24 Mar 2014
Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.
Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair, his eyes roaming round the room in their habitual restless manner. Even in his own house and during his few resting moments they would not cease from their detective duty and were ever on the watch for some-thing to discover. Thus his home was particularly free from deception. The butler, for instance, would never say that the cat must have finished that jug of rare old claret, but would own like a man he had thrown it away in mistake for vinegar when cleaning the bottle. Nor would the cook deny it was the kitten who finished that joint of lamb which the family expected to have had cold. As she said when the loss was discovered, she was just explaining how it happened to the fat policeman who had stopped at hearing her cries of alarm, and thus accounted for his presence in the kitchen.
Now as Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair resting his roaming eye fell for an instant on his wife’s silk shawl thrown carelessly across the back of a chair near him. There was nothing about the innocent wraps for ordinary eyes to take alarm at, but Sherlock Holmes started to his feet, his eyes growing full of suspicion and anger. Raising the shawl in one hand he plucked from it with the other a short curly fair hair. He glanced into the mirror above the mantelpiece; his own locks were dark and straight. “Oh, Harriette, Harriette,” he muttered, sinking into his chair, “can you be false to me?” His face settling into a frown suddenly brightened, he jumped up and rang the bell. A smart parlourmaid appeared.
“Lucy,” he said sternly, “last night was your evening out?”
“You met a young man?”
“If you please, sir,” said Lucy indignantly.
“You wore your mistress’s shawl.”
“Oh, sir,” sobbed Lucy, “I took it by mistake in the dark, sir.”
“He had curly fair hair on his head, and he put that said head upon your mistress’s shawl during which time said shawl was upon your shoulders.
“He did, sir. Oh, sir, there ain’t no use in hiding nothing from you, sir.”
“You can go to the kitchen, Lucy.”
“Oh, thank you, sir.” Lucy rose from her knees, and brushing away imaginary tears she left the room.
Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair smiling. “My dear Harriette, I never doubted you,” he said. He closed his piercing eyes for a moment, but opened them as he heard a cab drive up to the door. He looked out and saw his wife alight. “I’ll say nothing about the shawl,” he thought. “Harriette is so quick-tempered, she might be vexed with poor Lucy.” At that moment the door opened and his son entered.
“Oh, papa, will you tell me one of your stories – I have been so good today.”
“At the jam again,” Sherlock Holmes observed as the boy came towards him, his hands behind his back.
“Oh, pa, how did you know?” the youngster questioned.
“I observed by the peculiar discoloration round your mouth, by its colour, and the few seeds still adhering to your chin. I would say it was raspberry jam, and suggest you should wash your hands and face at once.” The boy drew a sticky hand from its hiding place, put a finger in his mouth, and left the room crestfallen.
“My dear,” Sherlock Holmes rose as his wife entered, “you overpaid that cabman.”
“Oh no! on the contrary. When I handed him half-a-crown he said it was a wonder the skin did not come off with it. What makes you think I overpaid him?”
“On looking from the window I observed his face. If you had given him his exact fare he would have been silent, expecting nothing more from a woman. If you had given him twopence above his fare he would have been, surprised and said, ‘Thank you,’ but you must at least have given him double his fare to have roused him to that storm of indignation which his gestures translated to me. And now I wish to draw your attention to another matter. You have been spending a lot of money lately, my dear.” His wife sank into a chair.
“Yes, sit down; it’s a long list. You have got a hat and feathers; that I observe from a bit of ostrich feather upon your fringe, and seeing you only wear silk bows in your bonnet I draw the conclusion you have been trying on new millinery and found the most expensive the most becoming. I also think by the way Mrs Jones, our next-door neighbour, looked you up and down as you were coming in you must have a new dress on, and as you lifted your skirts a trifle high in tripping from the cab to the door in spite of the ground being perfectly dry I am sure you have bought a new petticoat and stockings. In conclusion, I can guess you entered the room with the intention of asking me for a cheque of, say £50. Am I right?”
“Sherlock,” said Mrs Holmes, “you are wonderful, nothing is secret from you. I lay bare my heart and pray you forgive my extravagance. You are the cleverest man in the world and have named the exact sum I wanted. I can hide nothing from you, you are a magician.”
“Here is your cheque, and do not try any deceit to pie; it is impossible to blind me.” Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair, a smile of gratified vanity on his face. His hand crumpled a bit of paper in his pocket. Mrs Holmes left the room smiling, “Whoever would have thought Smith and Son would have sent their bill so soon, and the poor man thinking I did not know it was in his pocket. How easy it is to deceive the sex. Magician, indeed! Ha ha!”
This space sponsored by my new short story “The Adventure of the Whyos,” featuring Mark Twain.