Diary of Doctor Watson
Shortly after nine o’clock the following evening, Holmes, Mary and I caught a Hansom cab to Pall Mall. The entrance to the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts lay directly opposite the Reform Club on that thoroughfare. I’d visited the museum a few times in the past but, despite its name, had never found it especially interesting. Holmes paid the driver, strode up the stone steps to the high double doors and rapped on the wood with his walking cane (an affectation he’s taken to lately). After a moment, the door swung open and an old retainer peered out at us.
“We’re closed,” he muttered.
“I’m aware of that,” said my big-nosed companion. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is Doctor Watson and his good lady. We’re here to see Doctor Ravensburg.”
The man muttered something inaudible and pulled the door wide, waving a hand for us to enter.
We walked into a darkened hallway. Corridors lead off to the left and right and a wide staircase curved upwards in front of us. Glass cases on either side displayed the usual collections of moths, stuffed owls and various other creatures. Next to one of the cases stood what appeared to be a life-size effigy of the infamous freak-show exhibit, Two-headed Tony.
Mary touched my arm. “Come away from there, Johnny. It’s disgusting.”
“It’s just a model,” I said.
“Realistic,” said Holmes, peering at the likeness. “Of course, the real one had three heads.”
The old man grunted to get our attention. Resting a hand on the banister, he wheezed, “Can’t manage the stairs meself. Jus’ go up to the top floor, turn right and follow the light.”
We thanked him and made our way to the upper floor. The whole place had an eeriness to it that I’d never noticed during the hours of daylight. Now, with long shadows everywhere, the ancient masks and weapons adorning every inch of wall space made it feel as though we were creeping into a building fraught with danger.
“Bloody spooky place, eh?” quipped Holmes, stopping to admire an enormous carved phallus.
“Oh, my,” murmured Mary, her eyes wide. “That would bring tears to your eyes.”
I gave her an admonishing glare, but she merely sniggered and moved on.
Turning right, we saw light emanating from underneath a door a few yards ahead.
“Ah, this must be his office,” said Holmes, giving it a sharp rap with his cane.
The door opened and a tall man with a goatee-style beard and a thin smile greeted us. “Ah. Messrs Holmes and Watson. Come in, do.” He stepped back and bade us enter.
Lined with bookcases and artefact-packed shelves, the office smelled of old things, reminding me of Mrs Hudson’s living quarters. I was about to introduce myself when the bearded one brushed past me.
“And this gorgeous creature must be the infamous Mrs Watson,” he murmured, taking Mary’s hand and kissing it rather too enthusiastically.
Mary reddened, fluttering her eyelids. “Call me Mary,” she said, giggling girlishly.
Feeling somewhat affronted, I stepped between my wife and the Bearded One. “John Watson,” I said, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “And this is Mr Sherlock Holmes.”
Ravensburg nodded, muttering various greetings. “One moment, please.” Turning to his desk, he shuffled a pile of papers before picking them up and sliding them into a leather satchel.
“Research work, eh?” said Holmes.
Ravensburg sniffed. “Kind of. In fact, I’m investigating someone who once lived in the village where I now spend much of my time.”
“An ancient Egyptian?” I joked, hoping to inject a little humour into the man’s stolid expression.
“No,” he said, dark eyes glaring at me. “A witch, actually.”
“Ooh, that’s interesting,” said Mary, pushing out her chest.
Holmes coughed loudly. “Perhaps we could progress to the matter in hand, Doctor Ravensburg?”
“Of course,” said the other. “But call me Ben.”
“Ben Ravensburg?” said Mary, glancing at me.
“Yes,” said Beardy, a quizzical smile gliding over his face. “Not a fan of my books by any chance, are you, Mary?”
Mary gave me a, ‘Told you so’ look. “Actually, yes. I loved The Menacing Monk and The Hailsham Horror.”
“Oh,” he said waving a hand in what was clearly meant to be a self-deprecatory gesture. “That’s kind of you.”
“My apologies, Mr Holmes,” said Ravensburg. “I can never resist a devotee of my work. Let us proceed to the gallery in question.”
He led the way down a series of corridors, until we came to the section housing the Egyptian gallery. An odd smell caught my nostrils as we approached the entrance—it was a familiar, yet unusual aroma that I couldn’t quite place. Glancing at Holmes, I saw that he had noticed it too.
At the entrance to the gallery, two life-size golden sarcophaguses stood ‘guarding’ the doorway. The coffins were intricately carved, their exteriors having been painted to resemble whichever poor souls must have originally occupied them. The black staring eyes gave me the creeps and I was glad to pass them by.
Ravensburg ushered us into the room, where a series of mummified bodies glowered down at us from the walls. Between each one, glass display cases exhibited ancient vases, urns and delicate stone carvings, along with decorative rings and other ornamental jewellery.
Ravensburg stopped beside one of the exhibits, its glass front shattered. “The contents of each of these cases is valued at many thousands of pounds. As you can imagine, the museum simply cannot afford to replace even a fraction of what has already been stolen.” He shook his head, mournfully. “They broke into this one last night. We don’t know how the thieves are getting in, or indeed, how they’re getting out, but we simply cannot afford another theft.”
Holmes took out his magnifying glass and inspected the broken case. Mary and I examined the rest of the room, looking for possible clues to the theft.
“There’s only the one door, is there?” I said.
Ravensburg nodded. “Always locked at night and only myself and the caretaker have keys.”
“Ah. And the caretaker is…”
“Completely innocent,” said the archivist. “Blind in one eye and incapable of ascending the stairs without help.”
Mary whispered something to Holmes. The Great Detective nodded and muttered to himself. Turning to me, he gave a sly wink. “Yes, it is a difficult case. In fact, I’m not at all certain that we can help, Doctor Ravensburg. Perhaps I could trouble you for some refreshment before we leave.”
Ravensburg looked puzzled. “Really? Oh, that is a shame. But yes, of course. We’ll go to my office.”
Back in the corridor, Holmes held a finger to his mouth, signalling that we should stay silent. He did not speak again until we were safely ensconced in Ravensburg’s office. “Apologies for the subterfuge—it was merely a precaution. Now, whoever is responsible for the thefts must have already been in the gallery, or at least, in the museum when it closed.”
Ravensburg laughed. “I don’t think so, Mr Holmes. One each occasion, I myself was the last person to leave the room. As you saw, there’s nowhere to hide.”
Looking around, it had appeared that this was indeed the case.
“And all the other internal doors are locked?” said Holmes.
“Of course. And are not opened again until I return in the morning.”
“I see,” said Holmes. He turned to Mary and raised an eyebrow.
Mary looked at Ravensburg. “Do you have any bandages?”
“We keep a stock to use as replacements when mummified pieces become too fragile,” said Doctor Ravensburg.
“Could I have a look?”
“Certainly, if you think it might be useful.”
Holmes nodded. “Of course. An excellent idea.”