The Angry Corrie 15: Oct-Nov 1993

The Curious Affair of the Grey Man of Ben Macdui... (part 2)

(as related to Jack Reilly)

The story so far: ace Victorian sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his perennial sidekick Dr Watson have received a letter from famous mountaineer Sir Hugh Munro. The latter, urgently needing to speak with them on some matter pertaining to the Cairngorm's highest peak, arrives, tired and emotional, at the rooms of 221B Baker Street...

Sir Hugh began at once his most singular narrative, which I took down in note form at the time of his telling, and from which notes I am now able to refer for my own convenience, and for the benefit of my readership. However, I need no such memory aids to remind me of the haggard features of our most curious visitor; nor do I need to be reminded of the awful grimace which spread across that unfortunate individual's countenance at the shrieking storm which smote the building every so often with violent gusts of wind. These memories remain with me forever; indeed they are branded into my brain as with the glowing iron of the shepherd who stamps his name into the hides of sheep and cattle. They have not faded with the passage of time, and yet nineteen years have passed since the events of which I now write took place. Let the narrative begin in earnest therefore. Sherlock Holmes was seated in his favourite armchair, across from Munro who sat somewhat bedraggled on the edge of the sofa. I had replaced the poker by the fireside, and now resumed my position at the desk, where not half an hour earlier I had been engaged in my studies on the latest treatise on jungle fever.

'Mister Holmes,' began our visitor, 'I am at a loss to know quite where to begin explaining what has brought me from Scotland to your living quarters in the very heart of London. But perhaps if I may, I can inform you of my present engagement which is of paramount importance and may not be discussed outwith these four walls.' Here he paused and briefly turned towards me before returning his attention to the great detective. Holmes simply fixed him with a steely gaze, and in a quiet but decisive voice, proceeded to admonish our visitor.

'Rest assured Mister Munro, that Dr Watson may be trusted implicitly with whatever confidence you would bestow upon me. Therefore, I must ask you not to insult his intelligence by suggesting anything to the contrary!' And leaping from his armchair, Holmes crossed the floor in a single bound, where he now stood with the door flung open, thus allowing our visitor the opportunity to leave if he so chose. However, Munro only shook his head.

'That will not be necessary Mister Holmes, for I have not come the length of Britain for nothing', and turning to me he nodded in solemn apology, which I acknowledged accordingly; Holmes immediately resumed his judicial posture on the armchair.

'Very well then gentlemen, I will explain the facts as they occurred at the time. However, you should first be made aware of the situation in Scottish mountaineering at present. Certain colleagues of mine would have me believe that there are only thirty or forty mountains in Scotland which exceed the height of three thousand feet. Gentlemen, this theory does not agree with my personal observations, which suggest to me that there are perhaps three hundred such mountains, not thirty as was initially proposed.' Here, Munro paused briefly to partake of a marmalade scone, a tray of which had arrived in our rooms courtesy of Mrs Hudson.

'May I congratulate you on your baking Madam,' said Munro, wiping the crumbs from his beard, 'these scones are very excellent!'

At this, Mrs Hudson let out a jolly wheeze in appreciation of our visitor's remark, and looked set to engage him in earnest conversation on cookery and other such trivia. To my horror, Holmes reached into his dressing gown and withdrew his revolver which he pointed in our landlady's direction.

'I will count to five Mrs Hudson,' said he, not unpleasantly, 'and if you have not left us by that time, I will open fire. Do you understand what I say?' It seemed our unfortunate landlady had no choice but to go quietly.

'Really Holmes!' said I when Mrs Hudson had pulled the door shut on her way out. 'Was that necessary?' I could not believe my friend would ever wish to harm our dear landlady in such a violent manner. After all, who would bring me fresh kippers every morning for breakfast in future? However, my outburst was merely rewarded with a blank stare from Holmes, who returned his attention to our visitor.

'Get on with it Munro,' said he, somewhat absently. I could tell Holmes was becoming bored again, and his occasional glances toward the mantelpiece above the fire meant one thing: that he was contemplating the effects of the needle, for there it lay in its velvet case, waiting to unleash morphine into the great detective's veins.

'And you needn't worry Watson, I have no intention of resorting to the needle' said he, although I had given no indication of my inner thoughts.

'Gentlemen!' boomed our bearded visitor, somewhat impatiently; and then somewhat more sheepishly at Holmes' malignant stare, 'If I may be allowed to continue?' A violent gust of wind roared in the chimney, which made him cringe with fear. 'I am here to seek your assistance on a serious matter Holmes. Now sir, do I have your attention? Very well then. As I have said, I do not agree with the theory that there are a mere thirty or so Scottish mountains which exceed the elevation of three thousand feet. Indeed, I said as much to Professor Martin Eden, the fool who made the original statement at our last dinner in Edinburgh. Now, as soon as I made my contrary statement to the effect that Eden was in error, the entire company at the banquet went completely silent. It was as if the gauntlet had been thrown down and the challenge offered in front of thirty witnesses.

'Munro, you are a bigger fool than I had at first thought!' said Professor Eden, 'But please gentlemen, let us not resort to bickering between mountaineers. Indeed, let us instead make a wager. I have stated, correctly I believe, that in Scotland there are no more than thirty mountain peaks which rise above three thousand feet, but this fool Munro has disagreed with me by saying I am wrong, and that there are indeed perhaps three hundred!' At this mocking tirade from Professor Eden, my fellow mountaineers began to jeer at me, calling me many names which I do not care to repeat. Suffice it to say that my cheeks began to burn with shame at their mockery. And then Mr Holmes, I made a blundering mistake, for in my embarrassment I shouted above the laughter, 'Damn the lot of you!' and once again silence settled around the table. Levelling my finger at Eden who sat across from me with a sneer on his features, I said 'Very well sir, a wager it shall be! A thousand pounds says I can prove that there are indeed a good deal more than thirty three-thousanders in Scotland, that there are in fact closer to three hundred of them!'

Therefore Mister Holmes, the challenge was made. Eden fumbled in his trouser pockets and presently withdrew a purse of money, which he flung onto the table. 'A thousand pounds says you are wrong sir!' Now, although I was angry and embarrassed by Eden's taunts, I quickly began to realize that I didn't have the thousand on me. I therefore wrote a statement to the effect that a thousand pounds would be made available to Eden if I were proved wrong, and this statement I handed to the gentleman who sat next to Eden, who appeared to be his close friend for there was much secret talk going on between them. At this, I stormed out of the dining hall with venison fat streaming down my face and the front of my waistcoat, for in my haste to leave I had forgotten the presence of the waiter who stood behind me with a tray of juicy venison steaks. Secretly, I was ashamed of myself, for I knew the thousand would be difficult to raise; indeed, the only way for me to do it would be to take out a mortgage on my dear Lindertis estate, which I was loath to do. However, my anger boiled over because of this Martin Eden fellow, and I am sad to say it got the better of me, and in such a state of high emotions I raised the thousand by putting my beloved family home in the hands of the bank managers!

Nevertheless, I knew what sort of challenge lay before me: I would require a horse, a rucksack, an aneroid meter, a kilt and my pipe, and thus equipped I would set off into the Highlands of Scotland, in order to establish beyond any reasonable doubt my belief that there are indeed around three hundred mountains which exceed the elevation of three thousand feet! And now Mister Holmes, if I may trouble you for a glass of brandy, for my throat has become parched somewhat.' But his question went unanswered. 'Mister Holmes?'

Unfortunately, Holmes had apparently dozed off, much to the annoyance of Munro, who had spent a good fifteen minutes outlining his narrative. Admittedly it wasn't a very singular narrative: after all, wagers made in anger and frustration were nothing new to me, but Holmes might have at least had the decency to stay awake while Munro was speaking. The latter's face had instantly turned black with rage at this apparent insult to his flow of capital talk, and from his suitcase he withdrew the most enormous elephant rifle I ever saw, and pointed it at Holmes' head.

'A glass of brandy if you please Mister Holmes! No Dr Watson, place your hands on the desk where I can see them and please remain seated, otherwise your friend will be shot through the brain, mark my words sir!' Clearly, we had in our rooms a madman of the worst sort, and I could only marvel at Holmes' earlier deduction that Munro was a psychotic; here indeed was the evidence! For only a madman would appear calm with sudden outbursts of violence such as this. I would have to talk him into placing his rifle on the floor before he decided to shoot Holmes. Apparently, my friend was in a deep sleep, for he had not yet woken, despite the volume of Munro's outburst.

'I repeat, Mister Holmes, will you pour me a glass of brandy? Ah, you think I won't shoot?' And to my horror, he pulled the trigger.

Instantly Holmes' head disintegrated in the blast from the rifle. As the smoke dissipated, I stared in disbelief at the headless corpse which had been Sherlock Holmes only moments before. I was grief-stricken, to say the least. Then I became outraged at this Munro fellow, and made to grab the rifle which had wrought such instant destruction on my friend.

To be continued...

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