When I mentioned to Nick Meyer that I had never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, his response was a blank stare and, “Excuse me?”
Now that I’m into the novel, considered by ACD himself to be one of his best, I understand Nick’s dismay. This book is a rollicking adventure of knightly derring-do during the Hundred Years War, yet not as far removed from the world of Sherlock Holmes as you might think.
In Chapter X, we find Sir Nigel Loring saying, “You see, dear heart, that they will not leave the old dog in his kennel when the game is afoot.” And two chapters later we read, “Fast spread the tidings, from Thorpe to Thorpe and from castle to castle, that the old game was afoot once more . . .”
Sherlock Holmes, of course, famously cries at the beginning of “The Abbey Grange”: “Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot.” That is the only time he quotes (or, rather, misquotes by not using a contraction) Shakespeare’s Henry IV: Part One, Act I, Scene 3, although Watson speaks of the game being afoot in “Wisteria Lodge.” The phrase is used in approximately 95 percent of all pastiches, however, to the point where it is become a cliché.
Encounter “the game is afoot” in the great novel of knighthood struck a familiar note for me. So, I immediately went to my Sherlockian library and found a monograph on “Hints of Holmes in The White Company” by Bill Mason, printed as an 8-page pamphlet. I think I inherited it from Joel Senter.
Beyond the game being afoot, Bill’s monograph deals with bitterns on the moor in Chapter IV (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles), a reference to “Holmesley glades” in Chapter XII (leading to a discussion of Sherlock and Mycroft’s country ancestors), the annulets of the Musgraves in Chapter XXXIII, and parallels between Sherlock Holmes and the heroic Sir John Chandos, he of the hawk-like face and high aquiline nose.
And one more hint of Holmes hit me in reading the book – the brief appearance in Chapter XV “a crooked man”!