Authors: Peter K Andersson
Tags: #Sherlock Holmes, #mystery, #crime, #british crime, #sherlock holmes novels, #sherlock holmes fiction, #sherlock holmes short fiction
THE SENSIBLE NECKTIE
and Other Stories of Sherlock Holmes
Peter K. Andersson
Published in the UK by MX Publishing
335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive,
London, N11 3GX
Digital edition converted and distributed by
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Â© Copyright 2015 Peter K. Andersson
The right of Peter K. Andersson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.
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The Adventure of the Sensible Necktie
Though we live in an age when exposure to the public gaze is increasingly dismissed as commercial greed, I take up my pen once more to chronicle some further exploits of my friend Sherlock Holmes, spurred not by the promise of a juicy advance from my publisher - there is none - but by the growing inclination towards nostalgia that overcomes a man who sees the world changing beyond recognition around him. In such a situation it is the hunger for memories and the - albeit illusory - comfort of the world of one's younger days, not for profit, that makes one want to sit down and reminisce. The reveries awaken recollections of numerous cases that I should have committed to the written record long ago, but which were sidetracked in preference of more scandalous adventures. Now that I am an older man, it is not the melodramatic escapades that I find interesting - those that my younger self was more prone to recount - but the cases that had the nature of placid mind exercises or which were characterised by their eccentricities rather than their connections to sensational crimes. One such affair was the baffling case of Mr Cyrus Thicknesse of Belsize Park, which took place in the early days of April 1898.
As I came down to breakfast one morning, I noticed a cabinet photograph placed up against the clock on our mantelpiece. It was a portrait of an ordinary and decent-looking man, slim and tall, with a shaved face and a stern expression, dressed neatly in a black suit and tie, posing elegantly with his hand upon the habitual plaster Roman column. He was not familiar to me, and I drew Holmes' attention towards it when he emerged from his bedroom, wiping superfluous shaving cream from his cheeks.
“Oh, that,” he said, as if he had forgotten all about it. “It came this morning. There was a note with it. You will find it on the table, next to the teapot.”
I sauntered over and seated myself before the breakfast tray, pouring myself a cup of Darjeeling while I glanced through the message.
“Dear Mr Holmes,” I read, “please find enclosed the likeness of my brother, Mr Cyrus Thicknesse, whose disappearance took place a month ago, the details of which you will surely have read about in the papers. Since that time there have been developments which I cannot make head or tail of, and which I should like to discuss with you at the earliest possible moment. I will call upon you at eleven today. Yours sincerely, Mr Ellis Thicknesse.”
Holmes was standing by the fire, the photograph now in his hand.
“The papers did make quite a big affair of Thicknesse's disappearance. He was a common City clerk, commuting punctually every day between his office and his home in Belsize Park. One Tuesday morning, however, he did not show up at his work, and a police inquiry was initiated. It transpired that he left his flat that morning as usual, witnessed by his landlady, but that instead of going to the City he took a train into the country. He was seen boarding the morning train from Paddington to Oxford, and a man who sat opposite him during the entire journey claimed that he went at least as far as Goring and Streatley, where the witness disembarked. However, on the next station in the village of Chilton Gifford, where the train was held for a few minutes due to a problem with the points, the station-master walked through it, finding that there were only three passengers in the entire sequence of carriages: an old woman with a child and a one-legged retired soldier. The only other mysterious thing was a curtain that had been stuck halfway down in one of the compartments.”
“Doesn't sound too mystifying,” I remarked. “The man probably jumped out of the train when it was standing still, before the station-master had had time to walk through it.”
“Yes, only there was a porter on the platform who had clear sight of the train from one side, and on the other is a row of terraced houses, the backyards of which would have to have been crossed in full sight of numerous people. Mr Thicknesse was never seen by anyone, and his whereabouts have not been established since then.”
“To me, it is obvious that the man who sat opposite him is lying in his statement,” I said, helping myself to some more scrambled eggs. “He probably did away with him.”
“A stranger he has never seen before? We would have trouble establishing a motive, Watson.”
“Well, I am sure his brother will provide us with the necessary missing pieces of the puzzle. Why do you think he has contacted you?”
“Of that we can only guess. What intrigues me more is the reason why he should send me the man's photograph.”
“To help us in our inquiries?”
“Or to underline a point he wishes to make. You are a keen observer of human nature, Watson. What do you make of the man?”
He tossed down the portrait on the table beside me. I looked at it carefully, but I only saw the aspects that came across in hundreds of similar photographs - the pose minutely arranged by the photographer, the attempt at conveying an air of dignity and delicateness, and the archetypal qualities of the painted background and the column on which he was leaning.
“If you have seen one, you have seen them all, Holmes. Pictures like that say very little about the people in them.”
“Yes, having been exposed to numerous portraits of identical design we tend to become quite blind to whatever individualities they may contain. But if I were to say to you that the man in the picture is an obsessive pedant, that he has at one time worked as a schoolmaster and that there is a broken engagement in his past?”
“Then I would reply that you are a bounder.”
Holmes chuckled secretively, and started pacing the room like a professor interrogating his students.
“His teaching days are present in the picture in the form of the pendant on the watch-chain. I took the time to study it under an eyeglass, and managed to identify it as the emblem of the National Schoolmaster's Association. Since we know that the man works as a City clerk, this must be a relic of a past affinity. In his breast pocket is a white handkerchief, much like the handkerchief found in thousands of similar breast pockets on thousands of similar middle-class men in this country. Or so most people would think, not paying any particular attention to it. But one must never falter in one's suspicion of the ordinary, Watson, and I placed my eyeglass over this detail as well. Do you notice the uneven nature of the upper edge of the handkerchief? When you look closely, you will see that this is not due to it being frayed. What a quick glance perceives as the worn edge of a gentleman's handkerchief is in fact the lace edge of a lady's handkerchief! So here, all of a sudden, we have a lover's keepsake, worn close to the heart, presumably on a daily basis, but no other evidence of courtship in this man's life. In fact, it is well known that he was a bachelor.”
“But steady on a minute there, Holmes,” I protested. “How can you be so sure that he has not fallen in love recently, and is actually courting a young lady, albeit in secret?”
“Because if you look at this handkerchief, you will notice that it is of a fashion that was popular at least five years ago, and nowadays is seen as quite an outdated accessory. No, no, this was most certainly given to him several years ago, in which case it was the sign of serious affection, which has since then vanished.”
“I suppose you may be right. But what of his pedantry?”
“Come, Watson, the whole appearance of the man is littered with the signs. Buttons buttoned, collar unwrinkled, tie straight. Not to mention his hair!” Holmes reached for his magnifying glass and looked closely at the photo. “Yes, Circassian Cream pomade, unless I am very much mistaken. The way it is parted down the middle, in a line that could be measured with a ruler, strongly suggests a most meticulous mind. A pedant.”
Holmes handed me the picture and I looked at it.
“And what are we to make of that?”
“We are to make very little of that until our visitor has arrived. It is tempting to jump to conclusions, but in my vocation that is a deadly sin, for it invariably clouds one's judgement.”
Two hours later, we were both dressed and waited eagerly for our announced client to arrive. When he did so, we were surprised to encounter the complete opposite of the man we had seen in the cabinet photograph. Mr Ellis Thicknesse was a heavyset and frolicsome man, who met us with a hearty smile in spite of the sadness of his purpose in visiting us. He was a younger man than the serious official staring out from the photograph, but his eyes shone with a confidence and composure that his elder brother appeared to lack.
Holmes and I bid him good morning and we seated ourselves in the armchairs while our visitor composed his thoughts.
“I come to you to present you with some developments in the case of my poor brother, which surely transforms it from a mystery into something much stranger. As I am certain you know, my brother vanished without a trace from the 8.15 train to Oxford, and despite exhaustive efforts by the police, which included knocking on every door within a three-mile radius of the station at Chilton Gifford, no clues have been found that could lead to a solution. I am myself an independent businessman, selling tools to workshops, and I have a number of regular customers in the area surrounding London. Thus it was that I happened to be travelling on the exact same line only two days ago, bound for a small horseshoe manufacturing workshop in Woodstock. I had some misgivings about going along that route so soon after the incident, but I felt no great unease until I was approaching Goring. And perhaps it was my mind playing tricks on me, perhaps my head was so full of my dear brother's image, but when the train pulled up at Chilton Gifford Station, who was there on the platform but he, standing by the wall of the station building for a few seconds before walking away round the corner and disappearing from view! I was completely flabbergasted, but just then I heard the whistle announcing our departure, and I had to think fast. Quickly, I grabbed my bag and jumped out of the carriage, seconds before it started moving. There was no doubt in my mind that the man I had seen was my brother, even though there was something different about him. I hurried across the platform to the corner of the building where he had walked, and I found myself standing on a deserted gravelly country road without an inkling of what I would do next or where my brother could have got to. Feverishly, I rummaged around the immediate area, trying to unearth some traces, but all I could find was a sleepy and unattractive village, created for the commuters who are unable to afford a home in the London suburbs.
“Instead of continuing a drawn-out and fruitless search on my own, I contacted the police, who sent a sergeant and a constable. They did not seem particularly interested in the case, though, as they frequently reminded me that they had already scoured the area in search of traces. As we wandered around the village, their irritation grew, and eventually they had to get back to Oxford, implying that they believed my sighting to be the result of overexertion. I could not drive myself to leave the village, however, now that I was certain that Cyrus was near, and so I decided to put up for the night at the local inn. Since Cyrus' disappearance, I have taken to carrying his photograph about with me, and that evening I showed it to everyone who came into the taproom. I was unable to evoke any positive response, however, and I went to bed dissatisfied and confused by the day's experiences.
“The next morning, I went back to London, bent on doing something constructive instead of letting this run out into the sand. I conferred with my wife, whose sister - a Miss Rose Dobson - you were helpful to a few years ago and who has spoken highly of you since then. My wife thus suggested I lay the matter before you, and I thought the notion was a capital one. Now here I am.”
Holmes nodded pensively from the depths of his armchair.
“Dobson, Dobson - yes, I seem to recall the case, something to do with a poison-pen letter, I believe. But your case leaves little room for meditation, Mr Thicknesse. Disappearing not once but twice may be considered strange of your brother, but the second disappearance does not annul the first one. In cases such as this one must, I fear, pose a very difficult question to the next of kin: Is there any possibility that your brother does not wish to be found?”
Mr Thicknesse squinted at Holmes. “I appreciate your reasons for asking the question, but I must reply in the negative. Cyrus led a contented life. He was quite uninterested in the fair sex, and he loved the routinised existence that his office work allowed him to lead. In his younger years, he endeavoured to become a schoolmaster, but his pedantic lifestyle made this occupation unbearable for him and he was compelled to abandon it, in defiance of his ambitions.”
Holmes could not avoid shooting me a victorious glance. “But you said,” he continued, “there was something different about your brother when you saw him on the platform.”
“Yes, there certainly was. At first, I could not quite put my finger on it, but when I had gone over the moment in my mind afterwards, I realised what it was. It was his necktie.”
“Yes. He was wearing a bright green necktie with maroon dots.”
“And your brother does not own such a tie?”
“Mr Holmes, my brother would not be seen dead in such a tie! If you knew him as I did, you would understand that he had very clear conceptions of his appearance, and his strict and meticulous nature was expressed through these conceptions. He always wore black or grey suits together with black or grey neckties, and anything else jarred glaringly with his personality. He would never wear a tie of such a bright and vulgar colour! His attire was always so decent and sensible. That is why I sent his photograph ahead to you, so that you could see with your own eyes the solidity and sobriety of his nature.”
“Was he wearing anything else that was conspicuous?”
“No. From what I remember, he wore a dark suit, which perhaps is why the tie broke off so obviously.”