I find it recorded in my pocket book that it was on the night of May the Tenth, 1896, when the stairwell adjoining our Baker Street apartments was filled with the clatter of someone’s hurried approach. Holmes, who had hitherto been sunk into one of his absorbed periods of bleak introspection — so much so, I confess, that I had half expected him to reach for the seven percent solution — roused himself enough to comment: “I wonder, Watson, what could bring a denizen of Boston to our rooms at this time of the night?”
He waved away my perplexed protests with an airy explication: “Come, come, Watson. You must know that I have written a monograph on the subject of the clogs of East America. Their tenor is as unmistakeable as the sound of your wheezing cough in the October fogs. But, stay, our visitor is upon us!”
Holmes threw open the door to reveal a young man whose polished teeth pronounced him, even to my less diligent eye, a missionary of the Mormon persuasion. On his feet were clogs, lovingly crafted from redwood by the Boston Clog Conglomerate. His face was flushed red through exertion and he was panting in such a manner as to suggest that he had run every one of the miles from America to Baker Street.
“Mister Holmes?” he gasped.
My friend clasped the young man by the shoulder.
“Calm down, man,” he admonished, “and tell us what brings you here in this condition!”
Our visitor’s breathing gradually eased, and his eyes darted wildly around our quarters, alighting finally on my bottle of fine malt whisky in the drinks cabinet.
“I swear by all that is Holy, Mister Holmes,” he averred, “that alcohol has never touched these lips, and yet — the horror! — I am almost tempted to distraction by what I have witnessed.”
“Here my fine fellow, ” I said, “have a seat and tell us your strange tale.”
“Thank you,” he said. “What would you say, gentlemen, if I were to tell you….. I have seen a CAT!”
The silence in the room was almost palpable as we fixed our distraught visitor with stares of varying intent. For my own part, I was about to remonstrate that to see a cat was hardly remarkable, yet Holmes leant forward in his chair with that rapt stare of his — rather as one would imagine a cobra transfixes its victim — and asked softly: “A cat, you say? Tell us, sir, if you will: what was so curious about the feline that you have travelled five thousand miles by steamship to apprise us of the fact?”
The young gentleman mopped his brow and apologised: “I have no idea how you know of my journey here, but I am sorry, Mister Holmes. I should, of course, start at the beginning.”
Holmes nodded. “A fine habit, and one I heartily encourage,” he approved, with the barest trace of irony.
“Then, gentlemen, you should know that I am William Bradley Morrison the Third, heir to a Clog Empire, but forced by the fantastical whim of my father to demonstrate that I am deserving of that inheritance. For some time now I have been made to plough my own furrow in the world, in furtherance of which I took up employment as a cub reporter on the New Hampshire Bugle. The pay does not extend to the luxury of my Boston apartment, and so I have rented a small attic in a tenement, a building I share with some fellow workers, mostly down on their luck, and a landlord of the most outlandish avarice.
“It was barely a month ago that my editor — a woman, if you can believe it! — called me into her office. I stood there somewhat awkwardly while she studiously ignored my presence in favour of a few gaudy pamphlets with titles such as ‘Californian Courtesan Calamities!’, ‘Tales From The Wild Frontier’ and ‘Tudor’s Talent Toppers’, until. at last, I felt constrained to cough in order to remind her of my presence.
“”Ah, Mister Morrison,” she finally acknowledged. “Tell me. You have been here a considerable length of time now. What do you consider the most newsworthy item you have produced?”
“”Well,” I prevaricated, searching the filing cabinet of my mind for a suitable contender,”there was the matter of the purloined parish pumpkins.”
” “Ah, yes,” said she. “A dastardly affair. If I recall correctly, it quite spoiled the children’s Harvest Festival celebration. But perhaps you are forgetting the farago surrounding the loss of the Archbishop Finnegan’s mitre?”
“”Oh my!” I agreed. “I had quite overlooked that.”
“She held up a newspaper, a scurrilous rag called ‘The Boston Messenger’, and showed me an article with a lurid headline. (I will not sully your minds with the full details, but trust me, gentlemen, it was a sad diatribe upon the wanton activities of some of Boston’s most degenerate socialites.)
“”What do you think of this, Mister Morrison?” she enquired.
“I averted my eyes from the distressing detail and delivered a small homily on the dangers endemic when one pursues the salacious at the expense of the edifying. To my disbelief, she sighed and said: “You know what I call it, Mister Morrison? I call it NEWS. I am fully aware of your beliefs, but I must urge you to bring me news. To that end I have selected you for an assignment: I trust you will not disappoint me in pursuit of the truth, no matter how unpalatable or prurient it may be.”
“It transpired, somewhat to my relief, that she was to send me to report upon the gruesome discovery of an elderly spinster who had died surrounded by her entourage of devoted cats. I tell you now that I am a man of strong constitution, but as I entered the poor lady’s house I knew that the day would live with me to my final breath. The policeman would allow me no further than the hall, but he told me that the poor creatures had been forced by their owner’s demise to fend for themselves, and I need hardly urge you to contemplate what that had entailed, nor how long they had lived amongst the foul proceeds of their feastings.
“Now, I must confess that I have had, since childhood, a phobia concerning cats. I am prone to asthma and I find their very presence disquieting in the extreme. Nevertheless I was determined not to let this aversion interfere with my work, nor my duty to my editor, and so I waited patiently and asked the usual questions of the doctor, the policemen and the veterinarian, all of whom had been summoned to deal with the tragic situation. It was during my interrogation of the latter that I became acutely aware of one of the cats. It was a hulking ginger beast, and had affixed me with such a basilisk stare that I was, quite frankly, unnerved.
“I drew the attention of my interviewee to the creature’s demeanour, and he confided in me that he had not yet summoned the courage to approach it: “There’s something unholy in those eyes, as if the varmint knows I intend him harm. But despatch him I must; there is not a soul will pay for his upkeep now.”
“He left the rest unspoken, but I knew what he meant, Mister Holmes. The animal had tasted human flesh: who would want such a savage in his house?”
“Who, indeed!” affirmed Holmes. “Really, this is most diverting! Pray, sir, do continue!”
“Well, the animal continued to favour me with its accursed gaze, for all the world as if it considered me its judge and executioner. I am not a fanciful man, Mister Holmes, but I declare it gave me the shivers. At last I could stand it no longer, and curtailed my attendance at that dreadful scene. As the door closed behind me, I could still feel those unearthly eyes burying into my back like claws. I knew I was leaving it to face its doom, and frankly, gentlemen, I wished only for that outcome to be expeditious.
“The feeling of being watched remained with me on my way back to the office. You know how it is when you try to shake off such superstitious cares: it is almost as if they intensify to spite you. Nevertheless, by the time I arrived back at The Bugle I had regained the better part of my composure. I dashed off a few hundred words on the strange death of Mrs Bettina Davies — a wasted effort, I regret to report, since it was subsequently dropped in the face of an exceptional week for news — and I made my way home to the bare comforts of my attic room.
“That I did not arrive there sooner was solely a result of happening across my younger brother, James, a couple of blocks from home. He suggested a couple of drinks at a local inn, if you can credit such a thing! James, I should inform you, is not exactly an adherent to the tenets of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Needless to say, I refused his kind offer to spend the last of my meagre pay packet on his ungodly cravings and, after a period of what he fondly assumed to be negotiation proved fruitless, he abandoned me to my own devices and went off with a couple of street cronies who were passing by. I tell you, it fair makes my blood boil to think that my father tests me as he does when James is the living embodiment of dissolution.
“Reaching my abode at last, I made my way up the stairs, unlocked the door to the small vestibule that leads to my modest room, entered, then carefully locked the door behind me. Likewise I unlocked, passed through, then locked and bolted the door of my room, itself, barring it against the world. I said my prayers and repaired at once to bed, the horrors of the day still fresh in my mind. I know you will hold the very fact against me when I tell you that my sleep was uneasy, but trust me, Mister Holmes, I know that I was not dreaming when, in the dead of night, I heard a scratch, scratch, scratch at that very same door.
“I tried to ignore it, and, for a while, it abated; but then — scratch, scratch, scratch — it returned. I made my way to the door, half determined to open it, but when I heard the most dreadful caterwauling I must report that my hand froze on the bolt. It turned my blood to ice, gentlemen, and I fancied I could almost see, through the door, the blazing almond eyes of that devil cat!
“As God is my witness, Mister Holmes, I could tell that the creature was in the very vestibule that had been completely empty when I locked the door earlier. I knelt at the foot of my bed and prayed for guidance, and then, mercifully, there was complete silence, save for the wild thudding of my poor heart. I heard neither scratching, nor yowling as I crawled back into bed and lay there, all a-quiver, into the small hours. At last, after who knows how long a time, I subsided into a fitful sleep.”
“Tell me,” interjected Holmes. “Is there a window through which a cat might have been introduced to the vestibule?”
“God Bless You, Mister Holmes!” cried the young man, “God Bless You, sir, for not calling me a liar or a dupe! But, no: there is no such means of ingress. When I finally plucked up the courage to open my door the next morning, I found nothing, and the vestibule door was still locked.”
“Ah,” said Holmes. “That is most telling. Do carry on.”
“I checked at the base of my door for claw marks, but to be honest, gentlemen, its state was so pock-marked already that it was hard to tell whether any such existed. At any event, I set off to work half determined that I must have dreamed the whole strange affair. Indeed, as luck would have it, I later that day ran into the very veterinarian with whom I had discoursed the previous afternoon.
“”This is well met!” I greeted him.
“He stared at me blankly for a moment, then recognition dawned.
“”Of course,” said he. “The reporter. How are you, sir?”
“”A little discomfited, I must confess,” I told him. “Tell me. The cats. Were they…dealt with?”
“He nodded. “Every last one,” he informed me. “I saw to it myself. Though I still get the shakes when I think of the look in that ginger beast’s eyes as I administered the injection. It took two policemen to hold him down and his struggles were horrible to behold, but I threw the critter’s body in the incinerator, alongside his erstwhile housemates, a little after midnight.”
“”Midnight, you say?”
“”Sure thing. Why do you ask?”
“”Oh it’s nothing. I just wanted…to know how it had all turned out.”
“”A sorry business all round, ” he commented, “but all done now. Good day to you, sir!”
“”Good day!” I echoed as he took his leave of me.
“Feeling a little more comforted, I returned to my office and spent the afternoon in contemplation of the teachings of Joseph Smith, certain that his wisdom would inspire me both in putting my cares to rest and possibly in finding an edifying story to keep my editor satisfied.
“I went home a little after six, and took greater care than usual in checking around my abode, before retiring to bed at nine. This time, as you can imagine, I made doubly sure the vestibule was empty before I locked the door.
“Sleep came a little easier, but, the next I knew, I was as alert as a man stuck with a pin. You will have guessed it, Mister Holmes! There it was again: that incessant scratch, scratch scratch! As I lit my gaslight and made my way to the door every hair on my body seemed to stand on end. Then, when I heard again that piteous wailing, oh, I thought my heart would stop!
“I jammed my ear to the door and I swear I could hear the pad, pad, pad of the creature’s feet on the tiles outside. I implored God to send the demon beast hence, but still I could hear it, scratching, mewling, padding back and forth.
“At last, screwing my courage to the sticking post, I grabbed an umbrella and slid open the bolt, turned the key, and held the door ajar for a bare instant. Oh, Mister Holmes I will never forget that moment! Something thudded bodily at the foot of my door, and, as I peered through the crack into inky darkness, all I could see was a pair of smoky yellow eyes reflecting back at me as if from the very pits of Hell!”
Our visitor, visibly distressed, paused for a moment in his narration. Holmes was rubbing his hands together in something approaching glee. “Really,” he intoned, “this is most gratifying! Tell me, Mister Morrison, did you confront the animal further?”
The young man roused himself from some deeper introspection.His eyes flickered wildly, as if seeing again that terrible tableau.
“You will think me a coward, and rightly, Mister Holmes, but no, sir, I did not! I slammed the door, locked it, bolted it, dragged my wardrobe in front of it, and spent the night with my light on, praying to all that is Holy to take my tormentor away. I cannot tell at what time I finally decided that the danger had passed, but I lay under my covers and awaited dawn and with it the return of some slight vestige of sanity to my world.
“When morning came, I threw some clothes into my Gladstone bag, left my apartment, took every last cent from my savings account and made haste to the port, where I booked a passage on the fastest steamer available. That was fifteen days ago, sir, and I have had but one thought ever since: that only the famous Sherlock Holmes would be able to return my world to its former certainty. I hope I was not wrong to think so, sir.”
Holmes had arisen and was staring through the window of our apartment as William Bradley Morrison the Third finished his tale. I have worked alongside the great man for many a year, and have grown used to the surprises occasioned by his rapier intellect, but I have to confess that even I was taken aback when he turned, and, with a gleam of amusement in his eyes, announced: “Why, Mister Morrison, the explanation is simplicity itself. Only the motive eludes me, although I suspect that it, too, is staring us in the face.”
The young man’s face darkened. “Please, Mister Holmes, do not mock me!” he implored. “I have travelled a long way, and I would beg you to treat my case seriously.”
“My dear fellow,” soothed Holmes. “I intended no offence. The explanation, as I say, is most simple, as these things often are.”
“Well,” said our visitor, somewhat mollified, “in that case I sincerely apologise for my outburst. But what possible explanation can there be?”
“The answer lies within the admirable detail with which you adorned your tale. There is one fact which simply does not fit: pull at that fact and, like a ball of twine, the whole mystery will unravel before your very eyes.”
“But which fact, Mister Holmes? I confess the whole thing is quite impenetrable to me.”
“Yes, Holmes,” I remarked. “Even knowing your methods I confess I cannot see the answer.”
“You will no doubt recall, Watson, the chronicle you entitled ‘Silver Blaze’.”
“Of course. But what has that racehorse to do with anything?”
“Not the horse, Watson. The dog. You remember, naturally, the curious incident of the dog in the night time?”
“Naturally. The dog did nothing in the night time.”
“Which was, of course, the curious fact. Consider, then, the curious incident of the editor in the day time.”
“The editor?” we both echoed, perplexed.
“Yes. By his own admission, Mister Morrison had to contend with an editor whose instincts tended towards the more outlandish aspects of the news. And yet — and yet! — when he finally brought in a story that would surely have gladdened her heart, an old lady eaten by her own cats, that story was not printed. Surely that is most indicative.Your assumption, Mister Morrison, was that other stories had trumped your own, but I find it difficult to believe that there was anything more newsworthy in New Hampshire that week than your own report.”
Eyes downcast, our visitor moaned: “Then, by God, I must be even worse a journalist than I had hitherto suspected! You are right, Mister Holmes, my editor would never drop such a story unless it were written by a rank bad amateur!”
“I fear you do yourself an injustice, sir. There is at least one explanation that you have not yet considered.”
“It is not that your editor wouldn’t publish the story. She simply couldn’t publish it.”
“Couldn’t publish it? But why ever not?”
“For the fundamental reason that it was simply not true.”
“Not true? But I was there. I spoke to the policemen…and the veterinarian. I can still smell that foul atmosphere, Mister Holmes.”
“You spoke to those whom you thought were policemen, and one whom you assumed was a veterinarian, but it is most suggestive that you did not actually see a body. You will recall that you were not allowed further than the hall, and I suspect that the smell, alone, made you glad of that.
“It is also most instructive that you ran, once again, into the veterinarian the following day. The coincidence is striking, is it not? Watson, could you please fetch me my box of miscellania, the one marked ‘America S to Z’?”
I did as I was bidden, returning a minute or so later with one of the the large box files in which Holmes kept the by-products of his insatiable curiosity. He opened it up and flicked through a number of pamphlets, before extracting one with a declamatory “Aha!”
“‘Tudor’s Talent Toppers’,” he remarked. “Not, as you suspected, an enticement into a world of dubious moral standards, but, in fact, a brochure used by theatre producers to find variety acts on the American Eastern seaboard. Actors, magicians, entertainers of all types can be found using the agency of one Henry Tudor. I recognised his name the instant you said it. Tell me,” he continued, “does this look familiar to you?”
He held up a page on which was pictured a smiling man, surrounded by a collection of cats, each dressed in a different style as if they were a gang of children at a fancy dress party.
“‘Percy Peacock and His Amazing Furry Friends'” read Morrison, aloud. “My God, Mister Holmes! That is he! The veterinarian! And that large ginger cat, dressed as a Puritan…why, that’s the very cat! The devil cat!”
“Holmes!” I cried. “My dear fellow, you have outdone yourself!”
“So,” mused Morrison, ” the whole thing was a set-up from start to finish. But why? Why on earth would my editor put me through such a charade?”
“Your editor must have been but one pawn in the game,” said Holmes. “Whoever planned this needed access to your apartment, or at least the vestibule part of it. You said yourself it was locked, but not, I note, bolted, unlike your inner door. Someone must have paid your landlord handsomely for his trouble; he was, I recall you saying, a most avaricious fellow.”
“Tell me, Mister Morrison. Your father. Is he a large-boned fellow with a hook nose and a paunch? Is he inclined to wear spats rather than the clogs of his retail empire?”
“Why that’s amazing, Mister Holmes! But how on Earth could you know that?”
“Well, sir. For the last ten minutes I have been watching him as he hesitated under yonder streetlamp, presumably wondering whether or not to follow you in. And if I’m not much mistaken, those are his footsteps on the stairs as we speak!”
William Bradley Morrison the Second was admitted seconds later, and at once turned to Holmes with a profuse apology. “I’m sorry to have gotten you involved in all of this, sir!” he bellowed. “It was a test of my son’s mettle, but I had no idea he would be driven to these lengths.”
“It is of no matter, sir,” said Holmes graciously. “Indeed, it has provided a most welcome distraction from the ordinary. I do think, however, that you should let your son know whether he has passed your final test. Come Watson, let us take the night air and leave these two fine gentlemen to their own devices for a while.”
We strolled down the stairs and into the chill night air.
“What will you call this one, Watson?” asked my friend.
“The Case of The Apparating Cat,” said I.
He chuckled. “Ever the dramatist, Watson. Come. Let us take a turn around the block; hopefully that will give Morrison senior plenty of time for a fulsome apology to his put-upon son.”
Reblogged this on Kind of Lime and commented:
Since ‘Sherlock’ is in the offing once more…here’s my attempt at a slice of SACD 🙂