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It's Christmas Day, 1902. A priest has been murdered in a London church during a secret meeting-to discuss the possibility of a Parliament of World Religions. Now Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson-with some assistance from Father Brown-must discern if the killer is indeed one of the leaders of the world's greatest faiths...
It's Christmas Day, 1902. A priest has been murdered in a London church during a secret meeting-to discuss the possibility of a Parliament of World Religions. Now Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson-with some assistance from Father Brown-must discern if the killer is indeed one of the leaders of the world's greatest faiths...
Oxford to Baker Street, 3 p.m.
Snow descended on London, swirling in on brisk winds, catching the pale yellow glare of the streetlights as it laid its ghostly white upon our familiar haunts. I stood at our window overlooking deserted Baker Street, marveling on the rare London snow and savoring the strange quiet.
Christmas morning had come and gone, and Holmes was clearly relieved the dreaded festival was almost over. We had just this afternoon returned from Oxford, where Holmes had tried, and singularly failed, to hide away in the Bodleian Library, studying the ancient, musty musical manuscripts he so loved. Instead, we had been dragged into the tinseled maw of a perplexing domestic drama in the home of Holmes's old tutor, now master of St. Mark's. Hailing a hansom cab at Euston Station upon our return to London from Oxford, we hastened straight back to our rooms, thoroughly exhausted.
After a brief rest, a shave, and a light repast of strong coffee, eggs, and kippers, provided by Mrs. Hudson, we were now sharing a convivial silence on this winter's approaching night. In the inner reflection upon the window glass, I could see Holmes as he placidly sat pasting newspaper crime articles into his vast alphabetized volumes, his lean face partially obscured with pipe smoke.
Against the storm, the warmth and light of our apartment seemed a stay against the chaos of city life, whose dirty, coal-smudged tracks, mud, and grime were being sheeted by the innocence of white. From the distance, I heard the faint tinkling of horses' bells as hansoms traversed the oddly muffled streets.
"Yes, Watson, indeed the rose is the most beautiful of the flowers."
"Good God, Holmes, you have been playing this trick upon me for a good many years, and still leave me dumbfounded." I turned to face my old companion. "How in heaven's name could you read this in my manner, for I surely betrayed no sign of such a thought?"
He leaned back and sucked in upon his brier-wood pipe, eyeing me merrily. "I have indeed been reading the Book of Watson for some time, the purity of my observations augmented by close familiarity. I saw you set down that book by your chair, page faceup, as you rose, and it opened naturally to a poem most precious to you."
"Yes, Lodge's 'When I Admire the Rose,' but surely—"
"Ah, follow the mind under suggestion. You passed our mantel, where you set our few Christmas postcards, two of which are adorned with roses blooming in winter, one of the glories of our clime. Then, as you stood at the window you absently placed your hands in your pockets, and as you did I could see, reflected in the glass, a look of melancholy cross your face. You were, I believe, touching the rosary that you carry in your pocket, given to you by your late wife, Mary." He paused. "I believe that was the trail of your thoughts. It seemed natural to bring these mental fragments together, the term 'rosary' coming from the rose garden," said Holmes, setting aside his glue pot and heavy book. He went to the mantel to poke at his pipe, adding a little shag tobacco.
I sat down in my chair across from him. "Yes, Holmes, that was precisely the gathering of my emotions. You know I am not a religious man; I carry her rosary not out of any feeling of faith but because she held it once."
"A twelfth-century Persian poet said, 'Mystery glows in the rose bed, the secret is hidden in the rose.' " He leaned back in his old velvet chair dreamily, his eyes half closed, as if he were listening to a piece of favorite music at the Royal Hall. "Think of how much of our lives, Watson, we have pursued such secrets, sub rosa." I had a little secret of my own from him.
I wondered if this was to be the last Christmas season we would share in our old comfortable digs. My proposal of marriage to a remarkable young woman, a lovely nurse in training I met on rounds at St. Bart's, had been recently accepted. Since she was with her parents in Essex for the holidays, I had more or less invited myself along on Holmes's recent college expedition. Though impatient to be married again after so many years, I also harbored a certain nostalgia for these years of bachelor conviviality that were to end in the autumn. I dreaded informing Holmes about my approaching marriage; I knew he would greet this news with his typical asperity and a sharp comment or two. Oh, our long friendship would go on, but subtly changed, more distant, haphazard.
"You know, Watson, it might amuse your readers to some-day record our little Oxford adventure." He shrugged, and added with a sardonic touch, "The incident illustrates the lesson I have tried to impart to you through the years: that close observation of minute details, not grand theorizing, is the key to revelation."
As he languidly waved his match out, he gave me an amused look signaling both permission for me to write up the case and, at the same time, a bemused dismissal of my literary efforts.
"It really was a remarkable red ruby sapphire, Holmes, was it not?"
"Yes, it was. You owe it to your readers, Watson, to fully describe it, especially after having confused them years ago with your Yuletide tale of the famed blue carbuncle-only that blue gems of that variety do not exist." Ignoring his jocund jibe at a literary license I had taken years ago to obscure the facts of a case, I instead nodded a restrained thanks. I do indeed owe it to readers to describe our little encounter with the Scintilla Stone, because it offers a glimpse into the religious feelings of Holmes, an icy reserve rarely revealed.
In our rented Oxford rooms, I had been happily reading the holiday issue of the Illustrated London News when Holmes unexpectedly reappeared, rousing me with a bag thrown upon his bed and a resigned request: "Come, Watson, the past has claimed us. Gather our things, for we are due shortly at the master's house of St. Mark's College." His old tutor, the Reverend Dr. Sydney Rosewater, unexpectedly encountered in the Bodleian quad at dusk, was insisting we join his family's celebration. The detective had known in an instant that the quiet evening he had envisioned after his long day in Duke Humphrey's library was doomed.
It was a short walk from our hotel to St. Mark's, our footsteps resounding along glistening stone walls. Into the bustle of Broad Street, we were greeted with a small brass band playing "Good King Wenceslas" in front of the great stoic stone heads of the emperors.
"You seldom talk about your college days, Holmes."
"My two years here were not stellar, Watson. In fact, when that bull pup bit my ankle on the way to chapel, I took it as a divine sign to be on my way to London."
"I suspect that dog interrupted your last attendance at any religious service."
"Well, with my then certain heady scientific sensibility, I determined that the compulsory chapels of my youth contained truths too fantastic for me. I am not a scoffer at religion as my brother, Mycroft, is, but I determined then that I would give my sole allegiance to facts, not faith. Yet strangely, I find I am mellowing towards religion in recent years."
Hoping to keep this rare colloquy from the private Holmes flowing, as he almost never referred to his past, I inquired,
"How so, Holmes? I can't remember when either of us expressed the slightest interest in religion."
"Ah, well, the faith of crucifixes, stained glass, vestments, and all the paraphernalia of English faith-true, that realm of faith has no appeal to me. But oddly enough, my year in Tibet and my exposure to Buddhism opened my eyes. The monks taught me to still my mind, and surprisingly, I found the rudimentary meditative techniques they gave me congenial to my austere temperament. And suddenly, the religious trappings of a foreign faith made me a trifle more open to religion as a kind of visual poetry, a universal language. Still, I sincerely dread Rosewater's invitation." He would have been far happier if he had known that instead of sentimental piety, his old teacher would soon be giving him the present of the kind of mental puzzle he so delighted in. Soon the imposing white walls of his old college loomed before us, covered in trailing bands of ivy laced with frost. With a sigh, Holmes strode through the imposing Gothic gate. The master's house, beyond the chapel, was lit with a benevolent yellow glow. Our knock was answered by a suave young man in formal wear, balding and lean.
"Holmes, is it? Come in. My brother said he had snagged you to join our rituals." He extended his hand and took our bags. "I'm Jeffrey Rosewater, up from London; your territory, Mr. Holmes. And you must be Dr. Watson." Five children ran by us in a laughing rush in the entryway. Jeffrey Rosewater rolled his eyes indulgently. The dapper man, trim black mustache giving him a military look, dabbed at his shining forehead with a handkerchief. "Sydney insists all of us must return to Oxford, the Rosewater homestead, in honor of our deceased parents."
A pretty chestnut—haired young girl, eleven or so, danced back and embraced Jeffrey, crying, "Oh Father, come help us glue our Christmas crackers! Bring us those exploding snaps you brought us from Paris!"
We were then spied by the master, who joined us in the foyer. "Welcome, welcome," cried Rosewater, small and rotund in a quaint, Pickwickian fashion. He ordered his brother to take our bags. As Jeffrey Rosewater obeyed, standing four inches over his older brother, he was sleek and fastidious compared to the slightly disheveled master. It was clear the master easily and effortlessly dominated his younger brother. It occurred to me that no one knew better than Holmes what it was like to have an impressive older brother who held tenaciously to long dominance.
The little girl interrupted us, saying that they needed to complete their Christmas crackers. This new custom of beginning a perfectly proper meal by yanking open explosive paper rolls and then putting on colored paper crowns clearly filled Holmes with despair, but I found I was enjoying being here.
Master Rosewater leaned near Holmes to whisper, "Lovely little girl, Elizabeth. Her mother died eight years ago, and she's not taken on Jeffrey's airs yet, thank goodness. He does the best he can, though he leaves her alone too much with all his travel."
"Of course," said Holmes. "I've been trying to place where I've read his name; he's the Daily Telegraph's Russian correspondent. I have seen his articles from Moscow and St. Petersburg many times." The master sniffed. "He could have been a fine scholar; even better in Greek than I am, truth be told." He shook his head wearily. "I'm glad our father, the bishop, is not alive to see a Rosewater descended all the way down to reporter." When the master was called away, Holmes whispered to me, "Jeffrey Rosewater's name is familiar because he recently incensed my brother, Mycroft, with a recent article. Apparently, young Jeffrey revealed the name in print of a notorious Russian agent."
"Journalists are noisy, interfering creatures without a shred of patriotism," I hotly exclaimed. "Typical. No wonder the master regrets his brother's lower trade."
"Yes. Quite like a certain doctor I know who regularly writes for popular journals," Holmes mischievously replied, happily taking a glass of proffered sherry from a college servant. He raised his glass, glinting golden. "Cheers, Watson."
Ruefully, I clicked his offered glass. "TouchT, Holmes. Merry Christmas."
Soon we were surrounded by the swirling colors and smells of a typically domestic English Christmas Eve, with the master's house warmed by a great fireplace. As we sat to dinner, Master Rosewater raised a glass of bubbling champagne. "To our guests, the warmth of our home and our hearth this Christmas Eve."
At the table that night was Rosewater's sister, Abigail, a plump and profuse conversationalist, regaling us with the mercantile exploits of her husband, Humphrey, a steely—eyed Birmingham coal merchant, who sat calmly across from us. Next to her was the college chaplain, Augustus Simon, gaunt, nervous, and hardly able to repress his excited anticipation of ringing the great college bells in the St. Mark's tower at midnight. I heard Holmes quietly speaking to Sydney Rosewater. "If I may indulge your forbearance, Master, we should embark for London early in the morning."
"Nonsense, Holmes, it will be Christmas morning; and besides, you can go nowhere until you see the college's acquisition, the Scintilla Stone adorning the Glastonbury Gospel. Eight hundred years old, and truly a remarkable treasure. In fact, it will go on display at the British Museum next month with other illuminated manuscripts."
"I do not doubt its power to draw attention, Master," snapped the chaplain, "simply that this kind of attention will be more for the decoration and fine jewels than for its intrinsic ecclesiastical importance."
"Nonsense, Simon," sputtered Rosewater, his holiday affability pricked. "Through the great generosity of my brother—in—law, Mr. Thompkins, the college has scored a bibliographic coup."
"Then, Master, I must see this wonder for myself," interjected Holmes; and so within minutes we were walking out into the cool drizzle to the dark library. The master enthused over the Glastonbury Gospel. "Near as we can guess, it is nearly a thousand years old, veneered gold with intricate repoussT metalwork and cloisonnT enamel portraits of the disciples. But that is not what makes the gospel unique-it's the remarkable star ruby at the heart of the design. That is why it is called the Scintilla Stone; so fiery and warm is its red glow. You know, Sherlock, the Greeks felt that there was a divine spark, a scintilla, at the heart of all of us." Rosewater flicked on the electric fixtures. Holmes saw the master pause, a sudden look of horror on his round face. Immediately Holmes saw the source of his shock. Glass was shattered everywhere. Weaving as if he were about to crumble to the floor, Rosewater breathed, "Oh no, oh no." He leaned up from the case, gazing at Holmes, his pallor parchment white. "The ruby is gone."
Holmes brushed by him and quickly surveyed the damage. The ornate gospel was still magnificent, but small scrapes of a blunt tool revealed all too clearly what had happened at the center of the ornamental metalwork. The dark lead setting where the ruby had previously nestled yawned open like a cavity.
"Step back, please, Master, and let me inspect the setting before there is any more disruption to the scene." Dazed, Rosewater asked, "Who would do such a thing?"
"That is what I intend to find out." But it was quickly apparent that, unfortunately, there were few useful physical clues present. A simple pocketknife could have pried loose the ruby. Dusting for fingerprints, Holmes spoke. "You must be absolutely honest, even ruthless, Master, if we are to recover this precious stone quickly. We must quickly establish who was present when and where during the late afternoon in your house. I presume the culprit is nervously wondering what to do next, now that I am on the scene. I am forced to conclude, unless you yourself are the culprit, that a member of your family or a close colleague has stolen the Scintilla Stone." The old man mutely shook his head.
"Quickly, Master. Face up to this reality and help-or this precious gospel will be forever mutilated. Now, who among them might have wrenched the stone from the metalwork? Your chaplain, Simon? He made a negative comment at dinner. Did he have access to the gospel this afternoon?"
"Yes, yes, of course he did," muttered the master. "He has the key to the library, but that means nothing, because I stupidly left the library unlocked when I left, thinking nothing of it. Holmes, anyone could have done it, anyone." And that is exactly what he is so afraid of, I thought. Someone in his family has betrayed him. This ruby might as well have been ripped from his own chest.
I interjected, "Chaplain Simon, would he be capable of such a thing?"
"No, I don't believe so. Yes, it is true he resisted the college buying the gospel, but he was always an honorable opponent. Yes, he is a little pedantic, but I've never met a more moral man."
"How did you purchase the gospel? At dinner, you make some reference to your brother—in—law, Thompkins." The master explained they had been considerably short of the asking price when Lord Derby's heirs secretly sought to sell the Glastonbury Gospel last year. Rosewater had gone to Humphrey and asked him to back the bid. He generously offered over five thousand pounds, and they narrowly won. Then, six months ago, his brother—in—law came to him without Abigail's knowledge, shaken and nervous. He asked if the gift could be rescinded; he was unexpectedly on the verge of financial collapse. But it was too late.
"He is a good man, Mr. Holmes. He would not shame his family by an act so blatant and despicable."
"There is no chance his anger at his now mistaken, and perhaps foolhardy, generosity might have compelled him to take back the gem? It is, after all, one of the most desired stones in the world. In his trading world, no doubt he has connections to sell it and keep the transaction covert," replied Holmes.
"What you say is true, but no, I cannot imagine it."
"Then your brother . . ."
"Ah, the nerve is struck. Yes, I can imagine that, though such an admission is ashes on my tongue."
"I'm afraid I have to ask to inspect your house, your guests' things-their luggage, coats, even their toiletries," replied Holmes. He was grim and resolute, even when the master's brother protested. Calmly, Holmes spoke to the young man as we began the search. "I will be searching everyone, Mr. Rosewater, even the children when they awake. The master himself remains under suspicion, for your information. I am not here to be liked, but to find something stolen." The hours of painfully awkward inspections revealed little, as did all the first questioning of the master's household. Even the Christmas cake was probed for the missing ruby. Holmes instructed me to shake the glowing ornaments on the tree, and to the master's horror, to inspect all the morning's gifts, especially the children's stockings. Five hours later, none of our questioning or the ransacking of the house had availed. At two in the morning Holmes at last allowed the adults to go to bed. "I'm sorry, Master. I will try again in the morning with more precise questioning." Master Rosewater bid Holmes a despondent good night.
Christmas morning dawned dull and rainy, matching the mood of the household. With the coming of the ashen dawn light, Holmes prowled the vicinity of the library. Just as he was ready to return to the master's house, he spied a glint of silver under an evergreen bush on the far side of the quad from the library. We knelt down to inspect a sterling silver knife emblazoned with an ornate R, matching the silverware we had used the night before. The sharp edge of the knife was scoured with minute scratches, and there was a decided bend to the tip.
Getting up from the muddy ground, Holmes saw the Rosewater family, preceded by Chaplain Simon, preparing to go to chapel for the Christmas service. Thompkins reminded Holmes that the service was about to begin.
"Surely you have enough information to catch this scoundrel, Mr. Holmes. Your exertions last night should surely have convinced you none of us have anything to do with this . . . this impropriety. I don't know what we can tell you besides what we told you last night."
Despite everyone's resistance, Holmes persisted in asking them once again about their actions the previous evening. Mr. Thompkins repeated he had been resting in the front bedroom before dressing for dinner. Holmes turned to the resentful Abigail, who pursed her lips in disapproval at this upstart guest who was now acting as their persistent and graceless nemesis. She repeated she was with the children most of the afternoon, except for a nap near teatime. I saw a sudden eager light in Holmes's tired eyes.
"I thought you were to help the children make Christmas crackers for our meal today."
"Oh, Jeffrey surprised me when he came into the children's playroom and shooed me away. Having brought the chemical paper snaps from Paris, he knew best how to supervise the children stuffing in the treats."
"So he was with them the hour before dinner?"
"Yes," she said in exasperation. "Mr. Holmes, we are expected at the service. May we please go?" A pensive Holmes nodded.
At last the time of the Christmas feast arrived, the college boar's head ready. A worried Master Rosewater came to Holmes. "Any progress, my dear Holmes?"
"Events must still play out, Master, but I have hopes of securing the stone within the hour." We were seated at our places, and the master blessed the meal. Then "Amen," and the adults reached for their napkins, and the children for their Christmas crackers, ready at last for their explosion. Holmes looked up and stared hard at Jeffrey Rosewater. The man's lean saturnine face was a mask of placidity.
"I was just wondering, Jeffrey, if I could change places with your daughter, Elizabeth." Holmes then rose quickly and circled to the end of the table where Rosewater's daughter sat, circled by her laughing cousins. "May I, my dear?"
"Are you sure you want to sit with us children?" She spoke with a giggle.
"Absolutely, Elizabeth. Adult conversation has wearied me." Everyone at the table stared at Holmes's strange behavior. Holmes sat and said, "Shall we?" He took his bright gold paper Christmas cracker from her dinner place, raised it, and prepared to yank it open. The others at the great table proceeded to pull open their explosive Christmas favors, and soon the table was full of laughing and the loud pops of the crackers exploding.
Then, unnoticed by everyone but the watchful master, Jeffrey Rosewater silently mouthed the word "No." Holmes lowered his cracker unopened and motioned for Jeffrey to join him away from the table.
On the train home from Oxford, Holmes related to me the pitiable conversation. Standing in front of the blazing fireplace, Jeffrey simply said, "Thank you, Mr. Holmes, for not pulling that open."
Holding out one end of the cracker, Holmes asked, "Will you now?"
Reluctantly, the young man took one end of the bright cracker and pulled. It ripped open with a sudden pop, and falling down into Holmes's outstretched hand came a printed motto, a rolled blue paper crown, and instead of the child's toy, a glowing red ruby. Holmes lifted it up and gazed at the stone, fire glow blazing from the core of the great gem.
"The master was correct; there really is a star reflected in the ruby," said Holmes, impressed.
"Indeed there is," said Reverend Rosewater, joining them at the fireplace. "This is as I dreaded. Why, Jeffrey?" His brother raised his head, his face flushed. "Do you think I would have not returned it to you?" he said, his voice shredded of all pride. "All I needed was one great story, one only I could be in a position to write. 'Oxford Treasure Stolen'-imagine the fuss and sensation! The great and glorious Scintilla Stone missing, and after a suitable time, I would have secretly mailed it back to the college. I could not bear," Jeffrey Rosewater bitterly added, "the indignity of crawling back to you, with the ghost of the dear bishop frowning down upon me, the failure you and he always declared me to be. At least at the Telegraph I had the freedom to roam the world, far away from Oxford."
The master was shocked, regret and not anger in his anguished expression. "Oh, Jeffrey, have I somehow shamed you?"
"I have shamed myself, Sydney. Imagine me opening the door yesterday afternoon, with that jewel burning in my pocket, all ready to write the article of the year. As usual, brother, you effortlessly place me in the shade, having just invited the world's most famous consulting detective for our little Christmas soiree! I realized at that moment that what I had conceived more as a resentful prank upon you would be, in the hands of Mr. Holmes, something a great deal more." He turned back to Holmes, who had been silent all the while. "How did you guess?"
"After searching everywhere, I knew the location of the stone would not be easy to ascertain. No one had been expecting me, and I realized my entry into the home unexpectedly raised the stakes. The thief would have to very quickly hide the stone. Within minutes of my arrival, you took yourself off to the children's room. You thought to yourself that dropping the stone into your daughter's Christmas cracker would tide you over for a little while; she would think it only a glass trinket like the other toys in the children's cracker. It was not a perfect hiding place, but certainly it worked; at least until I talked to your sister this morning. When I found the knife this morning, I realized that my suspicion that someone in your house, Master, had pried out the gem was on point. The children were working near the kitchen, you were there with them, and there was a pile of small prizes to place within each cylinder. You thought it was a better than even chance that you would leave this afternoon with Elizabeth holding the jewel in her child's purse."
"The only thing I could not have borne would have been the ignominy of being exposed before her. Thank God, Mr. Holmes, you spared me that."
The master shook Holmes's hand. "Thank you, Sherlock. Here it ends."
"No, Sydney," said Jeffrey. "Something begins here. There is much I have to atone for. I do not excuse myself for my selfish and absolutely reckless behavior. But there has been something false and rotten between us for a long time."
All this Holmes told me as the train rocked homeward. I asked, "How could any gentleman mar a treasure like that magnificent gospel?"
He said nothing at first, brooding on the pallid green fields smudged by the shifting shadows of gray snow clouds sweeping past our windows. Then he turned to me. "Watson, yesterday you asked me about religion. I am not devout, true, but I do believe that to forgive a man is saving something more precious than any ruby. That belief will have to do, I'm afraid."
Many people through the years have asked how I could abide trailing behind such a man as Sherlock Holmes, arrogant, self—absorbed, distrustful of women, curt, and sarcastic to the extreme. But they never sat with him as I did that afternoon of Christmas, and sensed his great heart. Then I had an inspiration, whimsical as it was.
"By the way, Holmes, your Christmas gift." I tossed him an unopened Christmas cracker from the master's table, and laughing, he tucked it into his greatcoat. Each lost in our own thoughts, we did not speak again until we arrived at Euston Station.
The insistent jingle of our downstairs bell rang out, interrupting our affable conversation by the fire. Holmes leapt up, his manner transformed in an instant. He seemed instinctually to know when there was a client at the step. He paced to the door, his sharp jaw set, all focused anticipation. Mystery was more beautiful to Holmes than any rose. Coming up the darkened stairs to 221—B, shivering in a snow—flecked black overcoat, came Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade, breathing heavily. He had come up these seventeen stairs many times, but we were all getting a little older. Snow frosted his old bowler hat. He came up alone.
"Ah, Lestrade," Holmes said with warmth and even a touch of concern. "What brings you out in this snowy twilight?" Snatching off his oily old hat, exposing thinning hair swept back from his narrow, pale forehead, Lestrade stood just outside our doorway. "Mr. Holmes, the best of the season to you, and of course to the good doctor . . ." He nodded at me in his meek, almost supplicating fashion.
"Come, take off your coat, Lestrade, and tell us about the murder that has brought you to us," said Holmes.
"Why, how could you have heard . . . ," sputtered Lestrade.
"Come, Mr. Lestrade," I offered quickly, "for once you and I do not have to impart to Holmes any special knowledge. Why else would you approach us on this dreadful evening?"
Lestrade's manner was indeed grim, his long face bowed down, a worried twist to his thin lips. I could not tell whether it was sweat or snow melting upon his white brow. "Mr. Holmes, I have been placed in charge of a most odd murder investigation," he began, his eyes shifting uncomfortably. "In fact, the case is so sensitive the prime minister has demanded the Metropolitan Police consult with you, but only under a special condition."
"Yes?" asked Holmes evenly, almost nonchalantly.
"That Mr. Mycroft Holmes, your brother, must oversee every detail."
"I'm familiar with the name, Lestrade," interjected Holmes with a sudden dour expression. I knew him well enough to know he did not relish the idea of working under the eye of his older brother. "If Mycroft is involved, then this case is sensitive beyond measure, and has some import concerning His Majesty's empire. Mycroft is not wheeled out of his customary shadows unless his superiors feel a desperate plight. All right, Lestrade, tell me all that you know." Holmes motioned for Lestrade to sit opposite us, and I stepped forward to take his coat and hat, which I set near our fire to dry. The policeman sat stiffly, still not at his usual ease with us. Some punishing responsibility was pressing in on him.
"The prime minister, under the direct urging of the archbishop of Canterbury, asked us to consult with you immediately, while the scene is still fresh and undisturbed. Indeed, it seems the government sees you as having powers nearly superhuman."
The close of the year 1902 was a time of transition, with Edward VII, our new king, ascending the throne at virtually the same time as the new prime minister was taking the reins. You could feel the old certainties of Queen Victoria's long ascendancy slipping away, and London was now a place beginning to literally hum with electric tension. Electric lighting was going up everywhere, the Underground was being expanded and converted from steam power, and motorcars starting to appear alongside the familiar horse carriages and hansom cabs. With all this dizzying change about us, we were all having to get used to this new frantic pace of life.
"It is wonderful to be admired, and it certainly brings in business, but I crave details. What is the nature of this crisis?"
"Mr. Holmes, a priest's body was found early this evening at St. Thomas's Church, Kensington. He was savagely mutilated." He let this shocking statement sink in, and then went on. "But first, before we go to St. Thomas's, we are to meet with Mr. Mycroft Holmes at his club, which luckily is well on the way to the murder site. Apparently, at the club we will be givensome sensitive information from a churchman who was in attendance at a secret convocation of religious leaders. Apparently, this high—ranking cleric knows quite a lot about these holy men's background, and will tell us why they were meeting so secretly. Sounds all a bit odd, sir, but then, I'm no religious man. The cleric we're supposed to talk to is an assistant to the archbishop."
"Curiouser and curiouser. This case has tendrils already in many directions-political, foreign, ecclesiastical." He gave a quick brittle laugh. "It must no doubt pain Mycroft to have to turn to me for assistance. He refers to me only when practical forensic experience comes to the fore, for Mycroft is certainly able to solve sensitive puzzles well on his own. Then let us waste no time. Give me the details."
"May I remain?" I interjected.
"Oh, yes, Doctor. Mr. Mycroft Holmes expressly asked if you could join us tonight; your medical assistance could well be useful. As I understand things, this evening, at about four o'clock, this horribly mutilated body was discovered in the crypt of St. Thomas's Church." Lestrade consulted a dog—eared little notebook. "The body was immediately identified as the Reverend Paul Appel, the rector. The church was already being guarded by four policemen, and no one entered or left during the day or early evening. In addition, the snow on surrounding sidewalks reveals no footprints of any kind. I trust my men's observation."
"Which indicates the murderer remains in the church," mused Holmes. "But why would the Foreign Office authorize such unusual security in such an unlikely place as a church? For surely Mycroft was the one who ordered it-or you would not be here now."
"The circumstances, as you surmised, were quite unusual. Inside the church were seven men representing different faiths, all there under secret invitation of the archbishop of Canterbury. That is all I know at present, but we are expected at the Diogenes Club as soon as possible to be told more. All I can tell you, Mr. Holmes, is that my policemen, posted outside only, heard and saw nothing."
"And now we find the host priest dead, and the assurance that his killer is one of the representatives of a major religion," said Holmes as he leaped up from his chair and began heading for his dressing room to take off his old lounging coat. He turned back to us, his dire words in singular contrast to his eyes, which glittered with the old excitement of the chase. "I don't need to tell you, gentlemen, what a nightmare this presents. It is not just the embarrassment to His Majesty's government, to the archbishop of Canterbury, and the Church of England-but as well the possibly severe ramifications for our entire foreign policy. We have no time to waste, and I pray that the suspects, no matter how august or venerated, are under extremely close scrutiny now."
"Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes," said Lestrade, the thorough professional. "They are all in their rooms, and a guard is posted over the scene of the murder. It is a most distressing sight, it is, with the poor father's body in tatters, mutilated. To see such a thing in a church is unthinkable, sir."
Hoisting on his greatcoat and a top hat, Holmes answered mildly, "Only if you have never noticed the figure on the cross in front, Lestrade."
—from Night Watch by Stephen Kendrick, copyright © 2003 Stephen Kendrick, published by Prime Crime, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher."