The curious case of the boy and the chimney
An idle tale by Ivor Sukwell
I turned myself a little away from Holmes; I would have turned my back on him, but, as I was conversing with him, to do so would have been most disrespectful.
Many times have I reprimanded him on his behaviour, but to no avail; still he sat, his silk gown unfastened, his legs spread wide, one of his `irregulars' on his knees between them.
This one I took, by the unruly curls of his unkempt hair, to be Jimmy, come, as one such came each early evening, to make report of all that had been observed in the day.
"It is most improper, Holmes," I admonished, "To behave in such a manner. The boy cannot be but twelve years old, and yet you subject him to such depravity. It is not good, Holmes, it is not good at all!"
"It's alright, sir," the boy said without moving his head from where it was, "I have no mind of it. Truth be told, I like it more than some, sir. And I be thirteen now, and that be more than old enough, I think."
"You see, Watson," Holmes drawled, "The boy raises no objections, why then should you?" He ruffled the untamed curls on the boy's head in a manner that might have been almost affectionate.
"But what of his mother? What would she have to say should she see how you behave with him? And his father. He may be a docker, Holmes, a man of exceptional size and strength."
"When did you last see your mother?" Holmes asked the kneeling boy, and though I could not hear his mumbled reply, I had no need as Holmes repeated it for me.
"He believes some three weeks since," Holmes said, a note of triumph in his voice, "And as for his father, be he docker or no, you may be sure that the one has no knowledge of the existence of the other."
"And Mrs Hastings? I believe she would have much to say on the matter!"
"Mrs Hastings is a person of most admirable qualities," Holmes accepted, "And amongst them is her understanding of my particular ways. She may possibly have some reservations in her mind, but would never voice them. Come, Watson," Holmes said in that voice of his that declared the argument over, "You were in India, were you not? Sights such as this you must be acquainted with."
"Indeed I was, Holmes, often so. But this is London and not India!"
"Indeed it is, Watson, and it being so I must demand that you open not that window. The climate here is not as it is in India, and this being February, the air outside is somewhat cold."
I have been friends with Holmes for several years, but this peculiarity of his still annoyed me. I had made no move from my chair towards the window, yet still he knew I had it in my mind to throw it open!
`It is not good for the health," I made my defence of my desire for fresh air, "Yours and more so the boy's."
"It's less noxious than the winter fogs, sir," the boy chirruped, raising his head and turning grinning eyes on me, and indeed, in that I could not but agree; the London air in winter was not air any would wish to breathe. "And I hardly notice it, Doctor," the boy smirked at his insolent use of my title, "Whilst I am thus engaged. Mr Holmes blows his smoke above my head."
Jimmy, if that was the boy's name, Holmes had more than a dozen such `irregulars' and telling one from another was not always a simple matter, returned his head to the duty he was performing, and Holmes, with a triumphant leer, exhaled his noxious pipe smoke above the boy's unruly curls.
It was not that Holmes sat in his chair, his legs apart and a boy fellating him that I objected to, but the foul smoke that emanated from his pipe; smoke not from tobacco, but from some weed grown in warmer climes that could rob a man, or boy, of his senses.
"My use of hemp you raised great objections to, Watson, as also you did to my indulgence in the extract from the white poppy of Northern India, and that I may remind you, much use is made of in your profession, and now you would condemn me for my use of this harmless weed. Shame, sir, shame. It aids my thinking considerably."
"Aids more as well," the boy, who I decided was indeed Jimmy, raised his head again from his administrations, "Gets this most pleasingly hard."
"And, I believe, the little you inhale greatly improves your performance," Holmes again ruffled the boy's hair, returning him to his duty, "Perhaps you may discover the medical reason for this, Doctor. I would be most obliged if you could."
"It has been little studied," I retorted huffily, "It is known that the native American uses it in his pipe of peace, and so it is considered to be a thing for savages and of no commercial value. Ergo, it has not been studied."
"It should be, Watson, it should be. It relaxes the mind, is conducive to thinking and and greatly enhances performance in another matter. It is, I believe, a most valuable substance and could be of much benefit to civilised society."
"As could be the solving of a murder," I reminded Holmes that we had a case we were supposed to be working on, one that as usual, had confounded the police.
"Ah, Colonel Moustasa. Slain by a brass candlestick in his Library as I recall."
Though recounted here as a single, coherent sentence, Holmes' words were in fact, separated by gasps and deep breaths as Jimmy's task neared its climax.
When Jimmy had completed his endeavours and risen, licking his lips as he grinned at me, I enquired of Holmes if he had found a conclusion.
"Elementary, my dear Watson," he waved a dismissive hand, "The deed was plainly performed by the butler."
"Yet was the door locked from the inside, the key still present in the lock, and the windows shuttered and all fastened, again, as shutters must be so fastened, from the inside of the room," I reminded the master detective.
"A mere bagatelle," Holmes remarked, "Mark my words, it was the butler."
"Yet how could he contrive to enter a locked room, commit a murder and exit again, leaving the door locked from the inside behind him?"
Holmes seemed disinclined to answer that simple question, but Jimmy showed no such hesitation.
"He didn't, Dr Watson," the boy said, his face sufficient indication that he thought me both ignorant and a fool, "The door was unlocked when he entered, and locked only after he left."
"Oh, yes, Jimmy," I said in my most patronising and sarcastic manner, that being my habit when conversing with boys, "Of course. The Colonel admitted the entrance of his butler, and, after he had been murdered rose from the dead to lock the door behind his departing killer, and then returned, assuming again the position on the floor he occupied when he was slain."
"No, sir, the dead can't rise. As a medical man, sir, you should know that. The door was not locked when the butler entered, and the boy who came down the chimney, the butler's accomplice Mr Holmes would call him, locked it after the butler had gone."
"You see, Watson? Elementary as I said."
"Not quite," I said, sure of myself, despite the introduction of a boy from the chimney, "There were no footprints from the fireplace to the door, and how does one, even a boy, descend a chimney without obtaining soot on his feet? And, though I grant it is possible for a boy to descend a chimney, how could he leave the room after? And," I added triumphantly, "Was there not also a fire burning in the grate?"
"Easy, sir," Jimmy said, relishing his moment as he had earlier relished another, far longer and different moment, "A boy like my brother Jacob, sir, could shimmy down a chimney such as that and bring but little soot down with him. Then, off with his shoes, leaving them in the grate, over to the door, lock it tight, and return the way he came. Easy enough for a boy of Jacob's age to climb back up a chimney; the brickwork of your chimney, sir, is very roughly laid, hand and footholds everywhere. Boys goes up and down them all the time."
I must admit that Jimmy's words disconcerted me some, yet I had one more card to play.
"The fire was lit," I pointed out, "Surely even your Jacob would not descend and also ascend a chimney when a fire was lit below?"
"Bless you, no, sir. The fire was not lit when the boy came down, he lit it before he went up again. There would be no time for it to take hold proper, sir, though probably enough to singe his bum if he were slow climbing, but would burn well enough to clear away any soot that had fallen, and lead all to conclude that none had gone down and up it."
"As I said, Watson, elementary," Holmes gloated.
"How old is Jacob?" I asked of Jimmy, wondering if he were perhaps but six or seven he would not have wit enough to leave no trace behind him.
"Nigh on eleven, sir," Jimmy said, "And sharp as any razor is Jacob. And more than old enough at nigh eleven, sir, if you gets my meaning."
I did get Jimmy's meaning, the expression on his face made it unmistakable, and Holmes, naturally saw that also.
"My dear Watson," he beamed, "Am I to conclude you have hidden some secret from me all this time?"
"It should have been no secret to one as adept as you at discovering hidden matters," I attempted in riposte, "I was many years in India, if you recall."
"Just so, just so," Holmes nodded in understanding, "And must have been obliged to make many inspections of the bodies of native boys there, in the course of your medical duties, no doubt."
"Indeed I was so obliged," I confessed.
"Would you want to do an inspection of Jacob, sir? He'd have no objections to being looked over by a doctor, sir. Inspect him as thorough as you need," Jimmy enquired and offered.
"He is near eleven, you say?"
"Very near, sir. By midsummer he'll be there, sir."
"The month is now February," I pointed out to Jimmy, who smiled and shrugged as though a month or several made no difference at all.
"I'll send him round to you tonight, sir," Jimmy stated rather than offered, "He'll be mighty pleased to have a bed to sleep in."
"There, Watson," Holmes beamed, "The manner of our Colonel's demise is solved and you have company for the night. What better outcome could there be?"
I could not but admit that the offered company was most acceptable; boys of such an age as Jacob's had ever been my favourite, and of such company I had been sorely deprived, believing that my wooing of Jane precluded me from pursuing other interests.
I had no particular interest in Jane, or in any other of her sex, but whilst it was of no consequence to be a bachelor while in the Army, to be one in civilian life had many disadvantages. Men such as Holmes, known to be of eccentric character and with the wealth and connections to sustain such, had no need of marriage to hold their place in society, but I, as a mere doctor and retired from Her Majesty's service, enjoyed no such exemptions.
Holmes had returned his attentions to Jimmy, and to his business as the great detective that he was.
"Who has the evening watch?" he enquired of the boy. Holmes' irregulars did not come upon useful tid bits of information by chance, they searched diligently for them on London's streets and darkened alleys.
"Jack, sir," Jimmy cheeped, "He works round Piccadilly tonight, and will report to you at one of the clock."
Piccadilly is a place of some infamy, and much valuable information had Holmes' irregulars obtained there, and earned themselves a shilling or two whilst they did so; there is no secret that a boy cannot suck from a man if he puts his mind to it.
Jack was the oldest of the irregulars, a boy of fifteen years, though Holmes displayed no dislike that the boy had hair now where I have ever preferred there to be none, and though he would bring to Holmes' attention all he had learned at one in the morning, so much would he have gathered that it would take him until nine to recount it all.
Jimmy dismissed, his duty done and a shilling earned for it, Holmes returned his attention to me, fixing me with that look of his that said so plainly, that though I was a friend, yet I was one of inferior intelligence.
"So, Watson," he commenced, "We know how our Colonel was dispatched, and the manner of his dispatching, an event of such simplicity that even the police should have discovered it, but what we do not know, Watson, is the `why' of it. The butler it was beyond all doubt the one who wielded the candlestick, but why did he so do? What profit for him is there in having his employer dead?"
"His name is Spanish," I said thoughtfully, "And being Spanish is but one of the many names he would have had. Why settled he on that particular one? Did, perhaps, he have some connections with Norwich?"
"That he had some distant connection with the family there that produces that most delicious accompaniment to roast beef?" Holmes mused, "That may well account for his choice of name, but not for his demise. He would have needed to have achieved some inheritance to make him worth murdering, and that willed also to the butler for him to have motive for the deed."
"Had he then some private means already promised to the butler?" I enquired, for either money or love are the usual reasons for murder.
"None of exceptional worth," Holmes shrugged, "And what he had, not so promised."
"Then, perhaps, had he lived, he would have been in line for such inheritance, and another disposed of him to gain his place in line?" I was reluctant to dismiss money as a motive, the Colonel having been one in his mid-fifties, seeming unlikely to have been a victim of love or amorous jealousy.
seems not," Holmes dismissed that last idea of mine as easily as he dismissed
all such ideas. "An ancestor fought with Wellington in the wars in the
Peninsular, a man of some small status who obtained an English wife and
returned with her to these Isles, establishing himself here. The son reduced
the family name to a mere single word, as is the British custom, though
declining to convert it to an English word.
No fortune was made by any, and our Colonel was, like you, a bachelor, no doubt for similar reasons, though his regiment, the East Essex, never left these shores."
"Then money seems not to have been the motive," I said with some disappointment, for I could conceive of no amorous attachments an aging Colonel could have made.
"I must now partake myself of some rest," Holmes declared, clearly deciding that motive for murder had no further interest to him and ending our discussion, "Jack will present himself an hour after midnight, and will have much to tell from his forays in Piccadilly. Likewise you have Jacob to attend to, and being the age he is, no doubts can there be that his mouth will remain never closed. Boys of that age are ever talkative and enthusiastic in their urge to please."
Holmes, I uncharitably thought, may well partake of rest before his Jack arrived at one of the morning, but I had little time to consider any occupation other than the writing down of the events at Baker Street, as eleven is two hours before one, and at eleven I was to anticipate the arrival of Jacob, the young brother of Jimmy, whose words I must commit to paper, along with those of Holmes and myself.
I would be telling other than the truth if I did not confess to some mild trembling of my stomach and a certain quickening of the pulse in the anticipation of the boy's arrival, for, as I have said, I have been much deprived of the company of boys since I became cognisant that my position in such society as I frequented required me to acquire a wife, though adding such to my meagre possessions was not a prospect that filled me with delight.
My modest dwelling did not boast the luxury of a housekeeper nor any other servant, and thus I was obliged to draw a bath and convey heated water to it myself, since, as Jacob was presenting himself for the purpose of a full examination, he would needs be clean for such to be accomplished, and boys of the street are not, in their natural condition, much inclined to cleanliness, any more so in London than in India.
I had scarce completed that task when, to my surprise, Jacob presented himself upon my doorstep at the precise moment of eleven, knocking upon my door at the very instant the clock struck its first chime.
Such particular attention to punctuality is not a common feature of boys, but, from the wide grin on his pinched face, it appeared that Jacob was most proud of his achieving of it.
That grin remained on his features as he divested himself of his clothing with so little hesitation that I was obliged to ask if he had been examined before.
"Oh, no, sir," he cheerfully cheeped, "Never before. But Jimmy said that as I was to be examined by a medical man he would doubtless require me to bathe before, as he would wish all parts of me to be clean."
Indeed I did, if his examination was to be thorough, and my heartbeat increased some as I observed the skinny, scrawny form of the waif as he revealed it.
In honesty, it was not so different from the forms of those boys of India I had examined, save that Jacob's skin was white beneath the grime where those of India had been brown, but no other differences could I observe.
"Jimmy said it would be best if you assisted me, sir," the boy said as he immersed himself in water, "Me being most unacquainted with baths and with no knowing of the parts that a medical man most requires to be clean."
It was apparent that Jimmy's association with Holmes had had some effect on both his thinking and his vocabulary, and had transferred itself, in part at least, to the younger brother, who was not yet enrolled in Holmes' irregulars, but later confessed to me a strong desire to be so.
Jacob was so enthralled by his immersion in warm water that he splashed around with glee, and it would have been impossible for me to assist him and not have my clothing soaked as I did so, and therefore I removed my jacket, realising as I did so that jacket alone would not suffice, and other garments would become as wet as my jacket would have done.
Jacob made no secret of his interest in my unclothed body, an interest that appeared to be as great as mine was in his, and I permitted him to gaze his fill.
I am not, by nature, in any way hirsute, and developed in India the habit of trimming such hair growth as there was to modest proportions in particular areas, this pleasing those Indian boys who, like Jacob, had no hair at all upon them.
Being as also I am a man of modest proportions, the lack of a luxuriant growth of hair made emphasis some of what there was, the difference in size between the adult and a boy of ten never failing to attract attention and some admiration also.
"Cor! A real whopper!" Jacob breathed as he observed, much to my gratification.
Bathing complete and Jacob unwrapped from towels, I congratulated him on there being no apparent problems with his penis, that now hard and firm and almost sticking to his flat stomach.
"Me what, sir?" Jacob enquired, puzzled, and when explained, said, "That's me cock, sir, and it often turns into a bone like it is now."
I examined Jacob most thoroughly, explaining to him that, for proper medical certainty that all was well, there were parts of him that needed to be tested for taste, and those examinations Jacob greatly enjoyed, in particular the very detained inspection of his anus made by my tongue.
He accepted my medical explanation of the peculiar feeling that he felt he needed to pee when he knew he didn't, that when his cock was in my mouth for some length of time, and showed no hesitation in having demonstration made to him of the truth of what he had been told, willingly taking me into his mouth and agreeing that what spurted therein was most certainly not urine, and accepting that as his diet was somewhat lacking in protein, all could be beneficially consumed, which he did with some relish.
Indeed, I must confess that Holmes' declaration that boys do not know how to keep their mouths closed was demonstrated beyond question, Jacob's mouth being ever eager to open, both for cock and tongue, he proving to be as voracious as any Indian boy had been.
Being curious by nature and not easily convinced of the improbable, I enquired of Jacob during a pause in his examination, if he believed himself capable of descending and also ascending a chimney, as his older brother had claimed.
"Bless you, sir," he declared, no doubt taking pity on my ignorance, "Chimblies is most often used by boys to enter a house and lift a piece of silver or two. If there do be no smoke coming from it then tis most like there be no-one in attendance there. Then off with the shoes, find what is looked for and back up again."
"But would not soot come down with the boy?" I asked.
"Some," Jacob agreed, "But soot do be always coming down a chimbley from the birds above, so no worry is made about it."
"But would such a boy," I asked, still unconvinced, "Take care to light a fire there before he made ascent?"
"Ah, sir," Jacob said with a knowing grin, "That would be done at times by a boy most careful to leave no trace of his way in and out, for the fire would burn away the soot. Though, sir, "Jacob tapped his nose on this, "Tis most like only a boy most familiar with that chimbley would do so, for else well might he get his bum burned."
Jacob then returned his attentions to my personal chimney, and heartily sought more sustenance there from, an endeavour from which I made no attempt to dissuade him, he clearly being in need of the protein I was able to provide for him.
It was whilst I was examining the smoothness of Jacob's scrawny form with a hand, paying particular attention to what he amusingly described as his `bone', an item of size no greater than my middle finger, but one that Jacob much enjoyed my careful inspection of, that I wondered aloud why it could be that a boy may become familiar with a particular chimney.
"Perhaps, sir," Jacob grinned wide, "Because a boy has a particular fondness for being examined as you examine me, by a particular gentleman, and the chimbley is the way he can enter and leave in secret."
There was no doubt that Jacob had a fondness more than some for the examination he was receiving, that fondness, I believed, due at least in part to it being the first such examination Jacob had undergone, and a boy's first examination always proves to be a most exciting time for him, and therefore his words were coloured by the careful attention his `bone' was receiving and the nourishing protein he had consumed, and were not intended as a solution to the mystery I was contemplating.
"Is it like," I teased him, "That should you come to think you were in need of some further examination, that you would visit me by coming down my chimney and not by knocking at my door as you earlier did?"
To my surprise, Jacob did not smile at my jest, his features instead taking on a look of some seriousness and yearning.
"I would have you examine me as oft as you want," he said a little wistfully, "And should you wish to knock at my back door, well, sir, I shall soon be eleven and old enough now to answer your knock, sir, and let you in."
Such a response I had not anticipated and was more than some confused by the twist the boy had placed on my innocent, jesting words, but there could be no doubt that Jacob's reply was not in jest, but delivered with all intent and seriousness.
"Much would I like for you to visit me again," I said, as serious now as Jacob, "Indeed every day would not be too frequent."
That he was pleased by my reply, I deduced not from his happy grin alone, but also from the manner in which his `bone' jerked and throbbed in my fingers as I held it.
"You are busy in the day, sir," Jacob grinned, "Solving wicked crimes with Mr Holmes. I believe you would rather have my visits for the nights."
"Then would you be obliged to visit me by the chimney," I jested, "For you on my doorstep every night would cause some notice to be made of it."
I held him close and made some move to kiss him, so affected was I by his offer to me, and his mouth opened on the instant to admit my tongue and eagerly his tongue fought with mine, not in an attempt to repel but in desire for the duel to continue.
"Could it be, you think," I asked when the need for breath had brought an end to our amorous conflict with our tongues, "That the boy who descended the Colonel's chimney, did so for a purpose such as this?"
I was obliged to explain to Jacob the meaning of my enquiry, he being not cognisant of the facts relating to the murder of the Colonel, and having done so, Jacob had no hesitation with his reply.
"It must be, sir," he said, "That the boy was being bummed by the Colonel or the butler, perhaps by both, sir, else would his arrival from the chimbley have caused some consternation."
"But would not the arrival of the boy in such a fashion for the purpose you describe, necessitate the presence in the Library of a bath? A butler may, but a Colonel would not engage in such activity with a soot covered boy."
"Bless you, sir," Jacob once more underlined my ignorance, "If he's coming for regular bumming, sir, the chimbley would be kept clean, no fire ever lit there. The boy removes his clothing, no soot beneath it, no bath needed."
At this point I had my first intimations that Holmes' miraculous solutions to many mysteries came not from the sharpness of his mind but from the words of his irregulars.
It had, I recalled, been Jimmy and not Holmes who had talked of a boy coming down the chimney and locking the Library door behind the departing, murdering butler, and now young Jacob had supplied a possible motive.
"You, Jacob are a genius," I told the boy who smiled very nicely at me.
"Am I, sir?" he sweetly chirruped, "I don't know what one of them is, sir. Does it mean you want to examine me again?"
"It means that you are very clever," I told him, and told him also that he was just the sort of boy I liked to examine, information that seemed to please him more than being told he was clever.
"I can find another way in, sir," he proclaimed with every degree of seriousness, "I won't have to come down your chimbley."
"You won't," I declared, "You will ever enter through the front door."
"And you can enter my back door," he giggled with an evil grin. "Jimmy said you would probably want to."
How Jimmy, a boy I have had but few words with, and those only in the presence of Holmes, had come to that conclusion, only added to my growing feeling that the irregulars and not Holmes, were the solvers of many mysteries.
"That was most perceptive of Jimmy," I said, "Though I fear he may have come to that conclusion before I did so myself, though now, I confess, that he and I are in accord."
"Does that mean you want to, sir?" Jacob asked, face full of hope.
"It does, Jacob, though not tonight. Your back door will need much examination by tongue and fingers before you permit me to open it properly."
Any disappointment Jacob may have experienced at my delaying the opening of his back door was dispelled by the thought of further examination of it, particularly if such examination was of an oral nature.
"Oh, yes, sir," he enthused, "I liked it much when you poked your tongue in me."
"As did I," I assured him, "But, Jacob, I would like to discover more of what you may have to say about the boy who came down the Colonel's chimney. Sulking is not necessary," I admonished him as he began to display a pout, "I shall continue my examination of your penis whilst you do so."
"My cock, sir," Jacob corrected me, "It don't sound right if you gives it a fancy name."
"Very well, Jacob," I conceded, "Your cock it is, and I shall ever name it so."
"Thank you, sir," the waif smiled and jerked the item under discussion to display his approval. "What you want to know about the boy and the chimbley?"
"You were of the opinion," I reminded him, "That the boy was in all probability a frequent user of that chimney so he could arrive in secret to be `bummed' was the word you used."
"Yes, sir. That means having a cock put inside your back door, sir," he explained, believing I had no understanding of the word. "Like what Jimmy said you'll be wanting to do to me, sir," he added to make clear his explanation.
"Yes, thank you, Jacob," I said, "I believe we have established the veracity of that."
"That means you do want to, don't it, sir?"
"Yes, Jacob, it means precisely that."
"Good, sir. Ooohh, that feels nice, sir," Jacob sighed as I paid some particular attention to his foreskin, a small, but exceedingly important and sensitive bit of skin that I knew from my medical training and experience that boys may obtain considerable pleasure from, as so many nerves come to an ending there.
"And who, Jacob, do you believe the boy was accustomed to being bummed by? The Colonel or the butler?"
"Must have been the Colonel, sir, cos it were the Colonel's chimbley what he came down. If he were being done by the butler, sir, he'd have come down a different chimbley."
"And could he not have made mistake of one chimney for another?"
"Bless you, no, sir. The butler's chimbley would have been on a different part of the roof, sir, and butlers always has their fires lit, so if it were the butler what was bumming him he wouldn't have used a chimbley."
"Elementary, my dear Watson," I murmured, which indeed it was, but only so if one was fully cognisant of chimneys and their locations.
`So," I mused, using Jacob to rehearse what I might say to Holmes on the morrow, "If it was the Colonel who was bumming the boy, and, as the boy was wont to enter and leave by the chimney, he was doing so in some secret, why was the Library door unlocked so the butler could enter?"
"Masters don't have no secrets from servants, sir," Jacob stated, "Some likes to think they has, but none don't really. I knows that, sir," Jacob explained, "Cos our mum was a servant once, `for she got put out, sir, for getting herself with child."
"Something she could not have achieved by herself," I said dryly.
"No, sir," Jacob concurred, "That's why she said kitchen boys has it easy, sir, cos no matter how hard a master may try, no boy can get put up the duff. But with a maid, sir, it needs only take one go an' she's got a bun in her oven."
Jacob's language was some what colourful though he made his point as plainly as any academic might have done, but I was obliged to remind him that we were considering chimney boys, not kitchen boys.
"Yes, sir," Jacob consented, "But `tis the same thing, sir. Don't matter how secret the Colonel thought it was, the butler would have known he was bumming a boy on the quiet, so no need to keep his door locked, sir, the butler knowing not to enter while the boy was there."
"And other servants?"
"Oh, they'd all have known as well, sir. Just wouldn't have let the Colonel know they knew."
"So, if one was to have a boy one wished to bum," I said, "It would be prudent to have no servants."
"Unless the boy was the only servant, sir," Jacob grinned suggestively, "No need to keep it a secret from such if it's him what you's bumming, sir."
I could not help but begin to believe that Jacob was proposing a situation that would enable him to be regularly examined and avoid unwanted notice being made of the frequent visits that would perforce be necessary for that to occur, and enquired of him if he had no desires to be enrolled amongst Holmes' irregulars.
"I did, sir," he said, "But I think I may have more liking to assist in medical matters. I do much like being examined, sir."
`And are," I smiled at him, "A most pleasing subject to examine," and returned to that enjoyable duty, dismissing from my mind all thoughts of chimneys.
Though I passed a very pleasant night, rising from my bed after some less slumber that I had become accustomed to but feeling most content, Holmes, by his appearance, had been less fortunate. Dark circles were around his eyes, indicating some severe lack of sleep, and he was obliged to inform me that Jack had discovered so much of import in Piccadilly, that it had taken till past dawn for him to recount all.
There was nothing, though, that pertained to the Colonel and his murder, a matter Holmes, by his demeanour appeared to consider solved and closed, and he lit again his foul pipe, filling his room with unpleasant smoke.
Perceiving that his mood was unlike to improve, I prescribed a healthy dose of laudanum, and sought Mrs Hastings that she might acquire it for him.
"Really, Dr Watson," she said, concerned as always about her lodger, "Mr Holmes works far too hard. Often, as he did last night, listening to one of his irregulars report, no doubt making connections with that sharp mind of his between what he learned and what he knew, all through the night when he should have been sleeping like an ordinary man."
I added my concerns to hers, whereupon she turned on me and said that I was little better.
"A medical man like you, Dr Watson," she declared, "Should know better than to behave as you do. You are not in the Army now and have no batmen to wait on you but live alone, no doubt in some state of disorder. You should take in someone to keep house for you, otherwise your health will be affected."
"Being a bachelor as I am, it would be most inappropriate for me to take in a housekeeper, Mrs Hastings," I pointed out, "And I fear my means do not stretch to the employment of a butler."
"Then take a boy," Mrs Hastings declared, "A boy can clean as well as any maid, and the cost of a boy is quite small. You must have someone, Dr Watson, what with all your doctoring and the writing you do for Mr Holmes."
Chastened and chastised, I retired to a coffee house for some breakfast and after to my modest home, thinking to go through all the notes I had made in hope of obtaining some enlightenment on the motive behind the Colonel's murder.
Holmes, of course, would achieve the solution in an instant were he to put his mind to it, but that, at the present he was disinclined to do, so I hoped my ponderings may be of some use to him later.
In the afternoon, while I was toasting some crumpets to have with tea I had freshly made, a knock at my door announced the unexpected arrival of Jacob, a now familiar grin on his urchin face.
"A little early for an examination," I teased him and was rewarded by an extension of his grin.
"Never too early to be examined by you," he cheeked, but as I was engaged in attempting to locate a motive for the Colonel's murder, I invited Jacob to have tea and crumpet instead of making prompt examintion of him.
"Word is," Jacob said between mouthfuls of crumpet, "That this Colonel of yours was a bit of a one for boys."
"Was he indeed?" I put another crumpet on the fork to toast.
"Seems several have been up and down his chimbley."
"Have they, indeed?" I said, concentrating on burning neither the crumpet or my hand.
"And when he's had enough of one, he tells him not to come again and finds another."
Such behaviour, though reprehensible, is not that uncommon, and I thought Jacob's gossip to be of little importance.
"Course," Jacob said, "There be some boys don't have a liking for that."
"I'm sure they don't," I said, "That is not a proper way to treat a boy."
"That's what I said to Jimmy. I said Dr Watson wouldn't treat me like that, and Jimmy said I couldn't know that till you'd been in my back door, cos there's lots of men who only want to go in a boy's back door once, and when they been in there they wants a new one to go in."
"Jimmy is telling you the truth," I agreed, "He clearly has your interests at heart."
"He does," Jacob confirmed, "He looks out for me, does Jimmy."
Clearly Jacob did not believe I had toasted that crumpet for myself as he removed it from the fork, and having smeared it deep with butter, conveyed it to his mouth.
"Anyways," Jacob said, crumpet consumed, "I said secrets can't be kept from servants, didn't I, and the boy what's been going up and down your Colonel's chimbley for a month or more has an uncle."
"Some boys do have uncles," I said, putting another crumpet to toast.
"I knows that!" Jacob sniffed, "But this boy's got an uncle what's a butler."
"You know the identity of the boy?" In my surprise I dropped the fork and crumpet in the fire.
"Ah, you gone wasted that one," Jacob moaned as the flames consumed the crumpet, "You needs someone what can look after you, you does."
First Mrs Hastings and now Jacob! Was I to have no peace?
"Nah, don't know the boy," Jacob returned to his tale, "But his uncle, the butler, been mouthing off about how bad his nephew was treated and how glad is he that his employer got dead. You going to stick another one on the fork to toast, or you want me to do it for you?"
I passed the toasting fork to Jacob and had to confess to some surprise at the deft way he handled it and how well he toasted crumpets.
"So," I sighed," Holmes was right. The butler did do it."
"No, sir. The Colonel had just returned from Spain you see, sir, and hadn't had a boy down his chimbley for weeks, so the boy's uncle said. Was months ago his nephew climbed up and down it."
"Oh," I said with disappointment, the case no longer solved.
"Mr Holmes tell you all about it when you see him tomorrow, sir. He'll have worked it all out by then."
"No doubt he will, Jacob, no doubt he will. Mr Holmes has a much sharper mind than I."
"That he has, sir," Jacob handed me a toasted and buttered crumpet, even poured me another cup of tea, no doubt in some sympathy for my lack of wit.
There being now no need for further perusal of my notes, and having time on my hands, I wondered if perhaps Jacob would be interested in a further examination, which he consented to, requesting that I paid particular attention to his back door as he was anxious to determine if and when it would be in a proper condition to be opened.
I was most pleased to discover that his doorway was clean, and commented on that, to which he replied that he felt he would be most accomplished at any cleaning I wished him to do should he be given the opportunity, whereupon I confess that I gratified myself greatly by examining him orally both front and back, and so much time was consumed by that examination that he was obliged to spend a second night in my bed.
It was in a most cheerful mood that I descended on Baker Street the following morning, Jacob having risen early to provide me with eggs boiled for breakfast, an achievement I had not thought a boy not yet eleven to be capable of.
Holmes also was in a cheerful mood, the laudanum clearly having been beneficial, greeting me with the announcement that, as he had thought, the butler did not do it.
"Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary," he declared, "So elementary a boy could have discovered it. It was not the butler, but the foreign gentleman who paid the Colonel a visit that very afternoon, who was the culprit."
"But I thought you said it was the butler," I protested.
"You misheard me, Watson, misheard me. And not for the first time, may I say. Did I not actually say that it was too obvious that the butler would have done it?"
"Perhaps you did, Holmes, perhaps you did, and I mistook you."
"You must really learn to concentrate, Watson," Holmes waved a hand at me, "You are like to prescribe mercury when you intended laudanum else, and mercury is for the French disease, is it not, and not for sleepless nights?"
"There are times when mercury is needed following sleepless nights," I muttered darkly, though I believe Holmes heard me not.
Colonel," Holmes pontificated, "Had recently been to the continent, to Spain in
particular, where it appears he indulged in an unfortunate attachment with the
young son of an Italian gentleman who was visiting there. The Italians, Watson,
especially those from the south of that country, are known to become most
inflamed if they perceive their honour to be impinged, and this Italian did not
consider a mere Colonel to be of rank sufficient to form an attachment with his
Accordingly, he came to London to make his feelings known, and having done so, departed at once again to Italy, leaving the butler to discover later the body in the Library."
"Very convincing, Holmes," I agreed, "But that does not explain the Library door locked from the inside."
"Is not the first duty of any servant to his master?" Holmes said smugly, "And so it was with the butler. Wishing to avoid any scandal, and now in need of alternative employment, and no reference possible, the Colonel being dead and unable to write one, the butler, knowing as he did of the comings and goings of his nephew to the Colonel before he departed for the continent, made request of that boy to descend the chimney once more and to lock the Library door, and thus present the police with a mystery he knew they would be unable to solve."
"Amazing, Holmes," I said in some awe, "But he did not take into account that you would take an interest in the event and thus solve the mystery."
"He did not," Holmes preened, "And that was foolish of him. And speaking of foolishness, Watson, I was paid a visit by Jimmy, who has words he wishes to say to you concerning some foolishness of yours."
What that could be, I had no idea, Jimmy having sent Jacob to me for examination I felt that could not be the cause, though otherwise it may well have been.
"Do you know anything about an Italian gentleman?" I demanded of Jimmy who was waiting for me at Mrs Hastings' door, Holmes' miraculous solution to the mystery being still on my mind.
"The one I told Mr Holmes of yesterday?" Jimmy asked, "The one the butler said came to visit the Colonel and left in haste after?"
"The very same," I said, my suspicions confirmed.
"No more than what I told Mr Holmes," Jimmy shrugged in the way boys do, "That the butler said there were violent words said between that gentleman and the Colonel concerning a boy in Spain, and the butler having to talk his nephew into going down the chimney again so the police would not suspect him of the murder. I don't know no more than that."
"You know all there is to know, Jimmy," I said and would have asked him what words he wished to have with me but he prevented me by saying them without the need of being asked.
is old enough, sir," Jimmy pronounced,
"But, sir, it is not proper that he should have to come and go, and that
in some secret, each time you wish to examine him. I know you have not such a
sharp mind as Mr Holmes and have not understood proper that Jacob wishes for
employment with you, that he may be examined by day and by night.
A bachelor man like you, sir, may take a boy into employ and none question it and no secret need be made of his being with you."
Could this be the reason Jacob had toasted crumpets and boiled eggs? That he delighted in being examined was beyond question, and that I much enjoyed the examining of him also, and that I had discovered again the pleasing nature of having a boy in my bed at night was also beyond question.
"Would not he find more exercise for his mind were he to become an irregular?" I asked, not wishing to deprive Jacob of the detective life.
"It's not his mind he wishes exercise for," Jimmy said in the same tone of exasperation that Holmes so often used when addressing me, "It's his back door he wishes unlocked, and that by your key, sir."
Some trivial mention of that door had been made by Jacob, more so after it had been examined by my tongue and he had extracted a confession from me that I had a desire to use it at some future time, which, he being a boy and I a man was no uncommon desire.
"He has made some mention of that entrance," I agreed, "And he has some skill with toasting crumpets."
"And you some skill with your tongue, sir, when you examine him." Jimmy said with some force, "That he proclaims most loudly. I would you make an honest boy of him, sir. Take him in to your employ; he will content you much."
"I would needs instruct him in the making of coffee for my breakfast, to accompany the eggs he boils for me."
"He learns quick, sir," Jimmy persisted, determined on his mission.
"Well," I conceded, concluding that I would be ever assailed by Jimmy and Mrs Hastings were I to refuse to take a servant boy, "I may find some uses for him, I suppose."
"Much use, sir, not some," Jimmy insisted, "Some use Mr Holmes might make of him were he to join the irregulars, but he will be better served with you."
"Yes," I said, making some attempt to consider the evidence as Holmes would do, "I believe he may not yet be old enough to be an irregular, but he is old enough for me."
Jimmy showed relief on his face that I had come to a solution. "We had thought that to be a mystery too deep for you to solve," he grinned, alluding once again to my lack of perceptive wit, "How did you do it?"
"Elementary, my dear Jimmy, elementary," I said, relishing the using of Holmes' words, "Jack has hairs, as do you, but Jacob has none. Quite elementary. Also," I said in addition, "I believe my chimney is not of a sufficient size to be used as an entrance, and a fire is always lit. However improbable it may appear that I have need for a servant boy, employing Jacob as such is the only possible solution if I wish to examine him with frequency."
I departed from Baker Street in a most amenable condition of mind, making reminder to myself to make purchase of additional butter and a container of oil of the olive. Jacob would require prodigious quantities of butter for his crumpets and the unused hinges of his back door would need much oiling before they could used to open that door.
(Holmes is of independent means, and Dr Watson sufficiently so to employ a servant boy; Nifty is not so, yet still it contrives to supply material for your reading pleasure. That some contributions towards its continued existence would assist it greatly is elementary, my dear reader, elementary.)