Many cases I have described have proven the extraordinary perceptiveness of my dear friend Sherlock Holmes and his ability to deduct from the most minute of clues a series of events or the description of a person. These were often spectacular cases, where heinous criminals were unmasked by the shrewd intellect of my companion. At the request of Holmes, I have refrained from reporting some of the more sensational cases. These contain events which are widely known to the general public and Holmes is not the man who seeks pompous self-glorification.
Certain other things which I have heard from the mouth of Holmes, I will not repeat for the sake of discretion. Let it suffice to say that on several occasions, Holmes has provided services to various royal dynasties in Europe.
A third category consists of cases that were truly bizarre; even after all these years I shiver when I recall some details. The case of the masticated hand clearly belongs to this category. Maybe it was the second most gruesome start of an investigation that Sherlock Holmes ever conducted.
The fall of 188- was cold and rainy, and the day this case started was no different. In the hearth of our Baker Street rooms burned a vigorous coal fire. I was engrossed in my newspaper and Holmes sat on the sofa, wrapped in his dressing gown while smoking his favorite pear wood pipe. It was one of those periods where Holmes was subject to profound inertia and needed something extraordinary to wake him from his slumber.
Such a stimulus seemed to present itself when the jingle of the front door bell sounded. After about thirty seconds Mrs. Hudson opened the door. In the hall there was a soft unintelligible murmur. Finally Mrs. Hudson closed the front door again and climbed the seventeen steps to our room.
Holmes seemed oblivious to the whole thing, but suddenly I felt a strange anticipation and I eagerly jumped up when Mrs. Hudson knocked at the door of our rooms.
“A parcel, Dr. Watson. Addressed to him.” Our landlady was flushed and a little out of breath. She handed me the package but seemed almost reluctantly to let go it, like it was something precious.
“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.” I took the parcel from her hands like a boy receiving a Christmas gift from his parents. It was not very heavy and our address had been written in elegant feminine handwriting.
“Bring it to me, Watson,” Holmes said when I studied the precious parcel a few moments longer.
“Yes, yes of course Holmes.”
Holmes looked at the parcel briefly before he took his pen knife and cut it open. He opened it to draw out a letter and something truly horrific: a human hand! A hot surge of energy ran through me, like I was in the midst of a battle.
Holmes remained utterly composed. He used a pair of tweezers to take out the hand and studied it closely with a magnifying glass. The hand was small, slightly brown and delicate.
I was quite agitated and felt a need of urgency. “Dear god, how can you be so calm, Holmes! Maybe this is the hand of a kidnap victim: she could still be alive.”
“The hand indeed belongs to a woman, Watson. That is where you are right. But I am afraid we are too late to save this lady. Do you see the texture of the skin? The discolorations? You notice the lack of the unmistakeable carrion stench? This lady has been dead for quite a while. Many thousands of years in fact. It is the surprisingly well-preserved hand of a mummy.”
I have to admit I felt a bit like a fool. I had somehow associated the hand with a woman in dire need of help, so strongly that I’d neglected my medical experience. Holmes’s analytical mind seemed immune from such fancy fantasies.
“There is something intriguing and disturbing. Look closely at the wrist, Watson, what do you see?”
“I … I should think someone used a surgical saw to separate the hand from the rest of the body. The sawblade is very fine. Although here the hand looks damaged.”
“Damaged indeed, Watson. Use this magnifying glass. You see now?”
A coldness gripped my heart when I recognized the markings. “Human teethmarks!”
Holmes nodded. “Judging from the width of the teeth I’d say a man bit a small part of the flesh of this lady’s hand. And these are fresh marks, from at most two weeks ago.”
Such a perversion was hard to stomach. I felt sick and dizzy. Meanwhile Holmes put down the hand and read the letter.
My Dear Sir,