Story Excerpts

Noble_Bachelor_Jason-C-Eckhardt
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt

The Noble Bachelor

by Terence Faherty

EDITOR’S NOTE

When notebooks of Dr. John H. Watson were discovered, containing first drafts of the earliest of his immortal short stories, one of the volumes was found to be water damaged. The material in this notebook was unreadable, and it was feared it would remain so. However, using imaging techniques developed to recover a treatise of Aristotle’s that had been overlaid by a medieval religious text, the pages have been deciphered. As a result, “The Noble Bachelor” can now be presented to the public. It shares with the earlier first drafts in this series a certain informality with respect to Sherlock Holmes’s speech and behavior, one source of a heated debate regarding the notebooks’ authenticity. There is also a reference to Holmes’s musical tastes that is certain to spark further controversy. (As before, Watson’s notes and asides to himself are inserted in the text in parentheses.) 

The scandal surrounding Lord Strachan’s brief but eventful marriage has faded from the public’s equally brief memory, but not from my own, as it occurred only weeks before the black (bright) day of my own nuptials. I was still rooming with Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street, and it was to those hallowed rooms that he returned one afternoon following his usual round of the pubs (constitutional? postprandial stroll?). I’d stayed indoors, for the threat of rain had stirred my old Afghan wounds, received when a jezail bullet had found me while I was taking private yoga instruction from a young native woman in my tent, the bullet passing through my leg and lodging in my shoulder due to the advanced position we (I) had achieved. (Strike this; Mary is sure to misconstrue.)

“You’ve gotten a letter from a toff,” I remarked and handed him an envelope of the finest quality. “A pleasant change from your usual correspondence.”

“If the letter isn’t ‘postage due,’ it’s a pleasant change from my usual correspondence,” Holmes replied with a weary smile. “Even so, if this is a wedding invitation, it goes straight onto the fire. I’ve bought my last silver fish slice.”

He broke the heavy wax seal, glanced over the enclosure, and whistled.

“Not a wedding invitation?” I asked.

“Not exactly.”

“But from a prospective client?”

“One with blood that’s bluer than Ellen Terry’s eyes.”

“Congratulations!”

“I promise you, Watson, that a client’s social weight is of far less importance to me than the heft of his pocketbook. Give me a well-heeled baker over an impecunious baron any day. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is a capital mistake to judge a client’s wherewithal before you’ve made discreet inquiries at his bank.

“And speaking of discreet inquiries, have you come across any mention in the press of my correspondent, Lord Strachan, and his recent wedding?” READ MORE

 

 

Elephants_Mark-Evan-WalkerArt by Jason C. Eckhardt

There Are No Elephants in Peru

by Margaret Maron

Victoria Hoyt Gardner was as delicate as her china: very thin, very old, very expensive.

Seated in a massive carved armchair beneath the head of a snarling jaguar, she poured tea from an antique silver pot and said, “You shatter all my preconceptions, Dr. Webster. I expected an anthropologist as old and dried up as myself and here you are so young and pretty.”

Her face had appeared in too many society pages and her family was too much a part of Carlisle College’s history for me not to have an accurate impression of her.

“My doctorate’s in archaeology,” I said as I took the fragile cup she offered.

Biff Oliphant gave me a glare that was the visual equivalent of a sharp kick to the shins. “Archaeology, anthropology, all those -ologies confuse me too,” he chuckled.

Biff is Vice President of Institutional Advancement. He is not Carlisle College’s gift to academia, but he is very good at what he does, which is getting blood from turnips. Or, as Biff himself describes it, his job is to seek out wealthy individuals and corporations and “present them with opportunities for giving.”

Ever since Mrs. Gardner returned to the area last autumn and opened up the old Hoyt mansion that abuts the campus, Biff has tried to interest her in renewing her family’s past financial ties to the college, a nondenominational school here in Raleigh. From where we sat, we could look out through French doors to the 1947 Hoyt Golf Course given by her father. Beyond are the 1898 Hoyt Chapel and a 1923 Hoyt Dormitory, both endowed by her grandfather. Biff had burst into my office yesterday afternoon almost giddy with excitement because he thought Mrs. Gardner might donate a Hoyt-Gardner wing to the library.

Ordinarily, he considers me too socially unreliable to be taken along on a fund-raising mission, but Mrs. Gardner had specifically asked for someone in anthropology, which is how I came to be sipping tea in this wood-paneled hall surrounded by the stuffed heads of many animals now on the world’s endangered-species list.

“Carlisle College isn’t large enough to support separate departments, so anthropology and archaeology are lumped together in the history department and I get to teach both,” I explained.

“Dr. Webster is too modest,” Biff said heartily. “She’s an authority on Aztecs and her courses always close out. Very popular.”

Aztecs are Johnny-come-latelies compared to the Olmecs, my particular specialty, but Biff muddles all pre-Columbian cultures and I’ve quit being outraged by administrative ignorance. Small private colleges usually teeter too near the edge of financial insolvency to afford the luxury of intellectual administrators and Carlisle was no exception to this general rule. After all, someone has to raise money for salaries, Xerox machines, and red tape.

While the pleasantries continued, I studied our hostess’s face. READ MORE