“The high road? That is what you are suggesting, Doctor?”
“Yes, take the high road. It is terribly vexing when someone steals your words, words you toiled over for so long and with such effort. They steal them and then claim them publicly as their own! O the indignity! O the impotent rage! I empathise, truly I do. When I come across a story which chronicles the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in one of the less reputable elements of the metropolitan press, a story which is not authored by me and bears no resemblance to anything Sherlock Holmes ever did, I am incensed. I am enraged. Nevertheless, I think the mature thing to do is to ignore it. Giving attention to an unscrupulous author only worsens the situation. You should pay them absolutely no mind at all. After all these years, you have a dedicated following of admirers of your poetry and plays, and they know what is truly from the pen of Inky Quill. Trust that they will accept no imposters, and do not soil your own conscience with seeking revenge for another's transgression.”
“There is much in what you say, Doctor. It is good advice. Wholesome, mature, sound advice.”
Doctor Watson and I were perched on stools at a rather seedy public house. I appreciated the ambiance and the fact no one asked questions about a porcupine sitting at a bar so long as the requisite coins were laid down first. When Doctor Watson and I had first begun to darken the door of the establishment, I had been met with a curious inquiry or two, but when Doctor Watson replied curtly that I had served and been injured in the Crimea War, all eccentricities of appearance and comportment were explained away, and I suffered no further questions or comments.
“But a hedgehog, Doctor,” I insisted, not wanting to relinquish my complaint. “And a clever one at that! He feigned injury outside my residence at Her Majesty’s Zoological Garden. I took him into the bosom of my home, only to find out that it was all a sham. In the morning, he had fled with my notebook. Thank goodness, it was the notebook with the violet cover.”
“That’s where I keep my purple prose, of course.”
Doctor Watson huffed and proceeded to drain his glass and then my own.
“Forget it, Mister Quill. The act is on his conscience not yours.”
A month later, Doctor Watson and I rendezvoused at the same watering hole.
“You look much happier,” he observed. “Did you follow my advice about that verse thief?”
I coughed and looked as sheepish as a rodent could look. “I am afraid not. I did not follow your advice at all. In fact, I chose the low road, Doctor.”
“The low road? And just what did you do?”
“I arranged for a midnight visit in the spirit of Dickens.”
“Indeed? Tell me more.”
“Well, I am in the habit of collecting my spines as I shed them. They have so many domestic uses. I collected them and employed a clever seamstress to tailor a pair of costumes festooned with the spines. Then I and two associates, the latter disguised as porcupines, found the plagiarist’s lair. We sprang in the dark of night. A carefully placed stick prevented our target from employing his primary defenses, that is, curling up like a ball or running away. Once our audience was captive, we put on three-part drama. The first act was a depiction of his early days when he was a noble creature with no thought of pilfering the fruits of another’s hard work for himself. Then came a presentation of his current circumstance, where he had let his moral fibre become corrupted into deceit and falsehood. Finally, he was made aware of his future if he continued down this path.”
“And what future is that, pray tell?”
“He was made to believe he will be put in a sack on the back of a Jamrach truck bound for Liverpool and parts unknown.”
“You would hand him over to the world’s largest dealer in exotic animals, a villain who happens to be your archnemesis?”
“No, but visited by three porcupines, he was convinced of the earnestness of the threat.”
“Ah, the prickle of conscience.”
“Just so.” I shifted uneasily on the stool as the barman set two pints before us and asked politely how my knee was doing in the bad weather. I grunted and swore as was expected. “I am sorry I didn’t follow your advice and take the high road. It was very good advice.”
“Oh, I do understand. The first time I read a fake Sherlock Holmes story, I ran crying to Mycroft and had him deal with the blackguard. It’s much the same thing.”