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Written by:  Chuck Lavazzi.
© 1995, 2000 All Rights Reserved.

Volume 1, Number 4
Autumn 2000
On line Version

A Bunch of Violets

Chuck Lavazzi

Watson & Holmes Image

             According to Baring-Gould it was Saturday, April 13th, 1895 when the adventure of The Solitary Cyclist began with the arrival at Baker Street of Miss Violet Smith. From the very beginning, it's obvious that Miss Smith made a profound impression not only on Watson (whose experience with women, we are told, "extends over many nations and three separate continents" (The Sign of Four) but on the otherwise imperturbable Holmes. Even though the detective is deeply embroiled in dealing with the "peculiar persecution" of the millionaire John Vincent Harden, Watson tells us that "it was impossible [for him] to refuse to listen to the story of the young and beautiful woman, tall, graceful, and queenly, who presented herself at Baker Street late in the evening". He even finds himself compelled to smile at her mention of her fiancée and comment on the "spirituality" of her face.

             But this "beautiful intruder" (that's the smitten Watson, again) is only one of a veritably nosegay of Violets who pop up here and there in the Canon. Indeed, Holmes and Watson seem to have something of a habit of crossing paths with pretty, bright, and formidable women named after that rather diminutive herb.

             "There is, for example, the case of Violet Hunter, who consulted with Holmes about taking a position as governess at The Copper Beeches. Watson effuses less over her, describing her as "plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover's egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the world." Her effect on Holmes is no less marked, however. "I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of his new client" he writes. "He looked her over in his searching fashion, and then composed himself, with his lids drooping and his finger-tips together, to listen to her story." Indeed, by the time Violet Hunter has finished describing her unusual offer of employment from Mr. Jephro Rucastle, Holmes is sufficiently concerned about her welfare to pledge that "at any time, day or night, a telegram would bring me down to your help." As it turns out, of course, Watson's assessment of her as "a young lady who is very well able to take care of herself" turns out to be quite accurate, and this particular Violet turns out not to be of the shrinking variety at all.

1911 Postcard From The Collection of Norma Beredjiklian

             Then there's the case of Miss Violet Westbury, the fiancée of the unfortunate Arthur Cadogan West, murdered for his efforts to stop the delivery of The Bruce-Partington Plans into the hands of the Huns. As you will recall, West is suspected of the crime himself until Holmes' investigation reveals the identity of the real traitor. Despite her grief over the loss of her future husband, Violet Westbury can think only of clearing his name. Her parting words to Holmes after their interview are: "Oh, Mr. Holmes, if you could only, only save his honour! It was so much to him." We don't see much of this particular violet, but the glimpse we do get is admirable.

             And finally there's General de Merville's daughter Violet (The Illustrious Client), who seems to impress everyone she meets. Colonel Sir James Damery, for one, describes her as "young, rich, beautiful, accomplished, a wonder-woman in every way" as he pleads with Holmes to find a way to free her from the clutches of the dastardly Baron Adelbert Gruner. Unlike our other Violets, however, this one has no interest in the detective's services. Confronted with a list of Gruner's crimes and an impassioned speech from Holmes, de Merville dismisses the world's foremost consulting detective as "a paid agent who would have been equally willing to act for the Baron as against him" and gives Holmes and the aggrieved Kitty Winter the proverbial bum's rush. Nevertheless, Holmes is as impressed with her as the General . "She is beautiful," he tells Watson later, "but with the ethereal other-world beauty of some fanatic whose thoughts are set on high. I have seen such faces in the pictures of the old masters of the Middle Ages." Fortunately, even this other-wordly beauty is eventually sobered by a look at Gruner's little black book.



             But the most remarkable Violet is connected with a story for which the world is not yet prepared. I have recently come into possession of a battered tin dispatch-box which has been gathering dust for years in the vaults of Germania Savings and Loan. Inside I found a remarkable manuscript revealing that our first violet, Miss Smith of Solitary Cyclist fame, had a younger sister, also named Violet and also musically talented. While her older sibling excelled at the piano, however, the younger Violet was an accomplished virtuoso on the tenor saxophone, then a relatively new instrument. The Smith sisters played duets for some years and had a number of adventures. However, Watson elected not to report them, fearing that the Victorian public would be shocked by a tale so filled with sax and Violets.

© 1995, 2000 Chuck Lavazzi
For The American Violet Society
All Rights Reserved

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