THE CASE OF THE ARROW OF GOD

28 Sep

There is no evidence whatsoever,” said Holmes out of the blue whilst I was trying to repair a crack in the back of his violin for him, “there is no evidence whatsoever in support of any of the basic tenets of any religion.”

Not just now, Holmes, this is fiddly,” I replied, “and I can’t be be bothered to summon up any kind of esoteric argument this early on a Sunday morning.”

But look out there!” he said airily from his seat in the balcony window of our upstairs living room. “People of all classes making their way to a variety of churches and chapels, and all intent on praising their version of the Almighty whilst secretly hating anyone who prefers another one.”

That’s religion, Holmes,” I managed to mutter whilst squeezing two abutting parts of a crack together with as much force as I could muster. “You really will have to be more careful with this instrument. It’s a good job it’s not a Stradivarius!”

If you can’t fix it we’ll take it to Jones the Fiddle,” he said dismissively. “I was discussing the various contradictions in faith of all hues.”

I looked up, and sighed. “We’ll take it to Jones,” I agreed. “It’s what I suggested in the first place.”

Just look at them,” he muttered as though he was perusing a herd of cattle on their way to the abattoir. “Blindly following each other so that they can dispose of a disproportionate amount of their income to a priest or a vicar or a rabbi or any one of the officials who are standing in solemn covetousness for their hard-earned gifts.”

They want to, Holmes,” I told him. “It’s their choice, not yours or mine.”

True, Watson. Too true. So you think we should visit Jones the Fiddle with my instrument? You can’t repair it?”

It was you who sat on it,” I told him, “and your weight that broke it. Look, Holmes, I might be a surgeon and capable of splinting a broken leg but I never did learn carpentry and you need a very fine carpenter to stand a chance doing anything worthwhile with this fiddle!”

Then Jones it is,” he said, standing up and turning away from the window. “It’s just as well he opens up shop for an hour on Sunday mornings,” he added at precisely the same moment as a sharp cracking sound by his left ear announced that the window he’d just been looking out of had been shattered and a clunking scratching sound came from an archer’s arrow that slid across his table top, gouging a groove into its erstwhile pristine surface.

What the!” he ejaculated.

But it was all too clear. Someone had taken careful aim at him as he stood by his window looking out and would have done him real damage, including the possibility of killing him, had he not moved when he did.

Holmes, as ever, was swift to react. He moved to one side so as to be out of range of any second missile that might come our way and hissed, “don’t touch it, Watson. There’s what looks like some sort of flyer taped to it!”

And there was. I reached for the arrow, a vicious looking thing if ever there was one, and could see quite clearly that a small sheet of thin white paper had been rolled around it half way along its length and affixed with some kind of glue or paste.

Pass it here, Watson,” he said in his most perfunctory voice, and I did.

He stared at it for some moments. Then he sniffed at the paper and any adhesive still moist on it and nodded his head as if satisfied.

What you could have done with for my violin, Watson,” he said, “this is a good animal glue, the variety commonly used by high class cabinet makers. See, the sheet of paper has been tightly rolled round the arrow and only glued at one end, so that it can be easily removed without damaging anything inscribed upon it. The arrow, too, is of exceptional quality and would almost certainly have penetrated me from back to front had it hit its mark!”

You think you were its intended target, Holmes?” I asked, aghast.

He nodded. “There can be no doubt. Now let’s see what the criminal would-be murderer has written on it, though it it was intended for me to read it would have been better if I were allowed to live long enough to unstick it!”

This is a nasty business, Holmes,” I said, “and on a Sunday too!”

Holmes unrolled the flyer and stared at it for some moments before looking back up at me.

Handwritten, and by somebody with learning,” he said. “Listen, Watson. To the detective Holmes, today is a Sunday, the Lord’s day and I see when I examine your domicile that you are working. This is forbidden on the Sabbath. The Lord will be displeased and you will no doubt rot throughout eternity in Hell once this arrow has done its work.”

Pointless writing the message if the arrow was designed to kill you, Sherlock,” I said.

Quite,” he said, “so let us see who is so interested in the state of my eternal life that he is prepared to sacrifice it in the name of a deity I find little evidence for.”

There was no gainsaying him. Within moments he was out of the door and down the stairs, speaking as he did so.

A rough calculation would indicate that the bowman or archer or whatever you want to call him is in the first floor front room of the building opposite,” he said. “Had this been shot from the ground, with all the people around all scurrying to church, he would have been seen and apprehended. But he wasn’t. Had he been above the first floor he would have had to be standing on the roof, for the second floor has no windows. And I happen to know that the building has been unoccupied since Smythe and Smythe took their soliciting elsewhere. Come, and in haste, Watson, this needs to be sorted swiftly!”

We charged across the road, which fortunately had less traffic than it would have had on a week-day. We arrived by the front door to the establishment to find that the door was actually ajar, which struck me as being highly peculiar for an empty building.

I was just about to push the door wider open when someone on the other side of it opened it for me and rushed out.

It was a priest in a cassock, and from the look on his elderly face I would say he was in the sort of hurry that might prove terminal for him if his heart was as weak as the rest of him looked. I was about to bid him well and move to one side for him when Holmes pushed forwards.

Stop!” he barked, his voice sharp as a blade.

It’s Sunday,” gabbled the other. “My workaday Sunday, and I am late for the eleven o’clock service. Please do not hinder me as I go about the Lord’s work.”

There’ll be no preaching for you today,” grated Holmes, and he lunged towards the cleric, thrusting one hand under the man’s cassock. If I hadn’t known Holmes better I would have judged it to be an attempted and very indecent assault.

Let go!” barked the priest, and a small crowd was gathering, all of them, no doubt, on their way to hear homilies about their god from the man being attacked by the great detective, who they almost certainly also recognised. Confusion on their part, it seemed, prevented interference in the scene.

Holmes brought his hand away, and I gasped, for clutched in it he was holding a bow, the sort used by archers in shooting competitions, and a couple of arrows, identical to the one that lay on our table not so far away at 221b.

And you a man of God?” asked Holmes, “with the very weapon concealed under his raiment that was used in an attempt on my life not ten minutes since!”

There was a gasp from the small crowd when he said those words

The good Lord has ordered that Sundays be saved for the worship of him, and him alone!” berated the priest. “It is written in the good book that whosoever breaks that rule shall be condemned to an eternity with Beelzebub amidst the flames of Hell!”

And how is that I’m working?” asked Holmes. “What makes you think that I, though not a regular at your church, was doing anything more related to any kind of work than every man here?”

You dig and delve and spy,” retorted the geriatric priest, “I have seen you! Gazing on the world and judging others, then pouncing and denouncing them! Even just now you were there…” and he pointed at our window, “for I saw you…”

And tried to kill me,” murmured Holmes, “though had you succeeded your note would have been of little value to either of us! But did it not seem odd to you that you, being a cleric in holy orders, are the only man near here who is engaged in work even though it is a Sunday, and that Sherlock Holmes was merely looking at your flock as it made its way to penury, coin in gloved hands, and wondering why? No, old priest, if there is a sinner here it is he who plans murder. He who damages a perfectly sound table with his sinful arrows. And you who, because of it, must be taken before a magistrate, and judged by him.”

Two constables arrived and after a word from Holmes they led the priest off.

There would be no sermon that day. Nor would any violin be mended. It was getting to be too late for Mr Jones the Fiddle.

© Peter Rogerson 22.08.17

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THE CASE OF THE TYNDALE BIBLE

25 Sep

The bar of “The Languid Goose” was heaving with customers all determined to enjoy a last half hour or however long it would take for the landlord to decide enough was enough and it was time for him to put his head on his pillow and recharge his inner cells. There was the same old mixture of jollity and determined opinion, sometimes loud and insistent and often political, other time quiet and threatening, that can be heard in any public house or Inn when good ale has been taken and the evening is getting late.

And nobody was taking any notice of the tinker in his alcove, greasy hair limp across his forehead together with a look that spoke of weariness and the unwashed. To all intents and purposes he was as languid as the public house claimed to be, paying, it seemed, no attention to man nor beast, sipping from a jar that he’d had before him for above an hour without it being refilled. Yet his eyes were always on one man no matter where they seemed to be looking. Even in his apparent lethargy he had a quarry.

Maybe, some thought, he was there for the warmth of the blazing log fire. Maybe this was his life, lurking in warmth wherever he could find it, escaping for as long as maybe from the icicles that hung like crystals from the eves outside the door.

But not everything is what it seems, and the tinker certainly was not.

On the stroke of eleven from the fine grandfather clock in the corner he stood up and stretched and quaffed what remained in his jar before sloping off towards the door, yet not so far behind his quarry.

Good riddance,” muttered at least one of the regulars. Strangers were rarely welcomed, and if they were it wasn’t rascals like this one. And nobody noticed the third figure as he took his time following the itinerant, a different man from a different world it seemed. A medical man or a professor, maybe, someone along those lines.

Once outside the Inn the languid tinker disappeared into the gloom. The night had long drawn in and the few lights showing where men might be soon faded into that gloom until the world was a monotone of dismal grey. The odd flurry of snow whistled around like fairy creatures, the flakes black in the gloom, the road underfoot like Stygian slush.

Watson!” hissed the tinker, and the second figure detached himself from the solid night.

I can’t say this is as agreeable as a pint near a blazing fire, Holmes,” he said.

Hush, Watson!” That wasn’t the boozy drawl of an itinerant ne’er do well but the crisp tones of one who knows who he is and what he’s about. “It will be just down here,” he added, turning aside into a lane that few strangers would have noticed on a night such as that.

Tell me again why we’re putting ourselves into the freezing cold of a December night when all good Christian souls are in their beds,” asked the man called Watson.

It’s not good Christian souls we’re after, but a refugee from the criminal underworld who is intent on larceny at the very least, and possibly murder,” replied Holmes. “Come on, Watson, you know the game. I trust you have your revolver handy? It may come in handy before this night is over.”

As ready as it ever was,” replied Watson. “Look: who’s that?”

He pointed, and the erstwhile tinker hissed back, “I’ve been watching him ever since we turned down here,” he said. “The man’s up to no good I’ll be bound, but he’s not our man. You know, Watson, it’s on nights like this when the world’s wrapped up in a freezing blanket of wretched night that all sorts of wrongs get done. But we must stick to our guns! We must not let a petty criminal distract us from the real game. Ah…”

Watson drew close to Holmes and stared at where he was pointing. A shadow on a shadow, almost nothing, almost a mere smudge on the night if it was anything at all, drifted past them, out of sight and out of reach.

That’s out man!” hissed Holmes, “stay by me!”

Watson drew ever closer to his itinerant friend, and the two adopted a silence that even a languid goose would have been proud of. Behind them there were odd calls and bursts of fading laughter of the pub slowly emptied its merry revellers and quarrelling political commentators into the night.

Meanwhile, Holmes and Watson became a silent tail behind the shadow of a man, and that shadow quite clearly had no knowledge of their presence. He moved along like a ghost, yet careless that he might be seen, confident that the blanket of night would hide him even from the keenest eyes.

The broad lane they were on led towards the church, a medieval affair that had stood as bastion against evil since the fourteenth century, and it was inside that church that the shadow knew he’d find his goal. For since the dim past a sacred copy of a manuscript purporting to be the earliest copy anywhere on planet Earth of the Tyndale original translation of the Bible in the English tongue might be found. And it was immeasurably valuable, or would be if it found its way onto the black market and into criminal hands.

And it was Holmes’ task to protect it from one man in particular.

Bear with, Watson,” hissed Holmes.

The two in subtle pursuit of the one passed the lychgate. Just ahead of them the pursued paused, the shadow once again becoming indistinguishable from the rest of the wretched night.

We must catch him in the actual act,” breathed Holmes, “we need this to be a certain victory. And on no account discharge your weapon inside the church. The building is too precious to have steel ricocheting around its ancient walls!”

Agreed,” whispered Watson.

Then the figure in front of them made its move. It took several quick strides towards the main door of the church and pushed its way in. The oak door squealed its protest as it was forced open, and a dim light of several burning candles illuminated the figure that Holmes and Watson was pursuing.

Slowly he crept towards the front of the church until he stood before a lectern on which was chained the precious document. Holmes watched him as he removed a wire-cutter from his pocket and clamped it on the chain. The theft was under way. It must be stopped.

So we meet again, Moriarty,” said Holmes, announcing his presence whilst still invisibly embraced by the night.

The figure swung round. In the dim light they could see the anger that twisted his face into a demonic visage, one that merged surprise, shock and hatred.

Sherlock Holmes!” he mouthed.

That little dainty is not for you,” said Holmes, “that book has been here since before the Tudors ruled, and it is going to stay where it is! And, Moriarty, I must warn you: my friend and colleague has his revolver pointed straight at you…”

As if to support the great detective Watson released the safety catch with an audible click, and Moriarty seemed to slump in resignation.

And just behind us is the best that Scotland Yard can produce,” added Holmes. “Lestrade, this is your man and unless you have him by the collar quickly I fear he will find some way of escaping.”

But, for once, Holmes was too slow.

How it happened no man could tell, least of all Sherlock Holmes, but in a single heartbeat Professor Moriarty changed from being a thief in the night into a space where that thief had stood, and, without the least movement to mark his passing, was gone.

And with him went the supposed sacred Tyndale Bible, with just a dangling piece of severed chain to show it had ever been there.

Just as well we substituted it, Holmes,” murmured Watson. “And where are the police when you want them?”

They were supposed to be here,” replied Holmes, “Lestrade was keen. But the thing I don’t understand is … how did he do it? How did he get away?”

But that’s Moriarty,” muttered Watson, “and this isn’t an adventure that I’m likely to write up. We’ll leave that to the criminal if he’s got the time!”

Which is or is not what happened.

© Peter Rogerson 21.08.17

THE CASE OF TRUE LOVE

12 Sep

Holmes looked at me from his place at our table, newspaper spread out before him, and smiled nervously and without humour.

You know me, Watson,” he said thoughtfully, “that I’m a man of logic, that I have no place in my reckoning for that which flies in the face of calculation and common sense?”

That about sums you up, Holmes,” I replied.

Well, there is a small fissure in my philosophy, for I have never been under the sway of that devil that plagues humanity, which is emotion,” he said, “yet there is one tale that I see has sadly come to an end after many joyous chapters, and one that I would like you to get involved in if you would, dear friend.”

He called me dear friend! This must portend something more serious than the average serious stuff!

I had an aunt and an uncle,” he said slowly and thoughtfully, “Maisie and Arthur. I haven’t seen them in, oh, years. We’ve never been a keeping-in-touch sort of family as you probably know.”

Quite so, Holmes,” I murmured, “you only see Mycroft when you have to,” I added.

Ah, my dear brother! Yes, I expect to hear from him any moment now! But before he arrives let me tell you a love story.”

A love story from you, Holmes? This I must listen to!” I exclaimed.

Maisie and Arthur were children of the twenties who grew up together,” he began, “and Maisie’s claim to fame was she shared the same birthday as our beloved queen Victoria, being born on the 24th May in the year 1819. But that isn’t the connection that I’m thinking of: there must have been many people born on that date in that year! No, my tale is of true friends, for she and Arthur met as children in the delightful village of Posey on the Wold and if you were to listen, as I have, to their accounts of their childhood you might be tempted to believe that their young life was the perfect one. They remembered with pleasure and joy many hot summers, fruitful autumns, frosty winters and bright green springs! And the friendship they forged then was destined to last them a lifetime.”

Sounds delightful,” I commented, not quite sure where he was going.

They married each other in their late teens. It was always going to happen and so they wasted no time becoming man and wife, with parental blessing. Theirs was a special relationship, Watson, even in later years when I knew them, for it seemed that when explaining this or that event one would start the speech and the other conclude it! And it was said of them in Posey that never a cross word was heard between them, never an argument or disagreement, that their harmony was almost supernatural, using that word in its strictest sense! That it was above the natural, that it was beyond the compatibility normally perceived in nature.”

Then they were most fortunate,” I told him.

You are perceptive, Watson: they were!” he murmured, “and I thought their lives would always continue together like that. That peace would reign, that nothing would come along to disturb their long lives together or cast a shadow upon it. Until I read this piece in the Times this morning. Apparently they were both discovered in bed, having both been dead for several days, and they were together in a clinch as though they intended to take their harmony into the Hereafter. But there is a fly in the ointment of peace and love. The local police officer has decided that two people can never die simultaneously like they appeared to have died, that someone must have spiked their diet, or, more likely, one of them murdered the other before taking his or her own life, or maybe they jointly committed suicide having reached what they saw as a conclusion. And look, Watson, it is in The Times! That would break their hearts if they were to read it!”

What evidence does that police officer have?” I asked.

There is none,” came a voice from the doorway. While he had been speaking Mycroft had silently opened the door and entered the room unnoticed by either Holmes or myself.

Ah, brother Mycroft, I was expecting you,” said Holmes, “what make you of the story in the Times?”

That there is an over-zealous police officer who had no idea who our aunt and uncle, Maisie and Arthur, were and who has looked at an ordinary event and come to a ridiculous conclusion.”

Ridiculous, yes, but also logical,” suggested Sherlock. “You and I, Mycroft, know just how unlikely it is for two people living shared lives to pass into the Hereafter without one departing first and thus being able to care for the internment of the other.”

That is why I am here,” nodded Mycroft, “and for once it is to consult with your colleague Doctor Watson rather than yourself, Sherlock. I have ordered that there is a post mortem examination to be held this very afternoon, and that I would desire the most experienced medical man to perform it, and that, in my opinion, is you, John.”

He called me John! Mycroft called me John!

I have certain experiences,” I replied slowly, “though I am no medical pathologist! Yet in Afghanistan I had to deal with many of the more terrible afflictions of modern bloody warfare and decide which injury of many was responsible for the deaths of brave men.”

There are eulogies in praise of you amongst the official records,” Mycroft told me. “And it is my opinion that you, of all people and being so close an acquaintance of the family due to a working relationship with Sherlock, are best equipped to deal with all aspects of the enquiry.”

I’ll give it my best if that’s what you want,” I told him.

It is,” he said.

The two bodies had been taken to a local mortuary, which made my work all the simpler for there was little travel for me to do. They had already been dead for several days and they were therefore at risk of decomposition.

I will assist you in any way I can, Watson,” said Holmes (the Sherlock variety) “and you can depend on my own analytical approach to matters. We will perform an honest autopsy and reach a proper forensic conclusion.”

That is all I can do,” I told him, and quietly I added that I would not think of staining my own reputation by failing to consider all possibilities. Maybe the old couple had been murdered. Maybe they had committed mutual suicide – it was not unknown, and the law of the land prohibits it in the strongest terms, though it is rarely possible to punish the felons over such a crime.

I would expect nothing else of you, Watson,” he replied curtly.

The bodies were still fresh in that there was no obvious decomposition. They had obviously been in a close physical state when they had been discovered, and clad in nightgowns appropriate to their gender and age. All that I noted even though they had been separated for my examination.

Determining the cause of death is not always a straightforward matter. Many things have to be taken into consideration, one of the foremost being the possibility that some poison or toxin had been administered, but I could find no evidence of anything, and Holmes was of great help here because amongst his encyclopædic knowledge were details of all the more common poisons as well as many that are virtually unknown. After about an hour of general testing we both concluded that if any poison was present it was so unknown as to be impossible bearing in mind Holmes’ breadth of knowledge. We even discounted the gas supply in their cottage, for there were no tell-tale signs of gassing present, and anyway the smell would have lingered in their clothes and their bedding.

The rest of the post mortem examination was down to me, and Holmes took a back seat. I sliced and cut as little as possible, and when I had finished I did as neat a job as I could at rejoining my surgical cuts. I could find nothing more than that gradual decay caused by the passing of time, or ageing as we so bluntly call it. In short, I had to conclude that they had both died of old age. There could be no other explanation.

If there had been just the one body I would have had no doubt, so how can I doubt when there’s a second displaying exactly the same symptoms – or lack of them? It’s how I would have wished to go when my Mary died,” I told both Sherlock and Mycroft. “If either of them preceded the other on the grim path to Eternity I can’t say which it was and rather suspect that what you told me of their lives together provides the most likely solution.

They died, in each other’s arms, and in love, at precisely the same moment and if any man can find a fault with that as a diagnosis or an explanation I’d like to have it out with him!”

Good man,” murmured Holmes, and after a good wash we returned to Baker Street.

Holmes was quiet for the rest of the day and until the following day, and he eventually perked up considerably when he read a correction in The Times that insisted that after an expert post mortem examination it was discovered that no crime had been committed at the time of their death.

That they had died as they had lived, in the best possible harmony, and in love.

© Peter Rogerson 20.08.17

THE CASE OF THE WISE WOMAN

10 Sep

I had come upon the old cottage during a ramble on my own, back when I was mourning the passing of my Mary, and had met a crone who had seen some of the sadness that suffused my whole being. Mary had been my angel and my strength and without her I could barely see any future for me and I had sunk into a pit of personal despair. Every moment with her had been a veritable Heaven on Earth, and both were no more and their loss weighed so heavily upon me.

Young man,” the crone had said, standing by her gate, a wooden picket affair and barely in one piece. She was dressed in a long black dress of some kind and over her head and shoulders she had a shawl that managed to fill in a gap between black and brown. Her face was that of a truly old woman, lined and corrupted by the demolition that age imposes on human flesh.

But that was all years ago, yet I can still recall the conversation we had, word for word.

Young man,” she repeated, “I see an aura about you and would weep for you. I detect that you have lost someone dear to you…”

My wife, Mary,” I replied, unable to stop myself, and the uttering of those three words brought the whole sorry affair back to me, the agony of her last few days, the sadness in her eyes when she admitted that she was going to leave me, and the unbelievable pain of that final parting.

Then she was gone.

There is nothing less human and vital and alive than a corpse. And nothing more painful than that moment when the one becomes the other.

The memories will stay with you, but the grief will slowly fade,” she said. “I know that truth. For I have felt it, too, and the years have replaced the black of my grief with the lighter shades of a succession of new days, each with their own chinks of fresh light. Come, my young friend, and share a drink with me. You will feel better for it!”

I don’t know what impelled me other than her invitation, but I followed her into that cottage.

Inside it was what I might have expected had I given any thought to it. Quaint in an untidy way probably fits the bill better than any other collection of words, and cluttered with too much furniture and too many trinkets for so small a space. And she welcomed me into it with a warmth that was disproportionate to our brief acquaintance.

She poured a foaming liquid from a stone jar into a mug, and handed it to me. “This will do little to take the weight from your shoulders, but it may help to lighten your heart,” she said, “let me tell you of my own sorrow.

I was but a young woman when I met my heart’s desire. He was tall and fair and when the call came he became a soldier for the queen. He went to a far off land with others, all young men and all firm of limb and good of heart, and they took with them weapons of war. But not one of them returned. I received a note saying he died in glory for his country, and that was that. His nobility was death. But my heart was broken and I wanted to follow him along the road to that bitter ending. I wanted to be with him in the Hereafter, wherever he went, whatever force had called him. But my destiny was to spend the next fifty years alone in my cottage, the one we planned to share when he returned from the wars, this very little home. And then, today, I met another with the same grief…”

You did?” I asked.

She smiled. “You know I did,” she said, smiling sweetly, “for that person is you…”

I am a doctor of the flesh,” I said, “but I couldn’t save her…”

Take a sip of your drink,” she said, coyly, “just a little sip if that is all you want, and then if you are lucky you will receive assistance when it is most needed.”

I did what she told me to do. I was without a mind of my own. The liquid was more foam than drink, but it tasted good. It reminded me of far off things, of the sweet flavours of innocence when I whipped my top down the street, of a heady night with close friends in a tavern in the town with my first taste of ale, of days and moments I had learned throughout my life to treasure. It also had a hint of my own efforts in wars effervescing in its foaming depth, of comradeship in battle, of friendship during the darkest of nights, and I drank it all. I had to. And no sooner had I finished it that I felt the strangest calm fall over me and as I closed my eyes I knew that somehow I had been drugged…

When I came round the day was well under way and I was sitting in the same seat, and she was watching me with a smile hovering on the corners of her rambling lips.

You are a little better,” she told me. “I sense it.”

And I did feel… not less sad, not less grieving, but, well, better…

And it might have been that I had all but forgotten that day and that crone but for something Holmes said as he read that day’s issue of The Times.

Miss Peabody has passed away, and her cottage reduced to ashes” he said.

Miss Peabody, Holmes … do I know her?” I replied, frowning.

You surely must, Watson! But I have her down as the oldest human being who was alive until yesterday, when her saints took her. She lived in a little cottage on a country lane where lovers walk and those who mourn seek solace, and that too, has gone, reduced to dust as her flesh was reduced to dust…”

I know it!” I exclaimed, “and I know of her, but I had no idea her name was Peabody.”

She spoke of you, Watson,” said Holmes, cryptically. “She said she helped you with a great weight.”

If it’s the old woman I think you’re trying to remind me of then I’m surprised she was still alive, for even when I spoke to her she was old as the hills, and lined and wrinkled.”

She was a comfort to me,” said Holmes, uncomfortably. “I have not always been as you see me, Watson, filled with the vigour of a relatively young man, but I had moments when I found her help, without seeking it. So I mourn her too. I recall that she foretold that upon her death everything she owned would follow her down unknown paths, and she owned that cottage.”

Then she was some kind of witch?” I asked, cynically.

Holmes shook his head. “You know that tales of witches are told to frighten children,” he said, “and that there is no such thing under the light of day! No, she was a wise woman, plain and simple.

And she gave you her medicine?” I suggested, remembering the foaming tonic that had been my salvation years ago.

He nodded. “It was what started me, and for that she is blessed” he murmured.

Started you, Holmes? Started you on what? A journey? A life in detection? Your pipe?”

He shook his head. “No,” he almost whispered, “it’s what started me on cocaine. Yes, her tincture was the purest, most heavenly, tincture of cocaine, foaming as it was, and tasting of …”

Of memories, Holmes?” I suggested.

He nodded his head. “That’s it, Watson, it tasted of memories. My boyhood, the good times before the world took over… Memories.”

Then we were both fortunate to have known her, however briefly, Holmes,” I said.

Fortunate indeed,” he agreed.

© Peter Rogerson 17.08.17

THE CASE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN

8 Sep

Today, Watson, it’s Sunday and we’re going to church,” said Holmes as he munched on a kipper for breakfast.

You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather. I have never heard Sherlock voluntarily opt to go to an ordinary Sunday church service in all the years that I’ve known him.

Why the sudden turn to faith?” I asked, befuddled.

This is more a case than the need for divine worship,” he replied, his mouth almost twitching, “but the rector called yesterday and convinced me that it might be worth looking into the disappearance of moneys from the weekly offertory plate at his church.”

Why, Holmes, I should think it’s only a matter of pennies if that much, and your charges are certainly a lot more than that!” I told him.

Be that as it may, Watson, I have decided to investigate. The money raised weekly at St Gerald’s will eventually pay for essential repairs to the church roof, which has been leaking since time immemorial, if we are to believe the good reverend. That is a worthy enough cause whether you believe in their faith or not, and remember, a crime is still a crime whether it concerns pennies or millions!”

True enough, Holmes, but surely it won’t be worth the church employing the leading criminal investigator in the whole of England when the sums involved are merely trifling.”

Watson, I have agreed,” he said curtly.

At the appropriate time of the morning we were to be seen walking down Baker Street in our Sunday coats, the air being a little chilly still, and rain threatening.

If the bounder is allowed to get away with coins from the offertory plate now, he may well hone his skills until he is robbing the lead from the roof and eventually the crown from the monarch’s head,” explained Holmes as we strode along. “He must be stopped at all costs!”

If you say so, Holmes,” I replied shortly, his walking speed stretching my older bones until I was almost gasping for air.

The church was a draughty old stone building and none too warm. We are blessed to live in a Christian country of men and women scared for their immortal souls, and as we sat there at the back, inconspicuous, it slowly filled up until there was a muted hum of different conversations all in whispered and sombre tones. At the front, in their stalls, the choir shuffled. Most of the choristers were boys of school age, though there were a few gnarled older men in their white surplices standing, bored and eager to stretch their vocal chords.

The rector started the service, and we sung to our hearts content and then proceeded to pray as though the words we parroted might actually be listened to by a mighty deity, though I was sure that wasn’t the case. After a man has experienced what I have experienced, man’s inhumanity to both his own species and others, it becomes ever more difficult to contemplate the reality of a loving god and his precious ways.

Finally came the time for the plates to be circulated whilst a hymn was being sung, and it was then that I discovered that my estimation of the cash sum involved was way out. Even the odd five pound note found its way into the plate, weighed down by half sovereigns and crowns until the plate, when it reached us, was full to overflowing.

This is no beggar’s meal-ticket,” I whispered to Holmes as those around us all sang to their heats content.

There are many pounds in each plate,” he acknowledged, also in a whisper, “and it seems to me there is more money circulating in this congregation than I would have thought possible.”

I nodded. Looking around me there were a considerable number of men and women dressed almost raggedly, and bearing in mind the tendency of people to wear their finest apparel for church I was surprised they could afford farthings let alone half crowns.

The offertory plate passed along our row and then, we being at the back and it having nowhere else to go, was collected by the verger and carried along to an anteroom, as were two or three others, where the coin and notes were supposed to be counted and offered somehow to the Christian god in return for goodness and light and maybe a leak-proof roof.

That fellow. I know him!” hissed Holmes indicating one of the men responsible for the plates.

The man he was pointing at had a sallow complexion and a haunted expression.

You do?” I hissed back at him.

I had the good fortune of apprehending him some years back,” replied Holmes quietly, “and he was taken before the magistrate before being ordered to spend some time at Her Majesty’s pleasure! The man’s a scoundrel if there ever was one! And look: see who’s following him!”

As I watched I saw a woman in a thick and heavy overcoat leave her seat and make as though she was leaving the church by its main entrance, glancing coolly about her and nodding apologies to any she disturbed as though she was responding to a call of nature, only at the last moment she veered away and darted behind a curtain, out of sight.

There’s something wrong there,” muttered Holmes. “The man’s a crooked villain, and I doubt she’s much better.”

But they may have seen the light,” I suggested. “After all, this is a house of God.”

The man’s never caught the least glimpse of any light, not in all his days, the blackguard, and I doubt that she has either!” snapped Holmes. “Come, Watson, let’s see what is afoot.”

He led the way and we sidled along the back row of pews until we were at the entrance to the very room where the man had taken his plate, one of those overflowing with riches. Holmes boldly pushed the door open and burst in, me just behind him.

And only just in time! The sallow man was busy cradling coin and a couple of notes in a huge fist and pushing the whole lot deep into a pocket hidden in the woman’s bulky coat.

So that’s where it goes!” snapped Holmes. “The good people here make a gift to the Heavens, freely and for the good of their eternal lives, and you steal it from them like the thief you always were, Cardew!”

Who’re you?” screeched the woman, fear dimming her eyes as she saw there were two of us, and no easy escape for the two of them.

It’s that blasted nark, Sherlock Holmes!” gasped the man called Cardew.

And I see you’ve not changed your ways,” said Holmes, “you prove the old adage, once a thief, always a thief! What do you think you’re doing with that money? Eh? Isn’t it a gift by the good people hereabouts to the Lord, and aren’t you putting the whole of your afterlife at risk, condemning yourselves to a good roasting in satanic fires while the rest of us sit on gentle fluffy clouds and sing our praises to the Almighty?”

Bah! What good are clouds and fluffy singing to us when we can’t afford a crust to fill our bellies here on Earth?” whined the thief Cardew. “Where’s Christian kindness when it comes to feeding me and my misses and our bairns? And what good’s a few repairs to a church roof when those as might come and worship here are being buried, their kids dead of starvation?”

You have a point,” replied Holmes to my surprise, “and I have a gift for you, Cardew, take it or leave it. I know a builder who will take you on and pay you some wages, and set you on fixing this church’s leaking roof, and I happen to know you were in that trade once upon a time, and in return you will return the moneys you’ve stolen, all of them from over the months, shame on you, and also not return to this place or any like it, for the remainder of your days, unless it’s to say prayers and chant your psalms.”

Little Bobby’s got the croup,” whispered the woman, and I could tell, from the little experience I have of such things, that her expression was a troubled mixture of fear and worry and past heartbreaks.

Pass the money!” ordered Holmes, and they had no choice. If they were taken back before the magistrate Cardew would doubtless be sentenced to a great deal of hard labour, and if that were to happen, what would become of the woman? And her children? So the money, all of it, was replaced into the plate and passed to Holmes.

You’ve had a nice little game going here,” he said. “Now you must pay the price. But the good book they talk about mentions in its pages a good Samaritan, so let’s see how good he can be.”

He then handed, from the plate, a silver half-crown, to Cardew and said, “take this, and spend it wisely. I’ll know that you do, for I have eyes everywhere as you well know. And turn up tomorrow at eight to Johnson the Builder. Tell him that Sherlock Holmes sent you and he will know what to do. He’ll set you on and pay you. It will be hard work and long hours, but you will gain strength from it and at the end of every week you will have more than enough to heal Bobby’s croup.”

Thatnk you, Mr ‘Olmes,” gasped Cardew.

And thank you, Mister,” echoed his wife, “and the Lord praise you for your m’nificence,” she added.

And she bowed far too many times as the two of them made their way past us, into the body of the church and out into the big world outside.

The good Samaritan, Holmes?” I said, and laughed quietly to myself as we returned to Baker Street.

© Peter Rogerson 16.08.17

THE CASE OF THE BROKEN WATCH

6 Sep

It seems that Lucy Ghamghast is proving to be a trial to her parents, who only want the best for her, according to the Times this morning,” said Holmes suddenly, breaking off from his daily routine of absorbing everything his paper had to say on a wide range of subjects and staring in my direction.

It’s a pretty name, Lucy,” I commented, not being at all interested in the comings and goings of rich young ladies in need, as Jane Austin would have put it, of a rich husband.

That’s as may be, Watson, but Lady Gharnghast appears to be in a state of severe distress over it,” said Holmes, “and she has been a client of ours, remember, some years ago? The case of the broken watch?”

I’ve yet to write that one up,” I said, “but then, it would take a genius to unravel the events and convert a simple little problem into a full blown adventure, and too much time has elapsed since the watch was broken.!”

You underestimate things, Watson,” said Holmes mildly. “The broken watch was one thing…”

It provided an accurate estimation of the time when Lady Gharmghast was accosted in her bed,” I said, “the intruder, Benjamin Gamble, a guest in the house and one liable to somnambulism if I recall, having dropped it and trodden on it in his haste to get away when he realised where he was and that she was awake.”

And the watch having stopped at precisely the moment his foot stamped on it. Yes, Watson, a common enough means of establishing time in police stories and yet rare in real life.”

You know that it’s rare, Holmes?”

I merely have to summarise the number of times a broken watch has proved useful in a case that we have solved because of it, and arrive at the answer of none,” he said, impishly. “Even in the case of the broken watch, as we like to call it. The watch was stopped at three minutes past three, if my memory serves me correctly…”

…as it always does, Holmes,” I interrupted.

Quite. Well, at three minutes past three that watch might have been anywhere! It could have stopped, having unwound to the point that it would no longer function, hours before. It might have ceased functioning at three minutes past three in the afternoon rather than at three minutes past three in the early hours of the morning! Yet we used the broken watch as evidence that a nervous young sleepwalker was innocently accosting Lady Gharnghast at precisely three minutes past three in the morning of the very day when she found her bed covers ruffled and herself somewhat breathless when her husband came from his own room to see what was disturbing her.”

And the bounder was hauled before the magistrate and bound over,” I pointed out, “on the evidence of that watch.”

Why do you call him a bounder, Watson? What is it about the person that makes you assume that he is, of all things, a bounder? After all, he was a guest of theirs. They knew him, one would assume, quite well. And his sleepwalking was shown to be a long term affliction of his.”

Well, he was in a lady’s bedroom, and that is usually understood to be the most personal of private places,” I said, “not even Lord Gharnghast dares tread into it without invitation, I recall! You must remember that many inhabitants of large houses where there is an abundance of bedrooms choose to sleep separately even when they are man and wife. It solves the problem of snoring to start with, among others…”

And why would her husband require such an invitation?” he asked me mischievously, knowing the answer and delighting in obliging me to put the natural desires of a happily married couple into words.

You know the answer to that, Holmes,” I replied, refusing to take the bait.

It is elementary, my dear fellow,” he purred, “Lord Gharnghast, like many men, occasionally wishes to embrace his lady wife and maybe even place a delicate little kiss upon her fragrant head! There’s nothing at all unusual about that! So he requests her permission, and if she is so inclined she gives it. So why was the blackguard who intruded into the good lady’s boudoir there? What was his motive at three minutes past three at the dead of night? Or wasn’t he actually there at that time at all? Was he there, perchance, at a different hour and had he established the wrong hour for his visitation? Or did he want everyone to concentrate on that time rather than any other?”

What are you getting at, Holmes?” I asked. “The case was over twenty-odd years ago and nothing has been said between then and now!”

I put it to you, Watson, that events that night flowed very differently to the version we accepted at the time on evidence of a broken watch, the very same version as described by Lady Gharnghast and even admitted to by Benjamin Gamble when he was arraigned before the magistrate for intruding on a lady’s privacy. It may be true that he was found by the good lady’s husband at three minutes past three, but at what hour did he arrive there? Or had he merely sleepwalked quite inadvertently a moment or two earlier like he claimed?”

You’re not making any sense at all, Holmes,” I remonstrated, “and what has all this got to do with the difficulties that Lady Gharnghast is having with the beautifully named Lucy? And why is such a personal matter even in The Times?”

It is the season, as you probably know even though you despise it…” said Holmes, indicating what he assumed to be my attitude with a circular wave of his hand.

Despise is a strong word, but I find it offensive,” I said, “that young ladies should be carted off to ball after ball in their most expensive finery, in the hope of ensnaring a husband, when all they really need to do is, in normal society, find attraction in a gentleman by chance, which is how my dear departed Mary and I met. But the debutantes’ balls, they’re more like cattle markets than civilised meetings of young people seeking a partner for the remainder of their lives, and I find the very notion quite tasteless.”

Yes, yes, Watson, but it is the way of things,” suggested Holmes. “Anyway, Lady Gharnghast was interviewed for the society column this week, and they included a photograph of her with her wretched daughter of whom she was complaining bitterly, the one who refuses to parade like, as you suggest, cattle,” murmured Holmes. “She is of the new breed of young woman, the ones you seem to applaud, those who are rather keen on achieving better things than trapped husbands, who feel the need to contribute in more worthy ways to society and even be educated beyond the capabilities of their female brains.”

Good for her!” I applauded.

So take a look at the image in the paper, Watson,” said Holmes.

I walked across to where he was sitting and glanced at the picture in the paper. Then I took it from Holmes and stared intently at it.

Good Heavens!” I said.

Precisely,” smiled Holmes, “for that young lady with the merest hint of a scowl on her face could be the female image of the young man who, at three minutes past three in the early hours of a morning twenty-odd years ago, was apprehended in Lady Gharnghast’s boudoir where he was supposed, I believe, to be briefly sleepwalking quite innocently and accidentally…”

And where, if this picture suggests anything, he may have lingered with Lady Gharnghast for quite some time…” I breathed.

Precisely. And it may explain why, despite years of trying, the Gharnghasts have failed to produce siblings for the strong-minded young woman,” murmured Holmes, “if it turns out that poor Gharnghast is, what do they call it, firing blanks?”

So the case of the broken watch…” I breathed.

Isn’t even over yet,” nodded Holmes. “though may I suggest we say nothing of this to anyone concerned?”

© Peter Rogerson 13.08.17

THE CASE OF THE MIDNIGHT WEEPING

3 Sep

What I don’t understand,” said Holmes, lifting his eyes from his copy of The Times for a moment and looking my way, “is why men and women get married in the first place.”

I believe it’s to do with having a family, Holmes,” I said.

But why?” he asked, “why not employ a certain quality of woman to have babies and bring them up in a, what would you call it, a commune or some kind of special workhouse?”

Like cattle you mean, Holmes?” I asked, not anxious to appear to agree with him.

If that’s the way they want to be,” he shot back at me. “I’ve just been studying this article in the Times. It would appear that there is an almost total incompatibility between the sexes, Watson. And the consequence of that is tempers get frayed and men, being the stronger of the two sexes, end up inflicting untold damage on the women.”

Were your parents like that, Holmes?” I asked.

What?” he barked at me, “my parents like what?”

At war,” I said, mildly, “like you described, with your mother, shall we say, beaten by your father to a pulp when tempers got frayed?”

They were not!” he declared, somewhat hotly for a man who had introduced the subject in the first place, “and neither were my grandparents. I wasn’t talking about family, Watson, but men and women in general.”

So your own parents weren’t part of the general tribe of mankind,” I asked, “they were somehow different? Whereas others are constantly fighting, with the males beating their women to a bloody mess, so to speak, yours were more genteel? As, for your information, were mine. And before my Mary passed away, we lived harmonious lives as well and the only violence was the delightful sort that is part and parcel of planning an addition to the family.”

It’s just this article, Watson,” he purred, and turned back to reading his paper.

Not ten minutes passed before there was an interruption as Mrs Hudson knocked the door.

There’s a lady to see you,” she said, and sniffed, “and it would be a good thing to go easy on her,” she added.

The lady was a familiar sight to those of us who study the higher class of Newspaper in which photographic images of the elite are frequently included, usually because of some great deed they have performed. And that was why both Holmes and I recognised our visitor.

Lady Pinkerton!” exclaimed Holmes, and he rushed to offer her a comfortable chair, “it is such an honour to acquaint ourselves with you…”

Mr Holmes,” she said in a portly voice in which I detected the merest inflection of tears. “I am in great need of advice and your particular kind of service.”

We are here for you,” he answered crisply, “pray tell us what is distressing you.”

You will be aware of our house at Bunkleigh,” she said, and her voice might have sounded imperious had it not been for the undertone of doubt and unhappiness that infected it. “We, as you will appreciate, have many servants, for we are busy people and need service in order to allow us time to go about our business.”

Of course,” nodded Holmes.

Well, in my room at night, when the house is otherwise quiet and at rest, I hear weeping,” she said, “We have made enquiries of the housekeeper, Mrs Ringworm, but she will not admit to us who is so filled with grief that she must rend most nights with misery.”

She will not admit, you say?” asked Holmes.

Lady Pinkerton nodded. “It has become unbearable,” she whispered. “It is our home. Bunkleigh has long been a happy place where staff and family co-exist in harmony. I have put pressure on Mrs Ringworm, for she, being the housekeeper, must know everything that is of any importance and most certainly must be aware of who is doing so much weeping. And I have looked at the faces of the maids and kitchen staff in the hope that red eyes or dribbling tears might give the poor tormented soul away, but have seen nothing but rosy cheeks and pleasing smiles.”

Has this been going on for long?” I asked.

For several days,” she replied, and shuddered, “and it breaks my heart to think there is a soul bearing grief for so long.”

Then, my Lady, we will accompany you and make enquiries on your behalf,” said Holmes suavely. “I cannot permit so fine a lady as yourself to have a moment’s grief for longer than is necessary. Watson, prepare to leave for Bunkleigh!”

And that is what we did.

Bunkleigh is a fine house several miles out of town, built, I suppose, during the early years of the late Victoria’s reign. There is agricultural land all around as well as a fine sprinkling of mature trees and a loop of cable that meant they were fortunate enough to own a telephone. All in all it represents my own image of the perfect big house.

Mrs Ringworm was a large woman with a glorious red nose, testament in my opinion to a fondness for port or sherry, but other than that proboscis I could find nothing about her that was cause for even mild criticism.

Mrs Ringworm, you know why we are here?” demanded Holmes. “You are aware that your mistress is deeply concerned that someone in this house is deeply distressed?”

Mrs Ringworm nodded. “I know, sir,” she said, “though to be honest I’ve never heard so much as a sob, but then I wouldn’t because I sleep well, being a hard worker and in need of my shut-eye.”

Then you have no explanation?” asked Holmes, eyeing her keenly. “Is there, perhaps, a servant who is so ill-treated by another that she needs to weep herself to sleep at night?”

Mrs Ringworm shook her head violently and a clip flew out of her hair and struck me fair and square on the face.

I’m so sorry, sir,” she almost shouted.

That’s all right. No damage done,” I told her, smiling. “Now attend, if you will, to Lady Pinkerton’s disturbed nights.”

There is no disharmony downstairs,” she said, firmly. “I would know if there was.”

And where does Lady Pinkerton hear the weeping?” asked Holmes.

In her room,” sniffed Mrs Ringworm, “as though it was coming from next door bedroom, she says, but there’s nobody next door, nobody at all: it’s the master’s library, his personal one, and there’s no bed in it.”

What is there, then?” I asked, “just books?”

She nodded. “And a desk, and that’s about it,” she said. “And of course Lord Pinkerton’s telephone. He’s really proud of that. It keeps him in touch with Westminster, you know.”

Watson and I will stay here tonight,” decided Holmes, addressing Lady Pinkerton, “and by dawn we hope to have run your miserable soul to ground and be able to offer what help we may.”

The rest of the afternoon we spent becoming familiar with the house and its various odd corners, of which there were several. It appeared to have been built or designed by a true eccentric who appreciated the oddities that can be built into architecture.

That night we occupied an unused bedroom at the end of the corridor on which Lady Pinkerton’s own room was situated. Her husband was away on business but we assured her we would only disturb her at need.

The night started silently, there being no hint of any misery so far as I could tell, but within an hour there was a frantic knocking at our door and Holmes rushed to see what might be afoot.

Lady Pinkerton stood there in her night clothes, her face ashen, her fingers interlocked in front of her.

Can you hear it?” she begged us.

There is nothing,” replied Holmes. “Neither Watson nor I have heard a sound until you came to the door just now.”

It’s so loud in my room,” she shuddered.

We ran down the corridor to her door.

May I?” asked Holmes, and she nodded in reply.

Inside, the sound we heard chilled me to the bone. It was eerie, perhaps a soul in torment or maybe something of another world. And rather than come from inside the house it seemed to come from the window, which was shuttered.

Holmes raced to the window and opened the shutter so as to be able to locate the source of the weeping sound, but as the shutter opened the noise stopped.

I always close the shutter,” muttered Lady Pinkerton, “I need complete dark in order to get a good night’s sleep.”

Holmes was peering around, and then he reached out and fiddled with something just out of my sight.

Ah! I have it!” he exclaimed, “Lady Pinkerton, there is no soul in distress, no wounded maid, no heaving bosom! No, the miserable masquerade has been created by your husband’s toy! His telephone! There is a wire that comes to the room next to this, his library, and that wire catches on your shutter when it is closed, but not during the day when it is open, and from time to time it vibrates and the noise of that vibration is amplified by your wooden shutter until it frightens you near to death! But that is all it is. No soul in torment, just a wire and some wind…”

Are you sure, Mr Holmes?” she asked, dumbfounded.

Perfectly,” he said. “Now permit Watson and I to leave you in peace, but leave your shutter open for the night. Tomorrow we will get adjustments made to the telephone wire, and you will be able to sleep the innocent sleep you so richly deserve!”

And that was it. Mystery solved. Banshee banished. Peace restored.

© Peter Rogerson 12.08.17