I had not intended to dine, with or without company. The thick fog that met me as I left the theatre had meant that all the hansom cabs were taken and so I had decided to walk home. After nearly an hour walking in the fog I had deduced I was was indeed lost and then chanced on the well lit front of the restaurant with an elaborate stained glass butterfly brightening the external gloom. Entering I had enquired, to no-one in particular among the crowd by the bar, as to what street I was in and if anyone knew where the nearest cab rank was. It had been Dr Watson, seated at a table, who had answered me and invited me to sit for a moment, as in his words I looked "Fair frazzled and frozen and in need of a medicinal brandy". Thus is was that I joined their table, for what turned out to be not just a moment but a whole evening.
After I had handed my hat and overcoat to a waiter I took the vacant chair at the table and gratefully raised the thoughtfully provided glass of brandy to the gentlemen around the table. Sherlock, in his inimitable style began to introduce me to the others around the table, even though he had never met me before. His introduction was accurate in all but one respect. Although I did, at that time, possess a distinct tan I had not recently visited the tropics, in fact my tan was from much colder climes.
As the candles on the table burnt lower and we passed the port around, after a most excellent meal, it was Mycroft who asked his brother if he was investigating any interesting cases at the moment. I had refrained from asking, as it seemed to me that for Sherlock it must be most predictable for strangers to ask after this kind if information. In reply Sherlock reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a battered looking fob watch and passed it around the table.
The hands were unmoving at a few minutes past seven and as I took it I could feel the broken works inside rattling to and fro. Sherlock took back the watch and looked round the table. "And, just what, do you deduce from that item,gentlemen?" he asked. We all put forth various ideas to do with placing the time of whatever event had befallen the watch at some minutes past seven, at least assuming that the watch had been going and recently set to the correct time. Sherlock smiled sadly and shook his head. "You are all wide of the mark gentlemen, the watch has been broken for many years, and the time is not a time but a message or reminder of sorts."
Using his own watch he showed us that the hands of a working watch would never take the position that those of the broken watch had assumed. When the minute hand was half way between 12 and 1 the hour hand would not be half way between 7 and 8. As we put on our coats and hailed cabs to take us home Sherlock said, "If you gentlemen would like join me tomorrow at noon at the Angel Hotel in Islington I would be happy to have you with me as I solve this conundrum."
The Angel Hotel had just been rebuilt and with a fine terracotta frontage and cupola on the corner was a most imposing sight as the hackney carriage dropped me of just before noon. I walked into the reception and took a seat to wait for the great sleuth and his companions.
I did not have long to wait, Sherlock swept into the hotel lobby and summoned the manager and while he was fetched Dr Watson and Mycroft arrived. "Now, gentlemen, let me explain why we are here." Holmes confided to us. "This watch was found clasped in the dead hand of a guest of this hotel a week ago, Scotland Yard suspected foul play and eventually asked me for help". He lowered his voice, "The hotel is a little sensitive about the matter as it became obvious the man had been poisoned, however I will be able to let the manager know that his kitchens are not suspected, unless they have started serving poisonous toadstools to their guests".
The hotel manager arrived and Holmes let him know his news, then asked that we be taken to the room the guest had died in, which had been kept locked and sealed since he was found. Once inside the room Holmes pulled out his trusty magnifying glass and started examining the cabin trunk that lay, still locked, where it had been delivered. It bore many hotel labels showing the owner had travelled widely. There were even labels written in Oriental brush strokes and with pictures of moons and dragons on them, these greatly interested Holmes who examined them closely.
Eventually he sat down, filled his pipe and lit it, and smiling said, "It is solved."
I think even Holmes' powers of deduction were not needed to see the look of exasperation on our faces. Watson eventually spoke up, "Old chap, would it be too much to ask for you to enlighten us poor duffers as to exactly what you have solved?" Holmes looked as us in a pitying manner. "If I must" he sighed.
"It appears that the owner of this trunk," Holmes explained, "had just returned to England via Liverpool from New York on the White Star Lines ship, Majestic, and prior to that had been in the Orient, and so must have travelled the railroad from California to the East Coast or so one would assume." Holmes gestured for us to examine the trunk. "What do you not see?" he asked. It was Mycroft who came up with the answer first. "It has no railroad labels!" he exclaimed. Sherlock grinned.
Over the next hour Holmes drew the answers to the puzzle from us painfully. If he had not gone by railroad then he had travelled overland. Why would he travel overland? Because he could not afford a train ticket. If he could not afford a train ticket how could afford to travel on the finest ship from New York to Liverpool? What might he have wished to record in a cryptic way that he had found on the way from San Francisco to New York that someone else might wish to know. Something that was worth trying to get him to talk about by giving him the hallucogenic made from fly agaric toadstools? To a man we chorused, "GOLD!"
"So, where is the gold to be found Mr Holmes, do you know?" I asked.
"Certainly," said Holmes, "Seven and a half miles along a bearing of 15 degrees from ......".
"From where?" we implored.
"If I knew, do you think I would still be sitting here and not be running down the stairs." said Holmes ruefully.