Monday, July 6, 2020

IN DEFENSE OF AMERICA'S FOUNDERS

  So the Fourth of July has come and gone in this crazy year of COVID, protests, and Presidential politics here in America.  Our whole country seems to be seething with anger right now - some of it is the usual partisan nonsense that flourishes every election year, but much of it goes deeper than that.  Minorities are taking to the streets to protest a law enforcement system that seems rigged against them, and many middle aged whites are countering with arguments that people won't get in trouble if they just don't break the law, and dragging out various  crime statistics to buttress their point. 

     But for many young people, the problems in America are so pervasive and so deep that they see nothing worth celebrating in our country's history anymore.  Over the last week, I've seen statements on social media like: "Burn it all down!  If you ever owned a slave, you don't get a statue, period!" and "I choose not to celebrate because the premise of equality in the Declaration only applied to straight, white males and no one else."  In short, all of American history is seen as racist, flawed, and unworthy of any honor or celebration because . . . people in the 18th century didn't think like people in the 21st century.  Why is that surprising or shocking?
  
     I won't address the many social issues that are being debated in America right now, except to say that there are some valid points on every side, and I do believe if we quit yelling and started listening to each other, we might actually come to a better understanding of why so many people are so upset.  We might even (gasp!!) compromise on some things and solve some problems.  But what I do want to address is the subject nearest and dearest to my heart - American history.  It's something I have taught and studied for my entire adult life, and I believe it still has great value, and can teach us many lessons that we seem determined not to learn.

     "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are implemented among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government. . ."  Thomas Jefferson wrote those words in 1776, in a document which was primarily intended to justify America's breaking away from the British Empire.  But within that piece of persuasive political propaganda (for that is what the Declaration was), he included this bit of Enlightenment philosophy which would become America's first principle: the rights of equality and self-determination.  Jefferson, as everyone knows today, owned some 300 slaves.  He fathered children with one of them, although the precise details of his relationship with Sally Hemings are shrouded in mystery to this day.  He was a flawed man, but more than anything, he was a product of the time and culture he lived in.  Does that mean that everything he ever wrote, or said, or did, is worthless?  Of course not.

     George Washington was also a Virginia planter.  He, too, was a slaveowner, although he recognized the evils of the institution and grew increasingly uncomfortable with it as he grew older.  But he was also a man who served for eight years without pay as head of the Continental Army, fighting for the independence of this country.  He was at the forefront of every battle; he shared in the dangers and hardships of his soldiers, and ultimately led them to victory against one of the most powerful nations on earth.  He refused the chance to become a King when the Army wanted to disband Congress and offer him a crown.  He presided over the Constitutional Convention, creating the most durable and stable Republic in the history of the modern world, and served for another eight years as its President, guiding the fragile young nation through many dangers, quelling partisan infighting that might have strangled America in the cradle, keeping us out of foreign wars, and establishing an Executive Branch that has endured to this day.  Shall we tear down his monument, too?

    Here is the challenge I would issue to  all the "Cancel Culture" youths who are crying out for the mass erasure of American history. (NOTE: you see I didn't mention Confederate monuments here; that's a separate issue that I have written about here on multiple occasions.)  Simply put, it is this:  Show me, please, where in the world of 1776 there existed a government that allowed women and minorities to vote and hold office, that did not discriminate based on color, religion, or nationality.  Show me an 18th century government that allowed universal suffrage, that did regarded women as full political and social equals of men, that respected all races and religions equally.  Take your time, read some history books, and get back to me.

    Hint: You won't find one.  The political and moral values of the 21st century did not exist in the 1700's.  It is unrealistic and unfair to men who lived 250 years ago to expect them to be as "woke" and enlightened as you are (or as you think you are) today.  They were products of an era far more primitive and patriarchal than the world we live in now, and just as they were incapable of understanding the technological marvels of today, like cellular communications, the internal combustion engine, and space travel, they also could not wrap their heads around the societal values we take for granted.

    That is what makes their achievement all the more remarkable: despite their limitations, despite the culture that produced them, despite what we would scorn as their "barbarity," they created a system of government that allowed our culture to evolve to where it has.  As flawed as their understanding of equality was, they still made it the founding principle of their new Republic.  They didn't perfectly practice the ideas they articulated, but they articulated them anyway, knowing that the sentiments contained in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights were goals worth striving for.  We are still reaching towards their vision, but without them, we would not have the vision to begin with.  They created a Republic, and a Constitution, that carried within itself the mechanisms for constant self-improvement and growth.  Thanks to their wisdom and foresight, we haven't been wracked with constant Revolutions and the blood and misery that they produce.  With the one notable exception of our horrible Civil War, the government they created has set a standard for stability and moral and political progress. 

    We could have done far worse.  France fought a Revolution based on similar ideas to ours just a decade after our own Revolution ended, but instead of a stable democracy, they went from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy to a republic to a reign of terror to an authoritarian dictatorship to an absolute dictatorship to a restored absolute monarchy, all in the span of 25 years!  And then they continued to change governments with depressing regularity and a great deal of bloodshed and misery for the next century.  America avoided that fate thanks to the foresight and wisdom of the men who created our country.

    So when I see young people posting the obscene "F*** the Fourth" hashtag, I shake my head sadly.  The fact that they even have the freedom to say such things is because a slaveowning Southerner name James Madison penned the First Amendment to the Constitution, that "Congress shall pass no law . . . abridging the Freedom of Speech."  Our Founders were not perfect men, OK?  We get that.  They were not modern in their values, their morals, or their worldview.  But they were truly remarkable men for their time, and they laid a foundation on which we have been able to build a remarkable country.   Because of them, we have the right to "peaceably assemble, and petition the government for a redress of our grievances."  Isn't that what is going on in much of America right now?  You are allowed to march and chant and demand change because a bunch of benighted 18th century farmers and merchants thought it was important for you to have that right.

   Yes, we still have problems in America.  We've come a long way on issues of race and equality, but we still have a long way to go.  It has not been a smooth journey, but it could have been much worse.  Rejecting the lessons of our history, and casting our Founders upon the ash heap because they are not us, is short-sighted and foolish.  They have many lessons to teach us still, and we would be wise to learn them.  The fact that we have the freedom to do so is a tribute to their wisdom and foresight.

Friday, June 26, 2020

ALL NEW SHORT STORY! The Curious Case of the Missing Dinosaur Tooth

      Sherlock Holmes is one of the most iconic figures in literature, and I have loved reading about his exploits since I first encountered them in sixth grade.  They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and so I offer this humble addition to the Holmesian apocrypha in tribute to the genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created this remarkable character.  Enjoy the story!!


     THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING DINOSAUR TOOTH

                                                          By
                                          John H. Watson, MD

                                                  as told to
                                              Lewis B. Smith

 

            In the years since I retired from my active medical practice, and since my close friend Mister Sherlock Holmes ended his storied career as the world’s first consulting detective (although he still occasionally investigates what he calls “cases of interest” on occasion), I have finally had the time to sort through my unpublished notes on the many cases in which I assisted Holmes.  Most of these notes concern matters too trivial, or solutions too simple, to merit laying them before the public.  Others involve events so sensitive that even now I may not write or speak of them (although I have been told that when a certain august personage breathes his last I may reveal the case of the vanishing Russian Duchess – assuming I myself am still alive when that time comes). But there are a few cases in my voluminous file that present sufficient points of interest that I feel merited in bringing them forth for belated public consumption, and one such case began on a blistering summer day in the fifty-fifth year of our good Queen Victoria’s reign.

 

          The glass had just topped ninety degrees at noon, and a pall of nasty haze that no breeze could dispel hung over the city of London.  Laundry hung limp on the lines, a thin sheen of sweat covered every citizen, and the passing of wagons and carriages stirred up a near-constant cloud of dust at street level.  Tempers were short and it seemed every voice rang a bit louder with notes of irritation and conflict.  I was trying to fan myself with one hand while propping up a book on my knee with the other, and Holmes was drawing the bow across the strings of his violin in what seemed to be a deliberate effort to create the tone most obnoxious to the human ear.  Despite my long acquaintance with his eccentricities, I had reached the point that I would have to either vacate the room or fling my book at him in the next few minutes.

 

          “My dear Watson,” he said, abruptly laying down his bow, “I daresay that General Gordon’s biography would be a terrible choice of projectiles.  The inkwell at the desk next to you would fly much truer, assuming I did not dodge it.”

 

          “The devil you say, Holmes!” I replied with a chuckle.  “I know you claim such comments are merely deductive reasoning, but I think you must be at least a bit clairvoyant!  There is no other way you could have known what was on my mind at that moment.”

 

          “You do me too much credit, Watson,” Holmes replied with a sardonic grin. “I’ve watched from the corner of my eye as your color has steadily risen, your fist clenched the book more tightly, and your eye flickered back and forth, measuring the distance between your chair and my forehead several times over.  Fortunately, my violin is now fully tuned, and you can work off your anger by answering the door and allowing our guest to enter.”

 

          I opened my mouth to retort, but the sound of footsteps ascending the steps to 221B Baker street proved him correct once more, so with a surly glare I got up to admit our latest client.  He was a remarkably tall fellow, six and a half feet at least, but scrawny in build, cadaverously white, with thin, lank hair combed over his balding pate, a pince-nez that was a size to small for his wide-set eyes, and a black suit that looked more apropos for an undertaker’s parlor than the broiling streets of London on a muggy July day. As he entered, he mopped his clammy forehead and fixed his gaze upon me.

 

          “Are you the famous Mister Holmes?” he said.  “I fear that I am in most desperate need of your assistance!”

 

          “I am afraid you are mistaken, sir -” I began, but his wail of despair cut me off.

 

          “Oh, dear!” he said. “I was sure I had copied the address down correctly. How shall I ever find him now?  This is such an awful business, and I fear that only the famous detective can sort it out!”

 

          “My dear Doctor Snodgrass,” Holmes said, “you are indeed at the right address.  I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is my friend and associate, Doctor Watson.  Fear not, sir, I will gladly use all the powers at my disposal to resolve your dilemma and make sure the Museum’s new exhibit opens in time!”

 

          The scarecrow-like figure recoiled as if Holmes had struck him a physical blow, and grew even paler, if such a thing was possible.  For a moment, I thought he was going to faint on our doorstep, and I quickly helped him into the chair where I had been seated a few moments before, reading of the dreadful siege of Khartoum.  Eliot Snodgrass – for that was indeed his name – removed his pince-nez and polished it nervously with his frayed handkerchief.

 

          “I cannot believe that our private dilemma is in the papers already!” he said.  “Alas, the Museum Board will have my head when they find out that the information has been leaked to the press!”

 

          “You may set that worry aside, Doctor,” said Holmes.  “Nothing of your difficulties has yet appeared in the press.”

 

          “But how, then, could you possibly know who I am or why I came to you this afternoon?” Snodgrass asked breathlessly.

 

          “Simple use of logic,” Holmes said.  “I saw your picture in Sunday’s Times alongside a lengthy article about the upcoming Mesozoic exhibit, with an account of the flurry of work going on to prepare this new attraction for the public – and what could possibly bring the Natural History wing’s chief curator to Baker Street in such high dudgeon on such a miserable day unless some crisis was about to derail the grand opening, which is scheduled to take place in two days?”

 

          The tall scholar swallowed hard, and his body relaxed slightly. “Well,” he said, “Here I thought disaster had struck, but when you explain the process, I see that it was a very simple deduction after all!  But, Mister Holmes, I must ask you to come to the Museum with me immediately.  For the life of me, I do not understand why anyone would kill a man over a dinosaur tooth!”

 

          Holmes and I exchanged glances.  Since resolving the case I later chronicled under the title ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches’ a few weeks earlier, we had seen precious few problems that were anything beyond pedestrian – several, in fact, were so commonplace that Holmes referred the plaintiffs to Inspector Lestrade with only a word or two of suggestions on how to conclude them.  But a murder involving a fossil? I could see by the glint in Holmes’ eyes and the twitching of his nostrils that his interest was piqued.

          “Well, then, Doctor,” he said, “why don’t I ring up Mrs. Hudson for a glass of her delightful chilled lemonade and you can tell us all about this tragedy?”

 

          Snodgrass wiped his brow again.  “Anything chilled would be welcome on this miserable day!” he said.  “Working in the basement of the Museum has ill equipped me to deal with this dreadful heat!”

 

          I rang up Mrs. Hudson, and in short order she brought up three tall glasses of lemonade, their sides sweating in the excess humidity.  Ice sellers were running short during this heat wave, but her box in the basement had just enough left from the block she’d bought the previous day to keep the pitcher of lemonade delightfully cool.  I handed Holmes and Snodgrass their glasses, then took a long drink of mine, and pressed the cool tumbler to my forehead for a moment, relishing the feel of the cool glass on my skin.

 

          “Now then,” said Holmes.  “Give me the full story; omit no detail, however trivial.  What is this tooth missing from, and who has been murdered?”

 

          “Well, let me see, how to begin?” Snodgrass fretted.  “I suppose, sir, that you have heard of the remarkable work of the American paleontologists Owens and Marsh, in excavating and displaying the fossil remains of those marvelous giant lizards, the dinosaurs?” he asked.

 

          “Only the vaguest recollections of news stories,” Holmes said.  “I try to focus my mind on things related to my craft, although I have glanced at those articles because I used to pick up fossils at the base of the cliffs near our home when I was a boy.  Assume I know nothing on the topic, sir, lest some important detail be overlooked.”

 

          “Well, Mister Holmes, for the last decade and more, these two Americans have been rivals in unearthing fossils all over the American West and shipping them back east to be displayed in either the Smithsonian or the New York Museum of Natural History.  They are identifying new species at a remarkable rate, and crowds flock in to see the latest specimens that are being restored and mounted for display,” the curator explained.  “Given the public interest in these creatures, it behooved the British Museum to try and acquire specimens of our own.  We hired one of Owens’ former associates, Doctor William H. Jones, to procure dinosaur fossils for us.  Thanks to the efforts of several wealthy donors, he has had a sufficient budget to lease several large ranches in the area of the Wyoming  territory known as the ‘Badlands’, where dinosaur fossils are plentiful and often exposed by erosion.  Jones has been excavating and packing up fossils for three years now.  They were initially taken to New York’s natural history museum to be cleaned and stabilized, then this spring Jones came to London with six of his most pristine specimens to oversee their preparation and mounting here at the British Museum.  You should see the remarkable Stegosaurus skeleton he just finished, sir, it is the most complete one found yet!  But that was not the prize of the collection – that honor belonged to the specimen I’ve come to see you about, a giant predatory therapod known as Allosaurus!  Imagine a huge lizard, sir, walking on its hind legs, towering nearly fifteen feet tall and reaching a length of thirty-two feet!  This giant predator will greet visitors to the new exhibit as soon as they come in, its mouth full of dreadful teeth open wide in menace!  It is the most remarkable fossil ever to be displayed in Europe, sir, and Jones just finished wiring the last of its bones into place yesterday.  He was still fussing and fretting over it when I left the Museum at none o’clock last evening, with his boy Henry holding the ladder for him.  I remember it clearly, because as I left, I looked up at those mighty tooth-studded jaws and thought what a remarkable exhibition this was going to be!”

 

          “Fascinating,” said Holmes, taking another sip of his lemonade and leaning back in his chair, steepling his fingers under his chin.  “Please continue.”

 

          “Well, this morning I arrived at work around seven o’clock – I’ve been coming in early this week to avoid the beastly heat.  Young Henry is in school every day until two o’clock in the afternoon, but his father had gotten there before me this time, for the Paleontology hall was already unlocked.  I looked up to see the Allosaurus’ toothy grin as I entered, and something struck me as wrong right away.  It took me a minute to realize what it was, but when I saw it I was dumbstruck!  Someone had pried out the longest of the animal’s fearsome teeth, right up near the front of its mouth, leaving an empty socket.  The aesthetic effect was horrible; it somehow transformed the ferocious predator’s visage into the face of a gap-toothed reptilian simpleton!  I decided that I would immediately seek out Jones and find out what the devil was going on, but then I looked at the floor and saw the blood and realized that more was amiss than I thought.”

 

          Holmes leaned forward, his own smooth brow glistening now.  I could tell this puzzle had its hooks into him.  “Fascinating!” he said.  “Tell me exactly what you saw, sir!”

 

          “The first thing I noticed was the ladder,” he said.  “Jones was a stickler for taking it down and leaning it neatly against the wall whenever he was not working, but it was lying on its side almost directly under the Allosaur’s head.  Just off to its left there was a large puddle of blood, still glistening wet.  It was smooth and more or less oval, with a few stray drops scattered around it, and over two feet across. But there was a set of bloody footprints leading from it, down the corridor to the left, towards Jones’ office.  I hesitated a moment, for the smell of blood has always sickened me.  But then I followed the trail and came upon Jones lying just inside the office we’d assigned him, in the midst of all his field journals and wrapped-up fossil specimens. He’d collapsed after crossing the threshold, and I thought he was gone, considering the volume of blood that had pooled around him.  But he was still conscious, and hearing my steps, he tried vainly to roll over so he could look up at me.  I knelt and assisted him.  He had a deep wound in his chest, just below his sternum, and the blood was still oozing from it.  He pointed at the shelf full of his journals and labored to speak.  He was nearly gone, Mister Holmes, but I was able to make out two words – ‘Howell,’ or perhaps ‘howl’, and ‘green.’ Words failed him at that point, but he raised his hand and pointed at his desk – or perhaps the shelves behind it.  He struggled to say something else, but then his head drooped, and his breath left him.  I knelt there for some time – in fact, I had to go home before I came here and change my trousers, for they were soaked in his blood!    The whole place was still – whoever had done the ghastly deed must have fled before I arrived, for not a sound broke the oppressive silence from the time I found the body until I finally rose and made my way up front.  I staggered out the door and flagged down a passing constable, and before I knew it the Museum was crawling with policemen.  Their leader, a rather obnoxious fellow named LeStrange or something like that, made some rather nasty insinuations, as if I were the chief suspect!  After two hours of his relentless grilling, I protested, and he said in a snide tone ‘Well, if you are so sure you have nothing to do with this, you might as well summon that know-it-all Holmes!’  Begging your pardon, sir, his words, not mine!  But I asked who he was referring to, and a plainclothesman gave me your name and address.  I asked to be excused, and after changing out of my stained garments, I made my way here straightway.”

 

          Holmes and I had exchanged glances at the latter part of this narrative, having no doubt who ‘LeStrange’ was.  But now that our guest was done, my friend sprang from his chair and laid his violin in its case.

 

          “Well, Doctor, I want to thank you for bringing this case to my attention,” he said.  “It contains far more points of interest than I thought it might.  I believe I can help unravel this mystery, but we need to visit the scene of the crime first.  I am afraid that London’s finest may have already destroyed the greater part of the evidence, but perhaps I can still deduce a few details before all the clues are erased.  Come, Watson, let us see if we can procure a hansom!”

 

          It was with reluctance that I donned my outer coat, but even in such extreme heat, in that day no gentleman would venture out of doors in his shirtsleeves.  I donned a light, wide-brimmed hat to keep the hellish glare of the early afternoon sun out of my face, and together the three of us descended the steps onto Baker Street. Fortunately, we spotted a hansom a half block away, moving up the street at a slow trot.  I hailed the driver and we hopped in, and soon were moving at a decent clip along the streets, which were much less crowded than usual for midday.  We arrived at the British Museum some fifteen minutes later, finding a bobby at the door and a few curious patrons milling about outside.  I paid the driver a few extra shillings and told him to get his poor horses some water, and then followed Holmes and Snodgrass into the Museum’s vast atrium.  The air inside was considerably cooler than the sweltering street, and the faint smells of formaldehyde, sawdust, and plaster hung in the air.

 

          “Mister Holmes!”  Inspector Lestrade greeted us in his usual condescending tone.  “I might have known you and Doctor Watson would pop up.  Can’t resist a puddle of blood and a dead body, even on such a beastly day as this, can you?”

 

          Holmes gave the policeman a sour glance.  “I suppose your men have trampled most of the evidence into oblivion by now,” he said, “but I would appreciate the opportunity to examine the scene of the crime.”

 

          “The coroner is on his way to remove the body,” said Lestrade, “so you might want to start with Dr. Jones’ office and work back from there.”

 

          “A surprisingly practical suggestion,” Holmes said.  “Let us begin, then. Lead the way Lestrade!”

 

          I followed Holmes to the large, frosted glass doors that separated the Hall of Paleontology from main atrium of the museum, and looked up as I entered to see the fearsome skull of the Allosaurus looming over the room, its fangs glistening in the sunlight that filtered down from the room’s high windows.  This was truly an impressive predator, I thought, as I tried to imagine how those ancient bones would appear if clothed in flesh again.  But the absence of one of the largest teeth did indeed detract from the fearsome appearance of the fossil, lending a slight aura of the ludicrous to what should have been fearsome.

 

          Looking down, I saw the puddle of blood that Snodgrass had described just to the left of the dinosaur’s skeleton, and a bloody trail of footprints leading from it.  Holmes’ eyes were fixed on the ground, and after a moment he gave Lestrade a sharp look.

 

          “Inspector,” he said, “please clear this room.  You and Watson may remain, but send these others out into the lobby.”

 

          “What about me, Mister Holmes?” a voice intruded from the door.  Shouldering his way past Snodgrass was a stout, hirsute man who was perspiring heavily.  I could see that his suit was covered with a thin coat of dust and deduced that he must have arrived just behind us.

 

          “Sir Gilbert!” Holmes said, and crossed the room to greet the newcomer.  “I thought you might be here ahead of us, but I see you were delayed in traffic.  You are welcome to remain, sir, but please stand there in the doorway until I have concluded my examination.”

 

          “Quite right, sir!  If you can solve this dreadful crime as easily as you recovered the Borgia rubies for us, the Museum will be very much in your debt,” he said.

 

          “That was long ago,” Holmes said, “but I am glad my small service is not forgotten.  Reynold Gilbert, this is my associate, Doctor Watson.   Watson, this is Sir Reynold Gilbert, the head of the British Museum’s governing board.”

          “A pleasure, sir,” I said, “although I wish our meeting were under different circumstances!”

 

          “And in a cooler season,” the heavyset trustee replied.  “My hansom was held up by a fire on Thurston Street, and I thought I would bake before we got moving again!”

 

          Holmes, meanwhile, had turned his back on us and thrown himself to the floor, whipping out his magnifying glass, and studying the minute scuff marks on the polished marble.  He slowly crawled towards the puddle of blood, skirted its edge, and then paused for a moment.  He produced a pair of tweezers and retrieved something very small from the floor, then crawled a few feet further, muttered under his breath, and retrieved a second object. Both were deposited in an empty snuffbox he carried for such moments, and then he continued following the trail of bloody footprints across the chamber and into a nearby corridor.  I followed behind, being careful to avoid the now-dry blood trail, and then looked over his shoulder at the tragic scene that was laid before us in the small office.

 

          William Jones had been a robust man of average height, with an iron-grey beard, dark brows, and thinning hair.  Even in death, his skin bore the deep bronze shade of a man who spent much of his life outdoors.  Holmes studied the body very closely, once more producing his tweezers and picking a few flecks of something from the man’s shirt.  Then he stood and looked at the paleontologist’s desk, which was cluttered with fossils and notebooks, two of which lay open, filled with close-packed but neat writing and sketches of bones, giant lizards, cliff faces, and other things I did not recognize.  Holmes studied the office, paying special attention to the notebooks and the specimens that lay on the different shelves.  Finally, he stood and called out for Doctor Snodgrass.  The cadaverous scientist had followed me down the corridor and leaned into the room over my shoulder when he heard his name.

 

          “You said that Jones pointed at something as he lay dying,” Holmes said. “Can you show me what he was pointing towards?”

 

          Snodgrass stepped past me and folded his long legs until he was down at floor level.  Gingerly, he lifted the dead man’s hand and extended it, pointing at the top of the desk and the shelf beyond.  Holmes thanked the curator and studied the notebooks on the desktop, picking one up and glancing over it carefully, rapidly flipping through the closely written pages.  He paused at one illustration which even I recognized – it was a sketch of the Allosaurus skull that was now mounted with the rest of the skeleton in the Hall of Paleontology.  Holmes studied the sketch closely, and then snapped the notebook shut and joined us in the hallway.

 

          “Well, this little puzzle was certainly not devoid of interest,” he said.  “Tell me, Doctor Snodgrass, how large was the missing tooth?”

 

“Well, the crown of the tooth – the part visible above the jawline – was about an inch and a half,” said the curator.  “But with the full root, it would have been nearly four inches.”

 

“Excellent!” said Holmes.  “From what I have observed, I’m afraid can tell you that the tooth will never be recovered.  Lestrade, could I trouble you for a pencil?”

 

          “Don’t tell me you’ve figured it out already!” Lestrade exclaimed.

 

          “It was most elementary, once I put a few things together,” Holmes said, producing the snuffbox. He led us back into the Hall of Paleontology, where the light was better.  “See here, Doctor Snodgrass, do you recognize this?”

 

          He pulled out a small piece of plaster, flat, about a quarter inch across.  It was painted a rich, dark brown on one side, but was white and unfinished on the other.

 

          “It looks like the filler we use to replace missing areas of bone in our dinosaur fossils,” he said. 

 

          “This was the largest piece I recovered, directly underneath your Allosaurus. There were also a few smaller fragments clinging to Dr. Jones’ jacket.  Now, observe this!”  Holmes said, and he dipped into the snuffbox again with his tweezers.

 

          This time he produced a small loop of gold, which glistened in the filtered sunlight of the great museum hall.

 

          “It looks like the clasp off of a golden necklace or bracelet,” I said.

 

          “Good observation, Watson,” he said.  “That is exactly what it is.  Now we need to recover the piece that it came from!”  He took the pencil Lestrade had given him and ripped a blank page out of the back of the notebook he’d removed from Jones’ desk.  He quickly scrawled a few lines on it, folded it in half, and handed it to the Inspector.

 

          “Have one of your men send this message via telegram to the curator of the Museum of Natural History in New York City,” he said.  “With any luck, we can have his reply back by tomorrow.”

 

          About this time, I heard a ruckus coming from the entrance to the Hall of Paleontology, and all of us turned to see the source of the commotion.  A young lad of about ten or twelve was trying to push his way past the patrolman who guarded the entrance.

 

          “You don’t understand,” he was saying.  “I work here, helping my Pop with the fossils!  The exhibition goes up in two days, and he needs me! You have to let me past!”

 

          “That’s young Henry Jones!” Snodgrass said.  “Oh, bother, I completely forgot to send anyone to notify him of his father’s demise!  This is awful!”

 

          “I will not have his last memory of his father be the horror in that office!” Holmes said firmly.  “Come, Watson, you are better at this sort of thing than I am. He needs to be told, but I also need to ask him about something.  Help me.”

 

          “Constable, let us through to the lad, please,” Holmes said.  “Are you Mister Henry Jones, sir?”

 

          “I am,” the confused boy replied.  “What is going on, sir?  Why can’t I go help my father?”

 

          I bent down and looked young Jones in the eye.  “I am Doctor John Watson,” I said.  “I am terribly sorry, Henry, but I am afraid your father has perished.  He was attacked early this morning by an unknown assailant.  Doctor Jones was gone by the time the police arrived.  There was nothing I could do for him when I got here.”

 

          The young man turned from me and buried his face in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably for a moment.   But, in a display of maturity that belied his years, he slowly straightened and turned to face me.  His face was still streaked with tears, but his voice was calm.

 

          “Doctor Watson?” he said.  “Are you the one that helps Sherlock Holmes catch criminals?”

 

          I nodded and pointed to my companion.  “Yes, that is me, and this is Mister Holmes.  He is here to help the police apprehend your father’s assailant,” I explained.

 

          “Killer, you mean,” the young man said, with a fierce anger crowding out the sorrow in his eyes.  “How can I help him?”

 

          Holmes stepped forward and shook the young man’s hand.

 

          “I am deeply sympathetic for your great loss,” he said.  “I was about your age when my own mother perished, so I can, perhaps, understand the depth of your grief better than most.”  I was astonished at this, for I had never before heard my companion allude to his mother’s demise.  Henry Jones looked up at Holmes, and suddenly embraced him. Holmes was not a man given to gestures of affection, but in that moment, he hugged the young man back with a tenderness that brought a lump to my throat.

 

          Holmes slowly pulled away, and for a moment I thought that his own eyes were moist, although it may have been a trick of the summer sun.  He clapped the lad on the shoulder and spoke in a businesslike voice that belied the scene we had all just witnessed.

 

          “Now, Henry, did your father have an assistant that worked with him on this exhibit?” he said.  “A rather scrawny, sallow fellow with a diagonal scar on his chin?

 

          “Why, yes, sir, Oliver Northcutt is his name,” said young Jones.  “He worked as a doorman for the Museum, but he loved the fossils and was right handy with them, so Pops pulled him off door duty and had him helping us these last few days as we readied the exhibit for the public.  He was so interested in the bones I even caught him thumbing through Pop’s notebooks once or twice!  Dad didn’t like that much, though.  He threatened to fire Northcutt if he caught him at it again.”


          “Do you know how to contact Mister Northcutt?” Holmes asked.

 

          “He has a flat a few blocks away,” Jones replied.  “I had to deliver a message to him once last week that came in after he’d gone home for the day.”

 

          “Excellent!” said Holmes.  “Dear lad, I must ask something of you, but you may feel free to say no if it is too much – I am mindful of the great loss you have suffered.  But could you carry another message to Northcutt for me?”

 

          “Will this help catch my father’s killer?” the boy asked.

 

          “It most certainly should,” Holmes replied. 

 

          “Then I’m your man!” said Jones, squaring his shoulders and facing us with a determination that wiped away the grief on his face.

 

          “Good lad!” said Holmes. “Mister Snodgrass, would you write the following message for me?  It will raise less alarm coming from you than from a policeman, or myself.  Lestrade, let’s get these extra men, and ourselves, out of sight once this note is dispatched.  I don’t want to give this man cause for alarm, because he is quite a dangerous character.”  With that, he leaned into the tall curator and whispered in his ear for a moment. Snodgrass nodded, and wrote a brief message on a sheet of Museum stationary.  He tucked it in an envelope and wrote Northcutt’s name on it, and Henry took it, tucked it in his pocket, and disappeared out the front door.

 

          “That’s a stout lad,” I commented with admiration.

 

          “That one has a bright future ahead of him, I’ll warrant,” said Holmes.  “But quick now!  Lestrade, you, me, and Watson need to be out of sight.  Leave the constable by the door – this Northcutt knows a murder has been committed and will be expecting to see the police.  Now, Doctor Snodgrass, I want you to guide Northcutt towards the hallway where Jones’ office was, and, if I may trouble you for a sheet of that stationary, I’ll give you a message to hand to him.  After he has read it, Watson, Lestrade, and I will pop out of your office and apprehend him.”

 

          In a trice, we were ensconced in Snodgrass’ office, which opened directly into the Hall of Paleontology, and the tall curator was left nervously pacing about in front of the massive Allosaurus skeleton.  Less than five minutes after we had assumed our hiding place, I heard footsteps coming through the atrium, and a short, wiry man with close-cropped red hair and a scar on his chin entered, young Jones following close behind him.  We had left the door open just a crack, and I watched with one eye as the scene unfolded.

 

          “Good afternoon, Doctor Snodgrass!” he said in a hangdog tone.  “Such awful business! Young Jones here told me about his da!  Do you have any idea who might have done such a thing?”

 

          “Well, the police seem to think it was a burglary gone wrong, perhaps,” said Snodgrass, leading him past the Allosaurus skeleton and the bloody puddle beneath it.  “But between you and me, they seem to have no idea who might have done it.  But I found this envelope in William’s desk and it had your name on it.  Do you have any idea what it might mean?” 

 

          With that he turned and handed the envelope to Northcutt, who tore it open and unfolded the sheet of stationery.  He read the single sentence Holmes had written on it and suddenly flinched.

 

          “Now, Watson!” Holmes cried, and the three of us lunged through the door after our prey.  Northcutt was quick as lightning, though, dropping the letter and pulling an ugly knife from his pocket.  He grabbed the scrawny form of Snodgrass and pushed the point of the dagger into the man’s abdomen until a drop of blood began to show.  The curator wailed as if he’d been butchered, but Northcutt tightened his grip and snapped at him to be silent.

 

          “Well played, Mister Holmes,” he said. “but I’ll not be swinging for this one!  Me and the doctor here are going to make our way to the exit, very slowly, and then I’m catching a hansom and getting out of here!”

 

          I cursed myself for having left my service revolver at home, but then I heard a click beside me and saw that Lestrade had his trusty firearm trained on the man’s forehead.

 

          “I am quite sure my bullet will cover the distance before you can push that knife in more than an inch,” he said.  “You will not be leaving this Museum until you’re handcuffed, you blackguard!”

         

          Northcutt studied the inspector’s grim face for a moment, and then in a trice he shoved Snodgrass towards us and ran for the doors.  I started after him, but my feet hit the drying puddle of blood and I went down, hard, knocking my wind out. Holmes was trying to disentangle himself from the flailing form of Snodgrass, and Lestrade was trying to get a clear shot at the darting figure of Northcutt, who was almost to the entrance of the Paleontology Hall.  It was at that moment that young Henry Jones stepped up, fast as lighting, and delivered a mighty punch square into the jaw of the fleeing killer, hitting him so hard that Northcutt was upended and landed flat of his back on the floor, the vicious blade flying out of his hand.  It skittered to a stop inches from me, and I scooped it up as I slowly got to my feet, the old wound in my hip suddenly throbbing.

 

          “Stout lad indeed!” said Lestrade, pulling out his handcuffs and placing them on the dazed Northcutt.  “Well done, Mister Jones!”

 

          “We lived in a tough neighborhood in Indiana when I was growing up,” the boy said.  “I learned to scrap early on.”

 

He walked over and looked down at Northcutt who was struggling to rise, and quick as lightning he drew his foot back and fetched him a fierce kick in the ribs, which sent the felon crashing back to the floor.  The boy snarled: “That was for my Pop!” and then began to cry again.

 

          “I am terribly confused,” Snodgrass said, having finally recovered his voice after the ordeal.

 

          “I’m a bit shady on some things meself,” Lestrade said.  “But no doubt Mister Holmes here will enlighten us all momentarily.”

 

          “Gladly,” my companion said, “although first I must apologize.  My flair for the dramatic badly backfired on this occasion.  I had no idea that Northcutt – or, to give him his proper name, Randall Moss – would resort to taking hostages.”

 

          “Wait – Randall Moss of the Moss brothers? The notorious jewel thieves?” Lestrade asked.

 

          “One and the same,” Holmes said.  “It was Jones’ dying words that made everything fall into place.  Part of my business, as you know, Lestrade, is keeping track of criminal activity all over the world.  The Howell Turner emerald collection was stolen from the New York Museum of Natural History about two months ago. Police turned the place inside out searching for the gems, which had apparently vanished from the Museum at night when the place was locked up tight as a drum. I knew that Augustus Moss had fled London and traveled to the States, because I was investigating their last theft, here in London.  I nearly captured Randall in January and left him with that little reminder of our encounter on his chin.  I knew he’d gone to earth, but when I read about the theft of the emerald collection in New York, I suspected the brothers might be involved.”

 

          “Howell . . . green!” Snodgrass said.

 

          “Exactly,” Holmes said.  “As Watson can tell you, when the brain is dying, the victim’s vocabulary begins to go.  Jones was trying to tell you about the emeralds, but the word eluded his fading consciousness, so he told you their color, and pointed you towards a vital clue.”

 

          With that he opened the notebook and pointed to the sketch of the Allosaurus skull.  It was rendered in striking detail, resembling the mounted specimen before us to the most precise degree – including, I saw, the missing tooth!

 

          “The tooth was gone all along!” I said.

 

          “Precisely!” Holmes replied.  “The reason New York detectives could not figure out how the emeralds got out of the museum was because they had not.  They were carried down the hallway, to the paleontology lab, and there coated with plaster and pasted into the missing parts of the dinosaur fossils that Doctor Jones was bringing to London!” 

 

With that he approached Moss and rifled the man’s pockets, bringing out a small bracelet with six identical, brilliant green emeralds on a gold chain.  I could see bits of plaster still clinging to the links. The jewel thief snarled but Lestrade had a tight grip on his manacles and kept him pinioned.

 

“Now, Moss, if you truly don’t want to swing, you’ll tell us exactly where in these fossil bones the remaining pieces of the collection are hidden,” Holmes said. “Otherwise it’s the gallows for you!”

 

“My brother will have me out of any jail you put me in, long before I face the hangman!” snapped Moss.  “Find them yourself!”

 

“Very well,” Holmes said.  “Lestrade, if you’ll turn his flat inside out, you may find some of the emeralds there.  Doctor Jones’ notebook should guide us to the rest – we just look for missing pieces of bone that have been filled with plaster, and a simple screwdriver should suffice to pry the missing jewels loose!”

 

“But Mister Holmes!” Snodgrass said.  “The opening is in two days!  I cannot have you gouging at our prized fossils – there is no time to repair the damage before the hall opens to the public!”

 

“I can fix them,” said young Henry.  “That’s what my Pop was training me to do these last few weeks.  What’s more, I can show you which plaster patches were here when the fossil arrived, and which ones I added.  Pop told me last night that one of those teeth didn’t look right, and he intended to examine it this morning.  He told me his New York assistant wasn’t as good at molding and painting bones as I was.  Pop wasn’t given to a lot of compliments, but I’ll never forget that one.  May I have my father’s notebooks, Mister Holmes?”

 

“Of course,” my friend said.  “They are yours by right of inheritance, are they not?”

          “I suppose they are,” the boy said.

 

By the time the new Mesozoic Gallery opened, all seventy-two emeralds had been recovered, and the dinosaur fossils were fully restored.  Holmes and I stared at the Allosaurus’ fearsome snarl, frozen in stone and plaster, and young Jones joined us.

 

“Thank you for catching the man who killed my father,” he said.  “Want to know something, though?”

 

“What’s that, lad?” I asked him.

 

“I hate paleontology,” he said. “Dinosaurs and those other prehistoric monsters just bore me.  What I really want to do is study archaeology – to recover the treasures of ancient civilizations and share them with the world!  There are so many mysteries I’ve read about that I would like to solve, so many legendary artifacts to be rescued.  That is what I want to do with my life!”

 

“Well, I hope you do!” I replied.  “Your father would be proud of you for pursuing your dream and adding to the wealth of human knowledge.”

 

Randall Moss did indeed keep his date with the hangman for the murder of William Jones; his brother Augustus, thanks to Holmes’ telegram, had been arrested as he was boarding a White Star liner in New York, bound for England.  Augustus was sentenced to thirty years at hard labor, but he was knifed to death in a prison yard fight ten years into his sentence.  Henry Jones became a renowned archeologist, most noted for his study of the Knights Templar and his search for the holy relics they had buried all over Europe.  Holmes received an honorary life fellowship from the New York Museum of Natural History for recovering the priceless collection of emeralds.  Best of all, the day of the exhibit’s grand opening, a powerful Atlantic storm blew the miserable heat away from London, the thermometer dropped to sixty degrees, and life at 221B Baker Street became tolerable again, violin practice or no.