} THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLANK TELEGRAM
} Sherlock Holmes had had a busy five months. It had started with
} the celebrated case of Mr. Ian Davis, who, in spite of being known to
} have had a fear of heights bordering on the neurotic, was found dead
} atop the statue of Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. It continued
} with a trip to Turkey to clear up a trifling matter for the Ottoman
} Empire, and concluded with a string of cases around England which had
} culminated in the arrest of Paul Kelly, the most peculiar arsonist that
} Europe has ever seen.
} So when, suddenly, all this activity stopped, I was rather
} relieved than otherwise. My friend's ascetism bordered on mania when
} he had a case on his mind, even his iron constitution was beginning to
} show signs of strain after so long a period with so little food or
} sleep. But as the time of inactivity stretched to two weeks, and then
} to three, I became worried once again, for the dull look in Holmes's
} eye and his caged-animal demeanor showed me that he pondering returning
} to the habit of cocaine self-poisoning from which I had so carefully
} weaned him. Every morning he would pick up the Times, eagerly glance
} over the headlines, and cast it aside with a sneer when there were no
} sensational murders or daring robberies to report.
} "Ah, Watson," said he, breaking in on my thoughts, "you know me
} too well. But no, I shan't bring out my needle if it shall bring upon
} me such a barrage of criticism as it did last time. But where have all
} the criminals gone?"
} This last was in an exasperated tone, and I felt my roommate's
} pain. "It seems to me, Holmes, that you have arrested them all, and
} frightened all the potential criminals into good citizenship. But,
} really, Holmes, isn't that the object of your career? To get rid of
} "Yes, I fear that I share with doctors the singular distinction
} of working tirelessly to eliminate the need for my own services. But
} things are looking up, for unless I am very much mistaken, here is a
} The ring of the bell showed the correctness of his surmise, and
} presently Mrs. Hudson showed up our visitor, a distinguished-looking
} old gentleman dressed conservatively.
} "Come in, sir," said my friend with that easy cordiality for
} which he was remarkable. I glanced over our visitor, endeavouring to
} use Holmes's methods to learn what I could about our guest, but soon
} gave up, none the wiser for my troubles.
} "I am sorry to disturb you gentlemen, but I need to consult with
} Mr. Holmes. Inspector Lestrade sent me here from Scotland Yard."
} "Ah, indeed," said Holmes, rubbing his hands together happily,
} "pray have a seat and tell us what is troubling you."
} "Well, sir, it may not be anything at all, but it troubles me
} just the same. This morning I received a reply-paid telegram which has
} left me completely baffled."
} "What did it say?"
} "Here it is, sir, you can read it for yourself."
} Holmes looked over the message. He then handed it to me, saying,
} "Well, Watson, what do you make of it?"
} The body of the telegram read:
} "What on earth does it mean?" I ejaculated.
} Holmes laughed with his breathy, noiseless laugh at my
} astonishment. "I think we'll need more explanation, Mr. Oracle. Do
} Our visitor jumped up with surprise. "How did you know my name?"
} he cried.
} Holmes smiled. "It is my business to know things. Besides, I've
} found that if I explain my methods, I do not impress so much."
} Mr. Oracle sat down again. "It's a neat trick, anyhow. I
} suppose there's no harm in you knowing a bit about me. My name is,
} indeed, Oracle. The Oracle. I come from the States. Indiana, to be
} "Really!" said Holmes, more interested in this information than I
} would have expected. "I hadn't noticed any eccentricities of speech.
} But what a peculiar name! Why did your parents christen you 'The?'"
} "Oh, that's just a family name. But I'm sure it has no bearing
} on the case."
} "Quite. Is there anyone you can think of who might send you such
} a telegram, perhaps as a joke?"
} "No, sir, and even if they did, why should they send it
} reply-paid? That is rather obscure to me. But Inspector Lestrade
} didn't think the matter was worth his time. He simply waved me away
} like a child." A flash of the purest, most violent rage shone in our
} visitor's eye for a moment, but he quickly regained his self-control.
} "But he said he thought it was rather in your line. What do you make
} of it?"
} "Nothing, yet. But certainly I shall look into it if it will put
} your mind at ease."
} "I would be most grateful, Mr. Holmes."
} "All right, I will make inquiries. But before you go, where can
} I reach you?"
} "I live at Steve Corners, on Kinzler Court."
} "Off Bloomington Road?"
} "Precisely, sir."
} "Well, I shall contact you soon."
} "Really, sir, I thank you." He bowed gracefully to us both,
} doffed his hat, and stepped out.
} No sooner had the door closed than Holmes said, "There goes one
} of the worst liars these rooms have ever seen, and there have been
} quite a few liars in here. I shall follow Mr. The Oracle; don't expect
} me back before dinner," and stepped out.
} I had not been impressed with the importance of the case until
} Holmes made that singular pronouncement. Suddenly my mind was filled
} with questions. Who was this Mr. Oracle? What had he lied about? Why
} was he lying? From whom had he received the telegram? These questions
} so filled my mind that I could not concentrate on the little
} yellow-backed novel which I was trying to read. I soon gave up on my
} reading and resigned my thoughts to this peculiar case. But I made
} neither head nor tail of it, and spent a long afternoon waiting for
} Holmes's return.
} And a long evening, too; dinner came and went, and still there
} was no sign of my friend. Still I waited. More hours passed. I heard
} the servants leave, and, after that, Mrs. Hudson lock up for the night.
} My lonely vigil stretched on. . .
} When I woke up Holmes was sitting at the table, eating
} breakfast. I stirred, and Holmes said, "Ah, Watson, you're awake.
} Sorry about last night--my inquiries took a bit longer than expected."
} "That's all right," I replied, eagerly. "What have you
} "Oh, much what I expected. Come, have some eggs, and we can
} discuss how the case has progressed thus far."
} I did as I was told, but Holmes was too busy attending to a slice
} of ham to talk to me. I waited impatiently, and eventually Holmes
} "Sorry. I have been to Manchester and back without time for a
} meal, and was absolutely famished. Now, I believe you were interested
} in that Mr. Oracle."
} "He seemed a fascinating man."
} "Well, I noticed your examination of him; come, tell me what you
} thought of him, and we can compare notes."
} "He seemed to me to be a refined, honest gentleman, a leader of
} his community, and extremely intelligent."
} Holmes laughed. "Watson, Watson, Watson. Ever the same. How
} many times must I tell you that the first places to look when you
} examine a man are the bootlaces, hands, and trouser-knees?"
} I was somewhat hurt by his mocking and said, with some asperity,
} "So what did you discover about him by your examination?"
} "Come, now, don't take it so hard," said he, replying to my
} thoughts rather than my words as was his wont, "I'm sure you did a
} great bit better than most fellows would have done. And in my
} profession I must look for different things than most others do.
} Regardless, all I was able to determine about our esteemed visitor was
} that he was left-handed, had hurried to see us, had lived in England
} for about two weeks, and had been recently married but was now trying
} to hide all trace of having done so."
} "How on earth--"
} "You know my methods, Watson."
} "Well, you probably noted that his left hand was larger than his
} "A clever deduction!" cried Holmes.
} "--and you probably noted his hurry by the state of his toilet--"
} "Excellent!" said Holmes.
} "--and the style of his clothing, which was most likely more
} American than British showed you that he had not been long in
} "You scintillate this morning!"
} "--but how the devil did you determine that he had recently
} married and so forth?"
} "Really, Watson, we'll make a detective of you yet. You were
} completely wrong with all your reasons, but you were able to come up
} with plausible reasons for everything, which is better than any of the
} incompetents at Scotland Yard could do. His hands were the same size,
} his toilet was impeccable, and his outfit was entirely English. His
} left hand had that characteristic smear of ink across it which
} left-handers get when they write hurriedly, from which I deduced his
} haste as well. Did you notice the state of his complexion? Well, it
} was a fading sort of tan, the sort of tan one has when one has spent
} time in the sunny tropics and then come to this island's rather dreary
} clime for a fortnight. However, there was a band around his left
} ring-finger which was still pale, but covered with make up to hide the
} fact. However, the band was a curious one in that it showed that rings
} had been in two different but overlapping places at two different
} times: for a short time, some time ago, it had been more distal, but
} then it had been moved closer to the main part of the hand. What would
} cause that? Obviously, the ring had been re-fitted. At first, it was
} too small, so he had it made into something larger to be more
} comfortable. But he would have done that soon after he got the ring,
} for why should wear an uncomfortable ring any longer than one has to?
} From this I deduced that the marriage must be recent."
} "Wonderful!" I ejaculated.
} "Elementary," Holmes replied.
} "But then why did you go to Manchester? As I recall, the
} telegram was sent from Great Yarmouth."
} "Indeed it was, Watson. However, our friend was kind enough to
} show us the label of his hat just before he left, and it was made by a
} milliner in Newcastle. Now, even though his speech was polished and
} proper, his accent was not, and it was evident that he was not a native
} of Lancashire. But why would he have sent away to a Manchester
} millinery if he had not been there? He had clearly spent time in
} "I see. But what about his London address? Kisser Court, or
} "You are doing brilliantly this morning. I checked with the
} house-agent in charge of Kinzler Court, and found that the home known
} as 'Steve Corners' had only been let last Friday."
} "So what was the purpose of the blank, reply-paid telegram from
} Great Yarmouth, then?"
} "I am convinced it was a blind, Watson. Mr. Oracle was trying to
} distract me--perhaps to get me out to Suffolk and out of the way--for
} some reason."
} "But why?"
} "I don't yet know. I thought it reasonable to assume that it had
} some connexion with his recent marriage, so I went to Manchester and
} thence to Liverpool, and looked at the port's registers. I've
} discovered that the yacht 'Indiana Coastline,' owned by a certain 'The
} and Maria Oracle,' docked in from Costa Rica exactly two weeks ago, on
} July 18."
} "Liverpool seems an odd place to take an expensive yacht. Rich
} tourists are usually sensible enough to avoid that dreary town like the
} plague. Why had they gone there? Were they following somebody? It
} seemed the most likely reason. Few American ships had set in of late,
} but one caught my eye. The dinghy 'Hoosier Hovel,' with a 'Zadoc and
} Lisa Worm' listed as owners, set in on July 15, also from Costa Rica.
} 'Hoosier,' I believe, is a nickname for residents of Indiana."
} "Quite so."
} "So I deduced that the Oracles were following the Worms for some
} reason. But once again I have fallen into your evil habit of telling
} my story backward."
} "How so?"
} "Because I spent a wild hour in London before I even boarded the
} train to Manchester. I followed Mr. Oracle to Willson's Private Hotel,
} which is an eminently unrespectable little shack run by a Mr. Richard
} Willson. I've had a run-in or two with Mr. Willson in the past, and I
} dared not enter the place undisguised. So I proceeded to Kinzler
} "There I found--nothing. It was obviously not intended by its
} owners for long-term habitation, and was almost entirely unfurnished.
} No one answered the door, and I didn't have my burgling tools with me,
} so I left. Next I proceeded to the house-agents in charge of Kinzler
} Court, Noe & Atkinson's. Neither partner was in yet, but their
} secretary, a Ms. Chevalier, was. She was an amorous little woman who,
} with a shocking lack of decorum, attempted to seduce me right in the
} office. It was a simple enough matter to gain access to the
} information I wanted, though I was forced to flee before she got out of
} hand. Then I hurried to Victoria and thence to Manchester, with the
} result you have heard."
} "So your next step is to go to Willson's Private Hotel?"
} "Yes, I think that the key to this mystery lies there. I should
} be back in time for lunch."
} With that he stepped into his room, and emerged a moment later,
} with one of his remarkable transformations, looking like a low and
} scruffy sailor.
} He was, indeed, not gone long, and when he returned he came with
} a disgusted look uncharacteristic of him. "A complete waste, Watson.
} A complete waste." He through himself down in his favourite armchair.
} "But what has happened?" I asked eagerly.
} "I proceeded to Willson's, and pretended to be a sailor looking
} for a room. However, one has to be fond of certain rather peculiar
} amusements if one is to be a guest at Willson's--I believe the man has
} the largest collection of lacy lingerie in his own size in the
} world--and he is quite suspicious of newcomers. 'Oo recommended ya?'
} he said, in his deliciously low accent. I gave the name of a
} confederate I had worked with in the past, and Mr. Willson's humour
} rose tremendously.
} "'Well, cacoethes cantati,' said he--the man's only respectable
} passion is for injecting random and irrelevant Latin phrases into
} conversations for no apparent reason-- 'e's uh good customah.' I soon
} found myself in Room No. 3 of Willson's.
} "Having been admitted to the hotel, it was easy to gain access to
} Mr. Oracle's room and menage. And what a menage it was. When Mr.
} Oracle first let me in, it was impossible to determine what was going
} "Soon I discovered that there were five people besides myself in
} that small room. Two, a simpering little man and a lovely brunette
} woman, were chained to one bedpost. Another woman, a dark,
} Spanish-looking beauty, was tied with all the sheets to another.
} Another woman--another beauty, this one bleach-blonde--was cavorting
} about with a whip, thoroughly enjoying whipping everyone else: Mr.
} Oracle, the other man, the other women, herself, and even, after I
} entered, myself. Everyone was screaming, blabbering, or howling--it's a
} wonder no one had called the police, but I imagine the neighbors are
} used to it by now--and Mr. Oracle was crawling around pretending to be
} the whipping-lady's pet dog.
} "At length I determined that the whipping lady was Lisa Worm, and
} that the other man was her husband Zadoc. The Spanish woman, bound
} with sheets, was of course Ms. Maria Oracle. The other woman--the
} brunette--was 'Michelle,' but I don't recall her last name as having
} been mentioned.
} "It seems that Maria, who was fiery with all the heat of her
} tropical blood, was so insanely jealous of her husband's old amours
} that she had determined to kill them. Lisa and Michelle were
} apparently his old favourites--I tell you, Watson, the man is a worse
} Don Juan than was Don Juan--so he couldn't bear to have them killed.
} However, before I had arrived there had been a mass reconciliation, and
} they were having this sort of party to celebrate the event before
} heading back to Indiana as one big, happy harem.
} "Since it was evident that they were trying to distract me from
} the planned murder, and that was no longer going to happen, I slipped
} off as soon as I could, which proved to be when Mr. Willson entered,
} wearing his favourite doilies.
} "So this case that began with nothing, ended with nothing, and
} now I'm plunged back into the nothingness of ennui."
} He reached for his violin, and lamented the normalcy of the