THE CASE OF THE SEASIDE LODGINGS

3 Aug

I have a problem Watson,” said Holmes over a cup of tea and a pipe of tobacco during a lull between cases.

And what might that be, Holmes?” I asked, for ever curious as to what might constitute a problem to one as cerebral as my dear friend.

Holidays,” he murmured, “it suggests in The Times that the human animal benefits from regular breaks from toil, or holidays, and it crossed my mind as I read it that we haven’t had a holiday. Not recently and, begging your pardon, not ever.”

You’re right, Holmes,” I said thoughtfully. “Before our partnership I was, as you know, a military surgeon and though that was almost wholly abroad I can assure you that it was no holiday.”

And I feel it would be utterly foolish for me to to take my eye off the ball,” sighed Holmes. “There’s Moriarty waiting in the shadows ready to take advantage of any absence of mine, and the criminal underworld has its spies everywhere, watching and waiting for me to take a break from my pursuit of them.”

You have created an invidious position for yourself,” I murmured.

Yet the experts suggest I might be better equipped for future cases if I were to take a holiday, so take a holiday I will, and you, with your permission, will accompany me,” he said, and I almost gasped at the notion that he was actually seeking my permission.

Of course, Holmes,” I agreed, before I could stop myself.

You recall the case of the singing dog?” he asked, “when we went to the seaside town of Skegness? That was work, and we did well. But what would you say if I suggested we went there for a holiday, just the two of us, and maybe dallied with a couple of well-heeled ladies should we chance to bump into that kind of person of a dusky evening under a fading sun? Maybe took them for tea and muffins in a classy tea-house? Or did whatever they chose, maybe created sculptures out of sand on the beach or paddle in the foaming edge of the mighty ocean?”

Skegness?” I said, doubtfully.

Of course,” he enthused, “there can be no finer place, surely? If we ventured closer to home, maybe to the South Coast or the Thames Estuary we might risk being spotted by the eyes of the criminal classes, and the message thus get back to London that we are away having a high old time, and not on business.”

You make a point, Holmes,” I muttered, not totally happy with his usually impeccable logic.

I can see us now, Watson,” he said, slowly refilling his pipe and with a distant look on his face. “The two of us enjoying a coastal bed and breakfast then out to the seas and the sands, with our eyes alert for two ladies of a certain class in need of entertainment. I could go into details with them of some of our more enjoyable cases, those in which blood-spill is at a minimum, for classy ladies would not, I’m sure, like to revel in some of the gore we come across.”

I don’t know, Holmes,” I muttered, “in my experience it is the ladies who, during idle moments of introspection and consideration, most enjoy some of the darker details of your exploits.”

Really?” he grinned, lighting his pipe. For a second time. “Then we must gather sufficient clothes for a week away from home, and be off this very morning!”

This morning?” I queried. This was beginning to sound more like an arranged visit to the Lincolnshire town than a spontaneous holiday taken on the spur of the moment, a consideration that was reinforced when he produced an already packed suitcase with a twinkle in his eyes together with return railway tickets to Skegness.

You’ve planned this!” I protested, “and without consulting me!”

Consider it a treat, Watson,” he said, and then his eyes turned suddenly serious. “You will be aware that my sojourning with the fair sex has always been somewhat limited outside of the meetings involved in our cases?” he asked.

That much was true. I doubt he had ever broached the subject of a genteel walk in the park or a purposeless moment by a river-bank to any lady, for his mind, always sharp and unfettered by social intercourse, was invariably absorbed by this or that case he was struggling with.

Well,” he said, I have decided the time has come for things to change. I need to have a better knowledge of how ladies react when they’re not under the pressure that society imposes on them, when they’re free of the constraints of a household or husband and can be themselves.”

This didn’t sound like Holmes at all, but I decided to let it go and hastily packed clean shirts and underwear, sufficient, I hoped, for a week away from Baker Street.

We arrived that same afternoon in the seaside town of Skegness, and Holmes marched me towards a lodging house on the edge of the town, but facing the sands and the sea. There was a chilly breeze blowing onto the land and the skies were overcast with looming clouds that threatened a downpour at any moment.

Our lodgings were clean: that much could be said of them, but the landlady was a considerable harridan, and we had been there but five minutes when Holmes found it necessary to express his opinion on the matter of her lengthy scroll of house rules, which included the offensive (to Holmes) No music in rooms.

Madam,” he said in his most businesslike voice, “I will pay good money for a week in this establishment and I have no intention of having my time hide-bound by petty regulations and prohibitions, so I would be obliged if you said no more that might restrict me in the normal course of my life!”

He had, after all, brought his violin!

This is my house and you’ll abide by my rules!” she rapped back, her voice bordering on a squawk.

Come on, Watson, we’ll find somewhere else!” he barked at me. “This woman is intolerable!”

Are you by any chance the Doctor Watson who writes for the Strand magazine?” she asked when she heard Holmes address me by name.

I am,” I replied, always grateful for any recognition.

Then I must praise you for your imagination!” she exclaimed, “and particularly that obnoxious character you created, the big-headed detective who thinks too much of himself! Quite amusing, as I said to my sister Girt only last week when she called!”

That great detective is a real person,” I told her, “and no offspring of my imagination! He is here, in your boarding house, taking a few days from his labours against crime and criminals before returning to the fray.”

Well I never,” she exclaimed, turning to Holmes. “Are you really as black as you’re painted?” she asked. “I was only saying to Girt how I’d like to give you a piece of my mind if you turned out to be a real gentleman!”

Holmes was clearly at a loss as to how to reply. As black as he was painted? Neither he nor I understood how my written texts could ever be interpreted in such a way, for I am almost excessively full of praise for him.

Then, “Madam,” he said in his most superior voice, “you may be happy to see your boarding house overrun by villains and black-hearted crooks, but I doubt it, and if I can use my powers to prevent it then I consider I have done a worthy thing!”

There you go!” screeched the landlady, “all superior and holier than thou! Where are these villains you’re no about, eh? I don’t see ‘em!”

Madam, it is due to my constant vigilance that you can live as quietly and peacefully as you clearly do but you can be sure there are black-hearted villains waiting for me to take my eyes off the case.” said Holmes in a huff.

There you go again!” she squawked.

Watson, come!” barked Holmes, and in all truth I have never seen him so suddenly agitated as he picked up his baggage and stormed out of the front door. “That women is intolerable,” he muttered as we walked off. “Make sure that you mention it in your next offering to your Strand magazine!”

And he marched me straight back to the Railway Station where, as luck would have it, a train was due that would take us back to London before darkness fell.

And to think I had actually been looking forward to introducing Holmes to the charms of intelligent and fragrant young ladies as we promenaded along the beach against the backdrop of the churning sea, the squeals of children playing and the squawking of ever-hungry seagulls.

Maybe next time.

© Peter Rogerson 24.07.17

THE CASE OF THE SINGING DOG

1 Aug

Holmes was at the end of his tether. Literally. He was writing a monogram on restraining vicious dogs whilst under attack, and had tied himself with a leather leash to a lamppost for experimental purposes.

You’ll have to help me here, Watson,” he begged.

I say begged. Maybe I should have said requested politely

Not that Holmes ever did anything with the totality of politeness. His ego saw to that!

It was last July when he had a case involving what some might call a vicious dog, hence the planned monogram and its associated research.

We were darning our socks in our room at 221b Baker Street, having nothing better to do and Mrs Hudson complaining of arthritic thumbs which made darning our socks herself an impossibility, when that good lady herself opened our door and introduced a new client, the Lady Bwahbwah Pondlife.

She was a fine woman in her middle years, possibly fifty, though she looked considerably older and had a face embarrassed by warts, and she was dressed after the manner of her class and, in order to stress her social standing had left both couturier’s outlet ticket and price tag on the collar of her outdoor coat.

I have come to engage you, Mr Homes,” Lady Bwahbwah said, addressing me.

That’s Holmes with the grey knee-lengths,” I said, indicating my friend who had his lips pursed as he threaded a needle with strong wool.

Then I have come to engage you,” she said to Holmes, scowling in such a way that a couple of her warts rippled. “I wish to have my husband, the Lord Pondlife, followed and any misdeed he is contemplating noted down. You may take a pistol and shoot him if it is serious enough: I have influence and there would be no prosecution!”

You must be mistaken,” replied Holmes crisply, “I don’t pursue domestic issues.”

You will pursue this one!” she said with ice and vitriol challenging each other for supremacy in the tone of her voice. “The Lord Pondlife is suspected of having a dalliance with a dancer!”

A dancer?” I exclaimed, “that’s pretty low!”

And not just any dancer,” continued Lady Bwahbwah, “but the one with the piggy nose and large posterior who entertains the riff raff at many a corner music hall. She who is alleged to reveal her ankles on a nightly basis and causing much dismay to others of her gender by the obscenity of it! And if it is true, if Lord Pondlife is dallying with the creature you may shoot both of them! You have my full permission, and I will see to it that the gendarmerie are not involved!”

But…” began Holmes, but it was obvious that he had lost before he started.

You will do it!” commanded Lady Bwahbwah, “and when you have done it I will reward you with one hundred pounds!”

There will be times in the future when such a sum may seem to be almost nothing, but in these times with Queen Victoria not long in her tomb it is a vast sum, and not to be sneezed at.

See to it!” barked the honourable lady, and she swept out.

This is a to-do, for sure, Watson,” muttered Holmes.

I don’t like the smell of it, Holmes,” I agreed.

Quite.” He paused for a moment, gazing blindly out of the window at the passing traffic.

Then he apparently came to a decision. “It would be an insult to so fine a lady to ignore her request,” he said slowly, “and I did see in The Times this morning that Pondlife was visiting Skegness, a charming seaside town in Lincolnshire, where he is probably to be honoured at a civic reception this very evening. So fetch my hat, Watson, and come! We must catch the 8.50 and so arrive in Skegness early this afternoon, refreshed by black smuts and smoke from the steam steed that will tow us along!”

That first part of the day went according to plan, and by two o’clock we were making out way to the civic centre in the seaside town.

I grabbed hold of Holmes by one shoulder when I spied her. “Look!” I gasped.

I know. I saw her ten minutes ago,” he replied. “It is the woman the good Lord Pondlife is alleged to be playing with. See, the piggy eyes, the cute complexion and the enormous bottom…”

And the pretty little ankles,” I added, a lump in my throat.

Quite,” he said, “though I still can’t see how an ankle can ever be properly described as pretty.”

It is most certainly her, Holmes,” I whispered.

And we will follow her,” said Holmes decisively.

You are quite masterful today,” I murmured in devout praise.

He nodded. “We might well need that hundred pounds,” he agreed.

We followed the beautiful piggy-eyed creature down one of the streets that lead, in Skegness, towards the sea. Her walk was provocative, to say the least, and that more than ample rear of hers wiggled and wobbled like a thing with a mind of its own.

I’ve never seen anything like it, Holmes,” I breathed.

It is a thing of wonder,” he agreed.

We arrived at the sands in due course, and the lady we were following actually put first one, then a second foot onto the powdery dry stuff before bursting into the most melodious singing I have ever heard. It was glorious, the way her voice rose and fell and trilled, and a growing crowd quickly gathered to her.

And then, from under her coat, she withdrew a sign attached to a post that she stuck into the sands.

SEE PONDLIFE THE SINGING DOG read the sign, in tasteful italics.

Pondlife, Holmes,” I breathed, pointing.

Yes, I see Watson,” he replied, “but look.”

The rare beauty with the wiggling bottom slowly and one must say with undue eroticism started to divest herself of her coat revealing a dress that was both sparkling and huge. Then, and here I almost faint at the thought of having to record this, she pulled her skirt to one side and a dog stepped out, a dog that must have been lurking within the folds of that garment.

It’s a dog, Holmes,” I gasped.

So I see, Watson,” he replied thoughtfully. “It would appear that the woman is going to sing, and the dog will perform with her, and they will create the most unlikely duet ever heard on Skegness beach!”

And then it happened just as Holmes had predicted.

The piggy-eyed singer started an aria of rapt beauty, her voice the most perfect sound heard on any beach anywhere. Then the dog, a handsome beast if ever there was a handsome beast, joined in. I don’t know how it managed to have such perfect pitch, but it did, and such was Holmes’ fascination that he pulled a small box camera from a hidden pocket and pointed it at the duo.

I must record this for posterity, Watson,” he murmured.

Taking the greatest of care he aimed the lens of his simple camera towards the stars of the show, and took careful aim.

Poor old Holmes! He wasn’t to know, and who could blame him, but that dog performed nightly with the lady with the pretty ankles during the last performance of the day at the music hall, and a stage-hand named Pierre (he was French) took delight in photographing the act. The flashing of the spotlight reflecting from the camera lens infuriated the dog, and this time, being not on a stage but on the beach, it decided to do something about it, and charged at Holmes.

Holmes was rewarded by capturing a perfect image of a row of savage canine teeth before they grabbed hold of him by a well darned sock, and he ran like the wind down the beach, towards the sea.

Pondlife!” shrieked the pretty singer, and the dog, wagging its tail at such fun, returned to the woman, and continued warbling in tune.

When he recovered his breath Holmes marched back to the station, a look of suppressed fury on his face, and he remained stalwartly silent until we arrived back in Baker Street.

The lady will pay,” he told me grimly as he sent for Lady Bwahbwah Pondlife, and when she arrived he delighted in receiving her note for one hundred pounds whilst informing her that if she was married to the Pondlife who accompanied a certain dancer and music hall entertainer then she must surely be wed to a dog, and he wasn’t in the business of shooting dumb animals.

Not that he can’t sing,” he added, “beautifully.”

© Peter Rogerson 22.07.17

THE CASE OF THE MISSING CAT

30 Jul

There is,” murmured Holmes into his tea-cup, “a hole in my argument and I don’t like it.”

I stared at him, perplexed. As far as I was concerned there had been no argument, not between us nor between Holmes and himself, which was not an uncommon occurrence when he was pondering over the imponderable.

What argument might that be, and what hole?” I asked mildly.

Cats,” he said, almost explosively, “there’s a hole in the argument that cats are really in charge of we humans, and not the other way round!”

I was about to agree in the most positive of positive terms when the door opened and Mrs Hudson, looking anxious, walked in.

You have a visitor, Sherlock,” she said, almost tentatively.

Holmes looked surprised. “I wasn’t aware that we had any appointments this morning, were you Watson?”

I shook my head. We’d had no appointments that week. Our services, or rather Holmes’ services, I am merely his biographer, were in what we hoped was a short-term decline since the incidence over the mannequin which maybe I should never have recorded for public scrutiny.

Who is it, Mrs Hudson?” asked Holmes, still frowning into his teacup.

It’s a gentleman,” she murmured, “but I don’t think he’s all there.”

Holmes raised both eyebrows. “You don’t?” he asked, “then pray tell me, Mrs Holmes, what portion of him do you believe to be missing?”

Something inside his head!” she retorted, “here he comes. Be warned.” And she withdrew, allowing a man of some apparent means to enter the room.

The gentleman looked respectable enough. I took him as maybe an undertaker or similar. He was dressed in a summer coat woven from comfortable-looking material, and his bowler was well brushed and showed few signs of wear. The only oddity, if oddity it was, was the leash that he held in one hand.

You will forgive me, Mr Holmes,” he said.

Of course,” nodded Holmes. “I see that you are a smoker who hails from the West End of this city and that you have recently been bereaved,” he added, his eyes sparkling with the concentration. “I also infer,” he added, “that you have lost a little dog!”

You are wrong on every count,” replied our visitor.

Are you sure?” asked a suddenly querulous Holmes whose opinion of his own powers of deduction brooked no criticism.

I should know, sir!” retorted the almost outraged man. “I have never smoked in my life, I live in the North of the City and although I was bereaved a decade or so ago it falls far short of being recent. And I have never owned a dog.”

Then I must be mistaken,” sighed Holmes. “It is merely that I judged from the ash of what was certainly a French cigarette that is smeared on your sleeve that you must have been the smoker and that gentlemen of high standing who prefer that type of cigarette invariably live west of here if I am to believe my own monogram on the subject of tobacco ash. Also it would appear that you have given so much attention to the appearance of your excellent bowler that I divined you must have worn it to church and as it’s not a Sunday the implication is that you’ve attended the tabernacle for some other reason, hence the assumption that you’ve been bereaved very recently. Oh, and the leash in your hand, with no dog attached. Clearly there must have been a dog attached to it when you left home or why would you be holding it as you are, so ergo you have mislaid a small dog … the leash isn’t large enough to contain the neck of a large one!”

The man shook his head again. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he said, somewhat brusquely, “I am Sidney Rowlands and I am employed by Bigsmith, the undertakers of our parish, so in a way my bowler was some kind of clue, though you misinterpreted it…”

Ah,” nodded Holmes, “I was right with the substance.”

I have come from the funeral of a Frenchman, a certain Monsieur Leclerc, who passed away last Friday and was to be buried in London rather than in his home city of Paris, and no doubt some of the tobacco ash that he ordered to be interred with him became smeared on my sleeve during the burial. There was a somewhat gentle breeze… It is unforgivable of me! I should have noticed, but the request that a pile of tobacco ash be prepared from his favourite cigarettes and scattered on top of his casket was rather unusual.”

Most certainly,” approved Holmes.

But it was no dog that was attached on the end of this leash,” murmured Sidney Rowlands, “but a cat.”

A cat?” I couldn’t help myself repeating, “a cat?”

It belonged to the deceased Frenchman,” nodded our guest, “and it was his instruction that after the funeral and when the earth was piled on top of his box the cat should be taken to the church and provided with a clerical collar to wear, and be used as a familiar in religious services.”

A familiar?” I spluttered.

I am acquainted with the practice,” nodded Holmes, “you will recall, Watson, that in previous times, shall we call them times of ignorance and primitive thought, it was thought that witches had the assistance of black cats when they performed their dreadful magic.”

But there’s no such thing…” I began.

You and I know that as does doubtless Mr Rowlands,” said Holmes gently. “But there are still odd sects around the globe where strange beliefs persist, and one of them had its origin on the near continent and involved the accompaniment of white cats in otherwise quite ordinary religious services…”

I’ve never heard of such a thing!” I spluttered.

But he tells the truth,” nodded Sidney Rowlands. “The deceased, Mr Leclerc, was most insistence in his documents. His own white cat must be taken to a particular church in Essex where it was to be invested with a clerical collar and robes of a suitable nature, and trained in the services of the Church of England. The local vicar agreed to what must have seen an unusual request. Apparently there isn’t a Parisian church that would give it a second thought…”

I should think not!” I exploded.

Quiet, Watson,” smiled Holmes, and then he faced our guest. “And the cat has gone missing?” he asked, “it has sprung from its lead? It found one collar too much without requiring a second albeit clerical one?”

Sidney Rowlands was close to tears. “It most certainly has gone, and I am to blame,” he moaned, “and Monsieur Leclerc made it quite plain in his will that if anything happened to his cat, Puss he called it, though with a Gallic accent,, then both he and the feline creature would haunt me and mine for all of eternity…”

Then we had better find the cat,” announced Holmes, “and I believe there is only one place where it might be…”

There is?” asked Mr Rowlands, a look of relief almost wiping the embryonic tears from his eyes.

Yes,” said Holmes, reaching for his own coat, “we must go to the graveyard where the cat’s French owner was so recently interred, for that is where the creature will certainly be!”

You think so, Holmes?” I asked.

Of course! Were we not discussing, before the timely arrival of Mr Rowlands, the possibility that cats are the real masters on this world of ours, and we humans merely their slaves?” asked Holmes. “Well, this plugs the hole in the argument! What master would return to mourn a slave when all he has to do is acquire another one? No, the cat is the servant and that’s why we will find it weeping where Monsieur Leclerc lies buried!”

I do hope so, Holmes,” I murmured as we guided Mr Rowlands out of 221b and onto Baker Street.

Holmes, of course, was quite wrong. He was going through a bad patch, no mistake.

But there was a very dead white cat in the gutter as we approached the last resting place of his late master. It had clearly trapped its leg in the grating of a waste water drain and consequently slipped the lead that Rowlands was holding, and been unable to pull free from the drain as one of those newfangled motorised omnibuses drove past and, sadly, ran heavily over it.

When he saw it, Mr Rowlands was almost as distraught as the late lamented Monsieur Leclerc might have been. Almost, but not quite.

© Peter Rogerson 23.07.17

THE CASE OF THE LADIES LEGS

27 Jul

There we have it then, Watson,” said Holmes, putting his violin down with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. “That’s the most difficult piece of music a solo violinist can play, and I just did it perfectly.”

The words Holmes and ego fit together like fingers and gloves,” I told him, “and even if half the notes you played were wrong I doubt I would have noticed!”

But I would have,” he murmured smugly. “Now tell me, what’s afoot today?”

There’s nothing in the diary, but you were going to write a monogram about something or other,” I told him.

I was? Remind me,” he said quietly.

Remind you? I thought the one thing about you, except for the perfection of your violin adagios,, was the foolproof nature of your memory,” I told him, not without a hint of sarcasm in my voice.

I can’t be expected to remember for both of us,” he snapped.

But it’s your monogram, Holmes,” I told him, not without a touch of irritation. Sometimes, I told myself, Sometimes Holmes can be impossible.

He paused and gazed out of the window. Then he turned to me sharply. “Did you see that?” he asked.

I might have told him that he was the one looking out of the window whilst I was the one polishing my briar, but thought better of it.

Of course not,” I said limply.

There was a woman climbing from a rather expensive landau out there, finely dressed…”

The carriage was finely dressed?” I asked.

No, man, pay attention! The woman is finely dressed with an outer skirt that is layered like that foreign tower, the one in Italy that leans over…”

Pisa,” I reminded him, wondering whether he’d been overdoing the opium and finally dissolved his memory into mush.

That’s the one! Like the leaning tower of whatever you called it,” he said irritably, “and as she dismounted from the landau she raised her skirt almost as far as her knees…”

In case there’s road filth after rain or horse droppings in the way,” I nodded, “a lady needs to keep her finery clean or she’s forever getting the maid to wash it.”

My point, Watson, is she’s coming this way!” Holmes told me. “I wonder what so fine a lady can need the services of a detective? I hope it’s nothing to do with the infidelity of either herself or her husband, for I detest such cases and am extremely reluctant to take them on.”

Yet there is much infidelity about,” I told him, “a lady will be enchanted by a gentleman until they’re wed, only to find out that he has little time for her personally on account of his keeping a mistress in town and has merely married her for show, and she might therefore find herself easily wooed by another scoundrel with too much agitation in his trews!”

You astound me, Watson!” declared Holmes, “I declare that I never knew you were such a man of the world!”

I was about to reply, suggesting that Holmes might consider getting out more, when Mrs Hudson knocked on the door and walked in.

There’s a Miss Stringfellow to see you, on appointment,” she said to Holmes, and I could tell by the tone of her voice that wasn’t entirely happy with our visitor. “She’s not the sort of lady we normally expect on Baker Street,” she added, almost glaring.

Miss Stringfellow, when she came into the room, was as pretty as a picture and dressed in the most glorious of modern fashions. It wasn’t until she opened her mouth to speak that it became obvious that she might look as if she came from one side of the river, but sounded as if she was very much from the other side, her accent being very much of the Bow Bells variety.

Well there we are then, Mr ‘Olmes,” she said with a flourish, “what is it ya want o’ me, then?”

I was astounded. It would seem, from her attitude and the question in her voice that she had been called for by Holmes rather than being a client after his detective skills, and I had never heard him suggest that he needed advice from a common London girl even though she looked far from common.

Ah,” he said, smiled and proffering a hand towards her, “you must be the Miss Stringfellow of the Music Hall circuit?”

Why, Mr ‘Olmes, you must know that or ya wouldn’t’ve called for me!” she replied, and giggled, “though I did wonder why such a fine gennelman from such fine lodgings would want to have dealings with one such as I, even though I do know ‘is name, famous as it is on the streets and feared by scoundrels of an evil disposition, like.”

I requested you call for information,” said Holmes quite seriously. “I need to know about legs. Female legs, to be specific.”

You mean, pins to walk on?” she asked, frowning slightly, “we’ve all got ‘em, Mr ‘Olmes, me a’ you an’ your fine gennelman accomplice here,” and she indicated me with a chirpy smile.

Yes, my dear, that’s what I mean,” he said, smiling somewhat nervously.

Well, what is you want to know?” she asked, and added, “though I do know as legs are a girl’s best friend if she’s in the company of a gennelman who likes ‘er legs!”

That’s precisely it!” he exclaimed, “you see, my dear, I’m writing a monogram on the involvement of legs in certain crimes.”

Hey! I ain’t no criminal!” she interrupted, “an’ if you think I am you’ve got another think coming!”

No, my dear, I mean nothing like that!” said Holmes, clearly embarrassed. “it’s just that there have been occasions when I have been put to shame by ladies who complain that certain genn … er, gentlemen … pay undue attention to their legs and I have no idea why that should be.”

Has he lived a sheltered life?” asked Miss Stringfellow of me.

I nodded, unwilling to commit my thoughts to words.

Then let me say it plain,” she said, “for I make a living teasing men wi’ my legs, singin’ an’ dancin’ on the stage at the Music Hall, an’ I’m well known for it and make more wages than many a man who toils all day long, the lord ‘elp ‘em! An’ I’ve a fine range o’ saucy songs too, again for teasin’ the menfolk, though there’s many a laugh from ladies who get my point! But it’s a flash o’ my legs that wins the day any time, an’ maybe a little peep o’ my bloomers!”

Holmes turned to me and shook his head.

I don’t understand, Watson,” he said, clearly confused, “why is this? What is it about a woman’s legs that makes a client complain that a perfectly decent man is taking undue notice of them, and that makes an audience clamour and roar at the sight of an ankle?”

You mean, you don’t know, Holmes?” I asked.

That’s why I’m writing my monogram, Watson,” he said, almost severely, “so that students of detection can know what it is that so attracts some types of man.”

And I’m one of them,” I told him, “and just as I can admire Miss Stringfellow and her spectacularly lovely legs I’m at a loss to tell you why they’re so spectacularly lovely, just that they are. Maybe it’s the shape, maybe the person they support, maybe the other mysteries that might be associated with legs, I don’t know, but what I am certain of is the fact that Miss Stringfellow is wonderfully blessed with the kind of legs a man would die for!”

I don’t understand…” murmured Holmes, and he handed the pretty young girl a few coins. “Thank you for calling, my dear,” he said, almost shame-faced, “but I rather suspect that ladies and their legs are something I’ll never get my head around.”

Why thank you, sir,” she trilled and giggled, “maybe you should come to one of my shows and study, not me or the other lady dancers but the men who do the watchin’ and the hollerin’ when I lift my skirts the tiniest bit! Mebbe you should ask them your questions!”

Then she lifted her pretty skirt several inches and flicked one well turned ankle in the direction of the great detective.

Yes, yes. I’ll bear that in mind Miss … er … Stringfellow,” he mumbled, and I’m not so sure, but I really do believe I caught the faintest suggestion of a blush on his face as he turned away.

© Peter Rogerson 21.07.17

THE CASE OF THE SCHOOLBOY GAME

25 Jul

What on Earth are you doing with those, Watson?” asked Holmes, staring at my hands, and he might well have stared because, whilst walking by the park on my way to Baker Street I had picked up a few horse chestnuts lying on the pathway, thinking it might be amusing to plant them in my own small plot of garden and watch them grow into giant trees.

They’re conkers,” I told him, conkers being my childhood name for these nuts.

I know what they are,” he replied irritably, “what I asked is what you’re doing with them or, to put it more plainly, why you have them?”

I’m not perfectly sure, to tell the truth,” I told him. “My first inclination was to plant them in the ground and watch them grow.”

You’d have to live to be mighty old to see much growth from them,” he told me. “You’d beat them to the grave, all right!”

That did cross my mind,” I told him. “But I would see the first shoots as my baby trees reached for the skies, and that would be enlightening.”

How so, Watson?” he asked, and I could see that he was in the mood to turn every observation and declaration of mine into a fresh question, and I was disinclined to allow him the amusement.

Or I might play conkers with them,” I said.

Conkers? What is conkers?” he asked, raising his eyebrows and clearly puzzled by what I had said.

It’s a boy’s game,” I said, “or a girl’s I suppose, when they’re not undressing dolls!”

How can a boy, or even a girl, make a game out of horse chestnuts?” he asked. “I have never heard of such a thing!”

So you were never a young imp playing and having fun with your friends?” I asked him. “When you were a boy, that is,” I added, for clarity. “If ever you were so,” I further added

I was engaged in useful activities during my formative years,” he frowned at me, “and never did a nut enter into them, though I do recall the occasion when I used a rather large coconut I won at a fair to raise the level of water in a vessel and thus plan an escape from the Tower of London were I ever to be trapped or incarcerated inside it.”

Really, Holmes? And did it work?” I asked.

It might have done had the coconut sunk!” was his exasperating reply. “But tell me more of your childhood game, and did all urchins in your corner of the City play it, or were you alone in your fun, as was I for most of the time.”

Didn’t Mycroft like to play with you?” I asked, guessing the answer.

Mycroft, as you will be aware, is my older brother and by the time I was planning devices with coconuts he was working on more advanced matters such as might be of assistance to his adult self when he worked for the Government,” came his cryptic reply. “Now this game of yours, Watson?”

I sighed. As far as I was concerned I was about to describe a childhood game enjoyed by just every boy I ever met to the only child in this land of ours who had never heard of it!

One drills a hole through the horse chestnut, or conker as I prefer to call it, thread some string through, maybe about a foot in length, and tie a not so that the conker remains on the string. Then two of you, for you are with a friend, try to smash the other’s conker by taking it in turns to swing your own nut, allowing it to smash against the other. The winner is the boy with the least damaged conker, and the game, Holmes, is mightily amusing as you would have discovered had you ever played as a child.”

Holmes paused for a moment and gazed at me with his eyes almost alight as though long lost shadows of happy memories were fighting their way from some hidden and too serious depth. Then he shook his head.

No, Watson, I have no recollection of ever being entertained by such a game, and so in order to educate me, how about us having a game of conkers here and now?”

What? In here, Holmes?” I asked, querulously. After all, I was perfectly aware of the damage that could be done by solid objects flying unexpectedly off a piece of string and hurtling towards china plates or porcelain figurines. It had happened more than once in my childhood when wet weather had driven me and my friends indoors. I had received more than one walloping when an irreplaceable treasure had been knocked to the floor in my haste to win a game.

In here,” he said. “Come, Watson, don’t say that you are afraid to take on an amateur in conkers battle?”

We must be careful,” I said, indicating several fragile items he kept on a side table for his delight.

Give me a conker, and I will skewer it!” he said with almost childish delight. I threw him one, making sure it had no unwanted fractures in it, for the last thing I wanted was to be called a cheat by a self-confessed amateur.

He caught it, and reached in his drawer where he kept all manner of useful artefacts, and removed a meat skewer.

Just the job!” he ejaculated, and proceeded to screw the skewer through the flesh of his conker whilst I contrived to make a hole through mine with a clockmaker’s screwdriver.

Within mere moments we had bored holes in our conkers and were threading them with lengths of string. The determination on Holmes’ face was wonderful to behold, and the truth is he managed to thread his nut whilst I was still struggling with my own.

I need a new prescription for my glasses!” I joked as I picked and poked my length of string.

In the end we were ready, and stood facing each other.

You go first so that I can determine the best means of attack,” said Holmes.

He stood before me with his conker dangling and I swiped it with my own, catching it firmly and fairly and sending it hurtling round Holmes’ fist in a rocketing orbit kept safely away from breakables by his length of string.

A good hit, Watson!” he declared, and it was his turn to strike mine, but he missed altogether. “Have another go,” I said generously.

He did, and this time he hit mine solidly, and to my utter dismay my conker flew into two discrete pieces, one of them towards the door just as it opened, revealing a frowning Mrs Hudson bearing a tray holding our mid-morning drinks.

The wicked half of my conker struck Mrs Hudson mid-bosom, and she gave a fevered little scream which ended with her dropping the tray.

Mr Holmes!” she grated querulously, “what games are you playing like an urchin from the streets when there is work to be done and your rent to be earned!”

It’s … I suppose it’s my fault,” I confessed, and set about picking shards of cup, saucer and teapot from the floor.

But Mrs Hudson ran out of the room screaming, and I cut my hand on a sharp fragment of a cup. It bled profusely, which made me grateful that I was a medical man with skills that involved stitching.

I rather suspect a good soaking in vinegar followed by a roasting in the kitchen oven might help,” murmured \Holmes, thoughtfully.

© Peter Rogerson 20.07.17

THE CASE OF THE KIDNAPPED WIFE

23 Jul

Holmes was busy pouring over his copy of The Times and contemplating the puzzle of a naked man holding a scrunched-up handkerchief in one hand and found dead on the beach at Dover, when there was an unexpected knock on the door, and Mrs Hudson breezed in.

You have a visitor, Sherlock,” she said, “and I’m too busy to ply him with tea whilst you sit around idling up here.”

I am not idling, Mrs Hudson,” he retorted. “This piece I am contemplating may well lead to the easy solution of many unsolved atrocities.”

If you say so,” she sniffed, “anyway, it’s Mr Barnstaple.”

And she breezed out, leaving a stranger holding his bowler hat nervously in both hands standing in the doorway.

I eyed him suspiciously. There was something about him, maybe the worn appearance of his suit, which was unfashionably brown, or the smears of dust on his unpressed trousers, or maybe even his shirt and collar, both obviously days since they were laundered.

Barnstaple, you say?” said Holmes. “The name doesn’t ring a bell. You’re not related to the Barnstaples of High Wycombe by any chance?”

Never heard of them,” he growled in reply, “I’m a Yorkshire Barnstaple, and proud of it.”

Then your pedigree has escaped me thus far,” hissed Holmes, “and I will be delighted to be enlightened should we ever have the time. Tell me, what brings you to Baker Street?”

It’s my wife,” he grated, “she’s been kidnapped.”

This drew Holmes attention away from the Times and to the stranger with an apparently kidnapped wife. It did, in fact, sound to his well-tuned ears like a proper case, and these had been few and far between since the publicity surrounding his infatuation bordering on love for a shop mannequin.

Tell me more,” he asked, eagerly.

Mr Barnstaple braised both eyebrows before continuing.

There’s not much more to tell,” he replied. “I own a mill up in Yorkshire, and three days ago when I returned home from earning a bob or two from the labour of underage peasants I found she weren’t there, and instead of her waiting for me in her frillies and such like, all eager for the fray so to speak, there was this note.”

He handed a slip of paper to Holmes, who did me the courtesy of letting me read it whilst he held it up to the light and stared through his piercing eyes at it.

No watermark,” he pointed out. “Cheap paper, obtainable at any stationers in the land.”

Hush, Holmes,” I muttered, and read the note aloud.

To Mr Bernstapol, I’ve got your wif in a dungon and will only let her go on receet of £500 as soon as mebbe.”

And there’s no signature,” murmured Holmes. “Tell me, Mr Barnstaple, what you know of Yorkshire dungeons.”

I don’t know of any!” exclaimed our agitated client. “There’s cellars, of course, where goods are stored, and wine in racks. There’s loads of wine in racks! But dungeons … I’ve never been in one nor know of where one might be. If I did don’t you think I’d have taken a force o’ peelers and raided it?”

Then we must catch the next train to Yorkshire,” decided Holmes, “Watson, your hat and cloak, and take your pistol with you just in case. I abhor the use of firearms, but this case has the sound of danger to it. And I need to make a most important phone call on our way. I hate leaving without telling someone, just in case things go wrong.”

I nodded. Kidnapping has always seemed to me to be one of the nastiest of crimes, almost on a par with murder. I equipped myself as requested and within short order we were ready to go to the station in order to catch a train to Yorkshire. Fortunately Holmes’s brain was a compendium of timetables for every conceivable form of transport, so we didn’t have to waste time searching through a papery one that might even turn out to belong to another year and be consequently out of date!

I’ll be staying in town on business until tomorrow,” Barnstaple told us, and he handed us a note with his address on it. “I’ll be back up North by noon,” he advised us, “but this journey has already wasted too much of my valuable time, and time is money, you know. Time is money.”

Not so bothered about his good lady, Holmes,” I said when we were alone in our compartment. “He seems to put his wealth above all things.”

I noted that, Watson,” agreed Holmes, “what do you make of this case thus far?”

We’ve precious little to go on,” I murmured. “That note was far from literate.”

You noticed that. Good!” praised Holmes, making me blush, “but did you not think the poor grammar a little exaggerated?”

It was written up North, Holmes,” I pointed out, resorting to the stereotype of the cloth-eared and uneducated Northerner for my theory.

Then you have fallen into the trap that many descend into, Watson,” said Holmes severely, “Yorkshire is a most enlightened county and has many great centres of learning in its cities! Yorkshire folk are every bit as literate as Londoners! No, this note fails to convince me of its authenticity on more than one count. Consider that it says the writer requires £500 as soon as maybe. When is that, Watson? When is maybe? It is not a specific time, and in my experience kidnappers are always very precise when it comes to time, and in addition there is no indication of how that £500 is to be delivered to the criminal and the exchange for Mrs Barnstaple made. No, the note fails to convince me, but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t in danger.”

I see, Holmes,” I said slowly, “I see very well.”

There are other clues,” continued Holmes, “did you notice anything about Barnstaple that you might choose to question? For instance, his suit?”

Brown,” I murmured, “and double-breasted.”

And worn at the elbows,” added Holmes, “And in addition, you might have observed that there was a dusting of chalk on the trousers. And you will forgive me if I refer to one of my publications, but the chalk was the type that is stirred up by the iron rims of vehicles that ply the roads south of London and towards the south coast, where natural chalk is plentiful in the form of dust that lies quite freely on the surface. No, our Barnstaple did not come from Yorkshire despite his delightful Yorkshire accent, and the note that claims to be from a kidnapper was written by his own fair hand.”

Really, Holmes! How can you know that?” I gasped.

You may have missed it, but I didn’t. He had a smudge of ink on the forefinger on his left hand, and unless I’ve very much mistaken it is a smudge of blue-black ink as manufactured by Downs and Co., and is the very same shade and make of ink he used to inscribe the letter, which was obviously written by a left-handed man.”

But what would his motive be, Holmes? Pretending to kidnap his wife…?”

His suit, Watson! I pointed out, ill kept and his shirt imperfect! He has no wife or she would ensure that he looked more presentable! No, all that was real was the note, and that was far from real!”

No wife, Holmes?” I gasped.

Indeed, no wife. I would put money on it being an insurance claim, a fraudulent one of course, and out of desperation he decided to invent a spouse and a kidnapping in order to be rescued from some dire fiscal disaster.”

And you’re sure, Holmes?”

You’ll find that our Mr Barnstaple is already in a cell at Scotland Yard … I did make a telephone call, you remember, and he will be up before the beak tomorrow on a most serious charge.”

Serious, Holmes?” I asked.

Of course. Murder,” said Holmes darkly “While you were enjoying your bacon and eggs this morning I noted, in The Times, a brief report concerning a body on the beach at Dover. Nobody seems to know who it was, but the report said it must belong to a native of the town of Barnstaple, because that word was stitched to one corner of his handkerchief, which was his only possession. I fear they are wrong and that the real Mr Barnstaple is dead on a beach and our Mr Barnstaple is a killer after insurance money. Ah, here we are…”

But this isn’t Yorkshire, Holmes,” I protested.

If you had your wits about you, Watson, you will have noted that we caught a train to the south-east coast rather than one going North. Our client (or ex-client, I won’t work for criminals of any kind) was trying to establish a credible alibi when he called on us this morning, but he needs to be a great deal sharper when he tries to use Sherlock Holmes as part of a devious plot. Not content with attempting to wrest the value of a mill from the insurers, he murdered the mill owner who had just returned from a business trip to the continent, and attempted to steal his identity before anyone found out, which is why the corpse was stripped of any identification and only kept a handkerchief by chance in one desperate grab at his killer.”

You’re a marvel, Holmes,” I said warmly, and meant it.

Perhaps you’re right, Watson,” he murmured modestly.

© Peter Rogerson 19.07.17

THE CASE OF THE ODD LOVE AFFAIR

21 Jul

I don’t want you to turn cartwheels or do anything as demonstrative as that, Watson, but I do believe I’m in love,” said Holmes, a little coyly as I watered a pot plant on his window-sill from a small jug whilst simultaneously skilfully launching my bowler towards his hat-stand. I missed, which was no surprise considering what he had just said.

Holmes was, in my opinion, incapable of loving anyone but himself.

You are in love?” I asked, hoping that the repetition would be more believable than its origin.

I am indeed, Watson,” he beamed at me as he stood by the window with the sort of smile on his face that I never want to see again. You know what it is with smiles … some are patently genuine and you want to join in and smile with the smiler, and others are as artificial as torn paper snow in June.

I don’t understand, Holmes,” I spluttered.

Then retrieve your bowler from where it is lying on the floor and come with me,” he instructed.

In a kind of daze I did as he told me, and we went down the stairs, Holmes taking them in twos as if consumed with some unearthly joy whilst I struggled to keep up.

It’s breakfast, Mr Holmes,” called Mrs Hudson, holding a laden tray and swirling her pinafore as she tried to intercept us.

Later, Mrs Hudson,” ordered Holmes, ungratefully.

Baker Street was quiet. Even though the first crack of dawn had long departed and noon threatened on the horizon, there were few people about. It was that false quiet between rush hours. The workers had found their shops after last-minute scurries and were standing by their counters ready for any rush that might come their way, and the shoppers were examining their purses, pulling on their street-wear and preparing to buy those little necessities that shoppers require.

This way, Watson,” ordered Holmes, and we walked swiftly along the pavement, passing every other pedestrian as we went, even almost pushing some to one side in our haste.

Our walk was but brief, for we arrived at the Underground station and almost fell down its steps as we found our way to the platform.

Which train, Holmes?” I asked, almost spluttering as a result of breathlessness.

No train, Watson,” he replied, “we’re not going anywhere. We’ve come to see the most gorgeous sight that ever plagued a man’s vision!”

What? In the dark of the underground? Really Holmes!” I ejaculated.

Come here,” he murmured, and pulled me into a small subterranean office.

There was a sign that indicated that lost luggage could be collected there, and a greasy old man lurking behind a counter with what looked like a lascivious expression on his face as he fumbled in a Gladstone bag that seemed to contain no more than delicate silk garments, the sort that ladies of high station like to feel against their gossamer skin, and I had to look away, shocked at such a display of multifarious obscenity.

Is Miss Jones here?” demanded Holmes in an authoritative voice, slapping his walking cane against the counter.

Miss Jones oooh?” asked the greasy uniform.

The young lady I saw yesterday when I was making enquiries about the collection of umbrellas you store here, and whether there was one in puce with the monogram SH on it?”

They’ve gorn,” was his reply.

What have gorn … gone?” demanded Holmes.

The umbrellas. All of ‘em. It’s a mystery to me, but some fellow must’ve collected ‘em, not that there were many to collect. And that Miss Jones woman you’re on about, who’s she?” He winked at me knowingly as if I was party to a great secret. “She don’ work ‘ere … there’s on’y me for my sins.”

But…” Holmes was suddenly flustered. I’d never seen him so flustered, and I’ve known him for some years and witnessed him in many dark moods and darker situations. “But I made enquiries of her only yesterday. And such a sweet creature! Not young, you understand, not a flibbertigibbet of a creature with a nose for trouble … her nose was the sweetest thing I’ve seen, and the fragrance of her … it was quite captivating!”

Eh? What was ‘er voice like? What did she sound like when she verbalised?” asked the greasy uniform, accenting the trisyllabic conclusion to his question as if to illustrate the fact the he was far from ignorant when it came to the English language, and winking playfully at me.

I don’t recall her actually speaking,” replied Holmes, “but she was standing where you are, and I rarely did see such a smile. It was like the windows of Heaven were opened, and she was smiling down on me…”

I had never heard such eloquence from Holmes, who seldom seemed to notice anything charming or attractive about his female clients. This was a new him, and I was astounded.

Holmes, really!” I stammered.

Oh, you mean ‘er as ‘olds the sign,” said the uniform, and his crinkled face broke into a certain smile. “When I’m about my lunch,” he added, “I needs my lunch, for ten hours without it an’ I’m weaker than a dyin’ dog!”

You mean, you employ a lady to hold a notice?” almost shouted Holmes, “then where is she, man! I have a proposition to put to her, one that would most certainly be to her advantage…”

She ain’t ‘ere, squire,” came the reply, “though in a manner of speakin’ she is!”

Now you’re speaking in riddles!” snapped Holmes, “and there’s no man more at home with riddles than Sherlock Holmes!”

You say as she picked and poked in the lost umbrella section?” asked the smiling greasy uniform.

I did. Well almost!”

And was she the young lady with a short skirt, a naughty little frilly thing on ‘er, one as shows ‘er stockings an’ captivating little waist, an’ with a whole plume o’ feathers on ‘er pretty ‘ead?”

So you have seen her!” laughed Holmes, “Why, fellow, you are a card, to have the great Sherlock Holmes fooled like you have! Pray, where is she?”

She ain’t, so to speak,” grinned the other.

Speak no more riddles. Where is she?” asked Holmes in his most imperious voice.

If you must know, she’s ‘ere, behind this ‘ere counter, waiting till she’s called for,” replied the man, still grinning broadly, and I could tell by all the clues he was casting to every corner of that small office with every twitch of his grin that something was about to upset Holmes very much indeed.

Then release her to greet me!” snapped Holmes.

Orl right,” sniffed the other, “’ave it your own way, but you ain’t goin’ to be none too pleased…”

And he reached down and pulled up a life-sized shop’s mannequin with its face painted luridly and dressed after the manner of the sort of showgirl who decorates the music halls nightly. And on her head, as if to stress the point, was a cascade of feathers the like of which would make even a sinner blush.

This ‘ere is Annie Jones, an’ she’s been ‘ere with me since I were young enough to want to kiss ‘er,” grinned the man. “But she’s just a plaster creature with no feelings, so that’s all right. I keep ‘er to hold my sign when I’m called away. Now about that umbrella? Puce, you said, wiv a monogram?”

Holmes was to be poor company for the rest of that day!

© Peter Rogerson 18.07.17