Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Case of the Postal Discount

Just the other fortnight I had occasion to send an urgent document to a client sojourning in the Empire of Nippon, located far to the east. Watley informed me that, following the recent establishment of the Universal Postal Union by the Royal Prussian Minister for Posts, Heinrich von Stephan (whom Watley assured me was a most unpleasant man, a fact I had already deduced mere moments after he so informed me), Her Majesty's Royal Mail had but just inaugurated an express delivery service to the far corners of the globe.

I thereupon signed my name to the document, powdered and blotted it, folded and sealed it, and sent it round with Watley to the post, with careful instructions regarding the grades of marmalade and filberts he was to purchase at the jammers' and nutters' on his return. Watley merrily set off, shaking his head and muttering something indistinct under his breath about "a real nutter", whatever that might mean, and I thought no more about him.

Strictly speaking, that last phrase is not correct, since upon Watley's return, as he stood before me and spoke to me, I found my thoughts once more turning to him.

"A most peculiar thing, my dear fellow," he exclaimed. "I was informed by the postal clark that there are two categories of service to Nippon, dubbed 'priority' and 'economy', from the names of which I deduced that the former constituted a speedier service and the latter a less expensive one."

"I'll do the deducing around here, Watley," I interjected.

"The fellow next informed me that the 'priority' service would cost 75 quid, and the document would arrive at its imperial destination in seven months."

"75 bob!" I gasped, first at the expense, then at the realization that I'd once again forgotten if 'bob' and 'quid' referred to the same unit of currency or not. To avoid any appearance of ignorance, I coughed loudly. "--kof-- 75 bob ... bob ... bobosterous, I say!"

"Precisely what I exclaimed, Sleuthe, though with an additional 'r'. Recalling that you still hadn't received your fee for solving the Case of the Bankrupt Client, and well aware that rent is coming due, I then inquired about the 'economy' service."

"Ah yes, the economy service, quite the thing." I spoke with some relief.

"But that's just the rub, there, you see," Watley continued. "The economy service was 92 quid. And the amount of time it would take to deliver was identical: seven months."

I gasped audibly, then silently. My mind was at a loss for words.

"Not to worry, old chap. I popped into the jammers, and for only 15 quid, they agreed to deliver the document. You see, they are now making regular voyages to Nippon. There is, apparently, a thriving trade in quince and gingko."

Watley and I celebrated his stroke of genius with a handful of filberts.