Tag Archives: Dr Watson

THE CASE OF THE TWICE DEAD MAN

7 Nov

It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that there was a time before Holmes and I met, but there was, and that was before there was anyone around to record his unique methods. But the holder of the pen is myself and I am pleased to do Holmes a service by using it. Today, I have been reminded of one account he gave me of his early days by the attempt by the vagrant Sammy Spencer to rob our home one hot summer’s day recently. I will therefore recount that earlier adventure here, and it will perforce have to be written in the third person as I was not there in person (obviously) but was probably hacking some poor devil’s leg off in a medical facility close to the battle-field in Afghanistan where I was medical orderly.

There had been a spate of burglaries in an area of London not noted for honesty or wealth except for one largish residence belonging to the infamous Tommy Tapnut on the edge of what might be seen as a small village, and that Tommy Tapnut was renowned as the worst kind of loan-shark and blackguard imaginable, being responsible for more mutilations when his borrowers failed to repay him on time than I’ve had glasses of brandy. He was, indeed, a nasty piece of work and it was in the general area where he lived that the aforementioned spate of burglaries occurred.

Holmes was approached by Scotland Yard to assist in the apprehension of the thief. Inspector Lestrade, then a young officer at Scotland Yard, considered, apparently, that the neighbours of Mr Tapnut were poor enough without having to suffer physical abuse and even mutilation if they were late in repayment of a high-interest loan they had begged from him.

Might Tapnut himself be responsible for the burglaries?” asked Holmes, “after all, his reputation is hardly that of a guardian angel benevolently protecting his neighbourhood flock!”

I suppose it might be argued that he is,” sighed Lestrade, “but only indirectly in that his attitude to late payers of loans he has issued is one of violence rather then understanding. Therefore his neighbours, scared for their very lives quite often, turn to theft in order to escape the worst he can offer, and the only people available to steal from are their equally poor neighbours.”

I will see what I can do,” murmured Holmes, “but I warn you, Lestrade, although I abhor crime I more greatly abhor the causes behind crime and it would seem that a loan-shark is just that, in this particuar instance.”

If only we could catch him with his sadistic reminders of overdue debts we might be able to take him out of circulation for a while, but he’s too clever to be caught himself. He employs a team of thugs to do his dirty work for him. You know, Sherlock, the sort that delight in mutilating others, and although the odd felon might occasionally be caught but I’ve yet to trace any of them back to Tapnut.”

Then I will investigate,” sighed Holmes. “It is wretches like money lenders with their unreasonable demands of interest that make crime almost forgiveable.”

I never thought I’d hear you say that, Sherlock,” murmured Lestrade, grinning quietly to himself.

The next day Sherlock Holmes, skilfully disguised as an Irish tinker and with a convincing accent was to be seen in the neighbourhood of the spate of thefts that had troubled the police. The house in which Tapnut lived was at the end of a very private cul-de-sac lined with lime trees and a coppiced shrubbery, and must have contained at least six bedrooms, which contrasted with the mean and crowded terraces of back-to-back houses in a higgledy-piggledy array abutting his land where his pauper neighbours lived.

Holmes, adopting a sullen expression and carrying a tatty carpet bag of tools, approached the house and knocked on the front door. It was opened by Tommy Tapnut himself, a man in an expensive jacket and mismatching trousers, though everything about him looked slightly wrong, as if he was trying too hard to fit into the ambience and refinement of his home. For instance, the trousers were the wrong style for lounging at home but were more like those worn by college types applauding at the boundary of a cricket square, his pince-nez were obviously barely necessary as he didn’t seem to care whether he looked through them, round them or over them, and his green shirt clashed with his bright blue jacket.

Holmes doffed his torn and stained cap. “Sorry, sir,” he began in a strong Dublin accent, “but I was wondering … leaking pipes, dripping taps, sir, anything like that needing a tinker man to fix it?”

The other looked at him scornfully. “Unless you can fit a burglar-proof lock I’ve no work for you, you scoundrel!” he said.

Holmes looked wounded at the attitude, but managed a smile. “I can fix you up like Fort Knox,” he said, and he adopted a secretive pose. “Tell me, sir, are you being burgled all the time?”

The other leered at him. “I would if it weren’t for the dogs,” he said, “but the dogs keep the riff-raff at bay. Keep the hounds hungry and they’ll even eat the kind of meat that the scum round here manage to cultivate on their bellies!”

Ah, sir, ‘tis a cruel sad world we live in,” muttered Sherlock. “So there’s no dripping taps? No leaking pipes? No pots and pans gone to hole?”

No there isn’t, and if there was I’d call on the services of my own staff to see to it! Now be off with you before I call the dogs!”

You’re a fine cruel man, sir,” muttered Holmes, and he turned to go.

Then, suddenly as though the deed had been scripted, a lanky young man, ill-muscled and with a beard turning to grey despite his apparent youth, leapt from a coppice behind Holmes, darted past the detective and lunged at the irate man in the door, a rusted blade, the sort used in kitchens to cut bread into slices only old and filthy rather than shiny and pristine, in his hand.

Now I’ve got ya, ya swine!” he croaked, and careless of his own safety he launched himself at Tommy Tapnut and somehow managed to create a veritable fountain of blood from a wound on the man’s neck caused by the rusted blade being forced by every fibre of the attacker’s being as deep into the offensive Tapnut as it would go.

He must have died at once. He tried to gurgle out his attacker’s name, but no sound came other than a squishing gasp.

Well done, my fine fellow,” said Holmes, resorting to his own persona despite his tatty appearance. But the attacker retrieved his knife, flung it into the coppice behind him, and vanished as quickly as he had come.

Well, well, well,” muttered Sherlock.

He turned to go, and had barely taken ten steps, when a second youth appeared, moving furtively out of the coppiced shrubs and lunged towards the dead man on the ground. He, too, held a blade and was clearly intent on doing Mr Tapnut some serious harm. And he did try. Before he could stop himself he had made a serious wound in the dead man’s side, quite spoiling the blue sporting jacket he was wearing.

I wouldn’t do that,” murmured Holmes, “for it’s quite plain to me that the wretched man’s dead already.”

The youth looked confused as though nothing had turned out like he’d planned it. “He’s the very devil,” he mumbled. “And he sent his bullies to my place on account of me not paying him the five shillings I owe ‘cause I never had it, and they scared my missus something rotten and smashed the place up.”

I heard that he could be vindictive,” suggested Holmes. “I think you may need me as a witness, young fellow. I reckon the constable may add two and two together and come to an odd number, and you may need a referee with more mathematical skill that the average policeman.”

I came to kill the swine,” gabbled the youth. Me? I’m Sammy Spencer, an’ proud of it!”

Then if you need evidence that will save you from the gallows, Mr Spencer, you’d best remember my name,” said Sherlock. “I’m Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, and I’m willingly at your service. And I know for sure that the man you killed was already dead!”

© Peter Rogerson 27.09.17

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THE CASE OF SAMMY SPENCER

5 Nov

Sammy Spencer must be the most ill-informed and ineffective burglar under the sun! I mean, what kind of thief would consider breaking into 221b Baker Street and dream of robbing Sherlock Holmes in broad daylight whilst he was playing a misery-inducing fugue on his best violin and contemplating the world outside as he glanced randomly through the bay window onto the street below our first floor room.

We are about to be robbed,” he told me, and I looked up curiously. I had never before contemplated the possibility that anyone, not even a moron with suicidal tendencies, would dream of invading Holmes’ territory with malevolent intent.

We are?” I asked, perplexed.

There is a scruffy individual, wrapped unseasonably in a greatcoat even though the sun is burning a hole in the road outside, lurking on the pavement opposite and he is showing more than the smallest curiosity when he stares at our building as though he were trying to commit its architecture to memory, which he clearly isn’t because nobody with so much dirt behind his ears would be remotely interested in such esoteric delights as the construction of Baker Street,”

You can really see his ears, Holmes?” I asked.

Quite clearly,” he murmured. “Tell me, Watson, why would anyone want to be wearing a thick tweed greatcoat in temperatures like those we are being subjected to today?”

Maybe he was a military man?” I suggested, “returned from conflict overseas and separated from his luggage in the way that travellers abroad often are, ergo he has little to wear other than his greatcoat.”

You have a point, Watson, though I see things differently. A military man would have standards. He would, for instance, polish his shoes from time to time, he would attend to the cut of his hair and he would pay at least a modicum of attention to personal hygiene, particularly, as I’ve already alluded, to his ears. In other words even though he may have been left with nothing of note to wear he would look vaguely human. This man does not.”

I moved to look at the object of Holmes’ curiosity while he put his violin down and frowned.

Keep back from the window. I don’t want him to suspect that he’s been noticed. I want to see what he’s up to,” he said.

The fellow lurking on the opposite pavement certainly didn’t look the sort to be spending much time on Baker Street with its atmosphere of gentility and commerce.

He does look like a suspicious rogue,” I commented.

He’s quite clearly on his uppers,” agreed Holmes, “and I am curious to see why he is paying particular attention to our quarters. See … he is looking up furtively as though he was making a mental sketch of the possibilities being offered by the building’s structure. Ah, now what is he about?”

He’s crossing the road, coming our way,” I whispered, though why I whispered in our own front room is beyond me.

And have you ever seen such an obvious attempt at sneaking?” asked Holmes, clearly amused. “If I hadn’t noticed him during his lurking phase I’d be most unlikely to fail during this sneaking episode. Come, let us go down. Mrs Hudson may be out of her depth with such a rogue as that may be.”

We climbed down to the ground floor as Mrs Hudson went to open the door, which had been rattled by, no doubt, our scruffy visitor.

Phew, you smell!” she exclaimed as a whiff of unwashed flesh and, sadly, dried urine flooded through the open door.

You think as you’re better than me?” he rasped at her, “Saying as I smell when I have no control over whether I stinks or not? I’ve come for ya silver an’ you’d better have some, or else!”

Mrs Hudson was never a feeble or easily dominated woman and was perfectly capable of dealing with felons like the one who had presented himself at our door. “Or else what?” she asked calmly.

Or else you’ll get a headache after meeting with this fella!” he growled, producing a length of lead pipe from beneath the fragrant folds of his filthy greatcoat. “And I knows how to deal ‘eadaches out,” he added.

I was about to leap forwards in the defence of Mrs Hudson, but Holmes held me back. “Wait a moment, Watson,” he hissed.

And what makes you think that a simple widow woman like me has any silver?” demanded an authoritative sounding Mrs Hudson. “And how do you know that my man or husband or whoever you think I share my accommodation with isn’t ready to defend me against the likes of you?” she added.

I’ve bin watching, see,” he said, gruffly, ignoring passers by on the street who must have noticed that something was awry at 221b but were loath to interfere. “I know as there’s rooms where two gents live, an’ I asks you, what kind of two men lives together like that? There’s summat wrong with two gents like that, I promise you. They’s up to no good, but that’s no affair o’ mine as long as I gets their silver afore they come back from whatever dive they’ve gorn to.”

That was enough for Holmes. He knew that there are some gentlemen who, for reasons more of their natures than because they mean offence to anyone, choose to share accommodation and he also knew that for myself and him it was merely a matter of convenience, my lovely Mary having passed away and me requiring stability in my life when I wasn’t off at my weekly surgery doling out medical advice to mainly elderly ladies who sought comforting assurances rather than relief from pain. Anyway, Holmes leapt down the last two steps and pushed past Mrs Hudson, with me at his shoulder, willing to have a go at the wretch who had forced his way into our lives.

So what does Sammy Spencer want with me?” he asked, and there was the ring of steel in his voice. “I seem to recall that last time we met things went none-too-well for you and, to put it bluntly, you were fortunate to escape the rope! Have you returned for a second round that you will sadly lose?”

Sh … sherlock Holmes!” he gasped. “I never knowed you lived ‘ere or, I swear it, I wouldn’t’ve troubled you.”

Holmes fixed him with eyes that glinted with ice. “Sammy Spencer, last time we met you were accused of murder, but somehow managed to wriggle out of the charge on account of the fact that the man you murdered was already very dead when you took your blade to him,” he said. “So it couldn’t have been murder by you, though you no doubt intended to pierce the fellow in his heart and maybe would have made the world a better place by so doing. The man was the lowest, a Fagin of a money-lender with a cruel heart. But I see you’ve progressed from what some might see as a social service to threatening ladies alone in their homes, and with lead pipe that would, if you used the one in your hand for what you intended it for, certainly lead you back to the noose!”

I’m skint, Mr Holmes,” he whined, dropping his length of pipe to the ground and kicking it away from himself in order for it to be disassociated from him. “I ain’t had a morsel to eat, not all day yes’day and not t’day, and I reckoned as this were a fair place t’ pick up a crust or two.”

Then you must seek the workhouse, for that’s why it’s there,” I put in, disliking this man for both his paltry excuse for poverty and the scent he gave off.

Why you…” he growled, his face a mask of venomous hatred as he looked at me. “You might be Mr Holmes’ best man, but you’ve no right to speak to me about workhouses!”

Spencer,” said Holmes, his voice filled with immense and laudable dignity bearing in mind the manner of man he was speaking to, “Spencer, on this one occasion and on no other in the future I will give you a shilling coin, no more and, fortunately for you, no less, in return for your lead pipe and on the understanding that you spend some of it on breakfast and the rest at the bath-house where, for a single penny you can remove the filth and disease from your flesh. Then you will present yourself, as my friend and colleague Dr Watson mooted, at the workhouse where employment and ready meals will be found for you. And if it is your desire you will work your way up from that institution, putting everything inside your addled brain to work until you have gained respectability and a proper place in society. Now go!”

And Holmes picked up the lead pipe and offered a shining coin to Sammy Spencer, who grabbed it greedily.

And, Spencer, if I ever see you again you will return the shilling to me,” growled Holmes, “or forfeit your life!”

You won’t see me again, Mr Holmes,” he whined, and ran off, hobbling on boots so worn his feet must have been two big blisters.

That was very generous, Sherlock,” approved Mrs Hudson.

Well,” said Holmes, “he’s not had the best of luck in life. Maybe a lowly fresh start will help him … who can tell?”

© Peter Rogerson 25.09.17

THE CASE OF THE TOWER OF PISA

3 Nov

I like it,” murmured Holmes as we wandered through the streets of Montecatini in the Tuscany region of Italy. “It’s what I think of as Italian. The buildings. The, what’s the word, rurality of it all.”

That’s probably because that’s exactly what it is,” I grinned, “come on, there’s transport put on and we’re to visit the famous tower in Pisa.”

I’ve always wanted to see the impossible building,” grunted Holmes. “They say it should have fallen down long since, yet it still stands tall and proud.”

Impossible because it hasn’t fallen down yet? I dared say it might one day,” I suggested, “but at the moment it’s standing quite safely and worth a visit even though the transport’s my Aunt Priscilla’s petrol-powered truck!”

It’ll still get us there I trust,” muttered Sherlock. He wasn’t normally a pessimist, but he had yet to build up any faith in the internal combustion engine.

Priscilla assures me that it’s never let her down,” I assured him.

Well, there’s always a first time,” he grunted.

The roads in Tuscany were as uneven as the roads anywhere and the truck rattled along with Holmes and me squashed into the bench seat next to the driver, a surly farmer who thought the whole idea of wasting a day escorting a couple of Englishmen about the countryside so that they could see a piece of Italian history was several fathoms beneath him.

He spoke no English … my experience was that no Italians had the remotest notion of my own mother tongue, ao communication in a vocabulary that consisted of no more than antisocial grunts was impossible. So Holmes and I sat in silence as the truck rattled along, a journey of more miles than either of us felt comfortable with.

But when we got there any doubts or bruises from the bouncing vehicle were forgotten because the three ancient buildings, white as driven snow set in a sea of green grass, were spectacular. In particular, the famous Leaning Tower was worth staring at, and Holmes and I stared at it in amazement for some considerable time, walking round it and even venturing to climb the staircase that twisted round the inside of its thick white walls.

The view from the top was equally spectacular, helped by the fact that the weather was finer than any I’d experienced in London during my time with the detective. The sun beat down and I was grateful for my hat, which shielded my thinning pate from the worst of its fiery potency. Holmes pulled out an old piece of headgear that I suppose he’d had about his person since our trip to Scotland several years earlier, and pulled it down over his own crown.

I never thought I’d see you in a deerstalker!” I jested. But, to tell the truth, it did suit him in an eccentric sort of way. It made a composite image together with his briar pipe which complemented the determined expression on his intelligent face.

It’s this blasted heat, Watson,” he declared, “maybe we’re a little overdressed, though a gentleman really ought to be properly attired when he’s out and about. But I don’t know about you, Watson, I’m taking this overcoat off and carrying it, no matter what folks think.”

They’ll think you were a native,” I pointed out.

Better that than a burned and frazzled Englishman,” he declared. Then he paused and stared out from the top floor of the great bell tower and pointed.

See that!” he exclaimed, “that rogue, that ruffian, that villain down there: look!”

I allowed my eyes to follow the direction of his pointing finger, and sure enough there was a fellow ill-clad in a threadbare suit grabbing, or trying to grab, a handbag from a fine looking lady, the sort who might have graced the West End streets of London on a festival evening, with a parasol clutched in her free hand and a battling expression emphasised by massively reddened lips.

Come on, Watson!” barked Holmes, making for the worn and uneven steps down. “This cannot be allowed to be, not even in a foreign country!”

But we’ve only just climbed up goodness-knows how many steps!” I protested. “I’m not up to it, not at my age and with my old war wounds playing me up with every step!”

I counted on the way up, and there are two hundred and fifty-one, Watson. But you’re a brave Englishman, and can do it,” he bellowed at me, “because down there on the green grass there is a maiden in distress!”

I had no choice. Holmes could be insistent when he perceived wrong-doing and it wasn’t in me to gainsay him. So the two of us made haste down what seemed to be an endless multitude of steps. By the time I was half way down I was totally breathless and had to pause, but Holmes, with that determined expression on his keen face carried on as quickly as he could.

After regaining some of my breath I carried on, but was too far away from Holmes to have any chance of catching him unless (and this would never happen, he simply wouldn’t allow it), he had a heart attack that floored him.

When I did arrive at the bottom I saw Holmes in a noisy and senseless dispute with an Italian who was holding a sheaf of papers, waving them in Holmes’ face and glaring menacingly.

Holmes was still remonstrating with him when I saw the substance of what was going on. The man holding a sheaf of papers was the director, or whatever it is they call them, of a silent drama being filmed from a point beyond our vision, and the ill-dressed rogue together with the fine lady were merely Thespians playing their parts as a photographer filmed the scene, cranking the handle on a moving film camera. But Holmes had yet to realise that much because the clues to what was going on were behind him and all he knew was that a greasy Italian holding a pile of papers for no apparent reason was taking sides with a tramp against a rich and rather beautiful lady.

I rushed towards Holmes and pulled him by one shoulder.

I’d give up if I were you, old chap” I told him, “You’re on a loser here!”

Watson! I thought better of you!” he said, his voice like ice, “I was in the act of downing the scoundrel grabbing the woman’s handbag when this Italian man thought he’d interfere and take the part of the scoundrel!”

You see it all wrong,” I hissed, “they’re making one of those silent dramas for the cinema screen, and it would now seem that one of the reels will show an irate Englishman improperly dressed and wearing an absurd hat acting like a raging bull!”

But what …” Holmes stammered, and for the first time in ages I saw him lost for words.

You are always saying we need full access to information, Holmes,” I murmured into his ear, “and this time you have gone off like the proverbial bull in a china shop with your eyes on only half the story. Now come, before they send for an Italian constable and lock you up for the duration!”

Oh,” mumbled Holmes, less positive than I’ve ever known him, then “if you tell the tramp chappie to do what I just demonstrated to him you will get a far better drama or whatever it is you’re trying to produce!” he barked, recovering in not much more than an instant.

Let’s go, Holmes,” I insisted.

Quite,” he mumbled, “haven’t we a, what might you call it, a wine-tasting to attend at, what’s the name of the place, Montecarlo?”

At Lucca,” I agreed, “yes we have.”

Then come on!” he barked, “before they’ve tasted it all and left nothing for thirsty Englishmen!”

And with that he strode back to where the farmer friend of my aunt Priscilla was waiting patiently for us, and by the ruddy complexion on his cheeks I’d say he had already tasted a few glasses while we have explored Pisa.

But no matter. The truck’s engine started with never a moment’s hesitation, and we set off to Lucca.

© Peter Rogerson 24.09.17

THE CASE OF THE BEGGARMAN BOMBER

1 Nov

 

Holmes, have you forgotten?” I asked over a pipe and reasonably large measure of Scotch.

Forgotten what, Watson?” he asked as he lovingly polished his violin, which bearing in mind the lateness of the hour, was a vast improvement on his playing it.

That we’re off tomorrow to visit my aunt Priscilla in Tuscany and that the journey will be quite arduous unless we leave fully prepared for all eventualities. Have you, for instance, packed?”

Tomorrow, Watson? You said we were going next Friday!”

That was last Friday, so tomorrow is next Friday if then was the starting point,” I said, hardly surprised at his lack of preparation.

Well, it may surprise you that I have packed the bare essentials into a suitcase and will be as ready as anyone tomorrow morning,” he said, smiling at the shocked expression on my face. “Tell me, Watson, you were expecting me to gave forgotten, were you now? You thought that I, so mentally stretched by the problems inherent in criminality, will have forgotten that we are catching the Dover train tomorrow?”

So you have remembered your toothbrush and shaving gear?” I asked vaguely.

He paused and looked at me and shook his head. “You have me there, Watson. Maybe I should remember the true meaning of the word essentials!” he said. “Though small items like those can always be purchased en route, as they say in France! But I have remembered to pack a flask of the very best brandy I could find, for sea-sickness, you understand.”

So you have forgotten that my aunt, who is as good as a native Italian having lived there for most of her life, will expect a clean shaven and fresh-breathed Holmes to arrive promptly and without the need for searching out personal items from Italian shops, and hopefully not smelling excessively of alcohol?” I murmured. I know Holmes only too well. He has a brilliant mind, of that there can be no doubt, and his powers of deduction are, in my experience, unparalleled, but his ability to attend to what he looks at as minor inconveniences is somewhat lax.

Alright, Watson, I will check that I have every essential item before we leave tomorrow,” he said, “and if you are so uncertain of my mental state I beg that you check that I have indeed done what I say, here and now and decisively, that I will do.”

Now, Holmes, you are no schoolboy who needs chivvying up before he goes off in the morning,” I joked, “enjoy your whiskey, do as you assured me you will do, and tomorrow we will depart for the train for Dover.”

And then, Watson? Cart our luggage onto the ferry and catch another train in France?”

There is a straight through train to Tuscany once we reach France, and it is only a matter of a few miles, or kilometres, to use the continental system of measurement, before we get to Priscilla’s vineyard.”

And the promise of excellent wine?” he asked, teasingly.

And that, Holmes.” I nodded. “But I’m going to bid you good night.” I emptied the last dregs from my glass and stood up. “This will take me back to my service years, crossing the seas to foreign parts,” I said, “though our journey should be considerably more peaceable. Goodnight, Holmes.”

Next day dawned bright and cheerful and both Holmes and I were up well in time for the cab booked to take us to the railway station, and it was there that the most unexpected part of our journey began.

It is not a particularly long journey from London to Dover, and we sat in our compartment reading the papers when we were disturbed by a furore from somewhere close enough to where we were to be troubled by it.

What the devil!” I exclaimed.

See what’s afoot, Watson?” suggested Holmes, and I leapt to my feet and raced into the corridor of the train, Holmes just behind me.

At first it was hard to tell if there was anything amiss. The corridor was crowded, with passengers who either preferred travelling that way or were on the way to the train’s conveniences. And then one of the compartment doors was flung open and a child raced out, white faced and shaking with, I suspected, fear.

There’s a man with a bomb!” he shrieked.

The whole idea of explosives on a swiftly moving train scared me and I was struck momentarily dumb by thoughts racing through my imagination.

Holmes was more controlled. “Stop, sonny,” he ordered, “I am Sherlock Holmes and you may or may not have heard of me, but I can help in most situations. Tell me about this man with a bomb.”

Mister, I must get away…” wept the boy, “I must get away from the bomb.”

Tell us swiftly then, what man is it?” asked Holmes.

It’s a beggarman, a raggedy old beggarman,” the boy cried, “and in his hand he has a bag and he says, this beggarman says, in the bag he’s got a bomb!”

This I must see,” said Holmes imperiously.

And without apparently caring for his own safety he barged into the compartment that the boy had charged out of, this time with me slightly behind him.

An unshaven, disreputable creature of a man was standing between the opposing seats, holding a disgracefully tatty leather bag in front of him.

Get down!” he shouted at Holmes as he saw him entering the compartment just behind him. “I warn you, I warn all of you, I’ve got a bomb in this bag, and if I let it off, if I explode it, we all will surely die, and I doubt you fine folks want that! As for me, I don’t care whether I live or die. I’m at the end of my tether, I am, with every sodding thing under the sun going wrong for me, and I can’t take no more. That’s the truth of it. I can’t even get a seat on this here train, and me with my back wounded fighting in the wars for this country!”

You seem to be standing there quite soundly,” observed Holmes. “What does your doctor say of your injuries? What aid has he given you when you have told him how you find it difficult standing still even though, I observe, you appear to have no difficulty supporting yourself on a moving train.”

Doctor? Quack, you mean, and how do you reckon one as I can afford to consult one of them!” demanded the beggarman, turning suddenly to face Holmes. Then his eyes fell on me, and the light of recognition lit them up with a suddenness that surprised even me.

Doctor… Doc. Watson…” he exclaimed in a shocked voice. “Where you come from, squire? And what have I done…”

Sherwood, isn’t it,” I said, recognising him. “From the tenth. Wounded by a stray bullet that somehow managed to miss both lungs and your heart, though it was devilishly difficult fishing it out, I recall. It’s good to see you, man! What are you doing on this train and … tell me, what’s in that bag of yours?”

Doc … doc…” the beggarman stammered, “the man as saved my life! The man as sat by me as I wept at night, from the pain that racked me whole body… those were hard times, sir, hard time indeed and it might have been better had you left me to die, to bleed in enemy soils, to be carrion for the birds and wolves…”

Don’t talk nonsense, man!” I barked, “and what’s all this talk of a bomb?”

I only want a seat, sir, I only want a seat…”

The beggarman was clearly yielding to the hopelessness of his situation. The other occupants of the compartment started stirring, the fear of sudden annihilation seeming to recede.

It’s a disgrace, threatening folks like that!” declared an overweight woman in a large feathery hat and with a septic boil on her chin.

He ought to be hanged!” declared a second passenger, this time a skinny man in a threadbare jacket and trousers a good two sizes too small for him.

What? You would dangle this stranger on a rope?” asked Holmes, butting into the conversation. “You would treat him like that when he bled for you when none of you would go and fight for yourselves? This is appalling! Come, my fine fellow, you can have a seat in my compartment, and be most welcomed!”

And Holmes led the beggarman who I had recognised as Sherwood from the tenth out of the compartment and towards our own.

I’d best take this,” I told him as in a clearly confused state he let Holmes guide him towards our own compartment, and I took his battered leather bag from his hands.

I’ll tell you what,” said Holmes, “I have a flask in my luggage, a nip or two for the raging seas should Watson or myself feel the need of fortification. How about you having a sip, old soldier, while I work out what to do for you…”

He handed a silver flask to the old soldier and they both sat down.

And you’d best let me check your bag,” he added when the man had quaffed a large mouthful of what I knew to be the best brandy available anywhere.

It’s me mate,” he said as Holmes opened the bag, “Me only mate on the earth…”

Poor man, I thought, looking into it with Holmes. Poor, poor old soldier if your only mate on a planet the size of the Earth is a dead kitten. A very dead and very foetid dead kitten.

We’ll bury him,” said Holmes sombrely. “Will at sea do?” he asked.

© Peter Rogerson 15.09.17

THE CASE OF THE BULGING BULLSEYE

30 Oct

My main concern, Watson, is crime and the apprehension of criminals,” said Holmes over breakfast, “and at the moment we seem to be in a somewhat monotonous lull.”

That is, perhaps, a tribute to your success, Holmes,” I said, “the fact that all the major criminals are safely behind bars or dangling on the end of a rope means they’re not on the streets disrupting the affairs of ordinary folk!”

You may be right there, Watson, but it does nothing to cheer me up! I like to be on the case, pursuing evil wherever it may be and not stuck in here with my boiled eggs and toast and a whole day of inconsequential nothing in front of me.”

We should get out, Holmes,” I told him, “this new century has so much to offer the man of mental agility. We could, perhaps, go down to the river and watch the active young things in their regatta. There are bound to be unclaimed patches of turf where we could settle and maybe even have a picnic. I quite fancy some smoked salmon with, maybe, a few ripe tomatoes and a bottle of something French and fizzy!”

Such luxury, Watson! And what of me while you’re providing yourself with all the ingredients for a bout of chronic indigestion or your first heart attack?” Holmes could sound quite sarcastic when he wanted to, and that’s exactly how he sounded now.

There’s something about youthful energy, forcing the blade of the oar deep into the flow, heaving the boat forwards, winning the race,” I told him, “and you may be interested to know that this year they have included a ladies race! Think of that! All those powerful young things wearing the modern line in reduced skirts…”

Positively indecent, Watson!” admonished my friend, “ladies are perfectly all right in their place, organising balls, planning menus, doing all the things they’re so good at, but I swear … rowing boats on the river? That’s a young man’s sport if ever there was one, and always will be because of the more delicate cut of the female body, as you, being a man of medicine, must know full well!”

As a man of medicine I am fully aware of the strength in womankind,” I told him, seriously. “A man may fall ill with a malady that is so contagious that his wife catches it as well, yet if there are no servants around it is she who will look after him rather than the caring be the other way round. He will linger, moaning in his bed while she scrubs floors and attends to his every demand. No, Holmes, you underestimate the females of the species, and by a wide mark too.”

Be that as it may, rowing is no way for a delicate flower to spend her energy when there are domestic delights for her to attend to.” Holmes was adamant and I could see I had little chance of persuading him. But I tried one last tack.

It is at gatherings like the one today down by the river that many a petty criminal puts in an appearance, and you know, Holmes, that it is only a matter of time before some petty criminals promote themselves into a more major league. A dedicated criminologist would probably find more pleasure in apprehending a pick-pocket on his first outing than he would if faced with a desperate thief equipped with all the latest gadgets and a pocket of explosives!” I said quietly.

By golly you’re right, Watson!” he barked, and he leaped up suddenly, spilling toast crumbs onto the table cloth. “I will attend this function with you, and while you’re guzzling your champagne I’ll be casting a wary eye on who does what and to whom. If nothing else it will enlarge my knowledge of the birth of the criminal mind!”

With such delight on his face and shining in his eyes as he contemplated the advantage his already masterful experience might have on the apprehension and the correction of antisocial behaviour before it becomes dangerous, Holmes accompanied me to the river. I carried a basket in which we had the makings of a decent picnic, including a bottle of champagne. There are several areas down by the river where the grass is kept short by constant foot traffic and a couple of rather plump goats that wander from time to time from their normal confines in the land sweeping down from a large house set in its expansive picturesque grounds, well back from the river. We spread a blanket before us and sat down.

Holmes frowned. “This could be more comfortable with a proper outdoor chair each,” he said, “you know, one that folds for easy transportation.”

And an army of servants to carry everything,” I said pointedly.

Touchè,” he admitted. “Now for the main course. It’s refreshing to see so many families enjoying the open air, the sun and the river and I’ll be bound that amongst then there are scoundrels intent on theft and other nefarious activities when nobody’s looking.”

It’s all so peaceful,” I sighed, and it was. True, there were several children engaged in childish games, running and jumping and calling at each other in shrill voices, but even they were a delight as I reclined with my head pillowed on a rolled-up towel, and sighed with contentment.

This brings to mind an occasion from my boyhood,” murmured Holmes, with his eyes shut. “I had what must have been a nasty dose of influenza, my physical state ranging from shivering with perceived cold even though I was close to the hearth, to perspiring with heat as I sought to cool myself by moving as far from that same hearth as I could. We even had a cold floor-covering of linoleum in the room where I languished, and I recall resting my head on that, for the cold. My mother was the only other person at home, my father being, I believe, abroad at the time, maybe supervising some aspect of the Empire, and by then I seem to recall that Mycroft was already at University…”

And this break by the river reminds you of illness?” I asked, astounded.

No, not precisely that, but do you see that boy over there?” He pointed at a lad of about ten and with a bulging cheek. “I watched as his mother gave him a huge boiled sweet, what we used to call bullseyes, with peppermint flavouring and big enough to threaten to force our mouths to burst! Well, I must have been recovering from the influenza and my mother returned from the shops and gave me a bag containing several bullseyes! And I somehow managed to enjoy them all, one after the other.”

Ah, I see! Were you, maybe, about the same age as that child?”

He nodded, and reached into his pocket. “Now for the silly thing,” he said, slightly nervously, as he produced a bag containing what must have been identical sweets to the one the boy with the bulging cheeks was sucking on, “my mind even then told me that I was recovering from the sickness anyway, but I associated that recovery with the bullseyes! I attributed my recovery to them! And always, since then, whenever I have felt under the weather for one reason or another I have bought a bag of bullseyes as a cure!”

Really, Holmes,” I laughed, “we doctors would soon be out of business if all it took to render the influenza dead and buried was a small bag of boiled sweets.”

Not so small, Watson, not so small. Here: have one of mine. They’re delicious!”

I know, Holmes,” I said, taking one.

I was eventually rewarded by the appearance of the ladies race, a couple of elderly boats with a diminutive woman in each as a cox and about half a dozen Amazonian females with rippling muscles, well exposed legs that totally failed to titillate me, and complete with oars. I’d hoped this race might prove my point about the suitability of the female form, and to a certain extent it did, though Holmes failed to find any entertainment in the exhibition. Eventually one of the boats started to sink, not the fault of the rowers I’m sure, but some malfunction of their craft, and at that point he closed his eyes and sucked another bullseye.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon basking under the sun, sucking several bullseye sweets until the bag was empty, and I’m convinced that for half an hour or maybe even more Holmes dozed off. At least, if he didn’t his mind must have been elsewhere because he totally missed the pick-pocket who was trying to slide the Holmes watch out of his pocket when he thought nobody was looking, and might have succeeded had I not rapped him with considerable severity on the knuckles with the business end of my cane.

That taught the scoundrel the advantage of honesty, I hope. At least, he ran off howling and nursing what was probably a painfully chipped bone.

© Peter Rogerson 14.09.17

THE CASE OF THE GOLDEN SOVEREIGN

27 Oct

Holmes and I had just spent a quiet night sleeping in the cabin of the narrow boat we had hired for our case of the smuggler’s ship on the river. The smugglers that we had been employed to drive into the arms of Authority had set off at the crack of dawn and, as their own more modern vessel passed us, it spluttered to a standstill as a consequence of non-petroleum products mixed in with its fuel, and drifted powerlessly with the flow of the river until it was out of sight. There was a confused noise of shouting and gunshots as the revenue men boarded her.

Meanwhile, we both enjoyed a hearty if cold breakfast.

Shall I put some sticks of kindling in the fire-box, and light it?” I asked, supposing that Holmes would be only too happy to get back to Baker Street.

If it pleases you, not yet,” he replied slowly. “I have a memory from my childhood that might fascinate you as my self-appointed biographer,” he added with a smile. “I spent my childhood with my parents not too far from here as the crow flies, and when my father was away on business my mother found a range of fascinating occupations with which to entertain Mycroft and myself. Mycroft, you understand, was then and, of course, still is, seven years older than me, so it was no easy matter for a woman on her own to find activities that appeal to, say, a seven year old and his fourteen year old brother at the same time.”

I should think not, Holmes,” I grunted.

Well, one summer she announced that we were to go for a journey by train into the country in order to collect a basket of blackberries in order for our cook to produce a few jars of blackberry jam, which has always been among my favourites. I was delighted, but Mycroft could see little point in that kind of adventure when, he said, jams of a wide variety of fruits are readily available in the village store.”

Always the practical one, your brother,” I contributed.

Quite,” said Holmes, thoughtfully. “Anyway, my mother, the dear woman, had to threaten him with the birch and he only grumpily condescended to accompany us when he was reminded how skilled our father can be when it comes to corporal punishment. In order to placate him my mother gave him a gold sovereign for his trouble, and you know how valuable a sovereign is!”

He still likes his gold,” I grunted, knowing how well the Government rewarded Mycroft for his valuable work on its behalf.

Quite so,” nodded Holmes, “and to bring my account to a conclusion let me explain what Mycroft did when we reached the area my mother had chosen, one where wild blackberries grow in great profusion, not far from an ancient priory where there dwelt what looked to me like a coven of nuns.”

Holmes!” I protested.

Anyway, my mater planned for us to walk round a particular field, attending to picking ripe blackberries as we went, and Mycroft was still being grumpy and generally disagreeable despite his sovereign. The blackberries were both plentiful and delicious, and we picked a good basket full by the time we were half way round the field when I spied Mycroft fidgeting with something golden in his hands, the sovereign, as if he had some devious scheme of his own. You must appreciate that any man who works so closely with the Government as Mycroft does these days must have a devious streak in his nature! And as I watched him I saw him as he lodged his valuable coin in a crack between two crude and unplaned fencing joists.”

To what purpose?” I asked, my curiosity aroused.

It was clear to me that he was going to create a scene in which he claimed that awkward climbing across styles and fences had dislodged his sovereign from his pocket, and it was lost. Mother, in her frustration, would most likely offer him a replacement after searching his pockets, and then, with a second sovereign in his possession he would secretly retrieve the first from its hiding place.”

Cunning,” I nodded, “and bordering on the criminal!”

Precisely, Watson,” agreed Holmes. “But, you understand, I saw through his plan and it was a simple affair for me to remove the sovereign from its hiding place when he wasn’t looking and conceal it somewhere completely different.”

Which you did, I suppose?” I grunted.

Again, precisely,” grinned Holmes. “And that replacement niche for gold was in a crevice of a fallen, rotting tree near the entrance to the field. And, you know, it is less than a mile from here and it has crossed my mind that we might see if it is still there forty years later!”

If the tree was rotting then it will certainly be rotten now,” I argued.

Come, Watson! We need the exercise, cooped up in Baker Street for half our lives! And, as I said, it isn’t so far from here.”

And it wasn’t. I knew we couldn’t be far off when we passed a couple of nuns in their full habit, women I would probably have judged to be harsh of countenance had I been able to see more than their eyes. After we passed them Holmes almost crowed his delight when we climbed into a field over a rickety old style.

The rotten tree!” he pointed.

But the tree wasn’t alone. A woman was sitting on it, supervising two small boys who were running hither and thither through tall grass.

That’s exactly where my mater sat,” whispered Homes, “and in exactly that position!”

And you were cock-a-hoop, like her scoundrels?” I suggested.

Much quieter, back in the 60s,” he smiled.

I’ll see what I can see,” he said to me, secretively, and he approached the seated woman.

Madam, you take me back over the years,” he said, politely, “to when my own mother brought me here with my brother, is search of blackberries.”

There won’t be any of those yet,” she replied, “not for two months at least. But I will probably return in the autumn for free fruits.”

May I … would you think it improper if I…” and he sat on the rotten tree and looked around at it for where he might have concealed the sovereign many years earlier.

There was a crack in this old tree trunk,” he explained, “and when I was a boy…”

But that would have been an age ago!” she laughed, “and this rotten timber hasn’t been here above five years! There was another one before it, though, that I recall, and that other one was very special to me for one day, when the twins were younger, little more than babies, I brought them here and sat on this very spot and, I doubt you’ll believe this, a sliver of the rotten wood fell to the ground and I discovered, inside its diseased pulp, a golden sovereign!”

How fortuitous!” I said as if astounded. “Just the one?”

She smiled at me. “Just the one,” she agreed, “and ever since then I have returned quite often in case my luck is repeated, for I have the twins, who are a mighty handful, and their father was slaughtered in the wars, though he did live long enough to return to us for a week before his flesh finally gave out. So if another tree were to yield to me another sovereign it would be more than welcome.”

A sorrowful story,” muttered Holmes. “Tell me of the boys’ father?”

He was a good man,” she sighed, “and he gave his life in the wars. He almost lived, but the poisons that were eating him eventually took him from me. He always said that if the army doctor, what was his name? Watson, I think he said it was, if had been able to continue his care for him he might well have survived. He loved that man, he did, and the care he took with him.”

Both Holmes and I rattled around in our pockets, and as if we were twins ourselves we each pulled a handful of coins and pressed them into her hands.

These are from your husband’s Doctor,” I said, almost choking.

And these are from his friend,” added Holmes, “come on, Watson, back to the boat before we miss the tide!”

And we almost ran off, lighter of pocket and heavier of heart as we climbed over the wooden style and out of the field, leaving a mother staring with disbelief at the contents of her two hands.

The country ought to take greater care of the kin of those who die for victory,” muttered Holmes. “I have often said that,” he added.

© Peter Rogerson 13.09.17

THE CASE OF THE SMUGGLER’S SHIP

25 Oct

This is the life, Watson,” sighed Holmes, lying on his hammock as our narrow boat slowly and majestically found its way down the river, with me at the helm and a faithful Birmingham steam engine plugging away so lethargically you got the idea it might stop at any moment.

So you’ve said before, Holmes,” I replied, “though to tell the truth I’m still not sure why either of us is here, why this boat is here, why this river is here and what we’re doing while we’re here!”

It’s peaceful, Watson,” he said, not answering my question.

It is, Holmes, if you can ignore the rattle and hiss of the engine, but the gist of my question was why are we here?”

Ah, Watson, the truth of the matter is we both need a break from the cut and thrust of life, and it was recommended to me that we hire this barge and spend a few days on the river where we will doubtless find ourselves free of any of the restraints forced on us by the City,” he murmured.

My suspicions were aroused. “Recommended by whom?” I asked, looking at him staright between the eyes.

Ah, there you have me Watson! Let me see … who mentioned boating on the river and the joys of steam?”

You know who, Holmes, you have a forensic memory!”

Then it will come to me,” he sighed.

Let me take a guess … it wouldn’t have been your brother Mycroft by any chance, would it?”

Holmes looked uncomfortable. “It might have been,” he conceded.

Not only might have been, but was!” I exclaimed, knowing Holmes and his brother only too well. “So what’s afoot, Holmes? Or is this truly no more than a wild goose chase after peace and harmony, neither of which we will find amidst the smuts from the chimney and the rattle of pistons.”

We can pull in shortly, Watson, and the engine can be allowed to cool down while we enjoy the twitter of the birds and the fragrance of the elder flowers that grow in such profusion here abouts,” he said, almost (but not quite) cryptically.

And what will we be looking for?” I asked, knowing there must be something. There’s always something afoot when Holmes breaks from his normal 221b Baker Street routine and does something uncharacteristic. And there was, in my opinion, nothing more uncharacteristic than this jaunt we were having on the river, going, it seemed, further down stream. I had a sudden and irrational fear of finding myself in the middle of the North Sea, lost in a tumbling mist and blanketing fog.

Nothing much,” he replied, “though Mycroft mentioned there may be a little smuggling going on, with rich rewards for the criminals who are bringing contraband into the country.”

I thought you had somewhat liberal ideas about smuggling, Holmes,” I told him.

It is the wealth of our country that’s at stake,” he said, louder, maybe even loud enough to be heard across the river. “Smuggled goods are, by definition, free of taxation, yet the smugglers sell them on as if tax had been paid, pocketing the difference! That way everyone’s being robbed: the original sellers, who probably had it stolen from them, the revenue office that would expect duty to be paid on the goods and the final purchaser who believes that nothing is wrong and buys what he sees as a perfectly legitimate bargain. And the smuggler makes a small fortune on the backs of all those losers.”

All right, I’m convinced, Holmes. But that doesn’t exactly explain why we’re here,” I said irritably, though, in truth, I had guessed.

We are to waylay the criminals until they can be apprehended, Watson,” he said, speaking as if we were a whole battalion ready for battle. “Now let me look at the map.”

He picked a slender volume from the deck next to where he lounged and flicked to what he considered to be the appropriate page. “Ah,” he muttered, pointing at something I was in no position to see, “we are all but there! Just round that bend ahead you will see a jetty and with more than a little bit of luck there will be a seaworthy craft tied up there. That should be the smuggler’s craft and we will have the simple task of disabling it.”

Simple task, Holmes? Do you know how to disable a steam engine?” I protested.

Possibly, but this one should be driven by an internal combustion engine, which presents us with fewer difficulties.”

How fewer?” I asked, the despair of ignorance certainly showing on my face.

You are aware of the workings of the internal combustion engine, Watson?” he asked, adopting his schoolmastery pose and addressing me as if I was a stupid schoolboy in need of a good thrashing.

Vaguely,” I replied uncomfortably.

Then you will be aware of the elementary way that petroleum fumes are ignited by a simple spark, thus providing an explosive force that is utilised by the engine in order to propel the vessel?” he asked.

I nodded.

Then you will also be aware that any non-explosive additive that is mixed with the petroleum, let us say water or a derivative of water, will totally disable the engine and render the vessel immobile?” he smirked.

I nodded again.

Now don’t be peevish and childish, Watson! Here, I have brought with us a quantity of fine ale in bottles. In order to celebrate we will pass the criminal’s vessel and tie up ourselves just round the bend beyond it, look here, on this map. It’s not a proper jetty but I have it on good authority that it can be used as one perfectly safely. But when we are secure we will celebrate by supping this ale and enjoying the rest of the day.”

Sounds too good to be true,” I told him, remembering to lace my words with a great number of sarcastic undertones.

You will enjoy this, Watson,” he grinned, and he climbed off his hammock. “There!” he pointed, “steer the vessel to that point over there!”

We did eventually get tied up, our ropes taught against the small current of the river as it flowed remorselessly towards the distant ocean. Then Holmes opened two bottles of ale and passed me one, together with a stone-glazed tankard that had come with the boat.

The ale did taste good, and the tankard helped with my appreciation of its flavour and hoppy body. Before long Holmes passed me a second bottle.

For your patience and forbearance, Watson,” he said, and we both languidly sipped a second pint. This, I was beginning to think, was the life!

Did you take note of the fuel tank on the criminal’s vessel as we passed it?” asked Holmes suddenly.

No I didn’t!” I protested, “I had all on steering this vessel!”

Then it’s just as well that I did,” he murmured.

Well that’s all well and good,” I replied, “now let me enjoy the remainder of this pint before I have to slip onto the tow-path and into the undergrowth in order to dispose of it behind a tree.”

Not behind a tree,” grinned Holmes, “our task is to disable the smuggler’s craft and we will do it by unscrewing the filler from the fuel tank on the ship and, er, emptying our bladders into the tank!”

What?” I exclaimed, horrified.

Fear not, Watson: there is nobody on board. It’s but a short walk to where it is moored, there is a plank leading to its deck, all nice and easy and presenting us with no problems, the tank is just there, right before us, and all we have to do is unscrew its cap and … you can imagine the rest!”

Half an hour later we had done as he described, and such is our sense of decorum and modesty that it took that long as we both, in turn, emptied what had become uncomfortably full bladders into the tank, but kept a decent distance from each other as we did so.

Then we returned to our own boat, which was no ,longer producing smuts and smoke as the fire had gone out, and helped ourselves to a third pint each of the fine ale that Holmes had brought with him.

I hope that does the trick,” I mumbled.

Oh, it will,” Holmes assured me, “They will get so f ar on the petroleum that is already in the pipe, and then they will try and fail to get the engine to pull on well-digested ale as fuel+, and it will go nowhere until Mycroft and his nautical chums turn up to tow them to jail. And your part in this adventure will be mentioned in dispatches, Watson, you can be assured of that!”

© Peter Rogerson 12.09.17