• Small mention, expansive role
    January 15,2014
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    Sometimes quite minor characters who are mentioned only rarely can still have a great effect on a narrative. They set in motion movements that acquire momentum of their own, far beyond what the character envisaged.

    Such a one was Stamford. He appeared on only two or three pages of a story, but what he did presaged four decades of solid adventure. He’s never given a first name, but his actions deserve to be recorded in some sort of historic memorandum and citation.

    Years before, this Stamford was an assistant in a medical establishment under a fledgling doctor named John H. Watson. Watson becomes an army medical man and is sent to Afghanistan, where he is wounded in battle and eventually invalided home.

    While at a London drinking establishment, he is greeted by Stamford, and as they catch up on each other’s history, Watson says he’s looking for a residence that is comfortable but not expensive. Stamford says, by chance, he heard the same sentiment from someone else that very day. Watson says he’d like to see if the two of them could agree on a joint residence, and Stamford takes him to the lab where the other chap is working.

    The “other chap” is, of course, Sherlock Holmes. They take quarters at 221B Baker Street in London. From that point onward, Stamford disappears from the account, but you can see how he brought the two important characters together, and deserves to be recognized historically.

    As a matter of fact, another person who deserves similar recognition appears even less frequently than Stamford but played a crucial role. That was Murray — another person with no first name — who was Watson’s orderly and rescued him from capture after the doctor was wounded. Murray appears only once, in the second paragraph of the first Sherlock Holmes story, but his role is important.

    Watson is fond of mentioning cases that haven’t seen the light of day — for instance, “The papers of ex-president Murillo, and also the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship ‘Friesland’ which so nearly cost us both our lives.”

    It would be nice to know about that near-fatal event.

    On another occasion, Watson says: “I see my notes on the repulsive story of the red leech and the terrible death of Crosby, the banker. Here also I find an account of the Addleton tragedy, and the singular contents of the ancient British Barrow. The famous Smith-Mortimer succession case comes within this period and so does the tracking and arrest of Huret, the boulevard assassin — an exploit that won for Holmes an autographed letter from the French president and the Order of the Legion of Honor.”

    With the exception in a manner of speaking of the Murillo papers, none of those events came to anything more than the mention in those passages. But you have to admit Stamford’s contribution was to set in motion quite a train of piquant activity.

    Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.
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