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The Archivist’s Letter

30 Oct

Diary of Doctor Watson

It has been a few months since our adventure at the home of Roderick Usher, and my visits to Baker Street have become somewhat irregular. Following the capture of the dreaded arch villain, Doctor Fu Manchu, Holmes and Lestrade busied themselves in matters of law, guaranteeing that the infamous crook would not be free to practice his evil doings for the next several decades.

The court case, quite naturally, provoked renewed interest in the Great Detective’s powers of deduction in the Londen press, resulting in numerous requests for his services. Many of these proved to be of the missing-husband variety, which Holmes cast aside with his usual disdain. However, given his depleted personal finances, I took pains to persuade him to at least consider one or two cases, if only to counteract Mrs Hudson’s incessant whinging in relation to the regular payment of rent. I’m glad to say he finally took my advice and swallowed his enormous pride. Solving a series of straightforward and—it has to be said—boring cases, without the necessity of leaving his rooms, the ensuing remuneration, though being anathema to his sense of logic, has nevertheless allowed him to maintain the spendthrift existence to which he has become accustomed.

This morning, having not heard from my erstwhile companion for several weeks, I determined to pop along to see him. However, while ruminating on this plan, a letter appeared on my breakfast table.

“When did this arrive, darling?” I said, peering at the envelope.

Mary poured herself another cup of Darjeeling. “Just now. A messenger brought it. If you paid more attention to your surroundings, you’d have seen him.” She gave me a playful wink and tapped a finger on the letter. “From Big Nose, is it?”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call him that, dear. He is, after all, the world’s greatest detective.”

“With the biggest nose.”

“In any case, while the handwriting does bear some resemblance to his characteristic scrawl, there’s a distinct smell about the envelope which suggests its author to be someone who enjoys a rather more intense existence.” Holding it up to my nose, I inhaled the slightly putrid odour. “Hmm. A whiff of garlic, plaster of Paris and…a hint of hair tonic.”

“Quite the detective, aren’t you, darling?” said Mary, with a tinge of sarcasm. “I suppose the writer will turn out to be of French origin, wearing a well-lubricated toupee while constructing models of the Eiffel tower.”

Ignoring her jibes, I slit open the missive and read the following letter:

Dear Doctor Watson

I trust you will forgive this unsolicited pressure on your valuable time, but as you will see, I believe Sherlock Holmes and your good self may be able to assist me.

In my role as Chief Archivist at the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts, I have of late become aware of the theft of several Egyptian relics from the museum. These relics have on each occasion, disappeared during the hours when the museum is closed and as our beloved police force have demonstrated themselves to be quite inept in securing the person or persons responsible, I should be most humbled if yourself and Mr Holmes might look into the matter with some urgency.

(I would of course have approached Mr Holmes in person, but knowing your role as his biographer allows some degree of, shall we say, persuasive abilities when it comes to demands on the great man’s time, I hoped that in the circumstances you might press upon him the importance of my request.)

Needless to say, the museum would be happy to reimburse any expenses, as well as a substantial fee for the recovery of the missing objects.

Yours sincerely
B Ravensburg (MA, ARA, DPhil)

Passing the letter to Mary, I said, “As I suspected—it’s from the Londen Museum.”

Mary scanned the missive. “His name sounds familiar. I wonder if it’s Ben Ravensburg, the famous gothic novelist.”

I rolled my eyes. “I think you mean alcoholic novelist, m’dear. The fellow’s well known for his drunkenness and debauchery.”

Mary’s eyes lit up. “Debauchery? How interesting.”

“Anyway, I continued, “What on earth would a novelist be doing working in a museum?”

“If you decide to see him, perhaps I might accompany you.”

I smiled at her. “Of course, my dear. If only to prove your theory wrong.”

An hour later, I climbed the stairs at 221B Baker Street and rapped on the door. It opened immediately.

“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, shaking my hand vigorously. “I see you received my message.”

“Which message would that be, old bean?”

My friend’s smile vanished. “My telepathical communication, of course.”

“Ah. Sadly not.”

Knowing how boredom irritates Holmes, I should not have been surprised to learn that he had persisted in a preposterous series of experiments on the theory of mind transfer. Our previous discussions on the matter had only succeeded in frustrating me, so on this occasion I determined not to take the bait. Instead, I advanced to my usual seat by the fire and waited while Holmes stuffed a portion of Hard Shag into his meerschaum, lit it with a Swan Vesta and settled himself in the chair opposite.

“Nothing at all, then?” he said.

“Not a whisper.”

His mouth turned downwards. “Damn. Must be a fault with my transmutational analysis of the text.”

“What was the message?”

He shrugged. “Nothing of any import. I simply wished you to come at once on receiving my missive. But here you are anyway.”

Passing Mr Ravensburg’s letter across to him, I said, “Interesting proposition. Came this morning.”

Holmes held the envelope between slender fingers, examining it carefully. Holding it up to his nose, he sniffed. “I should hazard a guess that the writer works at the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts. Probably an archivist or curator in the Egyptian section.”

I couldn’t help let out a gasp. “How on earth—”

“Elementary, Watson. Before your arrival, my attention was drawn to a small article in The Times relating to the theft of certain relics. As our friend Lestrade and his comrades have once again proved themselves to be incompetent in tracking down the thieves, it could only be a matter of time before the museum’s board of directors called on the skills of the world’s greatest consulting detective.” He paused. “And his noble companion.”

“Excellent. I shall arrange a meeting.”

Holmes took out the letter and perused it. “Ravensburg.” He looked up. “Wouldn’t be Ben Ravensburg, the gothic novelist, by any chance?”

I suppressed a groan. “As it happens, Mary had the same ridiculous idea.”

Holmes stared at me. “Then she had better accompany us when we meet this fellow. Your wife’s ridiculous ideas have a habit of proving to be correct. Besides, we may require her diversionary skills if the situation turns out to be more complex than the theft of a few Egyptian ornaments.”

I should have felt grateful that Holmes now seemed to acknowledge my wife’s contributions to our adventures but having been outwitted by them both on several occasions, I found myself feeling a little miffed. I also managed to completely miss Sherlock’s inference that the investigation may not be all it appeared. As it turned out, the mystery we were about to embark on had nothing to do with missing artefacts and the events of the next seven days would place each one of us in the gravest danger.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 30, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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2 responses to “The Archivist’s Letter

  1. robbiesinspiration

    November 9, 2020 at 6:46 AM

    A jolly good start, Colin. I love the London Museum. I supposed its closed at the moment. Sigh!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • colingarrow

      November 9, 2020 at 8:31 AM

      Thanks Robbie. This story also mirrors themes from the next book I’m writing. Mwah, hah, hah…

      Liked by 1 person

       

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