On the western outskirts of Sheffield--the Sheffield of 1875--there was a dingy red factory that had seen the bankruptcies of at least three concerns which had been housed within its high walls. In this ...
On the western outskirts of Sheffield--the Sheffield of 1875--there was a
dingy red factory that had seen the bankruptcies of at least three
concerns which had been housed within its high walls. In this year it was
occupied by the staff of a Mr Wertheimer, who produced nothing that was
of commercial value, and was rather secretive about what he hoped to
produce at all. He called himself and his partner, known and unknown,
"The Silver Steel Company", which, as Baldy said subsequently, was a
contradiction in terms.
On a certain wintry night a young man dropped a rope ladder from one of
the walls and came gingerly to the ground. His name was Kuhl, he was a
Swiss from the Canton de Vaud, by profession an engineer, and by
disposition an admirer of attractive ladies.
He picked his way across the uneven ground towards the road and was met
halfway by two men. A woman, driving into Sheffield, saw the three
talking by the side of the road where a closed wagonette, drawn by two
horses, was standing. The men were talking loudly and gesticulating at
one another. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw what was apparently
a free fight in progress, and whipped up her horse.
She did not inform the police because, as she said, it was none of her
business, and, besides, fights were pretty frequent in those days and in
that part of the world.
Later she informed Sergeant Eltham, but could give no satisfactory
account of how the fight finished.
This Sergeant Eltham was a police officer who never ceased to apologize
for being seen in public without his uniform. But for this it might
almost have been forgotten that he had ever worn a uniform at all, since
he was the most astute of the "plain clothes men" that ever went on the
roll of the Sheffield Police Force. He was tall, broad-shouldered,
bushy-bearded, bald. Wrongdoers, who did not like him and never spoke of
him except in the most lurid terms, called him "Baldy" or "Whiskers" as
the fancy seized them.
He was a man who was seldom at a loss even in the most baffling
situation, but he confessed to being beaten when the Silver Steel Company
called upon him, for the second time in three months, to ask him to solve
the mystery of a lost employee.
He came into Alan Mainford's surgery one cold night in December to drink
hot rum and water and gossip about people and things, as was his
practice. The sergeant was a bachelor living with a widowed sister, and
his recreations were few. Dr Mainford often wondered what he did to pass
the time before the beginning of their friendship--it had its genesis in
a violent toothache which Alan ended summarily and in the early hours of
the morning with a No. 3 forcep and a muscular forearm.