A short story by Tony Blades
I vividly remember my grandmother once opening a little old tin box to show me three yellowed documents, when I was a boy. The first was a cutting from the August 1892 Birkenhead News:-
ROBBERY OF DIAMOND NECKLACE. MAN ARRESTED. ONLY ONE BAFFLING CLUE. £25 REWARD OFFERED.
She explained that her mother was Charlotte Reed, a nursery governess at that time, an intelligent young woman and a keen follower of the methods and exploits of Mr Sherlock Holmes.
The article continued, “The theft occurred last Tuesday afternoon of a diamond necklace valued at £300, the property of Lady Mary Sadler, who was staying at the Rock Hotel, Rock Park beside the River Mersey. A man impersonating one of the servants had entered her chambers and stolen the item. Three witnesses were able to identify him as a notorious local felon, and 5 days later he was apprehended. His person and residence was searched, but no trace of the jewel has been found, and the culprit refuses to divulge its location. It appears that he was able to hide it before his arrest. So far, the only clue is an opened letter found in the thief’s pocket. It bears a Dover postmark, and contains a strange sheet of paper. Police are working on this conundrum; in addition, Birkenhead Constabulary offer a £25 reward to anyone who can supply information leading to the recovery of the aforesaid jewellery. Below we reproduce a facsimile of the clue:-
My grandmother explained that Charlotte was fascinated by this problem and carried this cutting around with her to study it. She was determined to find the answer to the mystery. Day after day, despite much discussion in the local tea rooms and alehouses, no answer to the puzzle was forthcoming. In her spare hours, Charlotte would take solitary walks around Victoria Park to help her to think. Finally, after four days of analysis, she announced that she had the solution and sent a letter to the police.
She made a rough copy first, which was proudly kept by her daughter. This was the second document:-
“Dear Chief Inspector Harrison, I believe that I have discovered the meaning of the note in the Missing Necklace case. It is what is known as a Substitution Cipher. I began by ignoring the first word and focusing on the odd groups of letters. I wrote out 26 sets of alphabetically ordered letters to help my task. Over and over, I failed to find a meaning, until one set suddenly made sense!
NOT became HIN, JKX became DER, ZUT became TON.
MKT2.8. is thus GEN 2.8, WX.7 is then QR.7.
Thus we have HINDERTON. Let us assume this is Hinderton Road. What number house? Now we return to the word at the start, PROVERBS. That is the name of a Book of the Old Testament, the 20th Book. So, we have 20 Hinderton Road. GEN 2.8 could mean Genesis. I looked up the chapter and verse. It refers to the Garden of Eden. Finally,QR.7. The likeliest meaning is the chess board, whereupon Queen’s Rook’s 7th square is always Black. Therefore Inspector, I respectfully ask that you send some of your men to that address and direct them to seek a black object in the front garden.
Charlotte Reed (Miss)
42 Larch Road, Tranmere
The third document:-
“STOLEN NECKLACE FOUND. REWARD PAID TO LOCAL SPINSTER.
Lady Sadler’s necklace was found last Sunday. Police sealed off an unoccupied house in Hinderton Road where it was discovered in the garden, buried in a black marble plant pot. It is conjectured that Professor Moriarty, currently visiting France, was the individual behind this crime.”
I still keep a photocopy of these cuttings in my wallet, and if anyone asks me about my female ancestors, I simply say that my great-grandmother was an amateur detective. ……………………………………………………………..
©Tony Blades, 2014 Tony Blades is a Birkenhead carer, artist, chess player & freelance writer. He will answer your emails:- “firstname.lastname@example.org”
You can also read on our website ‘Uncle Theo Taught Me Chess’, another short story by Tony Blades. Click HERE.