Sources: International Science Fiction Database (ISFDB); Wikipedia; Brian J. Frost’s The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature (Scarecrow Press, 2007); Bill Pronzini’s Tales Of The Dead; and the anthologies and collections listed in parentheses below.
If you are aware of a story or novel or nonfiction work not on this list, in which a mummy/mummies figure(s) as a character/villain or subject, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add it to the bibliography.
This bibliography is current up through the most recent publications of The Book of the Dead, mummy stories ed. Jared Shulin, Jurassic London, 2014; and The Mammoth Book of the Mummy, ed. Paula Guran, Prime Books, 2017.
Martin Hewitt, Investigator, The Red Triangle: Being Some Further Chronicles of
Arthur Morrison, 1903
Table of Contents
The Affair of Samuel’s Diamonds
The Case of Mr. Jacob Mason
The Case of the Lever Key
The Case of the Burnt Barn
The Case of the Admiralty Code
The Adventure of the Channel Marsh
Martin Hewitt, Investigator, The Red Triangle: Being Some Further Chronicles of
The Affair of Samuel’s Diamonds
I have already recorded many of the adventures of my friend Martin Hewitt, but among them there have been more of a certain few which were discovered to be related together in a very extraordinary manner; and it is to these that I am now at liberty to address myself. There may have been others—cases which gave no indication of their connection with these; some of them indeed I may have told without a suspicion of their connection with the Red Triangle; but the first in which that singular accompaniment became apparent was the matter of Samuel’s diamonds. The case exhibited many interesting features, and I was very anxious to report it, with perhaps even less delay than I had thought judicious in other cases; but Hewitt restrained me.
“No, Brett,” he said, “there is more to come of this. This particular case is over, it is true, but there is much behind. I’ve an idea that I shall see that Red Triangle again. I may, or, of course, I may not; but there is deep work going on—very deep work, and whether we see more of it or not, I must keep prepared. I can’t afford to throw a single card upon the table. So, as many notes as you please, Brett, for future reference; but no publication yet—none of your journalism!”
Hewitt was right. It was not so long before we heard more of the Red Triangle, and after that more, though the true connection of some of the cases with the mysterious symbol and the meaning of the symbol itself remained for a time undiscovered. But at last Hewitt was able to unmask the hideous secret, and for ever put an end to the evil influence that gathered about the sign; and now there remains no reason why the full story should not be told.
I have told elsewhere of my first acquaintance with Martin Hewitt, of his pleasant and companionable nature, his ordinary height, his stoutness, his round, smiling face—those characteristics that aided him so well in his business of investigator, so unlike was his appearance and manner to that of the private detective of the ordinary person’s imagination. Therefore I need only remind my readers that my bachelor chambers were, during most of my acquaintance with Hewitt, in the old building near the Strand, in which Hewitt’s office stood at the top of the first flight of stairs; where the plain ground-glass of the door bore as inscription the single word “Hewitt,” and the sharp lad, Kerrett, first received visitors in the outer office.
Next door to this old house, at the time I am to speak of, a much newer building stood, especially built for letting out in offices. It happened that one day as Hewitt left his office for a late lunch, he became aware of a pallid and agitated Jew who was pervading the front door of this adjoining building. The man exhibited every sign of nervous expectancy, staring this way and that up and down the busy street, and once or twice rushing aimlessly half-way up the inner stairs, and as often returning to the door. Apprehension was plain on his pale face, and he was clearly in a state that blinded his attention to the ordinary matters about him, just as happens when a man is in momentary and nervous expectation of some serious event.
Noting these things as he passed, with no more than the observation that was his professional habit, Hewitt proceeded to his lunch. This done with, he returned to his office, perceiving, as he passed the next-door building, that the distracted Jew was no longer visible. It seemed plain that the person or the event he had awaited with such obvious nervousness had arrived and passed; one more of the problems, anxieties or crises that join and unravel moment by moment in the human ant-hill of London, had perhaps closed for good or ill within the past half-hour; perhaps it had only begun.
Sabine Baring-Gould, 1904
In the Land’s End district is the little church-town of Zennor. There is no village to speak of—a few scattered farms, and here and there a cluster of cottages. The district is bleak, the soil does not lie deep over granite that peers through the surface on exposed spots, where the furious gales from the ocean sweep the land. If trees ever existed there, they have been swept away by the blast, but the golden furze or gorse defies all winds, and clothes the moorland with a robe of splendour, and the heather flushes the slopes with crimson towards the decline of summer, and mantles them in soft, warm brown in winter, like the fur of an animal.
In Zennor is a little church, built of granite, rude and simple of construction, crouching low, to avoid the gales, but with a tower that has defied the winds and the lashing rains, because wholly devoid of sculptured detail, which would have afforded the blasts something to lay hold of and eat away. In Zennor parish is one of the finest cromlechs in Cornwall, a huge slab of unwrought stone like a table, poised on the points of standing upright blocks as rude as the mass they sustain.
Near this monument of a hoar and indeed unknown antiquity lived an old woman by herself, in a small cottage of one story in height, built of moor stones set in earth, and pointed only with lime. It was thatched with heather, and possessed but a single chimney that rose but little above the apex of the roof, and had two slates set on the top to protect the rising smoke from being blown down the chimney into the cottage when the wind was from the west or from the east. When, however, it drove from north or south, then the smoke must take care of itself. On such occasions it was wont to find its way out of the door, and little or none went up the chimney.
The only fuel burnt in this cottage was peat—not the solid black peat from deep bogs, but turf of only a spade graft, taken from the surface, and composed of undissolved roots. Such fuel gives flame, which the other does not; but, on the other hand, it does not throw out the same amount of heat, nor does it last one half the time.
The woman who lived in the cottage was called by the people of the neighbourhood Aunt Joanna. What her family name was but few remembered, nor did it concern herself much. She had no relations at all, with the exception of a grand-niece, who was married to a small tradesman, a wheelwright near the church.
But Joanna and her great-niece were not on speaking terms. The girl had mortally offended the old woman by going to a dance at St. Ives, against her express orders. It was at this dance that she had met the wheelwright, and this meeting, and the treatment the girl had met with from her aunt for having gone to it, had led to the marriage. For Aunt Joanna was very strict in her Wesleyanism, and bitterly hostile to all such carnal amusements as dancing and play-acting. Of the latter there was none in that wild west Cornish district, and no temptation ever afforded by a strolling company setting up its booth within reach of Zennor. But dancing, though denounced, still drew the more independent spirits together. Rose Penaluna had been with her great-aunt after her mother’s death. She was a lively girl, and when she heard of a dance at St. Ives, and had been asked to go to it, although forbidden by Aunt Joanna, she stole from the cottage at night, and found her way to St. Ives.
Her conduct was reprehensible certainly. But that of Aunt Joanna was even more so, for when she discovered that the girl had left the house she barred her door, and refused to allow Rose to re-enter it. The poor girl had been obliged to take refuge the same night at the nearest farm and sleep in an outhouse, and next morning to go into St. Ives and entreat an acquaintance to take her in till she could enter into service. Into service she did not go, for when Abraham Hext, the carpenter, heard how she had been treated, he at once proposed, and in three weeks married her. Since then no communication had taken place between the old woman and her grand-niece. As Rose knew, Joanna was implacable in her resentments, and considered that she had been acting aright in what she had done.
The nearest farm to Aunt Joanna’s cottage was occupied by the Hockins. One day Elizabeth, the farmer’s wife, saw the old woman outside the cottage as she was herself returning from market; and, noticing how bent and feeble Joanna was, she halted, and talked to her, and gave her good advice.
“See you now, auntie, you’m gettin’ old and crimmed wi’ rheumatics. How can you get about? An’ there’s no knowin’ but you might be took bad in the night. You ought to have some little lass wi’ you to mind you.”
“I don’t want nobody, thank the Lord.”
The Phantom Rickshaw
Rudyard Kipling, 1899
May no ill dreams disturb my rest,
Nor Powers of Darkness me molest.
One of the few advantages that India has over England is a great Knowability. After five years’ service a man is directly or indirectly acquainted with the two or three hundred Civilians in his Province, all the Messes of ten or twelve Regiments and Batteries, and some fifteen hundred other people of the non-official caste. In ten years his knowledge should be doubled, and at the end of twenty he knows, or knows something about, every Englishman in the Empire, and may travel anywhere and everywhere without paying hotel-bills.
Globe-trotters who expect entertainment as a right, have, even within my memory, blunted this open-heartedness, but none the less to-day, if you belong to the Inner Circle and are neither a Bear nor a Black Sheep, all houses are open to you, and our small world is very, very kind and helpful.
Rickett of Kamartha stayed with Polder of Kumaon some fifteen years ago. He meant to stay two nights, but was knocked down by rheumatic fever, and for six weeks disorganized Polder’s establishment, stopped Polder’s work, and nearly died in Polder’s bedroom. Polder behaves as though he had been placed under eternal obligation by Rickett, and yearly sends the little Ricketts a box of presents and toys. It is the same everywhere. The men who do not take the trouble to conceal from you their opinion that you are an incompetent ass, and the women who blacken your character and misunderstand your wife’s amusements, will work themselves to the bone in your behalf if you fall sick or into serious trouble.
Heatherlegh, the Doctor, kept, in addition to his regular practice, a hospital on his private account—an arrangement of loose boxes for Incurables, his friend called it—but it was really a sort of fitting-up shed for craft that had been damaged by stress of weather. The weather in India is often sultry, and since the tale of bricks is always a fixed quantity, and the only liberty allowed is permission to work overtime and get no thanks, men occasionally break down and become as mixed as the metaphors in this sentence.
Heatherlegh is the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable prescription to all his patients is, “lie low, go slow, and keep cool.” He says that more men are killed by overwork than the importance of this world justifies. He maintains that overwork slew Pansay, who died under his hands about three years ago. He has, of course, the right to speak authoritatively, and he laughs at my theory that there was a crack in Pansay’s head and a little bit of the Dark World came through and pressed him to death. “Pansay went off the handle,” says Heatherlegh, “after the stimulus of long leave at Home. He may or he may not have behaved like a blackguard to Mrs. Keith-Wessington. My notion is that the work of the Katabundi Settlement ran him off his legs, and that he took to brooding and making much of an ordinary P. & O. flirtation. He certainly was engaged to Miss Mannering, and she certainly broke off the engagement. Then he took a feverish chill and all that nonsense about ghosts developed. Overwork started his illness, kept it alight, and killed him poor devil. Write him off to the System—one man to take the work of two and a half men.”
I do not believe this. I used to sit up with Pansay sometimes when Heatherlegh was called out to patients, and I happened to be within claim. The man would make me most unhappy by describing in a low, even voice, the procession that was always passing at the bottom of his bed. He had a sick man’s command of language. When he recovered I suggested that he should write out the whole affair from beginning to end, knowing that ink might assist him to ease his mind. When little boys have learned a new bad word they are never happy till they have chalked it up on a door. And this also is Literature.
The Humorous Ghost
Dorothy Scarborough, PhD, 1921
Lecturer in English at Columbia University, and author of the essay: The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction,* and editor of the anthropology: Famous Modern Ghost Stories.”
The essay below was printed in 1921 as the Introduction to the anthology G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press.
The humorous ghost is distinctly a modern character. In early literature wraiths took themselves very seriously, and insisted on a proper show of respectful fear on the part of those whom they honored by haunting. A mortal was expected to rise when a ghost entered the room, and in case he was slow about it, his spine gave notice of what etiquette demanded. In the event of outdoor apparition, if a man failed to bare his head in awe, the roots of his hair reminded him of his remissness. Woman has always had the advantage over man in such emergency, in that her locks, being long and pinned up, are less easily moved—which may explain the fact (if it be a fact!) that in fiction women have shown themselves more self-possessed in ghostly presence than men. Or possibly a woman knows that a masculine spook is, after all, only a man, and therefore may be charmed into helplessness, while the feminine can be seen through by another woman and thus disarmed. The majority of the comic apparitions, curiously enough, are masculine. You don’t often find women wraithed in smiles—perhaps because they resent being made ridiculous, even after they’re dead. Or maybe the reason lies in the fact that men have written most of the comic or satiric ghost stories, and have chivalrously spared the gentler shades. And there are very few funny child-ghosts—you might almost say none, in comparison with the number of grown-ups. The number of ghost children of any or all types is small proportionately—perhaps because it seems an unnatural thing for a child to die under any circumstances, while to make of him a butt for jokes would be unfeeling. There are a few instances, as in the case of the ghost baby mentioned later, but very few.
Ancient ghosts were a long-faced lot. They didn’t know how to play at all. They had been brought up in stern repression of frivolities as haunters—no matter how sportive they may have been in life—and in turn they cowed mortals into a servile submission. No doubt they thought of men and women as mere youngsters that must be taught their place, since any living person, however senile, would be thought juvenile compared with a timeless spook.
But in these days of individualism and radical liberalism, spooks as well as mortals are expanding their personalities and indulging in greater freedom. A ghost can call his shade his own now, and exhibit any mood he pleases. Even young female wraiths, demanding latchkeys, refuse to obey the frowning face of the clock, and engage in light-hearted ebullience to make the ghost of Mrs. Grundy turn a shade paler in horror. Nowadays haunters have more fun and freedom than the haunted. In fact, it’s money in one’s pocket these days to be dead, for ghosts have no rent problems, and dead men pay no bills. What officer would willingly pursue a ghostly tenant to his last lodging in order to serve summons on him? And suppose a ghost brought into court demanded trial by a jury of his peers? No—manifestly death has compensations not connected with the consolations of religion.
The marvel is that apparitions were so long in realizing their possibilities, in improving their advantages. The specters in classic and medieval literature were malarial, vaporous beings without energy to do anything but threaten, and mortals never would have trembled with fear at their frown if they had known how feeble they were. At best a revenant could only rattle a rusty skeleton, or shake a moldy shroud, or clank a chain—but as mortals cowered before his demonstrations, he didn’t worry. If he wished to evoke the extreme of anguish from his host, he raised a menacing arm and uttered a windy word or two. Now it takes more than that to produce a panic. The up-to-date ghost keeps his skeleton in a garage or some place where it is cleaned and oiled and kept in good working order. The modern wraith has sold his sheet to the old clo’es man, and dresses as in life. Now the ghost has learned to have a variety of good times, and he can make the living squirm far more satisfyingly than in the past. The spook of to-day enjoys making his haunted laugh even while he groans in terror. He knows that there’s no weapon, no threat, in horror, to be compared with ridicule.
Think what a solemn creature the Gothic ghost was! How little originality and initiative he showed and how dependent he was on his own atmosphere for thrills! His sole appeal was to the spinal column. The ghost of to-day touches the funny bone as well. He adds new horrors to being haunted, but new pleasures also. The modern specter can be a joyous creature on occasion, as he can be, when he wishes, fearsome beyond the dreams of classic or Gothic revenant. He has a keen sense of humor and loves a good joke on a mortal, while he can even enjoy one on himself. Though his fun is of comparatively recent origin—it’s less than a century since he learned to crack a smile—the laughing ghost is very much alive and sportively active. Some of these new spooks are notoriously good company. Many Americans there are to-day who would court being haunted by the captain and crew of Richard Middleton’s Ghost Ship that landed in a turnip field and dispensed drink till they demoralized the denizens of village and graveyard alike. After that show of spirits, the turnips in that field tasted of rum, long after the ghost ship had sailed away into the blue.
The modern spook is possessed not only of humor but of a caustic satire as well. His jest is likely to have more than one point to it, and he can haunt so insidiously, can make himself so at home in his host’s study or bedroom that a man actually welcomes a chat with him—only to find out too late that his human foibles have been mercilessly flayed. Pity the poor chap in H. C. Bunner’s story, The Interfering Spook, for instance, who was visited nightly by a specter that repeated to him all the silly and trite things he had said during the day, a ghost, moreover, that towered and swelled at every hackneyed phrase, till finally he filled the room and burst after the young man proposed to his admired one, and made subsequent remarks. Ghosts not only have appallingly long memories, but they possess a mean advantage over the living in that they have once been mortal, while the men and women they haunt haven’t yet been ghosts. Suppose each one of us were to be haunted by his own inane utterances? True, we’re told that we’ll have to give account Some Day for every idle word, but recording angels seem more sympathetic than a sneering ghost at one’s elbow. Ghosts can satirize more fittingly than anyone else the absurdities of certain psychic claims, as witness the delightful seriousness of the story Back from that Bourne, which appeared as a front page news story in the New York Sun years ago. I should think that some of the futile, laggard messenger-boy ghosts that one reads about nowadays would blush with shame before the wholesome raillery of the porgy fisherman.
The modern humorous ghost satirizes everything from the old-fashioned specter (he’s very fond of taking pot-shots at him) to the latest psychic manifestations. He laughs at ghosts that aren’t experts in efficiency haunting, and he has a lot of fun out of mortals for being scared of specters. He loves to shake the lugubrious terrors of the past before you, exposing their hollow futility, and he contrives to create new fears for you magically while you are laughing at him.
The new ghost hates conventionality and uses the old thrills only to show what dead batteries they come from. His really electrical effects are his own inventions. He needs no dungeon keeps and monkish cells to play about in—not he! He demands no rag nor bone nor clank of chain of his old equipment to start on his career. He can start up a moving picture show of his own, as in Ruth McEnery Stuart’s The Haunted Photograph, and demonstrate a new kind of apparition. The ghost story of to-day gives you spinal sensations with a difference, as in the immortal Transferred Ghost, by Frank R. Stockton, where the suitor on the moonlit porch, attempting to tell his fair one that he dotes on her, sees the ghost of her ferocious uncle (who isn’t dead!) kicking his heels against the railing, and hears his admonition that he’d better hurry up, as the live uncle is coming in sight. The thrill with which you read of the ghost in Ellis Parker Butler’s The Late John Wiggins, who deposits his wooden leg with the family he is haunting, on the plea that it is too materialistic to be worn with ease, and therefore they must take care of it for him, doesn’t altogether leave you even when you discover that the late John is a fraud, has never been a ghost nor used a wooden leg. But a terrifying leg-acy while you do believe in it!
The new ghost has a more nimble and versatile tongue as well as wit. In the older fiction and drama apparitions spoke seldom, and then merely as ghosts, not as individuals. And ghosts, like kings in drama, were of a dignity and must preserve it in their speech. Or perhaps the authors were doubtful as to the dialogue of shades, and compromised on a few stately ejaculations as being safely phantasmal speaking parts. But compare that usage with the rude freedom of some modern spooks, as John Kendrick Bangs’s spectral cook of Bangletop, who lets fall her h’s and twists grammar in a rare and diverting manner. For myself, I’d hate to be an old-fashioned ghost with no chance to keep up with the styles in slang. Think of having always—and always—to speak a dead language!
The humorous ghost is not only modern, but he is distinctively American. There are ghosts of all nationalities, naturally, but the spook that provides a joke—on his host or on himself—is Yankee in origin and development. The dry humor, the comic sense of the incongruous, the willingness to laugh at himself as at others, carry over into immaterialization as characteristic American qualities and are preserved in their true flavor. I don’t assert, of course, that Americans have been the only ones in this field. The French and English selections in this volume are sufficient to prove the contrary. Gautier’s The Mummy’s Foot has a humor of a lightness and grace as delicate as the princess’s little foot itself. There are various English stories of whimsical haunting, some of actual spooks and some of the hoax type. Hoax ghosts are fairly numerous in British as in American literature, one of the early specimens of the kind being The Specter of Tappington in the Ingoldsby Legends. The files of Blackwood’s Magazine reveal several examples, though not of high literary value.
Of the early specimens of the really amusing ghost that is an actual revenant is The Ghost Baby, in Blackwood’s, which shows originality and humor, yet is too diffuse for printing here. In that we have a conventional young bachelor, engaged to a charming girl, who is entangled in social complications and made to suffer mental torment because, without his consent, he has been chosen as the nurse and guardian of a ghost baby that cradles after him wherever he goes. This is a rich story almost spoiled by being poorly told. I sigh to think of the laughs that Frank R. Stockton or John Kendrick Bangs or Gelett Burgess could have got out of the situation. There are other comic British spooks, as in Baring-Gould’s A Happy Release, where a widow and a widower in love are haunted by the jealous ghosts of their respective spouses, till the phantom couple take a liking to each other and decide to let the living bury their dead. This is suggestive of Brander Matthews’s earlier and cleverer story of a spectral courtship, in The Rival Ghosts. Medieval and later literature gave us many instances of a love affair or marriage between one spirit and one mortal, but it remained for the modern American to celebrate the nuptials of two ghosts. Think of being married when you know that you and the other party are going to live ever after—whether happily or no! Truly, the present terrors are more fearsome than the old!
The stories by Eden Phillpotts and Richard Middleton in this collection show the diversity of the English humor as associated with apparitions, and are entertaining in themselves. The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde, is one of his best short stories and is in his happiest vein of laughing satire. This travesty on the conventional traditions of the wraith is preposterously delightful, one of the cleverest ghost stories in our language. Zangwill has written engagingly of spooks, with a laughable story about Samuel Johnson. And there are others. But the fact remains that in spite of conceded and admirable examples, the humorous ghost story is for the most part American in creation and spirit. Washington Irving might be said to have started that fashion in skeletons and shades, for he has given us various comic haunters, some real and some make-believe. Frank R. Stockton gave his to funny spooks with a riotous and laughing pen. The spirit in his Transferred Ghost is impudently deathless, and has called up a train of subsequent haunters. John Kendrick Bangs has made the darker regions seem comfortable and homelike for us, and has created ghosts so human and so funny that we look forward to being one—or more. We feel downright neighborly toward such specters as the futile “last ghost” Nelson Lloyd evokes for us, as we appreciate the satire of Rose O’Neill’s sophisticated wraith. The daring concept of Gelett Burgess’s Ghost Extinguisher is altogether American. The field is still comparatively limited, but a number of Americans have done distinctive work in it. The specter now wears motley instead of a shroud, and shakes his jester’s bells the while he rattles his bones. I dare any, however grouchy, reader to finish the stories in this volume without having a kindlier feeling toward ghosts!
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Humorous Ghost…..vii
The Canterville Ghost, Oscar Wilde 3
The Ghost-Extinguisher, Gelett Burgess…..51
“Dey Ain’t No Ghosts”, Ellis Parker Butler…..69
The Transferred Ghost, Frank R. Stockton…..89
The Mummy’s Foot, Théophile Gautier…..109
The Rival Ghosts, Brander Matthews…..129
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, John Kendrick Bangs…..159
Back from that Bourne, Anonymous…..175
The Ghost-Ship, Richard Middleton…..187
The Transplanted Ghost, Wallace Irwin…..205
The Last Ghost in Harmony, Nelson Lloyd…..229
The Ghost of Miser Brimpson, Eden Phillpotts…..247
The Haunted Photograph, Ruth McEnery Stuart…..275
The Ghost that Got the Button, Will Adams…..295
The Specter Bridegroom, Washington Irving….315
The Specter of Tappington, Richard Barham….341
In the Barn, Burges Johnson…..385
A Shady Plot, Elsie Brown…..403
The Lady and the Ghost, Rose Cecil O’Neill…..425
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The autumn of 1897 presented such an array of singular cases that to pen any one of them seems unjust to those excluded. Clients from all walks of life brought their seemingly insoluble problems to my friend for resolution. There was the case where Holmes vindicated a hapless fellow named Sedgington, whose lascivious pencil sketchings of Queen Victoria fell into the hands of the nefarious blackmailer Reginald Quigg. My sleep is still plagued with nightmares of the Horace Bellefonte dental floss affair, as shocking a tale as The Giant Rat of Sumatra or The Monster Anchovy of Crete. It was also during this period that Holmes found my scarf under the sofa. However, complete written accounts of these and other adventures will never reach the public eye, the unfortunate result of my having rammed my case notes so tightly into my desk drawer that I can’t pull it open.Sherlock Holmes and the Scene of the Crime
There is one case that I feel competent to chronicle entirely from memory, so deeply are its details etched in my mind. It all began early in October on a chilly Sunday afternoon during a lull in my friend’s casework. Holmes was deep in the sway of a cocaine-induced stupor as was his habit when no interesting cases occupied his intellect. He had been curled up in a chair by the window all morning with his violin, his incoherent state evident in his effort to coax a tune out of the instrument by licking it. I myself was engrossed in a philosophical treatise concerning man’s pursuit of perfection, which I took to be an allegory of a whale hunt.
The silence was interrupted by the sound of footfalls on the stairs leading up to our flat. Seizing the moment to inject some spirit into my friend, I quickly adopted his deductive methods to describe our visitor in advance.
“Your next client is a man,” I confidently proclaimed. “Rather tall and quite sturdily built, no doubt a logger by trade.”
I succeeded in getting Holmes’s attention, if not his enthusiasm, so I continued.
“Despite the capabilities of his stride, he ascends the stairs one at a time. This, in addition to a slightly perceptible limp, tells me he incurred a leg wound while serving in the army, possibly in Afghanistan.”
Undaunted by my companion’s sardonic grin, I confidently swung the door open to admit Mrs. Hudson, delivering our morning tea. On her way out she mentioned that we had a visitor waiting downstairs and asked whether she should show him up.
“By all means,” I replied on behalf of Holmes, who was too convulsed in laughter to speak. “Anything to relieve the monotony.”
I greeted our visitor at the door and offered him the seat across from Holmes. He was quite young, handsomely attired in the manner of a genteel aristocrat. Once comfortable, he lost no time in beginning his narrative.
“My name is Ichabod Thortonshire. I live with my father and younger brother on a modest country estate in Kent, a mere stone’s throw away from here, provided you can throw a stone about 20 miles. My mother died shortly after my brother, Rodney, was born and Father took it upon himself to raise us on his own, choosing not to remarry.
“Despite his family responsibilities, my father developed a fine career as a physician. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Dr. Watson, Dr. Osgood Thortonshire?”
“Why, yes, “ I replied. Dr. Thortonshire was the author of many a medical treatise and had caused quite a stir in the profession some years ago when he advocated closing surgical incisions not with suture but through the use of huge styptic pencils.
“Well,” Mr. Thortonshire continued, “about five years ago, my father left a thriving practice for academic life. He had been offered a chair at Cambridge and six months later a file cabinet, but after a while he grew listless in his teachings and eventually had to surrender his chair and was forced to stand. Not the ambitious sort, he elected to retire to Kent and manage a gentleman’s farm there; you know, the type where all the crops get cultivated but somehow no one ever gets their hands dirty.
“The three of us led a comfortable, sedentary life until last week when tragedy struck. I awoke one morning to find my father slumped in a chair in his study, dead of a broken neck. Naturally I called Scotland Yard at once but as yet they’ve no clue to the identity of the murderer. I’ve no one else to turn to, Mr. Holmes, and your reputation for divining solutions in matters like these is widely known. I beg of your help.”
Holmes, who had been listening intently throughout, now leaned forward. “Was your brother at home at the time of your father’s death?”
“Yes, he was. I awakened him with the awful news that morning. He’s a bit simple-minded and quite harmless, though as a child he tended to be rather cruel. I can remember times when he would lay his pet chameleon on plaid surfaces and watch it go crazy trying to blend in. He keeps mostly to himself nowadays, a voracious reader though he ignores the words and reads only the punctuation. Surely you don’t suspect him, Mr. Holmes?”
“Any conjecture I could make at this point would be premature,” assured Holmes. “I suggest that if it is at all convenient, I accompany you back to Kent for a thorough examination of the scene of the crime.”
“Excellent,” Mr. Thortonshire exclaimed. “I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know you’ll be working on the case. You’ve certainly set my mind at ease!”
“I only hope I can live up to your expectations,” my friend modestly replied as he donned his overcoat and deerstalker. Within minutes they left and I decided to take advantage of the solitude to return to my reading. My volume of philosophy in hand, I situated myself comfortably in the easy chair and was asleep in no time flat.
An hour or so later, I was awakened by the creak of a floorboard to find a hobo-like character fumbling through our belongings near the desk. It was obviously Holmes, attired as he was in order to blend in with the London lowlife. He often did this to ferret out clues for a case and took great delight in tricking me with his impressions, but this time I refused to be duped. When he first noticed I was awake, he feigned alarm but I quickly dismissed his anxiety, detailing the whereabouts of certain valuables and chuckling all the while he collected them. After he scurried out the door with a sack full of plunder and a perplexed look on his face, I resumed my nap, confident I had gotten the better of my friend.
Holmes had still not returned that evening when I retired, but early the following morning I awoke to the smell of Mrs. Hudson’s breakfast and putting on my robe, I walked into the living room to find my comrade reading the morning paper while eating.
“Ah, Watson,” he said without even lifting his eyes. “Come and enjoy this marvelous meal Mrs. Hudson has prepared for us.” There was an uplifted tone in his voice that I assumed was attributable to the Thortonshire case, so I sat down to eat and asked him about it.
It’s finished,” he said glibly. In contrast to Holmes’s nonchalance, I reacted to the news with noticeable startle, flinging a forkful of scrambled eggs with such force that they stuck to the ceiling.
“Finished?” I cried, regaining composure. “But it was only . . . “
“The good doctor’s death was accidental,” he murmured, oblivious to my amazement.
“But a broken neck! How, in a chair?”
“Dr. Thortonshire suffered from a rare combination of narcolepsy and insomnia. When the narcolepsy seized him, he would begin to nod off, only to jerk back, unable to sleep. Over time, this presented such stress to his neck that the break was inevitable.”
“But surely his son Ichabod was aware of his father’s condition. Why didn’t he proffer this information to Scotland Yard?”
“I suspect that Ichabod was reluctant to share his father’s inheritance with his brother. Since the death could easily be misinterpreted as foul play, Ichabod concealed this detail, allowing the authorities to draw conclusions implicating Rodney, who was too simple to defend himself. After the dust settled and his brother was institutionalized, the entire estate would accrue to Ichabod.”
“Of all the brazenness!” I exclaimed. “Deliberately submitting the case to your purview and expecting to deceive you!” Holmes characteristically shrugged off the compliment and resumed his meal.
“One thing puzzles me,” I continued. “Why was the disguise necessary?”
“What?” Holmes replied, his face now straight.
“You know, the riff-raff garb.” I proceeded to outline the episode of the previous day while Holmes listened with a blank stare on his face. When I finished, Holmes paused a full minute and then handed me his dinner knife handle first, stood up, turned with his back facing me, and his arms raised, crying “Go ahead then. Finish the deed!”
I wrote off his overreaction to tension and fatigue, although even after a good night’s rest it was weeks before he deigned to acknowledge my presence.