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The Case of the
Ashgrove Elephant

bab dac js pgb-w


"So, my dear, the scoundrel was caught because the polish he used to black his shoes is sold only in the vicinity of Barnstaple. If, as I have contemplated on many an occasion, I find an idle hour in which to pen my reminiscences, I shall entitle this case 'The Adventure of the Exploding Footman'.

As you know, there are those who say that the philosophic investigation of crime is not an occupation that befits a gentleman. However, my friend follows a long-standing family tradition; the name of Holmes has long struck the utmost terror into the hearts of wrongdoers, and I make no doubt it will continue to do so for generations as yet unborn.

At present, we are visiting the household of Captain Aubrey, of the Navy. Holmes wished to consult his particular friend, Dr Maturin - a distinguished natural philosopher - on the identification of some bat droppings. Holmes was delighted with my fellow physician's answer: "A pipistrelle! My dear Wesley, this proves Fortescue's innocence entirely." He did not choose to explain this deduction, however. The Captain is a genial host and Mrs Aubrey a delightful lady. Her mother, Mrs Williams, is among the other guests - for we make a large party. Mrs Williams is..."

As Wesley chewed his quill, vainly seeking a suitable epithet, a loud, hoarse cry broke out from downstairs, wiping out all thoughts of his letter:

"Which he's dead!"

Dr Wesley rushed downstairs, where he found the almost the entire household crowding into the drawing room. They surrounded the corpse of M. Trinque, one of his fellow guests, a suprisingly taciturn Frenchman. Next to the corpse knelt the Captain's steward, Killick, holding a bloody knife.

"I found it next to the body, your honours," he whispered in a low, haunted voice.

Just then, Critchley Holmes, who had been walking in the garden with Stephen, strode in. He took in the situation with one sweeping glance and, removing a strangely-shaped pipe from his mouth, said:

[dac] "What have you there Killick?"

"Which it weren't me Sir, never touched 'im sir, reckon that Mr Trinque's been done in sir."

"An interesting deduction Killick", Holmes mused, "But I think not. You will notice that the large pool of blood on the drawing room floor is still decidedly warm, whereas the corpse of the supposed Mr Trinque is somewhat cold and emitting an aroma that suggests death occurred in the latter part of last week. Furthermore whilst I assume you identified the body by way of the large piece of corrugated cardboard hung around its neck with "Il est M. Trinque" written on it, I would submit that the eye patch and wooden leg, neither of which Mr Trinque was in possession of at breakfast, suggest otherwise."

Holmes drew on his pipe, then continued, "The questions therefore are rather more complicated Killick, namely, Where is Mr Trinque? Whose blood is on the carpet? Why is there a five day old dead pirate in the drawing room? And hadn't you better clean up the carpet before Mrs Aubrey sees the mess?"

Holmes paused a second, bent down, picked up a small piece of paper that had been covered by the dead man's hand and frowned "Stephen, Wesley, may I have a word with you both in private?"

When they were alone Holmes said "There may be something serious afoot Doctors. I have my suspicions as to who is behind this strange occurrence." Handing the piece of paper to Dr Wesley he asked "What does that appear to be?"

"Well Holmes" started the good doctor, "It appears to be part of a wrapper from a box of Liquorice Allsorts....Good Grief Holmes"

"Yes Wesley, the favourite confection of that criminal genius Babski Moriarty"

Their shocked silence was broken by little Scott Wilson, (one of Holmes' Baker Street irregulars) bursting into the room. "Sir, Sir been a robbery so there 'as Sir, 'eld up the Securicoach artside Portsmuf with all the bleedin' prize money, nicked the bloomin' lot so they 'ave!"

[pgb-w] A low rumbling moan filled Ashgrove Cottage, a moan that rose and rose until it resembled the keening wail of the Southern Ocean storm that Stephen remembered from the Waazkamheit pursuit.

"I think young Wilson has passed his unhappy message to Captain Aubrey", Stephen said.

At that moment a high C joined the Captain's bass line. Maturin, Wesley and Holmes bolted into the corridor, and ran to the library. There they found Sophie in a dead faint, Bonden hopping from foot to foot, crying: "Stand Back and I'll charge it", and Killick shrilling: "T'wern't me! T'wern't me".

The high sreeching came from within the Library. Applying his eye to the keyhole, Holmes took in the interior. Mrs Williams, petticoats held to her knees, was standing on the library table, howling and weeping. Her gaze was fixed on something on the floor of the room. Screwing his eye round Holmes saw the source of Mrs Williams' extreme distress.

"Wesley, look at this", he commanded, yielding the keyhole.

"Good God, Holmes", the Doctor exclaimed, "an Indian King Cobra, and an angry one, by all appearances".

"Ophiophagus Naja? The deadliest snake in the world? Oh, I must see, I must!" Stephen cried.

"Yes gentlemen, "Holmes went on, "—and the door of the library is locked, from the inside!"

[bab] "Make a lane, make a lane there. If the gentlemen at the door would just stand back." hollered Bonden "Here I come with a clear conscience and a hobnailed boot!"

Mrs Williams suddenly left off screeching, "Stop. I will not have my daughter's joinery damaged. The door was one of Mr Probert's finest and cost three and sixpence the square foot".

A short consultation and it was agreed that everybody should repair to the dining room to partake of cold meats and game with a side salad that had been dressed by Sophie herself. The boy Wilson was promised threepence if he would keep a close watch on the library. He put his eye to the keyhole and screwed it around in imitation of his hero, Critchley Holmes. It was the first time he had seen a woman's knees. Cor.

Stephen and Holmes, their cheeks bulging with coca leaves merely toyed with their lunch before excusing themselves and retracing their steps to the drawing room. Dr Wesley slapped together a cold beef and pickle sandwich and joined them.

As they contemplated the pirate Holmes explained: "In solving a problem of this sort, one should reason analytically. For every fifty who can reason synthetically there is only one who can reason analytically. The ideal reasoner, such as I, when once shown a single fact in all its bearing, deduces from it not only all the events which led up to it, but also all the results which would follow from it".

"Sure, 'tis a byword with the analytical philosopers of Ballinasloe" commented Stephen.

Holmes acknowledged Stephen's appreciation then continued, "There is no part of the body which varies so much as the human ear. You will observe, if you borrow my lens, that the hairs in the ears of the pirate curl anticlockwise whereas, before lunch, they curled clockwise. What are we to deduce from that, gentlemen?"

Dr Wesley dusted the knees of his breeches, "That they are identical twin dead pirates?" he essayed.

"You mean well, Wesley. Shall I demonstrate to you your ignorance?"

A rush of wind into the room and Stephen felt Wilson tugging at his knee. "Dead! Dead! Dead!" the infant reported gleefully. "No. Not 'er indoors, the snake which it bit her!"

"Are we to deduce from this, Holmes, that the pirates had also bitten Mrs Williams?"

"That is the sort of obvious conclusion that would appeal to a general practitioner such as yourself, Wesley. However, the Cadbury's Violet Crumble Bar wrapper carelessly discarded on the victim's right breast indicates an altogether more diabolical chain of events. Oh, what is it? What is it, I say?"

But the little Baker Street Irregular merely pointed wordlessly at the two sets of huge, muddy footprints that led directly from the corpse to

[js] the hall, and from there straight to the library door.

"You will observe, my dear Wesley," said Holmes, "that the footprints lead directly from the corpse to the library; there are no prints leading to the body. Likewise, there are no prints leading out of the library." Turning to Stephen he added: "You may, sir, have read my little monograph 164 Types of Confectionery and Their Uses in Criminal Investigation in the Transactions of the Royal Society. If so, you will know that Violet Crumble bars are sold only in Australia and New Zealand – their taste is perhaps not refined enough for the British palate. In addition, the mud on both sets of footprints is largely Dorset clay, but there is a trace of a red sandstone found only in certain areas of Queensland on the smaller prints. The prints with the pointed toes and tiny heels. I am lead to the unpleasant, though inescapable, conclusion that the Antipodean criminal mastermind, Babski Moriarty herself, has been in this very room. Though by what means she effected her ingress – or her egress – I have yet to determine."

Little Scott Wilson whistled in amazement. Something that sounded wonderfully like a stifled oath came from Wesley's direction. The air seemed discernibly more chill and, without saying anything, the group drew closer together. The thought that Moriarty herself had been in this very room haunted them all.

The silence was broken by Mrs Williams bustling in. She had been most shockingly ill-used. She had just been tidying some of the Commodore's — she should say Captain's — private papers in the library, when she heard the door being locked. How this could occur when she happened to have in her possession the only set of keys to all the doors, desks and bureaux in the house passed all understanding. And then she had seen that infernally impertinent snake. It had been apt to stare and sway its head at her, so she had made a tactical retreat to the table. Not that she had been in the least degree alarmed; she had been calling out merely to attract attention. Her dear friend Mrs Wenger had once been terrorised by a rabid dormouse and the situation was very like. She did not choose to dwell upon the subject, but she had a tolerable notion of who had encouraged vicious reptiles to roam the house. A venomous stare at Stephen... The creature had made as if to bite, but for some reason had fallen writhing to the ground as soon as its teeth had punctured her skin. It had almost drawn blood — she would have to consult a physician to treat her dreadful wounds. Another stare. A Harley Street physician. It was all highly discreditable, but some good might come of it yet: would not a snakeskin bag match dear Cissy's eyes uncommonly well?

Critchley Holmes was for once at a loss for words. He was saved from finding a suitable reply by the entrance of the Captain's steward. Killick had been remarkably subdued since he had been discovered with the corpse. His voice was almost deferential as he jerked his thumb feebly over his shoulder, in a gesture which had none of its customary vigour, and announced that Mr Holmes had a visitor, a Mr Zimmermann.

As the new arrival walked in, Holmes said: "You are an engineer by profession, and have travelled from Birmingham to visit me...

"Yes," said Zimmermann, "I..."

"It is better if you do not interrupt; I prefer not to reveal my methods."

"Yes, but I..."

"You have travelled from Birmingham to consult with me on the strange behaviour of one of your fellow guests at Mrs Bramley's Boarding Establishment for Quality Gentlefolk, No Riff-Raff Allowed."

"Yes," shouted Zimmermann, goaded beyond civility at last, "I told you about it in my letter. The one I see sitting opened in your breast pocket!" He grew calmer. "This new lodger, a Frenchman by the name of Trinque, has been behaving oddly ever since he arrived and took the room next to mine a month ago. He

[dac] Didn't 'alf geeve oos a tern, heem with is fancy pets and all." continued Zimmermann in his thick Black County accent.

"Pets you say" interupted Holmes.

"Oh aye no doogs for heem, a bloody elephant in the stayble and a nasty lookin' snayke in 'is rooom".

"Tell me did your engineering firm Zimmermann and Cleghorn take any commissions from M Trinque ?" asked Holmes

"Now that yow mention eet, Oi remember we built hiim a floating crane" mused Zimmerman, "Bloody greet thing on a pontoon loike".

"Of course" Homes muttered "they'd need something to get it off the coach".

"Thank you Mr Zimmermann you've been most helpful perhaps Mrs Williams could offer you some refreshment".

Zimmermann brightened up "Oi'd love a coop of tay pet" he said turning to her, and being met by a superior glare.

Holmes beckoned to Wesley, "Things are coming together. It is abundantly clear that M Trinque is in league with Moriarty and the real purpose of all this is to distract me from the stolen prize money. Trinque seems to be providing the decoys whilst Moriarty deals with the gold".

"Masterful Holmes"

"Think of it Wesley, Ashgrove is the ideal place to hide the loot, all those half finished silver workings. The new canal Captain Aubrey built would be perfect to get the gold away. The prize money must be here somewhere, and when we find the gold Wesley we'll find Babski Moriarty. And now I know about the elephant I think I know where that may be.

[pgb-w] "There is more vexation here than six Napoleons could create," muttered Stephen. Critchley Holmes was beginning, every so very slightly, to make Stephen wish he were in an empty house somewhere, away from the infernal fellow's didactic manner and air of infallibility. A megrim was coming on, Stephen thought, as the sensation of dancing men thrummed in his head. He stared into space, idly moving five orange pips around on the table his yellow face seeming vacant. There was no doubt that Zimermann, the man with the twisted lip reminded Stephen of someone: then he had it — a Greek Interpreter he had known in Piraeus, a crooked man who had stolen a vital naval treaty and caused a scandal in Bohemia as a result. Adjusting his golden pince-nez, he examined Zimermann more closely. The man's hair hung like a lion's mane, perfectly coiffed as if it were a wig just taken from a cardboard box. Though he had the air of a noble bachelor, Stephen noticed a certain slovenliness: a stain on his waistcoat, and a second stain on his jacket sleeve, just above the curious speckled band embroidered around the cuff. Holmes had referred to him as his "illustrious client", but Maturin thought that for all his airs he may well turn out to be a creeping man, an ingrate, a leech upon Holmes and all of them.

Jack Aubrey's sudden entry broke Stephen's train of thought. The news of the prize money debacle had almost turned Aubrey into Ashgrove Cottage's resident patient. The red circle around each of his eyes betokened the depth of the shock he had suffered. Now, though, the Captain was regaining his vigour. Action was a great healer, Jack had always maintained.

"Stephen, Holmes, Wesley, there is not a moment to be lost! I believe the prize money to be sunk in the canal — and I mean to raise it forthwith."

Holmes gaped at this intelligence, coming as it did from a man he had thought incapable of analytical thought even if his life depended on it.

"Captain Aubrey, by the blue carbuncle of my sainted aunt Maria, how in heaven's name did you arrive at such a conclusion?" Holmes urgently wanted to know.

"Never mind that now. Events are moving fast. I've dispatched a messenger on my second best hunter, Black Peter, to the Old Priory School to ask for old Bruce-Partington's Plans of the locks so we can drain 'em. Bonden's away on Silver Blaze to Thor Bridge to watch out for this chocolate-eating, grass-combing thief of a Moriaty. Come gentlemen, the game's afoot — and a real devil's foot it may prove to be."

There was a rush for boots, capes, stout sticks — Wesley to his room for the service revolver, the one that had saved his life when he had been entrapped in the dreadful Musgrave ritual in Poona — Stephen to his physic case for a handful of sustaining coca leaves — and then a determined party set out through the copper beeches to the canal, there to face the final problem: exactly what were Babski Moriaty's intentions for the elephant?

[bab] Five hours later and the grey waters had not yielded up any gold. It was some time since Bonden had ambled back from Thor Bridge and him fruitlessly casting a keen lookout's eye on the canal all the way. The early evening air was nippy and something was not quite right. Something was required to be done. Somebody knew something and he hadn't told them....

Under the moral pressure of a dozen stern gazes, Zimmermann adjusted his wig, coughed apologetically and suddenly remembered another detail. The firm of Zimmermann and Cleghorn had designed and manufactured a second engine for the taciturn M. Trinque. It had been very beautiful. And very original. And it had worked a treat.

While Zimmermann was lost in a designer's reverie, Wilson handed his hero a delivery docket he had retrieved from under one of the corpses in the drawing room while on the trail of a bag of Minties. It bore the logo of the Dead Pirates Society(TM) and Holmes read it out:

" To: Mr B. Trinque, c/- Mrs Bramley's Boarding Establishment for Quality Gentlefolk

2 items: Models A7511 and A7512.

Arrangments have been made, as per your instructions, with the engineering firm of Zimmermann and Cleghorn to deliver said items to The Drawing Room, Ashgrove Cottage, via Portsmouth, Dorset.

Delivery guaranteed within 5 days or your money back. Thankyou for your custom."

"For God's sake, Zimmermann, you slovenly devil!" blustered Wesley "What fiendish machine did you concoct for the delivery of the Dead Pirates? Don't just stand there, man! Give us a few clues!"

The Brummagen came to himself and obligingly made some antic gestures.
"A phrase?" Nod
"Two words?" Nod
"First word, two syllables?" Nod
"First word begins with F?" Nod and Zimmermann flapped his arms like wings.
"A fairy?" Shake of head
"A fruitbat?" A more vigorous shake of head
"Ooh! Ooh! I've got it, mister!"cried Little Scott Wilson "A flying machine?" Excited nods from Zimmermann.

"Squire", the infant sleuth addressed Jack, "I seen it heading for them old silver mines and I followed it. For fivepence and a packet of jelly beans, I will lead you to babski Moriarty's lock up dahn the mine".

With wild halloos, the pack dashed on the heels of little Wilson from canal to silver workings. The disappointment was all the more extreme then when the lair of the master criminal was revealed to contain only a derelict crane, a discarded elephant skin, a flying machine, a solitary gold bar acting as a paperweight and no criminal genius, no criminal genius at all . It was only the work of a moment for Holmes to deduce that his opponent had bailed up the Securicoach while fiendishly disguised as a pachyderm. Bu t how had she effected her escape and lifted a coachload of gold from under their very noses? The note under the one remaining gold bar offered a clue:

"Holmes, mate, did you deduce that the canal joins an underground river that empties straight into what my colleague M. Trinque calls 'La Channel Anglaise'? See ya around!.

b moriarty, napoleon of crime."

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