The Case of the Bashful Balrog: Chapter One
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Chapter I
A sinister reputation

In recording the more bizarre and shocking experiences that I associate with my long and intimate friendship with Mr Sherlock Holmes, I have continually been hampered in my efforts to publish his cases by his singular aversion to the fairer sex, or indeed, any sex. To Holmes' refined and cynical spirit all women were abhorrent, and not to be entirely trusted. An atrocious sentiment with which no decent hobbit could agree, possessing as we do, the procreative passion of the wild Coney, and a precocious enthusiasm for the more uncommon forms of intimacy, which were first set down in his Blue Book by my ancestor, Bilbo Baggins, a votary at the shrine of Venus renowned throughout the Shire for the tricks he could perform with his magic ring. It was this attitude upon the part of my mentor, rather than any need for discretion, which caused me to publish so few of the adventures that befell us after his retirement to the Shire. So it was with considerable surprise, that I received the following pigeon-gram early one spring morning, couched in the terse language I knew so well:
"Why not tell them about the Isengard Horror? The most singular holiday we have ever taken!"

I have no idea what had brought that devilish business to his mind, or what change in his inscrutable character had caused him to desire I should recount the most shocking adventure that ever befell us, but I hastened, before he should change his mind, to dig out the notes I made at the time, and now lay the whole, unsavoury narrative before my readers.
It was then, a spring morning, much like today, in the Shire Year 1822 that Holmes' iron constitution showed some signs of giving way in the face of his heavy case load, aggravated, no doubt, by his regrettable weakness for the Miruvor bottle, a powerful stimulant first derived from the narcotic berries of the Mallorn tree by the Elves, an effete and melancholic race with ridiculously pointy ears, who have mercifully, all but disappeared from Middle-Earth. In April of that year, Dr Rory Rogerghast, of Harley Street, Tuckborough, whose astonishing sexual prowess I may some day recount, entreated the famous sleuth to lay aside all his cases, and place himself unreservedly in the hands of Miss Belinda Beaverburrow, our housekeeper. Belinda expressed some reluctance in relieving Holmes of the tensions which were at the root of his indisposition, until I explained to her that her ministrations need in no way curtail my own enjoyment of her lithe-limbed, and buxom person. The state of his health was not a matter in which Holmes himself took the slightest interest, for his mental detachment was absolute, yet he was persuaded at last, on the threat of being permanently disqualified from work, to set aside his perverse aversion to women, and agree to a little sun and air. Even then, he would insist on his ridiculous little joke: "I do hope, my dear Bingo, that the sun and air you are proposing will not result in my fathering a young hobbit upon the charming Miss Beaverburrow?"
To which the saucy wench replied: "Oh, Mr Holmes, you wicked man!"

These are the circumstances that led us to be cosily ensconced together in a snug hobbit-burrow above Isengard, in the late spring of 1822. It was an isolated spot, once the seat of a wealthy Pipeweed Baron and infamous conjurer, and particularly well suited to the grim humour of our reluctant patient.
From the round windows of our little love-nest, which was built into the surrounding hills, we looked down upon the picturesque, ruined tower and surrounding lake, beneath whose placid waves still lay the deep pits and foetid gullies in which many a sexually precocious goblin of an earlier age had met his slippery end. On the landward side, our surroundings were as bleak as my Aunt Lobelia's face on the day she discovered that all she had inherited from my Uncle Stingo were two gold spoons, and a jar of haemorrhoid cream. It was a country of rolling moors, isolated hamlets, and retired scopophilisists, where women were few, men were lonely, and the frolicsome sheep were glad of it. In every direction there were traces of the vanished race of Elves who, along with their effeminate clothes and inedible food supplements, had all but disappeared from the landscape, leaving as their sole record, some scratchy phonographs of their appallingly bad poetry, and curious, irregularly shaped artefacts which hinted at the degenerate practices to which they are said to have been addicted. The glamour and mythology of the place, with its sinister reputation for unnatural vices, piqued my curiosity, and I spent much of my time in long, solitary walks upon the moors, and in interesting encounters with the sheep.

We had been in Isengard but a week and Miss Beaverburrow had my mentor's problem well in hand, when, to my disappointment, and his unfeigned relief, we found ourselves plunged into a mystery which was even stranger than Holmes' refusal to allow our lissome housekeeper to join him in his daily bath. Our singular adventure caused not a little notoriety which the newspaper headlines of the time echoed in their customary, sensationalist manner: 'Isengard Horror kills again', 'Shocking outbreak of Balrogism in Longbottom slays hundreds', and, perhaps, most telling of all, 'Young women ravaged by Balrog in Shire sex-scandal'. I need hardly add that owning to the commendable modesty and discretion for which Mr Sherlock Holmes was justly renowned, our part in clearing up this mystery has hitherto remained a closed book. The true facts of this shocking mystery, as my more discerning readers will readily comprehend, were far stranger and darker than anything the gutter press could fabricate. It is the truth, and nothing but the truth, that I now lay before you. I have said that isolated hamlets shared this wild country with the sheep. The most populous of these was Longbottom, a straggling, warren of half-timbered hobbit burrows and run-down villas clustered along the north shore of Lake Isengard. For centuries its picturesque appearance and idyllic, isolated location had attracted a number of well-to-do residents, none more so than an irascible old antiquarian, Lotho Bolger.

Lotho was a powerfully-built hobbit with a big, rugged face, crooked teeth, untidy red hair, and peculiarly lecherous gray eyes, who was recognised as the leading authority on the history of the area, particularly by himself. He lived at 'Sharkey's End', a shabby, ancient pile at the extreme edge of the town, together with his unmarried sister, Belladonna, and his two eccentric brothers, Odo and Drogo. Our nearest neighbour was the Sheriff of the area, a Mr Folco Proudfoot, who, in addition to his office, was something of an historian, and as such I had cultivated his acquaintance in connection with my researches into the fascinating Elvish artefacts which I mentioned earlier. He was a tall and gangling, half-starved hare of a hobbit, with nervous gestures and a lazy left eye, which gave the unsettling impression that his attention was always elsewhere. Much the same could be said of Lotho Bolger, but for different reasons. I quickly developed an aversion to this red-haired, pot-bellied old hobbit when I discovered that the interest in horticulture that he professed to share with me, was nothing but a crude ploy to entice the impressionable young Miss Beaverburrow to inspect his 'prize marrow'. Such were the two men who abruptly entered our parlour one Sunday morning in late May, as Holmes was finishing a capital breakfast of bacon and mushrooms, and Belinda and I were taking our customary bath together.

"Mr Holmes!" said the Sheriff in an agitated voice, "The most extraordinary and terrible event has occurred during the night."
"You put your foot in the chamber pot?" said I, not a little nettled at having my ablutions interrupted at the very moment Belinda had discovered a novel use for the Elvish artefact I had unearthed the previous day.
Holmes gave me a withering look, and asked the Sheriff to continue.
"It is the most tragic affair, sir. A B-Balrog is at large. A B-Balrog, Sir. It is a merciful providence that the only man in Middle-Earth who can help us, is staying here, in Longbottom."
I glared at the intrusive Sheriff with unfriendly eyes; but Holmes took his pipe from his lips and sat bolt upright in his chair like a Shire-hound scenting mushrooms. He waved our two guests toward the sofa. The palpitating Sheriff sat down with a sharp exhalation of breath. Lotho Bolger sat down beside him. He was more composed than his companion but the twitching of his left leg, and a wildness about his lecherous, watery eyes, showed he was in the grip of the same emotion as Mr Proudfoot.

"Let us leave aside the question of Balrogs for the moment," said Holmes soothingly. "Who made the discovery?"
"I did," said Lotho Bolger.
"Then you had better speak."
"With your permission," said the Sheriff, turning to his companion, "Perhaps I should say a few words first, and then you can judge if you will hear the details from Mr Bolger, or hasten at once to the scene of this terrible event."
Holmes smoked in silence as the nervous hobbit continued.
"I should explain that my friend, Mr Lotho, dined with his sister, Belladonna and his two brothers, Odo and Drogo at Sharkey's End last evening, and left them shortly after ten o' clock to spend the night in town with friends. At nine o'clock this morning he was on his way home when he was overtaken on the road by Dr Lightfoot, who explained that he had been summoned to Sharkey's End by an urgent message from the housekeeper, Mrs Tipplebottle. When they arrived at the house they found the most dreadful scene. The library was in some disarray and the furnishings much burned, as if by some fierce conflagration. Lotho's two brothers and his sister were seated exactly as he had left them the previous evening. Odo and Drogo lay back in their chairs, laughing maniacally, their senses stricken clean out of them, and his sister lay stone dead on the chaise longue; her bodice undone, her dress and petticoats around her ankles, and her-"
"-Yes?" I interjected impatiently, "Her what?"
Holmes glanced at me peevishly and signed for Proudfoot to continue.

"I - I am reluctant to say any more with, with a lady in the room, Mr Holmes." said the Sheriff.
Belinda Beaverburrow stifled an exclamation, and leaning forward, laid her hand on my mentor's knee. Holmes suffered her affectionate caress with no more than a raised eyebrow.
"Perhaps our guests would care for some tea?" he asked her, kindly.
She rose from her chair, curtseyed to him, and slipped noiselessly from the room.
"Now, you were saying, Mr Proudfoot?"
"Her, her undergarments were unaccountably missing."
"Missing?" I asked.
"What does that matter?" muttered Lotho irritably.
"It may not be without significance," said Holmes.
"By Jove, I should say so!" I agreed.
"Pray curtail your licentious imagination, my dear Bingo. Was there any evidence of impropriety, Mr Proudfoot?"
"I - I fear so," stammered the Sheriff, glancing helplessly at his companion. "The poor woman's thighs and stomach were covered in a thick, greenish slime that - that suggested she had been - been - intimate with the Balrog."
Holmes sat up and looked keenly at the Sheriff.
"Intimate?" he asked. "Is that what the Doctor concluded?"
Proudfoot's left eye roved randomly across the ceiling before focusing on Holmes with a nervous twitch. Then it was off again. "No, sir," he said. "Doctor Lightfoot fainted dead away the moment he entered the library."
"But Lotho did not?"
The old scopophilisist growled under his breath and shuffled uncomfortably.
"The atmosphere was thick with the Balrog's foul exhalations," he added sharply. "Naturally I opened the window as soon as I had carried the Doctor into the kitchen and revived him. It was then that I noticed that my sister had been foully abused by the monster."

Holmes snorted at the mention of the mythological creature’s name, and sank back in his chair.
"Pray continue, Mr Proudfoot," said he.
"All three retained upon their faces an expression of the utmost horror - a convulsion of terror too dreadful to look upon. Their glasses were still full. There was no sign of anyone else in the burrow, except for Mrs Tipplebottle, the housekeeper, who declared that she had slept like a log all night, and had heard and seen nothing until she found the family in the state I have already described the following morning. The atmosphere was so thick, and the shock so great, she too, fainted clean away."
Holmes sat up again and put the tips of his long fingers together.
"This is most interesting. Let me hear the details."

"Lotho's brothers Odo and Drogo were slumped in their chairs around the dining table. Bella - Miss Belladonna, lay on the chaise longue near the fire place."
"Was the fire lit?"
"Who lit it?"
"I did," said Lotho. "It was a damp night."
"How curious," said Holmes. "The air was positively balmy here."
"The southern shore is apt to be chilly at this season on account of the fogs from the lake," explained Lotho.
"Nothing had been stolen?" asked Holmes.
"Except for Belladonna's undergarments," said the Sheriff.
"You don't believe us, Mr Holmes?" asked the Sheriff.
"On the contrary," replied Holmes. "I am tolerably certain Mr Bolger's sister was wearing hand-made, black silk camiknickers embroidered with a monogram at the time of her demise, rather than the sensible, woolen undergarments usually favoured by respectable middle-aged women."
"Astounding!" I gasped.
"Good gracious!" said the Sheriff.
"Explain yourself, Sir!" exclaimed Lotho Bolger, starting up from the couch. "How the devil do you know what my sister wore under her petticoats?"
"Because that is precisely what a dissolute woman of low morals would wear."
Lotho's face was ghastly. "Damn your eyes, Sir! How dare you sully the good name of my dead sister with such a monstrous calumny!" he cried.
"Because your sister is better known under her theatrical non-de-plume of 'Goldilocks', who I am given to understand is an actress of some notoriety even amongst hobbits."

"Not Miss Whiplash in 'Spanking for Pleasure"? I asked.
"The very same."
Never shall I forget the expression on Lotho's face as he sprang up and waved his fist at Holmes. Then, with an extraordinary effort of self-command, he sat down again and glowered at us.
"Do you deny that 'Goldilocks' was your sister's stage name?" asked Holmes.
"No.." groaned Lotho.
I gazed at Holmes in astonishment. He returned my enquiring look with an enigmatic smile.
"Miss Beaverburrow's accomplishments are not limited to the tunes her nimble fingers can draw from an unresponsive instrument, my dear, Bingo," he began. "Like you, she is no stranger to the titillating trash which passes for romantic entertainment among Hobbits, and has long been an admirer of 'Goldilocks and the three bare bottoms', an unsavoury tale which you may recall we viewed at your insistence last Saturday evening at the Isengard Zoetrope Palace. Had your attention not been distracted by Miss Beaverburrow's expert exploration of your trousers, you would have noticed that the heroine of that tawdry entertainment bore a striking resemblance to Belladonna Bolger, and was divested of a pair of camiknickers not unlike those which are now unaccountably missing from her person."

"Good gracious, Holmes!" I cried, "You don't mean to say that we are looking for a libidinous Balrog with a fetish for women's undergarments?"
"That remains to be seen. We do not know who dishonoured Miss Bolger and assaulted her brothers, but whoever it was, I am tolerably certain that we are not looking for a fire-breathing transvestite with wings."
Lotho fell back in his chair and wrung his hands.
"Though it grieves me to admit it," said the Sheriff in a strangled voice. "Mr Holmes is right. It was largely due to my influence that Lotho finally persuaded Miss Bolger to give up her sordid career and retire quietly to the country, though she did not thank me for it, and has never ceased to blame me for the loss of her earnings. I fear that it is all too likely that she fell back into her old, dissolute ways, and was only too eager to welcome the Balrog's caresses, and in doing so, died at the very instant her unnatural appetites were satisfied. There is the situation in a nutshell, Mr Holmes, and no explanation of the whereabouts of the horror that ravaged a deranged woman to death, and drove two strong men out of their minds. If you can clear the mystery up and identify the perpetrators it would a blessing to us all."

I had hoped that I could coax my companion back into the pleasant recreations with Miss Beaverburrow that had been the object of our holiday, but one glance at his intense face and feverish eyes told me my expectation was vain. He sat for some time in silence, absorbed in some inner turmoil which I could scarcely guess at.
"The missing undergarments certainly require looking into," he said at last. "On the face of it, it would appear to be a case of a very exceptional nature, though I think we can safely discount the Balrog you mentioned when you entered, Mr Proudfoot."
"But what else could have burned up all the library, Mr Holmes?" asked the Sheriff.
"An act of arson does not require the presence of an imaginary fire-breathing creature out of the ridiculous mythology of the Shire," retorted Holmes, testily.
"But Balrogs have been seen in modern times," I objected. "My uncle Stingo saw one burn Bywater Post Office to the ground simply because they lost an important letter. Then there was that terrible business over in the North Farthing when poor Miss Primula Shortfoot vanished along with her entire class while they were out mushrooming."
"Tommyrot." snorted Holmes derisively. "Your uncle Stingo is several raisins short of a fruitcake, and that flibbertigibbet of a schoolteacher sold her charges to a party of traveling elves in exchange for three bottles of cheap scent and a sack load of designer lingerie. Let us hear no more talk of Balrogs, gentlemen. How far is it to your house, Mr Bolger?"
"About a league."
"Then we will walk over together. But before we start I must ask you a few questions - ah tea, thank you Miss Beaverburrow, please set the cups down on the dresser."
Our housekeeper did as he asked and left the room.
Mr Bolger took the cup Holmes handed to him in a shaky hand, and avoided my mentor's piercing glance as he raised it to his trembling lips.
"Ask what you will, Mr Holmes," he said hoarsely. "It is a torment to me, but I will tell you the truth."
"What were your family doing when you left them?"
"Playing 'hunt the ring."
"Hunt the ring?"
"A - a traditional after dinner game we Hobbits are fond of, sir."
I pictured the scene and blushed to the roots of my hair.
"What is the purpose of this game?" asked Holmes.
"To hide the ring upon one's person and invite others to find it."
"Who had the ring on this occasion?"
"My sister."
"Was she intoxicated?"
"Was she fully clothed?"
"Of course!"
"Were her hands tied?"
"Did she ask you to flagellate her?"
"Certainly not!"
"Did you or your brothers interfere with her person in any way?"
"You are an impudent fellow!" cried Lotho. "How dare you make such vile suggestions?"

Holmes gave an ejaculation of impatience and sprang to his feet.
"Come now, Mr Bolger. This delicacy hardly becomes one who has made a business of preying upon young women to pander to the prurient desires of dissolute young men and sybaritic old lechers. You are a scopophilisist, sir, do not attempt to deny it!"
Lotho's flush of anger subsided and Holmes sat down again.
"I assure you no impropriety took place, Mr Holmes. My sister was in normal high spirits and my brothers as merry as can be after emptying the port decanter and an excellent dinner."
"What happened then?"
"I bid them good night and fetched my sou'wester-"
"-Sou'wester?" interrupted Holmes.
"It was raining."
"Why not take an umbrella?"
"We have no umbrellas, sir."
"No umbrellas in a district famous for its sudden and precipitate showers?"
"There is a shortage, Mr Holmes. No one knows why. Umbrellas are not to be had for love nor money within a hundred leagues of Isengard."
"Remarkable... make a note of that Bingo - it may prove significant."
"Shall I also record the missing camiknickers?"
"By all means."
I opened my pocket book and made a few swift notes.
"Who let you out?" continued Holmes.
"I did."
"Where was the housekeeper, Mrs Tipplebottle?"
"Asleep in bed. She had served the port, and I fear, partaken too generously herself."
"Where did you spend the night?"
"At the inn in Longbottom."
"No, I was with a companion."
"And who might that be?" I asked.
Lotho glared at me and fidgeted nervously.
"Come now," said Holmes. "You promised to tell the truth."
"The landlady, Mrs Chubb."
"Can she corroborate your story?"
"Yes - as will her daughters, Daisy and Peony."
"Daughters?" I asked, astonished.
"If you must know I was engaged in taking a few candid daguerreotypes for a new zoetrope entertainment I am producing. I can see there is no point in my making a secret of my profession."
"None," said Holmes. His lip curled distastefully. "The facts as you state them are certainly remarkable. I take it that you have no theory of your own that could account for them, Mr Bolger?"
"No," said Lotho.

"It's devilish, Mr Holmes, devilish!" cried Folco Proudfoot. “Something came into that room and drove Lotho's brothers to madness, performed who knows what unspeakable acts upon his poor sister, and then murdered her before incinerating her undergarments. What in Middle-Earth could do such a thing? Only a Balrog, sir, only a monstrous, winged ghoul of fire, slime and horror!"
"I fear," said Holmes, "that if it was a Balrog, it will be the first I have ever encountered. Yet we must exhaust all natural explanations before I embrace a supernatural creature of fire and slime with webbed wings and an appetite for expensive lingerie. As to yourself, Mr Bolger, I take it that you were not on the best of terms with your sister?"
"That is so, Mr Holmes. Mr Proudfoot touched upon the causes when he confirmed your suspicions about my late sister's former career. She fell into self-abuse at an early age and became so notorious my late parents were compelled to evict her. I am ashamed to say Belladonna was a fallen woman, sir; sadly fallen, who soon became addicted to unnatural vices so foul I cannot bring myself to recount them. It was with the greatest difficulty that Mr Proudfoot and my elder brother Odo persuaded her to give up her dissolute life and return to the family home. I will not deny that there was some ill feeling between us on account of the money she had made from her career, and my insistence that she should use some of it to pay for repairs to the house, but we were reconciled long ago, and have been the best of friends ever since."
"How well did your sister get on with your brothers?"
"They were inseparable, sir."
The almost imperceptible twitching of Holmes' left eyebrow told me he entertained the gravest doubts as to the veracity of the old hobbit's answers.
"Looking back," continued Holmes, "Is there nothing that stands out in your memory which could throw any further light upon this tragedy?"
"Think carefully."
Lotho considered earnestly for a long moment and then said: "There is one thing..."
"As I smoked my cigar my back was to the window, and my brother Drogo was facing it. Twice he looked anxiously over my shoulder, so I turned around to look but saw nothing. Drogo was convinced he had seen an umbrella moving among the bushes at the end of the lawn. Odo laughed and told him he had taken too much port."
"Umbrella?" asked Holmes sharply. "I thought you said that umbrellas were not to be had for love nor money within a hundred leagues of Isengard?"
"So I did," said Lotho, colouring deeply. "Drogo was mistaken. I immediately dismissed it as a trick of the rain and the wind and his inebriation."
"Neither you nor Odo thought to investigate?" asked Holmes.
"You left them, then, with no premonition of evil?"
"Remarkable - most remarkable!" exclaimed Holmes, rising from his chair and reaching for his hat. "I think we had better go up Sharkey's End without further delay. I have seldom known a case that presented such singular problems. Will you accompany us, Mr Proudfoot?"
"No, I must return to my office to write the matter up while the events are still fresh in my mind," said the Sheriff. Just then Miss Beaverburrow re-entered the parlour to clear away the tea things and I gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek, and followed Holmes and Lotho to the door.


© 2003 Story by Dannenberg. Page design utterpants.co.uk

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