I have stated elsewhere that the case, which I had the privilege and pleasure of sharing with Mr Sherlock Holmes, and which is known as The Adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, could not be laid before public at the time of its occurrence. I had said then, that the reason for this was the fact the reading public were not ready for it. That, however, was a rather euphemistic way of stating that the public would think it was all bollocks and my publisher would not give me a penny for it, despite the fact that he could publish it as a book as well as send it to not only The Strand, but also Farmer's Weekly Magazine and Collection of Ghotic Short Stories About Rodents, Birds and Other Vermin, where it would surely fit right next to late Mr Poe's works.
Another reason for the story not becoming widely known was my friend's – the world's only unofficial consulting detective, as he calls himself in spite of the fact that there are, at least, two more – strong wish, which he expressed by giving me such a venomous glare that I deemed it wise not to approach the subject ever again. Now, however, given a handsome price for the piece from the editor of Wild & Free – a biweekly magazine for fun-loving nuns with taste in black fishnet stockings – which Holmes, being generally of dispassionate and cold nature, does not read, I decided to publish the narrative.
It began, as always, on a cold and rainy March morning of the year 1898 (although my inexplicable tendency to mess up the dates of our adventures compells me to observe that it might as well have been any year between 1882 and 1914) in the sitting room of our humble residence at Baker Street 221B. Holmes and I were seated at the table, having breakfast prepared by our housekeeper landlady and occasional messenger, Mrs Hudson, when I glanced at the letters which came by morning post. They were unopened so I lesurely began to peruse them.
'Anything of interest, Watson?' asked Holmes, between biting his toast and adding some red powder to a curious-looking blueish liquid in one of the test tubes, for he sometimes liked to conduct his non-malodorous chemical experiments while eating.
'Well, there is one message from my publisher--' here I heard a slightly derisive snort, but I refrained from reminding Holmes that it was my writing that finally brought him wide recognition and fame. Some people just never learn. '--and three letters for you.'
I feigned going deaf.
'Please,' he grunted, looking up from his test tubes. I think, I noted somewhere that Holmes could be quite well-mannered when he wanted.
The first letter was a short "thank you" note from Mycroft Holmes. He was thanking, rather dryly, his younger sibling for his birthday present, that is: bathing costume and a membership card of new swimming pool establishment for corpulent and unsociable gentlemen – sort of Diogenes Club for fatties who need to exercise.
Next was a telegram from a certain Violet Villas, imploring my friend to take up her case and 'find my dearest darling Chou-Chou, who, I am sure, was horribly kidnapped by some evil men. Sob, sob, sniff.'
'That woman should turn her rampant mollycoddling instincts towards more profitable use. I would suggest charity work,' Holmes said testily. 'Her poor gardener - a man not too overly educated, 5 feet 10 inches tall, dark hair, lefthanded, French great-grandmother – hence the nickname – in all probability ran away quite of his own volition. The working classes can only take so much pampering, Watson,' he ended philosophically and it did my heart good to see, behind his cold exterior, the compassion he had for those less fortunate than us. I wondered how he could deduce the man's appearance so accurately, but quickly abandoned these thoughts in favour of pondering whether our not-to-be client might possibly be an attractive, unmarried lady, around twenty years of age. These thoughts, however, were also quickly put to rest when I saw the next envelope.
The name of the sender looked strangely familiar: Sherdarienne Holmes. Of Very Little Purlington. As the name of the place looked quite unfamiliar to me, a question along the lines of: "Where, the Hell, is Very Little Purlington?" and, for that matter, "Just what sort of name is Sherdarienne?" passed my mind. I was about to ask, but then thought better of it and instead I shoved the letter in front of Holmes's nose. He glanced at it, went even paler than usual and for a moment I feared he actually might faint. It would be an unprecedented occurrence, to which I looked forward, but with purely professional curiosity, naturally. To my slight disappointment, he recovered quickly enough and snatched the envelope from my hand. Neglecting to make any deductions from the quality of paper, handwriting or position of the stamp, Holmes tore it open and read the epistle with something akin to growing horror.
'Don't smirk, Watson,' he finally said. 'There is no need for deduction when one knows all there is to know.'
'Do you indeed? Then who is this Mrs Holmes?'
'Miss,' he corrected. 'And she's my father's sister, which results in her being my aunt.'
'Excellent!' I was, as usual, amazed by his keen powers of observation.
'Elementary,' Holmes merely replied, but his somewhat girlish, it has to be said, sensitivity to flattery made him flush up with pleasure at my words. He was, after all, a human being despite his protestations to the contrary, and a blush was not an entirely unaccustomed sight on him.
'But... your aunt?' I continued in some surprise, for my friend's relatives were, as always, something of a mystery. For a good number of years he had kept from me the fact that he had a brother. I wondered whom else he might be hiding – some evil twin sister (although, I quickly dismissed the idea that she could have been dressing up as the late professor Moriarty), kleptomaniac grandpa...?
'Watson, I'm not hiding anyone.' As usual, Holmes read my thoughts – a habit I found disconcerting at best of times. 'There is simply no one to hide,' he added somewhat peevishly.
'What about your aunt, then?'
'Well,' he paused, 'I did not expect to hear from her, certainly. She apparently read your confounded stories in The Strand and decided to call upon us tomorrow. And that means I'm going to Chichester for a week, starting now.'
'What?' I asked in astonishment, but Holmes had already dashed off to his bedroom. I followed and was greeted by the sight of him frantically packing his suitcase.
'Surely, you cannot be serious.' I tried the gentle approach.
'Oh, but I am, Watson. Most serious.'
'But it's your family and you should, at least, show some basic hospitality. She can't possibly be such a nuisance.'
'Watson, she is not your aunt. You don't know her.'
Before I had a chance to formulate a reply, we heard Mrs Hudson's voice, 'Gentlemen! Mr Holmes, a visitor here to see you.'
Holmes did not deign to answer, so I did it for him: 'All right, Mrs Hudson. Please, show him in.'
'It's her, Dr Watson. Miss Sherdarienne Holmes.'
I was surprised, to say the least, and my friend appeared to have frozen. I looked at him expectantly, but as he still seemed rather disinclined to move, I was about to go and greet Miss Holmes by myself. At this moment, however, it occurred to me that Holmes would probably see fit to use the door leading from his bedroom to the landing and take to his heels, so I tugged at his sleeve and dragged him back to the sitting room and his waiting relative.
Miss Sherdarienne Holmes was, perhaps, sixty years of age and was a tall and graceful lady. She had fair hair, clear grey eyes and a joyous smile that graced her sharp, yet not unattractive features. I noticed that her dress, while slightly unconventional to my eye, was intended rather as a comfortable travelling garment than the latest fashion.
'My dear Sherlock!' she cried, striding across the room towards her, still somewhat baffled, nephew. I had a distinct notion that all said nephew wanted to do was to hide behind my back. 'I know how you adore family visits, so I've come today.' She beamed, 'Are you happy, my dear?'
Holmes stood stock-still, his slight frown changing into rather fierce scowl, so I gave him a discreet push and he quickly found himself in a tight embrace of his aunt's arms, who clasped him to her generous bosom with motherly affection.
Then the lady turned her attention to me. 'And you must be Dr John Watson.'
'At your service, Madam.' I bowed.
She took my hand in a strong grip and proceeded to shake it in quite unladylike manner.
'I have read, of course, all your stories, Doctor. And I must say I enjoyed them immensely.'
'Oh? Thank you very much.' I really valued her word of appreciation, especially since I could not count on any from Holmes himself.
'I am so glad that Sherlock has finally found so good a friend,' she continued. 'You know, when he was a child, he was so unsociable... Although not as much as Mycroft. That boy was a recluse,' she sighed. 'Did you know, Doctor, that Sherlock would play with other children only if they agreed to participate in his chemical experiments?'
'No, I did not,' I answered, trying to hide my smile at Holmes's dismayed stare.
'Oh yes. Of course, we had to end it when poor Emily Hatherley, daughter of our neighbour, once went back home with half of her tresses burnt. Dear God, I think her mother never quite forgave my brother and Moira – Sherlock's mother – for that.'
I tried to suppress my mirth, with mild success.
'Aunt, could you, please, enlighten us as to the real reason for your visit.' Holmes sounded irritated, to say the least. 'I highly doubt that you left your beloved country home for the sole purpose of reminiscing my childhood.'
'Ah, my nephew – impatient as ever.' She ruffled Holmes's hair and I had never been closer to choking to death as at that moment when I tried to stifle my chortles somehow.
'Aunt, please.' That was sheer desperation.
'All right,' she sighed. 'Bernard is missing. Since you are a detective, my dear, I thought it would be best if I turned to you.'
'Who is Bernard?' I asked curious.
'Bernard Butler. I let him out of his cage two days ago and he never came back.'
'What?' I cried in astonishment. 'You keep him in a cage?'
'Well, of course.' Miss Holmes looked at me perplexed.
'B-but why?' I stammered, unable to comprehend why somebody should keep their servants caged.
'So he doesn't run away. Although he is rather domesticated. I do let him out every day, so he could get some proper exercise. But this time he did not return.' Again she sighed heavily.
That was certainly the oddest thing I had ever heard. I looked at Holmes, expecting him to react somehow to his aunt's peculiar habits, but he just stared at the ceiling utterly bored. I began to wonder if such practices were the norm in his family and if it was entirely safe for such lunatics to freely roam the streets.
Presently, the voice of one of those lunatics cut in on my morbid musings.
'Aunt Sherdarienne,' Holmes said a touch impatiently, 'why do you think I should leave for that dead end of civilisation that is Very Little Purlington just to look for your missing pets.'
Pets? Oh. Ohhh, pets. I was immensely relieved.
'Don't be impertinent, Sherlock. You ought to appreciate the chance of helping your family. And besides,' she added, her tone slightly concerned, 'you don't look too well, my dear. A week in the countryside would do you a world of good, don't you agree, Doctor?'
'Absolutely,' I chimed in, ignoring Holmes's glare. 'I've been trying to persuade him to the idea of holidays for at least a month.'
'That's settled, then.' The lady beamed at us. 'You shall both come to my house for a couple of days.'
'I am not coming.' Holmes stalked to the fireplace and began to jab the mantelpiece with the knife normally reserved for stabbing his mail. I was sure the wooden frame did not need additional adornment, but as my advice had always seemed to fall on deaf ears, I saw no point in saying anything and contented myself with watching my friend pout and his aunt frown.
'Sherlock.' That aunt's voice took a tone of warning. Holmes scowled terribly at her, but apparently she was not a lady to be threatened by such a sight and the two of them continued their silent battle of stares until Holmes eventually relented.
'Fine,' he gruffly acceded to her wish. 'Watson and I will be there tomorrow. Now, I presume you are going back home today?'
'Of course, my dear. I am not fond of cities in general and of London in particular. Let me therefore say goodbye. I shall await you tomorrow.'
I walked the lady to our front door and when I returned to the sitting room, Holmes was nowhere to be seen. However, sounds emanating from his bedroom told me clearly enough that he was sitting there sulking and torturing his violin as well as my and Mrs Hudson's ears. Most likely, he would be doing that for the rest of the day. I was suddenly glad that Mendelssohn was no longer alive and that he didn't have to endure Holmes's playing (if it can be called that) or else he would surely drop dead, hearing his work being so foully mistreated. Having reached this conclusion I grabbed my coat and hat and headed outside.
I went to my club, where I spent the day quite profitably by winning a couple of quid in a game of billiards. At this point I wish to emphasise that, despite Holmes's contrary opinion, I did not cheat then, nor had I ever cheated, and, anyway, Holmes says so only because he's jealous that he loses every time.
I returned home late in the afternoon to find our rooms completely filled with smoke. For a moment I thought that it was because one of the cats walking along the roof of our humble residence, fell down the chimney flue (which happened about once a week and, interestingly enough, usually when Holmes was playing his own compositions), but then I recognised the smell of strong tobacco and sulphur. Apparently my friend had been merely conducting his chemical experiments and smoking, rather excessively.
Well, at least I didn't hear the violin, which was a major benefit. Namely that I would be able to sleep that night. Having comforted myself with this thought I opened the sitting room window to clear the atmosphere and climbed upstairs to my room for an early rest.
Next morning, although at that time I was more inclined to call it middle of the bloody night, I woke up to find Sherlock Holmes standing beside my bed, gazing down at me. His eyes shone and his cheek was flushed with the exhilaration of the master workman who sees his work lies ready before him. Or that may have been the anticipation of the case, however dull and trivial it had seemed the previous day. Whatever the reason, it occurred to me, and not for the first time either, that I really should lock my bedroom door for the night.
I had no time to ponder the subject further, however, because Holmes seeing that I was awake, cried his customary "Get up Watson, the game is afoot!" and then proceeded to drag me out of bed. Then he thrust my clothes into my hands and impatiently waited for me to put them on. Of all my friend's annoying habits his utter indifference to my need for privacy while dressing I found most vexing. It was always the same since he first knocked me up the morning the Roylott's milk-drinking, hearing & rope-climbing snake business started. He would just stand there, staring at me with that odd expression upon his face and I didn't like it a jot, so yet again, I shooed Holmes out of my bedroom, and after I completed my toilet, we set out for a train station.
For the initial part of our journey we had a first class compartment to ourselves, but then we were joined by a pair of young people. I was secretly glad for this as my attempts to engage Holmes in conversation were rather futile - he only occasionally answered in monosyllables, choosing instead to occupy himself with staring out of a window. Finally, he announced that the train was moving with the speed of 10 knots and that we were approximately 1387 telegraph posts away from the place of our destination. I cannot say that it was overly helpful.
The couple who sat with us in the compartment, seemed to me to be newly wed, perhaps going on their honeymoon, and I was warmed by the sight of their happiness. That is, until Holmes asked the man if he knew that the lady here was a shameless flirt, and then turned to the lady in question and asked if she realised that her gentleman was already married and the thing he was most interested in were her money.
'Which she doesn't have, by the by,' Holmes addressed the man again.
The usual conversation followed, with the gentleman demanding to know just what Holmes meant and insisting, rather indignantly, on apologies to the lady, while she alternated between anger and sobbing. The situation was becoming more and more unpleasant – the man's face was getting redder, the lady still sobbed and I felt as sorry for her as I was annoyed at Holmes, who just sat there smiling smugly. I decided to finally say something (for all I knew the now purple-faced gentleman soon might be challenging Holmes to a duel) so I started to apologise profusely for my friend's behaviour and at the same time I tugged at Holmes's sleeve and we made a hurried but dignified escape. We found another, mercifully empty, compartment and I was somewhat relieved that our recent acquaintance did not choose to follow us. I think my surreptitious explanations, made in the vicinity of the gentleman's ear about Holmes being a rather difficult patient on his way to lunatic asylum, hepled.
'Really Holmes!' I said with considerable asperity. 'Just what do you think you've been doing? How, on Earth, could such unfounded accusations even pass your lips?'
'Unfounded?' Holmes glowered at me. 'Your trust in my methods, Watson, certainly leaves much to be desired. Those accusations as you call them, although I was merely making observations, were not conjured out of thin air. They were based on FACTS.' I fancy he actually said "facts" in capitals.
'First,' he continued, 'the lady can hardly be described, even by your generous standards, as young and beautiful, yet she has undivided attention of a man at least seventeen years younger than she. The man is partial to gambling – I observed a bulge in the pocket of his coat, forming an exact shape of a field-glass, such as is usually an essential part of every devotee of the turf equipment. I believe you have a similar one. Besides, he has whiskers of this particular cut that characterises a betting man.
'Furthermore, his suit, while neat and clean, is old and was bought inexpensively and I noticed several places where the coat was torn and then mended, although it was done skilfully enough and is hardly visible. Inference: he is married, even if he doesn't wear his wedding ring customarily, and his wife loves him strongly enough to trust him completely and not question him about his escapades. Most remarkable that, although not particularly clever. Anyway, it is evident the man needs money, which coupled with his dubious morals – he has the most dishonest face I have ever seen – leads to obvious conclusions.
'As for the lady, I know for a fact that she has not any money whatsoever. At least she won't have it until her mother dies, but Madam is now five and eighty and still in excellent health.'
To my incredulous stare, the detective replied, 'I was once hired by her family to resolve some trifling matter and had a chance to look at the family portraits and photographs.'
'All right.' I accepted his explanation, albeit a little grudgingly. 'But "flirt"? That really is not a civilised manner of speaking about any woman.'
'I've seen her, on more than one occasion, strolling around botanical gardens and making eyes at young clerics.'
'I see.' I paused, considered Holmes' peevish expression and decided an apology was in order or he would sulk for at least a week. 'I am sorry for not believing you, but I still think you should have been more considerate.'
'But you surely agree it is better that I did warn that woman what to expect.'
'Well, yes, but—'
'Oh, leave the subject, there's a good fellow.'
So we left it and spent the rest of our journey in peace, for Holmes fell asleep. He was dreaming and mumbling something about certain Arty Morty, Napoleon as well as a Swiss insurance company "Moran & Son", but it did not seem to make much sense.
When we finally arrived at the station nearest to Very Little Purlington - because, of course, being a literal 'dead end of civilisation' as my friend had put it, the train did not stop in the village itself - it only took us a three-hour ride in a dilapidated farm cart (since there were no other means of transport near the station, save two pigs and a scruffy-looking stockman that we were disinclined to use) to reach Miss Holmes's house.
It was a large and solid farm, surrounded picturesquely by leafless trees and generous lawns of greenish mud-dirty colour, no doubt as idyllic and fresh-looking in summer as any patch of our beautiful English countryside, but March lent it a dark and melancholy air.
Miss Holmes came out to greet us and then we were ushered to our room. The chamber was a double-bedded, handsomely furnished one and possessed a window overlooking extensive and, undoubtedly, quite exquisite in other times of year, garden.
'I see, Watson, that the scenery has really tickled your fancy.' I heard my friend's slightly mocking tones.
'It is charming, Holmes. Simply charming.'
My praise was genuine at least in one respect – after London's smog and the grey of Baker Street's houses I was exceedingly appreciative of clear air and all the lovely sights that Nature herself had to offer.
'Come, I'll show you something.' Holmes seized my hand and led me to the garden, or more precisely, to one of its corners, impossibly overgrown with wild and rather miserably looking plants. So much for the Nature's lovely sights.
'Look.' My companion pointed to the tangled weedy mass. The expression on his face was one of a parent proud of his child. Actually, the pride he displayed could suggest the child got a university degree in higher mathematics, physics and chemistry at the age of six.
I looked sceptically at the weeds and muttered non-commitally something about them being very nice.
'But you don't see,' he said impatiently. 'Look!' and crouching, he pulled me down with him so that I found myself level with the object of his unmitigated pride. I looked closer and then I saw.
'Hemlock?' for although it was sans foliage, I quite easily recognised the plant. Poison.
Holmes beamed. 'Conium maculatum. Note also Aethusa cynapium, more commonly known as "fool's parsley". When I lived here for a short time before moving to London, I studied the poisonous effects of various herbs and I planted some of them here. By myself.'
He was inordinately pleased with his gardening skills, obviously.
At that moment we heard Holmes's aunt calling us, so we left the formidable flora (Holmes with palpable reluctance, casting back affectionate glances and murmuring something about setting up his own little garden on our Baker Street window sill) and made our way back to the house.
'Where have you been?' Miss Holmes looked at us with rebuke. 'I've been looking for you for the past fifteen minutes.'
'We were sitting in the shrubs, Madam,' I offered an explanation.
Holmes gave me a queer look and the lady gave me a grateful look (although I could not say why), but did not comment and instead asked my companion when he was going to look for Bernard.
'I already have,' Holmes said smugly. 'I examined his cage and the earth in the garden for footprints and it is my opinion that this case requires a disguise.' Saying that, he swept past us and disappeared upstairs.
As it turned out, that afternoon we did not get a chance to admire Holmes's art of disguise. I must say that he mastered this particular art amazingly indeed. Once when he worked on some case in female guise, he only narrowly escaped a marriage proposal from an Italian viscount. True – the viscount was a trifle old and therefore slightly deaf and more than a little shortsighted (although phrase "as blind as a bat" describes it more accurately), but for days after the conclusion of the case Holmes boasted that the viscount was so taken in by his female impersonation that he even kissed Holmes and still was none the wiser. I had been unable to fathom why my friend would boast about being snogged by senile members of foreign aristocracy of no real importance, and had said as much, but he merely replied that I missed the point and besides, I would surely understand if I myself experienced such a thing. This did not convince me in the least, but I digress...
As I mentioned, that afternoon the great detective did not deign to grace us with his presence. I later found out that he was engaged in rifling through all the wardrobes in the house in search for constituents of his disguise and thus left the not unpleasant task of entertaining his aunt to me. I certainly did not mind the fact – Miss Sherdarienne Holmes was a remarkable woman and we held most enjoyable conversation on a variety of subjects. She also told me about her missing pet – a five-year-old guinea pig – so that by the late evening, when it was time to turn in for the night, I was prepared to give Holmes a thorough description of Bernard Butler's looks, behaviour and eating habits.
When I went upstairs to our room I found my friend sitting with updrawn knees on his bed, biting upon his finger with excitation. He was engrossed in La Fontaine's Fairy Tales.
'You're reading a children's book?' I asked a little surprised.
'Don't be ridiculous, Watson,' he retorted. 'This is a valuable document that may offer one an insight into little furry animal's way of thinking.'
As usual, his meticulous and scientific nature demanded the reference material for this case (similarly to every other) to be broad and varied, but I felt compelled to ask whether he was aware that the tales had nothing to do with real animals. He, however, ignored me completely, so I climbed into my own bed, did my best to block out the lamplight and fell asleep.
When I woke up the following morning, the first thing my still sleepy gaze encountered was Holmes's tall thin form clad in greyish fur-coat. He was also wearing a pair of large ears made of paper, rather like those of a mouse or...
I sat speechless, but then it occurred to me that I, surely, must still be in dreamland and began wondering idly if I should perhaps consult Dr Freud - a rising specialist in interpreting the peculiar symbolism of dreams. I was sure he would welcome my case with interest. I also endeavoured to take no notice of said dream, until I heard it say: 'Well Watson, if you're quite finished with pretending that I do not exist, would you mind telling me what you think about my disguise?'
With some relief I remembered Holmes's yesterday's announcement concerning this masquerade; nonetheless I voiced my doubts.
'Are you absolutely sure about it? I mean, a rat?'
'Yes, my dear boy,' his eyes twinkled gaily. 'As you astutely observed, it is indeed a rat's costume. I am going to ingratiate myself with the local rodent community - guinea pigs being, as you know, the same order as rats, that is: Rodentia. I should be back at midnight, two o'clock at the latest, so in the meantime you can amuse yourself according to you wish.' And with that he strode out.
I was a little unsure about his aunt's possible reaction to the sight of this disguise, which no doubt consisted of one of her own garments, but fortunately Miss Holmes was otherwise engaged and did not witness her nephew thus attired.
As for me, I did what seemed to be the only option of spending one's free time, apart from making up inane stories about... er, that is writing my chronicles, and went for a walk in the countryside.
It was a pleasant day – the weather, although chilly, was sunny and most suitable for acquainting oneself with neighbouring area. I resolved to visit the village's marketplace, which I found without difficulty and strolled among sellers and buyers, marvelling at the variety of displayed goods. I, myself, was offered a cow, a borers-eaten old-fashioned armchair, an indecently shaped turnip, a practical handbook Yoga with Spanish Inquisition, a false beard made, as I was assured, of high quality cat fur, two dead pigeons and a large amount of crack. However, I declined all the offers firmly, but politely and renewed my walk.
Further down the village I chanced upon a small inn and decided that something nourishing would not come amiss. Indeed, the meal proved to be most satisfactory – a simple dish of pas de deux a la raison d'etre with excellent Mal de Mer, followed by a piece of corps de ballet a la vis-à-vis - after which I felt ready to brave the elements again. Not that the elements required much bravery anyway, for the sun shone merrily upon spring, although still slightly discoloured by winter, landscape. I trampled through our fine English meadows, fields, hills and streams for about four hours more, before I finally bent my steps back towards home.
I think, Miss Holmes was glad to see me – a warm smile appeared on her lips, although, on reflection, that might have been joy at the sight of various examples of our native flora and fauna that I, no doubt, carried on my person after said trampling, for Miss Holmes was an avid amateur gardener; a trait that obviously ran in the family.
After her welcoming cry, 'Ah, Doctor, there you are!', she proceeded to inform me that I should change, for tea would be served in thirty minutes and that we could expect guests in the persons of Sir Arthur Marwood and his daughter Marilyn.
Indeed, at precisely 6:18 our visitors arrived.
Sir Arthur was a small corpulent gentleman in his fifties, with a shock of grey hair on his head. He was also a bit of a hypochondriac and upon hearing that I was a general practitioner, he engaged me in a long conversation about his ailments, ranging from his sore toe to his running nose. I answered politely although, I confess, my attention was elsewhere. To be precise, it was drawn to Miss Marilyn Marwood to the extent that when asked about merits of cocaine, I recommended it for all sorts of illnesses as well as for general fatigue, which I certainly would not have done in the absence of Miss Marwood's company. And her very distracting proximity, I might add.
She was indeed a beautiful creature: dark hair, pale complexion, cerulean eyes of singular clarity, perfectly shaped lips of the deepest shade of pink and a figure of a Greek goddess – all the delightful curves made even more alluring by a very attractive and temptingly low-cut dress she wore.
During pauses in Sir Arthur's questions and worries I endeavoured to amuse her with tales of my service in Afghanistan and I succeeded admirably as well as unfortunately, as it soon turned out. The lady burst in peals of laughter that turned the blood to ice in my veins. After that, I carefully avoided any subject that might cause another display of that dreadful sound, which was not particularly difficult as Sir Arthur's demand for medical knowledge seemed insatiable. Pity about that laugh, really, because Miss Marwood's smile was most enchanting too.
After we bade good-byes to the guests and I climbed upstairs for a well-deserved rest, I fell asleep with the image (mercifully, the image remained silent) of Miss Marilyn Marwood's delicate features still in my mind.
I was wakened a couple of hours later to the image of indelicate features of Sherlock Holmes still wearing his disguise and peering at me.
'The case is progressing most satisfactorily.' He rubbed his thin hands together. 'Tomorrow I shall return Bernard to the care of aunt Sherdarienne.'
'Splendid, my dear chap.' I yawned and immediately fell asleep again, so I am not sure whether he elucidated further upon how he had solved the mystery of Bernard's disappearance, although remembering the case of The Scowrers, I was inclined to think he did not say a word. Well, at least now he did not claim that he suffered from softening of the brain, which, however, would not have been completely out of place considering the events that followed.
The next day after breakfasting when I still had no clear plan what to do with myself for the rest of the day as Holmes was out investigating without me again, I was monopolised by Miss Holmes who proceeded to show me the gallery of family portraits. My attention was attracted particularly by one painting depicting a father, a mother and two sons, one elder than the other by a few years. It seemed to me that these people were my friend's parents, his brother Mycroft and himself and I enquired whether my impression was a correct one.
'You are right, Doctor.' Miss Holmes smiled. 'As you can see the painter had managed to capture the unusually green pallor of Sherlock's face. You see,' her voice assumed confessional tone, 'he just tried to smoke his father's pipe and then, naturally, was sick all over pastor McNabby's shoes. Poor darling,' she added sympathetically.
Yes, I could appreciate the artistic merits of the painting and the ingeniously used colours – indeed, a most interesting shade.
'The pastor used to visit us quite often,' the lady continued. 'He and my brother had a common hobby – astronomy. Frequently they would stand on the lawn in front of the house, with field-glasses or a telescope, peering at the night sky.
'What I found odd,' she mused, 'was that while Mardingroft looked towards the sky, pastor McNabby often looked in the direction of our house. The housemaid's chambers, to be specific. Strange...' Miss Holmes appeared thoughtful.
I found it perhaps less strange, but decided not to mention it.
At that moment our attention was caught by a commotion outside the house and soon we were greeted by its cause, namely Mr Sherlock Holmes in his rat disgiuse (I thought Miss Holmes had admirably strong nerves for she was only moderately stunned and, to my knowledge, it was the first time she saw her nephew thus), in his hand a lead with a hound at the end of it.
A hound it was, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appaling, more hellish, be conceived than that dark form which stood at my friend's feet and glared up at us.
All right, perhaps I exaggerated a little. The hound was actually a poodle, maybe a trifle bigger than usually befits such a beast, with an unfriendly expression on its beasty countenance, baring its yellow teeth at everyone its dark beady eyes met.
Holmes smiled triumphantly and pointing to the animal announced that this was Bernard Butler.
'Holmes,' I ventured after a few moments of awkward silence. 'It's a dog.'
'No, it's not.' And he immediately began his lecture. 'You do not observe, Watson, but, moreover, you do not see either. You haven't noticed, for example, its unusually rotund body.'
I had, in fact, and it seemed to be so, because the dog was really rather fat.
'You should also note,' my friend continued, 'the singular pigmentation of the beast's fur and its remarkably long front teeth.'
Yes, the dog's fur was extremely dirty, probably with mud and something the colour of rotten carrot and the teeth did seem to be quite large, but I suspected it to be the effect of the animal's possible Transylvanian origins.
'And the fact that it responds to the name "Bernard". But I am not going to hold your lack of observational skills against you, my dear fellow. Indeed, only I, with all my genius and my incredible powers of deductive reasoning, was able to recognise in this creature your pet, Aunt. It was injected with serum made from Hungarian paprika, which is why the animal looks so unnaturally for a guinea pig. In the course of my investigations on one of the farms I discovered these queer and unhealthy proceedings and experiments of a most abominable sort – a mass production of dog-flavoured instant noodles, preparation of which takes only three minutes. Remarkable, but truly evil invention and, were I not certain that this criminal mastermind Moriarty is pushing up the daisies, I would suspect he had a hand in this atrocious business.
'But I do have good news too – the serum should wear off in about two weeks,' and saying so, he handed the lead with "Bernard" to his aunt.
'Come, Watson. It's time for us to pack up and return to London.' He went into the house, choosing, in his usual modesty, to flee from the profuse protestations of eternal gratitude that invariably followed the conclusion of every case.
Miss Holmes, who for the duration of the detective's speech did not utter one word, now turned her eyes to me. I could see she was concerned, even worried, about her nephew, so I hastened to reassure her and told her about my own findings. The previous day, in one of the quiet corners of the garden, I came across a sort of burrow in the ground, the surrounding area covered with small footprints. I had walked away from it but, casting a glance over my shoulder, I saw a small guinea pig hurrying to hide in it. It looked like Bernard had found a mating partner and become a "family man", so to speak.
Miss Holmes accepted this explanation with understanding and said it was probably for the best. She also said that she would keep the dog, which in the meantime curled up at her feet and dozed off, and assured me that if I ever had enough living with Sherlock Holmes, she would be glad to offer her house as a temporary refuge. I, however, considered myself to be well used to my friend's habits and moods – frankly, after Afghanistan, lodging with him seemed almost peaceful and, at the very least, such an existence was certainly interesting, so I just thanked her warmly and went to pack my things.
After bidding our farewells to the good lady, Holmes and I headed for the station. This time, my companion's aunt lent us her own cart and a driver – a small, rather shabby individual, whom I seemed to recognise as the same man who tried to sell the turnip to me the other day.
Anyway, at the station I bought us seats in a first-class carriage and hoped fervently that this time there would be nobody whom Holmes might annoy with his deductions but I, for although I may occasionally entertain the notion of strangling him with my bare hands, I would never act upon such a whim. I often wondered how Holmes avoided being done in before I came to permanently excuse his behaviour to others, but then, after all, he was very good at boxing as well as kicking people in their shins and running away – a method of fighting that I described elsewhere, and rather fancifully at that, as baritsu.
The carriage proved to be indeed empty and as Holmes had nodded off, I beg your pardon, that is, begun his meditation, I had the time to write an account of this, so very recent adventure. An account, which you, dear reader, have just read.
Initially I gave it the title of The Adventure of the Missing Butler, but after Holmes had read it (he, no doubt, had been snooping about my desk again) and then proceeded to lecture me on the dangers of the most obvious explanations for nearly three hours, I decided to refer to it in my published writings as The Adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra to ensure that Holmes would not recognise it.
This evening, as we found ourselves once more in the familiar rooms of 221B Baker Street, my companion's exuberant mood that characteristically followed a successfully concluded case, took us out again, this time in search of good dinner and music. After an excellent repast at Simpson's we headed for one of the London's most famous concert halls, the name of which I am not at liberty to disclose, for the events that took place there, were to go down in the annals of crime and my friend yet again played a vital role in unravelling the mystery that perhaps some day might become known and one, which I shall always remember as The Adventure of the Spotted String Quartet.