Authors: Anthony Horowitz
It has never been my desire to write very much about my own affairs for I am well aware that it is only my long and intimate acquaintance with Mr Sherlock Holmes and the many insights that I have been afforded into his deductive methods that are of interest to the public at large. Indeed, it has often struck me that, but for our chance introduction, when I was looking for inexpensive lodgings in London, I would simply have followed my calling as a doctor of medicine and might never have set pen to paper at all.
And yet some aspects of what might be called my private life have, necessarily, appeared in these pages. Readers will, for example, be aware of the wound that I received at the decisive Battle of Maiwand and the frequent troubles that it caused me in my career. I believe I have had reason to mention my older brother, Henry, who having disappointed everyone in his life, none more so than himself, took to drink and died young. On a happier note, my marriage to Miss Mary Morstan, as she was when I met her, has been central to at least one of my narratives for I would never have met her had she not first presented herself as a client of Sherlock Holmes. I loved her from the very start and made no attempt to disguise the fact from my readers â and why should I have? We were married soon afterwards and, although our union was not to be a long one, we were as close to each other as it is possible for a man and a woman to be.
Our first home was in a quiet street close by Paddington Station: not perhaps the most elegant part of town, but one that was conducive to my return to civil practice. It was a pleasant house with a large, airy consulting room at street level and two further floors above, which my new wife decorated with both modesty and good taste. And yet I will confess that to find myself surrounded by all the hallmarks of domesticity, with everything in its right place and almost nothing surplus to requirement, caused me at first an uneasiness which was hard to define. Even the maid, a neat little creature who seemed determined to avoid me, inspired in me a vague sense of threat. It was a strange sensation. On the one hand I was completely happy, but at the same time I was uncomfortable, missing something without knowing exactly what it was.
It embarrasses me that I was not able to diagnose more quickly the source of my disquiet. The many months that I had spent at 221b Baker Street had of course left their mark on me. Quite simply, I was missing my old rooms. I might have complained often enough about Holmes's abominable habits; his refusal to throw away a single document so that every surface was piled high with papers of one sort or another, his extraordinary untidiness with cigars in the coal scuttle, test tubes and flasks scattered amongst the breakfast things, bullets lined up along the window sill and tobacco stored in the toe of a Persian slipper. Well, I missed them now. How often had I gone to bed with the sound of Holmes's Stradivarius winding its way up the stairs, or risen to the scent of his first morning pipe? And added to this was the bizarre array of visitors who beat a path to our front door â the grand duke from Bohemia, the typist, the schoolteacher, or, of course, the harassed inspector from Scotland Yard.
I had seen little of Sherlock Holmes in the year following my marriage. I had stayed away perhaps purposefully for there was a part of me that worried that my new wife might take it amiss if I went in search of a life I had left behind. I was also, I will admit, concerned that Sherlock Holmes himself might have moved on. There was a part of me that dreaded to find a new lodger in my place, although Holmes's finances were such that he would have had no need to continue such an arrangement. I said nothing of this, but my dear Mary already knew me better than I thought for one evening she broke off from her needlework and said, âYou really must visit Mr Holmes.'
âWhat on earth makes you think of him?' I asked.
âWhy, you do!' she laughed. âI could see that he was on your mind a moment ago. Do not deny it! Just now, your eye settled on the drawer where you keep your service revolver and I noticed you smile at the recollection of some adventure you had together.'
âYou are very much the detective, my dear. Holmes would be proud of you.'
âAnd he will, I am sure, be delighted to see you. You must visit him tomorrow.'
I needed no further prompting and, having dealt with the few patients who had come to my door, I set off the following afternoon, planning to arrive in time for tea. The summer of '89 was a particularly warm one and the sun was beating down as I made my way along Baker Street. Approaching my old lodgings I was surprised to hear music, and moments later came upon a small crowd gathered round a dancing dog that was performing tricks for its master who was accompanying it on the trumpet. Such entertainers could be found all over the capital although this one had strayed some distance from the station. I was forced to step off the pavement and make my way round in order to enter the familiar front door where I was greeted by the boy in buttons who led me upstairs.
Sherlock Holmes was languishing in an armchair with the blinds half drawn and a shadow across his forehead reaching almost to his eyes. He was evidently pleased to see me, for he greeted me as if nothing had changed and as if I had never really been away. Slightly to my regret, however, I saw that he was not alone. My old chair on the other side of the fireplace was taken by a burly, sweating figure whom I recognised at once as Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard, the detective whose wrong-footed assumptions and subsequent actions had caused us both irritation and amusement when we were investigating the murder of Bartholomew Sholto at Pondicherry Lodge. Seeing me, he sprang up as if to leave but Holmes hastily reassured him. âYou have timed your visit quite perfectly, my dear Watson,' he said. âI have no doubt you will remember our friend, Inspector Jones. He arrived just a few moments before you and was about to consult me on a matter of the greatest delicacy â or so he assured me.'
âI am quite happy to come back if it is not, after all, convenient,' Jones demurred.
âNot at all. I confess that I have found it increasingly difficult to rouse myself without the friendship and good counsel of my own Boswell. Take the Trepoff murder, for example, or the strange behaviour of Dr Moore Agar â in both instances it was only through purest chance that I prevailed. You have no objection, Watson, to hearing what the inspector has to say?'
âNot at all.'
âThen it is agreed.'
But before Jones could begin, the door opened and Mrs Hudson bustled in carrying a tray laden with tea, scones, a small plate of butter and a seed and currant cake. The pageboy must have informed her of my arrival, for I noticed that she had included a third cup but, casting his eye over the spread, Holmes came to a very different conclusion.
âI see, Mrs Hudson, that you were unable to resist the charms of the street entertainer who has chosen our doorstep for his performance.'
âIt is true, Mr Holmes,' the good woman replied, blushing. âI heard the music and did watch for a while from an upstairs window. I was going to call out to them to move on but the dog was so amusing and the crowd so good-natured that I thought better of it.' She scowled. âBut I cannot see what it is on my tea tray that could possibly have given you any information concerning my movements.'
âIt is of no great importance,' Holmes laughed. âThe tea looks excellent and, as you can see, our good friend Watson is here to enjoy it.'
âAnd a great pleasure it is to see you again, Dr Watson. The house isn't the same without you.'
I waited for Mrs Hudson to leave before turning to my friend. âYou will forgive me, Holmes,' I said. âBut I cannot see how you could have drawn such a conclusion from a plate of scones and a seed cake.'
âNeither of them told me anything,' Holmes replied. âIt was in fact the parsley that Mrs Hudson has placed on top of the butter.'
âIt has been placed there only a minute ago. But the butter has been out of the pantry and in the sun. You will see that it has melted in this warm weather.'
I looked down. It was indeed the case.
âThe parsley has not sunk into the butter, which suggests an interval of time during which Mrs Hudson was interrupted in her duties. Apart from the arrival of my two visitors, the only distraction has been the music and the applause of the crowd outside.'
âAstonishing!' Jones exclaimed.
âElementary,' Holmes returned. âThe greater part of my work is founded upon just such observations as these. But we have more serious business at hand. You must tell us, Inspector, what it is that brings you here. And meanwhile, Watson, might I inveigle upon you to pour the tea?'
I was happy to oblige and, while I set about my work, Athelney Jones began his narrative, which I set down as follows.
âEarly this morning, I was called out to a house in Hamworth Hill, in North London. The business that had brought me there was a death by misadventure, not a murder â that had been made clear to me from the start. The house was owned by an elderly couple, a Mr and Mrs Abernetty, who lived there alone, for they had never had children. They had been woken up at night by the sound of breaking wood and had come downstairs to discover a young man, darkly dressed, rifling through their possessions. The man was a burglar. There can be no doubt of that for, as I would soon discover, he had broken into two other houses in the same terrace. Seeing Harold Abernetty standing at the doorway in his dressing gown, the intruder rushed at him and might well have done him serious harm. But as it happened, Abernetty had brought down with him a revolver, which he always kept close by, fearing just this eventuality. He fired a single shot, killing this young man at once.
âAll this I learned from Mr Abernetty. He struck me as an elderly, completely harmless fellow. His wife, a few years his junior, sat in an armchair and sobbed almost the entire time I was there. I learned that they had inherited the house from its former owner, a Mrs Matilda Briggs. She had given it to them, quite freely, to thank them for their long service. They had lived there for the past six years, quietly and without incident. They were retired and devout members of the local church and it would be hard to imagine a more respectable couple.
âSo much for the owners. Let me now describe to you the victim. He was, I would have said, about thirty years of age, pale of complexion and hollow-eyed. He was wearing a suit and a pair of leather shoes which were spattered with mud. These were of particular interest to me as it had rained two nights before the break-in and, venturing into the Abernettys' garden â they had a small square of land behind the house â I had quickly found footprints made by the dead man. He had evidently come round the side and broken in through the back door. I also discovered the jemmy he had used. It was in the bag which he had brought with him and which also contained the proceeds of the robbery.'
âAnd what was it that this young man had stolen from the elderly and harmless Abernettys?' Holmes asked.
âMr Holmes, you hit the mark! It is exactly the reason I am here.'
Jones had brought with him a portmanteau bag which, I assumed, had belonged to the dead man. He opened it and, deliberately, with no attempt at a drama, produced three china figures that he stood in front of us, side by side. They were identical, crude and vulgar representations of our monarch, Queen Victoria, the Empress of India herself. Each one was about nine inches high and brightly coloured. They showed her in ceremonial dress with a small diamond crown, a lace veil and a sash across her chest. Holmes examined them, turning each one briefly in his hands.