The Case of the Bloodless Sock
written by Anne Perry - narrated by Simon Vance

 

Holmes was up before six and I found him in the hall pacing back and forth when I came down for breakfast just after half past seven. He swung around to face me. "Ah, at last," he said critically. "Go and question the child again," he commanded. "Learn anything you can, and pay particular attention to who took her and who brought her back."

"Surely you don't think one of the household staff is involved?" I dreaded the idea, and yet it had been done with such speed and efficiency I was obliged to entertain the possibility myself.

"I don't know, Watson. There is something about this that eludes me, something beyond the ordinary. It is Moriarty at his most fiendish, because it is at heart very simple."

"Simple!" I burst out. "The child has twice been taken, the second time in spite of all our attempts to safeguard her. If he has caused one of these people to betray their master in such a way, it is the work of the devil himself."

Holmes shook his head. "If so then it is co-incidental. It is very much his own work he is about. While you were asleep I buried myself learning something of Hunt's affairs. Apparently he is the main stockholder in the local mine, as well as owner of a large amount of land in the area, but he has no political aspirations or any apparent enemies. I cannot yet see why he interests Moriarty."

"Money!" I said bitterly. "Surely any man with wealth and a family, or friends he loves, can be threatened, and ultimately, by someone clever and ruthless enough, money may be extorted from him?"

"It is clumsy, Watson, and the police would pursue him for the rest of his life. Money can be traced, if the plans are carefully laid. No, such a kidnap has not the stamp of Moriarty upon it. It gives no satisfaction."

"I hope you are right," I said with little conviction. "The amount Hunt would pay to have his child safe from being taken again would be satisfaction to most thieves."

Holmes gave me a withering look, but perhaps he sensed my deep fear and anger in the matter, and instead of arguing with me, he again bade me go and question Jenny.

However I was obliged to wait until nine, and after much persuasion of the nursemaid, I found Jenny in the nursery, pale-faced but very composed for one who had had such a fearful experience not only once but twice. Perhaps she was too innocent to appreciate the danger in which she had been.

"Hello, Dr. Watson," she said, as if quite pleased to see me. "I haven't had breakfast yet. Have you?"

"No," I admitted. "I felt it more important to see how you were, after last night's adventure. How do you feel, Jenny?"

"I don't like it," she replied. "I don't want to go there again."

My heart ached that I was obliged to have her tell me of it, and I was terribly aware that a whole house full of men seemed unable to protect her. "I'm sorry. We are doing all we can to see that you never do," I told her. "But you must help me. I need to know all about it. Was it the same man again? The Professor?"

She nodded.

"And to the same place?"

"No." She shook her head. "It was a stable I think. There was a lot of straw, and a yellow horse. The straw prickled and there was nothing to do."

"How did the Professor take you from the nursery here?"

She thought for several minutes and I waited as patiently as I could.

"I don't 'member," she said at last.

"Did he carry you, or did you walk?" I tried to suggest something that might shake her memory.

"Don't 'member. I walked."

"Down the back stairs, where the servants go?" Why had no one seen her? Why had Moriarty dared such a brazen thing? Surely it had to be one of the servants in his pay? There was no other sane answer. It did not need Holmes to deduce that!

"Don't 'member," she said again.

Could she have been asleep? Could they have administered some drug to her? I looked at the face of the nursemaid and wondered if anything else lay behind her expression of love for the child.

I questioned Jenny about her return, but again to no avail. She said she did not remember, and Josephine would not allow me to press her any further. Which might have been fear I would discover something, but might equally easily have been concern that I not distress the child any more. In her place I would have forbidden it also.

I went down the stairs again expecting Holmes to be disappointed in my efforts and I felt fully deserving of his criticism. Instead he met me waving a note which had apparently just been delivered.

"This is the reason, Watson!" he said. "And in true Moriarty style. You were correct in your deduction." And he offered me the paper.

My Dear Hunt,

I see that you have called in Sherlock Holmes. How predictable Watson is! But it will avail you nothing. I can still take the child any time I choose, and you will be helpless to do anything about it.

However if you should choose to sell 90% of your shares in the Morton Mine, at whatever the current market price is—I believe you will find it to be £1.3.6d more or less, then I shall trouble you no further.

Moriarty.

I looked up at Holmes. "Why on earth should he wish Hunt to sell his shares?" I asked. "What good would that do Moriarty?"

"It would start a panic and plunge the value of the entire mine," Holmes replied. "Very probably of other mines in the area, in the fear that Hunt knew something damaging about his own mine which was likely to be true of all the others. Any denial he might make would only fuel speculation."

"Yes . . . yes, of course. And then Moriarty, or whoever he is acting for, would be able to buy them all at rock-bottom price."

"Exactly," Holmes agreed. "And not only that, but appear as a local hero as well, saving everyone's livelihood. This is the true Moriarty, Watson. This has his stamp upon it." There was a fire within him as he said it that I confess angered me. The thrill of the chase was nothing compared with the cost to Hunt, and above all to Jenny. "Now," he continued. "What have you learned from the child of how she left here?"

"Very little," I replied. "I fear she may somehow have been drugged." I repeated what little she had been able to tell me, and also a description of the stable, as far as she had been able to give one.

"We shall borrow the pony and trap and go back to the house in Hampden in daylight," he replied. "There may be something to learn from a fuller examination, and then seek the stable, although I have no doubt Moriarty has long left it now. But first I shall speak to Hunt, and persuade him to do nothing regarding the shares . . . "

I was appalled. "You cannot ask that of him! We have already proved that we are unable to protect Jenny. On two successive nights she has been taken from the house and returned to it, and we have never seen her go, nor seen her come back, and are helpless to prevent it happening again."

"It is not yet time to despair," Holmes said grimly. "I believe we have some hours." He pulled out his watch and looked at it. "It is only six minutes past ten. Let us give ourselves until two of the clock. That will still allow Hunt sufficient time to inform his stockbroker before close of business today, if that should be necessary, and Moriarty may be given proof of it, if the worst should befall."

"Do you see an end to it?" I asked, struggling to find some hope in the affair. It galled me bitterly to have to give in to any villain, but to Moriarty of all men. But we were too vulnerable, I had no strength to fight or to withstand any threat where the life of a child was concerned, and I know Hunt would sacrifice anything at all to save Jenny, and I said as much.

"Except his honor, Watson," Holmes replied very quickly. "It may tear at his very soul, but he will not plunge a thousand families into destitution, with their own children to feed and to care for, in order to save one, even though it is his own. But we have no time to stand here debating. Have the trap ready for us, and as soon as I have spoken with Hunt, I shall join you at the front door."

"What use is it going to Hampden, or the stable, if Moriarty has long left them?" I said miserably.

"Men leave traces of their acts, Watson," he replied, but I feared he was going only because we were desperate and had no better idea. "It might be to our advantage when we have so little time, if you were to bring a gardener or some other person who knows the area well," he continued, already striding away from me.

It was barely thirty minutes later that he returned just as the gardener drew the trap around, with me in the back ready to set out for the village. I had also questioned the gardener as to any local farms which might be vacant, and answer such slight description as Jenny had given me, or where the owner might either be unaware of such use of his stables, or be a willing accomplice.

"Did you persuade Hunt to delay action?" I asked as Holmes climbed in beside me and we set off at a brisk trot.

"Only until two," he said, tight-lipped. I know that he had had some agreement to achieve even that much time from the fact that he stepped forward in the seat and immediately engaged the gardener in conversation about every aspect of the nearby farms, their owners and any past relationship with Hunt, good or ill.

What he was told only served to make matters worse. Either the gardener, a pleasant chap of some fifty-odd years named Hodgkins, was more loyal than candid, or Hunt was generally liked in the region and had incurred a certain mild envy among one or two, but it was without malice. The death of his wife while Jenny was still an infant had brought great sympathy. Hunt was wealthy in real possessions, the house and land and the mine itself, but he had no great amount of ready money, and he lived well, but quite modestly for his station in life. He was generous to his staff, his tenants and to charity in general. Naturally he had faults, but they were such as are common to all people, a sometimes hasty tongue, a rash judgment here or there, too quick a loyalty to friends, and a certain blindness when it suited him.

Holmes grew more and more withdrawn as he listened to the catalog of praise. It told him nothing helpful, only added to the urgency that we not only find where Jenny had been taken, but far more challenging, we learn from it something of use.

We found the tall house again easily, and a few questions from neighbors elicited an excellent description of Moriarty.

We went inside and up again to the room that in the daylight answered Jenny's description in a way which startled me. It was indeed bright and airy. There was a red couch, but the grate was clean and cold, as if no fire had been lit in it recently. I saw a few crumbs on the floor, which I mentioned to Holmes as coming from the teacakes Jenny had been given.

"I do not doubt it," Holmes said with no satisfaction. "There is also a fine yellow hair on the cushion." He waved absently at the red couch while staring out of one of the many windows. "Come!" he said suddenly. "There is nothing else to be learned here. This is where he kept her, and he intended us to know it. He even left crumbs for us to find. Now why was that, do you suppose?"

"Carelessness," I replied, following him out of the door and down the stairs again, Hodgkins on his heels. "And arrogance."

"No, Watson, no! Moriarty is never careless. He has left them here for a reason. Let us find this stable. There is something . . . some clue, something done, or left undone, which will give me the key."

But I feared he was speaking more in hope than knowledge. He would not ever admit it, but there is a streak of kindness in him which does not always sit well with reason. Of course, I have never said so to him.

We got into the trap again and Hodgkins asked Holmes which direction he should drive. For several moments Holmes did not reply. I was about to repeat the question, for fear that he had not heard, when he sat very upright. "Which is the most obvious farm, from here?" he demanded. "That meets our requirements, that is?"

"Miller's," Hodgkins replied.

"How far?"

"Just under two miles. Shall I take you there?"

"No. Which is the second most obvious?"

Hodgkins thought for a moment or two. "I reckon the old Adams place, sir."

"Good. Then take us there, as fast as you may."

"Yes, sir!"

It proved to be some distance further than the first farm mentioned, and I admit I became anxious as the minutes passed and the time grew closer and closer to two. Holmes frequently kept me in the dark regarding his ideas, but I was very much afraid that in this instance he had no better notion of how to foil Moriarty than I did myself. Even if we found the farm, how was it going to help us? There was no reason to suppose he would be there now, or indeed ever again. I forbore from saying so perhaps out of cowardice. I did not want to hear that he had no solution, that he was as fallible and as frightened as I.

We reached the Adams' farm and the disused stable. Holmes opened the door wide to let in all the light he could, and examined the place as if he might read in the straw and dust some answers to all our needs. I thought it pointless. How could anyone find here a footprint of meaning, a child's hair, or indeed crumbs of anything? I watched him and fidgeted from one foot to the other, feeling helpless, and as if we were wasting precious moments.

"Holmes!" I burst out at last. "We . . . " I got no further. Triumphantly he held up a very small, grubby, white sock, such as might fit a child. He examined it quickly, and with growing amazement and delight.

"What?" I said angrily. "So it is Jenny's sock. She was here. How does that help us? He will still take her tonight, and you may be sure it will not be to this place!"

Holmes pulled his pocket watch out. "It is after one already!" he said with desperate urgency. "We have no time to lose at all. Hodgkins, take me back to the Grange as fast as the pony can go!"

It was a hectic journey. Hodgkins had more faith than I that there was some good reason for it, and he drove the animal as hard as he could short of cruelty, and I must say it gave of its best. It was a brave little creature and was lathered and blowing hard when we finally pulled in the drive at the front door and Holmes leaped out, waving the sock in his hand. "All will be well!" he shouted to Hodgkins. "Care for that excellent animal! Watson!" And he plunged into the hall, calling out for Hunt at the top of his voice.

I saw with dread that the long case clock by the foot of the stairs already said three minutes past two.

Hunt threw open his study door, his face pale, eyes wide with fear.

Holmes held up the sock. "Bloodless!" he said triumphantly. "Tell me, what time does the hokey-pokey man play?"

Hunt looked at him as if he had taken leave of his wits, and I admit the same thought had occurred to me. He stammered a blasphemy and turned on his heel, too overcome with emotion to form any answer.

Holmes strode after him, catching him by the shoulder, and Hunt swung around, his eyes blazing, his fist raised as if to strike.

"Believe me, sir, I am deadly earnest!" Holmes said grimly. "Your daughter will be perfectly safe until the ice-cream man comes . . . "

"The ice-cream man!" Hunt exploded. "You are mad, sir! I have known Percy Bradford all my life! He would no more . . . "

"With no intent," Holmes agreed, still clasping Hunt by the arm. "It is the tune he plays. Look!" He held up the small, grubby sock again. "You see, it has no blood on it! This was left where Moriarty wishes us to believe he held her last night, and that this sock somehow was left behind. But it is not so. It is no doubt her sock, but taken from the first kidnap when you were not guarding her, having no reason for concern."

"What difference does that make?" Hunt demanded, the raw edge of fear in his voice only too apparent.

"Send for the hokey-pokey man, and I will show you," Holmes replied. "Have him come to the gates as is his custom, but immediately, now in daylight, and play his tunes."

"Do it, my dear fellow!" I urged. I had seen this look of triumph in Holmes before, and now all my faith in him flooded back, although I still had no idea what he intended, or indeed what it was that he suddenly understood.

Hunt hesitated only moments, then like a man plunging into ice-cold water, he obeyed, his body clenched, his jaw so tight I was afraid he might break his teeth.

"Come!" Holmes ordered me. "I might need you, Watson. Your medical skill may be stretched to the limits." And without any explanation whatever of this extraordinary remark he started up the stairs. "Take me to the nursery!" he called over his shoulder. "Quickly, man!"

As it turned out we had some half-hour or more to wait while the ice-cream vendor was sent for and brought from his position at this hour in the village. Holmes paced the floor, every now and then going to the window and staring out until at last he saw what he wanted, and within moments we heard the happy, lilting sound of the barrel organ playing.

Holmes swiveled from the window to stare at the child. He held up one hand in command of silence, while in the same fashion forbidding me from moving.

Jenny sat perfectly still. The small woolen golliwog she had been holding fell from her fingers and, staring straight ahead of her, she rose to her feet and walked to the nursery door.

Josephine started up after her.

"No!" Holmes ordered with such fierceness that the poor girl froze.

"But . . . " she began in anguish as the child opened the door and walked through.

"No!" Holmes repeated. "Follow, but don't touch her. You may harm her if you do! Come . . . " And he set off after her himself, moving on tip-toe so that no noise should alarm her or let her know she was being followed, though indeed she seemed oblivious of everything around her.

In single file behind we pursued the child, who seemed to be walking as if in her sleep, along the corridor and up the attic stairs, narrow and winding, until she came to a stop beside a small cupboard in an angle of the combe. She opened it and crept inside, pulling a blanket over herself, and then closed the door.

Holmes turned to the maid. "When the nursery clock chimes eleven, I believe she will awaken and return to normal, confused but not physically injured. She will believe what she has been mesmerized to believe, that she was again taken by Professor Moriarty, as she was in truth the first time. No doubt he took her to at least three different places, and she will recall them in successive order, as he has told her. You will wait here so you can comfort her when she awakens and comes out, no doubt confused and frightened. Do not disturb her before that. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir! I'll not move or speak, I swear," Josephine promised, her eyes wide with admiration and I think not a little relief.

"Good. Now we must find Hunt and assure him of Jenny's welfare. He must issue a statement denying any rumor that he might sell his holdings in the mine. In fact if he can raise the funds, a small purchase of more stock might be advantageous. We must not allow Moriarty to imagine that he has won anything, don't you agree?"

"I do!" I said vehemently. "Are you sure she will be all right, Holmes?"

"Of course, my dear Watson!" he said, allowing himself to smile at last. "She will have the most excellent medical attention possible, and a friend to assure her that she is well and strong, and that this will not occur again. Possibly eat as much ice-cream as she wishes, provided it is not accompanied by that particular tune."

"And a new pair of socks!" I agreed, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. "You are brilliant, Holmes, quite brilliant! No resolution to a case has given me more pleasure."

"It was my good fortune she stubbed her toe," he said modestly. "And that you were wise enough to send immediately for me, of course!"