Authors: Ron Weighell
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
THE IRREGULAR CASEBOOK
THE IRREGULAR CASEBOOK
OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
ISBN: 9781553102281 (Kindle edition)
ISBN: 9781553102298 (ePub edition)
Published by Christopher Roden
For Calabash Press
(an imprint of Ash-Tree Press)
P.O. Box 1360, Ashcroft, British Columbia,
Canada V0K 1A0
First electronic edition 2012
First Calabash Press edition 2000
This edition © Calabash Press 2012
Stories © Ron Weighell
Jacket art by Chris Senior
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over, and does not assume responsibility for, third-party websites or their content.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher,
Produced in Canada
THE IRREGULAR CASEBOOK
I MUST HAVE BEEN no more than ten or eleven when I discovered the Sherlock Holmes adventures in my local library and read my way, through the canon in a few weeks. As an adult I would come to live in Southsea, and every day on my way to work pass the site of Bush Villas in Elm Grove, where Conan Doyle wrote the first Holmes story.
Although I had encountered Edgar Allan Poe when still a child through an illustrated edition in the family book-case, and devoured classical children's fiction, fairy tales, myths, and legends, I look on my first discovery of Sherlock Holmes as a major event in my imaginative life, and a big influence on my values as a would-be writer. I was attracted from the first by the brooding atmosphere of the tales, the strange and vivid characters, the haunting and sometimes downright macabre plots, and above all by the moody, introverted, drug-using and brilliant hero.
Once I had accompanied him and the faithful Watson to crypt and mountain top, baronial pile and bleak moor, my expectations of the genre I loved were changed and enriched forever.
The Case of the Fiery Messengers
IT WAS LATE IN THE December of 1895 that Mr Sherlock Holmes became engaged upon a most singular and disturbing case. Indeed, I can think of no other that displayed the full range of his prodigious talents, or offered quite so chilling a dénouement. Furthermore, it brought us into contact with two quite remarkable—if very different—individuals.
I see from my notebooks that the affair began one bitterly cold afternoon but three days before Christmas, when all London lay under a freezing fog that reduced the view from our Baker Street windows to a sea of wreathing vapours. Only the occasional figure, looming like a muffled phantom under the gas lamps, and the clatter of hooves on black ice, hinted at a world outside.
Holmes had been locked in his room all morning, and had taken no lunch. I was glad enough to stay by the roaring fire with a volume of military memoirs, for the season had not been kind to my old wound.
At a little after two o’clock, Holmes emerged, cast down upon the table a pair of old brown boots, and began filling a pipe from the Persian slipper. Judging from his choice of the cherry-wood that he was in a disputatious mood, I asked innocently if the boots signified that he had added the trade of cobbler to his many accomplishments. A faint smile played upon his thin lips, but he refused the bait.
‘You are doubtless aware, Watson, that there may be tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, and sermons in stones. To this exalted list we may now add a source of information unguessed at even by the Bard; autobiography in boots. There is matter there for another monograph, I fancy. In any event, I may have saved a poor wretch’s life today. The near miscarriage of justice was Lestrade’s doing, I fear. He brought these boots round yesterday afternoon and asked if I might look them over. According to his account, they were last seen on the feet of a clerk named Mottram, who went missing a week ago, and whose body was recovered from the Thames yesterday, minus the boots. These were found wrapped in a week-old newspaper in the wardrobe of one of Mottram’s drinking friends, a man named Rodgers, who cannot account for his whereabouts at the time of Mottram’s disappearance. As a result, Rodgers now languishes in gaol, and Lestrade anticipates charges within twenty-four hours.’
‘It seems a damning enough piece of evidence, Holmes. Did Lestrade say how Rodgers explained his possession of the boots?’
‘He claims they are not Mottram’s, and that he obtained them in a parcel of clothes given in part-payment for a gambling debt. Lestrade hopes that I can furnish evidence linking the boots to Mottram. Naturally, I asked Lestrade for a description of the victim, and was told that he was a large, fat man with heavy nicotine stains on the fingers of his right hand. Lestrade seemed particularly proud of his powers of observation. Personally, I do not see how anyone could have observed less! However, it has proved sufficient to discomfit our friend the Inspector. I am now satisfied that the owner of these boots was a lightly-built, left-handed pipe smoker, who favoured a dark shag tobacco. He had calloused hands, and worked outdoors—probably as a gardener—for a strict employer.’
‘Oh come now, Holmes,’ I said. ‘You can’t possibly tell all that from a fellow’s boots!’
‘On the contrary, Watson, it is all quite obvious. Let us cast our eyes over the offending articles and see what they tell us. A supple, much-used boot of the serviceable working kind, but not the style I would associate with a City clerk; the uppers are well worn, but the soles—which are original—hardly worn down at all. Light on his feet, then.’
‘I concede as much. But why a gardener?’
‘Traces of soil and compost on the sole, not picked up in an office!’
‘The faint line worn across the sole of the
boot, running parallel to the face of the heel, surely caused by repeatedly pushing a spade down into the earth. There is nothing quite like regular spadework for raising callouses on the hands.’
‘Could not such a mark be caused by some other means—such as a stirrup?’
‘An interesting suggestion, Watson, but there is no corresponding mark on the right sole.’
‘Very well then. How can you tell he was a pipe smoker?’
‘The circular burn marks on the inside of the right heel, and traces of ash in the seam. He has often tapped out a pipe there. I could hardly fail to identify the ash as a dark shag tobacco—it is by chance a variety I have used myself And incidentally, since it is natural, merely for balance, to raise the foot
the hand that holds the pipe when tapping out, there is further evidence for a left-handed man.’
I made one last attempt. ‘The strict employer, then. Surely that is a guess?’
‘Come, come, Watson; do you deduce nothing from the fact that there are not merely ashes, but burn marks upon the heel? Our man has often knocked out his pipe while it is still burning. Would he repeatedly waste the best part of his smoke unless often interrupted by someone who does not approve of smoking in his presence?’
‘Bravo, Holmes, that is masterful.’
‘It is quite straightforward if you . . .’
The sound of the doorbell came faintly from below.
‘Ah, that will be a client, on a matter of some urgency, I think.’
‘Can you tell that from the boots?’ I asked.
Holmes chuckled amiably. ‘No, Watson, I think we have exhausted that particular oracle. I merely observe that this is not the weather for social calls. There are steps upon the stairs. Let us be ready.’
Mrs Hudson knocked and entered. ‘Mr Holmes, there’s a Mr George J. Barker to see you. He says it is a matter of some urgency.’
Holmes cocked a triumphant eyebrow at me and gestured with his pipe. ‘Show him in, Mrs Hudson, show him in.’
Our visitor was a tall, well built, bespectacled man of perhaps thirty years. A certain pallor and softness in his fine features suggested that his was an inherited, rather than a cultivated, physique. His suit was well cut, but in some disarray, and his hair was uncombed.
‘Come in, Mr George J. Barker,’ said Holmes. ‘I see you have been walking around for some considerable time.’
Barker replied in a rich East country accent. ‘Now how did you know that, Mr Holmes?’
‘Your clothes did not become so thoroughly fog-bedewed during a short step from a hansom to our door.’
‘You are right enough there, sir. I
been walking back and forth. I have come all the way from Suffolk to talk with you—and now that I am here—why, I scarcely know where to begin.’
‘Is that so? Then let me make your task a little easier. That you came hurriedly, and in some distress, is apparent from the fact that you did not shave this morning and have omitted to comb your hair. But I do not think you have come
so far. Perhaps you might save time by telling us what has occurred in Cambridge?’
Barker’s reaction was comical. He gaped and sat down heavily in a chair. ‘How could you know that?’ he asked, in a cultivated voice that betrayed no hint of an accent.
Holmes laughed. ‘I wish I could say it was by miraculous powers of deduction, but there is a return ticket to Cambridge sticking out of your waistcoat pocket.’
‘Very well, Mr Holmes. I apologise for my little charade. I confess that I thought to test the powers so vividly chronicled by Dr Watson. Let me be honest with you. My name is not Barker, but James.’
‘Doctor Montague Rhodes James?’
‘This is too much! Is there nothing you do not know about me?’
‘Oh come, doctor, you are too modest. I see before me a scholarly looking gentleman of around thirty whose name is James, and who comes hot-foot from Cambridge. Even so stumbling an amateur of palaeography as myself could hardly fail to make the connection. You have been known to me since that very subtle piece of deductive reasoning on a manuscript fragment at Bury was published in the
some fifteen years ago. And your recent attainment of a Doctorate at the age of thirty-three has not gone unnoticed.’
Our guest bowed. ‘Very kind of you, Mr Holmes. May I say that I have read your monograph on the dating of documents. It is exemplary—quite exemplary.’
‘Come,’ cried Holmes. ‘I observe you are a pipe smoker. Try some of this tobacco if you will, and, while you smoke, tell us in as much detail as you can what misfortune has brought you here.’
Doctor James produced a shiny new pipe and began to fill it from the proffered slipper.
‘Misfortune indeed, gentlemen. Theft and assault and the threat of extreme public embarrassment at the least. But let me begin at the beginning. Aside from my college duties, I spend a good deal of time, as you know, examining manuscripts and compiling catalogues. I have recently undertaken work on certain Greek and Latin texts in the Library of Trinity College. Trinity also possesses a number of manuscripts pertaining to Doctor John Dee. . . .’
Holmes raised a hand. ‘One moment, please! Watson, my commonplace book, if you would be so kind. Dee, ah yes—born 1527, studied at St John’s College—graduated MA—under reader in Greek—founding fellow of Trinity—lectured on Euclid—profound Mathematician, great book collector, inventor of navigational instruments, Astrologer Royal, confidante of—and probably spy for—Queen Elizabeth! A fascinating individual!’
‘Indeed, Mr Holmes. Dee has always been of intense interest to me. I have had it in mind for some while to give my attention to this material when time permitted, and perhaps publish the results. That time is not yet, unfortunately, but once in a while I do devote an hour or so of my leisure to that end, and recently I was looking over Dee’s own list of his books. In my experience it is not uncommon to find fragments of valuable writings appended to quite unrelated matter, so you can be sure that I am very close in my examination of manuscripts. One day quite recently I made an intriguing discovery. A page of Dee’s list, which I had thought to be of somewhat thicker paper than the rest, proved to be two sheets gummed back to back. Of course I would not have dreamt of inflicting any damage upon them, but they succumbed with surprising ease to a little gentle coercion, and between them I found a third sheet of very thin paper closely written over in Dee’s hand.’
Here James showed signs of embarrassment. Holmes leant forward in his chair.
‘Go on, Doctor James, go on.’
‘There are, of course, strict rules governing the loan of valuable manuscripts, but there is a certain degree of flexibility where trusted members of the university staff are concerned.’
‘And you were permitted to take this very interesting page away with you. I will resist the temptation to anticipate you any further. Pray continue.’
‘Well, over the following days I devoted what time I could to the concealed sheet. It proved to be even more cryptic than my first brief perusal had led me to expect. I have my notes here—first there was a Biblical quotation, from the second book of Chronicles, concerning the building of Solomon’s temple. It begins “But who is able to build Him an house?”, and ends “for the house which I am about to build shall be wonderful great.” There follows what I take to be an invocation of spirits called Fiery Messengers: probably Angels, with whom Dee was always trying to get in contact. I quote:
‘“If ye would learne th secret of the Fiery Messengers, first cast yr circle linking th High Priest to the release of Spirittes. Then fashon an arc by which ye shall be encrowned and bewailed, therebye enfolding ye moste high within th vesica piscis. Thus, arise again as one blindfold and mocked, on ye arms of ye crosse. Look then to the circle whose centre is everywhere found, its circumference nowhere. “
‘Then there are a number of geometrical diagrams reminiscent of Vitruvian architectural designs, and an oblong, divided vertically into three equal strips, the left and right of which are further divided by horizontal lines.’