IT WAS late in the evening when Holmes and I returned from our expedition to Poland. I was gratified that our investigations into the explosion on the border with the Ukraine had almost certainly forestalled an international conflict which would have ended civilisation.
The journey back to Baker Street was predictably tiresome. Once again the railway servants were causing mayhem and it had been necessary for us to hire a private train to convey us from Harwich.
As ever Holmes amused himself by engaging with unsuspecting travellers. One poor fellow we encountered on the packet was told that his fiancée was about to leave him, and that on his return to Shoreditch his employment as a costermonger’s assistant would be terminated. Holmes deduced all this by observing the young man’s distraught demeanour as he gnawed an unripe pear.
I have, on more than one occasion, advised my friend to avoid the verbal incontinence which follows his analysis of travelling companions, but it is downright impossible to dam the torrent of deductions that flow from his ever-active mind.
In light of our difficult return journey, I was very surprised to find that before breakfast on the morning following our return, my colleague was to be found deep in one of his abstruse chemical investigations. This one involved the impact of prussic acid on various types of wood and metals.
The vapours in the room emitted a noxious aroma that Holmes clearly was able to discount. Fortunately, on observing my discomfort he ceased his alchemy and opened a window. As he did so he looked down and remarked, ‘It seems we have a visitor.’
Holmes walked towards the fireplace to collect his briar stem pipe and delivered his summary of the individual based upon his brief observation.
‘We are about to be joined by a wealthy gentleman who is almost certainly connected to the government. He has travelled here in an expensive brougham of a type built by P D Weston and Sons, Specialist Coach Builders, of Honiton. He is a clever man who does not suffer fools gladly.’
An imposing man entered the room. His age exceeded three score years and ten. He handed us his card. It read: Sir Charles Chatterton, Member of Parliament for Greater Tittleham. Sir Charles was clearly agitated. ‘Thank you for seeing me. I felt it was quite impossible for me to wait before asking for your advice and assistance.’
Sherlock Holmes sat down and lit his pipe. ‘You are very welcome,’ said he. ‘Pray let me have a detailed account of the circumstances which have disturbed you.’
As I ushered Sir Charles to a seat, he began to describe the unfortunate circumstances that had led him to our door. ‘For more years than I care to remember, I have proudly represented the good people of my constituency as a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party. Although I say so myself, my constituents have been more than happy with my work on their behalf. Lately, however, the party with which I have been associated has become a stranger to me. Instead of acting on behalf of the honest working man, it has become a vehicle for the workshy and those from the criminal classes who wish to extort money from the aforementioned decent people. I was wondering, Holmes, if you could shed any light on the disappearance of the organisation to which I believed I belonged?’
I could see that Holmes needed to weigh his words carefully. Instead of immediately addressing the poor man’s concerns, he stood up, plucked his violin from its case, and played Dvorak’s Indian Lament.
With the mood sufficiently subdued, he explained to our guest the reasons for the demise of his party.
‘There can be no doubt,’ he began, ‘that your once impressive organisation has been captured; a capture from which, I regret to say, it may never escape. It has been imprisoned to become a cog in the wheels of a global conspiracy; a shadow that offers nothing; a phantom that exists only in the minds of the deluded. It has been ensnared by cults who believe they can control the weather, who believe in alien philosophies, and who wish to enslave those who believe in personal responsibility and love of the family. I regret to say that your leader is a traitor who consorts with villains, vagabonds and varlets. He cares nothing for the good people of Tittleham nor any part of this benighted Kingdom. The party can be released only if its members realise their confinement and begin to tug on their chains.’
A look of resignation grew on Sir Charles’s face. He had heard the explanation he feared. I sensed that a small tear was about to escape from his left eye, but he breathed deeply, regained his composure and rose to his feet.
Our visitor made his way to the door. He thanked us for our hospitality and advice, and told us that on arrival he had left with Mrs Hudson a lemon drizzle cake baked by his wife, Lady Veronica.
‘Excellent!’ I cried.
‘Alimentary,’ said he.