The Missing Mr Moonstone Mystery

Chapter 1.

The telegram read:

   TERRIBLE NEWS STOP SHERLOCK HOLMES IS DEAD STOP WATSON

   That formidable landlady and owner of 221b Baker Street, Mrs Martha Elizabeth Hudson, a solid rock of dependability in the turbulent waters of London life, let the message fall from her plump hands; they held traces of flour because she was in the middle of baking cakes for one of the many charities she supported.

   ‘Blimey, Mrs H, mum,’ said her maid-of-all-work, Fanny-Annie Grubbins, ‘you’ve gorn as white as a piece o’ dried cod. Is it really such bad news, then?’

   Mrs Hudson stared back with lacklustre eyes and gravely nodded her head.

   She was an amply proportioned lady of fifty-five, attired in a white pinafore over a plain dark green cotton dress and wearing a white cloth cap. For twenty-three years she had lived in her Baker Street house along with her late husband. Since his death nine years previous, she had become a landlady and let out rooms. Her latest lodgers were a medical practitioner and a private detective. The doctor, an amiable man; the detective, strange but charming.

   Mrs Hudson murmured, ‘Let me get into the sitting room, Fanny-Annie. That is one shock I never expected. Although it was inevitable considering some of the villains he has dealt with over the years.’

   As in a dream, Mrs Hudson allowed Fanny-Annie to lead her into the sitting room. She returned from the kitchen with a cup of tea, which her mistress barely sipped. Which was probably as well because the girl from the back streets of dockland had yet to learn how to make a decent brew civilised folk could tolerate.

   It was only later, as Fanny-Annie did a bit of tidying up to pass the time as she kept Mrs Hudson company, that the good lady remembered, and picked up the cup and drank deep – and spat out forcefully with a bellow of black displeasure.

   ‘Grubbins, are you trying to send me to my doom as well, you vile backstreet assassin!’

   ‘Bleeding blimey!’ gasped Fanny-Annie, scurrying out of the room to hide away in the washhouse until later in the day.

    Dr Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ loyal friend and occasional assistant detective, came back from Switzerland to recount the dreadful details of the Great Detective’s demise. He had fought the vile criminal Professor Moriarty on the observation bridge of the Reichenbach Falls and both had fallen to their deaths in the terrible maelstrom far below. Those who sought respite from injustice and fear would never again count on Mr Holmes’ helping hand or receive his incisive wisdom.

   It was a sad, sad time for everyone.

   The unhappy doctor found himself a surgery near Paddington Station with rooms attached where he could start life afresh without the haunting memories of his past at 221b.

   It had been agreed between him, Mrs Hudson, and the heads of Scotland Yard, that the demise of the irreplaceable detective should not be generally circulated to prevent giving pleasure to criminals and distress to law-abiding citizens. The newspapers had been prevailed upon to be discreet and report the tragedy, if they must, on the inside pages with small columns and minimum details. And it was in the charter of the telegraph company that the contents of all telegrams were considered absolutely confidential under law.

   Therefore all appeared normal at Mrs Hudson’s house.

   But in reality it became a cold dark place, the fires lit in the mornings and in the minimum of rooms and barely kept alive for the rest of the day. In order to maintain the subterfuge, the curtains at the front looking onto Baker Street were left open during daylight hours and only those at the rear facing the backs of other houses were closed in a show of respect for the dead detective.

   The sitting room was used exclusively, and the lady of this domestic mausoleum spent all of her time in there seated at the piano playing tearful hymns and singing in a melancholic warbling contralto. She did no more sewing and baking for her charities and ate little of the plain food Fanny-Annie managed to put together. And only sipped her maid’s tea as a penance so as not to encourage enjoyment during her grieving period.

Fanny-Annie was also strongly affected by the death of the illustrious sleuth; although in a jolly way for she had been greatly afraid of the imperious detective and was glad he was gone.

   ‘He didn’t half give me the shudders.’

   So time dragged by as Mrs Hudson continued to mourn the passing of her famous lodger, one she had secretly loved as the son she never had, and put off the dreadful business of having his rooms cleared out and redecorated for a potential replacement, although Holmes’ elder brother Mycroft offered to pay the rent in memory of him.

   ‘Oh, I cannot bear the thought of having anyone take his place, Fanny-Annie,’ she told her maid. ‘If dear Dr Watson were here on his own I could stand that. But not a total stranger. I do believe I would rather sell up and live cheap and alone in a tiny country cottage. Although this house does have so many cherished memories.’

   She sniffed and so did Fanny-Annie in sympathy.

   ‘Memories not only of my two old lodgers but of the late Mr Hudson and our congenial years of marriage together before he crossed over the Golden Bridge to Paradise.’

   ‘Garn,’ muttered Fanny-Annie Grubbins, not keen on the idea of life after death. ‘Seems to me one life’s enough to put up without another waiting to jump on you as soon as your body’s gorn cold.’

While Baker Street’s most industrious occupant and now ex-landlady thus lamented her terrible loss, her much less industrious maid-of-all-work was also disturbed. Not just because of her wonderful mistress being so distraught, but by the chilling thought she might soon be back in the gutters of London fighting to survive the vagaries of the poor and uneducated who exist at the bottom of society’s heap.

   ‘Aow, blimey, Mrs H, mum,’ she said, ‘I do hates all this cleaning and scrubbing, and washing o’ clothes what’s not a week since been washed. But I hates a hundred, hundred times more living out in the gutters scratching to survive and sleeping in coal holes – with blooming great rats!’

   Fanny-Annie Grubbins had been sent to 221b by the Concerned Ladies Society for the Underprivileged Girls of London. Mrs Hudson had been relishing the anticipated fight educating this lowly creature into the ways of civilized living; now all that was on hold for the moment.

‘But life is full of suffering, Grubbins, and suffering has to be endured,’ expounded Mrs Hudson stoically. ‘Fetch my bible, will you? I need its calming balm and guidance.’

   ‘I ain’t sure I knows what you’re on about, mum, but I’ll go and get it all the same. If I don’t cripple meself lifting it, that is. Them blooming holy words ain’t half heavy.’

   Fanny-Annie returned with the King James and stood there panting and exhausted. It was a large ruby-coloured Moroccan leather-bound tome, not one for the cramped church pew but ideal for home consumption wherever a sturdy table was available. With a brighter eye, Mrs Hudson told her to bring a cup of tea for herself so they could keep each other company and sing psalms and pray for the departed soul of Mr Holmes.

   ‘Shall I bring a little bottle of consolation to go with it, mum?’

   ‘You will certainly not, Grubbins! You are not suggesting there is liquor on these premises?’

   ‘Aow, no, no, mum. No, I’d, er, just slip out to the Frog and Thistle and get…’

   Mrs Hudson’s scornful glare stopped her short.

‘ “Those who imbibe drinks of intoxication, will suffer the thirst of eternal    damnation,” Grubbins,’ she said piously.

   ‘Yers, Mrs H, if you say so.’

   At that moment there was an intrusion into the bereaved household with the insistent clacking of the knocker on the front door.

   Fanny-Annie walked carefully across the tiled mosaic floor of the hallway that gleamed in the faint light from the transom window above the door and the stained glass window at the side of it. Behind her was a broad staircase with its virgin-clean dark blue carpeting and shiny brown-varnished newel post and banister she had vigorously polished not long before. On the cream walls hung framed lithographs of country scenes and photographic portraits of those people belonging to the householder’s acquaintance, plus numerous crocheted biblical quotes. A grandfather clock ticked and tocked against a wall next to the steps leading down to the basement kitchen.

   However, it was a large portrait of Queen Victoria in a heavy gilded frame that dominated the room, her authoritative yet benign gaze blessing the household and welcoming visitors both grand and lowly. It was a great consolation to the owner of the house to look up at her, tempted almost to offer a prayer, as if she were an icon to be worshipped.

   Fanny-Annie opened it to a greatly agitated gentleman.

   ‘I must see Mr Holmes immediately,’ he demanded, pushing his way past the startled maid.

   ‘But he ain’t here, mister. Don’t you know Mr Holmes is…’

   ‘I can wait as long as it takes, but I must see him. I am desperate and have no one else in the world to turn to. Even the police cannot help me.’

   ‘And neither can Mr Holmes, sir. You see he’s gorn and…’

   ‘What is all this fuss and bother?’ exclaimed Mrs Hudson, entering after abandoning her meditations on the ephemeral nature of Life and the everlasting threat of Death.

   The other two began talking at once.

   ‘I have to see Mr Holmes about…’

   ‘I keeps trying to tell him…’

   ‘…a most strange and terrifying case…’

   ‘…but I can’t gets a word in…’

   Mrs Hudson hushed them both to silence before allowing the man to introduce himself as Mr Hubert Farrington from the Barnes district south of the Thames.

   ‘What is it that is troubling you, sir?’ asked Mrs Hudson, always ready to offer a helping hand, even now despite her own overwhelming melancholy.

   ‘Someone is going to murder my dear wife!’ the distressed gentleman howled.

   ‘Aow, lor,’ muttered Fanny-Annie and sniffed.
 

Chapter 2.

With straight-backed dignity, the owner of the house led the disturbed fellow into the sitting room. In addition to the candles (the central gas fitting was not lighted), daylight filtering through a chink in the mourning curtains gave the room an atmosphere of deep reverence and one could be forgiven for sitting in silence as if waiting for a minister of the church to appear and begin a funeral service.

   Mrs Hudson indicated that they should both sit on a pair of the upholstered upright chairs previously used by Dr Watson’s patients and Mr Holmes’ clients, so as to be comfortably business-like. She had met hundreds of poor souls of both sexes from all stations in life, seeking help from the late detective. They arrived in torment with their particular problem, which sooner or later was resolved by the astute investigator, allowing them to live with unburdened hearts until some further trouble assailed them.

   This visitor was in his mid-forties and dressed in a broad checked mustard coloured Harris Tweed suit and brown bowler and bow tie, in total contrast to Mrs Hudson’s black taffeta with its modest black silk mourning cap decked with black felt flower heads and ribbons. She wore a heavy veil, which muffled her voice already subdued with respect for her deceased lodger, so that she had to almost shout whenever she spoke.

Mr Farrington himself was so overwhelmed with the weight of his own misfortunes that it was only when seated did he belatedly realise he was in a grieving household. Mrs Hudson handed him a cup of coffee delivered by Fanny-Annie in preference to tea, because she had mastered that drink. The nosy maid-of-all-work was slow to leave, and hovered by the door, listening, until her mistress glared at her to exit and get on with her never ending cleaning.

   ‘May I offer my sympathies, ma’am, for your loss?’ said Mr Farrington. ‘I presume it was someone very dear to you?’

   Mrs Hudson bit her lip to prevent a tear from forming, and taking a deep breath she peered at him through the mesh of the veil, clasped her hands on her lap, and delivered a rehearsed little speech.

   ‘Mr Farrington, I am afraid I have sad news.’ Mr Farrington open his eyes wide, closed his lips tight, and held the cup and saucer in mid air. ‘The dear person this house is in mourning for is none other than…’

   Mr Farrington gave a gasp of anxious expectation. ‘No, not, not Mr Holmes? Surely not Mr Sherlock Holmes?’

   Mrs Hudson nodded to the fellow whose fingers now trembled close to his lips as if grasping for the dreadful words to rip them to shreds in denial of the obvious truth he had spoken. The poor man let fall his cup and saucer as he jumped to his feet. She also rose and extended her hands to offer succour to the devastated visitor.

    But she was she unable to prevent Mr Farrington from rushing unrestrained from the room.

    ‘My poor, poor wife is doomed! We are all of us doomed!’

Mr Farrington was prevented from escaping into Baker Street because of colliding with Fanny-Annie unexpectedly found outside the sitting room door and inexplicably dusting it. Her undignified response was drowned out by the equally undignified outburst from Mr Farrington.

    Mrs Hudson followed him from the sitting room, speaking urgent words of concern to the unhappy visitor and reproach to her luckless servant.

   ‘Leave me to my fate, madam,’ he retorted, ‘and that of others who will be tainted by this impending disaster to my life’s partner!’

   And the would-be client of the late great Detective Holmes was rushing into the street to lose himself in its clatter of passing horse-drawn vehicles and the babble of pedestrians in the ever-present London fog, and heeded not one word Mrs Hudson called after him.

   ‘Oh, bugs and beetles!’ Mrs Hudson said, followed by a heart-breaking groan. ‘Whatever will become us?’

   Then stoically drawing herself up she closed the door and proclaimed to the hallway and her maid-of-all-work standing awkwardly in the middle of it: 

   ‘ “When desolation stalks the land, the Good Lord will be at hand.” Never forget that, young lady.’

   ‘Yers, mum,’ said Fanny-Annie. ‘But in my experience when things get bad you can always bet they’ll get even badder.’

   Her mistress reflected on this and had to admit there was unfortunately some element of wisdom in the poor gutter girl’s observation, inarticulately expressed as it was.

   ‘It is the feeling of impotence that distresses me the most,’ said Mrs Hudson. ‘The inability to help one’s fellow creatures. Oh, why did he have to die and leave us at the mercy of the evildoers that remain to plague honest, decent folk! We can but pray the Good Lord has greater need of him.’

   She had a brief irreverent vision of Mr Holmes with a magnifying glass peering for clues among the celestial clouds.

   ‘But what about that unfortunate Mr Farrington and his wife? Are they really beyond help?’

   ‘Looks that way, don’t it, Mrs H, mum?’ speculated Fanny-Annie with a long sad face. ‘It’s a cruel hard world, mum, is what I’ve found out in me own poor life of misery and want.’

   Unable to think of a suitable reply, Mrs Hudson returned to the sitting room, Fanny-Annie following with a pan and brush to clear up the broken crockery. After a while, Mrs Hudson reached out for her cup, cold as it now was, and sipped from it in a sombre manner.

   Then from out of that soul-destroying gloom materialised her maid’s plaintive Cockney voice as she knelt on the floor.

   ‘Here, Mrs H,’ it said. ‘Ain’t you ever done it?’

   Mrs Hudson coughed and rattled her cup and indignantly said, ‘What on earth are you blabbering about, you impudent miss?’

   ‘Aow, blimey, Mrs H, I didn’t mean no harm, honest. But you know, have a go at this dectectivising like what Mr Homes does? Whoops, sorry, did, mum.’

   Mrs Hudson snapped, ‘Don’t you be so absurd. I have never heard the like. That sort of thing is men’s work. Ladies do ladylike things and gentlemen do gentleman-like things.’

   ‘Garn, I’ve known loadsa o’ gentlemen what don’t do gentleman-like things, Mrs H, if you please, mum. No, but it’s what them suffragette ladies bangs on about. Equal rights and doing what you wants. You know, breaking boundaries.’

   ‘Breaking windows, you mean. That is Socialism and I will not have it in this house!’

   ‘Aow, lor, I’m sorry, Mrs H, I’m sure, begging your pardon, and all that, mum.’

    Mrs Hudson looked thoughtful and then relented.

   ‘I must confess, though, baking charity cakes is one thing but actually getting ones hands dirty, so to speak, by physically helping someone in torment or is less well off than oneself, is very appealing to one’s sense of duty.’

   ‘Aow, lor,’ muttered Fanny-Annie to herself, ‘now what have I gorn and started?’

   Mrs Hudson decided she was fatigued and went to lie down on her bed, instructing her maid to lock the front door and not open it to anyone, and to go about her menial tasks as quietly as was humanly possible.

   Yet later that night, Mrs Hudson, that paragon of good works, was unable to sleep because the thought Fanny-Annie had foolishly planted grew in her head. She dismissed it. It grew some more. She pummelled her pillow and lay down again. It was still there. And when she finally drifted off she dreamed of magnifying glasses and mysterious footprints in the soil. Of smiling faces of grateful clients. And sullen faces of defeated criminals.

When she awoke the tragic face of Mr Farrington and the ghostly recalled images of others over the years seeking relief at the front door of 221b Baker Street, appeared in her mind’s eye. She meditated on them for a while before coming to a conclusion and rolling out of bed.

   ‘The next person who asks for Mr Holmes’ help will get mine in his place!’ she said defiantly, a flush colouring her pudgy cheeks, a vibrant glint in her eyes. And from the landing she cried, ‘Fanny-Annie Grubbins? Get that breakfast going. This may be the first of many, many busy days for both us!’

   ‘Aow, I blooming well hates being busy,’ muttered the put upon maid-of-all-work.

   And who was now, although she would not know this until a little later in the morning, the second Detective Lady of Baker Street.

 

Chapter 3.

 

Mrs Hudson’s prediction of busyness came true within the hour.

In the centre of the basement kitchen’s scrubbed flagged floor stood a robust and equally scrubbed table on which were bags of flour and sugar and chopped lemon and orange rind and all manner of dried fruits, plus a set of scales, a colander, and a large mixing bowl, with the focus of attention on the voluminous cookery book propped up in the middle. The reinvigorated ex-landlady and now potential detective lady, dressed in her work clothes of cotton cap and pinafore, stood at the table, a Rubenesque lady of maturity and bearing. She had bright hazel eyes, curly auburn hair, and chubby red cheeks. She was on the go cooking as was her wont in that haven of abundance and culinary gratification.

   She spent the major part of her days baking and knitting for numerous charity organisations from which she received no monetary return but a large reward in gratitude and self-satisfaction. And in the Heavenly Ledger she had no doubt Saint Peter or one of his angelic assistants made complimentary notes at the side of her name. For she was a staunch God-fearing member of the Baker Street Primitive Methodists Chapel, which required her to assist in cleaning, polishing and generally maintaining the physical appearance of the building for the temporal comfort of the congregation, and with the Reverend Jenkins looking after the spiritual.

   Her life was thus made bearable and worthwhile by the personal satisfaction that she was ‘doing something useful for society’ at the same time as elevating her soul in a manner dictated by the Good Book.

From upstairs in the hallway came the faint snap, snap of the front door knocker. She listened intently, already wiping her floured hands on her pinafore in anticipation.

   Stopping her dusting in the dining room, Fanny-Annie muttered:

   ‘Aow, blimey, here we goes again, gel. I do so hates having to answer that blooming door and try and talk proper.’

   She hurried anxiously into the hallway and once more opened the street door to a greatly agitated person, this time a woman.

   ‘I must see Mr Sherlock Holmes immediately!’ she cried, and before the ex-gutter girl had time to brace herself to reply, she continued. ‘Oh, please say he is in! I am at my wits end! Oh, what will become of me and my two dear sweet children?’

   ‘Here, don’t take on so, lady. If you think you’ve got problems you wants to come and see how me old mum deals with our young uns. Seven right little bleeders…Ulp!’

   She was yanked backwards as the galvanised Mrs Hudson took her place with a stiff officious smile.

   ‘How may I be of assistance, madam?’ she enquired placidly.

   A few moments later in the sitting room, Mrs Hudson sat on the settee next to the tearful lady, a Mrs Moonstone. She was a thin woman with a white complexion, and had eyes reddened from weeping, which made her pale face appear even more insipid. She was dressed in russet, enhanced with yellow and orange trimmings and her large yellow hat was rich in flowery adornments: a picture of middle-class anguish.

   ‘Mr Holmes is my only hope! He will help me? He will, won’t he? Oh, please say he will, please!’

   ‘Now, now, Mrs Moonstone, this just will not do. Getting yourself all of a jiggle.’

   ‘But my whole world has collapsed! I don’t know where to turn! To whom shall I ask for succour if Mr Holmes cannot help me?’

   Mrs Hudson tried manfully to remain in charge.

   ‘Just you relax and have a cup of tea and one of my delicious marmalade macaroons and listen to me.’

   But Mrs Moonstone was not to be distracted from her distress.

   ‘Picture if you will, Mrs Hudson, a serene family household full of love and laughter. My sweet little children running gaily in the nursery with their bouncing golden curls. My dear husband with his Meerschaum and sweet new slippers I bought from Harrods, that delightful corner shop in town.’

   Fanny-Annie entered quietly with a tea tray and stood listening.

   ‘Then, that hideously black morning of yesterday. Ohhh!’

   And the distraught visitor flung herself down in a swoon.

   ‘Aow, lor, Mrs H,’ cried out Fanny-Annie, ‘she’s gorn and got herself murdered!’

   ‘Don’t be a turkey brain, you silly girl!’ scoffed Mrs Hudson. ‘The poor thing is just exhausted with her trials and tribulations. Oh, the misery I have seen stumble into this house.’

   ‘Why, did you have an old boozer like my old dad, Mrs H?’

   ‘I did not! The very idea! Mr Hudson took nary a drop, from entering the world until he left it. Save for our wedding night, which I have thankfully erased from my memory.’

   Fanny-Annie refrained from comment, however her narrowed eyes and sly grin said it all. 

   Mrs Hudson quietly scrutinised Mrs Moonstone’s prostrate figure. Her maid, and as yet untried assistant detective, now with a thoughtful screwed up face, stood with her bony hands on her bony hips also surveying the unconscious woman, her rheumy eyes narrowed in deep concentration.

   ‘So what kind of a person d’you think she is, Mrs H, then, detectively speaking, that is?’

   ‘Well, from the cut of her clothes I would say she is a well to do lady.’

   ‘But ain’t got much money, then, as she, mum?’ said Fanny-Annie.

   ‘Dressed like this, of course she has.’

   ‘How comes her shoes is all so dirty? She didn’t come here in no cab, did she?’

   ‘Oh, yes, now you mention it, you are right. How clever. And there is mud on the hem of her skirt as well.’

   They both giggled.

   ‘Easy, this detectivising lark, ain’t it, Mrs H?’

   ‘So it would seem, Fanny-Annie, so it would seem.’

   ‘Ohhh!’ groaned the agitated visitor, now rousing herself. ‘Where am I?’

Sitting close by the side of Mrs Moonstone, Mrs Hudson said:

‘Now get a firm grip, ma’am, and please do listen carefully.’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Mrs Moonstone, with a hopeful face.

   The one-time landlady of the late Mr Holmes and mistress of 221b Baker Street, hesitated. Her lips quivered but no words came forth. Her expression was a troubled one.

   ‘Oh, I just can’t bring myself to tell you,’ she finally said.

   The desperate woman stared helplessly with anguished eyes at Mrs Hudson, and finding no reaction, turned her pleading gaze upon her maid.

A cheery Fanny-Annie broke the mood and said with the brutal reality of the streets:

   ‘He’s got himself murdered, mum, that’s all. He ain’t alive no more.’

   ‘What? Oh, no! Calamity upon calamity!’ And Mrs Moonstone swooned again.

   ‘Oh, thank you, Miss Fount of all Knowledge!’ shouted Mrs Hudson, skilfully catching the visitor’s dropped teacup at the same time. ‘You obviously didn’t learn tact and how to speak the sweet truth at school.’

   ‘Garn, Mrs H, school?’ Fanny-Annie laughed her awful cackling excuse for merriment, making Mrs Hudson cringe. ‘I was only telling the truth like what everybody’s told me to do, mum, since I was before me first beak for telling a peeler I wasn’t picking the old gent’s coat pocket, but putting back his silk hanky what he’d dropped. All snotty it was, too, yech!’

   ‘Enough, thank you, Grubbins!’

   Fanny-Annie clamped her mouth shut with a click of her decaying teeth, and Mrs Hudson commanded her to quickly bring the medicine box, from which she produced a specific bottle to waft under Mrs Moonstone’s nose, and the lady instantly recovered with a sharp cry and a violent sneeze.

   ‘My revival tonic of roasted garlic and chicken deposits,’ explained the administering angel. ‘From my grandmother’s old country recipe. Never fails.’ And when the distressed lady was fully wide-awake she said to her, ‘Now, Mrs Moonstone, do hear me out, please, for I have acquired considerable knowledge of Mr Holmes’ skills in the years he had lodged here, and…’

   She paused, taking in a deep breath of sustaining oxygen to stimulate herself into making the following highly dramatic disclosure:

    ‘I will be your private detective, Mrs Moonstone. I am willing to assist you with your problem, if I can. Do you understand me?’

   The afflicted lady nodded vigorously.

   ‘I do, I do. You are a sweet oasis of kindness in a world of desert sands, Mrs Hudson!’ she extolled passionately.

   ‘Oh, no, what nonsense,’ said the new lady private detective, colouring with modesty.

   ‘It’s true what madam says.’ added Fanny-Annie. ‘You’re the best blooming mistress what I’ve ever met, mum. Honest to Gawd.’

   ‘Grubbins, don’t be so ridiculous. I suggest you do some floor scrubbing if that is all you can contribute to this case.’ Mrs Hudson then sat up straight, saying in a dignified detective voice, ‘So, what exactly is your problem, Mrs Moonstone?’

   Mrs Moonstone’s face couldn’t get any paler, but it tried, becoming almost translucent enough for her thin bones to materialise. Both Mrs Hudson and Fanny-Annie willed her to stay compos mentis for a little while longer.

   ‘My sweet dear husband has simply vanished, Mrs Hudson! He left for his office yesterday morning at eight-twenty. And never returned!’

   ‘Dear, dear, that is terrible, Mrs Moonstone,’ said the senior detective lady, clasping her hands close to her breast. ‘And what have you done about it?’

   ‘I told the local bobby, but he said it wasn’t serious enough for the police to act upon just yet. I have been bedridden since the weekend with a malaise brought on by my recurrent insomnia and hot flushes. Poor Moonstone had to sleep in the spare room. Have I driven him away with my disabilities? Has it been just too much, this time? Will I ever see him again? Can there be any hope?’

   ‘Garn,’ sniffed Fanny-Annie derisively.

   Mrs Hudson glared at her impudence, which forced her to look ashamed, and took control of the conversation.

   ‘Now, then, Mrs Moonstone, we could do with a few clues before we can help you.’

   ‘Yers’, said Fanny-Annie, still as impudent, ‘like how many miles did you have to trudge here, mum, across them dark, deadly streets o’ this here city o’ fear?’

   ‘Oh, no distance at all,’ said Mrs Moonstone lightly. ‘I live just down Baker Street at number 42.’

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