The voice of my friend Shylock Humes was like an icicle snapping in January in the Fenlands.
"No, Inspector, it simply will not do", he said.
"Mr Herring", he continued, addressing the ancient butler of Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall, "Inspector Stanley Livingstone-Stanley may be said to have a well-constructed case against you in the matter of the death of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg. There is much evidence that would appear to point in your direction.
"That the Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg estate will pass to whichever of the two sons of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg is harbouring Hereward, the family budgerigar, at the time of the death of His Lordship, - this is clearly enshrined in His Lordship's will. That you stand to inherit the Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg estate upon the death of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg, if his two sons are in dispute at the time of his death, - this much is also enshrined in legal form. That the two sons are in dispute at this time, because of the disappearance of Hereward the budgerigar, so much is evident to us and any other observer.
"Furthermore - and it is to the Inspector's great credit that he did not over-egg the rhetorical pudding by including this fact in his diatribe - Scotland Yard have discovered that you were a revolutionary communist in your youth in the valleys of South Wales."
Herring the butler remained impressively impassive. He merely said "But sir..."
Shylock Humes was not to be interrupted, however. "No, Mr Herring, do not exert yourself in the rhetoric of denial. For I believe that the case against you is a false one."
The gathered servants moaned in concord. "This is ridiculous", I thought, "a late 19th century aristocratic Welsh estate is no place to discover a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner." But the voice of Shylock Humes ended my reverie.
Humes' voice was like a whiplash. "You, a communist butler named Herring, - I believe that you are a mere Red Herring, insofar as this case is concerned. The truth goes far deeper, and is more complex than that."
"But Mr Humes, there are no other suspects", said Inspector Livingstone-Stanley. "We have got him fair bang to rights, have we not?"
Humes was not to be baulked, however. "No, my dear Inspector. Your reasoning is utterly sound, as far as it goes. The problem is - it does not go far enough. Let me expound upon this case."
My friend produced his new attache case, in finest Norwegian leather, lined with red silk, and stood upon it. Then he began to expound.
"It was while we were yet outside this house that the first clue was presented to me", Humes expounded. "You may recall, Flotsam, my remarks about the gargoyles?"
I nodded. I didn't recall any remarks, but I didn't want this rubbish to take any longer than was necessary. To be honest, I did vaguely recall Humes remarking upon something high up above the entrance.
"Well, I could see that the gargoyles had been restored", explained Humes, "and that restoration betrayed the touch of none other than Roibyn Watermarke, stone-mason, arch-forger, impersonator and will-manipulation adviser.
"Later, in this very Drawling Room, I was furnished with no less than 27 indications of the involvement of this subtle and evil person", my friend continued. I sighed. It looked like it was going to be another late night.
"However, a couple may serve to indicate the veracity of my provenage", said Humes. I sighed again, this time in relief.
"My dear Doctor Flotsam", he said, looking at me, "it was your act of wool-gathering that set me on the path to the truth."
I shrugged. I had no idea what he was talking about.
"And then, my dear Mr Herring", Humes added, looking at the non-plussed butler, "when you mentioned that you had been trained by Msr Merde of Paris, my case was all but complete."
The butler looked at my friend. The look was of a man who has listened, for a long time, to the expostulations of one to whom the restrictions of hard reality are as nothing compared to the magical call of empty rhetoric.
My friend pressed on. "My conclusion is, that this Msr Merde and Roibyn Watermarke are the very same person, and that he is the man who has murdered Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg. This, I argue, is all down to a sub-clause in the will allowing for Mr Herring to divert a proportion of his inheritance as he sees fit."
Humes was like the hawk. We were like the terrified rabbits, shivering in the inadequate cover of the Springtime grasses. Humes spoke again.
"I know, from my own investigations, that Roibyn Watermarke has a habit of carrying a quantity of wool about his person, and that his wool-carrying is marked by the fatal flaw whereby he tends to drop scraps of the said wool, as he travels about. Hence my delight at your wool-gathering, my dear Flotsam, for the very scraps you had gathered were surely abandoned by our chief suspect.
"Such is the difference between a criminal genius - like the late-lamented Professor Morris-Varty, who would never leave a scrap of evidence behind him - and the commonplace villain who is always caught in the end - like our Mr Watermarke, who is surely now in our net.
"Another of the endearing characteristics of friend Watermarke", continued Shylock Humes, "is his fondness for impersonating teachers of such recondite arts as deportment, ushering and impassive lurking. He has managed to extort money from some of the finest families in the Kingdom, by his machinations in these spheres. When we learn that the staff of this establishment have been specially trained in these arts, do we not prick up our ears? I have no doubt that even our celebrated Mr Butler, the Harley Street Usher, has more than a little to do with Roibyn Watermarke.
"So, when we add all these indications together, can we avoid the inevitable conclusion that Roibyn Watermark, alias Msr Merde, is behind this murder?"
Shylock Humes stood triumphant, he bestrode the Drawling Room like a colossus. But the butler wanted to speak.
"Excuse me, sir", he said, quietly, apologetically, "but there is something that I feel I must say, before it all gets out of hand, sir, as it were."
"Very well, my man", allowed Humes. "What do you wish to add to the case?"
"Well, sir, begging your pardon, Mr Humes, and all respect to yourself and to the Inspector there, and Doctor Flotsam besides" (I was beside myself and also beside the aspidistra, besides). "We are all very grateful for all your work and attentions to our little problems, so we are, indeed yes.
"But there is a major flaw in your reasoning in the case, and I cannot let time's winged chariot trundle past without pointing out this very flaw, or spanner in the otherwise perfectly-running watchworks of the matter in hand."
We all stood, open-mouthed and expectant. Apart from the servants, who sat, open-mouthed and expectant.
Herring forged on. "What it is, Mr Humes, sir, is this. I dispute your case about the murder of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg, on the basis that Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg is not actually, as we say, in actual fact, quite dead."
Humes was incredulous. "What are you saying man? Are you saying that Lord Clinker is still alive?"
"Yes, sir", answered Herring, "His Lordship is upstairs, having just come out of his bath, and is sitting in his dressing gown, enjoying a cigar and a nightcap while reading a bit of Coleridge. The Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan, if I am not mistaken. His Lordship always slips out of his clothes and leaves them in his armchair, before putting on his dressing gown and walking upstairs to have his bath."
You could have cut the atmosphere with a shoehorn. Humes was still incredulous. "What? Why on earth did you not say anything before about this, man?" he fumed.
The butler merely looked at my friend, impassively. "Why, sir, it is my training. We are trained in impassive acceptance of everything that our betters do, however ludicrous it may appear to us", he explained. "However, there is a limit, and when there is talk of murder within one's doors, especially when the talk is of the murder of one who is still alive - well, one simply has to speak out, when at last one gets the opportunity."
The room was like a morgue. Where had all those corpses and white-coated attendants come from? Humes spoke at last. "Come, gentlemen, our work is done here." He strode out of the room.
Before Inspector Livingstone-Stanley and myself had left the room, the butler spoke again.
"Before you go, gentlemen", he said, impassively. "The budgerigar, whose supposed absence has been the cause of all these trials and tribulations - he is staying at my sister's, in Chester, while we source a new cage. If only someone had thought to ask us, we could have cleared up the mystery right off. But no-one ever thinks to ask a mere servant in these stories. It is always the big wigs that gets the best lines."
Three hours later, we had managed to reverse our steps back from the Drawling Room to the Great Hall. There we collected our coats and hats, and went out onto the gravel-coated drive of Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall.
"Well, gentlemen", said Humes. "We may have been thinking that things could not get any worse, but I am afraid that they must, for we must avail ouselves of the dog cart to the station once again."
And so it was that we were soon jogging along in a dog cart driven by Yestin Pwythbrugg, the dog cart man - Humes, Livingstone-Stanley, myself and the six Welsh bloodhounds - beneath an enormous yellow moon that seemed to mock us and say: "Go back homeward, sons of London, who presumed to fathom the complexities of rural Wales with your silly theories of detectiveness. Hah! to you, arrogant Londoners."
The following evening it was a chastened Shylock Humes who shared a pipe with me in front of the fireplace in the sitting-room at 221b Candle Stick Maker Street. We shared a pipe because, what with getting no money out of our abortive mission to Wales, in fact being out of pocket owing to the travelling expenses, we were forced to economise on tobacco supplies.
"Rough shag, Flotsam?" offered Shylock Humes, fingering his tobacco pouch.
"No thank you, my dear Humes", I responded. "In the circumstances, I should prefer a contemplative smoke before the fire."
"Ah, Flotsam", said my friend. "You are the one fixed point in a changing world. Where would I be without my Boswell? However, I fear that you will not enhance what little reputation I possess by chronicling our Welsh adventure."
"On the contrary, Humes", I said, not without irony. "I feel that The Case Of The Purloined Budgerigar can only cement your reputation with the general public."
Shylock Humes laughed, and sank into his chair like a coiled snake. How on earth he could sit in a chair that was shaped like a coiled snake, I could not imagine.
But that was my friend Shylock Humes to a tee. He was a constant enigma. And - I was forced to acknowledge - I would not have it any other way.