THE bitingly cold north-easterly wind had caused me to linger in my bed longer than was my custom, and I arrived tardily for breakfast. My normal good humour had been diminished by a fractious sleep. The freezing weather had caused the Jezail bullet which lodged in my arm at Maiwand in ’80 to throb with dull persistence.
My remaining humour was taxed further when I discovered that Holmes had yet again filled the air of the old room with noxious odours resulting from his experiments. These involved the impact of bicarbonate of soda and boric acid on a range of fabrics.
When Holmes embarks upon such research it is normally a result of an absence of stimulation to his deductive powers. I am aware that this often leads him to self-destructive behaviour whereby he injects himself with a substance which may give him a brief period of euphoria and reassurance, but inevitably leaves its users with serious physical or mental impairment or an unwanted acquaintance with an undertaker.
On seeing my discomfort, Holmes desisted from his chemistry and opened the window to clear the air. As he looked down upon a snow-covered Baker Street, my friend remarked excitedly: ‘We have a visitor.’
Moments later, a rotund, dark-haired young man wearing a grey frock coat and a Stetson was ushered through the door by Mrs Hudson. He was clearly agitated. Despite the freezing temperature beads of sweat could be discerned descending his rosy cheeks.
Before our visitor had the chance to sit, Holmes’s unfailing deductive powers were at work. ‘The cranberry sauce stain on your shirt tells me you are from the United States; your brogues are of a type manufactured by the Hood Rubber Company in Watertown, Massachusetts, but sold only in Washington DC; and the ink on your index finger and thumb suggest to me that you are a journalist!’
Our guest looked at the great detective in amazement. But Holmes was not finished. He paced back to the window and peered once more into the street. ‘I see you are in grave danger. The man lurking in the doorway of the apothecary is concealing what is almost certainly a Smith and Wesson Model 10 under his coat. It is a weapon most favoured by those who work for the Pinkerton Agency of Chicago, an agency established by a Scotsman, which is mired in espionage on behalf of rich individuals who wish to subvert the aspirations of the common man.’
When the shocked American had composed himself, he told us his story. His name was Hiram Winkleheimer III. He was indeed a journalist based in Washington. He had heard that a manuscript existed which contained testimony from the son of the President of the United States. If the manuscript were proved to be genuine it would prove to the world that corrupt and evil malefactors were manipulating events to enrich themselves and lead others into slavery. He had come to London to seek help because the threats and intimidation in his homeland had become unbearable.
After questioning the man for several more minutes we sent him on his way and asked our landlady to lead him out through the tradesmen’s entrance to evade his stalker.
I could see that Holmes was intrigued by the young man’s story. He plucked his violin from its case and launched into Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No 9. I recognised it as the familiar piece he enjoys when his mind is exercised.
As he finished with a flourish, I was unsurprised to hear him cry: ‘Watson, consult Bradshaw. The White Star’s Delphic leaves Southampton at nine this evening and we must be on it!’
I must confess that considering the disloyalty of the North American colonialists, their incursions into Canada and the blood-letting which occurred in their internal war, I was not well disposed to those whom I still regarded as renegades. However, there was no doubt the those who fled the despots, madmen and blockheads who are invariably to be found ruling European states would one day build a nation which would seek to assert itself on the world stage. For the good of the Empire it was necessary to ensure that any such assertion was not destructive to the civilisation we had fought so hard to bestow on others, and that the leader of these people was not a compromised half-wit who could barely remember his name.
Despite the efforts of some pernicious railway servants, we arrived in time for our voyage. However, on reaching the Delphic we were shocked to learn that the unfortunate Winkleheimer had been found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge, still wearing his Stetson. He had been shot in the back four times and his throat was cut. In his pocket was a suicide note.
Naturally, my thoughts turned to Professor Moriarty, but for once I kept my counsel and resisted the temptation to utter his name to Holmes.
Fortunately, the Atlantic crossing was calm and largely uneventful. We were reassured in the knowledge that the White Star’s captains were well versed in ways to navigate the ice fields safely, and that their Belfast-built ships had no peers.
Whilst I confined myself to some inconsequential conversations with mangle salesmen from Sheffield, members of the Hove Retired Colonels’ Association and a coven of widows from Worthing, Holmes could not resist using his remarkable powers of deduction to solve various crimes committed during the nine days of our passage. Amongst his accomplishments was the recovery of a dozen priceless rubies stolen by a lascar stoker from the son of the Maharaja of Mysore, and his rescue of the heiress, Lady Sandra Alexander, from the murderous designs of her lover, the Honourable Montague Fortescue.
On disembarking in New York, we immediately followed the scent which the late Mr Winkleheimer had laid for us. It took us to the offices of a young man, with the unlikely name of Musk. He had arrived in the United States from Canada having moved there from his birthplace in the Union of South Africa. This person had hoped to make his fortune by building electric vehicles at a time when it was clear that petroleum was the most sensible form of propulsion for the carts which were rapidly displacing the ever-reliable horse and carriage.
The African gentleman had recently acquired a communication medium which had access to the manuscripts referred to by our recent visitor to Baker Street. Musk now lived in fear of his life but he welcomed our quest to investigate the nefarious activities of the President’s wayward son and he was keen to make our findings known to the world. After analysing the documents, with the extraordinary powers accumulated from a lifetime of study and observation, Holmes was convinced that they were genuine. There could be no doubt that the reprobate had been involved with ladies of the night, illegal substances, bribery and collusion with foreign entities who wished to destroy all we hold dear.
On completion of his scrutiny, Holmes lit his briar stem pipe. His satisfaction with his investigation was tempered by the implications of what he had discovered. He told our host that he was in great danger and advised him to be alert for members of the Pinkerton Agency. He continued: ‘There can be no doubt, my dear Musk, that these manuscripts tell us that our way of life is in great peril: a peril even greater than that thought of in the worst imaginings of Professor Moriarty. Regrettably, the people who will suffer are asleep. Our greatest weapons are truth; yes, truth and exposure. We must make our findings known and shine an unerring beam of light on the treachery of our foes. It is our job to make sure that every shoe-shine boy and scullery maid, every hostelry owner and farmer, in fact everyone, gains expert knowledge of the evil designs of these people.’
‘Excellent!’ I cried.
‘Cognoscenti,’ said he.