The Curious Case of the Repeatedly Blocked Basin
It was a peculiar aspect of my acquaintance with England’s greatest living detective, that, no matter what accolades were heaped upon him by a grateful nation, at no time did I hear him express satisfaction with the way his daring exploits were reported to the public. ‘Your own efforts, Watson, are good enough,’ he would tell me, ‘although I should like a little more emphasis on the means by which I extrapolate the facts from the details that are presented to me. Readers of your sensationalist accounts might believe I am engaged in a mere parlour game, and not an intellectual pursuit of the greatest rigour. But as for the rest of the media pack – they are hopeless, Watson, quite hopeless.’
So it was not a matter of great surprise to me when, one overcast September morning, Mr Sherlock Holmes threw down his copy of Heat magazine with a snort of disgust, and stalked over to the fireplace, where he proceeded to busy himself with the operation of emptying, cleaning and re-filling his pipe. ‘What is it, Holmes?’ I asked a few moments later, and with some irritation, for the sound of his repeated scratchings was distracting me from my efforts to keep abreast of the latest developments in stem cell therapy as reported in the BMJ.
‘Oh, it is a mere nothing,’ he said. ‘Pray, don’t allow me to distract you from your reading.’
I knew, however, from long familiarity with Holmes’ moods that he would be unable to rest while still brooding upon whatever it was that had disturbed him. In other circumstances, I might have chosen to abandon Holmes to his distraction and travelled to my consulting rooms where I should not be disturbed, except by patients, who, as I have often observed, show an uncanny ability not to be ill whenever there’s something more interesting to write about. Unfortunately, my old injury was causing me some discomfort, and I was not keen to venture far from my comfortable chair in Baker street.
‘ Come, Holmes,’ I said. ‘It is apparent that something in that magazine has disturbed you. Even I can deduce that.’
‘You have learnt a little something of my methods, then. Close observation can always provide us with a window into the soul. Seat any man in quietude for a few moments, and he will be powerless to prevent his character, concerns, preoccupations and secrets all being laid bare before the careful observer.’
‘Yes, quite so. But what is it that has disturbed you this time?’
Holmes lay his pipe on the mantle, and, collecting the magazine from the table where he had abandoned it, threw himself down on the ottoman, and began to flick through the pages. ‘I object to my inclusion in this tawdry rag, Watson, I really do: among the footballers, and the WAGs, and those sour-faced young women who have had a joyless three-minute encounter with a vaguely effeminate footballer who was secretly hoping she’d sell the story, and that this might prevent the newspapers from accusing him of being a foul miscreant of the type Mr Labouchere has so recently outlawed.’
‘But surely,’ I interjected, ‘if you were not seen so regularly in celebrity magazines you would not have attracted the range of clients you have. Think of our recent trip to the darkest recesses of the Holly Wood,’ I said, alluding to events concerning a well-known actor that are still too sensitive and shocking to be placed before the public.
‘True, but look at this,’ he said proffering me the magazine already open at a particular page. ‘I was just climbing into a hansom having completed some urgent late-night business with an associate in the west end of London, and I found a photographer lying on the pavement attempting to take a photograph up my trouser leg. They’ve printed it in the damned magazine under the headline ‘Is Sherlock a Y-Fronts Man’.’
I suppressed the urge to smile, and as I did so, I heard the unmistakable sound of a knock on the door below. Holmes leapt instantly to his feet, and moved silently to listen, a finger to his lips encouraging me to hold my peace. ‘We have a visitor, Watson’ said Holmes, a faint flush of excitement creeping into his ivory cheeks. ‘A ne’er-do-well in his mid-thirties, I should surmise, with a furtive air, and a desperate wish to avoid a public scandal.’
‘How can you possibly know all that, Holmes?’ I cried. ‘All the man’s done is knock at the door.’ There were sounds of murmuring voices in the hallway below as the ever efficient Mrs Hudson interrogated him as to his business.
‘Really, Watson, you must learn to pay closer attention. His desperation is testified by the urgency of his knock; furtiveness is betokened by his use of a gloved hand to muffle the sound. As for his age, it was clear to me, as it should have been to you, that his knock lacked either youthful vigour or elderly weakness. His attempt to muffle the sound indicates both his desire to avoid a scandal, and his lack of the usual manly accomplishments – what decent, honest man in the prime of his life would sneak around rather than striking boldly to the heart of the matter? Why, none! He is, as I say, a ne’er-do-well, but no less deserving of our help for that.’
Throughout Holmes’ speech the sounds of speech had been continuing below, and now there came a voice raised in anguish. ‘But I simply must see Mr Sherlock Holmes!’ This was followed by the sound of feet on the stairs, and a moment later by Mrs Hudson’s familiar knock. ‘Enter!’ called Holmes, and fidgeted impatiently while Mrs Hudson spoke.
‘There’s a … gentleman to see you, Sir. I asked his name and his business, but he refused to give either. In truth,’ and here she glanced in my direction, before lowering her voice to a more confidential tone, ‘I’m not sure he’s altogether in his right mind, Sir.’
‘No matter, Mrs Hudson. Show him in,’ commanded Holmes, and a short while later the poor, distracted creature Mrs Hudson had described was standing before us.
He was dressed from head to toe in black, and there was a deathly lack of colour in his cheeks. His eyes were bright, almost feverish, and darted around the room, seeming as this they expected an unknown assailant to leap out from behind the furniture. His flesh seemed ashen grey, except for dark circles at his eyes drawn with heavy charcoal. His hand twisted in front of him, and he trembled so violently I feared he would be unable to stand.
‘My God!’ I cried, stepping forward smartly to support him, and guide him to a chair. ‘What’s happened to you, man?’ He sank gratefully into the chair, and for a moment seemed unable to speak, but gathered himself, and looked beseechingly into my eyes.
‘What’s happened to me? Why everything, Sir. And yet nothing. Nothing at all.’ At this apparent contradiction he laughed sharply in a manner that made me fear, this time not for the balance of his body, but rather that of his mind. He soon recovered himself, but added nothing, save to mutter ‘everything and nothing ‘ a few times more.
‘I did warn you, Sir,’ said Mrs Hudson, reproachfully, but Holmes was ushering her out of the door with a polite but firm, ‘Thank you, Mrs Hudson, that will be all.’ Having shut the door, and listened momentarily to ascertain that our domestic functionary was descending the stairs, Holmes wheeled round to address our guest, speaking with a kindness and patience which those who were not well acquainted with him would not have considered him capable.
‘Pray, Sir, calm yourself. You are quite safe here. The windows are closed, the door sealed, and Mrs Hudson will prevent even the most venturesome of interlopers from gaining entry.’
‘Th- thank you, Sir,’ stammered our guest. ‘It is indeed kind of you to have patience with a pitiable wretch such as I.’ Holmes was preparing to offer some bland response, when the other man started abruptly forward in his chair, his eyes careening wildly around the room. ‘What was that?’ he cried. ‘My god! That sound- that sound!’
‘Was the sound of a sack of coal being dropped by a clumsy coalman some three streets away, I should surmise.’ Holmes looked at me with a flicker of amusement as he registered my bewilderment, having heard nothing myself. ‘You have remarkably acute hearing, Sir, far in excess of the ordinary man. But come, you must gather yourself and tell your story. Without it I shall be quite unable to assist you.’
‘Of course, Mr Holmes. You are Mr Holmes?’
‘Yes, and this is my associate Dr Watson. Watson, would you be so good as to pour our guest a little brandy? He looks to be in sore need of a nerve tonic.’ I bustled to comply, and as I did so, I heard this strange man begin his hesitant tale, under my esteemed colleague’s observant eye.
‘The story of how I acquired my name is a strange one,’ he said, in response to Holmes’ question, ‘but easily told.
‘My father was an unlettered man, a new arrival to these shores washed up from the chaos of the world, and keen to adopt a new name, more easy for the natives here to utter. Thrown upon the kindness of strangers, as all in this situation are, he fell in with some drunken oafs in a Limehouse tavern who, for sport, informed him that the surname Unread would be suitably unobtrusive. My father changed his name at once, and when, later, it fell to him to supply names for his offspring, he hit upon the expedient of using long venerated royal monikers. My elder brother is Edward Confessor Unread, and my younger sister, who died a few days after her birth taking my poor grief-stricken mother with her, was known to us as Poor Lizzie; but to that Divine Creator who is her Comforter now, she was dedicated as Elizabeth. And, I, Sir, I am Aethelread.’
‘Aethelread Unread,’ mused Holmes. ‘The name is familiar to me. You have a presence in the blogosphere, I believe.’
‘Indeed, Sir,’ said Mr Unread, his eyes taking on, for the first time, a slight cast of pride that hinted at the noble man this poor, broken creature might once have been. ‘You have read it?’ Holmes waved a hand dismissively.
‘I peruse it from time to time, but it is not to my taste. Somewhat too lachrymose and self-regarding, as all blogs tend to be. But not altogether lacking in merit,’ Holmes added kindly, seeing the crestfallen expression crossing Unread’s face. ‘Let us return to your sad tale, Mr Unread: what brings you here today?’
‘I- I am almost too ashamed to admit it,’ he said, taking the brandy I proffered, and draining it in one swift draught, before placing the glass on the table at his elbow, with a trembling hand that caused the empty vessel to rattle against the polished mahogany surface. ‘I have not had an easy life, Sir, but for many years I was at least self-reliant. I felt that simple, happy pride felt by all men who earn their way in the world. Sadly, my time in so happy a state was but short-lived. I am a pauper now, Sir, dependent upon charity’ – he spat out the word – ‘for my survival.
‘Despite my many trials, I fashioned a kind of life for myself, Mr Holmes. Not an entirely comfortable life, nor a successful one, but nonetheless a life of a kind. Then a new kind of torment entered it.
‘I had always been very respectful of plumbing. I was careful not to wash down a plughole something that might block it, a caution I had learned after carelessly pouring down a kitchen sink the juices from a hot roasting tin in which I had prepared lamb: the action had afforded me ample opportunity in which to discover that the unscrewing and flushing through of a u-bend filled with congealed sheep fat and dirty washing up water is no pleasant task.
‘I have been especially fastidious with reference to my current bathroom basin. It has been poorly plumbed in, and the waste water pipe is on a downward slope of only 10 or 12 degrees, meaning that there is great danger of a blockage. I have taken much care to ensure that nothing other than water, and, of course, the rinsings of soap, have passed through the metal grille. I do not wash my hair in the basin, for fear of detached strands of hair; nor do I shave in the basin, for fear that my beard scrapings might block the water’s egress.
‘So imagine my horror – yes, Mr Holmes, horror is not too strong a term for the emotion I felt – when, despite all these careful precautions, the outflow of water from the basin became progressively slower and slower. I tried to ignore it for as long as I could, but eventually the water was draining so slowly the basin was essentially unusable. I realised I had to intervene, and after some thought resolved to pour a kettle of near-boiling water down the recalcitrant drain, and was delighted when I discovered, on flushing the pipe with lashings of water from the tap, that the drain gurgled happily as it performed its aquatic function.
‘But then, within weeks, the water began to drain slowly again. I was at a loss to understand it, Mr Holmes. Here I was, doing no more than washing my hands a few times a day, and yet the drain was clogging with some nameless, unknown substance. This process was repeated several times, and each time the kettle of boiling water proved less and less effective.
‘I- I began to fear what might be down there, Mr Holmes. What might be growing there, unchecked, down in the quiet, watery dark, and angry with me for the repeated scaldings I had administered. I imagined colonies of ants; a rat’s nest; some strange, mysterious fungus, pulsing and growing and ready to thrust its ever-searching fingers upwards into the light and air of the bathroom. I am ashamed to admit it, Sir, but I fear I have become a little afraid- Afraid of my own bathroom! The shame of it, the shame…’
And so saying, our guest ended his curious tale, his chin sunk on his chest, and his eyes hollow and dead, like a man defeated by all the horrors that an unquiet mind and an uncooperative basin can between them unleash. Holmes sat for several minutes, his eyes closed, seemingly lost in thought. At length, he spoke.
‘What is the state of your bathroom plumbing as we speak, Mr Unread?’
‘Blocked again, Sir,’ he whispered. ‘Blocked! And I do not know by what.’
‘Fear not,’ announced Holmes, leaping from his chair in a sudden and surprising display of energy, ‘I believe I have the solution to your problem.’ Unread looked up, his eyes, brimming still with fearful tears, took on a faint, hopeful cast.
‘You do, Sir?’ he asked, apparently unwilling to believe his problems could so readily have been solved. ‘Do I dare believe that even the great Sherlock Holmes can be so rapid in his deductions?’
‘It is true.’
‘Oh, thank you, Sir, thank you!’ cried Unread, leaping from his chair to grasp Holmes by the hand and pumping it vigorously up and down. ‘What must I do, Sir? What must I do to be rid of this terrible curse. Tell me!’
‘I prefer to keep that secret for the time being, Mr Unread. You need not trouble yourself with the details, all you must do is return to your flat: I shall attend you there. Give no signal, Sir, that anything is amiss or unusual. That is vitally important; continue about your business in the usual way. You have the nerve to return alone to your flat, and wait for me there?’
‘It will be a strain on my nerves, Mr Holmes,’ our guest said, looking pale but resolute, ‘but I can stand it for a few hours more, if it will bring my torment to an end at last.’
‘Capital, Mr Unread, capital!’ said Holmes, escorting him to the door, and ushering him through it. ‘Until later tonight!’ he cried, shutting the door, and turning to face me with a smile playing at his lips. ‘Well, Watson,’ he said, hurrying to the bookshelf to look up the times of trains in his battered Bradshaw, ‘what do you make of our Mr Unread’s conundrum?’
‘It seems a small matter to have so exercised him,’ I commented, ‘but unfortunately such trifles can loom large in the minds of those, like Mr Unread, who suffer with chronic afflictions of the nerves. But can you really have solved the matter to your satisfaction so promptly? I confess myself to be at a total loss.’
‘Indeed I have resolved the matter, and it will shortly be not simply to my satisfaction, but to yours also. You are prepared to travel with me later this evening?’
‘Always,’ I replied.
‘Excellent. I am fortunate to have so reliable a friend. There is a train that leaves in one and one-half hours,’ he said, slamming shut the book and beginning to gather his outdoor clothes. ‘I shall meet you on the platform, as I have a few errands I must first attend to. Until we meet again, Watson, in one and one half hours!’ he cried, whirling out of the door with his cape and cane. I thought he had gone, but at the last moment, he turned again to address me, his eyes shining with excitement.
‘The game’s afoot, Watson. The game’s afoot!’
I had thought Holmes would miss our train, but at the last moment he appeared, an arm outstretched above the heads of the crowd to catch my attention. He carried with him two packages, one of medium size, and seemingly somewhat heavy, the other somewhat thinner, but with a more substantial mass gathered at one end. We found seats on the train, and as it began to rattle into the darkness, Holmes stretched back, his eyes closed with seeming ease as he relaxed into the perfect stillness of which he was always capable during those periods of enforced inaction which sometimes occurred when, as now, we were engaged upon some urgent errand.
I was prompted to remark to myself again upon the extraordinary nature of Sherlock Holmes. A few hours earlier, with nothing to occupy his time, he had been unable to remain still and was fidgeting round our rooms while I was able to busy myself with reading. Now, when we were in the midst of an errand into unknown territory in the dark, and with who knows what dangers to face, Holmes was a perfect model of calm, while I sat, gazing uneasily into the darkness, and taking note of the increasingly meagre houses that slid past the train’s windows.
At length the train pulled into a darkened local station, with only a few lamps to dispel the gloom, and illuminate the faces of the few disembarking passengers who showed up, ghost-like, as they passed us. ‘What is this place?’ I asked Holmes, half aghast at the dismal spot in which we found ourselves. A low mist was insinuating itself from the river that murmured in some nether darkness below the embankment on which both the track and station were built, and the smell of cheap, smoky coal fires assaulted our nostrils.
‘I fear Mr Unread has been reduced to these poor circumstances by the progress of his malady,’ replied Holmes, ‘but we have nothing to fear, two such stout, hearty fellows as ourselves. I presume, Watson, that you have supplied yourself with your old service revolver, as you usually do on these nocturnal adventures of ours?’ I indicated that I had, and Holmes turned upon me a brief, unnerving smile. ‘In that case, with the loyal and steadfast John Watson at his side, what harm can possibly befall Sherlock Holmes?’ he asked, rhetorically, before plunging off into the murk and gloom in pursuit of our destination.
In time we found ourselves at the foot of Unread’s building, a desolate tower of the lost and forsaken who found themselves too poor to afford more human-scale housing. The grey structure stretched far above us, testament to the great strength of the steel-frame-and-concrete-over-cladding method employed in its construction. As I was lost in contemplation of the building, Holmes busied himself with the electronic system which controlled access to it. In response to Holmes’ expert manipulation of the numeric keypad, Aethelread Unread’s disembodied voice floated out of the metal grille, and he informed us he would join us presently, rather than abandoning us to tackle alone the vagaries of the electrically powered hoist system that hauls the residents of this curious construction to their domiciles in the skies above.
At length a pale, worn face appeared so suddenly in the window that I cried out involuntarily. ‘My God!’ I ejaculated. ‘Who’s that?’
‘It is our friend Mr Unread, I believe,’ replied Holmes, his composure not a jot affected. ‘I fear the long wait has been trying for a man of his nervous disposition.’ Indeed it appeared so, for the creature who pressed the buzzer and pushed open the doors was sadly changed from the man, so newly bolstered by resurgent hope, who had quit our chambers a few short hours before.
‘I am glad indeed to see you, Sir!’ he cried. To my professional eye, however, his expression was not altogether one of gladness, but rather of some wilder passion barely mastered. ‘This has been a trying evening, Mr Holmes. I washed my hands upon my return late this afternoon, and the water has only now drained completely away.’
‘Then it seems we are just in time,’ said Holmes, the casual indolence of his manner on the train now replaced with a manly vigour and firmness of tone that contrasted sadly with that of our host. ‘Let us ascend to your residence, Mr Unread, and see what may be done’. So saying he brandished the longer and thinner of the two mysterious packages I had noted earlier, and, contrary to my expectations, a glimmer of recognition flickered in Unread’s eyes as he led us to the lifts.
‘Can it be?’ he asked, once we were sealed in a slow-moving metal chamber that rumbled its way upwards into unknowing darkness. ‘I never thought to see one of those implements again so long as I lived. But I fear it may not be sufficient in this case.’ I would have queried the contents of the package myself, were it not for the fact that, at that precise moment, the lift grumbled to a halt, and the door slid protestingly back to reveal a public area coated in a monstrous shade of insipid green. Unread led us to his front door, which he proceeded to unlock, before pushing it open, and gesturing for us to enter. ‘I fear I have not the courage to witness whatever it is you are about to do,’ he said. ‘You will find the marigolds under the kitchen sink.’
‘You have done excellently to guide us this far,’ my associate answered, placing a consoling hand on the nervier man’s shoulder. ‘Do not tax yourself further, but rest out here, if that it what you prefer. We shall summon you when our work is done.’
So saying, Holmes pressed on into the semi-darkened hallway. As I followed, I could see that it took the form of a long corridor stretching from one end of the flat almost to the other. There were doors ranged on each side; from what little I could see in the undispelled gloom, each room was filled with the accumulated detritus of Unread’s life to date. Holmes rapidly ascertained which of the doors gave access to the bathroom, and then approached this portal of fear quickly but silently, passing with an almost feline grace along the grimly appointed passageway. He briefly surveyed the scene, before turning to address me.
‘The situation is not quite so desperate as I had feared,’ he said. ‘The basin is currently clear of water, and there is no smell, as of a badly blocked drain. We shall make light work of this affair, Watson, provided we proceed with appropriate caution.’ With these words he proceeded to the kitchen, where he located a pair of rubber gloves, and, having pulled them with some difficulty over his long, aristocratic fingers, began to unwrap the package that had so excited the admiration of Unread a few moments earlier.
I was anxious to see what this package contained, and under Holmes’ expert hand the outer covering was soon removed, revealing at last the object within. The bulk of this was a narrow handle made of some red material, stretching to approximately one foot in length. At the nether end of this shaft there appeared a round cup made of rubber. ‘Behold,’ Holmes said, brandishing it before him like a sword of righteousness as we returned to the bathroom.
‘What is it?’ I asked, my breath catching in my throat.
‘It is a device that utilises elemental mechanical properties to effect a means of dislodging blockages in pipework. The rubber cup is placed over the plughole, like so,’ Holmes said, an incongruous sight dressed in a dark frock coat and yellow marigolds. ‘A vacuum is formed within the rubber cup by pressing down the handle like so, and this has the effect of exerting an upward pull on anything that may be contained within the pipe.’
‘What an ingenious device,’ I marvelled.
‘It is popularly referred to as a sink plunger, and is so named, I believe, for its common usage in being plunged into a sink full of water because it is not flowing from the plughole as it should. However,’ continued Holmes, who had throughout our conversation been engaged in a most vigorous pumping of the handle, ‘it is not always effective, and in this case seems to have loosened nothing of sufficient dimension to have been causing blockages of the magnitude Mr Unread has described.’
‘I fear the news that your efforts have failed will be a sad blow to what remains of Mr Unread’s mental equilibrium,’ I said, preparing myself for the worst, but Holmes brushed my words aside with a dismissive gesture.
‘Come, Watson, do you truly believe I could be so easily defeated?’ he asked. ‘On the contrary, my efforts are only at their beginning!’ So saying, he began to unwrap the smaller but heavier package he had been carrying. ‘This represents another approach to the same difficulty, Watson. The bottle, prepared by one Mr Muscle, contains, as you will see, two chambers, each of which contains an equal volume of a different liquid. As I pour the contents into the basin, you will note that the two liquids, once they come into contact with each other, instantly produce a thick and luxurious foam, which fills the pipe below the plughole, and the basin itself to a depth of an inch or so.’
‘But this is amazing, Holmes,’ I interjected. ‘Who knew such alchemy was possible!’
‘The real alchemy lies in the properties of the foam, rather than the manner in which it is produced,’ Holmes replied. ‘It is able to dissolve on contact many substances which can cause blockages in sinks and basins, but without causing damage either to pipes or bathroom fittings. Although you will note that the packaging warns that the product should not be brought into contact with gold-plated finishes, rendering it useless in the homes of second hand car salesmen and antiques dealers.’
Holmes explained that the product required approximately one hour to perform its function, and so it was that we settled down to await the outcome of the silent chemical processes occurring deep within the hidden U-bend. My associate sat at once, cross-legged, on the floor, and began to analyse the fluff he found in neglected corners, while I crouched, uncomfortably, on one knee, feeling the reassuring heft of my service revolver against my hip. As a consequence of the lateness of the hour, and the disturbed sleep I had suffered of late, I found my attention at times wandering, drifting off into a semi-somnolent reverie interrupted only by the sound of Aethelread Unread’s occasional murmurings and nervous exhalations from the far side of his front door.
At length, Holmes discarded the fluff he had been examining, and, checking the time on his fob watch, stood and began to peer into the basin. Realising that the waiting period must at last be at an end, I bestirred myself, and went to stand at Holmes’ shoulder. ‘How will we know if the foam has successfully accomplished its task?’ I asked, attempting to keep the yawn out of my voice.
‘Only by testing it,’ Holmes replied, and without further ado yanked open the tap, peering with interest as the clear hot water spiralled its way down the plughole. He turned off the tap, and within a moment or two the basin had cleared.
‘Amazing,’ I breathed, but Holmes did not reply, striding instead to the outer door of the flat, which he pulled open.
‘Mr Unread, I am pleased to report that your bathroom difficulties are at an end.’
‘Can it be?’ I heard Unread’s uncertain voice quaver in reply. ‘I have waited so long for this torment to be at an end. Can it really be that it is finally over?’
‘Indeed, Sir, but do not take my word for it. Come, witness it for yourself. Come sir,’ he continued, when it became apparent that Unread was still nervous. ‘There is nothing to fear. I and Watson shall both be at your side, and in any case, the blockage has been altogether banished.’
Aethelread Unread made his unsteady way along the length of the corridor, blanching as he turned the corner into the bathroom and caught sight of the basin that had been the cause of so much woe. He rejected, however, the hand I offered to steady him, insisting instead that he would face the seat of his fears alone and unsupported, as a man should. He shuffled slowly to the basin, and carefully, a look of simultaneous fear and hope etched onto his features, turned the tap. He looked up in wonder and relief as the water drained swiftly away, then turned to Holmes, his facial expression now betokening delight.
‘I am in your debt, Sir, I am in your debt! Oh, Mr Holmes, tell me how you have accomplished this, if it is not a breach of confidence. I long to know!’
‘Really it was a matter of the greatest simplicity, Mr Unread,’ Holmes replied. ‘As you told me your tale of woe in my rooms earlier, I quickly surmised that it could not be a blockage of hair, or some other difficult to shift substance, for the removal of which I should have had to refer you to a professional plumber. It was also apparent from your comments that you had already considered and dismissed the possibility that it was a structural fault with the construction of the pipework: you had perceived that the outflow was on a shallow angle, but had nonetheless enjoyed many years of unfettered drainage prior to the onset of your difficulties. From this is surmised that it must be some habit of yours that was causing a less substantial impediment to the flow of water.
‘Since you had already outlined the careful precautions you took in an effort to prevent such a situation occurring, I knew at once that the most likely candidate for the blockage was a simple accumulation of soap residue. In order to be certain, I resolved to begin my attempt to free the blockage by utilising mechanical means, and engaged in a few minutes of vigorous plunging which, produced, as expected, little result. I moved on, therefore, to the second stage of my planned attack, which involved the pouring of particular chemicals, which are known to be especially efficacious against soap build-up, into the plughole.’
‘This is marvellous, Mr Holmes’ interjected Unread, ‘but how were you able to choose between the myriad such products available?’
‘The harsh truth, Mr Unread, is that not all sink-unblocking products are created equal. All have a similar aim, and employ similar means to achieve this common goal, but not all are equally effective. After you had left us to return to your flat, I went immediately to seek advice from an acquaintance of mine, and he it was who provided me with guidance as to which of the many products on the market would be most appropriate for the circumstances you described. Having benefited from this guidance, it was then simplicity itself to acquire the product my acquaintance recommended, to meet Dr Watson at the station, and to proceed here, where I was thankfully able to bring matters to a speedy and satisfactory resolution.’
‘Oh Mr Holmes, how shall I ever repay you? You already can tell, I’m sure, that you have my undying gratitude, but as to your professional fees… I am a poor man, Sir, but what little I have is at your disposal. Take, Mr Holmes, whatever you will, for it is the very least that I can offer.’
‘There will be no charge, Mr Unread,’ Holmes said, offering a stiff and formal bow. ‘Sometimes the challenge of the case, or the knowledge that I have been able to somewhat lighten the burden of one such as yourself, is all the reward I require.’ With these words, Holmes began to gather the few belongings he had brought, rejecting all of Unread’s attempts to solicit him into accepting at least some small token of thanks.
As a consequence of Holmes’ sudden desire for speed, it was but a few minutes later that he and I found ourselves seated in the well-lit carriage of an empty train that was rattling its way back to town. I looked for a few moments at the bleak tower, rendered almost ghostly in appearance by the mist which wreathed about it, in which Aethelread Unread made his meagre home, then, once it had slid from view, turned my attention to my companion, who appeared well satisfied.
‘A pleasing outcome for a day’s work, was it not, Watson?’ Holmes asked.
‘Indeed, Holmes, though less of a challenge to your deductive faculties than some of the other cases to which you have applied yourself. I remain curious, though, as to some aspects of this whole affair.’
‘Pray tell me what they are, doctor, and I shall do my best to clear up whatever confusion remains.’
‘Well, it occurs to me, for example, that the concept of indoor plumbing in an impoverished household in the 1880s is something of a surprise, not to mention the existence of Mr Muscle brand household products. For that matter, the building in which we found ourselves, and the door entry and lift systems associated with it, ought not to have been developed by the time period in which we exist. I am concerned that the proliferation of all these seemingly anachronistic details will make an account of these events, should I decide to publish one, seem scarcely plausible.’
‘Indeed,’ Holmes agreed readily. ‘My apparent familiarity with the blogosphere and second hand car salesmen is no less troubling in this regard. It is, I fear, too late to worry about any of this, however, since as early as the second paragraph this story begins to make reference to Heat magazine, and to WAGs, and to much else besides, none of which either of us should have any knowledge of. For that matter, the idea of having characters comment upon the contradictions inherent in the fiction which they are themselves contained within is a more avowedly metafictional technique than would normally be associated with so Victorian an author as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
‘No, Watson, it is better, in my considered opinion, not to ponder any of these matters too deeply. Rather, let us hope that there are no delays on the line,’ he declared, looking keenly out of the window. ‘ITV3 are having a Poirot marathon tonight, and you know I don’t like to miss an opportunity to point out the methodological flaws of that so-called Great Detective.’