Sherlock Holmes Investigates. The Free Trade Consortium.
Author:Philip van Wulven


    Iwould be remiss if I were to fail to publish an account of a certainaffair which illustrates to a remarkable degree the courage and wideranging knowledge of disparate subjects that Sherlock Holmes so oftendisplayed.

    Mygood friend and myself were staying at the Clarence Hotel inPortsmouth while engaged in the resolution of certain affairs of someconsiderable importance in the county of Hampshire. We had thwarted aconspiracy intended to sabotage the morale of the Royal Navy and tocause harm to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and he had resolved asituation of some concern to the mayor of the city. These mattershave already been recounted in my reports of the remarkable insightsSherlock Holmes so often brought to bear in his investigations ofseemingly unsolvable cases of criminal activity.

    Ihad expected to set out for London that day, since our business inthe area seemed to have been satisfactorily concluded, but was notaltogether surprised when our intended departure was delayed. When wemet at breakfast, Holmes was thoughtful, with that slight frown,accompanied by a certain relaxation around the mouth, too slight tobe called a smile, yet discernible to the observing eye, which toldof his awakened interest in some challenge to the power of logic toresolve mystery and confound the miscreants. A warning, did they knowit, to those who might otherwise continue to conduct their affairswithout fear of the law of the land and its agents.

    “Watson,I should like to go down to Southampton this morning. I want to callon John Etherington, a Justice of the Peace with whom I have someslight acquaintance. I believe he is concerned with the degree towhich Her Majesty’s Revenue Department is confounded in theirattempts to control the smuggling problem. This editorial articlequotes his statements on the subject. If this proves an interestingchallenge, I should like to render some assistance in the matter. Onethought I have had is concerning that villain Ravendra. It occurs tome that just this sort of lucrative flouting of the authority of HerMajesty’s Government would appeal to a person of his convictions,abilities, and malicious intent. From what I gather, of late theformerly casual fraternity of smugglers has acted in concert, as ifby the intervention of some guiding and co-ordinating intelligence.”

    “Mygoodness, Holmes, do you think it possible that dastardly Lascar canhave seized control of the actions of free Englishmen, and isdirecting them in flouting the law? With such a dire possibility inprospect, I can only say, by all means, Holmes. I am not averse to anextended stay in Hampshire, in any event. I must telegraph my wife,however, and express my regrets at being further detained here. Thiswill mean I must miss both the planned dinner this evening at hermother’s house, as well as the day of convivial leisure in companyof her family we had planned for the morrow. My brother-in-law,Frederick, will be most disconcerted, I fear, as he intends tosolicit my support for his latest commercial enterprise.”

    Irose from the table, and said, “I shall go and find one of thestablemen and instruct him in the care and feeding of the steamboiler on the horseless carriage, and go down to the Post Office tosend that telegram while pressure builds up. That should takesomewhere between forty-five minutes and an hour, in all likelihood.”

    Holmesanswered, “I will await you in the stableyard, in somewhat lessthan an hour from now.”

    Theday was bright, with a brisk breeze off the water, that blew with theparticular edge of a February morning when ice and snow still lay inheaps about the streets, and the few daffodils in sheltered spotsseemed uncertain of their timing in this year’s belated spring.

    ThePost Office was several hundred yards from the hotel, and I wasreturning in good time, and with my step lightened by the thought ofFrederick’s reaction on hearing news of my delayed return toLondon, when I felt something both wet and dismayingly warm land onthe back of my collar and neck. I stopped and carefully wiped with myhandkerchief. As I thought, a contribution from a pigeon in the treeabove. There were several flocks flying over the city, andindividuals foraged for crumbs at strategic locations amongst thefeet of pedestrians in the streets. Apparently they were not fearfulof the murderous hunger of the indigent poor of the municipality, andmerely turned aside when any walked towards them.

    Backat the Clarence Hotel, my good friend waited in the stableyard. Hepaced slowly from one side to the other, pipe firmly between histeeth, as two of the men loaded coal into the holding bin of thehorseless carriage. His gaze directed my attention to a ginger cat,no doubt kept at the stables to control the ubiquitous rodents, whichwas currently engaged in careful pursuit of a pink legged pigeon. Thebird was oblivious to the danger, and pecked busily at some grains ofhorse-feed fallen on the cobblestones.

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