Tag Archives: Dr Watson

THE CASE OF A GYPSY CARAVAN

16 Aug

You’ll never know what you think about it unless you’ve had a real go at it, Watson,” said Holmes to me as he sat on the front bench of a borrowed caravan, reins in hand and with that self-satisfied smug expression he often adopted when he wasn’t quite sure of something.

But why a gypsy caravan, Holmes?” I asked. “It may look pretty in an idealised image of the good old days when men were free and children played in mud round their mother’s skirts, but today…?”

And today we’re off into the sunset, you and me, tasting the sweetness of your much vaunted freedom of old and finding out exactly what it’s like to sleep with very little between our fragile flesh and the stars…”

It’s not like you to be so poetic, Holmes,” I protested as we jolted long. “And talking of freedom, this jolting is beginning to affect my sit-upon!”

Then select another cushion, Watson, and breathe the free air,” he said, and he directed the horse to pull into a right turning, but had yet to manage accurate communication with that noble beast, and it continued in a straight line, ignoring the right turn as if it wasn’t there.

I’ll get the hang of it, Watson,” he hissed when I suggested I took the reins for a while.

I’ve had more than a little practise driving wagons,” I told him. “In service, in Afghanistan, I was the usual driver of the medical wagon. There are ways and means and skills to be learned…”

But Holmes was determined to master the horse himself, and to his credit I must admit that by lunch time he had managed to coax the beast into pulling our wagon to the edge of a patch of uncultivated waste ground where we could light a fire and prepare a light meal.

That was easy enough once I got the hang of it, Watson,” he murmured as he turned some sausages in a sizzling pan and added a handful of mushrooms. The horse that had reluctantly pulled us thus far contented itself with devouring a selection of greens from the hedgerow nearby.

I hope they’re not toadstools,” I muttered, having little faith in some aspects of the Holmes education.

Mrs Hudson provided them, and she knows her mushrooms,” he assured me.

Then maybe you’ll be good enough to tell me why you’ve got me and that horse in the wide open countryside with rain threatening and a cold wind getting up,” I said.

He laughed at me. “The trouble with you, Watson, is you lack the adventurous spirit,” he said.

I had enough of that in the wars,” I told him. “Afghan bullets take away the need for adventure, I can assure you of that. And if the bullet doesn’t then the subsequent fever does!”

He softened for a moment. “Yes, I see that, Watson,” he murmured. “You’ve adventured enough for any man.”

So why are we here, Holmes?” I asked as at first one then a dozen large drops of rain splashed down, threatening both sausages and fire.

I thought we both needed a holiday, and as Rover Bowless was laid up and his wagon and Nobby were going nowhere for the duration I asked if I could borrow the two of them, and here we are!”

Is that it? Just a holiday, Holmes? I don’t believe you!” I said. “And didn’t Rover Bowless die? That’s a little more permanent than being laid up for a while! After all, I went to his funeral.”

Ah, Watson, there are more aspects to funerals than are dreamed of in your philosophy,” he grinned.

Now you’re being your usual obtuse self! Surely a man dies, is placed in a wooden box which is then buried six feet down, and that’s a funeral,” I protested.

That would seem to be the sum of it, Watson,” he said. “But come … let’s get these sausages inside us, and a plate of mushrooms, before this rain soaks everything through! At least old Nobby has a bit of sense and is happy eating half the countryside whilst sheltering under that tree.”

You’ve hit the mark there, Watson,” he said, and we set about demolishing the pan of sausages before leaping into the caravan and sheltering from what was showing signs of becoming a steady downpour.

You were being cryptic about funerals,” I said when we had dried ourselves off, “and when you’re cryptic about anything there’s usually a story to be told.”

You knew poor old Bowless, then?” he said.

You know I did, Holmes! A ruffian, there’s no doubt about it, and he lived a hard life, but he had a heart of gold buried somewhere inside him.”

Rover was no ruffian, Watson! He was born a gentleman,” said Holmes, “the third son of Lord Hempsey of Bow. “And you know the system. The first son inherits the business, the second son enters parliament and the third son becomes a cleric and makes his living preaching.”

It was like that once,” I concurred, “though times have marched on somewhat.”

It still is in some families,” he said brusquely. “It takes no account of the individual and his capabilities unless one of them is truly a simpleton, and then he finds his way into an asylum for gentlefolk. Anyway, Hempsey of Bow is a fine example of the good old fashioned system, and true to form his eldest son, called Dandy, was put into training and eventually inherited the business and all the lands of Bow. The second son, Aldred, fought in the Indian wars until an unexpected blow separated his head from the rest of him … and the third son renamed himself as Rover Bowless, and took to the road with his beautiful, faithful dog, also called Rover.”

I didn’t know any of that!” I exclaimed.

And he was perfectly happy until his elder brother died during the cold of last winter. The Bow mansion might have had above thirty rooms, have fireplaces in all of them, but Dandy was little more than a miser and burnt little coal in his many hearths, and succumbed, as did many poorer people, to death that winter. It would have been better had he burned his riches in his hearth. Maybe he’d still be alive!”

It is foolish to challenge the elements,” I agreed. “And it was a cold winter!”

The rain battered down onto our caravan, which was snug and warm inside with a fire burning in a stove although the fire on which we had cooked our sausages was little more than steaming ashes.

The political Bow, you recall, dies some years ago in a scandal involving a call girl and a dose of the pox,” murmured Holmes. “And that left the third son to inherit all.”

I think I see…” I frowned. “All three sons dead…”

Almost, but not quite,” said Holmes, knowing that he’d left out the greater part of the story and teasing me with its absence.

I counted three sons,” I frowned. “What of Rover Bowless, then? He died too, and it was around the winter period.”

It was Christmas day,” confirmed Holmes. “He breathed his last on Christmas day. You can confirm that, for you attended his funeral. Remember?”

I can,” I said.

And now we get to the nub of the issue,” said Holmes, virtually twinkling. “We come to why I have borrowed poor old Rover’s caravan this fine but rather damp summer.”

We do indeed,” I said.

The answer must be obvious to you, Watson. We are delivering this cosy and some might say almost extravagant home…”

Extravagant, Holmes? I said, “it seems to be too rudimentary to be called extravagant!”

It is still relative luxury, Watson, and we are delivering it to the rightful owner, the Lord Rover Hempsey of Bow, where he will probably park it somewhere on his extensive grounds and occasionally spend the odd hour in it whilst he’s thinking of his poor dead best friend, the friendly and lovingly faithful dog that travelled with him down many a long road in this wagon, Rover, who he named after himself, of course…”

Ah, I see,” I mumbled. Then: “And the funeral?” I asked.

That was Rover,” sighed Holmes. “the man Rover thought it somehow appropriate to provide a funeral for the dog Rover. To give his best friend the burial he deserved, for that dog deserved to be honoured and was far more worthy of a good Christian burial than many a man who has crossed swords with me down the years, you can take my word for that…”

© Peter Rogerson 02.08.17

THE CASE IN THE NIGHT

13 Aug

The night was one of those black, dense, almost tangible affairs. I felt as though I might be able to touch the solid

air itself, and mould it like clay between my fingers. And it was stifling despite the lateness of the hour.

To say I was uncomfortable would be to understate the way I felt. I was in a state of almost unbearable discomfort, and as the night wore on it wasn’t getting any better.

It’s no good, Watson, I’m going to open the door-flap and let some air in,” said Holmes, who I’d thought might be asleep. “But make sure you create no light or the devil might see us!”

We were under canvas … that much must be obvious … and miles from anywhere. So who, you might ask, stood any chance of seeing us, through the moisture-sodden air and the oppressive, tangible heat of a summer night that was worse than any summer night I had suffered when I slaving in an Afghan field hospital?

But I was aware of the devil Holmes was cautious of.

We were in an ex-military tent on the rough terrain of the Cornish landscape with the sound of the not-so-distant sea crashing onto pebbles. Holmes was clad in a bronzed nightshirt that I was sure must be as damp as my own white one as a consequence of all the perspiring we were doing.

What’s he up to?” I asked in a whisper.

He stared at me and I could just about make out the intensity of his gaze in the almost complete darkness. “Watson,” he said, “you know why we’re here and what we expect to be doing in the morning. If my calculations are right, and I will remind you that they usually are, then Moriarty is smuggling in contraband worth thousands.”

Spirits, wine, that sort of thing?” I asked him. The truth of the matter is Holmes is never exactly forthcoming when he’s in the middle of a case and it might seem that I follow him rather too blindly for my own good.

That, and more,” he said crisply. “Now hush, Watson, we’ll need all of our intellects working fully come dawn.”

I can’t sleep in this fug,” I complained, “and the sound of the sea is most off-putting. All that water and here we are suffocating!”

Control yourself, Watson,” he ordered me, and lay still.

I must have dozed off fitfully after a while because it seemed as if no time had passed when Holmes nudged me and hissed “wake up, Watson,” in my ear.

I opened my eyes to be aware of daylight. It was still sultry, the skies overcast as if threatening rain but the air stifling and almost overburdened by the toxic stench of Holmes’s pipe. I coughed and spluttered, but he ignored me.

The game’s afoot!” he whispered, pointing. It was then that I appreciated the care with which Holmes had selected this place out of so many for our tent. We were largely hidden from view, though there were few people likely to want to view us on this broken landscape. But we had a first-class view of the sea and in particular of a vessel bobbing up and down as it crept towards the shore.

Come, Watson,” urged Holmes, and I noted that he had already replaced his nightshirt with more traditional daywear. I pulled my trousers and shirt on and laced my shoes.

I wouldn’t mind a bite of breakfast,” I grumbled.

All in good time, Watson,” he said as he led me out of the tent and we crept over broken rocks and rubble until we were almost on the beach, though it was hardly a picturesque sandy beach but one made almost entirely of stones and grit.

The bobbing boat was almost beached and its crew of what looked to be two swarthy individuals was busy pulling on ropes, dropping an anchor and preparing to jump ashore.

Whoa, Watson,” breathed Holmes unnecessarily because I was as still as a statue in the morning air.

Then, as we watched, a third person appeared, this time on the land. I’d expected it to be Moriarty, but it wasn’t. It was most obviously a woman, and a finely-shaped one at that.

As she made her way carefully towards the boat I caught a glimpse of her face and was shocked. It was the familiar face of the beautiful Lady Primrose Sebastion and she was smiling the radiant smile of one who has no fear of apprehension.

What’s this, Holmes?” I whispered, “The Lady Primrose Sebastion?”

Sssh, Watson,” he hissed irritably. It was suddenly clear to me that he had been caught out by what was clearly an unexpected diversion.

This is all wrong,” he whispered after a while. “I have it on good authority that the little boat bobbing itself stupid by the beach is loaded with contraband. And if that’s the case, what’s someone with Lady Sebastion’s intellect and capabilities doing here? Mycroft didn’t mention that she had anything to do with this affair!”

Ah, your brother Mycroft. I might have known,” I sighed.

What do you mean, Watson?” he almost barked, and I was surprised that the men from the boat and Lady Sebastion didn’t hear him.

Well, he is certainly your equal when it comes to the intellect, Holmes,” I said thoughtfully, “but he is more capable than are you of misinterpreting events. And maybe this is one of those occasions when a genius can be mislead by the very facts he is so fond of.”

Hush, Watson, let’s watch. Events that unfold before our eyes may make matters clear.”

And so we watched as the two crew of the small boat returned to it (the water was shallow enough to allow them to paddle up to their knees) and there was a great deal of shuffling and heaving, and then, like a ghost rising out of the machine, a third figure appeared with them.

He was tall and dark, with the complexion of those men who inhabit sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that was emphasised when he smiled at Lady Sebastion, his teeth gleaming brightly in the morning light.

Welcome, sir,” we heard her say as she reached out and shook him by the hand. His reply was an inaudible mumble, but sounded friendly and not at all threatening.

Holmes had clearly had enough of what he saw as a charade and he stood up and strode towards the little group. By the time he was half way there the crew had returned to the boat and were already in the process of hauling on the anchor.

What is going on?” he called imperiously. “I have been deceived!”

The Lady Primrose Sebastion turned to face Sherlock, and she smiled warmly as if she had fully expected him to appear at precisely that moment.

Ah, Sherlock, at last,” she said, “I rather hoped Mycroft’s deceit wouldn’t dissuade you from putting in an appearance in the off-chance that forces intent on preventing my friend from joining me for breakfast… May I introduce John Sebastion-Smith, aeronautics genius and scientific mastermind. He is to join Lord Sebastion and hopefully design a flying machine that will conquer the world of aviation, but the only way we could gain admittance for him is like this. You see, society isn’t ready to admit that black brains can be superior to white ones!”

Sherlock nodded, then turned brusquely and marched back to our tent with me following behind him.

I have been deceived,” he protested to the sweating canvas when he got there. “I would have done all I could to help without the deceit. It is that which hurts. Of course the man’s a genius. I wrote a pamphlet explaining just that oh, a year or more ago. Colour has nothing to do with anything but colour. But the deceit! The twisting of facts! Unforgivable, and I will tell Mycroft just that!”

Yes, Holmes,” I murmured, “your reaction to deceit has always been clear.”

© Peter Rogerson 01.08.17

THE CASE OF THE BISHOP’S BATH

11 Aug

Has it ever crossed your mind, Watson,” said Holmes, lighting his pipe and filling the room with a cloud of his favourite tobacco, “that water holds many a secret.”

Water, Holmes?” I asked, unable to see any relevance to anything that had recently touched our lives.

Yes indeed, Watson: Water,” he murmured, puffing furiously to bring his pipe to life. “And unless I’m very much mistaken the owner of those footsteps on the stairs is going to remind us of that fact before we’ve had a chance of forgetting it.

I heard the footsteps a microsecond after Holmes mentioned them.

You know who it is, Holmes?” I asked, vaguely.

I knew that he must because several blasts from his pipe had been crushed against the glass of the window that overlooked Baker Street. It was an occasional occupation of his, looking at the world from the first floor and finding clues out there.

It’s my brother Mycroft,” murmured Sherlock. “Now why the devil has he come here? He much prefers to call me to him!”

He is older than you,” I pointed out.

And doesn’t he know it! But hush, Watson, here he comes. There’s no Mrs Hudson to show him up, it being Sunday and she being at church”

The door opened without being knocked and the portly figure of Mycroft Holmes stood there, his brilliant piercing eyes taking us both in in a single sweep.

It’s not good enough, Sherlock, expecting visitors to climb Everest in order to get to see you,” he complained.

There are considerably higher Everests than a few stairs. Mycroft,” said Holmes, somewhat tartly. “But what a pleasure it is to see you on a Sunday even if you have had to climb to a first floor room in order to provide me with that pleasure.”

I have come on a serious matter of national importance,” he said, suavely.

Whenever you want to see me you claim national importance as if the Empire would dissolve if I didn’t do your will,” said Sherlock. “Now hearken. I can’t order you tea or crumpets because Mrs Hudson is off praying, so pray just take a seat and tell me why this country’s at risk all of a sudden, on a Sunday.”

It’s the Bishop of Westerly,” he said, almost pompously.

It is? A minor Bishop if there is such a thing,” murmured Holmes thoughtfully. “But Eton and Oxford none-the-less. And he spent some years in South America, I believe. Possible Peru, if my memory serves me right.”

He’s been back here preaching for thirty-odd years,” said Mycroft. “But that’s all by-the-by because he’s now an ex-Bishop, I’m afraid. But he was always favourite of the king, and his demise is therefore cause for concern.”

His demise, Mycroft?” asked Sherlock.

Indeed. Demise. He was found in a bath of cool water, sans life, sans breath, sans everything as the bard would have said. And before the King is informed we must know for certain that he died naturally, for if he didn’t it could well be one of Moriaty’s more devious schemes to get closer to royal circles.”

I can see that,” murmured Holmes. “Is that all there is to it? He was found dead in his bath? People do die in the bath, you know. There’s nothing particularly suspicious about that, unless they’ve got a dagger in them, or a nice round bullet hole somewhere not too pleasant.”

He wasn’t alone, Sherlock,” said Mycroft.

Not alone?” I spluttered.

He had the company of the Lady Ursula Bilmous,” said Mycroft, shaking his head.

The wife of Lord Edwin Bilmous?” spluttered Holmes, “probably the rarest beauty among the angels of the aristocracy? Said to have been courted by dozens before Lord Edwin snared her?”

And snare her he did,” sighed Mycroft, “put her with child and was too decent to have her installed in an asylum for her wickedness, so wed her.”

He was a leg up for her, too,” murmured Holmes. “So tell me. In the bath with a Bishop who died…?”

They were both dead, Sherlock,” said Mycroft, “and it was no shiny pleasing bath with gold taps and a quick-drain plug! Oh, no, it was the kind of bath a crude worker, someone of the lower classes, might soak his filth off once a week! A tin bath, they call them!”

A tight fit, then,” murmured Sherlock, “to hold two bodies. Come, Mycroft, don’t be shy and tell me where we will find the pair of corpses.”

I’ve ordered that they be left where they were,” said his brother quietly, “knowing you are particular about details. They were found at a small establishment on the Bilmous Estate, a cottage previously occupied by the shepherd’s mate.”

This gets cruder and cruder!” said Holmes. “Tell me, did anyone have the good sense to measure the temperature of the water in the bath?”

Mycroft nodded. “I ordered that much,” he admitted, “The constable said he was no judge but thought it right.”

I see,” murmured the younger brother, “so time is short! Come, Watson, and bring your bag with you! It will take a good hour to get to Bilmous, and we may already be too late!”

Leaving Mycroft to take a carriage back to his club Holmes and I set off at a fair pace for the estate of the lamented Lady Ursula.

This is a strange one,” I ventured to Holmes.

He nodded. “Though it may be straight-forward,” he said, “for a tin bath in a labourer’s cottage is a strange place for either a lady of high status or a bishop to decide to end it all.”

You think it was suicide, Holmes?” I asked, shocked. “Surely no bishop, knowing his place in Heaven is assured by his living a good life, would risk it by committing the worst of sins, which is what suicide most assuredly is.”

The human mind can be easily twisted by emotions, Watson,” he said obliquely, and we continued on our journey engaged in more irrelevant chit- chat, mostly about the weather that, until that morning had been appalling. Holmes, it seems, can devote a great part of his mind to the solving of problems whilst making almost meaningless conversation with the smaller part.

The cottage was small and mean as one would expect to be inhabited by an under-shepherd. This one had been empty for some months as the present occupier of the lowly post of shepherd’s mate already had a home in the village on the estate, living as he did with both parents.

The sight of a bishop (portly as they often are, testament to good game and port, no doubt) lying in cold water with the most beautiful of women, in her thirties by the look of her, but sadly with the pallor of death on her.

Holmes spent some time examining both bodies, and the sorry piles of clothing that had been folded onto a chair, and then his eyes lit up and he looked at me with that expression I had long associated with the instant solving of a hard question.

See here, Watson,” he said, and he pointed to a puncture mark on the naked woman’s thigh. “I would guess that this is the culprit! Someone used a syringe and injected some toxin into the fair maiden’s flesh.”

I stared at it, and shook my head. There could be no doubt: I have seen syringe scars many times. “So sad,” I whispered, “but what of the bishop? After all, it is he your brother was most concerned about.”

The story, as I read it, is this,” he said, almost sharply, “remember what we said of the weather? Take a look at his discarded clothes. The bishop was out in the rain, possibly moving between parishes as bishops are won’t to do, and became soiled by splashes of mud and the like. The lady, for this is her husband’s estate, remember, brought him here to be cleansed rather than risk taking him to the big house where his presence and state would be available for all to see and mock at, and provided him with a bath. But the water, Watson, was much too hot and the shock of it, whilst not scalding him, sent his body into a fit from which it would never recover. See his weight and the gross swelling of his skin where it met the over-heated water…”

I see that much,” I assured him, “I am used to such things you know, Holmes.”

You see where the water, hot though not normally dangerously so, caused his heart to lurch one time too many?” said Holmes. “The lady Ursula would have been here, tending to his needs, and may well have slipped into the bath and joined him accidentally at the shock os his passing… Feel the water, Watson, there is still some warmth in it.”

Naked, Holmes?” I asked frowning.

Most certainly,” he replied, “especially if she too had also been soiled by the foul weather. She would probably have wanted to make herself clean for her husband… whatever happened, when she discovered that he was dead and seeing no decent way out of a predicament that might have been wholly innocent but seen as anything but, she decided to end it all.”

So she carried a syringe of deadly poison with her, did she, Holmes?” I asked cynically.

Perhaps,” he nodded, “remember, she had previously had an unenviable reputation and it was highly likely that she could foresee the occasion coming when she might choose the hereafter rather than humiliation…”

So it wasn’t a simple case of her husband finding her in a tin bath with a dead bishop and, in despair, doing what he may well have considered doing years ago when her character was first known to him?” I asked, “you know, when she fell pregnant?”

But Watson,” he said, appalled at my suggestion, “he’s a lord, a member of a noble aristocracy … you really must learn to think before you speak…”

Of course, Holmes,” I mumbled.

© Peter Rogerson 30.07.17

THE CASE OF THE STOLEN PIG

9 Aug

Considering the wide range of my intellectual pursuits, there’s one thing that I can never understand, Watson,” said Holmes as he fiddled with the bridge of his violin.

Only one?” I murmured quizzically.

Only one,” he concurred, “and that is womankind. “And by womankind I mean all of that species!”

I looked up at him from my newspaper. “If that’s the only subject you get flummoxed by then I must admit it’s a mighty big subject and not even I can comprehend every corner of it,” I told him. “Women, in my opinion, have been specially designed by whoever designs such things to mystify the male of the species for reasons best known to that whoever. Yet they are certainly, on the whole, quite delightful and have charms that can quite envelop a man.”

By designer you mean God?” asked Holmes, almost sneering at me.

I’ve seen enough evil to have my doubts about that fellow,” I said seriously. And I had. The wars that rage across so beautiful a planet as we are blessed to live on are testament to that, and the cruelties inflicted during barbarous campaigns on the innocent are enough to make a sensible want want to curse the very idea of gods..

Tell me, then, one thing about ladies that I might comprehend,” he asked. “and don’t hide your ignorance by mentioning those physical attributes that all can see with their eyes half-closed, for I am certainly aware of those having normally got my eyes fully open!”

I wouldn’t be so crude, Holmes,” I said to him. “The most obvious thing about women is their generosity.”

But I can be generous,” smiled Holmes. “Take that case last week, the one of the stolen pig. You recall it?”

I’ve not long finished composing my exposition on it,” I told him. “In which,” I added, “you turn out rather well!”

Then you will know that Farmer Todge called on my services on account of him being short of one pig when he came to tally his sty of pigs. Solving his mystery was a messy job, as you will recall, but in a day and a half I had lambasted the swine who was causing poor old Todge so much grief. I was, you see, fully aware that the missing pig represented a great part of the man’s wealth, and that to lose a pig in his world is probably worse than a prince losing a coronet in his.”

So you explained to me at the time, Holmes,” I said.

I recall, Watson. Therefore, bearing in mind the apparently disproportionate value of the pig I applied all of my mental resources to solving the riddle. You will recall how we set a trap on the assumption that the thief … for I was sure a human thief rather than fox or other predatory creaturo was involved … would return for more booty once he had run out of pork at home.”

You worked hard on the case,” I confirmed.

Then you will recall how I disguised myself as a scarecrow, adapting stinking garments that I bought off Tramp Joe for more than they were worth, and stood in a field casting my eyes on both crows and pigs for the best part of two whole days and nights until I spied the thief sneaking onto Farmer Todge’s land and approaching his best pigsty.”

I was with you for some of the time, Holmes,” I nodded, “and when I couldn’t actually see you I could most certainly smell you!”

And so I apprehended the thief. It was, you will recall, the widow Grouty. She has seven children all under twelve and all eternally hungry and was widowed two months ago when her husband fell into a grinder and got … er, ground into mince. It was most unpleasant for him but more unpleasant for her because he knew no more and was thus untroubled by matters pertaining to this world whilst she had the welfare of seven brats to attend to for years to come.”

I recall, Holmes,” I sighed, “and I agreed with you when you decided that natural justice runs contrary to the laws of the land in circumstances like that.”

I did indeed, Watson, and I’ve no doubt that you agreed. Thus it was, then, that the two oldest Grouty boys found employment on a pig farm and the pig farmer found himself engaging two needy lads at a fraction of what it would have cost for him to engage a fully grown labourer. And, despite the hardships I had gone through and the several steaming baths I required afterwards to eliminate the stench of Tramp Joe’s filthy rags from my skin, I refused payment for the case on the understanding that Farmer Todge used those funds to provide small extras to the widow, like the odd small pork joint or part of a side of bacon.”

That was indeed kind, Holmes,” I said, “and I am sure to emphasise the very generosity you displayed when I conclude my account for the Strand magazine.”

So how can you say that a lady is generous in terms that imply that a man is not?” demanded Holmes.

I thought for a moment. Then I smiled. “A woman,” I said, “will suffer great indignity when she is led to believe that in all ways her husband is her superior. She has been taught since her birth that men are both physically and mentally superior to women, that if you educate girls to the point of their gaining university degrees their heads may well explode and all sense go away and they will need to spend the remainder of their days in an asylum! And she has accepted this lowly place, has accepted the many inferences that she is inferior, and done it without rancour and gall.”

You believe, do you Watson, that ladies are equal to men in these matters?” asked Holmes. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an absurdity in all of my life! The female gender is a breeding machine, plain and simple and no more and no less than that. She nurtures the young. She feeds her offspring. She cares for them, and then, when her work is done she grows old and weary and has little more left in her life than to feed her man, who is still sturdy and strong and filled with the enthusiasm his toil demands.”

One thing, Holmes,” I said.

Yes, Watson?”

What would you say and what would you do if you discovered Mrs Hudson lurking in the shadows over there, hanging on to your every word…” I pointed towards his dressing room … “and that she was still listening to your every last syllable?”

What would I say?” asked Holmes, “I would say nothing for I would be too busy doing …”

You would? What might that be?” I asked.

I would be running as quickly as I could down the stairs and onto Baker Street, and not stop until I was certain she had stopped pursuing me with a weighted rolling pin in her hands…”

Just as well she isn’t there then, Holmes,” I said.

He was about to add something to his argument when the door opened and Mrs Hudson stood there, one hand behind her back whilst the other rested on the door knob.

Did you know Sherlock,” she said quietly, “that there is a vent that distributes fresh air throughout this house, and if I am standing by the opening in my parlour I can hear every word spoken up here?”

Er…” he stammered, and she pulled the hand from behind her back, revealing that she was holding a porcelain rolling pin by one heavy wooden handle.

© Peter Rogerson 28.07.17

THE CASE OF THE HORSELESS CARRIAGE

5 Aug

The last thing we want,” said Sherlock Holmes to me as we climbed into a hansom cab in order to make on our way to the theatre for a night of observing Patricia Hewson in her role as Lady Macbeth after she received a clandestine death threat that we were investigating, “the last thing we want is one of those motor cars that misguided optimists claim will soon be all the rage.”

The last thing, Holmes?” I asked.

They’re monstrous, they’re noisy, they smell and above all they’re unreliable,” he muttered grumpily, “and mark my words, Watson, they’ll soon be forgotten! Who wants to travel along lumpy pot-holed roads at fifteen miles an hour anyway when a rested horse can pull you at ten?”

Maybe the roads could be smoothed out, Holmes?” I suggested as our driver cracked his whip and the horse pulled us reluctantly forwards. It was evening and the poor creature had probably been in harness for hours already.

And maybe pigs might grow wings and fly!” he retorted. “Now concentrate, Watson. We are on a mission of mercy! The note received by Miss Hewson suggested that an unknown assailant planned to skewer her heart during the hand-washing scene in tonight’s production. But we will be there to thwart the blighter, and just in case he tries something truly unexpected Miss Hewson will be wearing a special stab-proof vest under her Lady Macbeth outfit. Thus are all possibilities covered!”

You are a miracle, Holmes,” I said dutifully, knowing how much he craves admiration.

That’s as it may be,” he smiled, “Whoa! But what’s ahead?”

He had every reason to ask the question, for our cab together with every other vehicle on the road had come to a standstill, and we were barely a mile into our journey to the theatre, which, not being in the West End, but in the suburbs, was still some distance off.

What’s ahead, driver?” called Holmes, his voice charged with irritation.

It’s one of them French vehicles,” muttered the driver, cursing. “You know, one of them motor things, and everyone’s stopped to stare at it. It’s not as if we haven’t seen one before!”

Damned nuisance!” cursed Holmes, “is there no way you can get in front? I am on urgent business and a woman’s life may be at risk if I don’t attend to the scene of the intended crime on time!”

I’ll try, Mr Holmes, if it’s as desperate as you say it is,” he replied, and he geed the horse and steered it to the narrow gap between our traffic and that oncoming. “Nah come on, my beauty!” he hollered, and cracked his whip next to the horse’s ear.

There was barely room for us, but we made better progress than we would have had we remained stationary as our driver together with an intelligent horse wove our cab forwards. There were cries of objection from other carriages, curses and whistles that made Holmes frown as we slowly pulled past them, and eventually we came to the cause of the hold-up.

It was a horseless carriage all right, and by the look of it one manufactured in France by a company with the outlandish name Renault. But it wasn’t it’s presence on the road that was causing the delay for everyone else but the fact that it seemed incapable of movement. It’s driver, if that’s what an operator of a horseless carriage is called, was scratching his head and fiddling with metal parts under a cover that apparently concealed its engine.

I told you, Watson,” said Holmes mirthlessly, “they’re useless, all of them! There will never be a place on London roads for any kind of horseless carriage, you mark my words!”

If you say so, Holmes,” I muttered, unconvinced. After all, I reason in the silence of my head, a place Holmes with all his wisdom is never privy to, after all, everything needs to have a starting point from which it may well blossom into something both efficient and useful given time and space for improvement.

The theatre where Macbeth was to be performed was illuminated so that it stood out as the most illustrious building in its neighbourhood, and Holmes and I rushed from our cab and made our way to the stage door.

Patricia Hewson, in her guise as Lady Macbeth, was waiting just inside the door, in the shadows where hopefully she was invisibly to any dark forces in the neighbourhood, for us.

Oh, I’m ever so glad to see you, Mr Holmes,” she said, “Curtain goes up in a few minutes and I don’t mind telling you that I’m scared stiff!”

You’re wearing the special vest I gave you?” asked Holmes.

She nodded. “But I hope I won’t be needing it,” she whispered.

Whilst the brief conversation had been taking place I had taken the opportunity to have a good look around. The stage door opened onto the back street by the side of the theatre, but so well lit was the building that there was hardly a square foot where a scoundrel intent on murder could lurk unseen. Inside the door the situation was more difficult, with a dark passage leading behind the stage, with doors opening onto dressing rooms and other intimate theatre spaces. There were plenty of shadows all right, and I felt instinctively that a felon could lurk in any one of them.

Holmes was led slowly towards the backstage area by the divine Patricia, an actress of some renown and great beauty. She showed him behind the scenery and to where she would perform the scene in near darkness with but a single light upon her as she tried to wash invisible blood from her hands, and failed.

We will wait here,” decided Holmes, sitting himself in one corner that commanded a view of all of the stage but was invisible to the audience.

The play began, the scene with the three witches filled with great unnerving atmosphere.

Miss Hewson’s own scenes were all played with consummate skill despite the fact that I was aware that her nerves must be jumping at every cough and splutter from the audience. Then came the hand-washing scene, and as she took her place under the light I became aware of a movement behind one of the flats.

There!” I motioned to Holmes, and he nodded back at me. But then, so consummate was his skill that I would have been surprised had he not seen it.

The movement became bigger, and I watched as a figure detached itself from deep shadows and started moving furtively towards the scene being enacted under the light.

Holmes was quick, though. Whilst the threat was still in virtual darkness he leapt out and, still unseen by the audience that was rapt with full attention on the theatrical scene being enacted, tackled the figure and silenced any sound it might make by placing a leather-gloved hand over its mouth.

Then it was over. Patricia Hewson finished her scene, there was huge applause from the audience, and she turned to see who Holmes was grappling with.

Todmartin!” she exclaimed|! Then: “Take him away, Mr Holmes, and get a policeman to talk to him! He has been pursuing me on and off for five years until I’m fed up with the sight of him!”

But I love you,” he blurted through the fingers of Holmes’ gloved hand.

It transpired that the villain had taken a liking to Miss Hewson several years earlier and she had been aware of him following her wherever she went. She had done her utmost to discourage the fellow, but to no avail and he had finally decided that if he couldn’t have her then nobody could, and had evolved his plan to strike her dead in the one scene when he might succeed in front of an audience, and still not be identified because of the darkness of the set.

We’ll take him to the constabulary,” said Holmes determinedly, then, in an uncharacteristically human voice, “but I can see why the wretch should be so captivated by you, for you are in possession of a rare beauty.”

Our cab had gone and was nowhere in sight when we arrived with our prisoner on the street, but to our amazement the French horseless carriage was parked where the cab should have been.

You Mr Holmes?” asked the driver.

He nodded, more confused than I can recall having seen him in all the years that I have known him.

Then your horseman engaged me to take you, sir,” said the driver of the motor vehicle. “His horse passed out, sir, very sadly, and he had to be carted off to the knacker’s yard, and I’m here in its stead. Climb aboard, gentlemen.”

It was a four-seater, and we did just that. We climbed aboard, Holmes keeping a firm grip on our prisoner.

I fixed it,” grunted the driver, “had a bit of carburettor trouble earlier, but I fixed it…”

The vehicle started easily as if to prove his work well done and, being French, ran sweetly along the roads towards Scotland Yard and a cell for Todmartin.

Not so bad after all,” murmured Holmes when we were back at Baker Street, “Not so bad after all…”

© Peter Rogerson 25.07.17

THE CASE OF THE SEASIDE LODGINGS

3 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skegness?” I said, doubtfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had, after all, brought his violin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There you go again!” she squawked.

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

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

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

Maybe next time.

© Peter Rogerson 24.07.17

THE CASE OF THE SINGING DOG

1 Aug

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

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

I say begged. Maybe I should have said requested politely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we will follow her,” said Holmes decisively.

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

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

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

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

It is a thing of wonder,” he agreed.

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

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

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

Pondlife, Holmes,” I breathed, pointing.

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

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

It’s a dog, Holmes,” I gasped.

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

And then it happened just as Holmes had predicted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Peter Rogerson 22.07.17