The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Parson’s Son

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Parson’s Son

I have been fortunate enough to contribute original stories to five volumes of the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories series. The brainchild of my Solar Pons buddy, David Marcum, there have been THIRTY-SIX volumes so far, and that will be over forty by the end of the year. The stories are all authentic Holmes pastiches, emulating Doyle’s writings. No modern-age fan fiction nonsense (like, say, the road BBC Sherlock went down).

The contributors donate their royalties, which goes to Undershaw, a school for special needs kids, which is in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s former homes. Over $100,000 has been raised so far. It’s just a terrific project in multiple ways.

Some of my favorite writers have participated, including Denis O. Smith, Hugh Ashton, John Hall, Will Thomas, and more. I’ve also discovered some new Holmes writers I didn’t know about, like Mark Mower, Mike Hogan, and Tim Symonds.

Plotting is my Achilles heel, but I’m working on getting back in the series with some new stories. Arthur Conan Doyle looked into several true crimes – often to try and thwart a miscarriage of justice. The case of George Edalji is probably the best-known. Not too long ago, a fictionalized account, Arthur and George, was made into a TV miniseries.

For MX, I took that case and had Sherlock Holmes investigate it as it occurred. “The Adventure of the Parson’s Son” appeared in third volume of this series, and was part of the initial three-part release. If you’d like to read a Doyle-styled Holmes story by yours truly, keep on going.

The Adventure of the Parson’s Son

By Bob Byrne

I followed Sherlock Holmes along the edge of the field, clambering with no great grace over a wooden fence. “Hsst, Watson.” He had enjoined me to silence more than once during our midnight sojourn, in which we had crossed a railway line, wandered through fields, and climbed more than one fence, all in moonless dark, with aid of neither lantern nor torch. I had fallen thrice and stumbled several more times across the uneven ground. My clothes were splattered and I had even momentarily lost a boot in a mud hole.

Holmes, of course, had strode silently, barely making a whisper, whereas I moved through brush as if a herd of moose had come to graze and he often had to wait for me to catch up. This latest admonishment finished, we continued on. I estimated that our journey had taken approximately fifteen minutes when Holmes stopped and put a hand to my chest.

His mouth close to my ear, he whispered, barely audibly, “This is the field we seek. Not a sound.”

I nodded my head silently and moved over the fence as quietly as I could. Not earning a remonstrance from Holmes, it seems I did well enough this time.

I could just make out the silhouette of a horse in the field and the outlines of the buildings to the east. By prearrangement, I stayed where I was, knowing Holmes would indicate if I need join him. As he approached the horse, it nickered gently, shuffling its hooves uncertainly. I judged by Holmes’ movements that he was removing my gorget from his pocket while soothing the horse, though I could not hear his whisperings.

The near total silence of the night was shattered by the blast of a police whistle and the field was suddenly bathed in lantern light as several officers rushed in from all directions. “Halt, in the name of the law!”

The horse bolted while Holmes and I raised our arms in surrender, he dropping the gorget to the ground at his feet. One of the constabulary men stooped and picked it up, eyeing it critically. He sneered at Holmes and said, “Looks like we got another horse mutilator, boys.”

“I’ve had my eye on this George Edalji for many a year, Mister Holmes.”

We stood facing the local Chief Constable, the honorable G.A. Anson, the second son of the Earl of Lichester. He reminded me far too much of some of my army officers in Afghanistan: A lot of bluster that attempted to compensate for a lack of practical experience. We had been escorted roughly into his office after our capture. To his credit, upon recognizing Holmes, he immediately realized how improbable it was that we had intended to cut open that horse and did not place us under arrest.

Holmes explained that we had been retracing the route that George Edalji had allegedly taken a few nights before to mutilate a horse in that very field at the Great Wyerly Colliery. He also told the chief constable why we had come from London.

“I’m afraid you’ve come on a wild goose chase, sir. Naturally, the reverend wants you to prove his son innocent.” The way Anson said ‘reverend indicated that he did not like the elder Edalji.

He almost leered at Holmes. “Why, after he had been arrested, Edalji said, ‘I am not surprised at this. I have been expecting it for some time.’ Those were his very words, I can tell you.”

The man actually snorted. “Now, I ask you, what better confession of guilt could we have asked for?”

“Or perhaps it was the natural response of a man who knows he has been a suspect, be it for valid reasons or not,” Holmes replied levelly.

A flush rose on Anson’s cheeks.

“I happen to know that Edalji was not innocent of strange goings on at the vicarage some ten years ago.” He said this last with a knowing look, as if he had let us in on some great secret.

Holmes was unruffled, as always. “I’m sure your men are gathering all sorts of evidence to establish Edalji’s guilt.” I thought I detected a faint inflection on the word ‘establish.’

Anson seemed a bit uncertain what to make of this statement. “I’m sure with so many crimes in London, Scotland Yard is in need of your assistance. But here in Wyerly, we’ve got things under our thumbs.”

“Yes, I’m certain there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ve secured the guilty party. We shall not trouble you any further at the moment.” Holmes sighed softly and moved a few steps to the door but stopped short. Turning, he said, “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I see the plaster of Edalji’s boot marks?”

Anson was startled at the sudden change of subject, just when he thought Holmes was leaving. “Why, we had no need to make one.”

My friend stared at him in obvious disbelief. “No cast made? Surely there are photographs, then?”

Anson was more than a bit uncomfortable at Holmes’ tone. “Not necessary. One of my men took Edalji’s boot and made an impression in the mud next to the boot marks. It was clearly a match.”

“And he will testify to that effect in court, with no evidence to buttress his claim?”

The chief constable seemed to come to the conclusion that Holmes was not necessarily on his side. A bit late, in my opinion. “We’ll do just fine on our own. We don’t need the help of a publicity-seeking private detective from London. Perhaps you and the doctor would do well to leave!”

Holmes smiled thinly and I moved towards the door. “I think we’ll enjoy some of your fine country air. It’s always so refreshing to get away from London’s thick climate. Come Watson, let us retire to our rooms.”

With a curt nod to Anson, I followed Holmes out. A sharp glance from my friend told me to hold any questions to myself until we were in more secluded surroundings.

It had been a long night; or rather, morning. After but a few meager hours of sleep, we had gathered in the secured environs of Holmes’ room, settled in with warm but tepid tea, courtesy of the innkeeper. “This is weak stuff, Holmes,” I commented as I swallowed unenthusiastically.

He grunted noncommittally, ignoring the cup at his elbow. “Well old fellow, you have now traversed the same route that George Edalji allegedly did, in almost total darkness, to mutilate a horse. Could he have done it?”

I reflected on our nocturnal journey. Granted, I had struggled over the unfamiliar ground. Edalji, a native, would have an advantage. But there was his vision to take into account.

“Holmes, if the degree of myopia is as severe as his father attests, I find it all but inconceivable that young Edalji could have followed that path, undetected, attacked the horse, retraced his route and commenced home without anyone the wiser, no matter the time.”

He laughed. “As do I. You have the benefit of excellent sight and you struggled throughout.” I ignored this careless slight, the receipt of which was my burden as Sherlock Holmes’ assistant. “Edalji could not possibly have succeeded in such a mission. And for him to evade an alert police force; it beggars reason.”

“Though ‘reason’ and Captain Anson may be only nodding acquaintances,” he muttered.

He took a drink of the lukewarm tea, made a face and put it back down. “Parson Edalji said that the police have offered not one, but two possible scenarios. That his son attacked the horse in the evening before coming home from an errand in the village: or that he snuck out of the parsonage, which was under observation, in the middle of the night, completed his task and snuck in, undetected.”

I reflected on this. “It seems rather incongruous.”

“Preposterous would be a better word, Watson. The man wears no corrective lenses. And it is implied that he was involved in the previous maimings, though the police have been careful to avoid direct mention of that.”

“I must say, matters seem to favor the young solicitor, thought I fear many facts will need to be marshaled in his defense to blunt the police’s seeming animus. I believe that we shall next look into the matter of the horse hair found on Edalji’s coat. I am sure that it will be a cornerstone of any prosecution case.”

“Yes, gentlemen, I removed twenty-nine hairs from the jacket. There can be no doubt that they were from a horse.”

We were conversing with the police surgeon, a Doctor Butler. He was rather nondescript, except for the somewhat disconcerting habit of looking at a spot approximately four or five inches to the right of the person he was speaking to.

“Well, you certainly couldn’t be mistaken in that, doctor,” Holmes replied, pausing. “And I understand that a portion of hide was cut from the mutilated horse and brought to you?”

“Yes, a piece was removed from the belly.” Again, he looked at a point next to Holmes’ head.

“Indeed.” Holmes turned thoughtful eyes to me and then casually looked to the ceiling, as if the following question was a mere trifle. “And did you find any similarity between the hairs on George Edalji’s coat and that portion of horse flesh?” His piercing gaze then centered on the doctor.

“Why yes, I did. Nearly all of the hairs on the jacket were similar in color, length and structure.”

I felt that Holmes was baiting a trap for the unwary police surgeon. I had seen this many times before.

“I take it that the coat was sealed at the parsonage and brought directly to you that morning?”

The man blinked owlishly. “No, not directly to me, Mister Holmes.”

Holmes’ expression affected surprise. “Not directly? I would think that such a vital piece of evidence would be put into your care post haste. Surely no more than an hour or so elapsed?”

Dr. Butler seemed somewhat discomfited. “Err…no, it was a bit longer than that.”

Holmes stared placidly at the man. The silence hung in the air like a blanket, both of us waiting for the doctor to add more. Holmes raised an eyebrow. “I believe that the police went to the parsonage at about eight o’clock in the morning. Surely you recall when the coat was brought to you here.”

Butler rubbed his hands together as if he were washing them. “I believe that I examined the coat at nine o’clock in the evening.”

“Surely not!” Holmes’ voice was like the crack of a whip. “That is some thirteen hours after it was secured at the parsonage. Where was this coat during that period of time?”

“I…I do not know, sir. I had no knowledge of the coat until it was brought to me.”

“According to young Edalji’s father, there were no hairs on the coat when it was examined at the parsonage. Even Inspector Campbell could claim he found only two hairs. Yet you found twenty-nine? How do you explain that, sir?”

The man was clearly shaken. “It is not my task to explain it, gentlemen.”

I felt sympathy for the poor doctor. I did not believe he had done anything untoward regarding the questionable provenance of George Edalji’s coat and the horse hairs. “Come now, Holmes. Surely Doctor Butler is not responsible for what happened to the coat before it came into his possession.”

His face softened. He looked apologetically at Butler. “Of course, I intended no offense, doctor. You have been of great assistance and I thank you.”

He offered his hand, which Butler shook with some relief. “Yes, yes, of course. No offense taken. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions” He seemed relieved that we were departing.

I wished him well and followed Holmes out of the room. He chuckled as we walked along. “You played that well, Watson. I have found that sometimes having a good inquisitor and a ‘bad’ inquisitor provides an effective balance when questioning someone.”

Surprised, I replied, “Glad to help, Holmes. I must say, I’m rather dubious regarding the disappearance of the coat.”

“Ha! I believe we have discredited the coat entirely. Though I wish I could get Thorndyke to examine it. Would that we were back in London.”

I was a bit startled by this pronouncement. “Entirely? Really, Holmes?”

His eyes gleamed. “Upon its initial examination, there is a dispute to whether any hairs at all adhere to the coat. The local police say only two are visible. The coat is taken into police custody and reappears over a dozen hours later, covered with twenty-nine identifiable horse hairs. And those hairs are consistent with the hairs on a piece of skin cut from the mutilated horse.”

“It does not take a great deal of imagination to consider that the hairs on the coat came from the sample cut from the dead horse.

I was shocked! “Holmes, surely you don’t mean to imply that the constabulary intentionally placed the hairs from the sample onto the coat?”

He gave me a flat smile. “I suppose it is conceivable that the two objects came into contact with each other, or someone unintentionally transferred the hairs from one to the other. But I find that the less likely of our possibilities. The circumstance of the hairs on the coat does not buttress the case against Edalji.”

I ruminated on this as we continued our walk. While I had seen my share of less than efficient police work in my years with Holmes, I found I hard to imagine the official force manufacturing guilt against someone!

I looked around to the realization that we were near our inn. “I say, Holmes, where are we going now?”

He stopped. “I suggest that you enjoy the local fare. I am going to delve into the case of young Edalji’s boot marks and will not require your assistance at present.”

I took a short walk after enjoying some adequate shepherd’s pie, with assorted trimmings. I was back in my room, dozing in the almost comfortable chair, when Holmes knocked and entered, unbidden. I shrugged off my torpor and greeted him. “:What did you discover, Holmes?”

He carelessly tossed his deerstalker onto the small table. “Either the local force is more incompetent than I believe possible or is intent on convicting Edalji.” He shook his head. “I cannot imagine even Lestrade would have arrested the man on such specious evidence.”

He moved over to the window and looked out upon the whitewashed walls of the shop next door to my room. “The good Inspector Campbell took a pair of Edalji’s boots at the same time as the coat supposedly covered in horse hairs.” He snorted in derision. “Then, some eight hours later, after hundreds of miners had tramped all over the area like a herd of buffalo, he located boot prints that matched those made by Edalji’s boots.”

“Definitively?” I queried.

“Of course not! It would appear that he spotted some likely marks, made an imprint in the ground next to them with Edalji’s boot and then declared them a match!”

He shook his head. “It is clear that the man has not read my little monograph on the subject of footprints. As Captain Anson verified, he did not make a print, take a photograph or even sketch the muddied marks. There is no evidence of any kind that can be examined.” He paused, then added, “Or refuted.”

I knew my friend to be angered by such shoddy police work. Something occurred to me then. “If there was rain off and on all night, and if Edalji committed the crime before returning home at 9:30, wouldn’t any prints almost surely be gone by the following afternoon?”

His laugh was as sharp as a pistol shot. “Very good, Watson. I could wish that you were on the local force. To find a print over half a day later, with the ongoing rain and the scene unsecured; the unsubstantiated claim of finding a match is almost absurd.”

He stared contemplatively at his hat on the table. “Surely if Anson has not already had the same thought, someone will. Which would further induce the police to favor the scenario in which Edalji snuck out of the house in the middle of the night, rather than committing the crime on his way home from the village.”

“I should laugh at the whole affair if the consequences for young Edalji were not so serious, my friend.”

I pondered Holmes’ words. Edalji was a successful young barrister, having written a well-received manual on railway law. A conviction would surely strike him from the rolls, in addition to sending him to prison for a time. It certainly was no laughing matter.

Holmes stared levelly at me. “The coat, the boot marks, the rusty razor that clearly could not be the mutilating weapon, his poor eyesight: it is surely a poor case they have to bring against him.”

I had already dismissed the razor from my thoughts. Inspector Campbell had taken a razor, supposedly wet and with blood stains, from the parsonage along with the coat and boots. It was almost immediately determined that the stains were rust, and it was wet because young Edalji had used it that morning to…shave! Regardless, the razor was not consistent with the type of weapon that could make the fatal wound.

“Watson, I fear there is something dark under the surface here in Wyerly. Some menace for George Edalji.”

“Foul, vile stuff.” I put down one of the letters sent to the Edalji family. Parson Edalji patted his wife’s hand, the two sitting across from Holmes and I.

“Yes, Mister Holmes, we were subjected to a variety of accusations, vandalism and pranks malicious and harmless, beginning in 1892 and lasting for three years. Goods arrived for orders we did not place. People were summoned to our home for meetings that did not exist. Things I cannot repeat were said about ourselves and others.”

We sat in the modest parsonage inhabited by the Edaljis. It was a humble room with no signs of ostentation. We had been served a much better tea than that from the inn and were asking the senior Edalji about the family’s past problems.

“And the local authorities believe that your son was behind these letters. Even the ones that maligned himself and his own family?”

Pastor Edalji was from Bombay, raised in a Parsi family. He had been given the see in Wyerly by a relative of his wife. As the area was a rough, rural parish with a tough, mining mentality, I could guess that the locals had not been overjoyed to have a foreigner brought in to oversee their spiritual needs.

“Yes. For example, a key was stolen from the Walsall School, several miles away. It was found on our doorstep. Chief Constable Anson was convinced that George had taken it. To what end? And he did not even attend Walsall. It made no sense!”

His wife, clearly suffering from a long history of unpleasantness surrounding her family, remained silent.

“It certainly seems unfair,” I interjected.

He smiled weakly at me and continued. “The letters simply stopped in 1895, the culprit never identified. Then, this past February, a horse was mutilated in the night. More attacks followed, and malicious letters began appearing. The police again believed that George wrote them.”

Holmes had listened with rapt attention. “Of course, it is far more likely that someone with animus towards your family wrote the letters. And that the person left the area in 1985, when the letters ceased. They then returned, renewing their attacks on your family.”

Mrs. Edalji gave a genuine, if broken, smile to Holmes. I sensed that she had received little support related to the persecution of her family.

Parson Edalji nodded his head. That would certainly…” the sentence went unfinished.

Holmes asked some additional questions regarding who bore the man and his son any special animus. We learned of the expected close-mindedness towards the Edalji’s mixed ancestry, but he could not identify anyone specific.

“If I could take the letters you have, we shall see what we can glean from them.”

“Most assuredly, sir. We shall help you in any way we can.”

They clung to Holmes’ implacable stolidity like struggling swimmers to a lifeline. We made our farewells, dozens of letters in our possession.

“Let us retire to our rooms and see what we can learn from these,” he said, waving his packet of letters at me. “If Captain Anson and his men truly believed that young Edalji was writing these scurrilous letters, he is an even bigger fool than I supposed. Even Athelney Jones would not come to that conclusion.”

A young man towered over the seated Holmes. He was stocky, with broad shoulders and his mouth was a gash across the coarse face. His fists were clenched at his sides and his words came out with a sneer.

“So, you’ve been askin’ about me, have ya?”

Another stood off to the side, just in the corner of my line of vision. He looked a few years younger and had none of the other’s bulk. There was a definite facial resemblance and I had no doubt that the two were at least cousins, if not brothers. There was a glint of meanness in his eyes as he watched the other confront Holmes.

Holmes looked up at the newcomer hovering over him. He gave no indication that he had a concern of any kind. “And you are…?”

“Don’t try any of your smart stuff with me, Sherlock Holmes. I’m Royster Sharp, as you damn well know!”

I was not surprised to hear such rude language from the man we had been discussing just shortly before. He was certainly no gentleman.

“Ah, yes. I can tell by your complexion you have been at sea. Returned just in time for the events regarding the Edaljis, I see.”

His salt-weathered cheeks flushed and he leaned close to Holmes, both hands flat on the table. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

His comment was echoed by the second man, whom Holmes then addressed. “And you are most certainly Rodney Sharp, providing moral support to your elder brother.”

I looked more closely at Rodney, who didn’t respond to Holmes and seemed content to follow his brother’s lead.

“I don’t know what business it is of yours, pokin’ your big, pointy nose into affairs around here. But if you know what’s good for ya, you’d best stay clear of me. And quit talkin’ about me to people!”

He then put his fist under Holmes’ nose and said, “Or you’ll be gettin’ a beatin.’”

“Watson, I believe our business here is done. There’s a foul odor I failed to notice before. I believe we should continue our investigations elsewhere.”

With that, he rose, his eyes boring into Royster Sharp. Royster’s eyes narrowed and without warning, he drew his arm back and threw a jab at Holmes’ chin.

Seeing this, Rodney began to move around his brother to add his weight to the attack. Apparently he regarded me as no threat, to his detriment. I caught his foot with my own and sent him sprawling to the floor, next to me. As he started to get up, I grabbed my walking stick and laid a sharp blow across his lower back. I doubt it would have stopped his brother, but it knocked him back to the ground and I heard the air woosh out of his lungs.

Holmes had apparently moved to the side, grabbed Royster Sharp’s wrist with both hands, ducked down, stepped into his the man and tossed him over his shoulder. I had seen Holmes use this fighting technique, which he called ‘baritsu,’ before. Royster went flying towards the next table, which he smashed into. I heard a crack as his head smacked the table and the man fell to the ground.

“Doctor, if you would be so good as to check on this one,” indicating his fallen opponent. “I daresay he didn’t realize what was happening to him and had no time to react.”

Reassuring myself that his brother would not be causing any additional trouble, I moved over to the prone form of the elder Sharp. A cursory examination verified that while he would have a nasty lump on his head, no permanent damage had been done.

Holmes addressed Rodney. “I hope you and your brother will take note of this event. I will continue my investigation as I see fit. Any further attempts to interfere in any way will be met swiftly and effectively. I could break your brother’s right arm at this moment and he would be unwilling to practice his trade as a butcher’s assistant for some time to come. Have I made myself clear?”

Rodney Sharp had climbed to his feet, bent forward a bit and holding his side. I wondered if I had bruised his kidney with my blow. It was no more than the miscreant deserved.

He grunted an “Aye” and tumbled into a seat at our table. Holmes nodded in satisfaction and turned to leave. “Come, Watson, we are finished here.” I followed him out the door, glancing back as we left. Rodney Sharp, sweat on his face, paid us no attention.

I shall now tell of the discussion that preceded that interruption. We had examined the letters given us by Parson Edalji. They were a malevolent collection of threats, inanities and slanders. While not all directed at the family, clearly someone hated George Edalji.

Holmes left me to my own devices and pursued his own investigations for a time. I knew of no man who could elicit information from someone as well as he. Several hours later, he returned to our rooms and related to me the fruit of his inquiries.

“Watson, it is surely of note that the letters stopped suddenly for a time, then resumed. I also wondered about the key to Walsall School appearing at the parsonage. You agree?”

I had not given the matter any thought. “Why, yes, surely.”

He gave me a knowing grin as he loaded his pipe with some tobacco he had brought from Baker Street. Once he had a small stream of blue smoke emanating from the briar, he resumed.

“You may, of course, open the window if it becomes a bit thick in here.”

I nodded but made no move to do so.

“Very well.” He puffed contentedly. “I think it quite possible that the person or persons, for I believe there is more than one, who could write those letters could also be involved in the mutilations. We are not dealing with the greed and cunning of a Milverton, or the shrewd planning for profit of John Clay. I believe in this case, we deal with a simpler, base meanness of spirit. Someone who is lacking in the mores of right and wrong. The type who, as a youth, tortured small animals just for the fun of doing so.”

I listened in silent agreement.

“So, I asked shopkeepers, tradesmen and the like about such a lad from several years ago. Some were recalcitrant, while some obviously took advantage to disparage folk they have disliked for years. With each name, I also inquired if the person had left the area for some time and recently returned.”

He looked at me with a grin.

“Come now, Holmes,” I blurted out. “You can’t refrain from telling me what you discovered. It’s obvious you have a suspect in mind.”

He chuckled. “Good old Watson. You know me well.”

He adjusted himself in his chair and fiddled with his pipe. “There is a young man named Royster Sharp who was quite unpopular in this town. He was a troublesome youth, consistently performing vandalous acts, bullying the weak and just behaving like a rotten egg.”

He eyed me with amusement. “Would you care to guess what school he attended?”

I thought for a moment. “Walsall!”

He nodded. “Yes. The same school the mysterious key was stolen from. He was suspended more than once before being expelled. His younger brother, Rodney, is rather simpleminded and followed his brother’s lead, often joining him in his trouble making.”

I was excited, seeing a much more likely suspect than George Edalji, though whether for the letters, the mutilations or both, I could not yet say.

“Sharp signed on to a boat as a butcher’s apprentice. He was at sea for some eight years, returning not long before the letters and mutilations began.”

“Why, Holmes! A butcher’s training. Surely he would know how to cut these animals and would have an instrument for doing so. Or know how to easily obtain one!”

He removed the pipe from his mouth and eyed it critically. “Most assuredly, Watson.”

I continued on, excitedly. “And if his character is as poor as you indicate, he’s just the type of man who would write those letters and be involved in the mutilations. His easily led brother could be a confederate!”

“While it’s by no means a sure thing, I have no doubt that Captain Anson would have done better to look into the Sharps, rather than pursue George Edalji.” He paused, grimaced. “At least, if his aim were justice.”

I was one who always gave the official force as much benefit of the doubt as I could. But in this instance, I feared their intentions towards Edalji were less than honorable.

“What now, Holmes?”

“We eat, my good man. I have worked up an appetite this day.” So saying, he arose and opened the window, dissipating some of the blue cloud that had formed at the ceiling.

It was shortly after that we encountered the Sharp brothers, to their unfortunate experience.

Sadly, I do not set forth before you, dear reader, a story of one of Holmes’ great successes. The defense counsel, whom I shall not name here to avoid the direct casting of an aspersion, ignored all advice on the path to follow. He believed the evidence was so weak that a thorough defense was unnecessary.

Ignoring the insistent pleas of the Reverend Edalji and Holmes and myself, he did not call a single expert to testify to young Edalji’s extensive myopia. Nor did he point out the speciousness of the footprint identification. He was so convinced that the jury would see the local prejudices against the Edaljis and the lack of fair investigation by the local constabulary that there was no need for “unnecessary expense and potential confusion by clouding the matter.”

While recognizing the local antipathy towards the Edalji’s, said counsel clearly underestimated the degree of it. Also, by failing to establish a vigorous defense, he did not account for the fact that the police investigation did not bring evidence against any other possible culprit.

The jury, hearing from a confident police force and a handwriting expert, and knowing the local feeling against the Edaljis, brought in a verdict of guilty. Young George was sentenced to seven years, hard labor.

Holmes, disgusted by counsel’s obstinate refusal to properly defend his client, had returned to Baker Street in my company. I read him the verdict as it was reported in the Times. He sighed and stared into space.

“Ah, Watson. There is no greater bastion of legal justice than the English courts, but I do believe it is lacking some type of court of appeal. I fear that our American cousins have excelled us in that particular area.

I silently read the article, my heart sinking into despair as I thought of this earnest young lawyer confined to a prison cell. Holmes puffed away on his pipe, a cloud of blue smoke ever expanding in our rooms.

“Watson, you recall that journalist, Sims, raised quite a hue and cry at the wrongful conviction of Adolph Beck.”

I paused, letting the paper settle in my lap. “Yes. Gordon….no, George R. Sims, I believe his name is. Say, Holmes, didn’t Gurrin testify in that case as well?”

“Yes, Watson. I believe history will show that Thomas Gurrin, handwriting charlatan, played a significant role in sending two innocent men to the gaol.”

“Sims made Beck’s conviction a bit of a cause celebre.” He shook his head. “Though I don’t know that it played any part in his parole for good behavior.”

He eyed me with the faintest trace of a smile. “The Home Office is as stiff-necked as an oxen in harness, but perhaps your agent could lead a memorial on Edalji’s behalf…” His voice trailed off.

I jumped to my feet, the paper falling to the floor. “By Jove Holmes, this is just the sort of thing that would get Conan Doyle’s blood boiling. Now that you mention it, Arthur had mentioned to me that he believed Adolf Beck was innocent.”

I moved over to my writing desk and began a letter to my literary agent, setting down those findings of Holmes’ that were contrary to the verdict. ‘My dear Doyle, as a man of integrity and with interests in the world of crime, I am sure that you have closely followed the trial of George Edalji. Holmes and I were involved in the investigation and I would like to share with you the terrible injustice…’

I have several notebooks with events and partially written accounts of affairs involving Sherlock Holmes. For a variety of reasons, they were never developed into a full accounting. There are also a few that are complete and could be published at any time, but won’t be for reasons I choose not reveal. It is possible that in time, the injustice involving the parson’s son, George Edalji, will find print. Through absolutely no fault of his own, Holmes’ work could be declared unsuccessful. So, I write this accounting, knowing that it will likely be placed in my tin dispatch box for some time.


I wrote an essay on the Edalji case, which you can check out here.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Bob_TieSmile150.jpgBob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series.

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.

He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.

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Martin Owton

A well-executed and enjoyable pastiche though I believe ACD would have used railway line instead of railroad line in the first paragraph

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Owton

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