A Sequel to The Blue Carbuncle By Robin Rowles
Holmes stared into the fire that our recent guest had nearly fallen into. He turned and saw my expression. ‘You have doubts, Watson?’. I knew Holmes and his moods, although his thought processes were another matter. Sometimes I could follow Holmes’ line of reasoning and sometimes his ideas were as unclear as the Mulligatawny soup that Mrs Hudson served on cold winter evenings.
‘I don’t doubt your generosity in letting Ryder go. It is the season of forgiveness. I doubt your wisdom.’ I replied.‘Ryder will not go off the rails again’, Holmes insisted, taking my criticism with good grace.
I knew that Holmes often let offenders go and just as frequently exclaimed he was not retained to fill the deficiencies of the police. I also knew him better, knew his outbursts usually subsided as quickly as they rose as his gentler nature asserted itself. However, on this occasion, Holmes spared me his party piece.
‘How can you be sure?’ I persisted. I was keen to see what measures Holmes might deploy to ensure Ryder’s good behaviour. ‘I have sent a note to the hotel and his lodgings. James Ryder will atone for his ill-advised venture into crime’. Holmes closed down the conversation by inviting me to press the bell to summon our supper, one in which a bird also featured.
The facts of the ‘Blue Carbuncle’ case have been reported elsewhere, so I will not rehearse them at length here. Suffice to say that an outbreak of peace and goodwill in the citizens of London over the festive period had left Holmes with time on his hands. He had been filling his spare time rereading the classics, an exercise that developed his understanding of human nature and polished his mental faculties.
I freely admit I was curious to learn how James Ryder’s rehabilitation was to be achieved. I dined with Holmes on New Year’s Eve and like the Roman god Janus, we reviewed Holmes’ successes in the old year and looked forward to those mysteries yet to be solved, which the New Year would almost certainly present. I attempted to find out more about Holmes’ plans for James Ryder
‘Oh, he’s made a start already’ Holmes said as we lit our cigars, but would not be drawn any further and I knew better than to continue probing.
Holmes would tell me in his good time, or never.
Over the next few weeks, I visited Holmes and as winter eased into spring, and my notebook filled with fresh cases, the question of why Holmes had pardoned the thief faded in importance. There was however, one small mystery. Every few days, Holmes would receive a telegram, which he threw into the fire after reading. Immediately afterwards, he would open the writing bureau and withdraw a small notebook, in which he recorded some observation best known to himself, and relock the notebook in the drawer. I did not have too much longer to wait.
The weather was very fine, and winter segued smoothly into spring. February did her usual trick, flying by and departing with a flourish. March simply trotted by and suddenly it was April and Easter was almost upon us. Holmes had continued to receive his enigmatic telegrams and the little notebook continued to fill with his annotations. On Maundy Thursday, Holmes received the twelfth and as it was to prove, final, telegram in the series. Holmes carried out the ritual I knew so well by now. Telegram tossed into the fire and brief remarks jotted into the notebook. However, on this occasion, instead of locking the notebook away, Holmes handed it to me and asked me to read it. I thought it was a ledger, for there was a list of dates with Holmes’ notes. A second reading however, revealed it was a sort of diary or journal, except there were only twelve entries, none of which had consecutive dates. ’30 Dec. Helped old lady move home. 12 Jan. Paid for neighbours broken window’. And so on. I heard the clock chime the quarters and realised I had been scrutinising this record of random events for several minutes. I took a deep breath and looked about the room for inspiration.
‘I give up, Holmes. I can’t decipher this. It’s meaningless’. Holmes tutted and I knew I was wrong. ‘Nothing I do is ever meaningless, Watson’ he gently rebuked me, then continued. ‘The contents of that book mean a lot to a certain gentleman we met last Christmas’. As he spoke Holmes waved towards the bookcase and the little reading table where an irregular stack of books was piled. My eye caught the title of the topmost volume and suddenly the penny dropped as Holmes’ hint made everything clear. It was the ancient Greek legend of The Labours of Heracles.
‘I wrote to James Ryder immediately after our interview’, Holmes explained. ‘I reminded Ryder that I had your notes of his confession, which he had signed. I also told him I would destroy these’, Holmes paused to fill his pipe, an action that I knew was deliberately to raise suspense. The stage lost a potentially brilliant actor when Sherlock Holmes decided to be a consulting detective. Holmes smoothly continued ‘provided that, like Heracles, he carried out twelve good deeds.’.
‘And did he?’ I asked. Holmes drew on his pipe.
‘Indeed, Watson. Those telegrams that piqued your interest – yes, I noticed your curiosity – were the proof of Ryder’s penitence. James Ryder has been carrying out random acts of kindness, all discreetly verified by one of my associates, and reported back to me. James Ryder is now a changed man as you will discover tomorrow’.
‘What happens tomorrow?’.
‘Tomorrow, Watson, we visit Ryder at the Hotel Metropolitan and return his confession’.
‘Hotel Metropolitan? You mean – ‘. Holmes nodded. ‘Yes, I also told him he could keep his job as head attendant. He’s a good attendant, just was a rather inept and unlucky criminal – and we’ve met a few. Besides’, Holmes smiled, ‘it’s nearly Easter. The season of fresh beginnings. Fill two glasses, Doctor, and we will toast the redemption of James Ryder’.