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THE CASE OF THE PRIEST’S GOLD

16 Oct

The case that I’m about to embark on is quite sensitive, Watson,” Holmes said to me with that serious expression on his face that rarely bodes well.

Many of them are,” I told him.

This has to do with the Brough Street boys,” he said, quietly, no doubt afraid that Mrs Hudson might hear and pass it on in gossip.

The Brough Street Boys? Who might they be?” I asked.

Do you know Brough Street, Watson?” he asked.

I shook my head.

I rather thought not. I doubt any of the residents of that dark corner of London Town could afford the services of a medical man such as yourself,” he said. “Most of the men down there have a hag for a wife, upwards of ten scruffy urchins to support and very little honest work with which to pay their way through life. Brough Street is the last port of call for many before the workhouse!”

Sounds pretty dire,” I murmured.

Dire it is! Well, Watson, Lestrade of Scotland Yard has called on my assistance. Apparently two contradictory things are happening at the same time. Firstly, there has been an increase in petty crime in the surrounding area. Small but valuable things have gone missing, items of jewellery treasured by fashionable ladies who are fortunate enough to live in magnificent Georgian homes but at the same time unfortunate enough to have Brough street as a near neighbour.”

That thinking condemns all in an area to a common criminality, and is unworthy of you, Holmes,” I told him.

I understand, Watson, and I’m sure that you’re right, but it would seem that a large group of boys, most of them of school age but repeating truants, are responsible. Some will cause a distraction whilst others do the thieving and everything seems to be orchestrated by a devious criminal mind.”

I see. But you mentioned the sensitive nature of the case, and the antisocial behaviour of a group of vagabonds is hardly sensitive,” I said.

So we come to the second element on Brough Street,” muttered Holmes. “There is a church at one end, built no doubt as an attempt to spread some sort of good word amongst the paupers of the area, and Lestrade is convinced that every boy who lives on that street attends that church regularly, though at irregular times, and that there must be a connection between the thieving and the faith! I can’t see it myself, unless the priest is some kind of perverse Fagin, delighting in profiting from the activities of wretchedly criminal boys.”

But he’s a man of God, Holmes,” I protested.

Then I feel he and his church need looking into,” decided Holmes. “I would like to think that as a man of God he is looking after the eternal souls of those boys, but it has crossed my mind that he may be more a man of the devil!”

I can’t see that, Holmes,” I rumbled.

Then let us put it to the test, Watson. I have booked a cab for ten o’clock and would be delighted if you accompanied me! Your foresight and trust in the basic good of priests might come in useful!”

And so it was that we found ourselves at St Dennis’s church in the region of Brough Street later that morning.

It was a most depressing area, back-to-back terraced dwellings, all so clustered together it was a miracle that there was even room for a family in any of them, yet the street was awash with youngsters, playing simple games with make-do equipment and exuding a sense of deprived semi-starvation and a general escape from the accepted norms of hygiene and cleanliness. I noticed with surprise that they were mostly girls and that someone, their mothers I presumed, had made some attempt at washing their tatty clothes, but to very little effect.

The road itself was unmade and our cabbie stopped at the end of it and called down to us, “this is far as I go, Mr Holmes. Old Ned can’t be expected to pull us on a surface so full of pot-holes as this.”

That’s all right,” replied Holmes, and he jumped down. I followed him.

As luck would have it the church was at the end of Brough Street where we were standing, and Holmes, after requesting that the cabbie wait for us, walked purposefully into the building.

There was a hushed sense of people. We stood at the back of the main part of the, nave. At the front, or the other end, a cleric in his robes was surrounded by a group of boys, all looking up at him with rapt attention on their faces. In contrast to the white-robed cleric with his spotless vestments, they were scruffy urchins, but hushed as though learning some deep lesson.

There’s gold,” said the man, beaming at them, “a precious metal created by the good Lord in the beginning, and useful to those who wish to join him in Heaven when their time is up. And we all know, don’t we, lads, just how temporary life on Earth can be. There can be few who haven’t witnessed a love-one pass away.”

One boy stuck a grubby hand up. “Sir, my dad were ‘anged but a month ago,” he said, proudly. “Is ‘e wiv the good lord?”

Much depends on what he was hanged for, Davey” said the priest, “but hearken, my good fellows! A handful of gold is worth an eternity in Heaven and is measured against all the ill that we do when our time comes. Little Timmy just here, he managed to acquire a splendid gold pocket watch only last week, and when it was melted down it made the Lord enough pounds and shillings to teach little dark boys in Africa all about him…”

What about that sovereign I … found?” chirped another boy.

Ah, Freddy, that was special!” beamed the cleric, “and I’m sure that all the bibles it paid for are all on their way to the dark continent even as we speak. But listen. What do you boys know of diamonds?”

They’re like glass,” suggested one squirt of a lad, “but they reckon as they’re harder…”

You are so clever,” beamed the cleric, “but hush, my friends, I have just spotted that we have visitors standing at the back of the church! We mustn’t share our secrets with them now, must we?”

Holmes, having been detected, marched to the front of the nave.

Have I heard right?” he demanded, “have I just heard a lesson in theft? Is it possible that a man of God is encouraging the waifs and strays of this parish to steal and rob? And there is so much that is wrong in the world, yet you are increasing the burden of wickedness manyfold!”

Sir, this is my church,” rasped the priest, “and you are intruders! Please leave, or I will order one of my congregation here gathered to fetch a policeman!”

I wouldn’t do that,” I advised him, “for the policeman might ask the opinions of Mr Sherlock Holmes, my friend and compatriot, and you will find it very difficult to gainsay his opinion!”

Sherlock Holmes, you say?” stammered the other, “well, let me explain. I have a fund that is used for the education of the ignorant in far off lands. Bibles are bought and paid for, missionaries are sent, good souls willing to save the eternal spirits of the ignorant. And that fund is being added daily to by the diligence of these boys here.”

Who rob and steal and are responsible for a major crime wave in this area?” barked Holmes, “and if it is wealth you are trying to gather, why not spend it on the very people who live in this parish? For I have seen evidence in the street outside this church of more need and hunger in this area than could possibly exist in much of Africa, where the people are generally happy and well!”

But the dark people, the Africans, they need to be taught about God!” explained the priest in tones that suggested he might be preaching to an ignorant child. “They need bibles,” he added, as if it was an obvious truth.

And your neighbours need sausages!” rapped Holmes. “I must inform your reverence that I intend to report what I have heard to Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard and he will send an army of policemen down here to examine every minute detail of your good works! Come, Watson, it is solved! The Priest is a Fagin as I suspected and the boys are deceived by carefully composed words!”

Then he stepped into the midst of the little gathering of ill-fragranced boys.

Your criminal behaviour must stop,” he ordered, “for if you carry on like you are I fear there will be more hangings than this poor boy Davey’s father had to suffer, and you will never find your way to any Heaven I’ve ever heard of.”

And we left at that, leaving behind a confused rabble of confused boys. The cab was still waiting for us and we were soon on our way back to Baker Street.

A very stupid priest,” I muttered to Holmes.

Ah, Watson, but it’s the boys we should sympathise with. And I do, I really and truly do.”

© Peter Rogerson 08.09.17

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THE CASE OF THE HANGED MAN

13 Oct

It was unmistakable in the morning air, the almost inaudible sounds of a man crashing to his death as the noose of the gallows tightened round his neck. And then the sort of silence that is bred of an unnatural calm as the soul is supposed to be drifting on its way to Hell. It wouldn’t be Heaven, not for this miscreant! Hell would be his destination all right, if you believe in such a place.

He was made for the place. He was a killer. The judgement had proved it.

Holmes had been strangely quiet as we stood by our buggy next to the horse and gazed at the prison, waiting for the sounds that told us our waiting was over. The gallows had done their work and I detected that he was troubled by it. We stood there for a good half hour, each with his own thoughts, trying to shake thoughts of what can only be called legally enforced murder out of or minds.

A moment, Watson, I need to answer a call of nature,” he said in an almost unfamiliar strangled voice as he disappeared round a nearby corner.

Don’t let anyone see,” I taunted him, and waited for his return. The morning was chill, there was nobody else about and I shivered. I particularly hate prisons and the very idea of a man’s life being so cruelly terminated, but that was British justice and I supposed I preferred not to think too deeply about it.

Well, Watson, I wonder what he’ll be up to next,” murmured Holmes on his return as he climbed into our buggy.

In Hell you mean, Holmes?” I asked.

No, Watson: here on Earth.”

But he’ll be dead even as we speak!” I protested.

Let me point out a few insignificant little things you might have noticed as we waited for the appointed hour, small matters that may well be nothing in themselves but which add up to a great deal of doubt about the actual present condition of Smithson,” he murmured as I joined him on board and the horse was coaxed into movement.

Smithson, Holmes, is dead,” I said determinedly.

If he is then it’s a gross miscarriage of justice!” he said in his more acerbic voice. “He was innocent of the crime he was convicted for, that much is obvious and pours a great deal of doubt on the quality of British justice. The clerk too his own life out of shame, and poor old Smithson, who is guilty of many other offences over the years, was set up to look guilty.”

Then, if you’re right, it’s a shame he had to die,” I murmured, still quite convinced that Holmes was backing the wrong horse for the first time in his life. “The hangman will have made sure that he is dead, and the doctor will confirm it and, if need be, the priest will be asked for his opinion!”

Then what’s afoot over there?” pointed Holmes.

The prison in which the condemned cell had been constructed had a second gate, a service entrance I suppose you’d call it, and through it, with a guard ensuring that nothing was amiss as it trundled along, came a delivery wagon, one of those modern motorised affairs powered by a rather smoky steam engine and hissing as if it might be about to explode at any moment. It wasn’t, of course, it was just the appearance of uncontrolled power that gave that impression and unnerved me.

It looks like the rubbish,” I said, “even prisons have rubbish you know, Holmes, a great deal of it when you consider the number of meals that are prepared for the convicts to chew on.”

And other debris,” he pointed out. “but the dead don’t leave that way! And there are more dead than those hanged by law you know, Watson. Some even take their own lives, wishing to meet their maker rather than suffer the humiliation of facing up to their crimes. Others, even, reach the end of their natural days in a confinement imposed by a judge. But they are a different affair and that wagon contains only half putrid rubbish, and Mr Smithson.”

There you go again, Holmes. The man’s dead, I am sure.”

Attention, Watson. Listen: did you notice the beggar hovering not too close and not too far from the main gate this morning? You must have done because I recall asking you what you made of the fellow.”

I did, Holmes, but he went away after a while.”

You saw him go, Watson?”

Not exactly, Holmes, but I did notice eventually that he was no longer standing there. What’s he got to do with Smithson?”

A moment, Watson, pray. Did you, perchance, happen to notice the good reverend in his surplice and robes when he arrived and was swept into the entrance by a guard waiting specially for him?”

Of course I did, Holmes! I thought he looked very much like an imitation of your brother Mycroft. Maybe it was his, er, corporation!”

And did you ask yourself what a priest was doing arriving at such an hour when the prison employs one of its own for the care of the spiritually bereft in their cells? Why import a stranger, eh?”

If he was a stranger! He was a man of God, Holmes, and therefore stranger to nobody.”

What was, shall we say, special about him, Watson?”

What are you getting at, Holmes? He may have been a little on the portly side, such men are, for they do the rounds of their parishioners and eat cake in most kitchens, and drink a great deal of port, I’m told!”

Quite so, Watson. Tell me about the exotic lady of the night, the woman who gave every appearance of being a whore on her way home after a successful night’s business.”

I did notice such a creature, Holmes, and considered her to be as far from being a temptation ready to lure the frustrated man as any whore could be. She had an almost masculine look to her.”

That would be, Watson, because she was a man! There are some strange and exotic tastes amongst humanity and one of them is a twist of nature which encourages an apparently normal man to have desires of, what shall I call them, a peculiar nature. And Madame Shallot satisfies that group of men, being a man dressed as enticingly as a woman as he can. And while he was cavorting on the path opposite the prison gates, adjusting this or that item of clothing and exposing a great deal of pale leg in an apparently casual and needful way, far enough from any watching eyes for them to be deceived and consequently tempted by what they imagined they might catch a glimpse of, the tramp disappeared under the robes of the priest as he passed through the gates.”

Really, Holmes? Should the authorities not be informed? We can’t have justice perverted by such deceit!”

I would agree if it was justice, but Smithson did not commit the murder he was accused of, and to my certain knowledge has never murdered or even harmed another human being. His crime, Watson, was of a financial nature. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that one such as Smithson can accumulate wealth in much the same way as city bankers do, yet he is a criminal being pursued by the forces of law and order and they are respected and wealthy and honoured?”

Yet a judge condemned him, Holmes, and who are we to dispute the decisions of such a high authority?”

Pah, Watson! Judge McKiver gambled financially on a scheme designed to make him rich, but it failed whilst Smithson, whose scheme it was, became increasingly wealthy! So Judge McKiver believed that he had good reason to respond harshly when the matter came to court, and when the charge had the unfortunate death of a third party through suicide added to the offence and called murder by an overenthusiastic police department, he was always going to reach for his black cap!”

So what happened at the hanging then, Holmes?”

Don’t think any less of me when I tell you that it was a scheme of my own,” murmured Holmes. “It doesn’t take much to persuade prison guards to look the other way, and when they did the cell into which the unfortunate Smithson was due to drop with a rope round his neck had two additional personnel, the false priest and the tramp, neither being what they looked. For the priest was my brother Mycroft and, you must believe me here, Watson, I was the tramp!”

I stared at him. “You?” I stammered. “But you were here, with me, and urinating over there!”

He smiled again. “Plain simple me,” he assured me, “and you travelled all the way to witness this triumph in the company of Josiah Pomfrey who, you must admit, does look a little like me, though I really ought to give him elocution lessons!”

Anyway, we caught Smithson as he fell, removed the rope and went off with him before anyone was the wiser. You can imagine how grateful he was. They’ll wonder where his body went, but probably conclude that he was buried in the jail grounds by an overzealous guard in undue haste, and forget all about him. And they’ll hopefully forget to wonder about the unauthorised rubbish cart and its extravagant steam engine, though it will make a fine story to tell the kids at home on rainy evenings!”

© Peter Rogerson 0.09.17

THE CASE OF THE SCOTSMAN’S KILT

10 Oct

This is to be one of my more important cases, Watson,” Holmes said to me, “and in order to achieve success I must attempt a rather complex disguise.”

You often do, Holmes,” was all I said, trying not to display too much curiosity. At this time of year my own practice is busy and I can ill afford too much time away from my patients.

And you must accompany me,” he added, eyeing me with a slight smile. “I will be a stranger to you … at least that’s the impression we must give. I believe that Lestrade has all but given up chasing the fellow but I’m more tenacious. I will get him!”

Who?” I asked, trying not to affect a yawn.

Have you heard of McCrabbie?” he asked.

Jock McCrabbie? Of course I have! Hasn’t everyone since he made the front page of just about all the papers. The blackmailer with evidence that would cause many a high-born lady to falter. It’s a filthy crime, Holmes. Really filthy. Did he try to blackmail the King, do you think?”

I believe he did,” muttered Holmes. “The evidence is irrefutable. He always did like to keep an eye on things that might benefit him financially in the future, and he kept his eye on a pile of letters foolishly written by Lady Fosdyke to the king when she was, shall we said, less discreet than a lady ought to be and he was a bachelor gay..”

But she wasn’t Lady Fosdyke then, Holmes, and therefore I suppose she was free to be escorted by any man who pleased her, even a prince if she was so inclined.”

It wasn’t the escorting, apparently, but other things that Lord Fosdyke would most certainly not want to hear about what his wife got up to,” said Holmes. “It may have been a long time ago and Lady Fosdyke, the dear lady, would most certainly not want to do anything of the sort with His Majesty now, but things happened. Serious things. Nocturnal things. Carnal things…”

I say, Holmes, that’s enough!” I ejaculated.

And she wrote them down,” sighed Holmes, “in letters to the prince. She wrote them down, and they were taken and passed on to McCrabbie who knows what they might be worth. If they became public Lady Fosdyke would spend he last few years with the shadow of her past hanging over her and shaming her. Now Jock McCrabbie is hiding in his so-called castle in Scotland and beyond Lestrade’s reach. So Shylock MacWall is off to the North, visiting a maiden aunt, and he is the very essence of the honourable Scot. And he will retrieve the lady’s letters, Watson, for he is the most able of Scotsmen in a kilt and can find his way where few others dare even try!”

In a kilt, Holmes?” I almost sniggered. I have seen Sherlock in most disguises, many of them difficult to penetrate even though I know it’s him, but wearing a kilt? There is something at the back of my mind that suggests that true Scotsmen wear nothing under their kilts, which may be awkward on a windy day…

And I will be the truest of Scotsmen, Watson,” he grinned, obviously reading my mind. “But to business. Tomorrow we catch the fast train North, and it would be handy if we shared a compartment for the journey as strangers.”

I can’t be away from my medical practice for too long, Holmes,” I stressed. “There are several old ladies who believe that the only reason they still walk this lovely land is as a consequence of their doctor’s skill!”

Then they will have to be patient,” he said.

The next day a bearded Scotsman in a yellow and blue tartan kilt was to be seen striding with the aid of a gnarled walking pole down Baker Street and towards the railway station. His brown and grey stranded beard, extravagant and extreme, almost flowed behind him as he stomped along, and the pole was audible for half the length of the street as he slammed it onto the ground with every determined step. And that kilt … it may have been new when Holmes bought it, but in the intervening period he had successfully aged it, creating an image that might be best described as “lived in”.

I left 221b a few minutes after Holmes, and followed him to the station, carrying my medical bag with me … just in case. When I arrived there he was having a loud and very aggressive argument with the poor fellow who issued tickets, and then, bristling, stormed towards the platform. It was all part of his assumed persona, but it did make the railway employee sadly shake his head.

He dinna ken ya naw!” Holmes exclaimed to me when we were standing close together, waiting for the train, six syllables that conveyed nothing but meaningless aggression to me.

Quite,” I said back to him.

When the train pulled into the station I watched as he climbed into a compartment and felt relieved when it was obvious that his antics discouraged others from following him into the same one. I, however, had no such worries and we ended up in the same compartment of a corridor carriage, with no other seats taken.

Ruddy sassenachs!” he grumbled, “It’s a braw… och aye the noo!”

That doesn’t make much sense,” I informed him, grinning broadly, “You’ll have to hone your Scots vocabulary before we get to the land of the brave!”

Just in case we get overheard I intend to get forty winks, which will excuse me from conversation Watson,” he said, nodding. “Nobody can hear us unless the door is opened, but if it is it would be a certain give-away if we changed from English to pidgin-Scots in a breath.”

We, Holmes?” I asked.

Alright. Me,” he growled, and remained silent as we began our long journey North.

You are aware that I’m a medical man?” I asked him after a while.

He nodded, choosing not to desert his character, his eyebrows raised quizzically.

Well, this medical man is in a first class place to be able to judge what one particular Scotsman wears under his kilt,” I said, somewhat uncomfortably.

Watson!” he snapped, and he pulled the folds of his kilt closer to his legs, “I researched this thoroughly and a gruff wise old Scotsman keep his nether regions free of any covering under his kilt,” he said evenly. “It is well known and hence expected.”

Then just learn to sit modestly, Holmes,” I said, and added, “and just be grateful that it’s me who spied your delicate parts and not a blackmailing stranger.”

This has put me quite out of sorts,” moaned Holmes, “I am embarrassed, to tell the truth, Watson, and to that end I am going to leave this train at the next station and pursue my investigation another day when I am wearing trousers. A disguise has to satisfy me that it is thorough, and I can’t have a collection of unsightly objects bursting into display spoiling everything.”

It was you who called the unsightly,” I pointed out.

We’ll resume another day,” insisted Holmes, “in trousers,” he added.

And hope the blackmailer waits for you to be decent and forgets to blackmail?” I asked.

A day or two shouldn’t make a penn’orth of difference,” he growled. “There’s a week before the lady’s time is up.”

We alighted the train at Rugby, and the first thing we saw was a placard by the new-stand that read Jock McCrabbie arrested. Blackmailer behind bars. Correspondence destroyed.”

Holmes picked up a copy and read the first paragraph aloud. It went Scotland Yard detectives have arrested the blackmailer McCrabbie and his ring of thugs has been broken. Letters held by him as blackmailing threats have been taken and destroyed. It is expected that McCrabbie will spend several years behind bars regretting his criminal deeds.

Seems Lestrade was on the case after all, Holmes,” I said, “pity we had to waste our journey.”

It wasn’t completely wasted, Watson,” he said, “at least I have learned a meaningful lesson about kilts and what to wear with them.”

And under them,” I pointed out as we bought tickets for a journey back to London, Baker Street and trousers.

© Peter Rogerson 30.08.17

THE CASE OF THE FLYING MACHINE

7 Oct

The Raven, when he flies, knows a darned sight more than us,” muttered Holmes as we struggled through skin-ripping, trouser-tearing brambles in our pursuit of young Ginger Grump, an ex-soldier who had joined the criminal classes and was gaining a reputation as a successful petty thief.

We’d been after him for days and although it would be untrue to say he had successfully evaded us, we were still in pursuit and in danger of slipping further behind. He was accused of a serious fire-arms crime in which an aviator had been shot at in his make-shift flying machine, and had died, the whole crime having been witnessed by a priest who happened to be on his rounds at the time.

What’s that about ravens, Holmes?” I asked, batting away a ferocious thorn-laden stem that all-but took my eye out.

The raven,” he said, “can fly, and we can’t.”

That’s one thing the avian world has over us,” I agreed, “flying machines or no flying machines.”

Look! There he is! Just bobbing over that rise!” hissed Holmes suddenly.

I saw the sprouting pate of red hair, and at the same time heard a howl of absolute agony.

Something’s got the blighter,” I said.

Get your revolver at the ready,” ordered Holmes grimly, “I believe this is the last lap. If I read things rightly he’s put his foot in one of Farmer Hickory’s traps and is probably begging for someone to come his way with surgical instruments, prepared to amputate that leg and thus reduce his pain!”

I thought that to be quite a leap from the evidence of an agonised bellow and a bobbing head, but said nothing. We fought our way onto the pathway that led towards where Grump was still shrieking, and from then on our way became so much easier I started to wonder what I had been worried about.

Holmes had been right, of course. The ginger-headed criminal had one leg firmly gripped in the jaws of a vicious looking man-trap and the more he tried to pull it free the greater the flow of blood that was already staining the ground around where he still danced as though dancing would help him rather than hinder him.

You’ll lose that leg if you don’t keep still,” observed Holmes harshly. “Though when we get you to Scotland Yard I don’t doubt you’ll set in play a series events that will lead to you losing more than your leg when you find yourself dangling at the end of a rope!”

I never done it, though!” wept Ginger Grump. “They’ll blame me, they always do, but it weren’t me!”

What didn’t you do, Grump?” I asked him.

Shoot that flying machine down! I never had a gun and I never shot it!”

But the witness saw you, Grump,” Holmes told him, “the witness, a reliable man of the cloth saw you!”

The priest? Reliable! He’s got some funny ideas, to be thought reliable! But it’s true as I was there. But I never done it. Get me out, sir, please get me out!”

Watson!” ordered Holmes, not liking to take his eyes off a desperado but knowing he needed to be released. There was a simple but rusted catch and I released Grump from a trap that in my opinion should have never been made, it was so cruel with steel jaws that clamped firmly onto flesh, biting into it, forced by a powerful spring.

Meanwhile Holmes had produced a pair of handcuffs and was forcing the felon’s arms behind his back.

He died, you know, the pilot,” he told Grump almost conversationally. “He wasn’t so high off the ground … the French have much better machines … but he landed awkwardly when the bullet stopped the engine, and it was all up for him, I’m afraid, and you’ll hang for killing him. And, no doubt, for setting back the British air effort by half a decade.”

It was the priest,” growled the red headed crook, still weeping as a consequence of the pain the trap had put him through.

What? A priest with a gun? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” I put in.

Just a moment, Watson, more haste less speed,” murmured Holmes, “you say, Grump, that you actually saw the priest with a gun? You saw him take aim at the flying machine? You saw him fire at it?”

And heard it,” muttered the bleeding crook, “now get me to the wise woman, if you don’t mind, she who lives on Swinger’s Corner down yon way,” he pointed down the rough track we were on, “she knows how to bandage wounds, and I can’t afford a doctor.”

Let me get this straight,” growled Holmes, “here we have a well known petty thief who swears he saw a priest fire a gun at a newfangled flying machine when it was in the air, and at the same time we have the priest who swears on his sacred oath that he saw the aforementioned petty thief fire a gun at the same flying machine. Tell me, Watson, who are the gentlemen of Scotland Yard going to believe?”

The priest, of course,” I said, convinced, “but let me look at that leg of the poor devil. It’s a bad wound, is that and I doubt any run of the mill wise woman would do a good job on it, and I’m a doctor who’s fixed up worse wounds than this.”

I ignored the man’s plea to be taken to his wise woman, though I have no doubt that she was one of the army of such ladies who have picked up great skill over the years, from helping with the delivering of babies to laying out the dead, and all medical tricks in between. Grump’s wound wasn’t actually as bad as it looked and I was able to tidy it up and bind it with a strip that I tore off my own shirt tail, grateful that I had been expecting to venture in rough terrain that morning when I had dressed and had consequently chosen in an old shirt that was already well past its best.

If you reckon I’m due for the gallows, why have you treated me so fair,” asked Grump when I had finished.

It’s what I do,” I told him. “We all have our tasks in life. You pick pockets, I mend broken flesh.”

But I don’t shoot guns,” he said moodily, “I never shot a gun in my life ‘cept when I was in the army, fighting in wars and being shot at in return.”

You were overseas?” I asked him.

That I was, and then when I was conv … conv … convalesced out I had to do whatever I could to get some bread, and if that involved taking from those who could afford to have it taken then that’s what I did.”

In all truth that sounded reasonable to me. I have often worried about the tragic lives of those who serve the country with valour and honour and then fall on hard times when their fighting days are over. It has long been a problem that nobody has succeeded in solving, possibly because it would cost too much. That’s the trouble with out times: so much is down to cost, and humanity is lower down the list of what’s apparently important.

And you saw the Priest with the gun?” asked Holmes, interrupting my train of thought.

He nodded. “That much I swear,” he said devoutly.

And I believe you,” said Holmes to my huge surprise. “I will make sure your neck is kept safely away from the rope, Mr Grump, but there may be awkward times ahead for you. Meanwhile I will see the priest and challenge his story! One of the obstacles to true justice lies in a fellow’s station in life. Take an ex-soldier who has fought bravely and you call him a rogue and a rascal, take a priest who claims to be a doorkeeper to the hereafter and you call him an honest man who is incapable of doing wrong. But I know better than that.”

Really, Holmes!” I mumbled.

Your priest won’t hang, Watson,” said Holmes, “for that isn’t the way of things. We don’t hang priests or clergymen of any description. They are untouchable. But neither should we hang the destitute soldier, especially if he’s done little wrong. No, we will defend Mr Grump to the ends of the Earth. I can see no motive on his part, no cause for him to fire a weapon he doesn’t have and bring down a machine that is of little interest to him. But on the other hand the priest no doubt saw the aviator’s attempt to challenge his god by reaching towards the heavens in a machine, and wanted to put a stop to it. I know his views of old, and they are like that.”

But shooting, Holmes? A priest?”

Holmes looked at me seriously. “A man of religion is capable of almost anything,” he said soberly, “and many times in the sad annals of humanity such believers have started wars. So why not try to stem the tide of progress and shoot down a flying machine as it ventures towards Heaven?”

That’s what he did, sir, that’s what he did,” put in Ginger Grubb, and, you know, I believed him too.

© Peter Rogerson 29.08.17

THE CASE OF THE NEW SHOWER

5 Oct

   It was one of those days that would have been left to the pages of history by Holmes and I spending the twenty-four hours in our beds and away from it all. There can have been few days when the weather has been more foul with unremitting rain slashing down in dreadful torrents as though we ought to have spent the past week building an ark.

But despite the deluge, Holmes was summoned to see Mycroft and I, rather gratefully, was left to my own devices … and when left to my own devices and with no patient requiring my urgent attention I spent the time recording some of our recent adventures for the Strand magazine to publish.

Holmes returned late in the afternoon, and I had to turn my smile away from him so as not to cause him any more grief than the weather and street conditions already had.

He was soaking and had smears and dribbles of mud, some of it my olfactory sense suggested might be highly offensive and have originated in a horse’s digestive system.

Watson!” he shouted in that peremptory way he had on the rare occasions when nothing seems to be going right for him, “the streets out there are disgusting and it’s about time the internal combustion engine replaced all equines in the field of transport. At least the rattling and noisy things don’t eject their faeces all over the place, to get stirred by the kind of downpour we’re being subjected to today into rank and offensive quagmires made disgracefully mobile by any passing vehicle that has wheels!”

You do need a bath, Holmes,” I suggested.

And a bath I shall have even though I barely have time to turn a tap on,” grated Holmes. “Meanwhile, Watson, I have a task for you.”

As long as I don’t have to get wet, Holmes,” I grunted.

We have that new telephone thing and you can use that to your heart’s content as long as you find me a plumber who will come as soon as maybe and fit us a shower in the bathroom,” he almost shouted. “I’m a busy man and I can’t afford the time to run a bath every time I get mud on me, and in this climate that’s almost every day!”

Then he stomped into the bathroom and I heard water splashing into the bath.

Telephones are remarkably fine things as long as there is an instrument at both ends of the wire that terminates with the little pot reel attached to the upstairs wall, but that isn’t always the case. I had the devil of a job locating my first plumber on the telephone, and when I did it turned out that he was twenty miles away and not prepared to venture a step outside his front door in the present weather conditions. Even when I dropped the name of Sherlock Holmes into my request he was adamant.

To cut what might be a fairy lengthy account short, I failed. Not one plumber who lives sufficiently close to us on Baker Street had a telephone. Plumbers, it seems, belong to a trade that doesn’t see the need to make contact with them an easy thing for potential customers. They want you to call on them. They probably need to see the cut of your jib, so to speak, to be confident that he will be paid for his services.

Holmes was dry and dressed in a rather florid housecoat when he wandered back into our parlour. I shook my head and explained the difficulties had had with the telephone.

So you didn’t try Mycroft?” he asked in a superior way that I always found annoying.

Mycroft is your brother rather than mine and has nothing to to do with plumbing,” I said levelly, trying not to show my annoyance at his attitude.

Mycroft has to do with everything,” he replied, “if the Prince needs someone to divert attention from his latest affair with a courtesan he turns to Mycroft and the matter is sorted. So he must surely be able to assist a brother who needs a shower fitting over his bath?”

He’s your brother, not mine,” I snorted again.

You’re a bit tetchy today, Watson,” he chided me, picking up the telephone earpiece.

Mycroft was at his club, the Diogenes where he seemed to spend the great majority of his time, and with just a few words Holmes managed to convey his need for a shower and get his brother to arrange for a plumber to call.

Mrs Hudson!” shouted Holmes when everything was apparently arranged and he had his brother’s assurance that a plumber was on his way.

She’s at her sister’s,” I told him, “and coming back tomorrow as you well know.”

What? When I feel a pot of tea would be a useful tonic for a man fresh from his bath?” growled he who was apparently never to be satisfied on this particular day.

I’ll make one,” I said, trying not to glare.

Only women can make tea properly,” he grunted, “and I don’t think you’re one of those. After all, there has got to be something that the female of our species is good at and in my opinion it is making pots of tea when the men of the house require them.”

Then I won’t,” I muttered, peeved.

We were about to have a full-blown disagreement, something that happened from time to time due, usually, to Holmes’ tendency to be both belligerent and wrong, when the doorbell rang and I went down the stairs to answer it.

It was the plumber.

My goodness, you took no time at all!” I congratulated him.

I have premises just round the back, not a minute’s walk away,” he replied as I invited him in and showed him into the bathroom. “Name of Timkins, plumbers to the gentry. No telephone, though, don’t hold with newfangled things like telephones.”

So that’s why I couldn’t locate you, Timkins. Holmes requires a shower for when the weather is a bit like this,” I said. “He’s a busy man and he just returned home in quite an unsavoury state!”

So his brother said,” mumbled the plumber, and within minutes he had sketched a plan that, he said, would satisfy our needs, and it wouldn’t take long to install.

Just a couple of feet of new pipe,” he mumbled, “and a tap. You’ll need one that can be used to adjust the temperature. And a rose. A nice big one with loads of holes for a decent spray. Yes, I can do that. Will tomorrow do?”

Of course!” I said, wondering where Holmes was and why he hadn’t put his twopenn’orth into the debate. I guessed he must have resorted to a tea substitute, possible out of a bottle or maybe out of a syringe.

Nine o’clock, then,” the plumber said, and I showed him out.

Next day Timkins came as arranged, and in pretty short order had installed the pipe and shower head, and a modern tap that you turned one way for hot and the other way for cold with the right temperature somewhere in between depending on the efficiency of the geyser.

Holmes was delighted with it and announced his willingness to christen it by having his morning ablutions under its heady spray.

Keep away while I’m showering,” he said, meaningfully, “a shower is not like a bath in which a gentleman can retain some aspects of modesty, and any toweld held under it will get too wet for drying purposes.”

Of course, Holmes,” I acknowledged, and he disappeared into the bathroom.

It was while he was having a shower and I was reading the paper in peace that Mrs Hudson returned from her sister’s and went straight to the bathroom to wash her face and do those things that ladies like to do upon returning home.

The first I knew about it was the scream, penetrating, blood-curdling, and Mrs Hudson running along the passage from the bathroom as though pursued by a thousand devils.

You wouldn’t want to know what I’ve just seen!” she screeched, “it was horrible, the most horrible thing in the world, and it was in my bathroom!”

© Peter Rogerson 27.08.17

THE CASE OF THE NEW TELEPHONE

2 Oct

What’s that thing you’ve got there, Holmes?” I asked, pointing at what I knew was one of those newfangled telephones, on his desk next to the ornate stand of his reading lamp.

You know, of course, Watson,” he replied with a smirk, “but has it ever crossed your mind how useful it will be? Scotland Yard will be in instant communication with me, should the need arise, and even some of your more delicate patients might choose to consult you by Mr Bell’s apparatus!”

My more delicate patients are hardly in a position to afford such I luxury,” I grunted.

Well we are,” he assured me, “and as time passes and we start creaking with the advancing years we’ll be grateful not to have to run the length of Baker Street in order to apprehend the criminal underbelly of this fine city.”

You can speak for yourself, Holmes,” I told him, rather sharply because I have detected the first sharp creaking of arthritis in one of my thumbs and would prefer not to know about it, “I’m in the peak of health.”

The conversation might have carried on but Holmes’ new toy rang like a fire-engine in the night, filling the room with an ear-splitting cacophony.

Ah!” he exclaimed, and grabbed the earpiece from its stand.

Hello!” he barked into it, and noticing the amusement evident on my face addressed the mouthpiece instead. “Hello!” he barked a second time.

Mycroft!” he said, glancing at me, “is that you?”

It evidently was his brother because he waved his hand at me in what I looked upon then and still do as a rudely peremptory way, clearly wanting me to take myself into another room in order to provide him with what would have been privacy had he not been determined to be heard at the other end of his new telephone wire.

I believe I’ve said it before, but if I haven’t I’ll mention it now: when it comes to science and technology Holmes is a dichotomy. Without any conscious effort he fully comprehends the action of various toxins on the human body, the differences between a wide range of tobacco ashes when to me they all seem to be the same and many other quite specialised technical concepts, but if the science doesn’t impinge on his own work and interests, which are detection and the criminal mind, he simply has no curiosity about how it functions. So he might have wanted to use his telephone apparatus, but would never in a thousand years pay any attention to how it works. Hence I heard every word of his conversation with his brother even though I was in a different room and he had ordered me there in order to attain a privacy that his lack of comprehension wouldn’t allow.

Lord Graymane, you say, Mycroft? At Birkencroft? And you say he is under siege? Tell me, man, what’s afoot? Ah, the Belgian, is it? I’ve heard of him, the Beast of Brussels… have you tried communicating via the telephone with him? No, not the Belgian, with Graymane? You say he hasn’t yet been connected to the telephone network? It’s a good thing some of us have got our eye on the future, that’s all I can say… be assured, Mycroft, Watson and I are on the case as we speak and will be at Birkencroft by early this afternoon… goodbye, brother… yes, yes, goodbye…”

I shook my head, despairing.

Watson!” he called, “come back! There’s a game afoot!”

There was no need to order me into another room,” I said somewhat haughtily, “you’ll get no privacy until you learn how the telephone system works, and you most certainly don’t have to shout into it. I heard every word you said. Lord Graymane, is it?”

Watson, the man’s a fool, but he needs our help. It would seem that a certain Belgian gentleman believes that Graymane has agreed to sell him a particular painting at a vastly undervalued price, and Graymane disputes it. We are to go to Birkencroft as swiftly as we can and help negotiate a reasonable settlement. The next train leaves from Paddington in less than an hour, so make haste!”

What do either of us know about the value of works of art?” I asked.

Hardly enough to pass as experts, but sufficient for our purposes here,” he murmured, “now be ready, Watson, while I hail a cab!”

Birkencroft was (and is) the name of the Graymane family seat and lies about half an hour from London by a fast train. Therefore, the train we caught being one of the fastest, we arrived on the small station that served his estate well before noon and were able to take a coughing, hacking, rattling motor cab to what turned out to be a rather modest family seat, as such buildings go. It can’t have had above a dozen bedrooms!

Holmes rang the doorbell at the front, giving no shrift to the concept that tradesmen, which I suppose we were, are always expected to use a rear doorway. The servant who met us frowned, and I smiled inside. This flunky knew his place all right, and was equally aware that we didn’t seem to know ours.

Wait in here,” he said gravely, and we were shown into a small room in which the only chairs were of a distinctly uncomfortable type. I recognised them instantly because Holmes had bought two for our own rooms on Baker Street. They were intended for the rear ends of unwanted guests in the hope they would encourage a swift exit by same.

The walls of this small room were covered with works of art, and Holmes spent as long as we were left there, about ten minutes, examining one of them minutely.

Watson, come here!” he hissed, and pointed at the portrait that had attracted his attention. “What do you make of this?”

A fine gentleman,” I pronounced, “maybe an ancestor of Lord Graymane?”

What date would you allow him?” asked Holmes, smirking.

Oh, I don’t know … some time in the seventeenth or maybe eighteenth century by his finery,” I suggested.

And, perhaps, a couple of centuries before Mappin and Webb sold that watch that he’s wearing?” grinned Holmes.

I looked at the fellow’s wrist, finely painted in convincing flesh tones, and he was wearing a wristwatch very similar to Holmes’ own watch, which he had bought only recently.

I would say so,” I nodded.

It was at this point that Lord Graymane entered the room, in the company of a somewhat shabby (in comparison) man of a distinctly continental appearance.

Ah, Mr Holmes! So good of you to come so quickly! Your brother, dear old Mycroft, assured me that you were the man for the job. And it all concerns that picture that you’re looking at! It was painted in the seventeen hundreds, I believe, by Randolf Squires, a fine artist if ever there was one, and master of the paint brush!”

Mon dieu!” gasped the rotund Belgian, “if that was painted by meester Squires then I am, how do you say, a Dutchman!”

Now, Holmes, give me your verdict,” asked Lord Graymane.

You say eighteenth century?” asked Holmes with apparent thoughtfulness, “and by a master of the canvas? What do you say, Monsieur?” he asked the Belgian.

It ees a fine work, yes, but no so old, not so old…” the Belgian shook his head, “and as Monsieur Squires lived long, long ago and ‘as been dead long since, ‘e can’t have held the brush that painted it! So I will pay you, Lord Graymane, no more than ten pounds for eet.”

Ten pounds for an old master!” snorted Lord Graymane.

Where did you obtain it, my lord?” asked Holmes before passing the expected verdict.

A sale in Woolwich,” nodded Graymane, “and I paid a great deal more than ten pounds for it, I can tell you!”

Then you were robbed, my Lord,” said Holmes, “and if I were you I’d take the ten pounds on offer and run!”

What? I thought you, an Englishman…” spluttered the lord.

Would support you blindly? Well, I’m afraid I can’t. It’s all too obvious,” explained Holmes, “the fellow in the picture is sporting a wristwatch identical in every respect to the one I’m wearing, and that’s no more than five years old!”

Lord Graymane stared at the portrait and then shook his head.

Well I’ll be blowed…” he spluttered, “are you sure of that, Holmes?”

Put it like this,” my colleague said, “when I bought this fine watch, not five years ago as I said, I was assured it was the latest model and superior to any pocket watch for the man in a hurry… So take your ten pounds, my lord, if it’s still on offer.”

That it is not!” snapped the Belgian, “I will be bidding you adieu!”

And he backed out of the room in a fluster.

Well, talk of continentals!” sighed Graymane, shaking his head, “do you fancy some tea?”

© Peter Rogerson 24.08.17

THE CASE OF THE CHANNEL FERRY

30 Sep

Did you know, Watson,” said Holmes out of the blue and apropos of nothing in particular as far as I could tell, “did you know that there were boats crossing the English Channel over three thousand years ago?”

No, I didn’t Holmes,” I replied, a sinking feeling warning me that I might be in for an unwanted adventure involving the high seas and foreign lands, “I’ve never needed to know that sort of thing and unnecessary knowledge can clutter up the brain, don’t you think?”

Well, there is evidence that they did, and I can’t help thinking that it’s a marvel of modern science that such discoveries can be made about a time that is so lost to us that there isn’t even a trace of it in the longest memory on Earth,” he murmured.

“”I should think not! Nobody’s that old!” I ejaculated.

Which brings me to the very reason I introduced the notion of crossing the channel into our erudite conversation,” he said with a sudden smile. “Because I feel we both need a breath of fresh air in our lungs. We’ve been in this apartment for far too long, and we should be going out. And the sea air, Watson, the sea air is better than any ten bottles of the tonics you prescribe for your ailing patients.”

What are you getting at, Holmes?” I asked, knowing his abstruse techniques when it comes to broaching a subject I may not necessarily want to hear about.

The Lady Gwendoline Haversham is off to the south of France for the season and has been warned that if her Tudor Diamond goes with her it is certain that Professor Moriarty will have his eyes on it.”

Then she should leave it in a safe, in her bank,” I said shortly, “rather than waste the efforts of the best detective in England keeping his eye on it.”

Be that as it may, the plan is simple, and you know as well as I do that simple plans are always the best. She is determined that she shall be seen with the Tudor Diamond in the sun of the south of France, and the risky part of her journey is the channel crossing. Beyond that the French authorities are quite capable of keeping their eyes open for the master criminal who we fear will be planning his campaign. The Lady Gwendoline is to travel across the channel, a journey of not too many miles, with her gemstone supposedly in a small leather case and under guard.”

You say supposedly Holmes,” I said, knowing him and his wiles only too well by then.

Precisely. For there will be a paste replica in that case, and the guard will be an ex-army sergeant with muscles the like of which one rarely sees these days. He will, of course, be unaware that he is guarding a cheap imitation.”

And the real stone, Holmes?” I asked.

He thrust his hand into his trouser pocket, and with his uniquely patronising smile withdrew a silk pouch.

Is here,” he murmured. “Now, Watson, drop everything and come! We catch the Dover train in less than an hour!”

I’m not happy about this,” I complained. “The English Channel can play havoc with a fellow’s digestive system! I’ve emptied my digestive tract more than once during my army days on that stretch of water.”

It’s not much more than twenty miles,” Holmes told me, and I guessed that twenty miles of seasickness had little effect on him. “And our task will be over as soon as we reach Calais! A couple of hours, maybe three, not much longer than that, and our task will be over. That’s good money for very little inconvenience, Watson, and our rent needs to be paid on time.”

The ferry, a paddle steamer and recognisably the technological triumph of the age, left Dover on time.

There was a fairly large and very diverse set of passengers on board, ranging from the affluent majority whose accents and attitudes put them firmly into the English middle classes, to dour Frenchmen with their ladies draped on their arms, returning to the home of their birth, and to the servant class whose faces displayed the fear they felt as the steamer slowly made its way from Dover and into the open seas. It’s funnel belched black smoke that streamed behind us like a stinking banner, trailing back to a tall sailing ship that might almost have been tailing us.

Stay with me, Watson,” hissed Holmes, “see over there, leaning over the rail as if he was about to deposit his very heart into the foaming briny, in the shiny chequered suit…”

Moriarty,” I breathed.

The same arch criminal,” muttered Holmes grimly, “and it is a constant source of amazement to me that one with his powers of thought and mental deduction needs to find a career in crime when there are many peaceful and honourably honest paths through life that he could pursue.”

It is thought that there is a definite criminal type, predetermined before birth,” I told Holmes, “and there are some who claim to be able to differentiate between a good man and a rogue by feeling his skull.”

It is a science,” agreed Holmes. “Now see over there, where Moriarty is looking…”

The Lady Gwendoline Haversham,” I nodded. I had never seen her before, but this lady was richly dressed and was unmistakably a member of the aristocracy, what with her loud overbearing voice, her entourage of paid lackeys all trying to look at least one cut above themselves and the way other passengers couldn’t help staring at her, envy or contempt, who could tell?

See the ex-sergeant,” whispered Holmes.

I had already noticed the man. The kindest thing to say about him is that he was obviously the sort of man one would not wish to cross on a dark night, with or without a cause to quarrel with him. But that wasn’t everything. He was carrying, by a handle that seemed to be somehow chained to his wrist, a small leather case.

Is that the…?” I asked Holmes, almost silently lest anyone hear me.

He nodded.

The steamer ploughed on across the sea, black smuts from its funnel drifting down and some of them landing on us, smudging our clothes and skin.

Filthy things,” I muttered, meaning the paddle steamer.

Holmes nodded, and wafted his hand in front of his face in order to swipe away a particularly offensive smut.

Now be ready, Watson,” he whispered suddenly.

I looked around me. Moriarty seemed to have vanished, probably into the crowds where he could pass unnoticed. The Lady Gwendoline was still holding offensively noisy court at the other end of the deck, her sergeant by her side.

Then there was a scuffle behind us and I felt something sticking into my back.

Sherlock Holmes,” hissed a voice behind us, “just you keep still, or you’ll know the folly of movement, and hand over that little precious in its silk purse, and do it before I count to ten!”

Moriarty!” exclaimed Holmes, “are you foolish, man? The Tudor Diamond isn’t worth you risking your neck for! What will you do with it? Nobody will want it because even the criminal class like to show their wealth off from time to time, and there’s no showing off such a magnificent stone without risking arrest for owning it!”

Just to own it is reward enough,” growled the master criminal, “and I happen to know that it’s in your pocket, burning a hole in it no doubt as we speak. And it’s eight, nine, t…”

Then Holmes surprised me. He pulled the silk purse from his pocket and held it to Professor Moriarty rather than defend it with his life.

If it’s that important to you, take it,” he said, “but remember … you’ll have to spend the rest of your life wondering when Sherlock Holmes will take it back!”

Never!” hissed the thief, and he grabbed the purse and then did the most unlikely thing. He climbed onto the balustrade of the steamer and without so much as another word he leapt overboard, into the sea. I raced to see what was going to happen next, expecting to see him floundering, his chequered suit heavy with water, but saw nothing of the kind.

Moriarty was there all right, and even as I watched was drifting further behind the ferry as he climbed aboard a small rowing boat that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Once aboard he and another man took two pairs of oars between them and rowed away furiously, making for the larger boat with tall sails that seemed to have trailed us since we’d departed from Dover.

That’s that, then,” smiled Holmes, “and not a scratch on either of us!”

But the diamond…?” I asked, confused.

You must understand the word substitution,” he grinned, “come let’s tell Lady Gwendoline that all is well and that Moriarty has made off with a worthless chunk of glass…”

But what…?” I blathered.

It’s quite simple, Watson,” said Holmes, “I let it be known that I was using a double bluff and that the real gem might be in the leather case after all. Though it wasn’t, of course. That would have tempted providence. No, the real diamond, worth countless thousands…”

Yes, Holmes?” I asked.

Has been in your pocket all along! Now come! Let’s restore it to its rightful owner before we reach Calais!”

I couldn’t help it. I thrust one hand into my jacket pocket and there it was, hard and noble as any precious stone anywhere, tucked into a corner where the sun can’t shine…

THE CASE OF THE CHANNEL FERRY

Did you know, Watson,” said Holmes out of the blue and apropos of nothing in particular as far as I could tell, “did you know that there were boats crossing the English Channel over three thousand years ago?”

No, I didn’t Holmes,” I replied, a sinking feeling warning me that I might be in for an unwanted adventure involving the high seas and foreign lands, “I’ve never needed to know that sort of thing and unnecessary knowledge can clutter up the brain, don’t you think?”

Well, there is evidence that they did, and I can’t help thinking that it’s a marvel of modern science that such discoveries can be made about a time that is so lost to us that there isn’t even a trace of it in the longest memory on Earth,” he murmured.

“”I should think not! Nobody’s that old!” I ejaculated.

Which brings me to the very reason I introduced the notion of crossing the channel into our erudite conversation,” he said with a sudden smile. “Because I feel we both need a breath of fresh air in our lungs. We’ve been in this apartment for far too long, and we should be going out. And the sea air, Watson, the sea air is better than any ten bottles of the tonics you prescribe for your ailing patients.”

What are you getting at, Holmes?” I asked, knowing his abstruse techniques when it comes to broaching a subject I may not necessarily want to hear about.

The Lady Gwendoline Haversham is off to the south of France for the season and has been warned that if her Tudor Diamond goes with her it is certain that Professor Moriarty will have his eyes on it.”

Then she should leave it in a safe, in her bank,” I said shortly, “rather than waste the efforts of the best detective in England keeping his eye on it.”

Be that as it may, the plan is simple, and you know as well as I do that simple plans are always the best. She is determined that she shall be seen with the Tudor Diamond in the sun of the south of France, and the risky part of her journey is the channel crossing. Beyond that the French authorities are quite capable of keeping their eyes open for the master criminal who we fear will be planning his campaign. The Lady Gwendoline is to travel across the channel, a journey of not too many miles, with her gemstone supposedly in a small leather case and under guard.”

You say supposedly Holmes,” I said, knowing him and his wiles only too well by then.

Precisely. For there will be a paste replica in that case, and the guard will be an ex-army sergeant with muscles the like of which one rarely sees these days. He will, of course, be unaware that he is guarding a cheap imitation.”

And the real stone, Holmes?” I asked.

He thrust his hand into his trouser pocket, and with his uniquely patronising smile withdrew a silk pouch.

Is here,” he murmured. “Now, Watson, drop everything and come! We catch the Dover train in less than an hour!”

I’m not happy about this,” I complained. “The English Channel can play havoc with a fellow’s digestive system! I’ve emptied my digestive tract more than once during my army days on that stretch of water.”

It’s not much more than twenty miles,” Holmes told me, and I guessed that twenty miles of seasickness had little effect on him. “And our task will be over as soon as we reach Calais! A couple of hours, maybe three, not much longer than that, and our task will be over. That’s good money for very little inconvenience, Watson, and our rent needs to be paid on time.”

The ferry, a paddle steamer and recognisably the technological triumph of the age, left Dover on time.

There was a fairly large and very diverse set of passengers on board, ranging from the affluent majority whose accents and attitudes put them firmly into the English middle classes, to dour Frenchmen with their ladies draped on their arms, returning to the home of their birth, and to the servant class whose faces displayed the fear they felt as the steamer slowly made its way from Dover and into the open seas. It’s funnel belched black smoke that streamed behind us like a stinking banner, trailing back to a tall sailing ship that might almost have been tailing us.

Stay with me, Watson,” hissed Holmes, “see over there, leaning over the rail as if he was about to deposit his very heart into the foaming briny, in the shiny chequered suit…”

Moriarty,” I breathed.

The same arch criminal,” muttered Holmes grimly, “and it is a constant source of amazement to me that one with his powers of thought and mental deduction needs to find a career in crime when there are many peaceful and honourably honest paths through life that he could pursue.”

It is thought that there is a definite criminal type, predetermined before birth,” I told Holmes, “and there are some who claim to be able to differentiate between a good man and a rogue by feeling his skull.”

It is a science,” agreed Holmes. “Now see over there, where Moriarty is looking…”

The Lady Gwendoline Haversham,” I nodded. I had never seen her before, but this lady was richly dressed and was unmistakably a member of the aristocracy, what with her loud overbearing voice, her entourage of paid lackeys all trying to look at least one cut above themselves and the way other passengers couldn’t help staring at her, envy or contempt, who could tell?

See the ex-sergeant,” whispered Holmes.

I had already noticed the man. The kindest thing to say about him is that he was obviously the sort of man one would not wish to cross on a dark night, with or without a cause to quarrel with him. But that wasn’t everything. He was carrying, by a handle that seemed to be somehow chained to his wrist, a small leather case.

Is that the…?” I asked Holmes, almost silently lest anyone hear me.

He nodded.

The steamer ploughed on across the sea, black smuts from its funnel drifting down and some of them landing on us, smudging our clothes and skin.

Filthy things,” I muttered, meaning the paddle steamer.

Holmes nodded, and wafted his hand in front of his face in order to swipe away a particularly offensive smut.

Now be ready, Watson,” he whispered suddenly.

I looked around me. Moriarty seemed to have vanished, probably into the crowds where he could pass unnoticed. The Lady Gwendoline was still holding offensively noisy court at the other end of the deck, her sergeant by her side.

Then there was a scuffle behind us and I felt something sticking into my back.

Sherlock Holmes,” hissed a voice behind us, “just you keep still, or you’ll know the folly of movement, and hand over that little precious in its silk purse, and do it before I count to ten!”

Moriarty!” exclaimed Holmes, “are you foolish, man? The Tudor Diamond isn’t worth you risking your neck for! What will you do with it? Nobody will want it because even the criminal class like to show their wealth off from time to time, and there’s no showing off such a magnificent stone without risking arrest for owning it!”

Just to own it is reward enough,” growled the master criminal, “and I happen to know that it’s in your pocket, burning a hole in it no doubt as we speak. And it’s eight, nine, t…”

Then Holmes surprised me. He pulled the silk purse from his pocket and held it to Professor Moriarty rather than defend it with his life.

If it’s that important to you, take it,” he said, “but remember … you’ll have to spend the rest of your life wondering when Sherlock Holmes will take it back!”

Never!” hissed the thief, and he grabbed the purse and then did the most unlikely thing. He climbed onto the balustrade of the steamer and without so much as another word he leapt overboard, into the sea. I raced to see what was going to happen next, expecting to see him floundering, his chequered suit heavy with water, but saw nothing of the kind.

Moriarty was there all right, and even as I watched was drifting further behind the ferry as he climbed aboard a small rowing boat that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Once aboard he and another man took two pairs of oars between them and rowed away furiously, making for the larger boat with tall sails that seemed to have trailed us since we’d departed from Dover.

That’s that, then,” smiled Holmes, “and not a scratch on either of us!”

But the diamond…?” I asked, confused.

You must understand the word substitution,” he grinned, “come let’s tell Lady Gwendoline that all is well and that Moriarty has made off with a worthless chunk of glass…”

But what…?” I blathered.

It’s quite simple, Watson,” said Holmes, “I let it be known that I was using a double bluff and that the real gem might be in the leather case after all. Though it wasn’t, of course. That would have tempted providence. No, the real diamond, worth countless thousands…”

Yes, Holmes?” I asked.

Has been in your pocket all along! Now come! Let’s restore it to its rightful owner before we reach Calais!”

I couldn’t help it. I thrust one hand into my jacket pocket and there it was, hard and noble as any precious stone anywhere, tucked into a corner where the sun can’t shine…

© Peter Rogerson 23.08.17

© Peter Rogerson 23.08.17