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Fiction, © Copyright 2000, Jim Loy
My friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, received the following telegram:
INTRUDER TERRORIZING FAMILY STOP HELP US FOR GODS SAKE STOP JONATHAN WINSTON
The telegram then gave Mr. Winston's address, which was a short distance outside of London. Holmes was able to rent a horse and buggy. We soon arrived at Mr. Winston's home, a sizeable stone mansion. The extensive grounds were surrounded by a stone wall. The gate was open. Holmes steered the horse through the gate and up to the front door of the house. Mr. Winston met us there. Once we stepped down from the buggy, a servant led the horse and buggy to the stables.
Mr. Winston exclaimed, "Thank God you have come. I have sent my family away to visit relatives in London, until this mystery has been solved. I feared for their safety."
Holmes responded, "Quite right, better to be safe than sorry. You must be Mr. Jonathan Winston. This is my colleague Dr. Watson."
"I am sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. You are correct, of course, I am Jonathan Winston. Please come with me, and I will explain what I know of our mystery." We followed Mr. Winston into the house, and up a wide stairway to the first floor. We turned left into a corridor, and turned left again into the nursery. "This is our son William's room. He is seven months old, and is our only child, so far. Last night, my wife Mary and I were in here. Mary was tucking William in for the night. I stood over here watching them, the two people who have made me a happier man than I had ever thought possible. Then Mary and I both saw the shadow of a man, with one arm raised, projected upon that wall. Mary screamed; I gasped; and William began to cry. I rushed to the window and saw the lights of a passing motor car. The shadow had disappeared from the wall. I ran down the stairs and out onto the grounds. I saw no one. But I felt the presence of some evil being just out of sight in the shadows out there. I was suddenly afraid for my life, and I retreated into the house. I went through the house locking doors and windows. This morning, I sent my Mary and William away, and I sent you a telegram."
Holmes was looking out the window. He asked, "You saw no ladder against your house?"
"No, and I am sure I would have seen one, had it still been there."
As Holmes stared out the window, something seemed to attract his attention. He chuckled briefly, and said, "Well, I suspect that we may solve your little mystery tonight." I went to the window and saw nothing of interest. Had Holmes seen the intruder? What had he seen? I was about to ask when he said, "Well Watson, do you feel up to a walk into the village?" He turned to Mr. Winston, "We shall be gone for two or three hours."
As we walked down the road, Holmes often looked back in the direction of the house. Sometimes we could see the house, sometimes our view was blocked by the rock wall, or by trees. We came to a hole in the road. It was obvious that vehicles had been swerving to one side or the other to avoid the hole. Holmes said, "Observe, Watson, that an automobile's headlights would point off toward Mr. Winston's land here. In fact, the house is just visible. It is entirely possible that these headlights would shine into young William's window."
"Then we must search here for signs of the supposed intruder, he may only have been a passing pedestrian."
"No Watson, the shadow of any human, this close to the auto's headlights, would be magnified to tremendous size on the distant nursery walls. I am sure that Mr. Winston would have mentioned the size of such a shadow."
"Then the intruder had to have been just outside the window, as Mr. Winston supposed."
"If the intruder was a human." Holmes smiled at my astonishment at that incredible comment, and refused to elaborate.
In the village, Holmes discovered that there were only two automobiles in the region. One was owned by Dr. Hearns, who was currently out making house calls throughout the countryside. The other vehicle was owned by a young man who ran a fix-it shop. Apparently he was a mechanical genius. We found him underneath his automobile. Holmes talked to his feet and trouser cuffs at some length. I did not hear much of what they discussed, as I was amazed at the sight of the young man's shiny, black motor car. I had never seen one up close like this. And this one was certainly the work of a master craftsman. In the end, Holmes handed some coins to the young man who was still under the vehicle. I never once saw his face, the whole time.
As we walked back to the Winston estate, I asked Holmes if the young mechanic had perhaps seen the intruder the other night. Holmes replied, "I never asked him." He laughed at my puzzled expression. He strode on down the road, whistling.
That evening, Holmes borrowed a couple of candles, and bounded up the stairs, leaving Mr. Winston and me in the library, discussing politics, the weather, and the newer theories of child rearing. It was obvious that Holmes was preparing some kind of demonstration for us. Perhaps he would be trapping the intruder, for our entertainment.
After an hour or so, Holmes appeared at the door of the library, and led us up the stairs into the nursery. "Gentlemen, please watch the wall." He went to the window and moved his lit candle up and down twice. Then a strong light shone through the window from outside, and the horribly threatening shadow of the intruder appeared upon the wall, with one hand raised. Mr. Winston and I both rushed to the window. I was fumbling for the revolver in my pocket. And there was no intruder. He was gone. But his shadow still remained upon the wall. Holmes calmly said, "Do you see that bush near the automobile? It casts a shadow that looks like a man. Your intruder is made of leaves." Then, I resumed breathing, and we all burst into laughter.
Holmes had paid the young mechanic from the village to help him with his experiment. It had taken them a great deal of time to line up the automobile headlights with the correct bush and with the nursery room wall. Holmes had directed this delicate process with the use of signals using a lit candle.
Here is a map which shows the relative positions of the car, the bush, and the window.
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