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Puppet pitched forward“The Puppet Pitched Forward”     graphite and acrylic on grey card     84 x 60cm

” We left Jeavons in the company of the constable and ascended the staircase to an attic area, occupied by four clothes rails replete with theatrical costumes, and two shelves accommodating several caricatured heads and wig-maker’s blocks. The whole presented a vaguely disturbing sight.  “Look here, Watson.” Holmes had closed in on a crumpled heap in the shadowed far corner. “A body?” I approached with trepidation. “Of sorts, Watson, of sorts”. I looked down over Holmes’ shoulder and upon a three-quarter scale version of.. Jeavons. “Why it’s his ventriloquist’s dummy.”

“Yes. Now; observe.”  Holmes pointed to a clothes hook at a height  of three feet  on the wall behind the contorted homunculus, then to the inside of the collar of the dummy’s dinner jacket. “This tag was used to hang the doll up there for safekeeping between performances. As you see, the loop was already badly frayed before today, – and probably for several months  judging by the grime of the thread. But note these two ends of cotton tacking -newly broken.”

I could sense Holmes warming  to his theme. “The puppet had been placed  there after this afternoon’s matinee show. However, in a confined space with what I estimate to be a humidity level of 7 per cent and on an August day which as you noted reached a temperature of 79 degrees fahrenheit at 3.12 pm, these final two threads could no longer hold the weight of this  puppet for much more than four hours.” He stood up and looked closely at the plaster wall; seeking further fuel to propel his train of inquiry.  “See here.” He stroked the abrasive texture of the rough plaster wall with barely concealed delight.  “This lime-wash,combined with the stiffness of this starched shirtfront and the weight of a worsted suit, can mean only one thing.” He swivelled on his heel and back  down to the puppet. “As you  yourself may have deduced from this array of evidence, Watson; once the final strands of thread gave way, the effigy would have begun its slide down this wall from its coathook at some time not before 7.48pm , and commenced its final forward trajectory  no later than 8.03pm..”

“I see that Holmes,” I said, not actually seeing anything at all at that point, “but what does all this mean?”

“Really Watson. Take a look at the floor.” I gazed down to the bare floor-boarding and back at Holmes, betraying my bafflement. “Come, come my good doctor, think.” Holmes interjected with a gratuitous show of exasperation. “This puppet’s head I calculate to be  about 2lbs 3oz in weight. Assuming it pitched forward 90 degrees from a height of  sixteen inches…”

“Sixteen inches..?”

“The distance between its hip joint and forehead, Watson. Now, assuming it pitched forward from a height of sixteen inches, no-one then in the house could have failed to hear the noise which the head  would have created upon impact with the wooden floorboards. Certainly no professional performer would have ignored such a noise coming from the room in which he keeps his most valued prop. I therefore deduce..” “That Jeavons could not have been at home at 7.50pm as he said he was.”

“Precisely, Watson,” mused the great sleuth,searching his pockets for a lucifer with which to light a pipe; “his alibi is as cracked wide open as the forehead of the puppet now lying at your feet.” ”

Extracted from: “Landscape with Thrown Voices” The Uncollected Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.  A Conan- Doyle. Hudson Press  ed. R. K. Bach 1972  Previously featured in ‘Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine’ [Philadelphia] August 1891

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