The Adventure of the Unique Accomplice
by Helen Wesson
WITH ALL DUE RESPECT to my dear friend, Sherlock Holmes, he does have one habit which makes housekeeping rather frustrating for Mrs. Hudson. Holmes is a compulsive clipping collector. He rarely ever reads the daily papers without tearing out at least one item for his files. Since he has too great a respect for books and periodicals to mutilate them in this way, there are piles here and there of such magazines, brochures and tomes, retained only for a sentence or a paragraph if not a complete article.
I might also add that, though I keep my medical files with the meticulous precision I learned in medical school and early practice, still my secretary or nurse may perchance mislay a folder – though only momentarily, I assure you. However, this never happens to Holmes. He has his own filing system – if one may call it that – retaining certain categories for longer than I have known him. It was Holmes’ belief that one should not clutter up one’s mental attic, yet each fact must be retained “in the lumber-room,” he’d say, of a library or files. Hence his ponderous files, which overflowed onto every horizontal surface at times. However, I have yet to see it happen that he wanted some snip of paper without being able to reach out where he knew it was (how, I don’t even conjecture) and find it at hand.
Thus it was one evening when we were quietly reading, I the latest Strand Magazine (proofreading after the fact, you might say), and Holmes the day’s newspapers which he had been too busy that day to peruse as he usually does, in the morning.
“Hmm,” he mused. “Interesting…”
He read on. Then, laying the paper aside, he went over to the sideboard which he had converted into one of his filing systems, and opened that side which I knew pertained to the Orient. His interest in the Orient was really an absorption, you might say, and so the files were cross-referenced not only as to countries, but also such categories as Religions, Folklore and Beliefs; Politics and Economics; even Festivals and Cultural Arts.
“Yes,” he muttered to himself. “Yes, it can be done and not as far-fetched as it seems, given the fortuitous juxtaposition of circumstances.”
“All right, Holmes,” I laid aside my magazine, “you have piqued my attention, What is this all about?”
“My dear Watson.” He sprang up from the wicker chair which better suits his lean frame than mine, and paced the room. “We have here probably the most ingenious robbery I have ever come across – with certainly the most unusual accomplice in history.”
“Is that what the article says?”
“Of course not, Watson. The article merely states that it is still a complete mystery, which means we must act quickly before the gem is cut, destroying an historic heirloom as well.”
“Holmes, would you mind beginning at the beginning. You have left me at the starting gate, as ’twere, and blindfolded.”
“Sorry, old fellow. Yes, my mind had raced ahead, Even now, I am but neck and neck, to continue your analogy. However, the miscreant does not even know that the race is not yet his!
“This article, not even on the front page, mind you, states that while visiting the pleasant places of Florida, in the United States, Lord and Lady Horeham-Worley suffered the loss of the famous Horeham diamond.
“Lady Horeham wore it as a pendant constantly, despite every warning… said she might as well enjoy it while she’s alive. Her daughter married out of her class, you’ll remember, and their only son and heir is a great disappointment to them. In fact, but for his bloodline and birthright, one would call him a full-fledged scoundrel, though he has only barely reached manhood.”
“Yes, I do remember references to him here and there,” I replied. “Sounds like the makings of a remittance man, banished to Australia or some foreign place.”
“Exactly, Watson. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that, though he was expelled from Oxford, his parents gave him the Grand Tour as if he had graduated with honors? Only in this case it was a tour of the Orient, where his scandalous behavior was less likely to embarrass the family than in Europe.”
“On the other hand, they are partial to traveling, the whole family. You say that they are in America now?”
“They were when this was published,” he indicated the newspaper. “Let us hope that they still are. Young Horeham-Worley is with them. In fact, the article states they were on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico at his invitation. That might mean he knew that as parents they were ever hopeful for reformation and reconciliation, Lady Horeham-Worley especially. You know how mothers are.”
“Yes, for a sensitive, feeling woman, hope would overwhelm disappointment, even bitterness…”
Holmes interrupted me in his peremptory manner. “These are the circumstances, Watson, Let us see what you make of them before I expound my theory. It is a fantastic theory, but not beyond the ingenuity of a well-traveled man who makes his own opportunities.”
He snipped the article from the newspaper and placed it on the only surface left, the tabouret table from which Mrs. Hudson had removed the tea-tray but minutes ago. He studied the clipping for a moment before he spoke again.
“The correspondent in America quite apparently gets paid by the word. Every possible fact he knows is included in detail, Yet I judge him to be conscientious and accurate since there is no unnecessary verbiage nor flowery passages – ‘padding’ I believe, is the trade term. Therefore, I trust we can judge by the facts here, which are…”
He mumbled to himself, raising his voice as he reported to me a slightly edited version.
“Lord and Lady Horeham-Worley were enjoying the charming climate of Florida… Actually, hmmm, there was a business motive for the trip. Seems that about 1884, land became available free to homesteaders if one settled on it to meet certain requirements. Young Horeham-Worley had decided to homestead on a wild island in the Gulf of Mexico, very close to the mainland – a key, they call it. He had built a log cabin to meet homesteading requirements.
“He had written his parents about his achievements and his life. They could not resist the temptation of seeing deer and screaming panthers… tasting turtle eggs, about which, it says here, ‘no matter how long they are cooked, they remain soft-boiled.’ That would not tempt me, but the pompano and mullet, fish fresh from the Gulf of Mexico, must be sweet and delicious. However…
“Ahh, young Horeham-Worley also wished to buy into the tobacco business which is just getting under way in a nearby city called Tampa… cigars… Yes, I can see several reasons for Lord and Lady Horeham-Worley to make the trip.
“Must have drawbacks, though… Lady Horeham-Worley was wearing heavy veiling against the ‘black clouds of mosquitoes’ ”
“How do you know that?”
“In due course, Watson. It’s right here in perfectly clear English, but I read it in another context. Yes,” he pointed the stem of his pipe for emphasis. “l’d revise this news story, but I must check further.”
He riffled through two volumes of an encyclopedic nature, then drew from his Orient file – subtitle: Japan – a lengthy clipping which he studied intently, referring at times to a thin volume also from the Japan file.
“The day of the loss the family had picnicked on a white beach while Lady Horeham-Worley made notes on the many varieties of birds native to that more tropical climate. Her interest reminded her son of the latest beach-combing diversion. Seems a baby pelican, he called it, had ‘adopted’ a boat and refused to leave. Boats are the only means to the mainland but this one is not now in use.
“Lady Horeham-Worley remembers that she was wearing the diamond on a chain around her neck, as she always does. Her son confirmed this as he noticed it when he helped her tie on additional veiling against the clouds of voracious mosquitoes which infest the island.
“They visited the young pelican which, locally, had already acquired a name, Hester.”
“Why Hester, Holmes?”
“lrrelevant. What is relevant is that it was thriving on the amazing quantity of fish it needs each day, which was supplemented by its human admirers. Apparently it is not often that a pelican adopts humans. Even young Horeham-Worley made his contribution to the pelican’s diet, to the delight of his mother and the amazement, no doubt, of his father.
“There, Watson, you have now what I promised you – the most unusual accomplice in criminal history.”
“Who?” I was somewhat startled. He had mentioned nobody but the Horeham-Worleys. Young H-W, yes, but, “Who?”
“The baby pelican, Watson. The baby pelican which is not a pelican at all.”
“Not a pelican? Surely it could not be a sea gull!”
“No, my dear fellow. Not a pelican. Not a sea gull.
“Hester is a cormorant. One of the trained cormorants of Gifu, Japan.”
“Yes, slightly smaller than a pelican, the Japanese cormorants are trained strenuously for years to fish for their masters. Here,” he waved to a lengthy clipping, “is an account of travelers who visited Gifu and were entertained by watching the cormorants fish.
“The cormorant masters set them out on tethers at night, by torchlight from the boats. On other boats, strung with the delicate lanterns characteristic of Gifu, people are entertained by geisha with food and drink. With the decoy fires blazing, it must be very colorful and festive, indeed.”
“But surely… then the cormorants do not eat fish, as I seem to recall pelicans do? Surely they’d eat more fish than they’d catch for their masters.”
“Ah, old friend. That is the crux of the matter. The cormorants fish with cords tied around their necks so only the tiniest fish slip down their throats.”
“You are saying that…?”
“Yes, on his travels, young Horeham-Worley visited Gifu. Perhaps he read the same article as I have here. He is clever – the family runs to brains.
“Watson, we must waste no time. See that a cablegram is sent to New York to be relayed to the authorities in this large city nearby, Tampa. Tell them to hold Horeham-Worley and search his property again. No need to involve Hester, but the ring must be removed from her neck if that young blaggard forgot.
“I always say, Watson, that a criminal will make one slip. When young Horeham-Worley confirmed the presence of the diamond that day, when he helped his mother tie on her veiling, he also revealed how he removed the diamond unnoticed.
“Naturally, he did not dare have it found on him when the loss was discovered, a discovery he may have precipitated himself, since I have no idea how long that cormorant may hold the fish.”
“The fish? How you do jump around, Holmes. What fish?”
“Young Horeham-Worley fed Hester a fish, to amuse his mother. Into that fish he had forced the diamond. He had probably practiced it well beforehand, The cormorant, of course, had been well-trained for its role.”
“Holmes, I always say, you are remarkable!”
“The cablegram, Watson. It must be sent as quickly as the sending office can be reached. Sign it ‘Sherlock Holmes’.
“Oh, and, Watson, inquire if Horeham-Worley has a Japanese man in the log cabin.”
IN DUE COURSE, we received the results of Sherlock Holmes’ deductions made from his chaotic filing system – and his even more amazing reasoning powers.
The diamond was found on the boat Hester had “adopted” and which had been bought, incidentally, by young Horeham-Worley.
And, yes, he had had a Japanese man, but the man had been old and very ill when they arrived apparently too late for the climate to effect a cure.
“Hester’s master,” murmured Holmes. “An honorable man. For over a thousand years, only six clans have been permitted by tradition and law to inherit the distinction of training cormorants. Just as well he never knew why Horeham-Worley was so generous with his invitation to the charming climate of Florida.”
Written for those two international elitist scion societies of The Baker Street Irregulars (America’s Sherlockian society): The Trained Cormorants of Gifu, restricted to those readers of A. Conan Doyle who have visited Gifu1; and The HW, those readers whose initials are H.W.2 (Scion societies take their names from mention in the Canon, Doyle’s adventures of Sherlock Holmes.)
1Cormorant Esther Crane Kelser visited Gifu with Burton.
2Hazel Wilford, NAPA, quaffs a Harvey Wallbanger with us HWs.
Helen & Sheldon Wesson
Alexandria, VA 22304
Florida Welcomes You NAPA — July 1982
Designed by Helen (APA 357); hand-set and printed by Sheldon (307) Wesson. Text face is 10-point ATF Garamond With italic and bold, some 6- and 8-point, and 12-point bold italic. Also showing 48-point Sellar Open and 36-point Gothic Ornate, both circa 1890; and 10- and 12-point Invitation Shaded, circa 1930. Distributed to the Amalgamated Printers Association, the American Amateur Press Association and National Amateur Press Association.