's date of June, 1902, we need only work backwards in order to see the true enormity of the events contained without The Three Garridebs.

Recall that Holmes and Watson first met in the early part of 1881. Over the next twenty years, Holmes and Watson would engage in a brief, but passionate affair, ending with Watson's marriage to Miss Mary Morstan. We have speculated throughout this series that, on several occasions, Watson had separated from Mary and moved back into Baker Street. It is reasonable to assume, then, that Holmes and Watson's physical relationship continued throughout Watson's marriage (albeit sporadically).

We have also speculated that, wracked with guilt for destroying a marriage and no longer willing to share Watson's affections, Holmes was forced to fake his own death in The Final Problem. He returns to reveal himself some three years later, but only after hearing of Mary's passing. Holmes' return signals a new beginning for their relationship, for with Watson's return to Baker Street, we begin to see the slow build up of an emotional, as well as physical, relationship.

As the years pass, this relationship becomes quite serious, Holmes slowly letting down his walls and allowing Watson full access to his heart. Despite this, Holmes has not yet confessed his undying love for Watson; indeed, neither Holmes nor Watson have verbalized their feelings. They have, however, come dangerously close on several occasions, and it is important to note that a little over five years has passed since the events contained within The Adventure of the Devil's Foot --the last such declaration. As we begin, then, to examine the subtext contained within The Three Garridebs, we will be pleased to note that Holmes' walls have finally crumbled; that he has finally confessed what both Watson and the reader has known for some time.

As mentioned above, The Three Garridebs is quite unusual in that Watson fixes the date with utmost certainty. Indeed, the date is confirmed throughout various references in the story, making The Three Garridebs one of the easiest cases to date. Watson tells us:

I remember the date very well...

And here we are quite certain that he does. Indeed, in writing this, some twenty-two years after the events contained within, Watson's memory (and notes) prove quite thorough. Here we must suggest that Watson considered these events to be of some significance, and as we reach our conclusion, the reader will undoubtedly understand the why.

Watson does not, of course, list Holmes' reaction to witnessing Watson's injury as the reason, but rather, tells us that the story occurred in the same month Holmes refused a knighthood, hence making it easy to date. While we do not believe this to be the sole reason, here we are more interested in Watson's statement that he is unable to share the reasons Holmes was offered said knighthood.

I only refer to the matter in passing, for in my position of partner and confidant I am obliged to be particularly careful to avoid any indiscretion.

Interesting, is it not, that, in this story, above all others, Watson should refer to himself as Holmes' partner, and then mention avoiding an indiscretion. Here we suspect that Watson was attempting, through veiled wording, to allude to his relationship with Holmes, for clearly this was meant to be a love story. Indeed, this theory is confirmed as Watson tells us:

Holmes had spent several days in bed, as was his habit from time to time...

We are certain that Watson intended to say Holmes and I had spent several days in bed, for why else should Watson think to mention this curiosity? Indeed, the entire introduction is quite fascinating, for Watson is very careful to remind the reader of his and Holmes' relationship. To the student of subtext, it becomes quite obvious, then, that Watson wishes the reader to recall the intimacy between them; another indication that The Three Garridebs was meant entirely as a love story. Watson is not documenting Holmes' career, here, but rather, their relationship.

This becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the story. At one point Holmes, in response to John Garrideb's question as to whether Watson need know the details, states:

"We usually work together."

Again we are reminded of the partnership between Holmes and Watson. It is also quite telling that it should be Holmes who comments on their professional association. In doing so, Holmes has instantly reminded the reader of his inadequacies in the matter of love. We do not doubt that Watson, had he thought Holmes would have allowed it, would have made a frank declaration of his feelings. It is Holmes, and Holmes' reluctance to speak on such matters, which has guarded Watson's tongue. Watson knows, as does his reader, that Holmes is incapable of verbalizing the swell of emotions contained within his breast.

Having established the current state of their relationship, Watson then moves on to set the scene. He tells us:

It was twilight of a lovely spring evening, and even Little Ryder Street, one of the smaller offshoots from the Edgware Road, within a stone-cast of old Tyburn Tree of evil memory, looked golden and wonderful in the slanting rays of the setting sun.

Truly this description does not belong in a detective novel. Indeed, it is far more suited to a romance novel, and so, again, we must conclude that The Adventure of the Three Garridebs was not, in fact, meant to highlight Holmes' detective skills, but rather, it was meant to highlight a pivotal moment in Holmes and Watson's relationship.

In fact, the entire tone of this story is very indicative of a romance. This is very clearly seen as they sit to discuss the case. Their conversation begins with a compliment:

"Come, Watson, you improve all the time."

Before then moving on to a dire warning:

"This is a more serious matter than I had expected, Watson," said he. "It is fair to tell you so, though I know it will only be an additional reason to you for running your head into danger. I should know my Watson by now. But there is danger, and you should know it."

And finally ending with a heartfelt statement of loyalty:

"Well, it is not the first we have shared, Holmes. I hope it may not be the last."

In examining the above passages, we must first note Holmes' compliment. Clearly, especially given that this is a later case, and that it is entirely likely that Watson has reached his peek and hence is no longer in need (or want) of Holmes' compliments, we must conclude that Holmes had taken to complimenting Watson at times when any other lover might whisper words of endearment.

Next, we must note Holmes' warning. While it is quite apparent that this statement is meant to serve as foreshadowing, we cannot help but note that Holmes appears truly alarmed for Watson's safety. He does not, of course, suggest that Watson stay behind, for Holmes does indeed know his Watson. Still, he cannot allow Watson to walk into this case blindly, for Holmes cares far too deeply for Watson to risk losing him.

Finally, in examining Watson's response, we cannot help but feel touched by this statement of loyalty and devotion. Watson cares very little for the danger involved, wishing only to assume his rightful place at Holmes' side.

Holmes accepts this, likely with a smile of genuine affection, but he does not let Watson brush off the danger so easily. Indeed, Watson tells us:

He took a revolver from the drawer and handed it to me.

Never before have we seen Holmes take these precautions, and while Holmes does confess that the man they are after is quite dangerous, we begin to suspect that something more is at play here. Again, we can suggest that this is entirely Watson's doing, Watson wishing to remind his reader of the relationship he shared with Holmes, doing so by exaggerating the events leading up to the conclusion. Alternatively, it is entirely possible that Holmes, bound to Watson as he was, sensed some unseen threat which made him uneasy.

Holmes does not, however, allow this sombre mood to linger. Indeed, having assured himself that Watson was armed, Holmes suggests:

"I'll give you an hour for a siesta, Watson, and then I think it will be time for our Ryder Street adventure."

It is not unreasonable to assume that Holmes joined Watson for this so-called siesta. Indeed, we can well imagine exactly how they passed this hour.

The story, however, does not truly begin until the moment Holmes and Watson arrive at Ryder Street and find themselves hidden within the dark recesses of Nathan Garrideb's rooms, awaiting the arrival of John Garrideb, aka, Killer Evans.

They wait in darkness until at last Evans arrives, Holmes waiting until Evans has descended into a hidden room before signalling to Watson:

Holmes touched my wrist as a signal.

The above is quite important, for it sets the stage for what is to come. This brief, lingering touch communicates so much, and it is here that we are reminded of Holmes and Watson's ability to communicate without words. And so, when Evans is alerted to their presence and Watson tells us:

In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots.

We instinctively know that the events to come will not be communicated entirely with words.

I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh. There was a crash as Holmes's pistol came down on the man's head. I had a vision of him sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face while Holmes rummaged him for weapons. Then my friend's wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair.

"You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!"

It is quite easy to picture the moment Holmes turns, the pride in his eyes vanishing as he finds Watson bleeding from a gunshot wound; replaced by a horror so acute that Holmes can do nothing but rush to Watson's side and cradle him in his arms. That Holmes should cry out, begging, pleading with God to spare Watson's life, is quite indicative of the depth of Holmes' feelings. Indeed, so profound are Holmes' words and actions that Watson tells us:

It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.

One wonders if, twenty years from this moment, Holmes read the above statement and found himself moved, just as Watson was moved by Holmes' reaction. That Watson should willingly accept any injury, just to know this moment, is touching beyond words. And yet, this is revelation, for Watson clearly speaks of Holmes' heart, and his love. Holmes may not have said the words, but it is clear enough to Watson; Holmes is in love, and no longer capable of hiding it.

This marks a turning point for Holmes, for from this moment on he will cease to hide from Watson. He has bared himself completely, trusting in Watson's dedication and commitment to keep his heart safe. Indeed, even as Watson tells him that it is merely a scratch, Holmes, having now revealed so much, does not retreat behind his cold mask, instead ripping up my trousers with his pocket-knife so that he might assure himself of Watson's well being.

Indeed, upon finding Watson unscathed, Holmes does not hesitate in showing his relief.

"You are right," he cried with an immense sigh of relief. "It is quite superficial."

The gates have been opened, Holmes no longer capable of retreat. Horrified by the prospect of almost losing Watson, Holmes does not stop at mere open declarations of his love and affection. No, indeed, Holmes goes a step further and openly declares his willingness to break the laws of England in Watson's defence. Turning to their prisoner, Holmes states:

"By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive."

The thought of Holmes, beating a man to death to avenge his Watson is quite startling, and yet, we can well see it happening, for Holmes knows that he would be lost without his Watson. Watson has become everything to Holmes, and while it is entirely likely that Holmes has known this for some time, here Holmes has cast aside the last of his defences, offering his heart and soul into Watson's keeping.

So brings about the conclusion of The Three Garridebs, and Watson, leaning on Holmes's arm, soon finds himself back in Baker Street, where we have no doubt that Holmes sought to demonstrate his affections in another, more primal manner; after, of course, Holmes saw to Watson's slight wound.

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