Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson investigate two inexplicable deaths at the secret headquarters of the Amateur Mendicant Society and uncover a deadly plot.
An excerpt from the novelette.
A Matter of Some Importance
Sherlock Holmes and I stepped out through the doors of Simpson’s restaurant in the Strand after an excellent roast beef luncheon. I buttoned my gloves against the chilly air and Holmes relit his cigar. I was about to make a remark on the excellence of the food, when a beggar sidled up to us from a position against the wall of the restaurant. He wore torn, grubby, mismatched clothes, and he led a mangy Cocker Spaniel on a string.
He doffed his filthy cap. “Excuse me, sir, may I ask —”
“Be off with you,” I exclaimed.
“I was addressing Mr Holmes, Doctor,” the beggar replied in a cultured voice.
I blinked in astonishment as Holmes turned to the man and raised his eyebrows.
“Might I beg your indulgence, Mr Holmes, and visit you at your home in Baker Street at four this afternoon? It concerns a matter of some importance.”
Holmes nodded assent.
The man smiled and declaimed:
“Game is the cock
But George will knock
The squawker from his perch,
And check his urge
For Aintree glory.”
Holmes and I continued along the Strand. I looked back for a moment and saw the beggar accost another gentleman coming out of Simpson’s, who dropped a coin into the beggar’s hat.
“What cheek, Holmes.”
“What exceptionally fine fishcakes,” Holmes answered. “I could have eaten a half-dozen and ignored the roast beef entirely.”
“What can the fellow want with you? He is disgusting; Mrs Hudson will be livid when she sees him. I wonder that Simpson’s do not summon a constable to move him on.”
“The beggar? Oh, Simpson’s has been his pitch for years. You have seen him a dozen or more times as we’ve passed along the Strand in a cab; usually on a Saturday, of course, rather than on a Thursday.”
I gave my friend a sceptical look. “What was that doggerel nonsense?”
“Not nonsense, Watson. In fact, we might slip into the Coal Hole for a reviver after our meal and make our plans for the afternoon.”
I claimed a corner table by a window of the public house while Holmes fetched our drinks from the bar. He sat and passed me a whisky soda. “I put ten-bob on for you.”
“Eh, what are you talking about, Holmes?”
“Chancellor, in the Grand National; I went a guinea.” Holmes laughed at my bemused expression. “The beggar outside Simpson’s is tolerated for his excellent racing tips, given, to avoid legal complications, in doggerel. You remember Ormande, the great racer of a couple of years ago?”
“Yes, of course. He won the Triple Crown — the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger.”
“The beggar gave me the Ormande tip and I won ten guineas. This time he tipped Chancellor running at Aintree against the favourite, Gamecock. I made our bets with the potboy.”
“Chancellor? Oh, yes I see: ‘George’ is George Groschen who took over from Lord Randolph as Chancellor of the Exchequer.” I took a sip of whisky and considered. “How would a beggar gauge the odds on a horse race? How would he know which horse to back?”
Holmes smiled. “I have an idea or two, but not enough data to confirm a deduction.”