"Good Lord, Sleuthe," moaned Watley as he somewhat dejectedly pulled on his dressing gown. "Was it really necessary to knock me up at the outrageous hour of ..." Watley patted down the pockets of his robe, but not finding his pocket watch in evidence, left the sentence suspended incomplete. He glanced outside, where the chill, ashen sky betrayed only the merest glimmerings of dawn. "... of, of, of before dawn?" he concluded, not without petulance. Watley was an amiable fellow, though, and after a moment's thought his face brightened considerably.
"I say, Sleuthe, are we out on an adventure this morning?" Now anticipating the unparalleled excitement of another excursion with myself, the world's greatest living detective (not to mention third-place winner of the most recent annual Welsh All-Round filbert-eating contest), Watley shook off the last vestiges of his somnolent state, and set about attending to his wardrobe.
"Not quite, Watley," I muttered. The man was dense as a post. Any fool could see that I wasn't about to set off on a case in my Duke of Windsor slippers. "But I assure you, it was absolutely necessary to wake you at this hour. I'm short of marmalade, with breakfast not more than a few hours off. Be a good chap and fetch me a jar from the jammers' on Claxton Street, will you?"
As Watley headed down the stairs and out the front door, I padded back through the sitting room to my own chamber, eager to return to my bed. As I settled in for another few hours of precious sleep, I congratulated myself on yet another brilliant ploy. The jammers' wouldn't open their doors for another two hours, and Watley would be obliged to wait. The man's deafening snores would no longer trouble me as I slumbered. And my marmalade supply would be restocked in the bargain. "Two birds in the bush for the price of one stone in the hand!" I remarked happily to myself.
I was on the verge of falling into a deep repose when the lingering echo of my last brilliant thought snapped my powerful brain to attention. Something seemed not quite right.
"A stone in the hand is worth killing two birds for!" I announced.
"The early bush catches two stones for the price of one," I ventured.
"Leave no bird in the bush unturned," I essayed.
"Don't hatch your birds unless they've bushed," I surmised.
"A bush in the bird is worth tuppence," I concluded.
Confound it! Nearly three quarters of an hour had passed, and I was no closer to my sought-after sleepful state than when I'd started. It was becoming clear that unless I solved this, and solved it fast, there'd be no shut-eye at all for me this morning. This was quite possibly my most difficult case yet!
Throwing back the covers, I rose to a sitting position, and focused every last synapse of my renowned cogitating organ on the correct wording of the aphorism.
I could practically hear the hum emitted by my mighty instrument as the words slowly congealed like pectinated lumps of fruit within the marmalade jar of my skull. In a brilliant epiphany, I suddenly saw the whole sentence laid out before me, in all its complex glory. But as I prepared to pounce upon it, my reverie was disturbed by the clatter of footsteps rapidly ascending the stairway, and the sought-after sentence dispersed across the shadows of my mind like pipe smoke on an errant breeze.
"Confound it, Watley," I cried with agitation, "the jammers' can hardly have opened yet."
But it was not Watley. Had I not been concentrating all my mental energies on that dastardly riddle of an old saw, I would surely have deduced from the sound of the footfalls that they belonged instead to a stunningly beautiful tall young blonde named, most probably, Emma Hawtheshorne, or somesuch. Cursing my own brilliance, I rose quickly, fastening my robe about my person and combing back my dark, thick hair with a practiced hand. I strode into the sitting room, prepared to meet my pulchritudinous guest. The handle of the door turned, and without the slightest by-your-leave a burly male figure entered the room. I realized that the deduction I had failed to make was itself wrong in some particulars. This realization impressed me as being particularly accurate, for which I made a mental note to congratulate myself later.
Standing before me, breathing hard, was a strapping middle-aged fellow. His dress, neither refined nor vulgar, was disordered, apparently from his exertions. His green eyes were so lifeless with anxiety as to appear grey, matching the hue of the hoary flecks in his thinning hair. But it was his chin that was his most striking feature. Or, I should say, what was his most striking feature was his chin. Its dimple was enormous, nearly a half inch deep, and the bulbous ends thrust out steeply from that cleft valley. Indeed, his chin was so long that it seemed a very pendulum. The rest of his head bobbed and swung around behind it so that it seemed nearly beyond his control.
"Professor Sleuthe!" he cried in the coarse accent of the northern dockyards, aiming that monstrous projectile straight at me. Etiquette demanded that I inform him that my doctorate was only honorary, but I reasoned that given the dire circumstances, I should not trouble my guest with the details of my higher education. 'Still,' I couldn't help thinking with some indignation, 'Professor Wiggins had no right to discharge me from the College simply for accidently killing a man. Even if it was the dean.' I then reflected, with no small satisfaction, on Wiggins' discomfort when that very same college presented me with an honorary doctorate for my assistance in the Case of the Sideways Doughnut.
At this point my thoughts were arrested by a most puzzling question: Did the diploma read 'doughnut' or 'donut'? Surely the latter spelling would be considered insulting to my highly refined intelligence. Did they think I was unaware of the silent 'gh' and might mispronounce the word as 'doff-nut'? I had long ago corrected myself of that learnèd habit. And where was that diploma? For the life of me I couldn't remember where I had placed it. Just as I had resolved to set this question aside, I was struck square between the lobes by an even more inexplicable mystery. The meaning of 'dough' was clear enough, but what on God's green earth did 'nut' mean? In comparing the consistency and flavor of a doughnut with that of a filbert, few parallels were apparent. Ah, filberts, nectar of the gods! I headed back into my private chamber in search of a bowl of the tasty foodstuffs, when a loud voice stopped me in my tracks.
"Professor Sleuthe!" it cried, and I turned to see a man with the most enormous cleft chin I had ever seen, standing in my sitting room. He struck me as vaguely familiar. I cocked an eyebrow in what was sure to impress him as a look of alert inquiry.
"Time is short, and we've already wasted much of the morning," I admonished him. "I suggest you state your business, and be quick about it." I gestured him into a chair with my right hand, simultaneously using my left to discreetly scratch a devilish itch on my left buttock. I silently congratulated myself on this maneuver, and settled into the facing chair.
"My name," my visitor began in an urgent tone, "is Evan Horthefawn." I made a mental note of the name, in case it should prove important later. As yet I was at a loss to see what the nature of the case at hand was. I resolved to listen further, and see if the situation didn't achieve some sort of clarity. "Ye've noticed my chin I'm sure, Mr. Sleuthe, and ye've no doubt pondered its origins. An accident of birth, you may suppose, but I tell you 'tis not so." In point of fact I had not yet had the opportunity to consider all aspects of the chin before me, let alone the question of its provenance, and yet my guest showed remarkable perspicacity, for I would surely have been pondering that very question had my brain not been so consumed with all the other pressing issues of the day, such as that of the bird and bushes, the diploma and the doughnut. It suddenly occurred to me that 'doff-nut' would be a rather amusing pronunciation of the word, which had me somewhat inclined to chuckle, but with a prolonged application of my famed iron will I resettled my concentration upon the words of my visitor.
"... and, in short, that's why I need your help," he concluded. I decided I'd best stall for time while I came up with a plan to induce him to repeat his explanation, and the second time, I resolved, he would be hard-pressed to prevent me from listening all the way through.
"Quite, quite," I assured him, stalling with practiced expertise. He fixed an expectant gaze upon me. "Filbert?" I asked. He declined—fortunately, for there were no filberts at hand. At that moment Watley burst in the door. "Sleuthe, old boy," he announced with exuberance, "you'll never guess what flavor of marmalade I've brought back from the jammers'!" Then, seeing my guest, he speedily uttered an apology. "My good man, pardon my intrusion. Watley at your service." I motioned Watley to his chair, and quite pleased at my good fortune, said, "Mr. Horseshorn, if I might trouble you to repeat your tale for the benefit of my assistant Watley, I'm sure he would be much obliged."
"Very well," replied the man gravely. I was glad to see that Watley had pulled a notebook from his pocket. He was a right-meaning fellow, was Watley, but he had a brain like a leaky sieve. No, I thought, seeking a more appropriate metaphor: like two leaky sieves.
"... my chin was in fact normal at birth and throughout my youth," Mr. Forthelawn was saying. "How, you may suppose, did it come to acquire the configuration and proportion which ye now see before ye?"
My curiosity piqued, I obliged him by asking, "How did it come to acquire the configuration and proportion which I now see before me?" He looked at me, puzzled, and I hastily added, "... is what Watley was about to say, I'm sure."
"Yes," he continued, "well. I shall tell you. It was nearly thirteen years ago, on a sea voyage back from the colonies, that we found ourselves set upon by vicious pirates. In defending the honor of some of the female passengers, I regrettably took a knife thrust to the chin. The wound itself cut out a portion of my flesh, while the swelling raised the area around the wound. The formation of scar tissue resulted in permanent disfigurement. So you see, it is a cleft chin, yet not a cleft chin."
"What it is is a pseudo-cleft chin," offered Watley. It occurred to me that Watley was not the sharpest card in the deck, nor for that matter the brightest bird in the bush.
"A pseudo-cleft chin is what it is," replied Hoarsefrawn, nodding his agreement. With each bob of his head, his chin struck his upper chest with a dull thunk. This case seemed extremely difficult, I mused. I could hardly determine where to begin. I ticked off the facts in my brain. 'Chin'. tick. 'pirate'. tick. 'psuedo-cleft'. tick. 'doff-nut'. tick. It didn't add up. Gripped by despair, I was on the verge of declaring defeat for the first time in my long and most illustrious career.
My ruminations were interrupted by Watley's voice. "And what brings you here today, my good man?" he asked. The visitor replied: "That same pirate vowed, those many years ago, that he would some day give me a cleft skull to match my chin. And he has finally tracked me down. He has, in fact, been in hot pursuit all morning, and having heard of your reputation, Mr. Sleuthe,"—I here nodded in a kindly fashion at him—"I determined to seek your help and protection. It's a wonder that he didn't make his appearance here some quarter-hours ago."
At precisely this moment, there was a furious thumping outside. I heard the door slam and then rapid footsteps rushing up the stairs. 'Surely this time it's Watley,' I thought, pleased at the opportunity for my original conjecture of the morning to be proven correct in the end. But a quick glance at Watley, furiously scribbling in his notebook, led me to frame a new hypothesis. The door flew open. "Miss Emma Hawtheshorne, I presume!" I announced triumphantly.
Sometimes in the course of human history, an event occurs which is so unprecedented, so unheralded by both fact and circumstance, that it remains beyond the predictive powers of even the world's greatest living detective and his famous brain. Such was the case at this moment, for standing before us was, as shocking and incongruous as it may seem, a pirate. He stood in the doorway, legs planted firmly apart, his teeth set in an expression of rage. The morning sunlight streaming in through the window glinted off his unsheathed cuirass, which he held aloft in one hand. On his feet were some sort of boots, and he was, in terms of pants and upper garment, also dressed exactly as pirates do, most probably. Indeed, with his long black beard, he matched exactly the stereotypical impression of a pirate, except that there was no parrot perched upon his left shoulder.
"Which one of you is Horthefawn?" he roared. "Horthefawn!" croaked the parrot perched upon his right shoulder, in a taunting echo. Thinking quickly, I pointed at Horthefawn. Imagine my shock when I realized that both Horthefawn and Watley were pointing at me! Thinking even more quickly, I came to the conclusion that I should begin to back away slowly. If only I could flee into my chamber, or perhaps lift a heavy vase from the mantel to use as a cudgel! But was the mantel behind me? I now wished I had paid more attention to the layout of the flat. Then, seeing the mantel off to my left, I realized I was done for. My back touched the wall, and the villain, now holding his weapon in both hands above his head, advanced rapidly upon me. The last thing I saw over his shoulders were Watley on the one side and a parrot, obscuring my view, on the other. Then blackness.
By the time I came to, I had figured the whole thing out. My impressive brain, freed from the necessary but demanding task of processing sensory input, had concentrated all its prowess upon deductive—or was it 'inductive', I could never keep those two straight—reasoning. When the harsh, painful light of the world broke in upon my consciousness, I had all the answers. This man who had tried to kill me was evidently the pirate from Horfethawn's story. This explained not only his dress, but also his evident desire to kill Horfethawn. It all fit so cleanly I was almost surprised I hadn't figured it out earlier.
With a groan I rose to my feet, supported by Watley on one side and Horselawn on the other. My head was pounding. On the floor before me lay the villain himself, face down. Two small close-set pools of blood were oozing from a spot on his upper back just below the neck. The parrot was standing over him, weeping in the most pitiable way.
"It's elementary," I announced, when I had recovered somewhat from my swoon. "That man was trying to kill you, Shortfawn!"
"Sleuthe, you've done it again," announced Watley, his voice redolent with admiration. "Although if Horthefawn here hadn't nodded with quite as much vigor, I dare say we'd be proudly hailing you right now as the world's greatest not living detective." Hawthehorne clasped my shoulder in unabashed gratitude, somewhat more painfully than was strictly necessary I thought. Bits of cloth and blood were stuck to each tiny hillock of his chin.
"What you both are," said the man with the pseudo-cleft chin, "are foo..."
"...fabulous detectives, yes indeed," I said, kindly finishing his sentence for him. I was loathe to let the poor fellow embarrass himself through excessive praise, deserved as it might be. "Though I might remind you that Watley is merely my assistant, and deserves little credit." I felt quite certain that I'd read somewhere or other that the rules of etiquette demanded that I point this out.
When Hawthemorne had left, I pondered the problem of what to do with the loudly mourning parrot. Then, thinking quickly, I removed one of the villain's boots, stuffed the bird inside, and replaced it. The bird's weeping, heavily muffled, was now much more bearable. Then I dragged the pirate's body out the door and kicked it down the stairs. It came to rest on the landing below with a satisfying finality. Closing the door, I proposed to wipe my hands of the whole sordid affair.
"Breakfast, Watley?" I asked. He grunted in agreement. "Incidentally, old friend, what did you buy at the jammers'?"
Watley beamed. "What I bought was filbert marmalade."
I felt anticipatory pleasure suffusing my nervous system. "Watley," I said with affection, "what this marmalade is is a fitting end to what this case is is The Case of the Pseudo-cleft Chin."