MR. CUSS INTERVIEWS THE STRANGER
I have told the circumstances of the stranger's arrival in Iping
with a certain fulness of detail, in order that the curious
impression he created may be understood by the reader. But
excepting two odd incidents, the circumstances of his stay until
the extraordinary day of the club festival may be passed over very
cursorily. There were a number of skirmishes with Mrs. Hall on
matters of domestic discipline, but in every case until late April,
when the first signs of penury began, he over-rode her by the easy
expedient of an extra payment. Hall did not like him, and whenever
he dared he talked of the advisability of getting rid of him; but
he showed his dislike chiefly by concealing it ostentatiously, and
avoiding his visitor as much as possible. "Wait till the summer,"
said Mrs. Hall sagely, "when the artisks are beginning to come.
Then we'll see. He may be a bit overbearing, but bills settled
punctual is bills settled punctual, whatever you'd like to say."
The stranger did not go to church, and indeed made no difference
between Sunday and the irreligious days, even in costume. He
worked, as Mrs. Hall thought, very fitfully. Some days he would
come down early and be continuously busy. On others he would rise
late, pace his room, fretting audibly for hours together, smoke,
sleep in the armchair by the fire. Communication with the world
beyond the village he had none. His temper continued very
uncertain; for the most part his manner was that of a man suffering
under almost unendurable provocation, and once or twice things were
snapped, torn, crushed, or broken in spasmodic gusts of violence.
He seemed under a chronic irritation of the greatest intensity. His
habit of talking to himself in a low voice grew steadily upon him,
but though Mrs. Hall listened conscientiously she could make
neither head nor tail of what she heard.
He rarely went abroad by daylight, but at twilight he would go out
muffled up invisibly, whether the weather were cold or not, and he
chose the loneliest paths and those most overshadowed by trees and
banks. His goggling spectacles and ghastly bandaged face under the
penthouse of his hat, came with a disagreeable suddenness out of
the darkness upon one or two home-going labourers, and Teddy
Henfrey, tumbling out of the "Scarlet Coat" one night, at half-past
nine, was scared shamefully by the stranger's skull-like head (he
was walking hat in hand) lit by the sudden light of the opened inn
door. Such children as saw him at nightfall dreamt of bogies, and
it seemed doubtful whether he disliked boys more than they disliked
him, or the reverse; but there was certainly a vivid enough dislike
on either side.
It was inevitable that a person of so remarkable an appearance and
bearing should form a frequent topic in such a village as Iping.
Opinion was greatly divided about his occupation. Mrs. Hall was
sensitive on the point. When questioned, she explained very
carefully that he was an "experimental investigator," going
gingerly over the syllables as one who dreads pitfalls. When asked
what an experimental investigator was, she would say with a touch
of superiority that most educated people knew such things as that,
and would thus explain that he "discovered things." Her visitor had
had an accident, she said, which temporarily discoloured his face
and hands, and being of a sensitive disposition, he was averse to
any public notice of the fact.
Out of her hearing there was a view largely entertained that he was
a criminal trying to escape from justice by wrapping himself up so
as to conceal himself altogether from the eye of the police. This
idea sprang from the brain of Mr. Teddy Henfrey. No crime of any
magnitude dating from the middle or end of February was known to
have occurred. Elaborated in the imagination of Mr. Gould, the
probationary assistant in the National School, this theory took the
form that the stranger was an Anarchist in disguise, preparing
explosives, and he resolved to undertake such detective operations
as his time permitted. These consisted for the most part in looking
very hard at the stranger whenever they met, or in asking people
who had never seen the stranger, leading questions about him. But
he detected nothing.
Another school of opinion followed Mr. Fearenside, and either
accepted the piebald view or some modification of it; as, for
instance, Silas Durgan, who was heard to assert that "if he chooses
to show enself at fairs he'd make his fortune in no time," and
being a bit of a theologian, compared the stranger to the man with
the one talent. Yet another view explained the entire matter by
regarding the stranger as a harmless lunatic. That had the
advantage of accounting for everything straight away.
Between these main groups there were waverers and compromisers.
Sussex folk have few superstitions, and it was only after the
events of early April that the thought of the supernatural was
first whispered in the village. Even then it was only credited
among the women folk.
But whatever they thought of him, people in Iping, on the whole,
agreed in disliking him. His irritability, though it might have
been comprehensible to an urban brain-worker, was an amazing thing
to these quiet Sussex villagers. The frantic gesticulations they
surprised now and then, the headlong pace after nightfall that
swept him upon them round quiet corners, the inhuman bludgeoning
of all tentative advances of curiosity, the taste for twilight
that led to the closing of doors, the pulling down of blinds,
the extinction of candles and lamps--who could agree with such
goings on? They drew aside as he passed down the village, and when
he had gone by, young humourists would up with coat-collars and
down with hat-brims, and go pacing nervously after him in imitation
of his occult bearing. There was a song popular at that time called
"The Bogey Man". Miss Statchell sang it at the schoolroom concert
(in aid of the church lamps), and thereafter whenever one or two of
the villagers were gathered together and the stranger appeared, a
bar or so of this tune, more or less sharp or flat, was whistled in
the midst of them. Also belated little children would call "Bogey
Man!" after him, and make off tremulously elated.
Cuss, the general practitioner, was devoured by curiosity. The
bandages excited his professional interest, the report of the
thousand and one bottles aroused his jealous regard. All through
April and May he coveted an opportunity of talking to the stranger,
and at last, towards Whitsuntide, he could stand it no longer, but
hit upon the subscription-list for a village nurse as an excuse. He
was surprised to find that Mr. Hall did not know his guest's name.
"He give a name," said Mrs. Hall--an assertion which was quite
unfounded--"but I didn't rightly hear it." She thought it seemed
so silly not to know the man's name.
Still in the process of changing things. Ideas keep slamming into me, and I have to go with them.
Sorry, if the menu alters from time to time. Nothing is going to be lost, just perhaps renamed or added to a different part of the menu.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to add posts throughout the day and night.
Have a great weekend, everyone.
The Baker Street Universe is here, on my author site, now.
You will find it between Art Store and Pure on the main menu.
I will be posting all Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street stories and articles, interviews and photos there.
The Baker Street Universe, where you can find all things a nice little pocket universe could have.
The Hound From Hell
"A Sherlock Holmes Story"
By John Pirillo
"Hickory, Dickory Doc, the Mouse Ran up the Clock. Now, come on Charlie, surely that's a contradiction of gravity as well as very bad colloquialism." Holmes said amiably to his friend, and partner in crime, Charlie Dickens, an up and coming author with no qualms about bragging about his writing prowess or insight into humanity.
Charlie, who lay on the crest of grass besides Holmes, resighted his binoculars on the second story window of the home they were going to break into. "I find it neither restrictive, nor worrisome, dear Holmes. A man may interpret the world as he likes, as long as he compromises no souls, nor enslaves or murders any."
"I admire your long views." Holmes replied, taking the binoculars from his friend, and sighting it on the first floor window. "But truly it is madness to allow just anyone to interpret the world as they like. Why criminals might come to think they could rule the world!"
Charlie turned to admire his friend, who was on the adventure with him. "Perhaps, but then we would have to find a way to stop them, wouldn't we. Imagine this, Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes, Crime Stoppers Extraordinaire!"
Holmes laughed. "I'd rather smoke a bloody pipe, than partner with my worst enemy."
Charlie barked with laughter. "I beat you once at chess, and now I'm your worst enemy?"
"You are until you write an apology." Holmes replied tersely.
"So what's the strategy, my good man?" Charlie asked, flipping his reddish hair aside, to reveal a freckled face with wide eyes, a thick nose, and a grin that would scare a lion.
Holmes laid down the binoculars, then steepled his hands in what was fast becoming a signature gesture for him over the years as he developed into full manhood. "I suspect the midnight approach would be best. These manners of people tend to go to sleep early."
"How can you tell they are that type? We've only been observing them for ten minutes?"
Holmes took the challenge. He pointed to the yard. "First, their laundry hangs on the lines still."
"Does not most laundry lie that way?"
"No, not of a night watchman. He usually brings them inside prior to dark. The fact that they are still wet, tells me that they allow them to dry over night, while at work."
"Then you are assuming there is no lady of the house?"
"Not at all." Again, Holmes pointed to the laundry line. "You will observe the thick trousers, the heavy suspenders, the woolen shirts and underwear with the boots drying beside them."
"Yes. That is all I see."
"Precisely." Holmes agreed. "Were there a woman of the house, she would never let him put the shorts next to the shoes on the line, for fear of them becoming discolored."
"Remarkable. What else do you see?"
"The man stands at least six feet tall. Weighs about 200 pounds, is barrel-chested, and carries quite a large belly."
Charlie shook the binoculars free of the grass, and took another look. "I see clothing, not sizes and heights."
"The clothesline is hung at approximately six feet off the ground. A shorter person could not reach it comfortably, and certainly not to place the pinches on the clothing to hold them there."
"I'll give you that. But what about the sizes?"
"See the waist of the pants and the shirt next to it?"
"The shirt is almost three times as wide as the waist, telling me that he has a large chest."
"But the belly?"
"Observe the bottom of the shirt."
"Yes, by the extra fat in the folds of his flesh when he's working."
"Quite remarkable, Holmes. My hat is off to you."
"Your hat is nowhere near you."
"Matter of speaking."
Holmes gave Charlie an amused glance. "Now as to our attack. You shall fetch the ladder we built from the spare lumber below and place it to the rear of the cottage. I shall enter via the lower window in the kitchen."
"Why that way? If he's as big as you say, he probably lives in the kitchen."
Holmes laughs. "True enough, but when he eats so much, it draws the blood from his brain and starves his body for oxygen. He grows more tired, and compounded with his loss of sleep as a night watchmen, he goes to bed early and sleeps generally from about noon to ten, when he arises to face his new night of work."
"Why those particular hours? How can you tell that by looking at his clothing or the house?"
"Because night watchmen always begin their pursuit when the second bell before midnight chimes, and before the last bell from nine finishes. It is an old tradition in this part of the country."
"It is believed that demons come out at midnight, and that angels protect men who start their work before nine, but not after ten oh one."
Holmes faces Charlie with a frown. "The demons or the tradition?"
"You tell me, since you're the criminologist."
"Very well. Demons can't survive the daylight, or the early part of night because of the moon's light...."
"But what when it's gone, hey old man?"
"The light is still there, but it is not as visible. It is reflected by the earth's atmosphere."
"I see. And the tradition?"
"Begun when London was still a rundown series of quickly built huts near the Thames."
"So you admit that the tradition could be flawed!"
"Not at all, Charlie. Traditions always have their roots in a truth, even if it is fantastical."
The sound of a bell ringing began from the distance.
Holmes rolled over and cupped his hands beneath his head, then closed his eyes.
"What are you doing now?"
"Getting some sleep. The night watchmen will rise just after ten, secure his clothing, then return inside to eat and leave for his job. We will break in shortly after that, but not at midnight, or after."
"Practical. Good night, Mister Dickens!"
"Goodnight, Mister Holmes."
Charlie rolled over and relaxed as well, but could not sleep, because of all the avenues of pursuit his mind was traversing at that time. What if the guard did not leave at the appropriate time? Their bet had been to secure the item before Midnight and return it by dawn before he returned. The challenge was amusing at best, but worried him anyway, as most challenges they had received so far had cost them both many hours of slavish studies by their professor, who hated it when they made their adventures and came back with naught to share.
"One thing bothers me, Holmes."
"If the night watchman leaves his clothing out to dry all night while he works, why would he come outside to retrieve them then?"
"Another tradition." Holmes yawned. "One never leaves one private wears for thieves to discover and take."
"But he can't watch them all the time!" Charlie insisted.
"Did you not observe the long stretches of brown near the poles for the clothing?"
Charlie stiffened. "Dear lord, we're going to break into a home with a hound?"
Holmes began to snore.
Charlie lay there, pondering all the imponderables, and then fell asleep quite by accident. When he awoke, Holmes was up already and rubbing his hands together vigorously to warm them. The moon was high overhead.
"Ready, my good man?"
"Rather, but the hound?"
"How so, if it is a guard dog?"
Holmes smiled, and revealed a small vial which he uncapped to allow Charlie to smell it. Charlie did so, making a face. "You devil you!"
"Compliments will get you nowhere."
"Then lets at it!"
They both shrugged back into their proper cloaks, and then crept down the rise to the cottage.
When they returned to the campus the next morning to reveal the item they had captured from their adventure, the Professor gave them both a huge smile. "And everything went perfectly?"
"Yes, except the part where the hound tore the bottom of my britches off." Charlie said angrily, giving Holmes a scowl.
The Professor eyed Holmes questioningly. "It's really quite elementary. Mister Dickens here made a common mistake."
"To eat that horrible cheese that smells like rotting corpses."
"I do not!" Charlie protested, and then he simmered down. "Well, maybe a little."
"Hounds have a superlative sense of smell, and once Charlie had descended into the home from the second floor, even though he was as quiet as a mouse, his odor preceded him."
"Then why didn't you tell me I smelled so?" Charlie protested angrily, his face turning crimson red.
The Professor laughed, and then put a hand on Charlie's shoulder to calm him down. "You see, I've played a bit of a trick on you, Mister Dickens. My father has trained his dog to hate that odor, and when I persuaded you to eat that sandwich I had made of it, I knew full well you would be caught."
"I could have lost more than my britches!" Charlie protested.
"Not at all." A very large man said, entering the classroom from the Professor's office. "I was watching the entire time."
Charlie glared at Holmes. "You knew this was going to happen?"
"The item we were sent to steal was an apple from the kitchen table, but the item I was sent to retrieve was your pride."
Charlie's face reddened. "I should challenge you to a duel for this insult to my honor!"
Holmes shrugged. "You would lose."
"I am a crack shot."
"But you forget one thing."
"And that is?"
"Without this night, you would have no material for your thesis, which I might add, is long overdue." The Professor jumped in.
Charlie sighed. "I can't win this battle."
"Nor should you." Holmes told him with a smile. "If we are to become partners in crime, then we must also be able to take our lumps, as well as our prizes."
Charlie nodded, but his mind was elsewhere. He suddenly had this great idea for a story. About a man who gives up everything, his kingdom, his way of life, even his wife, to learn what a poor man must experience.
Charlie brightened. "I just had this brilliant idea for a novel. I shall call it the Hound of the Baskervilles. About a man who gives up everything, and then is murdered."
"Sounds like a tale of horror." The Professor said with a grin.
"It shall be a hound from hell like the one that nipped my behind."
The Professor's father laughed, and then clapped his hand. A dog barked and came running from the office. It was the hound. Its ears shot straight up as Charlie backed away.
The Professor glanced at Holmes. "You put the cheese in his pocket?"
Holmes said nothing.
Charlie screamed like a madman and ran for his life as the hound bounded after him.
"He shall never forgive you for this." The Professor told Holmes.
"Perhaps, but now he shall have an even better story to tell."
"How to avoid being eaten by a hunting hound."
They both broke into laughter.
Holmes nodded to the Professor's father. "I'd better catch the two of them, before the hound does put an end to his life."
"Don't worry, lad." The father said. "That hound couldn't harm a fly!"
"HOLMES!" Charlie's word of terror shot into the room.
All the men ran outside and saw Charlie on the grass, and the hound licking his face vigorously, while fellow students laughed and laughed.