Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Knitware of the Baskervilles

Stories about large wild animals roaming around the British countryside crop up regularly. Monsters in lochs. Big cats in Surrey and the "Beast of Bodmin". And, as we move into what they used to call the "silly season" (but is now so stuffed with hard news we need a new name), so we have yet another mysterious and unexplained sighting that has left the boffins baffled. Step forward the elusive and legendary big grey feline of Horsham:-

Pic: Sky News

Only this one did not fool the experts for very long. No sooner were the fine lads of the West Sussex police despatched to investigate than the mere switching on the headlights of their car to the animal in question revealed a large and utterly inert soft toy clinging to the bench for dear life.

End of story? Not in these parts, buster. Just the beginning ....

1. A Visitor from Devon
Mr Sherlock Holmes and I had barely settled down to our landlady's excellent breakfast of scrambled eggs and devilled kidneys before there was a frantic knocking on our door. Before Mrs Hudson could announce him, a young man dressed in country tweeds burst into our room.
"Mr Holmes, you must help me, sir. I have rushed up from Dartmoor by the milk train to seek your advice. My good friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, who has recently inherited the family estates at Baskerville Hall, was seen in the village charity shop - buying a knitted dog""
My friend rose, pale and brows knit in thought.
"Watson, we shall pack at once - to Dartmoor!"

2. A Warning
We arrived in Dartmoor as the sun was sinking below the sinister outline of the granite tors that overlooked Baskerville Hall. Our visitor - who had announced himself as the local GP Dr Mortimer - stared up at the grim rocks.
"All the evil comes from there, Mr Holmes. There is an ancient legend that the fluffy cats and the teddy bears so beloved by our children do come to life at the call of those with the knowledge and carry out their master's fell wishes"
Even as we paled there was heard a shrill cry as of some carrion bird. Holmes blenched.
"Have you your service revolver to hand, Watson? I fear we may need it before this night is out".

3. The Baronet
Sir Charles was waiting for us in the great hall. Even his naturally ruddy complexion was an unnatural white.
"Mr Holmes, thank you for coming. I laughed at Mortimer's fears about the soft toys but now - I fear the diabolical curse that hangs over this house will shortly alight - upon me!"
I paled. "What can it all mean, Holmes?"
"Courage, Watson" said my friend, looking alertly around "We shall seek out the root of this mystery and it shall have no supernatural cause, believe me. Now then, Sir Charles, tell me about the charity shop at which you purchase these totems?"
"What Mr Stapleton's Emporium? It is the most charming of  establishments and I frequent it with much delight"
"It is as I feared" said Holmes "Sir Charles, you must, on no account, venture out to that shop tonight. You are in peril of your life"
"Indeed, I shall do as you say" stammered the baronet "But surely you will permit me one last indulgence, one final teddy bear to complete my set"
"Not one" Holmes affirmed "Watson, remain here whilst I visit our friend Stapleton".

4. The Peril on the Moor
I watched the grey mist curl down from the menacing tors and realised, with a start, that Sir Charles had slipped quietly out into the night whilst I was thus dreaming. I followed at once, with Dr Mortimer close behind and we raced into the darkening gardens. At once a great scream shocked us to our very marrows and we reached the thick hedges at the boundary of the Hall to find a huddled form slumped to the ground with a hideous bright yellow plastic doll over his face.
"Just in time Watson" It was my friend, emerging from the moor, as pale as ever I had seen him "This is that devil Stapleton's doing. He is out there now, thinking himself safe, but we shall have him yet. See to Sir Charles" and he wheeled about and was gone. I found that the baronet was not dead, as I had feared, but merely stunned. Whilst Dr Mortimer and I assisted him back to the Hall we heard one more terrifying scream.
"My God"  I gasped, turning white "Is it Holmes ...has he...?"
"I am safe Watson" and my friend emerged from the gardens to join us, as blenched and white-faced as any man could be "We grappled on the edge of the mire. He ran off, dropping a Sonic the Hedgehog toy and fell into the depths of the swamp. He is gone and with him his villainous scheme to so bemuse our good friend here with bears and cats and dainty mice and the like that surely the baronetcy - for he was a distant relation - must fall into his grasp as Sir Charles went utterly and irretrievably mad. Now all that remains is to seize his stock-in-trade and burn the lot"
"Mr Holmes, thank you" It was Sir Charles, struggling to his feet "I owe you my life."
"Eschew the soft toys from henceforth" admonished my friend, gently wagging his finger
The baronet paled. "I shall, Mr Holmes. I shall"

The End.

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