The Case of The Clock Without Hands.
Edward Anderson - with respects to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - © MMVII
Reluctantly Arthur Conan Doyle left the hackney carriage, and drove himself into the drifting rain and torturous wind. He had only a few yards to walk up the steps of an impressive building boasting a large brass plate. Hanging on to his hat he observed the flourished name of Azonic British Mercantile Ships Bank.
Conan noticed the wind push against the solid oak door as it opened, “Mr Doyle you are expected,” said a statuesque butler turning to lead the way.
In an immense room elaborated by wooden ships and brass bells sat two gentlemen. Conan christened them Wealth and Dignity to amuse himself while he took in the surrounds. Wealth rose to greet him with a firm handshake.
“No introduction is necessary by you Sir,” he said in sincerity. Turning to Dignity he added,“ My friend and I agree we should cut to the chase.” Standing erect in an impressive posture he continued, “ We have a case that may interest you sir and challenge your investigative powers.”
Conan removing his wet coat replied. ”I am not a detective just a blunt author of one.” He looked at the pair hoping for signs of agreement, then added. “How often I have to explain this to the correspondents and editors, who do not seem to comprehend”
Dignity nodded his grey head and said, “we have read of the investigative powers of Sherlock Holmes knowing full well it is fiction. But we have also heard you have taken part in detective work, have you not?”
“Certainly, in a few cases at the invite of the Police, but I have only helped and have not joined in the apprehension of a criminal - .” Conan knew he had trapped himself and had no choice but to ask the reason for this meeting.
“ As you can see we deal in the shipping of goods to make profits which I’m sure you understand is not without risk.” Dignity said looking at Conrad and then his partner.
The wind was rattling the large Georgian windows and Conan appreciating this looked to a large leather chair. He leaned back in comfort as he always appreciated a good tale
Dignity noted his relaxed pose and entered into the reason for his being called upon.
“The Mary Celeste in 1872 was found drifting with its cargo of alcohol off the coast of Portugal. The ship was salvaged by the crew of the De Gratia but they only received a fraction of its total worth. This was due to the Admiralty Boards suspicion of foul play and possibly an insurance scam. The only contemporary clue is an American boasting he was a crew member.
I suspect you may be tempted to write on this subject later Mr Doyle, your investigations may prove to be profitable."
Conan imagined how Sherlock would respond and replied, “We will unravel all in due course.”
He stood up and put on his coat before placing a still very wet hat on a warm head. “Pease consider my humble self at your disposal to solve the mystery if at all possible ” “
I’m sure you can Sherlo--- I mean of course you can Mr Doyle.” As Conan left the Merchant Company he mumbled to himself, “better not tell the wife, she would not be best pleased as she does not like me involved in dangerous projects.” Still, he felt the thrill of hunt and pushed any uncertainly behind while thinking of a very profitable book. He called a cab from across the way to take him home and nearly gave his address as Baker Street.
That night Conan slipped out of his house wearing a long doctors coat and on his head he placed his old Deer Stalker. It had been given to him at the reading of his book A Study in Scarlet. Conan looked on the Deer Stalker as his thinking cap, his wife looked in it as a hat that pointed both ways.
Not being a frequent visitor to the dock area he was forced to follow the instructions given by a helpful Constable. He made his way carefully through narrow alleys and steep inclines. Streetlights hissed producing a blue radiance and long ghostly shadows.
Just at the stroke of midnight he arrived at ‘The Tar Trousers.’ which was adjacent to the dark uninviting Thames river.
Feeling like Sherlock Holmes, Conan plunged into a wall of smoke and noise. Trying to looking as impressive as possible he lifted his head to look down on the crowd. Some glanced his way, most were busy indulging in heavy drinking. Pushing and shoving his way to the busy bar he caused a tray of ale to be over turned. Conan realising he was in the wrong shouted “ The next drink is on me.” Unfortunately the bar was full of smoke and the customers assumed it meant them and rushed to the bar.
The Inn keeper noticed the Deer Stalker and could not resist calling loudly to his customers.
“Gentlemen I pray your attention to a distinguished visitor Mr Sherlock Holmes.” Conan now realised his stories were well known in all quarters. He willingly indulged in the cheers of appreciation.
“ You are in need of liquid refreshment my dear Holmes,” a wag shouted, then another joined “Elementary, but you forgot Watson.” The tension flowed out of Conan and he joined in the banter.
“Watson is busy on a case of fine whisky,” he said. adding to hilarity. Leaning over the bar to pay the Inn keeper, he asked. “Have you by chance seen an American who is free with his money and talk? ”
“ Afraid my dear Sherlock that is information I cannot give freely.” pointing to Conan’s rapidly depleting wallet. Conan not wishing to appear unworldly handed over a five pound note. “Try the morgue sir.” Whispered the Innkeeper before vanishing.
There was only one thing for it and that was a visit to his old friend Dr Joseph Bell. Bell was holidaying in London on a well deserved break from forensics at Edinburgh University. Stuffing the Deer Stalker in his pocket Conan knocked on the door of the hotel room.
Dr Bell answered immediately and ushered Conan in to a lavish warm room “I expect you are about to ask a question on forensics Dr Doyle, like the old days when you were a simple student.”
Bell asked smelling the beer and smoke from his visitors coat. Conan noticed this and said in defence “This time I’m not drunk as a student doctor.” Explaining in detail the events of the case he had been given by the Merchant Bankers, he implored Bell to use his influence and take him to the local morgue to enquire on the intake of recent bodies.
“Surely sir and prompt to be at you service,” an agreeing Dr Bell answered hurrying to put on a coat.
The poor man was still in his wet cloths lying on the slab of cold marble.
Dr Bell ran his intelligent and instinctive hands over the body and began to mumble his findings. “ Recently dispatched by strangulation, put up a fight he evidently lost, blood on the knuckles, foreign hair in a tight dead mans grasp, got that Holmes--I mean, Conan.” Undoing the grasp of the hand in the hope of finding clues a silver albatross dropped on the marble table.
Dr Bell and Conan walked through the soft rain exchanging a word or two. “You should follow the principles of James McLevy and add up the clues, subtracting the negative and deduce from the relative.” suggested Dr Bell.
“What?” said a confused Conan.
The next day Conan purely by chance run into his old friend Robert Louis Stevenson while taking a walk in the park. Robert listened to the tale and appeared interested and recommended the use of a cool glass of ale or two.
Robert while lifting his glass, said “ I remember something about the Mary Celeste, the strangest thing was not just the lack of the crew, but the harmonium on board.”
“The Captains wife insisted on that," answered Conan, beginning to feel the effect of the strong ale.
“ A nagging wife on an Atlantic crossing would drive any one crazy especially one with a harmonium.”
Robert said thinking aloud. “And don’t forget the upside down clock and wet beds” slurred Conan.
Not to be out done Robert added,” The Captain's sword was covered in blood and hid under the bed.”
Conan thought about it and said convincingly, “ Sea charts were left behind and the compass was knocked about a bit.”
Robert looked at the array of empty glasses before saying “ Someone cut the rope of the small boat with an axe to launch it, seem as if that person was in a hell of a hurry. "
“Time gentlemen please,” a well built barman cried as he took both of the conversationalists by the scruff of the neck. They were surprised to find themselves on the pavement under a moon that outshone the lamplights.
Conan was equally surprised he was still alive amid a waving world and beating head, when his wife Jean woke him next morning. For all he cared he could have been in outer Mongolia or sinking to the bottom of the sea.
“You have the company of a magician awaiting you presence.” said a happy and annoyingly fresh Jean. “Tell him to play down the street I’m not in the mood for music, its too early,” simpered the noted author.
“Please none of you nonsense Conan it is no other than Houdini,” Jean cheerily pointed out as she left the bed room.
Breakfast with Houdini cheered him up and Conan began to unravel the salient points of the story of the albatross and the Supposed Insurance scams.
“Seems to me you need a detective, or ask your chauffer” said Houdini. “Do one of your vanishing tricks will you, unless you have something constructive to say,” Conan, now complete sober.
“Could I see the albatross please,” asked Houdini. The silver albatross was placed on a desk and Houdini scrutinised it with a magnifying glass, then placed his hand on it for a minute.
"I feel it is a word or place beginning with S".
They both examined the silver bird over and over getting nowhere till Jean Conan’s wife strolled into the room. She had been listening with interest and hear them repeating the letter S and of an insurance fraud, shouted, “Sarah, the Captains wife.”
“Sarah was the Captains second wife and much younger than him," Jean chirpily said in the middle of doing six things at once, as only a woman can do. Conan shuffled his feet in annoyance and was about to tell them he was the detective, but changed his mind.
Conan looking at the ceiling hoping for an answer, inspired he said, “There must be someone who knows a thing or two about wooden ships?” .
“ Ah! Stevenson knows about boats, he has just finished a book on the adventures on the Hispaniola.” Said Jean.
Robert Louis Stevenson caught up with the mystery and advised Conan to employ a detective. “What about the Admiralty Court,” Houdini asked.
Conan relied sullenly, “Jean knows it all and will no doubt tell you, she thinks my head is a vacant lot.”
The famous County Antrim detective James Mc Levy of Edinburgh had a son working in London, known in sleuth circles as Levy the listener.
“Could there be a connection between The Captains wife and a jealous rival?” Levy asked himself after hearing some of the facts.
Six long days past before they heard from Listener Levy. Then he requested Conan, Jean, Joseph Bell and Houdini to appear at the Public House the ‘Tarry Trousers.’ All the way Conan puzzled over Levy’s request for his wife to come along. He imagined her summing up the case in front of a large gathering of reporters and Police and receiving thunderous applause from the audience. He saw the next days News in black large print, ‘Arthur Conan Doyle outwitted by his wife again..
To bring himself back to reality he promised not to allow a drop of the water of life to pass his lips.
In the Barroom it was wild and smoky full of loud laughing and singing amid the constant clink of glasses. The manager had diligently prepared everything with a large round table in an alcove.
They sat around the table looking for all the world out of place, like nuns in a naturist camp on Baska’s Beach.
Jean asked them to put their heads together in the hope of finding a solution before Listener arrived. A séance may help, advised Conan looking for support. They both knew Houdini would react to the request knowing his thoughts on the subject.
“Charlatans every one of the so called b------.” an enraged Houdini shouted.
"We have to explore every avenue,” Bell said with authority and to prove it slammed the table.
They were taken aback by Bell's actions and Houdini agreed to at least see it out. In the noisy barroom the group of friends held hands and Jean called for spiritual assistance. Immediately the drunken mob began making ghostly shrieks in imitation. The noise became a crescendo of talented auditory stars. Till, without warning and as sudden as a clap of thunder as voice rose from nowhere. It began as a distinct noise in the middle of the din and soon became dominant.
Everyone looked about right and left and under seats and tables to find the owner of this sound. A whirl of smoke and an orange light appeared at the centre of the round table. A part of the smoke changed into a hand with a pointed finger that circumnavigated the room.
Houdini, was taken aback and fell off his stool. He stood up and shouted, “ Show yourself you crooks and criminals.” The Inn customers thinking he was referring to them began knocking people over as the barroom emptied in a flurry of curses and running feet.
Dr Bell was still looking at the smoke when a drawn curtain revealed a Praxinoscope and an operator aiming his instrument at the pall of smoke over the centre of the table where it had accumulated en mass.
“Sorry,” apologised Stevenson, “I just wanted to tease you Houdini, I didn’t realise you would cause a riot.”
Levy the Listener came in throwing off his cape in a theatrical fashion and stood a few feet away from the assembly, his arms akimbo.
“Please let us indulge ourselves for a minute.” He begged, holding out his hands like a maestro. “We have to look at the events and probabilities of the Mary Celeste mystery.”
There were 1,700 barrels of wood alcohol on board the Mary Celeste at the beginning of the voyage worth $34,000. Eleven were found to have been opened at the end of the 600 mile unmanned sail.
The Captain Benjamin Biggs and his wife Sarah and his daughter Sophie and the crew had vanished. The ship was last reported off the coast of Santa Maria Island on the 25th of November and showing in the log 0800 and the charts in the mates cabin for the day before.
“Assuming all that was true the ship must have been off the coast of Santa Maria during the night of the 24th. Which gave an ideal opportunity to sell some alcohol to the islanders and make a handsome profit. The crew were deemed as good seamen and no criminal records or misdemeanours found. It is possible with a daily consumption of alcohol and an attack of yellow jack (some times known as the American disease) things began to go wrong. Sarah would have played her harmonium frequently and would have been enjoyable at the beginning of the voyage, but later may have annoyed members of the crew."
What we are certain of is a struggle took place and the Captain was forced to use his sword. Blood stains were found at the tip of the blade. The clock was knocked upside down losing its hands and the compass damaged. About three feet of water was below decks, which could have been handled by the two pumps, this in itself is strange. Some charts were removed and navigational equipment as well. From this I can only assume the Captain had gathered the appropriate charts and navigational instruments before leaving the ship.”
Jean, Conan’s wife added. “An imprint of a child was found on a wet bed and toys and cloths undisturbed. Plenty food all uncooked. Therefore the incident probable happened at night. The crew was unprepared for whatever it was. The harmonium was in perfect condition and still in place, the music sheets unruffled. Leaving the ship was a hurried affair. In the panic they left important survival items such as food and waterproof clothing."
"Large waves and tropical storms frequent that sea area and have capsized many a large vessel. This may explain the three and a half feet of water below decks. Some endeavour was made to batten down the hatches, this is the usual preparation for a storm. I can only assume a prior warning of an oncoming squall. The attempts were cut short and the reminder of the hatches windows and skylight were open.
Loose barrels ran across the decks and the compass badly damaged seems to indicate a sudden battering. No one had time to use the pumps nor check the sea cocks nor to wait for the storm to abate. "
Finally a rope was cut to release one of the boats by an axe as deep cuts were apparent on the ships side.”
Jean waited a moment for them to digest her theories then proceeded. “ I suspect at least one man stayed aboard to steer the ship for most of that 600 miles. It is probable he had Yellow Jack and knew his end was near, when the time came he threw himself over board. "
"I rest my case.” said a satisfied Jean. They all cheered her warmly Conan had to admit she was bright.
Then he thought of some thing that she had forgotten. “Wait a moment Madam what of the silver albatross?” Jean smiled at her husband and elucidated. “ A few days before sailing she and her husband and Captain Morehouse of the ship De Gratia had dined together. He gave Sarah the silver albatross as a parting gift.”
“It was probably Oliver Deveau the first mate of the De Gratia, that found the sliver albatross and may have blackmailed Captain Morehouse. As you know the Admiralty Salvage Board were suspicious of the De Gratia crew allotting them portion of the salvage money. They may have been involved in other scams.”
Levy took over, “Added to this we know that in the following year of the Mary Celeste incident two life boats were found off the coast of Spain. They held six bodies and an American flag."
“The albatross is the only lead we have. This forced me into using the illicit skills of Conan’s chauffeur Jules Bonnot of the famous Bonnot French gang. He has an unsurpassed knowledge of the criminal European underground.. This leads us to today’s events.”
Levy settling in his subject. “With the help of Bonnot we found that the man murdered was the employee of the Directors of the Azonic British Mercantile Ships Bank. Which on of the two directors I do not know, so we should go to their premises and try to find out.”
Levy who led them to the offices of the Bank and requested the presence of the two Directors. Levy took full command and introduced himself, pointing out the reason for the visit and their possible involvement. Both Directors appeared distracted and were silent to the point of submission.
“Before we go any further,” Jean interjected, “Frederick Solly Flood Queen Victoria’s Advocate believed the crew to be drunk on alcohol. An accusation never proven. Although the dates marked on the Mary Celeste first mates report were different from those of the De Gratia, this is easily explained. A standard time did not exist in 1872 as GMT was not adopted world wide until 1884. Several stories of survivors are banded, some even silly.”
“For example, the Captain and the first mate swimming around the ship in a race and being attacked by sharks. The crew and passengers who had been watching were thrown overboard by a freak wave."
"The only sharks I could imagine are those who attempt Insurance frauds. The ship was run aground twelve years later for that purpose on a sand bank in Haiti. The scam did not work, then as before."
"The silver albatross was appropriated by a member of the De Gratia crew and may have changed hands several times. So you see gentlemen no one is to blame, as no one will ever know the reason for a sound sailing ship to be abandoned by her hands mid ocean. "
“It is like asking the time on the Mary Celeste clock, upsides down and without hands. The Directors of the Bank are innocent of any misdemeanour and deserve a hearty thanks for introducing us to a story my husband will write as soon as he gets home."
They halted an omnibus and Conan instructed the driver, “221B Baker St.” Jean corrected, “Just around the corner please driver.” Then she looked pensively at Conan and whispered in his ear. “
The Police have a new case its called ‘The Riddle of the Colourful Death,’ have you been invited to solve it my dear?”