[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]
Before relating the events surrounding this unusual case I am going to mention an incident which made both John and myself smile, although not for obvious reasons at the time. It is rather appropriate as while the case involved a sore loser, it started with a sore winner.
Someone is shaking his head at me for some strange reason.
One of the many minor matters in which I had helped out friends of friends was when a few months back there had been the successful case of securing justice against the vile Mr. Robert Gordon, whose persecution of Henriksen's boss Inspector Fraser Macdonald had driven the latter to attempt to take his own life. As a consequence of that case one of my half-brother Campbell's boys, Mr. Chatton Smith who had also been a constable under the inspector, had indeed ended up under the inspector. Seven times the other evening, from what some half-brother that I no longer liked that much insisted on telling me!
Inspector Macdonald had brought Constable Smith to Baker Street just before the start of the Arlesburgh case as the young man had had a mild winter cough and his lover was.... well not exactly panicking. All right he was panicking. I knew that many would consider them the original odd couple; the constable would reach twenty the following year and the inspector would be forty less than twelve months later, but they very clearly loved each other and the inspector was clearly very anxious about his new love. They had come back just over a week later as the cough had not cleared up as fast as the inspector had wished (which I suspected was 'instantly), and John had proscribed a tonic for the young man. He told me later that he had never seen a fellow so totally exhausted, nor had I missed the fact that the muscular inspector had once again remained with the young constable throughout and was visibly uneasy at even John examining him. And the look of gratitude on the young fellow's face when John had recommended reduced 'activity' for a few weeks – he looked like he had won the lottery of life!
The unbridled horror when his lover had asked for a date when 'normal service could resume' – I doubted that even my mother's stories could elicit such a look.
Probably. It was not a theory I had the least intention of testing, that was fir sure!
I was of course happy for both our friends and not the least bit envious that my own relationship with John had not yet reached that stage. Nor did I think repeatedly ahead to the day when I could have him looking as utterly broken as what was left of Constable Smith, who must be finding walking the beat extremely painful these days. The couple's move to Cumberland where the constable had secured a place in the local constabulary was now just weeks away and it was wonderful to see them so happy in their lives, over which as I said I was not the least bit envious.
Not that envious.
It is one of the many wonderful things about John that he does not like to publish any of my mercifully few failed investigations, and even argues that some of them such as the recent Arnsworth Castle affair were in truth successes as I secured justice even if my clients were dissatisfied with the result. This small matter concerning something unique to my own London was one which I was seemingly unable to resolve, although once again I was able to effect justice even if my client was again not one hundred per cent happy with the outcome.
All right, he was about as happy as the Huffington-Brands had been. Which was fair enough as he was also just as unpleasant.
One of the facets of London life is the many liveries and guilds representing the traders who keep the greatest city in the world the greatest city in the world. These are manifold and this story concerns the Worshipful Company of Turners, one of the few liveried organizations who were craftsmen rather than merchants. And the former head of that organization, a Mr. Henry Raddleton, was (unfortunately) my client in this case. He was an unprepossessing fellow of about fifty years of age and very clearly someone who was fond of the sound of his own voice, at least judging from a certain annoying acquaintance's of mine briefly holding up his quick drawing of ear-plugs out of my client's line of sight. I scowled at him for that, however much I may have wished for such aids myself just then.
“It is most irregular, sir!” he snapped. “We recently had our annual election at which I had confidently and justifiably expected to be returned to office as head of our illustrious organization. Indeed there are many who think I would make a most excellent Lord Mayor one day. Instead I was cheated, cheated I tell you. That young scamp Bricemoor won by the narrowest of margins, and I demand justice.”
I thought unhelpfully of John's recent description of one of the plagues of modern society, the 'man-child' who acts like a two-year-old every time they cannot get their own way regardless of their actual age. If I found yet another baby's dummy drawn on someone's notes later then I would be having Words with that someone.
“As I am sure you are aware, Mr. Raddleton”, I said patiently, “I solve crimes for a living. There has evidently not been any crime here.”
“There most definitely has!” he countered. “A crime against democracy.”
“Are you saying that there was fraud in your recent electoral defeat?” I asked.
“I was not defeated!” he said hotly. “That rogue Bricemoor cheated I tell you. He had people vote for him who had no right to vote!”
This was difficult ground, I knew. The recent (1884) Third Reform Act had more or less made the right to vote consistent across most of the constituencies in parliament but doubtless ancient livery companies like the Turners had their own rules, most likely arcane ones.
“What sort of people were those?” John asked.
I thought that our client might well be needing his professional services soon, because he spluttered for nearly half a minute before he could force out the terrible, horrible and utterly dreadful answer to that question:
“Women were never meant to work in our profession”, Mr. Raddleton said disdainfully. “It is quite unsuitable for them as they have neither the talent nor the skills, let alone the fact that a woman's place is in the home.”
“Did not Her Majesty recently praise the work of a female sculptor at an exhibition she visited?” John asked with an innocence I did not believe for one minute. He really was terrible at times.
“That is sculpting, not turning”, our client sniffed. “Howsoever, that rogue Bricemoor discovered that there was no actual ban on women voting as we had had no female members when the rules were drawn up. Regrettably we have somehow acquired some from Lord alone knows where and I was informed that they all turned out to support him.”
“How can you know that?” I challenged. “Was the vote not done by secret ballot?”
He flushed awkwardly.
“My position is that we need to clarify matters as to who is and is not entitled to vote”, he said, “something that I will do shortly.”
“But you lost the election”, John pointed out. ”Vox populi?”
“Bugger vox populi and that sort of crap!” our client said. “I want justice!”
I resolved at that precise moment that justice he would indeed have. To quote Portia from 'The Merchant Of Venice', more than he desiredeth'!
I thought for some little time after our unpleasant visitor's departure before deciding that I would call in the offices of one of my more unusual acquaintances in this matter. John looked at me in alarm as I told him that, especially when I told him that he could not bring his gun to the meeting and demanded to know more as we took a cab westwards.
“His name, for present purposes, is Mr. Harley Quinton”, I said. “He is part-Irish and his background is so obscure that I doubt even Middleton's could flush it out, although the estimable Miss Bradbury has said that in the unlikely event of her ever having a spare week she might set herself it as the ultimate challenge.”
“What does he do?” John asked visibly anxious. It warmed me that he was so concerned for my welfare.
“Very little”, I said. “Which is a good thing.”
He looked at me in confusion.
“He is a man of exceptional talent”, I explained. “If he had been of a criminal inclination then Henriksen and his friends would have had their hands full, or at least fuller than they already are. I would not go so far as to call him lazy; he seems to merely enjoy watching all human life almost as an alien observer might. He might even be one for all that is known about him! I was fortunate that I was able to perform him a small service concerning certain documents that he wished to obtain one time, and he has since returned the favour.”
“So how might he be of assistance?” John asked dubiously.
“One of his favourite targets is gentlemen whom he considers that little bit too pompous”, I said. “I have a feeling that our latest client might well fit the bill, and he will be in a position to tell us more about him. I would rather approach an outsider than the Worshipful Company, which would most certainly get back to Mr. Raddleton in little or no time. Gossip in closed societies moves even faster than in the rest of the world.”
He nodded and we continued on our way, drawing up outside a small detached house in Paddington. John gasped and looked at it in horror.
“Please God tell me that he does not live there!” he exclaimed.
I could understand his reaction. Mr. Quinton had painted the outside of his house in a chequerboard pattern such that no two adjoining squares were the same colour. It was like a gingham tablecloth after both a nervous breakdown and a bad day in the paint factory.
“He lives there”, I sighed. “Just try not to look at it.”
Mr. Harley Quinton's 'dress sense' was, unfortunately, from the same design book as his exterior decorating. I was sure that there was a colour in the paint catalogue that was not on the boiler-suit thing he was wearing – well, fairly sure. That apart he had the appearance of a middle-aged bank clerk of unprepossessing appearance, and I thought wryly of Lady Worplesdon's description of the fellow as 'so ugly, yet so wonderfully full of gossip about the people I do not like!' Including her good self if she had but known it!
“Mr. Holmes, Doctor Watson”, the fellow smiled. “What a pleasant surprise. I shall send down for coffee and cakes – and pie – then you can tell me what brings you here.”
There was probably some social etiquette rule about eating pie outside of a main meal, but the way that John's eyes lit up there was no way I was going to bring it up. And from the smile on his face Mr. Quinton knew that full well! We waited for the food to arrive before I continued, not observing the way that John went straight for the pie.
“I am here about a new client of mine”, I said. “A Mr. Henry Raddleton.”
Mr. Quinton winced as if I had said a bad word.
“I am wagering that it is not the strange young fellow who runs that questionable photographic business out of his Stepney pawn shop”, he said. “And I doubt it is the one down in Deptford with the illegitimate child that he believes his wife does not know about. There seems to be a thing with that name. You must be referring to the person – I shun the word gentleman as he is none – who recently lost his post as head of the Worshipful Company of Turners.”
“I am”, I said. “I wondered what you knew of him. He told me about his recent setback but, of course, I am sure that there is much more to matters.”
“You are right to be as cynical as you so often are”, Mr. Quinton said. “Even if in your line of business that is a safe enough wager; I doubt any of London's turf accountants would have offered odds on it. Mr. Raddleton's difficulties go back some time but have increased considerably over the past year or so.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“He only narrowly won the election last year”, Mr. Quinton said, “when he defeated Mr. Peters by just sixteen votes in slightly over three hundred. It was a frankly horrendous campaign on his part; blackmail, bribery, intimidation, threats – dear Mr. Machiavelli would have been most envious. So would most of our the politicians in Westminster if they thought that they could get away with such behaviour.”
“But he still won”, John said through a mouthful of pie.
We both looked at him. He blushed wonderfully and returned to his pie.
“There was a price for that victory”, Mr. Quinton said with a smile. “There was a suspicion that he or his agents may have tampered with the actual ballot boxes. The Board of the Worshipful Company threatened to force the whole thing to be run again and he would most likely have lost given all the bad publicity, but they accepted a compromise whereby the local church group was to do the official count from then on. His opponent at the time was not that well-liked, his sole positive feature being that he was not Mr. Henry Raddleton. This year he came up against someone rather more likeable, with the predictable result.”
“Surely even a church group could be bribed?” I asked. Mr. Quinton smiled.
“Normally I would agree with that”, he said, “but the Reverend Pius Jones is aptly named. I am sure that when he reaches Heaven even the saints will have to buck their ideas up!”
“Is there anything else you can tell us about Mr. Raddleton?” I asked.
“You mean apart from his bad breath, rampant misogyny, cruelty to animals and mistreatment of his servants?” Mr. Quinton asked. “He does have some form for anti-Semitism and he is most definitely a racist. It is fortunate for him that neither of those group's targets is particularly well-represented among the Turners as of yet. And his wife, most appropriately, was originally called Miss Wilhelmina Goodtime.”
“Why do you say 'appropriately'?” John asked (he had finally finished his pie and was now into the staring mournfully at the empty dish phase). Mr. Quinton smirked.
“Because”, he said, “she was and still is the original good time, had by all!”
I smiled at that and thought for a moment.
“What, in your opinion, will Mr. Raddleton do next?” I asked.
“If London's most famous yet least modest consulting detective is unable to help him”, Mr. Quinton said (quite unfairly in my opinion), “and if the Board refuses his request for a second vote then he will invoke an article in the Company's rules that entitle him to a recount. He will be able to do that because the margin of victory was less than five per cent.”
“Will they grant him a second vote?” I asked.
“Only if he can prove to the Company that the first one was irregular in some way”, Mr. Quinton said. “Most of the Board do not like him and he has not bothered to win their support as he can more easily bribe those further down, as they will do the 'right' thing for less money. Which reminds me, I forgot to add miserliness to his long list of failings.”
“Interesting”, I said. “This will most definitely be a challenge.”
“Democracy so often is”, Mr. Quinton said. “The better the form of government, the more chance that someone will want to ruin it. And by the way doctor, the pie comes from Paston's, a small bakery next to the station. Just so you know where to call on the way back to Baker Street.”
John flushed bright red. And yes, we did call in there.
It was a week later and flaming June was living up (or down) to its name. John opened the 'Times' and frowned when he read the small article I had ringed in the bottom-right corner of the front page.
“Mr. Raddleton will be pleased with you”, he said a little stiffly. “The Worshipful Company of Turners has decided to organize a re-vote for their new Master after reports about outside interference in the first seem to have been confirmed. I am surprised that he is not round here already.”
“He sent a short telegram yesterday acknowledging my services and that his cheque would follow”, I said.
“No thanks, then”, John noted.
“I did not expect any from the likes of him”, I smiled. “But I am sure that he will be round himself one way or another.”
He nodded and returned to the paper, missing my slight smile.
Mr. Raddleton was indeed round the very next day. I had taken the precaution of banking his cheque which had arrived the previous evening, as I had had a feeling he might perhaps not be quite as pleased as he had been on the Sabbath.
He was indeed not quite as pleased as he had been on the Sabbath.
“This is terrible, Mr. Holmes!” he thundered. “I got back after a pleasant day's shooting with Lord Cullercoats yesterday evening and all hell had broken loose! Mr. Roberts who sits on the Board was waiting for me and claimed that my own wife had.... that she had approached him with an end to persuading him to vote for me!”
“What was wrong with that?” I asked innocently. “The wives of those seeking office are not barred from canvassing on their husbands' behalves, surely?”
“It was the way he said she did it”, Mr. Raddleton snapped. “She.... offered certain inducements.”
“She tried to bribe him?” John asked innocently. I kept back a snigger, knowing exactly how the lady in question had gone about her 'persuasion'. Our guest turned even redder.
“Not only is Joscelyn a happily married man, he told me that a few hours later she had tried the same thing with that young whipper-snapper Ponting. As if any woman would ever look twice at him!”
John contrived to make a quick sketch of a pot and a kettle which he held up behind our unwelcome guest. He really was getting worse!
“That is only two votes”, I said soothingly, “and you said in the notes that it is the craftsmen who back you, not so much the Board.”
“That is true”, he admitted, calming down a little. “They all like me.”
More than half of them do not, I thought acidly. But I said nothing. Our visitor could not know that his troubles were only just beginning.
The following day three more Board members were approached by a lady describing herself as Mrs. Raddleton who made it clear that she would do anything to get their votes. Fortunately Mr. Raddleton was kept busy dashing around trying to put out the fires that my actress friend had started. The fact that his wife was actually down a male brothel in the East End for a couple of days while supposedly visiting a friend in Shoeburyness would make it somewhat difficult for her to prove any different.
On Wednesday Mr. Raddleton himself was back in Baker Street.
“I want action!” he demanded. “The Company newsletter has come out with the most outrageous slur on my good name!”
“What kind of slur?” I inquired.
“They say that I am trying to win my rightful post back by debarring anyone of non-English stock!” he snorted. “I did say in an interview that we should obviously not allow foreigners in, but they deliberately misinterpreted me!”
“What precisely did you say, sir?” I asked patiently. “I must have the exact words before I can advise you.”
He thought for a moment.
“I think I said no darkies or their ilk”, he said sullenly. “And that we should be like Noah's Ark in the Bible, kicking out the unclean beasts.”
I sighed heavily.
“That was, I am afraid, most unwise on your part.”
“Why?” he demanded.
“Because any half-decent lawyer will be able to show that you were thereby invoking the Biblical definition of that fateful word 'ilk'”, I said. “In ancient times and right through to the Reformation it meant anything up to nine degrees of separation, within which marriage was prohibited unless by explicit permission of the head of the Church.”
He looked at me in confusion.
“So?” he asked.
“So”, I said, “you have therefore implied that any member of your organization who has a foreign ancestor up to nine generations back should not be allowed to vote. That, if my calculations are correct, covers a potential seven hundred plus people in each case, taking us roughly back to the English Civil War. And given the cosmopolitan nature of our city, that bar would affect nearly all of those entitled to vote.”
He stared at me in horror.
“They cannot possibly think that I meant that!” he protested.
“A disobliging lawyer could make sure that the law was interpreted that way”, I said heavily. “The law is but words, after all. This is bad, very bad. Any Company member who has a foreign antecedent in the past two centuries would think that you are trying to deny them their right to vote.”
“No-one would ever think that!” he said hotly.
“They all bloody well think that!”
It was Thursday and a special edition of the Company newsletter had implied exactly what I had foretold. Mr. Raddleton was seething. I thought quietly that his cheque would have cleared today, which was just as well.
We can only hope that not everyone reads the newsletter”, I said. “Or the 'Times'.
Even his ruddy complexion went pale.
“What do you mean, the 'Times'>?” he demanded.
I handed him the newspaper.
“This morning Mrs. Grendon petitioned for a divorce from her husband.”
He looked at me in confusion.
“Ted's wife?” he asked. “I knew that they were having problems but he seemed happy enough.”
“He might well be”, I said. “In the petition she has named a woman who – and she has evidence to support this claim – has been seeing her husband for some time. Your own wife!”
He stared at me in horror.
“And there is worse, I am afraid”, I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. “Mrs. Grendon's doctor says that she has picked up a disease from her husband's, ahem, 'friend' which could only have been transmitted sexually – and that they know that your wife has it too!”
He stared at me in horror. I almost felt sorry for him.
Almost. As in nowhere near.
The following Sunday John and I went to St. Faith's church where, after the mid-day service, the votes from the previous day's election for the new Master of the Worshipful Company of Turners was being held. The Reverend Pius Jones was indeed like his name, and I did not smirk when John visibly straightened up as he was in receipt of that clerical stare.
I did not smirk as I was doing exactly the same.
There were only four large ballot boxes to open and representatives of both candidates were present. Mr. Raddleton had I knew tried desperately to persuade the Board to allow a third candidate to stand in the hope of splitting the vote against him but to no avail, and as the piles of counted papers mounted up it was clear that one was just a bit higher than the other. There were about three hundred and fifty members eligible to vote and I expected turnout to be high given all that had happened. Mr. Bricemoor, my client's rival, was a bluff blond fellow in his late forties whose smile I watched grow as the count proceeded. With good reason.
Finally the vicar stood up to announce the result:
“Mr. Jack Bricemoor, three hundred and six votes or 95.6%.”
“Mr. Henry Raddleton, fourteen votes or 4.4%.”
“Turnout was 87.6% and there were three spoilt papers. Mr. Jack Bricemoor wins by two hundred and ninety-two votes or 91.2%.”
My client had already left. John smiled at me.
“Technically I failed in this case”, I pointed out. “Mr. Raddleton did not get what he wanted.”
“No”, he agreed, “but he definitely got what he deserved! A trip to that restaurant that serves all-day bacon breakfasts?”
As I said, I knew that there was a reason I kept him around.