The Mystery of the Missing Pawn
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Mystery of the Missing Pawn
An Adventure of Herlock Shomes.
(With apologies to Sir A. Conan Doyle and the "Strand Magazine.")
It was a dreary November evening. Rain was falling outside, and to the best of my recollection there was a mist abroad, but on that point I am a trifle hazy. Herlock Shomes was seated in his favourite chair with his violin under his chin playing snatches from the Merry Widow. I was seated on the floor, Shomes having the day before sawn one of the legs off my chair to use as a life preserver.
We had been sitting in silence, save for occasional moans from Shomes' violin, when my companion suddenly broke it (the silence I mean — not the violin).
"Watson," said he, "I perceive you have been to the Post Office this afternoon."
"My dear fellow," I exclaimed, "how could you possibly know that?"
"An airy trifle," answered he, waving his bow in dangerous proximity to my eye. "You received a bill from your tailor this morning, with an intimation that unless a remittance was immediately forthcoming certain unpleasant things would occur. A worried look has been in evidence on your features ever since the arrival of that missive until about an hour ago, when you suddenly grabbed the bill, your hat and coat, and disappeared out of the door, to return in twenty minutes with an expression of relief on your face, your watch chain dangling from your button-hole minus the watch, and a money order counterfoil in your hand. The deduction was obvious."
"You are a wizard," I said.
"A wizard indeed," said Shomes in derision. "And pray what is a wizard?"
"One who wizzes," I replied facetiously, "and — I got no further, for a heavy dictionary whizzed across the room with unerring aim, and struck me on the side of the head. I jumped up intending to show Shomes the latest thing in jui jitsu, when the front door bell rang.
"Some one for me, Watson," said Shomes.
He was right, for the next minute our landlady was ushering into the room a portly individual with a nose, the hue of which suggested liquids stronger than water.
"Which is Mr. Shomes, the great detective?" asked our visitor.
"That's me," replied Shomes, with becoming modesty. "Please take a seat."
The new comer having looked round in vain for a chair, seated himself on the table.
"You wish to consult me professionally?" said Shomes.
The man on the table having signified assent, Shomes leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and placed his fingertips together. "Please let me have full particulars of your case," said he.
"My name is Edwin Basker, of Basket Hall," commenced our visitor, "and I am a Chess player. I recently won the championship of Bermondsey, which hundreds of other players have endeavoured to wrest from me. Now, like most great people, I have my fads and idiosyncrasies. I always like to play with my own chessmen. I cannot explain why, but when I play with my own set of chessmen I win, and when I play with any one else's I lose. Whenever I go to the Club, I always take my own set with me. Of course the other players laugh at me, and sometimes nasty things are said about it ; indeed, on one occasion, I found one member of the club minutely examining my pieces to see if there was any mechanism concealed in them. Well, recently my championship has been seriously challenged, and you have no doubt seen in the papers that a match has been arranged for the Championship of Bermondsey, between myself and a player named Dan Kowski. Of course, in the ordinary way, there could be no doubt of the result of the match, but, Mr. Shomes, there is some underhand work going on. One of the pawns from my set of men has disappeared, and the match commences to-morrow. I cannot play without my own set of men, and to place an odd man on the board to make up the set would equally spoil my play. I could not bear the sight of a different shaped and sized piece amongst my own lovely pieces. It would be inartistic, and my soul would rebel against it. Will you try to trace and recover the missing pawn for me? If you will do this, you have but to name your own reward. I will even give you a blank cheque to fill in for any sum you please, Mr. Shomes."
"As to filling in a blank cheque," said Shomes, "that would depend on how much you have in the bank."
"I implore you to help me, Mr. Shomes," said Basker, passing over Shomes' remark.
"Well, Mr. Basker, your case interests me, and I shall be happy to help you to recover your property. I think we had first better visit the scene of the crime."
"Certainly, Mr. Shomes. I have a taxi outside."
"Then we can go at once. Put on your coat, Watson," said Shomes.
A half hour's ride brought us to Basker Hall, a noble mansion in the Old Kent Road. After an argument with the driver as to the amount of the fare, our client led us inside.
"This room on the right is my study," said Basker, "It was from this room that the theft was committed."
Without further ado we entered, and Shomes whipped out a yard measure, and commenced his investigations. He first of all measured the distance from the door to the chimney, then the distance from the whatnot to the coal scuttle, then he examined the key of the door with his lens, after which he collected some ash from the ashtrays and examined it minutely. When these preliminaries were completed, Shomes asked to see the chessmen, from which the pawn had been abstracted.
Basker produced a box and raising the lid, displayed a large set of chessmen. He counted the pieces showing that there was a pawn missing.
Shomes' yard measure was again brought into requisition. The size of the box was ascertained, the height of the kings, the length of the ears of the knights, and finally Shomes examined the rest of the pawns with his powerful lens. This done with, he turned to Baker.
"Do you smoke?" said he.
"No, Mr. Shomes," replied Basker, "but my eldest son has recently taken to that beastly habit, and—"
"He smokes a pipe," interrupted Shomes.
"He does, and he—"
"He doesn't carry a pouch."
"No, Mr. Shomes, he buys his tobacco in those new-tangled cartridges."
"'Tis even as I suspected," muttered Shomes grimly. "Can you tell me where he keeps his cartridges?"
"Yes, certainly. In spite of my protests he keeps them in our old family teapot on the sideboard in the dining-room, as he says they keep better than in the box."
"Please lead the way to the teapot," said Shomes. Our client led us to the dining-room, and took an antiquated-looking utensil from the sideboard.
"This," said he with pride, "is the teapot which the Baskets have had for—"
Without allowing Basket to finish his sentence, Shomes seized the teapot, and emptied the contents on the table. From amongst the tobacco cartridges he produced the missing pawn Our client uttered a cry of joy, as his missing treasure came to light.
"You are a wizard, Mr. Shomes," said he.
I shot a sidelong glance at Shomes, which he studiously avoided.
"How on earth did you find it?" asked Basker when he had recovered from his surprise.
"It was a pretty little problem," said Shomes, "and one in which there was plenty of field for imagination and deduction. The simple explanation is this. You had arranged a match with another chess player, and consequently you were very excited about it, and when one of the pieces from your set happened to be missing, you jumped at the conclusion that your opponent had something to do with its disappearance. You were wrong. Chess players are generally above that sort of thing. I examined the set of men, and adhering to the tops of some of the pawns, I found small particles of tobacco. You said you did not smoke yourself, but that your son did. I examined the tobacco ash in the various ashtrays, and from my knowledge of tobacco ashes, I knew that the tobacco smoked. was of a particular kind, which is only sold in cartridges, and is generally inserted in the pipe by means of a pipe filler. Now some people, I have observed, do not trouble to pro-cure a pipe filler, but push the tobacco into the pipe with the finger or pencil. It struck me that the pawns from your set of men would make excellent fillers, by holding the base in the palm of the hand and using the top to press the tobacco into the pipe. You stated that your son smoked tobacco from cartridges, and further that he kept his unsmoked cartridges in the teapot. I examined the teapot, and found the missing pawn I Voila tout I Now, Mr. Basker," concluded Shomes, " you have your cherished set complete, and I wish you luck in your great match to-morrow."
And after settling up certain little financial 'details too sordid to be dealt with here, Shomes and I made our way back to Baker Street.