Surprise Climactic Ending
“The Solitary Cyclist” is one of those stories that just left me awestruck and staring at the page for a few minutes, incredulous. When the climax occurs, you’ve got all the puzzle pieces, the heros are down to saving the distressed damsel, and that’s where the excitement happens. But I can’t let you think that that’s the only excitement. This is a very active, and rather pugnacious Holmes adventure.
The case is thus: a young woman, a Miss Violet Smith, regularly cycles between her employment as a governess and the nearby train station so that she may continue to see her mother. She has been followed by another on his bicycle, and this mystery gent always gets away when so she cannot tell who he is. Thus, she calls upon Holmes. Holmes, being busy, sends Watson.
Watson does this lay-in-wait routine and learns only little- that the mystery cyclist is associated with a Hall on the road. Holmes, upset at Watson, and concerned for the girl, goes himself.
“Holmes’ quiet day in the country had a singular termination, for he arrived in Baker Street late in the evening with a cut lip and a discoloured lump upon his forehead, besides a general air of dissipation which would have made his own person the fitting object of a Scotland Yard investigation.”
Short story: Sherlock Holmes started a pub fight.
If you think Holmes as stiff, even in the Jeremy Brett style aloofness, you should really read Holmes’ account of an “entirely delicious” brawl.
That’s our first surprise. I found myself laughing entirely at his delight and the preposterous account, to which he must latter admit that he did little better than Watson and obviously came out the worse for wear.
Later, the two become afraid for Violet, and realize the truth of the matter. Like many stories, it’s an issue over the heart of a woman, in this case a jilted man trying to force a marriage on Violet in the bushes. Her employer was the cyclist who trailed her- because he was also afraid for her. He, Holmes, and Watson go to her rescue, and the employer confronts the jilted man, Woodley, and his old clergyman accomplice. I now present the moment in the text that left me shocked. It’s the stuff of a drama:
“I’ll see this woman righted if I have to swing for it. I told you what I’d do if you molested her, and, by the Lord, I’ll be as good as my word.”
“You’re too late, she’s my wife!”
“No, she’s your widow!”
His revolver cracked, and I saw the blood spurt from Woodley’s waistcoat. He spun round with a scream and fell upon his back, his hideous red face turning suddenly to a dreadful mottled pallor. The old man, still clad in his surplice, burst into such a string of foul oaths as I have never heard, and pulled out a revolver of his own, but before he could raise it he was looking down the barrel of Holmes’ weapon.
I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens next, dear reader, suffice it to say that this is a very visceral Holmes adventure. I will point out that all parties, except Violet had weapons. The line “No, she’s your widow!” caught me so off gaurd that I started laughing and ran through the house to find my fiance (who has finished this one ahead of me) and shout at him about how crazy this story is- in comparison to many others mind you. I believe my words were something like, “Ohmygod, ohmygod, the Cyclist! The Cyclist!”
Very rarely do you actually see Holmes using his martial talents, though we know he possesses them, and the murder happening before our eyes at the end of the story rather than in some other scene before the case begins. Truth is, it is more often than we think, especially when many of the best remembered stories include little on the page violence- just in retelling as part of the case. Perhaps a single punch, or a scuffle, not a Mexican stand off with an ex-clergyman, a jilted lover, and five revolvers trained on each other.
It’s exciting! It’s thrilling! It’s Holmes! And I feel wonderfully surprised!