The Adventure of the Toy Soldier
It is a melancholy fact that in the autumn of 1889 the world’s greatest consulting detective might have been the worst tenant in London.
I had been called away from the metropolis, but although I was only gone three days, I returned to find our flat a picture of bachelor squalor and our landlady, the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson, ankle deep in drifts of newspaper and dirty laundry. “Mr. Holmes!”
“Not now, Mrs. Hudson.” Absorbed in the chemical experiment he was performing on our breakfast table, Holmes did not even bother to turn around.
Hurrying into the room I managed to step over a twist of the Daily Gazette with the remains of a half-eaten fish-and-chips inside, but unfortunately clipped the Persian slipper where Holmes kept his tobacco, spraying his preferred shag cut liberally over the carpet. “I am so sorry,” I said. “I was obliged to be out of town, and−”
“And what is this?” Mrs. Hudson said, pointing ominously at what appeared to be a woman’s corset dangling over a jar on the mantelpiece. A square had been cut out of the side; at a guess my roommate had been performing an experimental inquiry on the properties of whalebone.
“I shouldn’t move that if I were you,” Holmes murmured, pouring a thin stream of blue liquid from a test tube into a glass flask over a Bunsen burner.
Mrs. Hudson removed the corset with a sniff, to find the jar it had been covering contained a human brain floating in formaldehyde and a selection of mixed eyeballs.
Luckily, I was prepared to catch her before she hit the floor, and ease her gently toward the door.
“I really cannot have my work interrupted like this,” Holmes snapped. Apparently the results of his experiment were unsatisfactory. Puffs of pungent purple smoke began to bubble up from his flask.
I guided Mrs. Hudson from the room and down the stairs. “I mean it, Doctor!” she said. “You must clean up, or move out!”
When I returned I found Holmes at the window, looking into the street. “You know how it upsets her when you don’t keep a good house,” he said.
I stooped to retrieve the fish and chips. “You advertised for a roommate,” I said, “not a valet or a wife.”
“We have a visitor,” Holmes said, squinting into the street. A friend of yours, I should think. A military man who has spent some time in the tropics and walks with a limp. A non-commissioned officer, I fancy, by his bearing.”
My heart sank. “Dagget, no doubt.” I carried the fish to the bin while Holmes kicked an apple core under his armchair. “I cannot like the man, and he is always asking for money, but we served together in the 66th.”
“You are too loyal, Watson. I have mentioned this before.”
I crouched on the rug, stuffing spilled tobacco back into the Persian slipper. Downstairs I could hear Mrs. Hudson directing our visitor to come up.
Holmes bundled the glass jar with the floating brain into our pantry. “But no matter. I shall deal with him.”
“Oh,” I said from my knees. “Please don’t.”
I was just putting the slipper back on the mantelpiece when our door opened to admit a thickset mutton-chopped man in his middle years. His most obvious characteristics were a marked deformity in his back that the tailoring of his rough coat could not conceal, and the thick white stripe that ran through his coarse black hair. “Watson!” he cried. “I have news.”
“I fear you have wasted your time, Mr. Dagget,” Sherlock said.
“Holmes,“ I said.
“The doctor has no money to give, and finds your presence unappetizing. Perhaps it is the hump.”
“Sherlock! This is not Henry Dagget!”
My one-time comrade stuck out a thick hand for Holmes to shake. “Babcock, sir, but my buddies call me Badger. I served with Watson here in the 66th.”
Holmes looked disapprovingly at me. “I was reliably informed you were Henry Dagget.”
“Ah, but I can’t be, can I?” Badger said. “That’s what I come here to tell the Doctor. Harry Dagget’s dead.”
“Dead!” I cried.
“Dead and murdered,” Badger said. “He’s laid out in the basement of the Chelsea Hospital right now. If we shift into a cab right quick, I figure we can just make the autopsy.”