“Dr. Watson! Come here. I want you.”
Holmes waved a letter that had been delivered by courier.
“A policeman down in Kent needs my services. Its nature requires your skills.”
This was certainly flattering! I had gained some measure of “reflected” glory due to my published chronicles of Holmes’s more challenging cases. Boswell must not overshadow Johnson; yet I straightened perceptibly with pride.
“I need you to examine a badly mangled corpse,” Holmes said.
My nose crinkled. I had studied as needed at the University of London to take my degree, but I would never miss the smell of the mortuary.
“Oh, come now, Watson. Buck up. This is your field of expertise.”
“I am no Monsieur Dupin,” I said, jokingly mentioning the fictional detective. But then I allowed: “Of course, I do know a thing or two.”
“There’s the spirit!” Holmes jumped up out of his chair and retrieved a valise; he began packing various tobaccos, a couple of fine pipes, and even some clothing.
An Inspector Arthur McGann was the author of the letter. His purview included the unincorporated farms and estates of the village of Penshurst and its surrounding area. Sir Bernard P.B. Earley, proprietor of the Robinette estate, had been found dead under the most horrid of circumstances. As I read the note, I realized that this was the bit of sensation that the more vulgar papers had trumpeted the other day; it was the fellow who had been eaten by his own pigs.
Very little of the body remained, but it had been conclusively identified. Sir Earley had been missing for a single night before his remains were discovered in a pig trough, in a condition one could indelicately describe as Requiem in Frusta.
There was another detail that made me blush.
“I see you just reached the part regarding the man staying with them,” Holmes said from across the room.
“How did you …?”
“Your eyebrows shot up at that exact instant, old man. You just realized there might be some of what you have previously referred to as ‘vulgar intrigue.’” He chuckled as he cracked the chamber on his revolver and inspected it. Then it too went into a valise.
Vulgar intrigue, indeed. The main house was now occupied by only two persons, according to McGann; the widow, Viola Earley, and an American visitor named Bryce Perkins. McGann’s words made little pretense of hiding what he suspected. Viola was “not yet thirty years of age,” while her late husband had been “just shy of fifty.” Bryce Perkins was “a fit and handsome young rake, perhaps thirty-five at most.” Further, McGann wrote, “I fear they have arranged a ‘story’ to account for the death.” He did not elaborate on why they would have thus colluded, but his suspicions could hardly have been more obvious.
“Remember, Watson, keep an open mind,” Holmes said. “Inspector McGann has given us all of his notions packed neatly in a box, but you must not let that colour your own thinking. Viola Earley may or may not be a Madame Bovary, but we cannot know until we do our own investigations. Say now, are you going to start packing, or not?”
We took the train to Royal Tonbridge Wells; from there, McGann would meet us with a coach for the drive to Penshurst. Fortunately, passengers were few, and we had a compartment to ourselves. We were able to discuss the case with utmost privacy.
“We know that the American Bryce Perkins has not acted in any overtly untoward fashion,” Holmes said. “Clearly, he knows how to avoid being gossiped about. We can be assured that Viola Earley and Perkins have not been seen walking about in Kent, hand in hand.”
McGann’s letter had contained no such assurances. I sighed, knowing I would have to ask the inevitable question: “What makes you think that, Holmes?”
As usual, my friend looked surprised that a mere mortal could not follow the clues which seemed so clearly marked.