Monday, June 2, 2008

"Ignotum per Ignotius"

       It was well after midnight before the good doctor stopped his inquisitive tossing and turning and finally concluded his dormative investigation: “The Baron was an equivocal sleeper: he slept on both sides. And yet…” And with this, he shot up in the bed and immediately quit his empirical investigation of the scene of the counterpane.
We thanked the Baroness and apologized for keeping her so late. She reassured us that we had certainly not dispossessed her of any sleep. It was deplorable to think of the ordeal set before her tonight, alone in that same house, inconsolable, but my friend was already speeding down the walk. When I seated myself in the cab, he had already given the address and we started out at a gallop.

      As the cab rolled on, the passing lamps flashed on his features, revealing him in unreserved strong spirits, happy and excited as a boy. In actuality, he was indeed smiling the broadest of uninhibited smiles, but whose ends his intelligence, irony and reserve vainly struggled to tuck in: the result was his characteristic familiar crooked grin. I asked if we had some progress, then?

      “Not in the least” he humphed; “We know nothing. We do not know the crime, (if there was any) or the criminal or the circumstances. We do not know the victim, for we do not know his dreams; if we do not know the dreams; we do not know the man.” Characteristically, my friend seemed far from discouraged by these facts.

      “How shall we proceed then?” I inquired.

      “Why we shall take it by the horns,” he smirked, “but we shall not escape the horns of our dilemma, or rather, we will jump the bull, and seem to escape both.” “Except,” and here my friend’s genius practically giggled, “we shall find it is really a trilemma, only the tertiary horn has not yet emerged. For our problem is still too young, a young buck. I cannot see our third horn clearly, and for this, I will need my own dreams, but will have to sleep on both sides like the Baron.”

      We were going home, then?

      “Not myself,” shook my friend. “There are limits to oneiric inspection -at least, unaided.”
I wondered then, with some alarm, where we were, in fact, going, at this unnaturally late hour.

       “To a higher source,” my friend said, toothily, “to the expert of experts, Mother of Sleep and Sister of Death.”

        Despite the fantastic lateness, my friend seemed manically energized, possibly from his spell among the tangle of the Baron’s sheets. He expatiated an encyclopedic review of everything he knew about horns, which was considerable. It was several broad, detailed and authoritative minutes before anything like a conclusion or pause presented itself.

      “Torquatus, of course, tells us that there are thirty-six kinds of animal horn, and two divine or angelic, including antennae.”

       I had been barely able to follow. “Why should it possibly matter, what sort of horns our poor lunatic Baron imagined himself growing?” I asked.

       “Different horns belong to entirely different sorts of animals” my friend replied smartly. “Did our poor Baron imagine them curling out of his head like those of a goat, or poking through? Hardening like a permanent expression or a callous? Were they to be a crowning and glorious growth like antlers? Or a modified tooth (a familiar dream, that), curling out straight as a white lance, like that of the Narwhale –or the Unicorn? The kind of horns that the unfortunate Baron expected tells us what sort of transformation he thought awaited him, what sort of creature he thought he would become and whether this was a blessing, a gift of divinity, a marking of a transition to a higher state, or -a terrible curse like that of the minotaur.

       Of course, my friend was acute and correct as always. My objection was really one of fatigue, exhausted in brain and body from the day’s chase, unlike my friend, who had the benefit of his remarkable constitution and a nap of at least three hours on the Baron’s accommodating pillows. My friend seemed in the highest energization, jocular even, whereas I felt myself drifting off into the rocking cushions, unable to follow his logical excursions further.

       The Hansom cab finally came to a stop in a darkened quarter best known for no one ever claiming any familiarity with it. It rather astonished me to find ourselves there. At this particular corner of bad reputation was a particularly grand and shuttered house, marked only by an emblem that the streetlights barely grasped: a sign of a Yellow Sphinx.

       I had thought the purpose of this continued late-night ramble was to further our investigation. I could not connect the “expert of experts” to which my friend so cryptically alluded with this peccant address. I looked with astonishment at my friend. In the yellow of the lights, his ironic and slitted grin had a suddenly rougish cast, as though the licentious silk and scent of the Baron’s bed had transmitted some moral contagion to him, like scarlattina, that was responsible for his feverish and vital spirits. I realized with some scandal that my friend had spoken in euphemisms about his further intentions this evening.

       I ill-concealed my astonishment, but the good Doctor only smiled as he pulled himself up. “Ignotum per Ignotius,” he said, and descended.

We will, as always, return to our intrepid detectives later. Meanwhile, here is a different sort of investigation.

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