This incident happened when I was living at 221C Baker Street London. I was very interested in herpetology and, besides snakes, had animals of other species too as my pets at that time. My favourite ones were ‘do, does and did’: three mouses, sorry mice, which had all the freedom to move about. The lengths of their names corresponded to their sizes. I kept a keen eye on them because there were snakes around. The snakes are such hungry creatures that they hunt, bite and eat all the time.
One day all the mice went missing. I looked for them everywhere, among all my books, between the pages and even between the lines. But they were not to be seen anywhere.
I went over to my neighbour residing at 221 B and knocked at his door. It was the doctor who opened the door. From inside I heard that unmistakable voice.
“Good morning, sir! What brings you over to an insignificant neighbour to whom you have not paid a visit in the last 273 days?”
“I am sorry. I was a little caught up in my work. I am here today because my pet mice have gone missing.”
My famous neighbour, as usual, turned to the doctor and sought his opinion on the case.
“My dear Dr. Watson, since you are familiar with my methods and are eager to apply them yourself, I think I should oblige you to look into this case, more so because even if you go wrong, though I am not expecting you will, you might not be able to do any harm which you might have done in some of the other cases away from which I have kept you. Before you harness your grey cells to that assignment, do ask Mrs. Hudson, if she is in a pleasant disposition, to please our guest with a cup of tea.”
Mrs. Hudson brought two cups of tea and a frown on her face having been made to wake up so early. The cups of tea she gave me and Dr. Watson and the frown on her face she gave to Holmes sensing which Holmes threw a well aimed ‘thanks’ at her.
Dr. Watson sipped his tea several times as it was piping hot, wiped his glasses, for they were fogged with the vapour from the hot tea and began.
“Though I am not an expert in this matter, my limited observation and even more limited reading on the subject tells me that we have to take into account the fact that the mice were named after three distinct operatives. Being mice they are mostly stalked and hunted down by cats. More is the reason to suspect cats, since they have paws and claws.’
Even before the doctor finished, the detective began.
“Amazing, Watson, amazing! What great talent the Almighty would have gifted you with had there indeed been such an entity of which there is no evidence whatsoever, either circumstantial or epistemological. But, I have been gifted not with great talent, but with a great friend whose mistakes invariably guide me towards the truth of the matter, no matter how deeply it is hidden, swallowed or even digested.
“My dear Watson, till you mentioned the paws and claws of cats, I was in the dark. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for inspiring me, for that is the etymological meaning of the word ‘inspire’: ‘to put fire into’ and thereby letting me have a little light of my own too.
“My dear friend,” Holmes turned towards me, drew a good puff of smoke from his pipe and continued, “I understand that you have a good many snakes in your garden. Nothing to be surprised at my observation. I have never seen you in the garden without those knee length hunting boots. Since you are too busy to go hunting, it was easy for me to figure out that you had snakes in your garden.
“O, dear Mr. Holmes! That is wonderful! I do have three snakes in the garden. I have named them Hunt, Bite and Eat!”
“Oh! That is marvellously perceptive of you. It is even ominous since you have knowingly or unknowingly given me a clue to this mystery.”
I wondered whether it was polite to interrupt such a great mind for, contradictory to their habit and routine, the snakes were not crawling around today.
“Have you seen them crawling around today?”
“I was about to tell you the same Holmes. I think they are above suspicion since I have not seen them on the premises today. I don’t imagine they are sentient or logical enough to hide from me out of a sense of guilt.”
“Now, Watson, kindly oblige me by bringing me the Encyclopedia of Reptilian Behaviour from that shelf over there. Dr. Watson carefully pulled out the volume.
“I have not touched it since we confronted the speckled band” Holmes observed, his eyes closed in thought.
The mere mention of the speckled band send a shiver through my spine. I think the doctor also felt the same since he dropped the book down when he heard the name.
Holmes opened the book at a random page.
“Ha, ha, it really surprises me that the right to bear arms has been extended even to animals these days. Here it says that a Panda bear eats, shoots and leaves. That is unexpected behaviour in such an innocuous looking animal like a Panda bear unless the editor had an excessive supply of commas which he didn’t know where to leave out.
“Now, Watson, it says here that a snake does not chew its prey but swallows it whole to let it take its time to get digested. During this period snakes are lethargic and will not move about much. Let’s go snake hunting, doctor, if you are not otherwise inclined. And please bring your medical kit along”
To cut a story short, we were in my garden in no time hunting for the snakes. Dr. Watson, indeed, had some expertise in this matter and we were able to catch three snakes from my garden.
Seeing a puzzled look on my face, Holmes asked me why.
“One of them, Eat, I can recognize. But the others seem to have mutated into a different kind of snake. They look more like Hunts and Bit, rather than Hunt and Bite.”
“You are right. But it is not mutation and you can see it for yourself if you observe keenly enough. Now doctor, will you oblige me and take that pill called ‘NOT’ from your medical kit and administer one each to these two snakes?”
Thereafter, with my help the doctor put the pill into the mouth of Hunts and Bit. They writhed and coughed and then vomited both the pill and my pet mice, alive and kicking.
When I caught them they looked as follows:
Now they looked like this:
does not hunt
did not bite
“How ever did you figure that out, Holmes? You are amazing!” said I.
“Elementary my, friend, elementary. I mean, you should have learned it in your elementary school! Look, when you named the snakes I had a clear idea about their length and a vague idea about their looks. When you said you could not identify them, I knew what had happened. Further evidence came in when you suggested new names for them, Hunts and Bit. The ‘s’ told me that the poor snake took in more than it could handle and the ‘s’ at the end of ‘does’ which is the largest of the mice, still hung outside its mouth. So, I surmised that the other snake would have swallowed the smaller snake completely and is constricting its body in an attempt to crunch and digest ‘did’ during which process it would have become shorter. But with some other snakes, you might be able to see the last part of ‘did’, the ‘d’ hanging outside its mouth. I knew that the pill which our dear doctor had given me when I dared to test a poison on myself and was about to die, would make the snake vomit too. I had vomited profusely for a week. How can I ever forget that!
I was still looking at the third snake ‘Eat’ with no trace of having swallowed anything at all. Holmes smiled at me and said, “Go, by the size!”
I thought it was too cryptic a clue and ignored it. I saw Dr. Watson administer the same pill, ‘not’ on ‘Eat’ too.
I looked at Holmes.
“Your dearest mouse ‘Do’ was too small and got swallowed completely. But in spite of it being small in size, I have to mention that it was lucky enough to save itself, for if the other two snakes were not caught red handed or rather full bellied, this one would have gone scot free with no trace of ‘Do’ ever having existed on this earth. After all, crime never pays and truth will be out!”
Eat was coughing and vomiting and soon it spat out both my pet and the pill.
Earlier it looked like this
now it looked like this
do not eat
“Now, my dear friend, Doctor Watson and I have to leave you and present ourselves at the breakfast table for Mrs. Hudson to start her culinary experiments. I hope the doctor still has a good supply of puke medicine!”
That is where we leave them, the incredible and immortal duo, the ones who were kind enough to exhume themselves from the past and present a grammar lesson for our better future.