Tag Archives: Dr Watson


10 Oct

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

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

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

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

Have you heard of McCrabbie?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite,” I said back to him.

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

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

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

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

We, Holmes?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Peter Rogerson 30.08.17



7 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something’s got the blighter,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You were overseas?” I asked him.

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

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

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

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

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

Really, Holmes!” I mumbled.

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

But shooting, Holmes? A priest?”

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

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

© Peter Rogerson 29.08.17


2 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head, despairing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would say so,” I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he backed out of the room in a fluster.

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

© Peter Rogerson 24.08.17


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


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


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


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