The Case of the Shire Ringwraith - the conclusion
Holmes showed no great interest in anything until we were shown into the drawing room. It contained a singular mixture of dates and places. The half-panelled walls may well have belonged to a comfortably-off old Gentlehobbit. The pornographic lithographs above the fireplace did not. But that is another story. Two walls were ornamented with a curious collection of maps and artefacts of a previous age. On a third wall there hung a fine collection of old weapons and armour and beneath them an ornate scabbard which appeared to have been made for a leaf-shaped dagger lay on the floor. It was empty. Holmes rose and with that quick curiosity which was his hallmark sprang to the wall and examined the scabbard with some care. He appeared to scrape something from inside it and slip it into a small bag.
Presently he returned to us with his eyes alight.
"What is the matter with that dog?" asked Holmes.
"That's what puzzled Mrs Shortbottom. Some sort of paralysis she thinks brought on by the shock of the change in his mistress. It is most distressing to the poor animal but the events of the last weeks have overshadowed it's sufferings."
"It is your wife's pet?"
"Did it come on suddenly?"
"In a single night, Mr Holmes. The very night that my wife first attacked Shagbag."
"Very remarkable. Very suggestive."
"What do you see in it, Mr Holmes?"
"A confirmation of what I had already deduced."
"For goodness sake, Mr Holmes. It may be an intellectual game to you, but it is life and death to me! My wife is a sex-crazed Ringwraith hell bent on the murder of my kiddies. Do not play with me, Mr Holmes, it is too terrible a business!"
The big Hobbit was trembling from head to furry foot. Holmes put a soothing arm around his shoulders and said: "I fear that there will pain for you, whatever the solution. I will spare you what I can. I cannot say any more until I have conducted certain experiments for which I shall require the use of your study and the co-operation of your cook, Mrs Lickspittle. Please ask her to join me with the child Arrogant immediately."
"Very well, Mr Holmes."
"Meanwhile, perhaps you would be kind enough to provide a little light refreshment for my colleague. He seems famished."
"Of course, Mr Holmes, how remiss of me. Will you be joining us?"
"No," and with that Holmes strode from the room with a queer smile playing upon his thin lips.
After a capital luncheon during which I am happy to say mushrooms were NOT served we returned to Boffin's spacious drawing room where Holmes awaited us in some impatience.
"Well?" Boffin asked, "Were your experiments successful?"
"That depends upon your wife."
"My wife, Sir?" said Boffin, looking with horrified eyes at the Detective, "She will see no one. She is more dead than alive!"
"Nevertheless I must see her — Bingo, fetch the housekeeper."
"I will stay here," said Boffin. "I will not see her. Death is on her bloody lips and in her foul heart. She is lost to me...lost forever. She is become a Ringwraith..." he trailed off dejectedly.
Moments later Mrs Shortbottom led us to a heavily barred door and reluctantly unlocked it with a massive key. We passed in and she followed swiftly, locking the door behind her. On the bed lay a semi-naked woman, if woman she was, who was clearly out of her head on something. Her hands and feet were manacled to the bed and her transparent nightdress barely covered the more interesting parts of her very attractive person. I confess that had Holmes not restrained me I would have examined her with less than professional interest. Manacles always did do it for me. But that is the nature of us Hobbits, forever cursed by the procreative urges we share in common with our rabbit ancestors. As we entered she raised a pair of terrified but beautiful eyes and stared at us uncomprehendingly.
Her once handsome face was wreathed in a chilling darkness that clung to her like a deathly shroud. Her limbs were almost transparent and I saw with mounting horror that she was actually floating some inches from the mattress!
"She 'as been like that for nigh on two days," said the housekeeper. "I'm afeared she'll not see the day out. The Dark One 'as her, Eru 'ave mercy on 'er poor soul."
Mythopeia turned her ghostly face to Holmes and asked
in a hissing whisper "Where is my son. Does he yet live?"
"The fiend! The merciless fiend ! Oh what shall I do to save him from the Dark One!" she croaked in a barely audible voice. She writhed on the bed and strove to free herself from whatever terror was overmastering what remained of her mind.
"Can we not help you?" I asked. For the poor wretch was obviously at death's door.
"You can untie her, for starters, Bingo," said Holmes.
"Is that wise, Sir?" asked the housekeeper, "She will attack us".
"Nonsense, my good woman. She hasn't the strength to harm a fly."
I did as Holmes commanded. She seemed grateful and tried to smile. Presently she said in a gentler voice: "Death comes on black wings for poor Mythopeia. It is finished. All is destroyed. The fiend has won. I go to meet him!"
She was clearly still in the grip of some strange delusion. I could not see honest old Odo Boffin in the character of a fiend and the housekeeper, for all her surliness, was too simple-minded to fit the role. That left the Cook, who I had seen at luncheon and who was, if anything, even dimmer than the housekeeper, and Shagbag...who was devoted to his father. Clearly there was something I was missing here...
"Madame" I said, "Your husband loves you dearly. He is heartbroken by your distressing condition."
"He hates me,." she hissed. "He loathes the very sight of me. But I blame HIM. He had but to put his trust in me but he would not. He is too much in love with the FIEND!" This last word was said with such venomous hatred that even Holmes was momentarily taken aback.
"Oh tie the monster up, for pity's sake Mr 'olmes," shrieked the housekeeper. "She is a Wraith, an' only a wizard's sword can free 'er tormented soul now."
"Wraith?!" exploded Holmes. "If anyone else mentions 'Wraith's' or 'Wizard's' I swear I shall turn you all into rabbits! Bingo, give this to the woman instantly!"
"Wh-Whatever is it, Holmes?"
"A draught I prepared earlier. Quickly Bingo, there is no time to lose, she is fading fast."
With Mrs Shortbottom's help I lifted the woman's head and poured the contents of the phial Holmes handed me down her throat. Within moments the colour began to creep back into her pallid face and some semblance of humanity returned to her wild eyes.
"See she drinks every drop!" commanded Holmes, "and give this other phial to her child! Come, woman, unlock this door. There is nothing to fear from your mistress, if ever there was."
With that, Holmes flung himself from the room and stumbling after him, I re-entered the drawing room to find Boffin slumped in a chair by the fireplace. At his feet there sat a young man who by his swarthy, pock-marked face and hunchback could only be his son, Shagbag. The boy had his arms around his father and was kissing him with the reckless abandonment of a young girl on her first, hot date.
"Oh Daddy!", he cried "I do love you!"
Boffin gently disengaged himself from the boy's embrace with some embarrassment.
"Dear little chap," said he, patting the lad's head with his tender hand. "This is Mr Holmes, the great detective and his colleague, Doctor Bingo Bracegirdle, the famous antiquarian."
The boy stared at us with a penetrating and unfriendly gaze.
"May we see the other child, Mr Boffin?" asked Holmes.
"Ask Cook to bring Arragont here," said Boffin. The boy Shagbag went off in his curious, shambling gait and presently returned with Mrs Lickspittle who led Arragont in by the hand.
"Why, Mr Holmes!" exclaimed Boffin, leaping from his chair, " the boy can walk again!"
It was at this moment that I happened to glance at Holmes and saw the most singular expression upon his aristocratic features. It was as if his face were carved in stone and his eyes, which were alight with a penetrating fire, were fixed on the boy Arragont with a preternatural intensity. Then he frowned and his eyes came back to rest on Shagbag who looked increasingly ill at ease.
"Mrs Lickspittle, I should like to have a word with you in private if I may." Holmes took the cook to one side and spoke earnestly to her for a few moments. Then the woman silently withdrew.
Holmes turned suddenly upon hunchback. "Do you love your mother, Shagbag?"
The boy shook his head violently and ran to his father for comfort.
"Shagbag has very strong likes and dislikes,"
said Boffin, sitting down again.
"Yes, father, and I can speak, again, too. It all seems like a long nightmare... There were black, horrible bat like things wheeling around a dark tower—"
"—Probably estate agents," snorted Holmes.
"-Then mummy came to my bed and sucked my—"
"Sit down, Sir!"
"Wh-What is going on..." he demanded at last. "You owe me an explanation, Holmes, and it had better be a good one, or by Crikey I will see that you never work again!"
"Calm yourself, Boffin. Certainly I owe you an explanation," began Holmes, "and you shall have it. I am a busy man with many calls on my time, and my methods have to be short and direct. But let me put your mind at rest at once by assuring you that your wife is a good and loving woman who has been cruelly misused."
Boffin rose up with a wild cry of joy.
"I can, but in doing so fear I must wound you deeply in another direction."
"I care nothing so long as you restore my dear wife to me."
"Then let me begin by telling you the reasoning that passed through my mind when I read your letter. The idea of a 'Ringwraith' was absurd. Such creatures no longer walk the fields and lanes of the Shire, if they ever did, except in fairy-tales. And yet your observations were most precise. Your wife became suddenly addicted to mushrooms. She immersed herself in the study of the old manuscripts collected by your ancestor, Baggins. She tried to remove a ring from the child's finger. She attacked your own boy without any provocation. Finally Mrs Shortbottom actually saw her in bed with your child?"
"Yes. These are the cold facts."
"And you, yourself, saw your wife with blood on her dress and on her lips?"
"I did indeed," groaned Boffin.
"And did she not come to you and beg you to let her nurse her son, Arragont?"
"Did it not occur to you that a mother might have perfectly legitimate reasons for being naked in bed with her child and sucking his groin?"
"No! None, such depravity is inhuman!"
"Then you have little imagination and less common-sense," snapped Holmes testily. Your poor wife was trying to draw a deadly poison from her child!"
"Poisoned, by Eru!"
"No, by Shagbag, as I shall shortly prove.
That scabbard, as your wife could have told you, once contained a 'Morgul knife', a devilish blade impregnated with the most virulent poison known to Hobbitkind. Fortunately I have made a deep study of poisons and narcotics as you would know if you had read my monograph on the subject. Then there was the ring and the dog. The Ring was obviously of the same sort, much used by criminals who wish to weaken their enemies without detection. I confess I did not foresee the dog, but at the end I understood that he was a trial run to test the efficacy of the poisoned blade.
Now do you see? Your wife feared such an attack as soon as she married you and discovered that Shagbag's mother, your first wife, came from Mordor. She saw the affect the ring had on Arragont and tried to beat the truth out of Shabag. It only made him take more desperate measures and use the evil Morgul blade, first on the dog and then on his hated rival. Mythopeia tried desperately to save her child's life by taking the poison into her own body. Yet she knew the poison was slowly killing her, so she started eating mushrooms in the vain hope that they might prove some slight antidote to it."
"Astounding, Holmes!" I ejaculated.
"Shagbag!" cried Boffin.
"Elementary, my dear Bingo," said Holmes.
"Surely you saw the mark on the child where the deadly blade was inserted? Such evil weapons disappear the moment they are used, but the marks remain, just as they did on the dog who was only scratched by it. The poor child Arragont took the full force of the blade in his groin. Mythopeia knew what must be done from her reading of your ancestor's manuscripts and to that spot she directed her most strenuous efforts. That she succeeded only too well in drawing out the splinters that remained in the wound her own sickness is proof enough. Finally, here is the ring!" And with that Holmes produced the baneful thing from his pocket with a triumphant flourish.
"Do not touch it! It is perilous. One can clearly observe that it is hollow and once contained the same deadly brew that nearly killed your son and your wife."
"So that's how you managed to make the antidote!"
"Exactly, Bingo. Once I had examined the scabbard
that housed the deadly blade the rest was easy.
"How can I ever repay you, Mr Holmes?" sobbed Boffin.
"I noticed a few grams of cocaine in your medicine cupboard...Perhaps a small...?"
With that I drew Holmes away and we left the old gentlehobbit and his family to rebuild their shattered lives. I am glad to say that was the last we heard of the 'Shire Ringwraith'
F I N I S
© 2002 Mercedes Dannenberg.
Picture and construction © 2004 utterpants.co.uk