Authors: Dick Gillman
Tags: #holmes, #moriarty, #baker street, #sherlock and watson, #mycroft
Sherlock Holmes - The
Copyright © 2016 Dick
Cover image modified from an
photograph taken by Lars Plougmann,
hosted on Flickr and used under a
Creative Commons license.
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This collection of twelve stories is
written in the original, short story style as used by the master
himself, Sir A. C. Doyle. They are arranged chronologically and
cover the period 1889 to 1919 but, however, do not follow the order
in which they were written by the author.
Whilst one may be drawn to believe in
Holmes, Watson and their entourage, all the characters appearing in
these stories are fictitious or used fictitiously.
Except for certain historical figures
mentioned in the stories, any resemblance to real persons, either
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Zhou Bell
The Birchwood Affair
The Cagliari Affair
The Bishop’s Tie Pin
Miss Violet Dixon (deceased)
The Bulgarian Clockmaker
The Lymington Affair
The Second Key
The Rattle Jacks Affair
The Angel’s Trumpet
The Emerald Spirit
The Star of Bithur
It was an invitation by none
other than the Chinese ambassador that ignited the powder trail
leading to the case that I have recorded here as that of The Zhou
The first week in April 1889
found Holmes and me enjoying an unseasonable spring in Baker
Street. For the most part, the sun shone with a warmth not usually
found until later in the year and we took full advantage of it when
strolling through one of the great parks of London. Indeed, it was
on the return from one such outing that the case began.
Holmes, invigorated by the
exercise, bounded up the stairs to our rooms whilst I blamed the
old war wound to my knee for preventing me from following suit.
"Steady, Holmes. I am not the
man I once was" called I. This blatant excuse from me only caused
Holmes to chuckle as he burst into our sitting room.
Alert as ever, it took him but a
moment to observe the envelope that was sitting on the silver tray
reserved for our mail. As I entered, Holmes was already draped in
his favourite armchair and amusing himself by closely examining the
unopened envelope. I sat wearily on our settee and began to regain
my breath. Holmes had something of a wicked glint in his eye as he
tossed the envelope across to me. “What do you make of this,
This was a game that he fully
enjoyed and played whenever there was something of interest in the
mail. I took it in good part and knew he took pleasure from my very
amateurish attempts at detection...although my skills in
observation were improving!
I looked at the envelope, held
it to the light and then up to my nose before making my report.
"Well, it is a not quite a foolscap sized envelope in a delicate
shade of cream with our address written in a strong, but not
entirely cursive, hand. It carries a plain seal and was posted in
Holmes positively beamed and
began to fill his favourite Meerschaum from the Persian slipper
that held his tobacco. "Excellent, Watson. Pray continue."
"The envelope has a slight
odour, almost a flowery fragrance and the contents appear to be a
single piece of stiff card." Pleased with my report, I passed the
envelope back to Holmes.
Holmes was still smiling and
proceeded once again to be my mentor on the finer points of
observation. "Capital, Watson...but let us see if there is anything
else we can glean. As you observed, the size of the envelope is not
standard but not only that, the paper itself is handmade and not of
European origin. The fibres are quite coarse and are not, I think,
from wood pulp. This may account for the colour also."
Taking up his magnifying glass
and, after a strong pull on his pipe, Holmes continued. "Yes, as I
thought, we must look further East I feel for the origin of this
envelope. As to the writing, I agree with you about the hand, the
sweeping strokes are interesting although the formation of the
letters is not fluid, they are as if done by a child learning their
alphabet. What can we infer from that, Watson?"
I must confess that I was
initially stumped by this but then I had a flash of inspiration. My
mind went back to the scripts that I had seen in my army days in
India. "Perhaps...perhaps the alphabet we use in the West is not
one that is natural to the writer. Perhaps they are more used to a
written language with different letter forms, as in India!"
Holmes slapped the arm of his
chair and again shouted, "Capital! You have reasoned well...but I
think we must travel even further east. The scent you detected on
the envelope is not one of Indian incense. I think it more to be
one of subtle flowers, Chrysanthemum, perhaps?" Holmes would say no
more on this and continued. "As you correctly observed, the letter
was posted in Belgravia, an area which has become fashionable for
the residences of ambassadors to the court of Her Majesty. I
believe, Watson, that the paper of this envelope was manufactured
from bamboo and may have travelled many thousands of miles, from as
far away as Peking to reach us here, via the Chinese embassy. What
would you imagine to be written on the stiff card inside, assuming
that it has, indeed, come from the Chinese embassy?"
"An invitation!" I
Holmes chuckled. "I trust it is
for I shall be very disappointed, Watson, if I am completely
incorrect and it is simply our laundry bill." Holmes slid a finger
beneath the flap of the envelope to open it. He withdrew the card
from it and studied it for a few moments. Holmes’ face, for once,
showed some signs of slight puzzlement.
"Interesting, Watson. It is, as
I surmised, an invitation… but not to the embassy. It is to attend
a soirée at one of our great British institutions, The Victoria and
Albert Museum." Holmes was looking quite pensive and was tapping
the stem of his pipe against the fingers of his hand. "But why? I
know of a forthcoming Chinese exhibition but why request our
presence?" It was at that moment Holmes turned the invitation over
and a smile spread across his face. He had been so intent on
confirming that the card was an invitation that he had become
completely focussed upon it. "Ah, it is indeed a
personal invitation, Watson."
Holmes tossed the card to me and
I read aloud the invitation. "His Excellency, Liu Shui-fen requests
the pleasure of the company of Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John
Watson at a preview of the exhibition of the Zhou bell at 7p.m. on
the 10th of April, 1889 at the Department of Asia, Victoria and
Albert Museum. R.S.V.P." I turned the card over and written in a
precise and fluid hand were the words "It will be a pleasure to
meet you again, Holmes. Liu".
I sat back, a little shocked.
"You know the Chinese ambassador, Holmes?"
Holmes smiled again. "I did him
a small service some years ago and, seemingly, he has remembered
it." Holmes would say no more on the matter and rested back in his
chair, still smiling and puffing contentedly on his pipe.
On the evening of the 10th we
had a light meal before setting off for the Victoria and Albert
Museum. We had already eaten a fine luncheon of mutton chops,
boiled potatoes, some spring greens supplemented by carrots which
had been laid down in sand over the winter. Having eaten our fill,
we dressed warmly and hailed a Hansom. Little was said on our short
ride to the museum and we were soon mounting the steps towards the
vast, white edifice which had now graced the skyline of London for
over 30 years. During which time antiquities from across the globe
and donations from wealthy patrons had come to fill the exhibition
spaces of this fine building.
At the entrance to the museum
were posters advertising the forthcoming exhibition of Chinese
antiquities with the Zhou bell heading the bill. Two constables
were on duty standing one either side of the front entrance. As we
drew near, both constables saluted Holmes who, in turn, raised his
cane in acknowledgement. The unforgettable figure of Holmes being
well known to all members of the Metropolitan police. Once inside,
our invitation was discreetly checked and we were ushered to the
area in the Asia department which had been set aside for the
exhibition. Suits of Chinese armour had been placed on mannequins
and there were also displays of antique weaponry. Several glass
cases containing coins, masks, small vases etc. had been placed in
an arrangement which seemed to naturally lead the visitor towards
the highlight of the exhibition, the Zhou bell.
The bell itself was sitting on a
small silk cushion placed on a decorative Chinese table. For the
exhibition, the bell was to be housed in a single sturdy glass case
which was well lit by large oil lamps placed on either side. I have
to say that, to me, it did not seem particularly impressive, being
a cast, patterned bronze bell about ten inches tall. At the top of
the bell was a square loop to suspend it by in the form of a
serpent held in the mouths of two dragons, one on either side. The
body itself was comprised of four panels, each made up of alternate
raised bosses, almost like wax seals separated by bands of raised
pattern work. The base of the bell was fluted and, again, a band of
raised patterns about three inches deep. To the untrained eye, it
looked similar in form to the strange bird and animal motifs found
on Aztec artefacts. In the centre of the band was a large, circular
seal depicting a coiled dragon with staring eyes and with its mouth
Holmes was looking at the
various exhibits, pausing occasionally to examine something in
greater detail. After a few minutes he returned to me as I stood by
In a low voice I expressed my
first impressions of the Zhou bell. "I have to say, Holmes, that I
am not entirely impressed by the star exhibit."
Holmes raised an eyebrow, looked
at the bell and then back to me. "I think, Watson, you have to know
a little about its history to appreciate it. The bell before you is
unique. It is a Bo, the largest of a set of five bells of differing
sizes used as a musical instrument. It was made specifically for
the Zhou king between the 5th and 6th century B.C. at the Jin State
foundry in Houma."
Holmes paused to give me a
moment to absorb what he had said.
He continued. "The bell was made
using master pattern blocks from which clay moulds were taken and
into which the molten bronze was poured. Normally, the mould could
be used several times to produce identical bells...” Holmes raised
his forefinger, saying, “but not so in this case."
Holmes again paused and pointed
to the seal on the bell. "Because it was made specifically for the
King and bears his seal, after the series of five bells had been
cast, all the moulds were destroyed so only the King could own this
particular set of bells. This is the only one of the five known to
I nodded, realising the
significance of what he had said. "Ah, I see. That does make it a
somewhat special bell."
Holmes looked around and seeing
that he was unobserved, he raised the bell an inch off its cushion
and gave it a gentle tap with the end of his silver mounted cane.
Immediately, he dampened any vibration with his finger and, seeming
satisfied, he carefully replaced the bell back on its silk
There was movement over to our
left and a figure, resplendent in a stunning, multi-coloured silk
robe stepped forward. He was a Chinese gentleman who I estimated to
be aged about 50 years. His face was smooth, save for a thin
moustache, and bore a thin smile and twinkling eyes. Upon his head
he wore a round, silk hat, almost like a highly decorated teapot
lid. Beneath it could be seen jet black hair which had been drawn
back into a traditional, long ‘pig-tail’ which hung almost to his
waist. He took a few steps towards us before putting his hands
together and bowing. Almost at the same moment Holmes bowed and
after a seemingly uncomfortably long pause, by myself. From the
corner of my eye I saw Holmes return upright and I followed