We looked around the room. Shylock Humes was conspicuous by his absence. The Turkish cushions where he had been smoking lay in a shapeless heap in the corner. Well, that is not strictly accurate. It was a heap-shaped heap. But the cushions were definitely in it. That much is true.
The fire had gone out. It was always doing that, without telling us where it was going. No doubt it would come creeping back in at some unearthly hour, waking the whole household singing "Moonlight and Mrs Mason", and stay in bed with a hangover all the next morning. The air was thick with tobacco smoke. Or, to put it another way, the tobacco smoke had a little air in it.
I opened the window, to let some tobacco smoke into the street, and saw the telegram boy arrive at the front door. I waited for the bell to ring, and Mrs Dudson to fetch the telegram. I waited. Nothing happened. Perhaps I ought to have expected this. The telegram boy had arrived at next door's front door, not ours.
I looked at Inspector Stanley Livingstone-Stanley. Inspector Livingstone-Stanley looked at me. "By the looks of things, there's just the two of us here, Doctor Flotsam", he said.
I shook my head. "Something tells me that Humes is not far away, Inspector", I replied.
"What makes you so sure?" asked Livingstone-Stanley.
"His feet are dangling in the chimney", I said.
"Mr Humes!" cried the policeman. "Come out of there, for goodness' sake! What is going on, man?"
The soot-blackened figure of Shylock Humes emerged from the fireplace, and bowed. "Gentlemen. The game's afoot. Go and flag down a hansom, Flotsam, we must hie us to Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg in Central Wales. This is a devilish business. It is quite the most singular case I have ever known."
"But you always say that, Humes", I replied. "The readers will be thinking, 'he's only saying that to make the story seem more entertaining.'"
"Nonsense, Flotsam", he said. "Nobody reads this rubbish anyway."
"True", I agreed, and left the room to hail a cab.
After a few minutes, I stopped hailing. I was beginning to feel foolish, crying "Hail to thee blithe hansom cab!" on our landing, so I went outside into Candle Stick Maker Street and tried again.
Within the hour we were speeding to Wales in a private compartment. It was quicker than the train, as it was lighter. Also, it had the advantage of being private. Humes was expounding upon the case. "Mr Humes", said Livingstone-Stanley, "please don't stand on my attache case while you are expounding. I've only just bought it. You are getting soot all over the Silesian leather."
The English countryside sped past. Or, to put it another way, we sped past the countryside.
From Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg station, we took a four-wheeler to Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall, the seat of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg. Having delivered the four-wheeler, we walked the 7 miles back to Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg station, and got in the dog cart that was to take us back to Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall. We had no change on us, you see, to pay for a ride. I had forgotten to bring my purse. So we agreed to deliver the four-wheeler for Yestin Pwythbrugg, the dog cart man, in return for a dog cart ride. It was a bit of a squash, in the dog cart, us three, the driver, Yestin Pwythbrugg, and the six Welsh Irish Wolfhounds, but we made do. I have known worse, in Afghanistan. You should have seen the size of the dogs there.
Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall was a decrepit, mouldering pile with blind windows and a sagging roof. A decrepit, mouldering man with blind windows and a sagging roof answered the door.
"Herring?" asked Humes.
"No, sir", spake the vision. "It's my new aftershave. I purchased it from a traveller in Gentlemen's Toilet Requisites not three days since. He assured me that it would be a 'magnet for pussy'. I don't know about that, but the kitchen cat follows me everywhere."
"No, man, your name", said Humes. "You are Herring, the factotum and elderly retainer of Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg; you are a man of infinite resources; in a myriad unseen ways you are the man who operates this estate, you are the real genius behind Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall and the Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg Estate, and in a myriad other ways Lord Clinker of Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg is not the real genius behind Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall and the Llandrinndrbdrioddnagg Estate."
"That's easy for you to say, Humes", I said.
"I try to serve, sir", the butler replied. "If you wish to see his Lordship, you must have an appointment. His Lordship sees no man without an appointment. With women, it is different, he cannot keep his hands off them, he is always getting the maids pregnant, but he insists on an appointment where a man is concerned. Where it is a matter of men, then he would normally insist upon a series of appointments, but, in certain circumstances, he can accommodate small groups in a single appointment."
"My name is Shylock Humes", said Inspector Livingstone-Stanley, "this is Doctor Flotsam, and this is, er..."
"Leave it to me, Livingstone-Stanley", said Humes. "My name is Shylock Humes, these gentlemen are Doctor John Flotsam, my companion and biographer, and Inspector Livingstone-Stanley of Scotland Yard. We have been engaged upon the case of the purloined Clinker budgerigar. I am sure that His Lordship will see us, appointment or no appointment."
The butler blanched. When he had finished blanching, he offered the blanched almonds round. Nobody took one. "I shall see if His Lordship will receive you", he intoned, and went back inside.
Somewhere an owl hooted. A fox barked. Bats flew. High above us, gargoyles gargoyled. "Ah! Do you see it, Flotsam?" Humes exclaimed. "Up there! It is most suggestive." I looked up. All I could see was the damp stonework of the ancient building, but Humes was clearly onto something.
A drain drained beneath our feet. Herring returned. "His Lordship will see you now", he said, ushering us in.
Humes made an observation. "I see you trained under Butler, the Harley Street Usher", he said.
"However did you know that, sir?" asked the bewildered butler.
"The flowing arm movements and the subtlety of your grovelling are most suggestive", replied my friend. "One can tell a great deal from a man's ushering techniques."
"All the Pwthylliggrionngngrdngnadd Hall servants are trained to usher in the Butler manner, sir", our lugubrious friend declared. "There was confusion with my predecessor, whose name was Usher. To have a butler named Usher who was trained to usher by a Master Usher called Butler was a hard thing for the family. But now things are more settled."
We followed the ushering servant through the Great Hall, 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.
Eventually we were ushered into an ornate drawing room. The walls were thick with ornate drawings. In one corner a housemaid was drawing water from an ornate antique pump.
Before we could get settled, though, we were ushered through and out of this room and into the Drawling Room. "This is where His Lordship likes to do his drawling", Herring explained. "He is renowned amongst the Welsh aristocracy for his drawling."
We were directed towards a huddled figure, hunched in a leather armchair by the ancient slate fireplace. Before anyone could speak, Humes stepped forward, and cried:
"Flotsam, please examine His Lordship, and inform us, how long he has been dead!"