It was Manton who out of boredom first asked our faithful retainer Sibbes to go down into the club archives and fetch up something interesting. Sibbes returned presently pulling a large tin box behind him. This he placed in the middle of the floor. “This was the best I could find sir.”
“What is in it?”
“I have no idea sir”
Squatting down upon a stool in front of it, Manton looked it over. The box was dusty and rusted in parts and was marked with the initials MH. He unfastened the leather strapping and threw back the lid. I could see that it was a third full with bundles of paper tied up with red tape into separate packages.
He lifted bundle after bundle glancing at the handwritten wording on each. One said “The Tarleton Murders” and other “The Case of Vamberry”, “The Adventure of the Old Russian Woman”, “The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch”, “Ricoletti”.
“What on earth’s this little lot do you think?”
“I’m sure I couldn’t say, Sir,” said Sibbes.
“Where did you get it from?”
"When I was cleaning out the basement some months ago, after we had that leaking pipe you remember, sir?"
“Yes I recall.”
“...Well I saw the box then and thought it very curious. And when you asked me to bring you something interesting I recalled it to mind.”
"Very good. Well leave it here for now and I will have a look through it more carefully.”
After Sibbes left, I picked out a bundle at random and relaxed back into an armchair with a glass of The Macallan for company and began to read.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE EDGWARE PHANTOM
I had called upon my friend Mr Sherlock Holmes early in January in order to wish him the compliments of the new year. He was sitting upright at his desk, dressed in an old dun-coloured dressing-gown, a glowing meerschaum pipe in one hand and a lens in the other. A silver pair of spectacles lay in front of him and was the evident study that took up his full attention.
"You are busy," said I; "I shall call another time."
"Not at all, Watson. Come in, come in. I should be glad of your company and in any case you might be able to shed some light on this little problem here. The matter is of course quite trivial, but there are one or two points of interest. What do you make of these?” He held out the spectacles then tossed them to me.
I seated myself in front of his fire. The flames danced and gave out a welcomed glow. "Are you working on some case?" I asked, "and are these the clue to some clever crime?”
"No, nothing so ordinary," said Sherlock Holmes, smiling. "What you hold in your hand is the memento of a ghostly visitation upon one of our local shopkeepers Watson. It is said that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of – well here is the evidence of it in your own hand.” He sat back in his own chair and smiled at the puzzled look upon my face. “You know Jennings, the constable who walks our particular patch of Baker Street?"
"He dropped those by for me yesterday."
"And why did he do that?"
"He found them and thought they might interest me. But let me tell you the story. Jennings, who as you know is a most diligent law officer, was making his way down the Edgware Road two nights ago on his usual beat. As was his practice Jennings spent some time looking into premises and trying the door handles. But one door he looked into gave him a start. As he tried the handle, it flew open and out shot a man screaming as he went. He pushed passed Jennings and ran out into the street yelling “Lord God Save me! Don’t let it get me.”
“Jennings was in two minds, whether to follow after the man or enter the building to see what caused the fellow to take to his heels in such terror. As the man was halfway up the street by this time, he decided to enter the building which was Mr Comfrey’s patent shoe shop. Making his way through the shop found nothing out of the usual and decided to ascend the stairs to the upper floors. Halfway up, in front of him he saw, in the dim gaslight, a luminous shape, gliding across the landing.”
“A luminous shape?”
“That is how he describes it. But that is not all. Jennings says that the glowing spectre glided right past him and then headed straight though the wall. Jennings made a thorough search of the upper floor but could find nothing.”
"But surely you don’t accept that?"
“If it were anyone other than Jennings I would certainly have my doubts, but you know him as well as I do and he does not strike me as one who would easily be deceived. He is certainly one of the best of our flat-footed friends. No, my dear fellow, I think we have to take the evidence as it presents itself. However, the one thing that Jennings did find was those spectacles you are holding. They were on the floor by the wall at the very place the spectre vanished.
"I presume they belong to the owner of the shop”
"Ah well there lies the problem. He has not been seen these last two days and cannot be traced. Jennings believes that the man who passed him was already wearing glasses which suggests that these belong to another, does it not? Either way they are the only tangible evidence that Jennings was able to recover that might shed any light on the disappearance of the shoe seller.”
"What, then, did Jennings do?"
"He brought the spectacles round to me, knowing how interested I am in such puzzles.
“And what can you gather from these?"
"Only as much as we can deduce."
"Huh! What can you gather from these old things?"
"Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather?”
I turned the spectacles over in my hands rather indifferently. They were handsomely constructed, gold-rimmed spectacles of the sort that were much in fashion a few years ago. They had clearly become worn through constant use. One of the arms had lost its returning spring and one of the lenses was a good deal scratched. The nose pads were also missing and some attempt had been made to replace them rather crudely with cork. For the rest it there was very little remarkable about them. "Beyond the obvious fact that the owner is long-sighted, I can see nothing," said I, handing them back to my friend.
"My dear Watson, you see everything, but discover nothing.”
“Then, pray tell me, what significance do you see in them?"
He picked them up and held them languidly in that peculiar fashion of his that told me his mind was alive with activity. "It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been," he remarked, "but there are some clear and certain inferences which can be made and one or two guesses which must hold at least a strong balance of probability. That the man has a thin narrow face with an unusually broad nose is of course obvious. He is, as you pointed out, long-sighted with slight astigmatism in his right eye though his left eye has deteriorated to the state where he can see almost nothing out of it. He is around 50 years of age and he has been well off financially until quite recently when he has lost all his money – perhaps through gambling or some other hardship.”
"I don’t see how you see all that in these spectacles.”
“Furthermore, he has a poor memory to the point of being habitually forgetful,” he continued ignoring my interruption, “and since he has no other pair of spectacles than these, their loss will no doubt be much missed. He is a solitary man without wife or friends and spends much of his time alone. He also suffers from low morale.”
“Also, by-the-way, it is extremely likely that he has recently redecorated his house and painted his woodwork white within the last month."
“You are certainly joking."
“Not at all." Sherlock Homes sat back and smiled. "I am surprised that after all these years of following my methods you are still unable to see how they are attained?"
"No doubt you think me very simple, but I confess I am still unable to follow you.”
“Well, the shape of his head is plain is it not? The width of these frames is quite narrow, yet the nose rests are unusually broad, thus we have a narrow faced man with a broad nose.”
“Well that is clear enough. What about his age?”
Any optician will tell you that presbyopia is the most common cause of long-sightedness and is the natural result of aging. The ability to focus on near objects declines throughout life and follows a set pattern. The strength of these lenses indicates an age around 50 years when he bought them. The astigmatism is clear from the cylindrical lenses which are evident when you rotate them.
“And his left eye?”
There are deep scratches on the left lens, which you have yourself noted. But they are so deep as to obscure the vision almost totally. I doubt if anyone with half reasonable eyesight could bear to have it obscured to this degree. It is my guess that it has deteriorated to the point where he can see nothing from it.
“Well that is plain enough. And the loss of his fortune?"
"If this man could afford to buy so expensive a pair of glasses three years ago, yet cannot afford to have them repaired now he has surely had a change in fortune. These spectacles are gold rimmed and would have cost a tidy sum.”
“You said they were his only spectacles. How do you know he doesn’t have another pair?”
“My dear Watson, when you see nose pads which have been cut out from cork so roughly as this, it suggests that the man who cut them could not see clearly what he was doing which means that he had no spare pair of glasses to use. For the same reason it is unlikely that he had any friend or close relative who he could have called upon to help him. No, we have here a solitary man who is friendless."
"Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the habitual forgetfulness?"
“The ends of the spectacle arms show small marks that indicate they have been attached to a neck strap. When a man is reduced to wearing his glasses around his neck then one can conclude that he not only misplaces his glasses but does so habitually. And since the neck strap is missing and he has not troubled to replace it, it is also obvious that he has become more careless and indifferent to loss, which is distinct evidence of a lowering of morale, probably linked to his financial losses.”
"You have an answer to everything. And how do you deduce that he has recently been painting his woodwork?”
Sherlock Holmes laughed. "Observe closely how the left lens has some very fine spots of paint which are clearly clean and fresh. You may have seen them through the lens. They are flecks of a glossy white paint, the sort which is used on woodwork and the angle of the droplets indicates that he was painting above head height; hence decorating must come to mind. Satisfied?"
"Well, it is quite obvious now that you explain it.”
Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when there was a sharp rap on the door. It then flew open and Jennings the constable, rushed into the apartment.
"Mr. Holmes! Please come at once, sir!" he gasped.
....to be continued.