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Authors: Christopher James

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Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants

BOOK: Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants
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Title page

Sherlock Holmes

and the Adventure of the Ruby Elephants

Christopher James

Publisher information

2015 digital version by Andrews UK Limited

www.andrewsuk.com

© Copyright 2015 Christopher James

The right of Christopher James to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without express prior written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted except with express prior written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended). Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damage.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of MX Publishing.

Originally published in the UK by MX Publishing

335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive,

London, N11 3GX

www.mxpublishing.co.uk

Cover design by www.staunch.com

Dedication

For my father

Epigraph

The valley in which I found myself was deep and narrow and surrounded by mountains which towered into the clouds
. As I wandered about, seeking anxiously for some means of escaping this trap, I observed the ground was strewn with diamonds, some of them of an astonishing size. I wandered up and down the valley, kicking the diamonds contemptuously out of my path, for I thought they were vain things indeed to a man in my situation. At last, overcome by weariness, I sat down upon a rock but I had hardly closed my eyes when I was startled by something which fell from the ground with a thud close beside me.

It was a huge piece of fresh meat and as I stared at it, several more pieces rolled over the cliffs in different places. I had always thought that the stories the sailors told of the famous valley of diamonds, and of the cunning way which some of the merchants had devised for getting at the precious stones were mere travellers' tales, but now I perceived that they were surely true.

These lumps of meat, falling with so much force upon the diamonds, were sure to take some of the precious stones with them when the eagles pounced on the meat and carried it off to their nests to feed their hungry broods. Then the merchants, scaring away the parent birds with shouts and outcries, would secure their treasures. I chose the piece of meat which seemed most suited to my purpose and with the aid of my turban, bound it firmly to my back; this done, I laid down upon my face and awaited the coming of the eagles
.

From The Arabian Nights: The Second Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, property of Dr. John. H. Watson M.D.

ONE - The Fugitive

In the long history of my association with Sherlock Holmes there has rarely been a case of more singular interest than that of the Ruby Elephants. Leafing through my notes I am reminded that there were a number of features which also mark it as one of the most disconcerting we have yet encountered. For unlike many of our exploits it was not merely one problem, but a series of puzzles that were interlinked in the most peculiar fashion. And yet despite its complexity I am quite certain that it elicited the most brilliant of all of Holmes' feats of deduction. My friend, I know, disapproves of my rating of his cases in this way. However, he knows that it is for my own private amusement and need for order and for this he is prepared to turn a blind eye.

It was a morning in mid July when the summer heat was beginning to impose itself on our rooms at 221b Baker Street.

‘Do you see this simple length of wire?' Holmes asked, holding a nondescript bit of steel up to the light. I glanced up from my newspaper. ‘In two years time it will make a man a million pounds. In five years it will make him ten million.'

‘Don't be absurd,' I muttered.

‘I have never been more serious in my life' my friend insisted.

‘Then will he use it to pick a lock at the Tower of London?'

‘Nothing of the kind!' Holmes was clearly in a playful mood. ‘Shall I show you?'

‘By all means,' I sighed. ‘My practice is somewhat sluggish of late and I'd very much like to know how to conjure pounds and shillings from thin air.' He furrowed his brow and began to manipulate the wire, bending it back on itself until it resembled something like a hair clip. He studied it again, rearranged an angle or two, then cast it onto the coffee table in triumph. It skittered across the polished wood and onto our bear skin rug. I picked it up and examined it.

‘I fail to see how it has increased in value,' I confessed.

‘And that, my dear Watson, is why you are not a millionaire. You are a man of inestimable qualities, but you lack the essential gift of imagination.' Holmes lit a cigarette, drew on it, then left it smoking in the ashtray. ‘Now you are aware,' he went on, ‘that I have a somewhat haphazard filing system.' I surveyed the sea of papers around our feet and swamping every available surface.

‘I am,' I confirmed.

‘This,' he said, holding up the folded wire, ‘is of more use than a score of clerks and a hundred filing cabinets.'

He picked up a handful of papers from his feet.

‘The notes,' he announced, ‘from that curious case of the Laughing Earl.'

‘A ghoulish affair,' I remarked.

‘And yet one you have not committed to paper, I note,' said Holmes with a slightly peevish air.

‘I was under the impression that you put little stock in the written records I make of our adventures?'

‘No matter,' he said, brushing this aside. ‘Pay attention.' He tapped the sheaf of paper into alignment on the table top, then with a little cough and the air of a practiced showman, he picked up the wire between thumb and forefinger, fixed it neatly at the top of the pages and secured all five sheets together. I stared at Holmes. ‘Rather wonderful, isn't it?' he marveled, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

‘A million pounds?' I repeated, incredulous.

‘If every man in Britain bought a hundred for a shilling,' Holmes calculated, ‘it will not take long for our inventor to amass his fortune.'

‘Remarkable,' I said, examining the bent wire it in the palm of my hand.

‘Simplicity itself,' said Holmes.

My friend and I were enjoying our renewed acquaintance. Mary, my wife of a year, was spending a fortnight in Bath with her friend Louise, taking in the architecture and spa with excursions to Stonehenge and the great cathedral at Wells. Although she had originally mooted the idea as a second honeymoon, I politely suggested she may enjoy it more with her close friend and confidante. At a loose end, I therefore took the opportunity once again to enjoy the company of my friend Sherlock Holmes. I knew that despite his chronic untidiness and irregular habits, some novel amusement and adventure would soon come our way. My timing, as it turned out, was impeccable.

‘I note you have spent some time in Bath before,' Holmes remarked.

‘I don't recall mentioning that to you,' I said. ‘How could you possibly know?'

‘Elementary,' Holmes laughed. ‘Two years ago I heard you singing a song quietly to yourself. It was about a farm boy who worked in an orchard. The refrain made reference to ‘The Rose Coloured Fruit and the Rose Coloured Sky.' I looked it up in an anthology of popular songs and discovered that it had its roots in the Bath area. Rather more prosaically, I later found a sketch of the Royal Crescent on your desk. I remember admiring it for the draughtsmanship, my admiration only slightly diminished when I saw that it was copied from an ink pot you were using, which also carried the legend: ‘A souvenir from Bath Spa.'

I shook my head. ‘Your memory is as impressive as your ability to absorb the smallest details.'

‘You will have heard me say something of the sort before, Watson, but it is so often the merest trifle that is key to all.'

‘Quite. But you are perfectly correct. I have had my fill of the delights of Bath. Despite its charms, I could not face another dose of its gentility just yet. I am willing to risk that a separation so soon after our nuptials will not have any negative consequence on our affections. In fact,' I mused, ‘I am willing to wager that our ardour will be keener on her return.'

Holmes however appeared to have lost interest in our discussion, instead turning his attention to an experiment he was conducting on his acid stained tabletop. He was busy emptying a liquid from one glass vessel into another, delighting when the second solution appeared to change colour.

‘A breakthrough, Watson,' he cried, ‘a veritable breakthrough!'

An hour later, Holmes and I were in our familiar positions, he balancing two quantities of an unknown powder on a set of brass scales while I was engrossed in a novel with the sensational title: Return to Doom Island. Being unacquainted with the first visit, I was struggling to find my bearings. Presently, I heard a commotion down in the street. Laying aside my book for the third time that morning, I strolled to the window.

An exodus of Baker Street appeared to be underway. Women were holding their bonnets to their heads and fleeing at speed. Men clutched their bowlers and sprinted like Olympians down the centre of the road. Boys scrambled over each other, kicking up clouds of dust, caps flying as they raced towards the Marylebone Road.

‘I say, there's an awful hullabaloo out there.'

‘I imagine it's the first day of the sales,' my friend remarked.

‘It seems terribly strange,' I said. ‘I've never seen anything quite like it.'

I lifted the window and attempted to hail a policeman. Failing in that endeavour, I leaned a little further out, scanning the roof tops for signs of fire or smoke.

‘Would you care for a stroll, Holmes?' I enquired, drawing myself back in.

Holmes sprinkled a pinch of powder into one of the scales and smiled in childish delight as they balanced perfectly.

‘Really, Watson, I am very close to a discovery in a field so new it barely has a name. However I am also willing to confess that my experiment is somewhat unstable. It is quite possible that if the two powders were to make each others' acquaintance, then a considerable portion of Baker Street would disappear from the map. That really would cause a commotion.'

‘Are you at least not a little curious?' I ventured, knowing that Holmes' curiosity would shame any self respecting feline.

‘Well,' Holmes wavered, ‘perhaps I have reached a natural break in my work and could benefit from a little air.'

Collecting our hats and a hastily compiled packet of cheese and walnut sandwiches from Mrs Hudson, we spilled into the street and the joined the throng.

I collared a lad who was lagging behind the others.

‘What's all the excitement?' I demanded.

He looked at me as if I had recently returned from Mars.

‘It's Juno, mister, he's on the loose!'

I stopped short and was almost immediately bowled over by a pair of fishmongers who were sprinting in their aprons as if in pursuit of a particularly fleet-footed shoplifter who had stuffed a mackerel inside his overcoat. I looked back for sign of Holmes and for a moment believed he may have been flattened in the stampede. Instead I found him at my shoulder.

‘Any news, Watson?' he enquired.

‘A Juno, it seems, is on the loose.'

For once Holmes looked as perplexed as I.

I seized another lad, whom I recognised as the son of a local milk carrier, Frank Smith.

‘You!' I cried, ‘young Smith.'

‘Yes, doctor?' he managed, without breaking his stride.

‘Who or what is Juno?'

‘The zoo!' he shouted, bafflingly. ‘The zoo!'

‘Ye gods!' cried Holmes, who had evidently divined more from this exchange than me. ‘Watson, there's an elephant on the run!'

My friend entered lustily into the chase, dodging and passing other pedestrians with an athleticism I had not seen since my days playing Rugby Union in Blackheath.

By the time we reached Marylebone Road, it appeared the whole of London was giving chase. Most seemed in thrall to a kind of involuntary hysteria, waving hats, umbrellas and rolled up newspapers as if they were attempting to drive the elephant back into its enclosure by sheer dint of numbers and noise. In fact it was entirely unclear whether we are running
towards
or
away
from the elephant. Already I had heard three or four different stories, ranging from a keeper who had taken leave of his senses to tales of a break-out staged by every animal in the zoo. Eventually, in the scrum, I spotted a constable who, with his arms outstretched, was attempting to hold back the crowd - although he may as well have been attempting to hold back the Atlantic Ocean.

‘Mr Holmes!' he explained, recognising my friend. ‘At last someone with a bit of common sense. What's to be done?'

‘Where is the beast?' Holmes demanded.

‘On the corner of Tottenham Court Road. We've got it surrounded, but it's made an awful mess of SW4.'

‘Constable, I am very much obliged,' my friend said, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘We'll see what we can do. Look lively Watson!'

We hurtled through the crowd as if charging the Welsh at Cardiff Arms Park. More than once I saw a man thrown up into the sky, only to disappear again among the sea of hats. It was as if the government had fallen and the crowd was baying for the blood of the king.

‘This is most dangerous, Watson,' Holmes shouted, using his stick to carve a path through the mob. My friend, it seemed, was as caught up in the hysteria as the next man.

After a further five minutes of jostling, we finally clapped eyes on the wonder: a magnificent female, murky brown, not so different in colour to the Thames itself, and towering a full ten feet above the crowd. Out of the elephant house it looked for all the world like a dinosaur sent to terrorize the West End. It was an Asian elephant that until today had spent its life perambulating the leafy walkways of the Zoological Gardens. Its howdah, in pink and gold, was still in situ on its back, although it had slipped to one side in the excitement.

Yet despite its fearsome size and the hysteria of the mob, it was very much minding its own business, gently tugging at the branches from a plane tree, scooping leaves and nuts into its mouth with its miraculous snout.

Holmes slowed to a walk. ‘Perhaps I have not told you Watson,' he imparted with a faraway look in his eye, ‘that I have some experience in the art and practice of elephant training.' I confirmed my ignorance of this fact. ‘Indeed I spent a profitable summer as a young man in Assam where the wild elephants roam like cattle in the foothills of the Himalayas. I made the acquaintance of a local mahout, who allowed me to shadow him while he went about his extraordinary work, taming the beasts into submission. It is not a profession, I assure you, for the faint hearted, and more than once I saw an elephant toss his would-be master through the air as you or I might flick a fly from the back of our hands.' This did not reassure me in the least of Holmes' powers in this field although it was now clear his course of action was set.

‘It was a moment of madness, Mr Holmes,' another constable explained as we approached. It never ceased to amaze me how each and every policeman seemed not only to know Holmes, but treat him as a trusted friend. ‘One minute she's giving a bank manager and his family a ride through the zoo, gentle giant that she is. The next, she shakes them off, takes a left turn and makes her way through the fence. She trod down the iron railings as if they were balsa wood. The sergeant has sent for rifles. It's a terrible business, but there's nothing else to be done.'

‘The banker and his family,' Holmes enquired. ‘Are they badly hurt?'

‘No, not at all, just a few bumps and bruises,' the constable assured him, ‘but there's no telling what she'll do next.' The pillbox lying on its side and a hansom splintered to firewood were sufficient evidence of this.

Holmes detained an excitable passer-by with a steadying hand on the arm. He was a squat gentleman, with whom by chance my friend was distantly acquainted.

‘Ah, Crabtree!' Holmes said. ‘I might have known you'd be here; still questing for adventure, eh? Would you mind very much if I was to take a loan of your umbrella?' Such is the authority of Holmes in such a moment, the man readily complied.

Armed therefore with little more than a brolly and the hazy memory of summer holiday in the 1870s, Holmes advanced on the beast with the stealth of a trained keeper. I kept at his shoulder, but was quite ready to beat a tactical retreat.

BOOK: Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Ruby Elephants
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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