|In my many years of acquaintance with Mr. Sherlock Holmes I have often
been asked about his years at University and whether his extraordinary abilities
were challenged in his younger days. One such story was recounted to me one
Sunday evening when Holmes and I were sitting by a warming winter fire in our
lodgings at number 221B Baker Street. As was our habit on unoccupied evenings
when Holmes had no interesting cases to divert his attention, I was reading out
the more interesting articles from the Gazette. I happened upon a narrative
which alluded to the pioneering research of Professor Anthony Giffard into the
prevention and cure of cataracts, when I noticed a wry smile come across
"Whatever are you thinking of ?", I enquired,
surprised to see a reaction from a man who was far from concerned with medical
ailments or their treatments.
"You know Watson," he replied, filling his pipe
from the slipper beside the fireplace, " Giffard would not be alive today
if it had not been for my exploits on his behalf at College"
"You knew the man at University?" I asked,
surprised that he was willing talk about his younger days.
"Giffard and I were contemporaries at Sidney. He came up to read Natural Sciences in the same year I started Mathematics. He was the son of a Historian, quiet fellow, but extraordinarily quick witted. We barely
exchanged a few words with each other until the episode of
the embalmed head. It might be one for your biographies old fellow.
I had been at Cambridge for over two years and had rooms in
college near to the laboratories which was of great use to me in my additional
research. My rooms were situated on the far corner of the court and had windows
overlooking the street and the adjoining laboratory. Of an evening I would slide
out the sitting room window onto the roof of the laboratory and make my way
along the eaves to the skylight. It was a simple matter for a man of my youth
and agility to open the old fastening on the window and lower myself onto the
central bench. I spent many a night in the small hours of the morning
researching into areas of particular interest to me. You may recount my paper on
the chemical derivatives of tobacco. Much of the research was carried out at the
laboratory at Sidney.
I have probably told you of that splendid man Victor Trevor. He owns a tea plantation in the West Indies and it was his Father who documented the gory incident on the Gloria Scott just before his death in July 71. Trevor and I were friends throughout our following days at college following that unfortunate episode when I was bitten by his terrier. It was on a cold October morning, shortly before the start of term that Trevor and I were sitting in my rooms at Sidney reading through the Times, much as you and I do today.
"Holmes, listen to this", remarked Trevor, "its
an odd case, probably up your street I'd dare say.
Robbery At Rochester
Mr. J.M.Wilkinson yesterday reported the disappearance of a family curio from his home in Rochester, non other than the embalmed head of Oliver Cromwell. History relates that after Cromwell's embalmed body was removed from its tomb in Westminster Abbey and hanged on the gallows at Tyburn, the head was struck off and displayed on a pole above Westminster Hall. It is said then to have fallen and been smuggled away. After passing through several hands the head came into the possession of the Wilkinson family in 1813. Scotland Yard suspect the Family chamber maid Miss Margaret Fennot, who only entered the household three weeks prior to the robbery. The whereabouts of Miss Fennot is unknown, however reports indicate that she has returned to her sister in Ireland.'
My goodness, Holmes, what possible reason would a chamber
maid have to steal Oliver Cromwell's head ? Its a strange business and no
mistake. I suppose that given the situation in Ireland and Miss Fennot's
connections she has an acute dislike of the British. Cromwell was certainly no
friend to the Irish, but I'll support him just for being a Sidney man !"
At that time the disappearance of the disembodied head held
no more than academic interest to me, however what followed was to prove that
the episode at Rochester was part of a much more deadly business.
Several days later I was strolling into the quad when Trevor
came running up behind me from the porter's lodge.
"Holmes ! Wait up there. Who would have thought it.
Cromwell's returned to Sidney after all these years. Have you heard - its all
over the college. This morning the Master received a strange package in the
post. It contains the head belonging to that Wilkinson chap. Some say the
college has received a threat over the Linton admission. Whatever do you make of
Before I was able to reply. The rotund College Dean, Dr.
Epson beckoned to us from across the courtyard. As we approached he asked in
hushed tones whether we were able to accompany him to the Master's lodge where "
Prof. Hodgson wished to consult with me on a very grave matter ". Trevor
and I duly followed the Dean to the lodge where we shown into the Master's
study. The Prof. sat at his desk bent over a crumpled piece of paper.
"Sherlock Holmes" he began, not looking up from
the paper, " You are no doubt aware that the son of the Governor General
for Ireland is due to study at Sidney. During your third year there has been a
good deal of talk about yourself and your methods of deduction. I fear we have
some small problem on our hands which I believe is most suited to your talents.
As you may probably have heard from your associates, the college has received an
unusual package. Its identity has been confirmed by Mr. Wilkinson, perhaps you'd
care to inspect it and further me with your opinion?"
I took the package from the master. The large box contained
a brown skull. The cranium was slightly larger than average, but fine filaments
of hair were still visible and the embalmed flesh stretched tightly over the
thin skeletal features. Quite a disquieting apparition I can assure you, Watson,
but I have to admit that there was still a quality of character in the ghoulish
expression presented to me. Trevor peered over my shoulder, too amazed or
horrified to utter a word. I was holding in my hands the head of one of the
greatest commanders this country has ever known, now only a crumbling relic of
" There came a threat with the item" furthered the
Master and he offered the crumpled note towards me across the table. I unfolded
the creased paper and read the following:
"If Li nTon's son co mes to Sid
ney May you bur n in Hell wi th Cromwell!"
" What do you make of it Mr. Holmes?" asked the
Dean. " We wouldn't want this business to get out of hand. If the police
have to be involved it could jeopardise the College's reputation. It could of
course be nothing more than a student prank which has gone beyond the grounds of
good judgement and taste."
"What concerns me is that if this is a student's idea
of a joke, how did he come to possess such a well publicised item of stolen
property?" interjected the Master.
"Many issues concerning the package and its sender are
clear" I replied "I can assure you that neither the head nor the note
are the subject of an idle college prank. The culprit is left handed, well read
in current affairs and resides in Cambridge. He possesses a small blunt pocket
knife and drinks claret. Furthermore I must warn you that he is serious in his
threats and has been a supporter of the National Irish freedom fighters for at
least five months. His hatred for Sir Douglas Linton and his son should be taken
"How on earth can you deduce all that Mr. Holmes from
such an anonymous note?" uttered the Master "Explain you reasoning,
your statements are alarming".
"For the first part" I replied, "Each letter
on the note and the address possesses a loose left hand edge indicating the they
were stuck down with the left hand, the thumb exerting the greatest pressure on
the right hand side of the cutting. Furthermore each of the letters has been cut
with a small blunt blade. It is easy to see the score marks around the cut edges
where he obviously attempted and failed to make a first incision. You may also
notice the red traces of wax which have become trapped on the top edge of the
first few letters. Such wax is unique to the seals of the best claret bottles.
The knife used to cut the letters has also been used to remove such wax
indicating that the owner is partial to claret. Many of the letters have been
cut from the title headings of several newspapers, namely the Times, The
Telegraph, The Gazette and the Herald, indicating that the culprit is interested
in current affairs. The Cambridge postmark on the package indicates that the
sender resides in the town.
To the more serious allegations you may notice that 'May'
has been cut as a complete word. The type face is most specific to only one
publication, namely the Irish Freedom Press. The word has been cut from the May
issue of this article indicating that the man in question has been a supporter
of the said organisation for at least five months. The head itself has suffered
under the hands of this man. See how the skin on the face has been scratched and
punctured. Even in death the memory of Cromwell has drawn such hatred from our
criminal that he felt moved to mutilate his features still further."
"This is most remarkable, Mr. Holmes" exclaimed
the Dean "It looks as though we should alert the police to the business
"Might I suggest caution." I replied "If the
culprit suspects that we are onto him he could act in haste. We know Frederick
Linton is his target and I believe that Linton is not due to arrive until the
end of the week. Until then we have the advantage. If by Friday morning I have
not identified your criminal then I suggest that the Police are called in.
Linton's arrival can be delayed and the necessary security measures installed."
"I would prefer not to involve the police in this
matter." replied the Master "The Governor General has made it known
that he intends to donate a considerable sum towards the college building fund.
If this matter becomes public Frederick Linton may be discouraged from taking up
his place here, not to mention the poor publicity it will generate. All we have
is a note and an item of stolen property which can be returned. I for one
believe we should not over react. Mr. Holmes you have until Friday."
That night I was awake meditating over the puzzle which had
been presented when I heard the sound of breaking glass from the adjoining
laboratory. Dashing to the back window I caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure
dropping through the skylight into the room below, followed by further sounds of
crashing laboratory equipment. I opened the window, shinned out onto the roof
and made my way silently along the eves to the broken skylight. Below me the
cloaked figure was ranging about in the darkness. Desperately searching among
the glass ware and chemicals he finally spied a series of petri dishes. After
inspecting each closely he secreted one carefully in his pocket. As he turned
towards the central bench, thinking to make his escape over the roof, I prepared
to drop down onto him. Suddenly the laboratory door flew open. Alarmed by this
sudden discovery, the intruder let out a cry and lunged towards the open door.
Pushing the startled figure to the floor the cloaked assailant ran off into the
I dropped from the ceiling and quickly lit an oil burner in
the moon light. Turning towards the doorway I perceived the night porter sitting
on the cold stone floor tending a graze on this forehead.
"Is that you, Mr. Holmes?" he exclaimed as I
approached, offering my pocket handkerchief for his head. I explained how I had
come to discover the intruder and once he had regained his bearings I lead the
shaken porter back to the lodge.
The following morning I returned to the laboratory with
Trevor where the porters were investigating the break-in. Two college Dons,
Doctors Stroud and Petherton were surveying the wreckage, which had once been
"Holmes, I understand you nearly caught the intruder red handed", remarked Dr. Petherton as I surveyed the broken glass ware and spilt chemicals. " Careful now, there's oil of vitriol on the floor next to your feet"
"Have you determined what has been taken?" I
enquired "I saw him remove one of three petri dishes from the side bench,
just here", I indicated.
"Yes, most peculiar", he replied "Dr. Stroud
and myself have been researching the life cycle of the dangerous verulus
bacilli. The petri dishes you describe contained several specimens of advanced
stage culture. If the thief is unaware of the nature of his bag, then he could
soon be a dead man."
Following the most cursory investigations into the event of
the previous night and a haphazard study of the laboratory, the porters
concluded that the intruder was probably a student, who, doubtless the worse for
wear, had broken into the laboratory to satisfy some college prank.
"No doubt sirs, the missing dishes served merely as
proof of entry to the assailant's associates" remarked the porter "I've
seen this kind of thing a thousand times, believe me. In a day or so your dishes
will appear mysteriously outside the porter's lodge, when the pranksters get
cold feet over the whole thing. Mark my words we'll soon find them."
"Fair enough then", conceded Dr. Stroud, "though
I must insist that a notice is posted about college as to the dangerous nature
of the culture for fear anyone should come in contact with it."
With that they drew their random investigations to a
conclusion and the Doctors proceeded to remove any further useful evidence by
tidying the laboratory.
Since my visit to Bombay in December '71 to view the solar
eclipse, my interest in astronomy had grown to such an extent that I felt able
to waive my normal dislike of social gatherings and frequently attended the
evening lectures and functions of the Galileo Society. That evening Trevor and I
dined with our fellow members in Trinity. A most fortunate decision on our part
as circumstances transpired. It was our usual habit to take supper in hall at
Sidney and by chance that night a celebration dinner was to be held to mark the
retirement of the questionably renowned theologian Professor Sir Richard
Causley. I myself was none too bothered attending the event, since the man's
work was both ill considered and superficial.
Early the following morning on descending to breakfast we found the kitchens had been closed until further notice. On enquiry it transpired that more than half the members of the high table had suffered food poisoning, allegedly from the beef Wellington, served at the dinner the night before. Professor Causley, whose inflated amour propre was only matched by the size of his girth, was so unwell that it was feared that his retirement might be short lived. Much to my annoyance the Head Butler, Mr. Fenton had suspended the employment of the College chef. A most excellent ambassador for the culinary profession, whose Tournedos Rossini was without equal.
Slipping un noticed into the kitchens I spied the empty
bottles claret which had been served on he high table the night before. Holding
each up to the light I perceived a faint blue discolouration to the dregs and a
heavy build up in sediment.
"Do you think the wine was off?" remarked Trevor.
"Very", I replied. I emptied the remaining
contents of several bottles into a convenient jam jar and secreted it in my
pocket before leaving.
It was then, Watson that circumstances took an unexpected
turn. It was while Trevor and I were standing in the main court, debating the
merits of the poached eggs at Belinda's coffee house, that we are summoned to
the Dean's office where I was presented with a most unusual letter.
"I fear we have been wasting your time Mr. Holmes"
announced the Dean as he pushed the opened envelope across the desk to me. "As
you can see from the note, Mr. Giffard has seen fit to target the college with
his left wing campaigns"
I removed the crumpled paper from the envelope and read the
Your wIllingness to AdMit
the son of A man who has murdered and tortured thousands of
innocent Irish nationals makes it imPossible foR
me to remaIn. My belongingS will be fOrwarded
oN to mE at a lateRdate.
"From his neighbour it appears that he has not been in
his college rooms for three days. Doubtless deciding to leave Cambridge before
any suspicions fell in his direction. I understand from the Senior Tutor that
his work was not up to the required standard and he is probably trying to save
face with his family, who no doubt share his treacherous views."
"No doubt", I replied, studying the note further, "I
would, however, be grateful if I could inspect this letter and the accompanying
envelope more thoroughly."
"You may take the note if you wish, but I see no reason
why it should be of any further interest. Giffard clearly admits guilt by his
own hand and has made it plain that he has no wish to return to Cambridge, now
that we have been made aware of his behaviour. His actions are without
substance, purely designed to cause panic. He obviously has no intentions of
carrying out any of his threats towards the college or its members. No, Mr.
Holmes, this incident is now over and I would appreciate your co-operation in
letting the matter rest."
It is extraordinary, Watson, that so many men of learning do
not possess the insight to recognise the most glaring examples of inconsistency
and deception. I suspect it is connected to their reliance on the written word,
rather than inherent observation. An educated man can pick holes in a written
argument, but will never think to query the paper on which it is written or the
ink which forms the letters. During my College years I followed the research of
the French abbe Hypolite Michon. Both Michon and his compatriot Jules
Crepieux-Jamin developed the school of isolated signs of which I am sure you are
familiar. Their comprehensive graphology thesis relating handwriting elements to
human traits is still unsurpassed. We left the Dean in his state of
disillusionment and stood for a moment in the chapel court so that I might
examine the letter in daylight.
There's no doubt that the signature is genuine", I
remarked, examining the handwriting intently through my magnifying glass, "and
the paper on which it is written is headed by the Giffard arms. But look,
Trevor, this man has tremendous presence of mind! See the letters Giffard has
picked out in italics. The message reads:
See also how the words are irregular and disjointed, as
though written to dictation and how the paper is smudged with grit and dust.
"This is extraordinary, Holmes, should we not alert the
Master and the Dean at once to their false conclusions?" exclaimed Trevor.
"This is not a matter for debate, my friend. I fear the
Dean does not wish to acknowledge the danger under which the college has been
placed. No, Trevor," I continued, "We must proceed on alone, for I am
convinced we are Anthony Giffard's only hope.
Trevor, old fellow. How do you fancy a spot of breaking and
"What ever you say", he replied, somewhat
"I think there is a good deal to be learned from an
inspection of Anthony Giffard's rooms and I fear that the porters may not wish
to assist us in our investigations by supplying us with the necessary keys."
A smile came across my companion's face. I could always rely
on Trevor to assist me in matters of subterfuge, however in retrospect I believe
he revelled more in the danger and excitement of such episodes, than in the
furtherment of our investigations.
This was evident by the manner in which Trevor would smuggle
his terrier in and out of the college on a daily basis in a large carpet bag. On
many occasions I would see him engaging one of the porters in long conversation
while clutching the said cargo. I believe he enjoyed carrying the animal out
right under their noses and in all his time at Sidney they never suspected Rip's
Trevor fetched Rip from his rooms, since I knew his keen
sense of smell could be of invaluable use. Giffard's rooms were up a narrow
flight of stairs next to the chapel. The thin wooden door was firmly bolted with
a simple mortise lock. It must be said that in later years I benefited greatly
from the guidance and instruction of one Walter Hadwen, the infamous Welsh
locksmith and errant safe cracker, prior to his internment at her Majesty's
pleasure. While he was still practising his art on the London South Bank he
passed on numerous tricks of the trade to me, which have proven invaluable on
many occasions. In those early days, though, I was already expert in the use of
skeleton keys and took great pride in a set which my brother Mycroft had
illicitly acquired and most generously donated to further my education. Within a
few minutes we were standing inside Giffard's sitting room.
The set was dark for the curtains were still drawn closed. Giffard's bed was unmade and a pile of papers were strewn on the leather-topped desk. Crumpled examination questions filled the waste paper basket along with a half eaten ham and mustard sandwich. Trevor drew the curtains and the afternoon sunshine flooded the scene of academic chaos. Falling to the carpet I inspected in detail a dusty white trail, that ran from the door to the bureau desk.
"It appears that Giffard has had a visitor", I
remarked, peering at the deposit through my magnifying glass.
"His desk has been forced" exclaimed my companion
as he lifted open the front compartment. I leapt to my feet and examined the
"They made a rough job of it", I replied, "See
how the lock has been hacked out of the wood. And look here!" Amongst the
disordered pile of papers inside the desk was the exact same note paper that
Giffard used to write his last message.
"What a fool I've been" I cried. "Quick
Trevor, there's no time to loose. We must act fast - a man's life is at stake!"
Taking Rip's leash we ran like the wind down the staircase from Giffard's room
and out into the courtyard. Down a flight of narrow stone steps we reached the
entrance to the college cellar. The door was soundly bolted, but together we
forced it off its hinges. The interior was dark and cold. Striking a match
Trevor lit the gas lamp that hang by the open doorway and holding the light at
arms length peered into the gloom. The labyrinth of tunnels stretched far under
the college. Rip pulled on his leash and we proceeded after him into the dusty
gloom, flanked by the heavy wine racks. As we rounded yet another corner in the
twisting passageways Rip suddenly let out a yelp and pulled the leash of my
hand. Pursuing the animal we found him licking the emaciated face of Anthony
Giffard, gagged and bound to a wooden chair. Only half conscious the poor man
whispered "Thank God! You must get out me out of here - we're all in great
danger!" As we turned we perceived a dark figure at the entrance to the
narrow passageway. A shot rang out in the darkness and I heard Trevor utter a
"I've been shot, Oh my God, Holmes!". He fell to
the floor beside the now unconscious Giffard. Growling, Rip dashed towards the
shadowy figure. Another shot rang out, as Rip jumped up and bit the revolver out
of the assailant's hand. The figure turned and fled away down the dark tunnel,
pursued by the bull terrier. I grabbed the revolver and turned to my companion.
"Go after him, Holmes", urged Trevor, " You
can't let him get away!"
I turned and followed the sound of Rip's barking. At the end
of a passageway I found the man cornered by the dog and trapped up against a
tall wine rack.
"Get that animal off me" he cried as he climbed up the wooden stack to avoid the dogs bites. As he climbed further to escape the angered creature the rack began to lean dangerously. Suddenly it tilted alarmingly, toppled and fell to the floor in a thunderous crash. As I lifted the lamp I perceived the lifeless face of Fenton, the Head Butler crushed to death beneath the great weight of one hundred bottles of vintage port. The courageous Rip, who had nimbly darted out of the path of the falling tower tugged the blooded collar of the corpse. In the distance alarmed voices were searching the dark, winding tunnels. As I stood alone in the lamp light I felt a hot, wet trickle flow down over my face. Raising my hand to my head in pain, the light seemed to fade and flicker and I lapsed into unconsciousness.
My next recollection was awaking in the college infirmary. Trevor was sitting a few feet away, his arm in a sling.
"Holmes, old fellow, good to have you back in the land of the living. We were beginning to worry"
"What on earth am I doing hear", I protested, sitting up abruptly.
"Don't over do it", he replied, "You collapsed in the cellars after being cut in the head by flying glass. The doctor removed the shard last night and since then you've been sleeping. They say you've had a close shave with death, but I kept telling them that 55 was an excellent vintage and hasn't killed anyone yet!
"But what of Giffard?" I urged.
"When the college porters heard gun fire they called the police. Shortly after you chased that armed man they found us. I'm afraid I don't know much more, but I believe Giffard was taken to hospital. I understand that an Inspector Babbage has been investigating the incident, but I've seen no sign of him yet.
"We can't waste time here!, we must see this inspector immediately", I protested, "Fetch me my trousers."
My head still bandaged, Trevor and I discharged ourselves from the infirmary, much to the dismay of the duty nurse and made our way swiftly to the master's lodge. Ignoring the protestations of the maid I burst into the Master's study only to be met by Professor Hodgeson, the Dean and an Inspector of the local constabulary.
"Mr. Holmes! What do you think you're doing?"
exclaimed the Dean.
"We were under the impression that you were confined to
the infirmary", retorted the Master, "I am glad to see you have made a
most speedy recovery. Please sit down, gentlemen. Inspector Babbage has
conducted a thorough investigation into this whole affair, and as a result,
Anthony Giffard has been arrested and is now interred at the local prison
infirmary. You may be interested to hear the Inspector's findings, and might
also be able to tie up some of the loose ends which, as yet, seem unexplained.
Inspector, if you would be so kind."
"Thank you Sir", responded the Inspector. "and
might I begin by reminding Mr. Holmes and Mr. Trevor that the detective art is
best left to the experts of her Majesty's Police Force. This whole affair could
have been swiftly and safely dealt with if we had been consulted from the
Thankfully we have our man, mostly as a result of the over
zealous patriotism of your Head Butler Mr. Fenton, who apprehended Giffard and
held him captive in the basement. His actions prevented an enemy to the crown
from escaping away to Ireland which is most commendable, if his methods were
The accident in the cellars, however, was most regrettable. I can only conclude that Mr. Fenton was under the impression that Giffard had escaped from captivity and was bent on murdering his gaoler. I can assure you, however, that I am personally submitting a request to Her Majesty's Honours Committee that a posthumous commendation should be bestowed upon your Head Butler.
"Surely this can't be true", exclaimed Trevor, turning to me with a look of amazement.
"I must applaud you, Inspector for your most diverting explanation of the events of the last few days." I retorted, "A testament to your detective skills and a masterpiece of fiction!"
"You watch your step young man", retorted the Inspector" I was walking the beat before you were born! I don't know what half baked theories you've cooked up, but you could find yourself in deep trouble if you try to make a fool out of me!"
"I can assure you, Inspector, that I have no wish to discredit your reputation, but I fear your conclusions are entirely erroneous.
"Then kindly do us the honour of furthering us with your explanation of the events of the past few days", interjected the Master, before Inspector Babbage could protest further, "What harm can it do, Inspector, to hear the man out? I myself am guilty of involving him in this matter from the outset, but I know he has a keen and logical mind, perhaps he has discovered some valuable information.
"Go on then", conceded the Inspector, "This should be entertaining."
"For the first part", I began, "Anthony Giffard, the man you suspect of treason and who is at present incarcerated in the local gaol, is completely innocent of all charges. The man who sent Cromwell's head to the college along with the threat made against Frederick Linton is none other than your commendable Mr. Fenton, who was crushed to death under a wine stack in the cellars last night. A rather fitting end to such a calculating, ruthless man."
"What nonsense", interrupted the Dean, "Mr. Fenton has been with the college for some thirteen years. His loyalty to Sidney cannot be in question!"
"Loyalty, possibly was his major motive in attempting to prevent the admission of Frederick Linton. You see I believe he loved the college so much that he could not bear to think that the Heads would see fit to admit the son of a man who he considered to be a murderer."
"What possible grudge could Fenton have had against The Governor general?", asked the Master.
"It may surprise you to know that Fenton was born in Ireland. He was the eldest son of a farming family, who made his way up through the domestic profession to the elevated heights of Cambridge College Butler. A position I don't believe he was willing to give up lightly."
"How do you come by this information?", questioned Inspector Babbage.
"College servants are an unlimited source of useful
information concerning the College and its inhabitants."
You may recall that Fenton took a weeks leave mid term last Michaelmas to attend his Mother's funeral. I'm sure if you made inquiries you would find she was a casualty of last years Irish famine. A famine which was largely as a result of the heavy taxation imposed on the population by the Governor General, Sir Douglas Linton. Motive enough, don't you think, Inspector?"
"He may have had a motive, but you can't convict a man without evidence. The threats in the letter seemed without substance?", interjected the Master.
"When the college laboratories were broken in to a few night ago a dangerous bacterial culture was taken, as I am sure you are aware. A peculiar item to remove from a laboratory which contains many drugs most of which might fetch reasonable prices on the streets of Cambridge. But they were of no interest to our thief. I saw a figure in the darkness that night and he knew exactly what he was after.
There are few people who could have known of the existence of the dangerous culture. Members of Doctor Stroud or Doctor Petherton's research groups, perhaps, but none of them would need to break into their own laboratory. No, the thief had to break in at the dead of night, so he must have come by the information by some other means. The Head Butler has free access to the high table at college dinners. Where better then, to overhear such a potentially useful piece of information?
At the college dinner, held the night before last, many members of the high table fell ill. On inspection of the empty claret bottles, left in the college kitchens I found an unusual sediment and discolouration which is indicative of the verrulus baccilli which turns bright blue when exposed to alcohol. You may care to analyse a sample of the wine that I took the day after the dinner.
The only person with access to the wine served on the high table is the Head butler. Fenton injected a minute quantity of the culture into the wine in an attempt to gauge the effect and strength of the poison.
He planned to inject other bottles with a lethal dose of the dangerous bacteria which would then be served on the high table at the celebration dinner to welcome Frederick Linton to Sidney.
"And how, Mr. Holmes, "inquired Inspector Babbage ,"did the Butler acquire the Wilkinson head?"
"Unfortunately for our man, his accomplice in crime was far from intelligent. This was his downfall", I replied, " You may recall that a Miss Fennot was suspected, quite rightly, of the theft. Rather than choosing a pseudonym to gain entry as a servant to the Wilkinson household, the poor girl merely rearranged her own name, Fenton. The thief is none other than the Butler's daughter. I believe she even worked in college for a few years before returning to Ireland to nurse her Grand Mother."
"Yes", exclaimed the Dean, "I remember the girl. Who would have thought it!"
"I suspected Fenton the moment the head appeared at Sidney", I continued, "However, there was little evidence against him. Once the second note arrived I was certain that Giffard had discovered the Butler's plot and had been either killed, or taken prisoner.
I only discovered Giffard's whereabouts when inspecting his college room. The note itself should have put me on to it immediately. It was spotted with dust and dirt, so I naturally assumed that Giffard was held prisoner in an attic room. It was when I observed the sawdust on Giffard's carpet, that I realise he was captive in the college cellars. The exact same sawdust is scattered on the flagstones to prevent the stacked wine barrels from sliding.
Fenton took Giffard's room keys and broke into his bureau desk to take the incriminating headed note paper. He hoped to implicate Giffard in the business and so prevent suspicion falling on him after the deadly dinner.
"It seems clear to me, Inspector", remarked the
Master, turning to now silent detective. Thank you Holmes for your endeavours on
behalf of the college."
That afternoon Anthony Giffard was released from police
custody. Having recovered from the ordeal he confirmed that one night when
returning late to the college he spied Fenton delivering the package. Once news
of the head's arrival became known and the threats which came with it, he
deduced the Butler's intent and confronted him in the wine cellars.
The Head of Oliver Cromwell was returned to the Wilkinsons,
who later, I believe, donated it to the college, where it was buried at a secret
location within the chapel.
Following my friend Holmes's recount of his adventure at
Sidney Sussex I researched the kidnapping further. It transpires that Holmes
received much acclaim from his contemporaries and from the college for solving
the mystery. I now know at least two of Holmes's later clients approached him as
a direct result of the reputation he acquired at Sidney following the incident
of the missing scholar.
In later years the College acknowledged Holmes's great
achievements by awarding him an honorary Doctorate and offered him unlimited
lodgings in his old college rooms. Holmes still stays at Sidney from time to
time when he wishes to carry out research at the University and I believe room
1A is always open to the public in his absence.