After pausing for a restorative brandy at the Turks Head in Marylebone High Street, I found myself ascending the stairs at Baker Street somewhat later than I had anticipated – the page boy had long since departed for bed. On opening the door, the sight that awaited me left me reeling in shock – the place was in tatters, contents scattered willy-nilly, furniture upended. I rushed to the telephone and called the operator – the line was dead and remembering Holmes stern instruction to have Lestrade meet him at Butlers Wharf I was plunged into a blue funk. It had all gone horribly wrong and it was my fault – Holmes, hopelessly outnumbered, was probably being held captive in some ghastly dungeon while Moriarty went about his infernal business. The room seemed to reel about me and I staggered to the chair and sat down, my head in my hands.
I have no idea how long I sat there, hours, days what did it matter? My doleful countenance stared back at me from the mirror over the hearth, how long had it been since a smile cracked that haggard visage? Rubbing my hand across my cheek I was startled to find a rough beard scratching my tender fingers – examining myself anew, I was encouraged to note an air of some dignity had attached itself to me in a quite inexplicable manner. I pulled a face, swept the hair back across my brow, there was no doubt. The beard lent me an air of magisterial authority – excitedly I rushed to the cabinet and pulled out a selection of inks, razors and brushes; working the lather to a froth, I softened the hair on my top lip and applied the razor, leaving a small square of moustache, directly beneath the nose. The hair, I swept left to right across my forehead, applied ink to the eyebrows and stared back at myself, I raised my right arm as if in salute. Wild eyed and with ink smudged across my cheek I resembled nobody more than the music hall comedian, Charles Chaplin. The air of authority had been nothing more than wishful thinking; I sank feebly onto the linen basket, put my head in my hands and wept.
I awoke to find Mrs. Murgatroyd, busying herself with breakfast, tottering into the drawing room I found a table laid for one, a bowl of steaming porridge, piping hot Kippers and if I’m not mistaken a splendid pot of Assam tea.
“By Jove! Mrs. Murgatroyd that’s a sight for sore eyes!”
The portly housekeeper turned, screamed and dropped the teapot, “Mr. Oatenshaw! Whatever ‘ave you done to yerself?”
“Why Mrs. Murgatroyd, nothing that a plate of your estimable kippers won’t cure!”
“But… you look a sight sir!”
“Yes well, that’s as maybe Mrs. Murgatroyd…”
“What were you thinking of, that silly moustache, and blimey what ‘ave they done to yer eyebrows, I’ve never seen such a show – wait till I fetch Maisy!”
“That’s quite enough thank you very much, Mrs. Murgatroyd”
“Was it fancy dress Mr. Oatenshaw? My word!, wait till I tell Bert…”
“Mrs. Murgatroyd!” I snapped, “You will not tell Bert, Maisy, Uncle Tom Cobbley or anyone else for that matter – I’m engaged in a most important investigation and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself in future.”
“Whatever you say Mr. Oatenshaw sir!” she bustled down the passageway and I heard whispering and ill concealed giggles from the stairs. A few seconds later Maisy knocked at the door.
“Yes, Maisy, what is it?” I said crossly, tucking the napkin into my shirt collar and reaching for the cream.
Speechless with mirth, Maisy was doubled up in the doorway, hands clutching her sides, face scarlet with the effort. Grimly I ignored her and poured the cream carefully over my plate of kippers. The sight was too much for Maisy, who collapsed breathless to the floor, pointing a shaking finger in my general direction. It seemed I was a figure of fun to everyone these days, not just Holmes and Lestrade but half the domestic staff in London were apparently queuing up to enjoy a good laugh at my expense. I’d show them. Hurling my napkin to the floor, I strode past the helpless Maisy and descended the stairs.
Outside in the street, the sun shone and I began to feel better about myself. I hailed a passing cab and eyed the cabby suspiciously as I gave directions to Butlers Wharf, but he was sour faced and irascible, not a glimmer of mirth crossed his features and reassured I climbed into the cab and settled back to read the News.
“Limehouse Golem strikes again!” I read. With mounting horror I read of a chase in the area surrounding Butlers Wharf, Police had been called to a disturbance involving a woman of ill repute and a stevedore, in the confusion, the doxy had vanished and it was not until the stevedore had been subdued that the police noticed the blood, dripping from a pair of legs, swinging gently in the Thameside breeze. Following the legs, the police had discovered a fresh atrocity had been committed, the torso suspended from a dockside crane. The head was nowhere to be found. It seemed the police were now looking for a woman with a thick European accent and a blood soaked wig.
In despair, I alighted at Butlers Wharf and made my way down to the dockside. The bloodstains were still fresh on the quay and looking up I could see the chain where the poor devil must have been suspended, high over the Thames. What kind of a monster were we looking for? I was certain this was Moriarty’s doing, But where the devil was Holmes?
Walking back to the bridge, the sound of a violin rent the morning air, As I entered the subway I saw a young woman, sawing away at the instrument, playing a tune that was oddly familiar. I groped in my pocket for a florin, and prepared to issue a stern lecture to the waif. As I came abreast of the girl I made to toss the florin into her violin case but was startled to find my wrist caught in a vicelike grip before I could release the coin. In thickly accented tones, the figure spoke “Mr. Oatenshaw at last. It is my pleasure…”
My blood ran cold and I saw a vision of myself, grinning ear to ear, hoisted high above the Thames, my blood thundered in my ears and I must have staggered. The next thing I heard was high pitched giggles before a moist linen pad was pressed across my mouth, the fumes invading my breath and I fainted clean away.
I was awoken by a sharp pain, there was salt water, lapping at my face – I was lying on a strip of sodden sand, a curious seagull pecking at my head. I shooed the creature away and looked around me – the crepuscular gloom yielded little detail, but I appeared to be surrounded by water, lights glimmering who knows how far away to my left, hinted at some human settlement, but of my captor there was no sign. I got to my feet and set off towards the lights, the water slopping over the top of my shoes and as the minutes passed, rising steadily up my legs – I surmised that the tide was rising and that I would drown if I did not reach the lights soon. I picked up my pace and half swimming, half walking, eventually made dry land. Shaking a shrimp from my sodden breeches, I made my way to the high street, determined to find a police station.
It seemed there was some kind of carnival going on, soon I found myself in the thick of a merry throng, a marching band and a gang of tumblers, lascars by the look of them. Girls on horseback exposed alarming expanses of thigh, my attention was drawn hither and thither and when a painted hussy presented me with a glass of amber fluid I felt that refusal would be churlish and knocked it back with gusto. Several hours later I found myself dancing the light fantastic, the roar of the crowd, the sawdust and the lights blending into one another as I leaped and twirled. I felt larger than life and appreciated for once. My new friends made me feel at ease and as I eagerly accepted another glass of the mysterious amber nectar, I resolved to leave the city and stay with the circus. The warmth of these people compared to the froidure of life in Baker Street made me realise there were alternatives and exciting ones at that.
When I awoke, I was quite alone in a deserted field, a horse nuzzling at my ear. Of the circus there was no trace. Unsteadily I got to my feet, a blinding headache making it difficult to focus. Gazing down I saw two feet clad in monstrous shoes, surmounted by a vividly checked ensemble that appeared to have been made for a giant. Yellow braces held up the trousers, whose circumference could easily have encircled my waist twice and the tails of the coat appeared to drag along the ground several yards behind me. Upon my head, a miniscule bowler completed the outfit. I groaned and the horse snickered and cantered away.
I reached Baker Street that evening at ten o’clock. To my great surprise, Holmes was sitting smoking a pipe in his favourite chair, and I excitedly rushed into the room, my outsized shoes causing me to trip and fall, “Holmes!” I exclaimed from the floor.
“Ah. Oatenshaw, whatever kept you?” Holmes enquired, one eyebrow raised, a cup of tea poised inches from his lips.
“I’ve had the very devil of a day” I began, struggling to regain my composure.
“I should say you have” replied Holmes “if I’m not mistaken, that costume you are wearing belongs to the travelling circus run by one Franklyn Smart. His principal act if my memory serves me correctly is a trapeze artist – Ellie Monterey?”
My spirits sank to my oversized boots – another voice spoke up, I had not seen Lestrade, warming his breeches by the fire.
“No, I think you’ll find, Holmes, it was the tumbler, Ollie Mantar…”
“Eh! My dear chap, I think not…it was the….
“Never mind the bloody circus” I roared “What happened to the Limehouse Golem?”
For once Holmes looked startled, I had had enough, standing there in Baker Street dressed as a clown, I wanted an explanation and wanted it fast.
Holmes languidly raised a hand, “The case of the Limehouse Golem” he began
I sank exhausted into my chair and poured myself a cup of Mrs. Murgatroyd’s excellent Lapsang Souchong, Helping myself to a portion of fig cake, I snuggled down into the chair. The room was warm and I was tired. As Holmes mellifluous and self congratulatory tones outlined the capture of the Limehouse Golem I realised that the outcome really didn’t matter, what mattered was here, in Baker Street, clown shoes or not, I was home and amongst friends. My head felt heavy and I rested my chin on my chest. Soon I was fast asleep. The last thing I recall was the sound of a violin playing an oddly familiar tune.