THE CASE IN THE NIGHT

13 Aug

The night was one of those black, dense, almost tangible affairs. I felt as though I might be able to touch the solid

air itself, and mould it like clay between my fingers. And it was stifling despite the lateness of the hour.

To say I was uncomfortable would be to understate the way I felt. I was in a state of almost unbearable discomfort, and as the night wore on it wasn’t getting any better.

It’s no good, Watson, I’m going to open the door-flap and let some air in,” said Holmes, who I’d thought might be asleep. “But make sure you create no light or the devil might see us!”

We were under canvas … that much must be obvious … and miles from anywhere. So who, you might ask, stood any chance of seeing us, through the moisture-sodden air and the oppressive, tangible heat of a summer night that was worse than any summer night I had suffered when I slaving in an Afghan field hospital?

But I was aware of the devil Holmes was cautious of.

We were in an ex-military tent on the rough terrain of the Cornish landscape with the sound of the not-so-distant sea crashing onto pebbles. Holmes was clad in a bronzed nightshirt that I was sure must be as damp as my own white one as a consequence of all the perspiring we were doing.

What’s he up to?” I asked in a whisper.

He stared at me and I could just about make out the intensity of his gaze in the almost complete darkness. “Watson,” he said, “you know why we’re here and what we expect to be doing in the morning. If my calculations are right, and I will remind you that they usually are, then Moriarty is smuggling in contraband worth thousands.”

Spirits, wine, that sort of thing?” I asked him. The truth of the matter is Holmes is never exactly forthcoming when he’s in the middle of a case and it might seem that I follow him rather too blindly for my own good.

That, and more,” he said crisply. “Now hush, Watson, we’ll need all of our intellects working fully come dawn.”

I can’t sleep in this fug,” I complained, “and the sound of the sea is most off-putting. All that water and here we are suffocating!”

Control yourself, Watson,” he ordered me, and lay still.

I must have dozed off fitfully after a while because it seemed as if no time had passed when Holmes nudged me and hissed “wake up, Watson,” in my ear.

I opened my eyes to be aware of daylight. It was still sultry, the skies overcast as if threatening rain but the air stifling and almost overburdened by the toxic stench of Holmes’s pipe. I coughed and spluttered, but he ignored me.

The game’s afoot!” he whispered, pointing. It was then that I appreciated the care with which Holmes had selected this place out of so many for our tent. We were largely hidden from view, though there were few people likely to want to view us on this broken landscape. But we had a first-class view of the sea and in particular of a vessel bobbing up and down as it crept towards the shore.

Come, Watson,” urged Holmes, and I noted that he had already replaced his nightshirt with more traditional daywear. I pulled my trousers and shirt on and laced my shoes.

I wouldn’t mind a bite of breakfast,” I grumbled.

All in good time, Watson,” he said as he led me out of the tent and we crept over broken rocks and rubble until we were almost on the beach, though it was hardly a picturesque sandy beach but one made almost entirely of stones and grit.

The bobbing boat was almost beached and its crew of what looked to be two swarthy individuals was busy pulling on ropes, dropping an anchor and preparing to jump ashore.

Whoa, Watson,” breathed Holmes unnecessarily because I was as still as a statue in the morning air.

Then, as we watched, a third person appeared, this time on the land. I’d expected it to be Moriarty, but it wasn’t. It was most obviously a woman, and a finely-shaped one at that.

As she made her way carefully towards the boat I caught a glimpse of her face and was shocked. It was the familiar face of the beautiful Lady Primrose Sebastion and she was smiling the radiant smile of one who has no fear of apprehension.

What’s this, Holmes?” I whispered, “The Lady Primrose Sebastion?”

Sssh, Watson,” he hissed irritably. It was suddenly clear to me that he had been caught out by what was clearly an unexpected diversion.

This is all wrong,” he whispered after a while. “I have it on good authority that the little boat bobbing itself stupid by the beach is loaded with contraband. And if that’s the case, what’s someone with Lady Sebastion’s intellect and capabilities doing here? Mycroft didn’t mention that she had anything to do with this affair!”

Ah, your brother Mycroft. I might have known,” I sighed.

What do you mean, Watson?” he almost barked, and I was surprised that the men from the boat and Lady Sebastion didn’t hear him.

Well, he is certainly your equal when it comes to the intellect, Holmes,” I said thoughtfully, “but he is more capable than are you of misinterpreting events. And maybe this is one of those occasions when a genius can be mislead by the very facts he is so fond of.”

Hush, Watson, let’s watch. Events that unfold before our eyes may make matters clear.”

And so we watched as the two crew of the small boat returned to it (the water was shallow enough to allow them to paddle up to their knees) and there was a great deal of shuffling and heaving, and then, like a ghost rising out of the machine, a third figure appeared with them.

He was tall and dark, with the complexion of those men who inhabit sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that was emphasised when he smiled at Lady Sebastion, his teeth gleaming brightly in the morning light.

Welcome, sir,” we heard her say as she reached out and shook him by the hand. His reply was an inaudible mumble, but sounded friendly and not at all threatening.

Holmes had clearly had enough of what he saw as a charade and he stood up and strode towards the little group. By the time he was half way there the crew had returned to the boat and were already in the process of hauling on the anchor.

What is going on?” he called imperiously. “I have been deceived!”

The Lady Primrose Sebastion turned to face Sherlock, and she smiled warmly as if she had fully expected him to appear at precisely that moment.

Ah, Sherlock, at last,” she said, “I rather hoped Mycroft’s deceit wouldn’t dissuade you from putting in an appearance in the off-chance that forces intent on preventing my friend from joining me for breakfast… May I introduce John Sebastion-Smith, aeronautics genius and scientific mastermind. He is to join Lord Sebastion and hopefully design a flying machine that will conquer the world of aviation, but the only way we could gain admittance for him is like this. You see, society isn’t ready to admit that black brains can be superior to white ones!”

Sherlock nodded, then turned brusquely and marched back to our tent with me following behind him.

I have been deceived,” he protested to the sweating canvas when he got there. “I would have done all I could to help without the deceit. It is that which hurts. Of course the man’s a genius. I wrote a pamphlet explaining just that oh, a year or more ago. Colour has nothing to do with anything but colour. But the deceit! The twisting of facts! Unforgivable, and I will tell Mycroft just that!”

Yes, Holmes,” I murmured, “your reaction to deceit has always been clear.”

© Peter Rogerson 01.08.17

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