Tuesday, August 2, 2016

THE MONSTER IN THE MARSH - Part I (An all-new short story)

There is no greater challenge for a writer than to try and recreate the style of another, especially someone whose style and characters are universally known and loved.  But recently, while sidelined with a fever, I decided that I would write my very own, original Sherlock Holmes story in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It's a bit long, so here is the first half of the tale.  Please, comment and tell me what you think!  Part II to follow next week.



Dr. John H. Watson, MD

(transcribed by Lewis B. Smith)


          My friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes scoffed at the thought of the supernatural.  This is not to say that he was an atheist; in fact, he once told a vicar, after helping locate the man’s missing daughter, that pure logic led him to believe our world was simply too orderly and structured to be a product of chaos.  That being said, however, Holmes turned up his nose at the thought of witches, vampires, demons, werewolves, ghouls, and giant ghostly hounds.  Such things, he believed, were the products of a fevered imagination – or else clever ruses created by evil men to mask their dark deeds with an aura of fear and dread.

          Now that both of us have retired from active life, however – he to his beloved Sussex Downs and me to my comfortable cottage in Hampshire – I can relate the particulars of one case I recall which, for just a moment, made Holmes question his skepticism.  I asked his permission over the telephone before taking up my pen, and he granted it with a chuckle.

          “Indeed, Watson, you have so often portrayed me as a genius far above my actual humble abilities, your readers may not be happy to see how thoroughly flummoxed I was in this instance!” he said.

          “I was equally misled, as you may recall,” I told him.

          “My dear Watson, at the risk of sounding a bit uncharitable, you were frequently guilty of, shall we say, barking up the wrong tree?” he teased me.

          “Indeed I was,” I said, “which is why your ability to find the right one always impressed me so. But, in all honesty, Holmes, you often set me barking up one tree in order to distract your quarry while you climbed another!”

          “Bravo, Watson!” he said.  “And you always played along beautifully.  Do me a favor, old friend, and do not shortchange yourself in this narrative.  You do that far too often in your writings, and in this case you did guess the truth before I did.”

          With that, we said our farewells and I sat down to write this account.



          It was a wet spring day in the fiftieth year of our beloved Queen’s reign when I returned to Baker Street after a morning excursion, feeling quite pleased with myself.  I bounded up the steps to 221B and set my package down by the fireplace, hanging my hat and cloak on the coat rack and warming my hands before the fire.  Holmes was seated in his overstuffed chair, facing a rather distressed-looking young man whose soggy state told me that he had not preceded me by much.

          “Good morning, Watson!  I am glad your wager on Barleycorn paid off so well,” he said.

          I stopped dead in my tracks.  I suppose I should have been used to it after all these years, but confound it, how could the man have known?

          “Come, come, dear Watson,” he said.  “You left the racing form on the table with the name of a certain dark horse underscored thrice.  I see by the white clay adhering to your left heel that you walked past the construction at the old Cathedral just this side of Whitechapel.  Its hue is quite unique.  What place is there in that neighborhood that a respectable widower like yourself would frequent during the daylight hours?  Only your favorite bookmaker’s establishment.  The races at Sussex would have ended almost two hours ago, and the results would have been cabled in almost immediately.  I can see the claim stub for your winnings peeking out of your vest pocket, and that large bag bearing the stamp of Hastings Booksellers tells me that the ten-volume, Corinthian leather-bound collection of Cicero’s works that you have been eyeballing for the last month or so has now found a home in your library.  Really, old chum, it was a very simple bit of reasoning.”

          “You always make it sound so when you explain it, Holmes!  But your powers of observation are indeed uncanny,” I said.  I could have sworn I had stuck the stub deep enough into my vest pocket so as to be invisible, but sure enough, a tiny corner of it was visible, due to my shifting around to remove my cloak.  Still, it could have been any piece of paper.  How did he always know?

          “Your bookmaker uses a particularly cheap grade of paper that yellows quickly and distinctly,” Holmes said.  I didn’t even ask; he’d obviously seen me glance at my pocket.

          “I begin to think I have indeed made the right decision coming here,” the young man said.

          “I certainly hope that is true,” said Holmes.  “Now, sir, you had barely begun your narrative.  As I’m sure you know, Doctor Watson is my indispensable colleague and foil.  Would you be so kind as to begin again, for his benefit?”

          The young man stood and moved closer to the fire.  His clothes were quite sodden, and it was a chilly afternoon.  I took advantage of his proximity to study him, trying to employ some of my friend’s methods of observation and deduction. Our visitor was tall and thin, with broad shoulders slightly stooped and calloused hands. His hair was thick and black and unruly, although he had obviously made some effort to comb it into order.  His shoes were soaked and muddy, with heavy brown clay clinging to the instep. He was pale, his eyes red, and he was obviously under a great deal of stress.  He had the look of a Welshman, and when he spoke, his accent confirmed my observation.

          “I hardly know how to begin,” he said.  “It only happened this morning, at first light, and I hopped on the first train to London, having heard of your reputation and hoping there was something that you could do.  But I’ve barely got it all sorted out in my head, even now, sir.”

          “Start with the beginning,” Holmes said calmly, “and, having proceeded through until the conclusion, finish.”

          The young man ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.

          “All right, all right,” he said.  “I know I’m babblin’ like a right lunatic.  I am just eaten up with fear, Mr. Holmes, at the thought that she is out there somewhere, alone and hurt!”

          “The sooner I know who she is and what has happened, the sooner I can be of assistance,” Holmes said.  “Watson, please pour our guest a glass of brandy, if you would be so kind.”

          I took the snifter and poured three glasses, handing one to our guest, one to Holmes, and taking the last for myself.  Afterward, I positioned myself by the fire and waited to hear the tale.

          “My name is Donovan, sir, Donovan Jones of Westchester, originally.  My wife and I moved out to Mickledon five years ago because there was money to be made peat farming in the old marsh there.  We did well, at first, and our little girl Emily – oh, poor Emily!” he sobbed, and I handed him my handkerchief.  He blew his nose, composed himself, and went on.

          “As I was saying, Emily grew up on the edge of Mickledon Marsh, and she loved it there - knew all the old paths and rabbit runs and tumbledown stone dwellings.  She would catch newts and minnows with her bare hands, set live traps for rabbits and try to keep them as pets, even though they always ran off.  I worried for her at first, but she understood the dangers of the Marsh as well as any native, and knew how to avoid them.  That’s why this is so hard, sir.”

          He looked as if he might start to weep again, but took a deep breath and continued.

          “For the last few nights, sir, there’s been strange noises coming from the marsh.  Enormous, loud bellows like nothing anyone near has ever heard before.  Two men on the north end told me three days ago that they saw something monstrous in the water, twice the size of their fishing boat, and when it moved towards shore they ran straight off. They were all saying that the Monster of the Marsh had returned after all these years, but of course that’s right nonsense.  Still, there was something big and dangerous out there.” 

“So I told Emily – by God, sir! I warned her straight up! – not to play near the water any more.  And, for the last day or so, she had obeyed.  But this morning, the storms had moved through and it was nice and clear – I’d say we sent them your way, because the train took me straight back into the downpour – and she woke up ahead of me and her mother.  I’d had a brutal hard day the day before, loading up peat wagons, and was deeply asleep, and my wife Alice was up and down all night with our baby son, Jacob.  So when we began to stir, it was an hour or more after first light.  I didn’t notice at first that Emily was gone, but when I did, I ran straight out the back door.  I could see her tracks in the soggy grass, headed straight down to the water.  I ran after them, but saw no sign of her, until -” 

          He stopped his tale once more, overcome with emotion.  He blew his nose again, and without asking, poured himself another glass of brandy and drank it down in two swallows.

          “Just a few yards from the water’s edge, sir, the grass and mud was all torn up.  There was this huge smear of blood, and I found one of little Emily’s shoes flung a fair distance away.  I was holding it in my hand, still in absolute shock, when I spotted something floating in the water a few feet out.  I waded out – it was past my knees, and the bottom is hard clay there – and pulled it up.  It was her dress, sir.  Most of it, anyway.  It was ripped up something awful, and not even the water had managed to wash all the blood out of it.  Oh, Mister Holmes, I am most fearful that my darling daughter is dead!”

          Holmes had been sitting in perfect silence, his fingers templed below his chin, only his furrowed brow betraying how troubled he was by this tale.  He folded his hands in his lap and spoke.

          “That isn’t all, is it?” he said.

          “Not quite, sir,” Jones continued.  “I waded back to the shore, holding her dress in one hand and that poor little shoe in the other.  I looked down in the clay, and next to the water I saw a pair of enormous footprints.  They were over a foot across, Mister Homes, with massive claws that had dug deep into the clay as it lunged out of the water.  As I stared at them, I heard it again, closer than I ever had before – a monstrous bellowing.  For a moment I almost believed that the old tales were true, and that the monster really had come back! So I ran back towards the cottage as fast as I could.  But I couldn’t help myself, I had to look back.  A haze was rising from the water as the sun hit all the rain from the night before, but I saw them anyway, sir, plain as I can look out your window and see yonder gas light.”

          “What did you see, man?” Holmes demanded sharply.

          “Eyes, sir, staring up out of the water. The biggest eyes I have ever seen – and they were nearly a yard apart, sir.  Nothing in England has eyes that far apart! They were watching me, glowing slightly red in the hazy sunlight.  Then they blinked once, and slid back beneath the water, and I saw the tumult created as something huge swam off into the deeps of the Marsh,” he concluded.  “I came and told my wife, and she was quite devastated.  I sent up the road for her friend, Evelyn, and then ran straight to the train station and caught the first train to London.  Timed it perfect – I waited only a few minutes for it to pull into the station, and it was an express.”

          “Fascinating,” Homes said.  “Indeed, not since the case of Lord Baskerville have I run into an enigma of such magnitude.  I shall gladly take your case, Mister Jones, and if we leave now, we can catch the four o’clock train and be back in Mickledon before eight o’clock.  Watson, are you available?”

          “My intern, Mister Nicholson, can cover my practice for a day or two,” I said.  To be honest, since my dear Mary’s death, I had stopped taking new patients and my practice had dwindled to about thirty old friends whom I could not bear to send away. Oh, how I miss that poor girl to this day!

          “You’ll need your service revolver, of course,” he said, “and I think I shall bring something that packs a bit more firepower, considering our friend’s story.”

          He vanished into his bedchamber and returned with an enormous rifle that I had never seen before.

          “Good heavens, Holmes, where did you come by that?” I asked.

          “Sir Walter Garland, the noted elephant hunter, gave it to me when I recovered his wife’s emerald necklace from Buckingham Burglar,” he said.  “It was one of his most prized hunting rifles.  This weapon has felled over a hundred bull elephants.”   He patted the barrel confidently and stuffed the rifle into his game bag.  “Well, Mister Jones, let’s head to the train station.  I imagine that Inspector Lestrade will be eager to accompany us.”

          I had barely heard the footfalls on the steps leading to our door, but Holmes knew the Scotland Yard detective’s distinct gait by heart – no surprise, considering how often the Inspector came to visit.  Before the first knock had sounded, Holmes called out to him.

          “Spare the paneling, for once, Lestrade, and come on in,” he said.

          Lestrade, red-faced, heavy-set, and sour dispositioned as ever, stepped across the threshold and glared at my friend.

          “For your information, Mister Holmes, I was going to ring the bell this time,” he said.

          Holmes smiled cheerfully, less because it amused him than because it irritated the Scotland Yard official so much.   “Then we can say we spared the poor bell rope,” he said, “for you seem to be in a mood to yank on or beat on something today.  Seldom has your step on the stair been quite so forceful!”

          “Child murder angers me, Mister Holmes,” he said.  “Is this Donovan Jones?”

          “Yes, that’s me,” the Welshman said.  “I am glad to see you, sir!  Can you help us find my daughter?”

          “Glad to see me indeed!” Lestrade snorted.  “Jones, you are under arrest for the murder of your daughter Emily!”

          “Me?” he said in shock.  “Sir, this is preposterous!  I came straight to London to get Mister Holmes to help me find her.   And – and – she’s not dead!  We don’t know that she is dead yet!!”

          “After you left, your wife called our local man, Inspector George Clinton.  Good man, George, he knows how to ask the right questions!” Lestrade pulled out a pair of shackles and advanced on the terrified Welshman.  “Isn’t it true, Mister Jones, that just last week you purchased a life insurance policy on your little girl?  What kind of man buys a life insurance policy for a seven year old?”

          Anger replaced fear on Jones’ face.  His fists balled up, and I braced myself to step between the two if necessary.

          “Gentlemen, please,” Holmes said.  “I prefer there not to be any fisticuffs in my flat unless I am a participant.  Now, Lestrade, please restrain yourself for just a moment.  Watson, pour the Inspector a brandy – it is rather beastly out!  Mister Jones, would you care to answer the detective’s question?”

          Jones still looked angry, but he took a deep breath.

          “I bought policies for all of us,” he said.  “They are simple burial policies – they cover the cost of the burial plot, the casket, and the gravediggers and parson’s services, with a pittance left over.  We’re not so bad off now, but times can change.  One of our friends lost her wee boy last year, and she didn’t have enough money to bury him.  We took up a collection to cover the cost.  I didn’t ever want meself or me family to be in such a spot, so I talked it over with Alice, and we decided to cover all of us, even the baby.  One less thing to worry about when the time comes is all, Inspector.”

          Lestrade listened to this explanation, and his expression softened a bit.

          “Perhaps your man Clinton asked the right question, but didn’t wait for a complete answer,” Holmes suggested.

          “I suppose that is possible,” the Inspector said.  “I’ll hold off arresting you until I can verify your story, Mister Jones.  But I won’t let you out of my sight.”

          “Then you must accompany us to Mickledon,” Holmes said.  “This unnecessary drama has cost us time, and the train leaves in half an hour.”

          “Oh, I’ll be glad to accompany you, Holmes,” Lestrade says.  “I can’t have you buggering up Clinton’s case with your wild theories.  And as for you, Mister Jones, if you are indeed innocent of any crime, I apologize.  But for heaven sakes, sir, when you need help, come to Scotland Yard first next time.  Mister Holmes is an amateur – and admittedly talented, one, but still an amateur.  Investigating a murder is a job for professionals!”

          “But we don’t know that she’s dead!” Jones wailed again as we walked out the door and down the stairs.




          “Now, Mister Jones, if you would, tell me about this legendary monster of Mickledon Marsh,” Holmes said, lighting his Meerschaum pipe as the train left the station.  We had barely made it in time for the express, but now the slums of London were flashing by as we headed north and west.

          “Well, there’s a carving of it on the walls of the old church,” Jones said.  “Got knocked about a bit during the dissolution of the monasteries back in King Henry’s day, but since it was plain stone and not marble or gold, they just left it there and abandoned the church not long after.  But the church’s library was moved over to the new rectory, and Parson Ralson read me the story one afternoon last week from the old chronicles, when the noises started up and I heard others talking about it.”

          “What does the carving look like?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

          “A huge scaly beast with bulging eyes and enormous teeth,” he said.  “A bit like St. George’s dragon, but without any wings or anything.  Long, serrated, wicked looking tail it had, too!  Couldn’t tell much about its legs – they were closest to the floor and the mobs had banged them up with hammers long ago.”

          “Give us the Parson’s story, please,” Holmes said, shooting me a cross glance.  I must confess, to my shame, that I rolled my eyes at him.

          “Well, sirs, according to the Parson, it was during the days of Alfred of Wessex that a great dragon emerged from the marsh,” Jones began.

          “A dragon!” Lestrade snorted.  “What medieval balderdash!”

          “Primitive people resort to the supernatural to explain what they cannot understand,” Holmes said calmly.  “Pray continue, my good man.”

          Lestrade closed his eyes and slowly dozed off, but I listened intently – such tales have always fascinated me, and this was no exception.

          “Well, this beast lived in the water but could roam far on land,” said Jones.  “It killed nearly threescore people in a period of a year.  It was hot that year; a tremendous drought was going on. The Marsh held the only drinking water for miles, and it seemed no matter how many people banded together, the beast always managed to lunge out where least expected and grab whoever it could.  At night it would emerge and hunt, even tearing down peasant huts and barns.  Men, women, children, cattle, and sheep – it consumed them all greedily. Finally, King Alfred sent three of his mightiest knights, and they hunted the beast for a week.  Eventually they caught it out of the water, and after a mighty battle, Sir Percival of Lufkin ran it through the heart with his blade, and as it wallowed in its death throes, Sir Malcolm of Donderry drove his sword through its mighty neck.  Sir Geoffrey of Leicester was slain in the fight.  For years after a statue of him stood in the town square, but they say the Roundheads knocked it down during the Civil War.”

          “Was there any more to the story?” Holmes asked.

          Jones furrowed his brow.  “Let’s see, Mister Holmes, there was a bit more, I think.  The head was sent to London and displayed in King Alfred’s court for the rest of his reign.  The Chronicle said that the beast was over four fathoms in length and its body was a yard and a half wide at the widest.  It also said the Monster of Mickledon Marsh was the last known dragon slain in England.”

          “An entertaining tale, to be sure,” Holmes said calmly.

          “It sounds like the ‘Monster’ may have been an enormous crocodile,” I said.  “I know of some that have been shot in Egypt that have approached that size, although the longest one I saw myself was less than twenty feet.  But the feeding habits are those of a crocodile, to be sure.”

          “Leaving aside the bothersome question of how a crocodile of that size could possibly have gotten to England,” Holmes said, “that is not a bad explanation for those events long ago, Watson.  But I fear it is utterly inadequate for our current dilemma.”

          “Why is that?” I asked defensively, and Holmes gave a languorous gesture towards the window.

          “Look at the weather, Watson!” he said.  “Crocodiles are cold-blooded, tropical creatures, and the glass has only nudged above freezing these last few weeks.  A crocodile, dropped into the swamp in this weather, would burrow into the mud in a desperate attempt to stay alive, and then freeze there.”

          “But you said the Monster -” I sputtered.

          “Oh, Watson, did you not listen to the story?  England was in the grip of a terrible heat during that summer of Alfred’s reign.  There were two winters during that era in which there was no snow at all south of Hadrian’s Wall, according to the Domesday Book,” Holmes explained.  I hung my head, crestfallen at having let such an important detail slip my mind.

          “Perhaps it could be some other African beast,” I suggested.
          “Do you think there might be an elephant hiding under the waters of the swamp, Watson?” Holmes asked sardonically.  “Or maybe a rhinoceros?”

          “Well,” I said angrily, “perhaps a hippopotamus -”

          “My dear Watson,” my friend said testily, “how many times must I emphasize how destructive it is to theorize in advance of the facts? Pray let me consider the facts of the case without interruption till we arrive at our destination.”

          With that, he closed his eyes and folded his hands under his chin, and spoke not a word until we arrived at Mickledon.

          We were greeted at the station by a tall, lanky young officer who introduced himself as Inspector George Clinton.  He was a bit shamefaced as he spoke to Lestrade, since, as Holmes had deduced, he had run to the telegraph office the minute he heard the words “life insurance” without hearing the rest of the story.  Darkness was perhaps an hour away, but Jones assured us that we could be at the site of his daughter’s disappearance before the light was gone.  A coach and four was waiting, and we went bumping down the muddy road from town to the edges of the Marsh at a teeth-jarring pace.  But Jones spoke true, and the sun was still several degrees above the horizon when we pulled up in front of his small cottage.

          A member of the local constabulary stood in the back yard to keep curious onlookers away from the scene, although none were on hand at the moment.  Holmes held up his hand for the rest of us to wait, and then he moved to the back door of the cottage and flung himself on all fours. Oblivious to the damp ground, he slowly crawled back and forth, using his magnifying glass to study every detail of the path from the door down towards the water.  When he arrived at the churned-up area near the water’s edge, he slowed down drastically.  As the light faded, he bent closer and closer to the ground.  Finally, he waved his hand and asked for a lamp.  I brought it to him, careful to only step on ground he had already examined, and he took it without a word.

          Clinton was looking on with fascination, while Lestrade, who had watched Holmes at work many times, simply huffed impatiently.  But he did not interrupt; despite his outward scorn, he knew that many of his most celebrated arrests were due to Holmes’ assistance.  Only Jones spoke up, after three quarters of an hour had passed.

          “What is he doing, Doctor Watson?” he finally hissed.  “Shouldn’t we be out looking for my girl?”

          “I have worked with Holmes for nigh on a decade now,” I said.  “His methods are eccentric, but they do indeed work.  Let him finish examining the ground, and you will be surprised what he will be able to tell us.”

          “Eccentric indeed,” Lestrade said. “It’s getting bloody cold out here!”

          “Language, Inspector!” Jones said.

          Before Lestrade could retort, Holmes stood upright and made his way back towards us.

          “Inspector Clinton, my congratulations.  You have managed to keep the intrusions on the scene of the crime to a minimum,” he said.  “I have a pretty clear picture of what happened here.  Mister Jones, I am very sorry to inform you that your daughter is most likely dead.”

          “No!  How can you tell that from crawling on all fours like an animal? I don’t believe it,” the father insisted.

          “The volume of blood on the ground was enormous,” Holmes said.  “The grass concealed much of it from you, but such blood loss is not survivable. The violence of the assault was intense, sir.  I feel compelled to warn you – we may not find all of your daughter.”

          Jones blanched.  This last blow was too much for the man, he wheeled and ran into the house.

          “Clinton, you know this man better than any of us,” Holmes said.  “Go inside, comfort him and his wife, make sure he does nothing rash.”

          “Very good, sir.  But -” he started to say something, and then caught himself short.

          “What is it, inspector?” Holmes asked.

          “Couldn’t you hold out some hope for the poor man?” he said.

          “I saw none to offer,” Holmes replied.
          “You’re a cold one, Mister Holmes!” the Inspector snapped, and followed Jones inside.

          About this time an unearthly roar came bellowing across the marshes, loud, ferocious, and hungry-sounding.  It was also vaguely familiar to me – it seemed as if I had heard it once before, long ago, much fainter.  But where?  I racked my brain, and could not come up with the answer.  To this day I regret that my memory was not better.

          Holmes reacted to the sound in a way I had never seen him react to anything before.  He paled visibly, and a brief expression of fright crossed his face – something I had never seen in the bravest man I have ever known.  Then his normal, calm demeanor replaced the expression so quickly that I could not even be sure of that other look.

          “That was at least five miles away,” Holmes said.  “On the other side of the Marsh, if I remember my map correctly.  So we should be safe to approach the water.  Let me walk you through what happened, gentlemen.”

          He stood by the door of the cottage and faced the marsh.

          “The little girl came running out this door some fifteen hours ago,” he said, “perhaps around seven in the morning.  She skipped the first few paces, turned aside here to pick a flower -” He showed us a tiny severed stem by the light of the lantern, and then he continued.  “She turned off her course here, starting to run for a moment, the slowly returned to her original path.  I think she started to chase a rabbit and it was too quick for her; you can see its scat there.”

          He approached the ripped-up earth and grass near the water and shook his head sadly.  “Her original trail was almost destroyed in the violence of the assault,” he said, “but I found a few traces.  She did not quite reach the water’s edge – she paused here -” he pointed at a barely noticeable heel mark in the torn-up clay – “and stood a moment.  I think she saw something.  Whatever it was, it made her turn and run.  You can see her toe marks in three places, very widely spaced. I think, perhaps, in another half second, she might have gotten far enough to stand a chance. But she was overtaken and seized here – her last step has a forward slide, as her flight was brought up short.  She was jerked upwards and back with enormous force, which caused her shoe to go flying off her foot and then land ten feet away, over there.  You can see Mister Jones’ footprints as he walked over to retrieve it.”

          He stepped to the center of the trampled zone.  His face was very grim and pale, and his voice dropped slightly.

          “This is where she died,” he said.  “I cannot be certain, but from the volume of blood spilled, I think she must have been ripped open or decapitated.  A seven year old does not have an enormous supply of blood, Watson, and I think nearly half of hers is on the ground here.”

          “This is horrible, Holmes!” I said, paling.  I have never been terribly fond of children, but I hold nothing but contempt for those human monsters who derive pleasure from hurting and killing them.        

          “It is indeed, Watson,” he said. 

          “So who or what did this?” Lestrade asked, his usual bluster gone. The deadly atmosphere of this place had killed all our spirits.

          “We are meant to believe that this is the work of some hideous monster of enormous size,” Holmes said.  “But such creatures do not exist in Welsh marshes in the nineteenth century.  We are dealing with a diabolically clever killer, a sadistic man of enormous strength, who is very comfortable in the water.  He has some mechanism for creating these tracks and simulating the appearance of a dragon or some other fabulous beast. Look at these two clear tracks!” 

          He pointed next to the water’s edge, where two enormous, misshapen footprints were punched deep into the clay.  Each was oval, but uneven along its edges, and there was blood pooled in the bottom of both of them.  Three massive but blunt claw marks, slightly splayed, showed which side was the front.

          “Watson, you are more of a sportsman than I.  Is there any creature living on earth that might leave such tracks?” Holmes asked me.

          “None that I am aware of,” I said.  “All the great beasts of Africa have more than three claws, and crocodile tracks are smaller, and more enlongated.”

          “Exactly what I was thinking,” Holmes said.  “We are being fed the illusion of a monster by someone who wants to keep people far from this swamp.”

          He stood on the edge of the water, far closer than I would have been comfortable doing, and stared out into the night.  That distant roar echoed across the Marsh again.  All of us but Holmes blanched at the sound, and even his face grew pale for a moment.

          “If we do not find this man, he will kill again,” he said calmly.  “So I would suggest – oh my!  Lestrade, did anyone bring grappling poles?”

          “The constable has some in the wagon,” he said.  “They were going to drag the water tomorrow.”

          “Bring me one,” he said, pointing.  A small pale mass was barely visible in the shallow water, but the beams of the lamp could not penetrate the murk enough to show us what it was. Lestrade came moments later with a ten-foot long gaff, and Holmes reached out into the water and hooked the object, drawing it to the surface.

          “Dear God!” Lestrade gasped.

          It was the torso of a small girl, with one arm dangling from it limply.  It looked for all the world like some poor child’s doll, ripped apart by a neighborhood bully.  Holmes reverently laid it on the grass.

          “Call the constable,” he said.  “Bring a stretcher and a blanket.  No one needs to see this.”

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