Read Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings Online

Authors: Dan Andriacco

Tags: #Mystery, #Holmes, #Short, #Opium, #Chrime, #Watson, #Moriarty

Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings

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Title Page

 

Sherlock Holmes in

 

THE PECULIAR PERSECUTION OF JOHN VINCENT HARDEN

 

 

by

Dan Andriacco

Publisher Information

 

First edition published in 2012 by

MX Publishing

335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive,

London, N11 3GX

www.mxpublishing.com

 

Digital edition converted and distributed in 2012 by

Andrews UK Limited

www.andrewsuk.com

 

© Copyright 2012 Dan Andriacco

 The right of Dan Andriacco 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. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not of MX Publishing.

 

Cover design by
www.staunch.com

Dedication

 

In Memorium

 

Bill Russell, Norma Holt, Evelyn Weber

Introduction: In the Foosteps of a Giant

 

The only bad thing about the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories is that there aren't enough of them. The original four novels and fifty-six short stories (leaving out Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's two plays and several other small writings about Holmes) comfortably fill a single large volume.

Since just this isn't enough and nature abhors a vacuum, it's no wonder that the remarkable Philip K. Jones has compiled a database of some 8,000 pastiches and parodies of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Seemingly any Sherlockian with writing genes eventually takes up the challenges to write a new Holmes story.

And having an incentive doesn't hurt.

In 1988, Mysteries from the Yard Bookstore in Yellow Springs, Ohio, held a contest for the best original Sherlockian pastiche. The prize was a $100 gift certificate at the bookstore. I found that irresistible.

To write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche is to walk in the footsteps of a giant, which is daunting. But from having read the real thing many times, and a host of both good and bad pastiches, I had some strongly held notions about how to go about the task. You can find them in an essay on “Writing the Holmes Pastiche” in my book
Baker Street Beat.

Suffice it to say that I wanted the story to feel as much like one from the pen of John H. Watson, M.D. as possible, both in terms of language and in shape of the story. An immense help in that regard was Ronald A. Knox's seminal essay, “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.” Monsignor Knox lists eleven elements of a canonical Sherlock Holmes story.
A Study in Scarlet
has all eleven elements, and most stories in the Canon have at least five. Those elements are:

 

1. A homely Baker Street scene to start, with invaluable personal touches and sometimes a demonstration by the detective or reference by either Holmes or Watson to an untold tale of Sherlock Holmes;

2. The client's statement of the case;

3. Energetic personal investigation by Holmes and Watson, often including the famous floor-walk on hands and knees;

4. Refutation by Holmes of the Scotland Yard theory;

5. A few stray hints to the police, which they never adopt;

6. Holmes tells the true course of the case to Dr. Watson as he sees it, but is sometimes wrong;

7. Questioning of the victim's relatives, dependents, and others, along with visits to the Records Office, and various investigations in disguise;

8. The criminal is caught or exposed;

9. The criminal confesses;

10. Holmes describes the clues and how he followed them;

11. The conclusion, often involving a quotation from some standard author.

 

This is the skeleton of a classic Sherlock Holmes story. I only needed a plot to give it flesh and blood.

 Like many pastiche writers, I drew my inspiration from one of the many unwritten adventures of Sherlock Holmes referred to in the Canon. I deliberately chose one of the more obscure such references. (Who needs yet another “Giant Rat of Sumatra”?) In “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,” we read of Holmes “immersed in a very abstruse and complicated problem concerning the peculiar persecution to which John Vincent Harden, the well known tobacco millionaire, had been subjected.”

That meager mention left me a lot of room to maneuver. I started by naming almost every character, except for the Canonical ones, after fellow members of the Tankerville Club, our Cincinnati scion of the Baker Street Irregulars. Three of those individuals are no longer with us – gone beyond the Reichenbach, as Sherlockians like to say – and it is to them that this story is dedicated.

For the title itself I couldn't resist using the term “peculiar persecution.” Since I couldn't fit that in with “Adventure,” I decided to leave adventure out of the title. All of the novels and many of the short stories (“A Scandal in Bohemia,” “His Last Bow,” “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” etc.) have adventure-less titles, so I thought I was on solid ground. As for the plot itself, I have no idea where it came from but I tried to write a good mystery that seemed Holmes-like.

I won the $100 gift certificate and used it to buy Sherlock Holmes books. “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden” story was first printed, with the permission of the Conan Doyle estate, in
The Sherlock Holmes Review
in 1990, Volume 2, Numbers 3 and 4. Around the same time I also adapted it into a radio play, which has been performed by Sherlockian groups as readers' theater.

When I met Steven Doyle for the first time, at the Gillette to Brett III conference in October 2011, he said, “You may not remember, but I published your pastiche.” How could I ever forget? It was my first published fiction!

When “The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden” was reprinted in
Baker Street Beat
, many reviewers singled it out as one of the highlights of the book. Ross K. Foad, in his “No Place Like Holmes” video review, called it “one of the best short Sherlock Holmes pastiches I've read.” It is in response to such comments that MX Publishing and I have decided to make this tale available as a stand-alone e-book.

The Peculiar Persecution of John Vincent Harden

 

In reviewing my notes of the many singular adventures shared with my friend Sherlock Holmes, I have often been struck by the remarkable number that concerned themselves with the doings of Americans.

Many such cases I have already presented to a long-suffering public. The Lauriston Gardens mystery and the tragedy of Birlstone, to name but two, were present-day crimes whose seeds were sown long ago in the fertile soil of the American continent.

Other incidents are doubtless too familiar to my readers to require further chronicling here. No one acquainted with the curious case of the bareback rider or with the horrifying immolation of the straw doll, which defeated the official police of three continents, could soon forget the chilling details.

There remain, however, some few examples of what might be called my friend's “American connexions” which deserve a wider audience. (Let those responsible for the distasteful episode of the cajun cook be forewarned.) Surely any one of these hitherto uncelebrated problems would be of sufficient interest to engage the reader, else they would not have engaged Mr. Sherlock Holmes. None, however, was more fantastic than the peculiar persecution of John Vincent Harden.

It was mid-April of 1895. The fresh breezes of early spring blew through Baker Street, seeming to sweep away the crime and disease of the great city and make everything new again. After a frenzied round of professional calls in the morning and early afternoon, brought on by so sudden a change in the weather, I sat exhausted beside the unlit fireplace nodding over a medical journal. Sherlock Holmes, newly returned to our quarters in the guise of a simple fisherman, was absorbed in a microscopic examination of a peculiar red clay tracked in on his boots. We spoke but seldom, and such were the relations between us in those days that little talk was necessary.

Accustomed as we were to callers at all hours, the intrusion of our landlady into this comfortable scene was not entirely surprising.

“A gentleman to see you,” Mrs. Hudson told Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes took the card proffered on a silver tray. He held it up for me to read: “John Vincent Harden, Esq.”

“A gentleman, indeed,” said Holmes, fingering the nondescript white card as Mrs. Hudson withdrew. “A wealthy American, Watson. Proud, but not haughty, I should judge.”

“This is too much, Holmes!” I protested. “Surely even you could scarcely draw such profound inferences from a mere piece of pasteboard.”

“Once again you disappoint me, Watson. I assure you my little profile of Mr. John Vincent Harden is written here in black and white, if only you know how to read it: The paper. The engraving. The ink. The whole tone of this tiny document – powerful, but understated. It is much in the American style. And here is our visitor to prove out our modest inferences.”

Holmes unfolded his long, lean body and rose to meet the prospective client's outstretched hand. John Vincent Harden was a short but powerfully built man wearing an expensive white linen suit, torn and stained from some recent altercation, and carrying a walking stick. He affected a large, graying mustache in the fashion of the American General Burnside. I put his age in the middle 50s, but when he gripped my hand it was with the strength of one decades younger.

“Mr. Holmes, I'll come straight to the point,” said he, in the forthright manner of one who could do naught else. “I hear tell you're the best.”

“Indeed? Friend Watson here has spread the news of my poor powers farther than I had suspected if I am so famous in – Tennessee, perhaps?”

“Kentucky, sir.”

“Indeed? I should have thought a trifle farther south. That explains, then, why you fought on the victorious Northern side in the American Civil War. Perhaps the late unpleasantness had something to do with your uncertain fortunes, for it is obvious that you were born into great wealth, lost it, but regained substantial means through your own labours.”

John Vincent Harden tightened his grip on the walking stick. “You're good, all right. Damned good. Unless somebody told you about me.”

“I assure you I never heard your name until your card announced you five minutes ago, Mr. Harden. That card and you yourself told me all that I know of you. The ‘GAR' emblem on the watch fob in your waistcoat pocket stands for ‘Grand Army of the Republic,' does it not? Your military bearing would have ended any doubt I may have entertained. The gold watch which you consulted upon entering this room is old, but clearly valuable. An heirloom, then, of a wealthy family. Yet your hands are scarred, calloused. You have done manual labor, though not recently. And those efforts have paid off handsomely, for your dress – though tattered by whatever misadventure has brought you into these chambers – tells me you are wealthy once more.”

“I'm rich enough, all right, but let's get down to cases. I'm here because I'm damned scared.”

The frank admission of fright, coming from this man of such obvious moral and physical strength, sent a chill through the warm sitting room. I believe that even Sherlock Holmes, the least fanciful of men, must have felt it. He leaned forward.

“Pray tell your story from the beginning, leaving out nothing. As you have seen, I am one who can make much of little things.”

“Well, sir, as for my early life, you seem to know a good deal already. I grew up on my family's tobacco plantation, Whitecrest, thirty miles southwest of Lexington. We owned a hundred and twenty-five slaves. When the War Between the States broke out back in '61, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was badly split. Both Jeff Davis and Abe Lincoln were born in our state, you understand. Officially, Kentucky stayed with Lincoln and the Union, and that's where I saw my duty. I joined the army, fought at Gettysburg, rose to the rank of Colonel. But back at home, a lot of friends – even family – were joining the Rebs. Whitecrest was fair game for Rebel looters and marauders. When I returned from the war, there wasn't much left of it. The house was a shambles. The slaves were gone. My mother was dead. My father didn't recognize me. My brother – he was younger than I – had run off to join Morgan's Raiders and never made it back.

“Mr. Holmes, that was thirty years ago, but not a day has gone by since that I haven't remembered the vow I made to myself then: The Rebs couldn't beat Grant and they weren't going to beat me. I would start over. I would plant tobacco with my own two hands if I had to. And I would make my own fortune. There were hard years, sir. Many of them. The harder they got, the harder I got. Yes, I am a hard man, but a fair man. And a successful one, for I fulfilled that vow.”

Holmes stirred from his lounging position and lit his clay pipe. “And yet your life has not been without sadness.”

The tobacco millionaire stared at the floor, his clear blue eyes seeing far away as he replied in a dull voice: “I married a wonderful woman, sir. Norma brought grace and culture to Whitecrest. Even taught a hard man like me to appreciate your Mr. Shakespeare. She was carried away by consumption in '81. Ophelia, our daughter, is the joy of my life – the reason I want to keep living.”

For all the forced gruffness with which he said these last words, our visitor's voice was at the point of breaking and there was a wildness in his eyes. I handed him a glass of brandy and a cigar, medicines for melancholy, as Holmes pressed on. “It is only in England that you have become preoccupied with such thoughts, I perceive.”

“That's true enough, sir,” John Vincent Harden conceded, setting down his walking stick to take a firm grip on the cigar in one hand and the brandy in the other. “All has gone well for me in my own element these recent years. I have reared Ophelia to a fine young woman of eighteen. She is to be married this fall to a young man of great promise. Her mother would be proud.”

“You approve of the match, then?”

“In every degree, sir. Stephen – Mr. Stephen Winter – comes from a fine old Lexington family. And yet I felt that before she entered the married state Ophelia ought to see the world in an extended stay abroad. We arrived in London nine weeks ago. For the first two months, we enjoyed the sites of your great city immensely. Then, six days go, I became the object of what I can only regard as a persecution, fanciful though the notion may seem. Ophelia and I returned to our hotel, the Langham, that afternoon after seeing Mr. Irving in
Hamlet
– my Norma's favorite play – at the Adelphi Theatre.”

“Something was missing?” I conjectured.

John Vincent Harden almost chuckled. “I suppose you could say our room was missing, in a manner of speaking. It had been rented out to someone else! The room clerk, a man named Weber whom I'd never seen before, solemnly assured me that not three hours previously I had paid our bill and departed with my luggage and my daughter. Ophelia and I had to spend two days in a little cubbyhole before a proper room was available to us. Meanwhile, we had to replace all the clothing in our luggage. Damned nuisance. I almost quit England right then, but Ophelia wouldn't have it.

“The clerk and the hotel manager acted as if I were a madman. I might have thought them right if Ophelia hadn't assured me I had indeed been with her the entire day. Someone else checked us out of that hotel, Mr. Holmes. Someone who looked and sounded just like me.”

The American sat back and drank deeply from his brandy.

Holmes smoked in silence.

“But this is fantastic!” I cried. “It recalls nothing so much as Poe's unearthly story of the two William Wilsons.”

“Tut-tut, Watson. Let us not be fanciful. Surely there are parallels enough in the commonplace books” – Holmes indicated their place on our shelves – “without turning to the supernatural for a solution to this mystery. The affair of the missing tobacco shop at Vienna in '87 suggests itself immediately. There was also that dangerous little business at Montpellier two years ago in which I was of some assistance to M. Luttmer of the Sureté. And certainly you, Watson, remember the rather comic incident of diminutive love rivals of the Brandenburg Circus.”

“Certainly. But I fail to see – ”

“Precisely,” said Holmes. “You fail to see.”

“There's more,” our visitor interrupted, speaking in the dull tones of a man almost defeated. “Three days ago I received at the Langham this wire from my man Lear, who is operating Whitecrest in my absence.”

He handed the wire to my companion, who quickly scanned its few words, then handed it on to me. It read:

 

BIG PROBLEM WITH SPRING PLANTING. URGENT YOU RETURN IMMEDIATELY. LEAR

 

“Well, sir, you may be assured I am not in the habit of taking instructions from my employees without so much as asking a few questions first,” the Kentuckian resumed. “I wired right back inquiring the exact nature of this ‘problem.' Went straight to the Wigmore Street telegraph office to send it myself. Late that evening I received this reply.”

The second wire was even more succinct:

 

WHAT PROBLEM? E. LEAR

 

“Lear never sent that first wire, Mr. Holmes,” said John Vincent Harden. “It was a hoax.”

“Surely this is only some ill-conceived joke,” I observed.

“I might have thought so myself, Doctor, but for what occurred within this very hour to leave my clothing in the sorry state you see before you. I was just leaving the Langham to spend the late afternoon hours at the galleries. Scarcely had I stepped off the curb before I heard a terrible clatter. It was a four-wheeled cab bearing down on me with the speed of a runaway. But it was no runaway, gentlemen. The driver was urging the horses forward, not trying to reign them in. The man was bent on running me down. I was frozen with terror. When I finally did move, I tripped. It seemed I lay in that street for hours waiting to be crushed beneath the onrush of horses' hooves. Only the quick action of a brave young Englishman saved me.”

John Vincent Harden pulled a large bandana from his back pocket and mopped his perspiring brow.

“And your daughter?” asked Sherlock Holmes.

“Ophelia is resting in her room. She knows nothing of this murderous incident – nor will she.”

“I see.” Holmes leaned back, pressing his lean fingertips together. “And the man driving the cab, what did he look like?”

The millionaire shook his head. “I was looking at those horses, sir, not at the driver.” His voice sunk to a near-whisper. “I was looking at death.”

“Whom do you suspect, then?”

“No one, for I know no one in England. Well, only that wild-eyed poet friend of my daughter, Paul Herbert. Rash young fellow. Runs with that Oscar Wilde crowd. Just this afternoon I told him flat-out I didn't want Ophelia mixing with the likes of him. Stood his ground like a man, I'll give him that. Thought he was going to hit me right there in the lobby of the Langham. Say, do you suppose – ”

“I suppose nothing,” said Sherlock Holmes. “I deduce.”

“You have a clew, then?”

“I am very close to having a solution.”

“What!” Our visitor fairly bolted out of his seat. “Without moving from your chair? Pardon my skepticism, sir, but that's – that's incredible!”

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