Written by Erskin Quint
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Friday, 25 February 2011

image for Shylock Humes And The Case Of The Purloined Budgerigar, Part Six Humes was like a a deadly poisonous jungle fish, about to leap out and sink its prehensile fangs into an unsuspecting coypu

My friend Mr Shylock Humes was in determined mood, now that he could see his way forward. He was always more determined when he could see his way forward than when he could only see backwards.

"There is no time to be lost", he cried. "The game's afoot. To the Drawling Room once more!"

"Why did you repeat yourself Humes?" I asked, somewhat perplexed. "You said that at the end of Part Five."

"For the reader, Flotsam", Humes answered. "They may not have read Part Five. In fact, it is almost a certainty that they will not have fought their way through that turgid morass of inconsequentiality. Nobody reads this rubbish anyway."

Humes led the way to the Drawling Room. It was a struggle, but we were determined, as I say, to see the task through, now that we could see our way forward.

Earlier in the evening we had worked our way from the Great Hall of Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall right through to the Drawling Room, where we had discovered the remains of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg in a leather armchair. Then, we had worked our way back from the Drawling Room to the Great Hall by means of reversing our erstwhile forward movement.

Now, we were forced to reverse our erstwhile reversal of an earlier forward progression, to effect this, our latest forward progress through the interior of Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall. Grim-faced, we fought our way, from the Great Hall, through the Slightly Smaller Hall, along the Great Corridor, The Less Great Corridor, The Even Less Great Corridor and The, To Be Brutally Honest, So Small A Corridor It's A Mystery Why They Even Bothered, Corridor.

Then we found ourselves in the ornate drawing room, whose walls were festooned with ornate drawings. We were glad to find ourselves there. What with all this forward and reverse movement, we were beginning to fear that we might never meet ourselves again, so it was good to find ourselves in the ornate drawing room. If only we had stayed there, we might never have become separated.

But it was no use crying about spilled milk. It was not us who had spilled it anyway, we had had no dealings with milk. Nay, we had not been offered so much as a glass of water since our arrival, and the lack of dairy animals had not gone unnoticed.

We were once more on the threshold of the Drawling Room. We paused a moment. "It's a fraught business, reversing an erstwhile reversing movement", Humes explained as we caught our breath.

"Of course, the silly nomenclature of the corridors, halls and rooms makes more sense to the reader in a forward progression, but any comic effect is likely to be dissipated by the gratuitous repetition and over-familiarity. Indeed, it is generally considered a mistake to..."

Humes' expoundings were interrupted by a cacophony that came from within the Drawling Room: a spine-chilling series of cat-calls and devilish shrieks that seemed to rend the very air.

I hope that gives you the atmosphere, I cannot afford to use any more images. It is not easy to come by fresh supplies of gothic imagery these days. You can't get the wood. Twilight have commandeered most of it. But we do our best.

Humes was primed. He was erect, like a panther ready to spring, or a deadly poisonous jungle fish, about to leap out and sink its prehensile fangs into an unsuspecting coypu.

"We must be quick!" he cried. "They will be starting an eisteddfod. There is no time to lose! Follow me!"

With a single bound, he was in the room. We followed, with two more bounds. In this way, we were bound to arrive together.

It was a dolorous sight that greeted our searching eyes. The room was dimly-lit. They had turned down the gas lighting, to save money. Half a dozen servants, in traditional Welsh dress, were arranged on various chairs, with Herring at their head. They fell silent as soon as we burst in, and looked at us in expectation.

I looked back at them. They were all here. Or should I have said "they were all there". I don't know. These things weren't important to The Strand Magazine, so why should I bother?

Where was I? Ah, I was looking at the servants, who were all there, or here.

There was Mrs Blodwyn, the cook, Myfanwy Itching, the parlour maid, little Yestyn Bladdersnot, the stable lad, Dafydd Ducke the groom, Tony Pandy from Tonypandy, the gardener, Gretchen Bucket the housemaid, Iago Pwlythrych the mole-catcher, and Herring the butler, of course.

How I knew all these names, I will never understand. There were no introductions. It's a good thing I have a gift for putting names to faces. They might be the wrong names, mind you. But who's to know?

And do not get me started on the lack of a proper agenda. But do I let it get in the way of our work? I soldier on, I do, when all I really want is to be back at 221b Candle Stick Maker Street, bottling fruit and doing goat whispering in my spare time. But let me not delay you. The story is all. Back to the story.

Humes addressed the Welsh dressers. Then, realising that there was little point in talking to the furniture, he turned to the gathered servants. He spoke first to Herring, the butler.

"Mr Herring, thank you for bringing the staff together in this way. I congratulate you on your attempt to throw us off the scent by sending us on a wild goose chase back to the Great Hall, but I must warn you that such behaviour does you but little credit, and is only likely to alert the suspicions of the police, in the matter of the death of your master, Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg."

The servants moaned in unison. "That's an odd trade union for servants to belong to", I remember thinking.

"Don't worry, Mr Humes, I am on the case of this gentleman", said Inspector Livingstone-Stanley. "Now, chummy, are you going to come nice and quiet, like, or do I have to slip these here bracelets on your wrists and whisk you off nice and easy does it, eh, in one of these local dog carts, given that black marias is somewhat on the scarce side in this manor?"

"I don't understand what you are talking about, sir", answered the butler. I did not doubt it. I could never understand police jargon either.

"Don't come the innocent with me, chummy", retorted Livingstone-Stanley, "you can't pull the curtains over an old dog like me that has just come off the banana boat wet behind the ears with wool in his eyes. I wasn't born with a silver spoon up my nose without so much as a rug to my feet. Eh?"

Seeing that nobody had a clue what he was talking about, the Inspector continued with his nonsensical diatribe.

"We've had our eye on you from the start my lad. We know all about the will. We know that whichever of Lord Clinker's sons is holding the family budgerigar will inherit this estate if His Lorship snuffs it. We know too that if the sons of the patriarch be in dispute at the time of the death of the said patriarch, then lock, stock and barrel will pass to you, the faithful old retainer. Eh? What do you say to that?"

Livingstone-Stanley fixed the butler with a piercing stare. With his left eye that is. His right eye was looking at the chandelier. Herring remained impassive.

He seemed to sigh, faintly. "But sir..."

The Inspector seized on this protest. "Deny it if you like, but you'll sing like a canary when we get you into jug, me old china. I've broken better lags than you. We know you've salted Hereward the budgie away in a nice safe gaff somewhere to aggravate the dispute between the sons and, once that preparation has been completed, you've only gone and done away with Lord Clinker in the final cup de grease.

"The only remaining question is: where have you stashed the body?"

The servants moaned in harmony. "Funny", I thought, "the way they're all wearing the same hairspray. Particularly the mole catcher, who is bald as a coot."

The moaning was interrupted by Shylock Humes. His voice was like a crack of thunder. Not the rumbling bit that comes afterwards, the initial crack. It was also a bit like a rifle shot. It silenced the room. That is, if you discounted the crackling of the fire, the hiss of the gas, and the rumble of my stomach (we hadn't eaten since we left London, and I'm a three square meals a day man as a rule). But you can't be recounting absolutely all the things that go on, or you'd be here all day, and the action would never proceed forth in such a way as to keep the audience involved. Silence it is, then (though it wasn't really).

Humes' voice was like an icicle snapping in January in the Fenlands.

"No, Inspector, it simply will not do", he said, like an icicle, if an icicle could speak to a Drawling Room full of Welsh dressers wearing Harmony Hairspray and belonging to Unison. The world is a bizarre place.

"It simply will not do", rang out the icicle-like voice.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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