The Apocryphal Belligerent Ghost
While my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, has become known for his applications of science and reasoning to the problems of our clients and Scotland Yard, there were others of my acquaintance who claimed more super-natural experiences. Holmes discouraged listening to such, as he called them, “fairy tales,” but a pleasant evening at my club would, on occasion, mean a round or two of fantastic stories from fellow members.
Among my medical friends, Doyle was perhaps the most inclined to speak of other-worldly creatures, and after spending one particular evening in his company, I found my imagination prey to flights of fancy I might not have otherwise been susceptible to, had I been playing billiards with Jones or Thurston. Those conjured creations of an active mind, however, led to a most singular adventure and the recovery of one of Europe’s greatest art treasures.
The light of a waning autumn moon was casting deep shadows upon the lonely London streets, in which my thoughts placed all sorts of possible creatures. Whether a pair of wolves hiding in an alley, surely given their shaped by rain barrels or beggar-tents, or an infant demon given voice by cats with marital issues, the curse of an active imagination is more powerful than any spell cast by a witch in my experience of the world.
So it was that as I turned on to Spender Street, I was glad to see another pedestrian not far ahead of me.
He was a tall man, dressed in the bright green suit and floppy hat of the sort favored by the those who work when the daylight does not shine as brightly upon them. He walked with a limp that progressively worsened until I found myself catching up to him just as he clutched at his chest.
“I have a heart . . .” he gasped as his eyes caught mine and he collapsed to the pavement.
I quickly bent over him, just in time to hear “I live at 19 Hooper Street, can you . . .” before he faded out again for a moment. I helped him to his feet and got under one arm to help him stumble onward. As we moved to the next street and closer to his home, I found myself carrying him more and more with each step.
The front door to 19 Hooper Street was open, and I carried him into the first room with furniture befitting a reclining sufferer and laid him on a fainting couch there. Checking his eyes, his breath, and his pulse, I immediately found that my new acquaintance was dead.
A woman’s shriek interrupted my examination.
“Albert!” A gaudily dressed woman of a certain age appeared behind me, composing herself as she noticed me looking at her. “What has happened to poor Mr. Higgins?”
I explained that his heart seemed to have failed him on the street, and asked if she was his wife.
“Heavens, no, poor dear,” she putting a lace handkerchief to her face. “Just his landlady and manager of his affairs. His relations will be so disappointed in this sudden turn.”
“I will leave you to deal with the relations then,” I told her and left my card.
Across Hooper Street from the house of Albert Higgins was a small pub, and I stopped in there to rest for a moment and catch my wits over a pint. After an appropriate moment and learning a bit about the neighborhood from the landlord, I started for Baker Street once more.
Upon turning into Spender Street, opposite the little tobacconist where I had first encountered the late Albert Higgins, a man in a green suit and floppy had strode aggressively toward me, and before I could even open my mouth to speak, shot a right cross at my jaw and kept on walking.
Having lived a military life and seen the worst side of a delirious soldier more than once, I had learned to take a punch, but the blow caught me in the eye if a fashion that gave me pause. When my senses returned a second later, the man had vanished.
Albert Higgins, it seemed, had returned from the dead to express his outrage that I, a practicing physician, could not save his life.
I raced to Baker Street to tell Sherlock Holmes what had just occurred and found him bending over his little laboratory table, working with his chemicals.
“Have a look, Watson,” he said, “I think this combination will actually prove a viable alternative to . . . my word, what has happened to your eye?”
Holmes’s immediate concern at my attack was a cooling salve to my bruises. I told my friend what had occurred and he insisted that we return to Hooper Street and investigate. The landlady had little new information to offer, and Holmes insisted we go next to the morgue to make certain Albert Higgins was in their care and not roaming the streets.
His body was there, his pallor that of the properly dead, with the coroner’s assistant confirming my earlier diagnosis of heart attack.
“I must have just encountered some street tough, and the death of HIggins left his visage imprinted foremost upon my mind,” I suggested to Holmes as we started our long walk back to Baker Street.
“There is no witness whom I would trust more than you, my dear Watson,” Holmes said and gave my shoulder a firm shake. “I shall not let this matter rest.”
The next morning, Sherlock Holmes was gone before I arose for breakfast, and I spent the better part of the day working on my memoirs. At the appropriate time of the afternoon, however, I decided that another trip to my club was well deserved.
A member of my old regiment in Afghanistan had gotten a similar thought as to how to spend an evening, and our conversations about different Northumberland Fusiliers and our experiences with the denizens of local towns there went on until long after dark. As I felt the drink and the need for sleep catching up to me, I made my good-byes and set out for Baker Street.
As I turned on to Spender Street, I could not help but think of the Higgins mystery, and as I neared the spot where he fell, I saw another man come out of the shadows, one house down.
He wore a green suit. Upon his head was a floppy hat.
I instinctively braced for another blow as his arm started to come up as he strode toward me. But instead of a punch, his skeletal hand pinched my nose and gave it a hard yank. I shook my head in pain, and when I looked around for the man, he was gone.
The late Albert Higgins still held some grievance, it seemed.
When I arrived back at our rooms, Holmes was playing some complex German air upon his violin, but paused to give me a glance of concern.
“Are you all right, Watson? You look as if Albert Higgins is still vexing you.”
“He is,” I replied. “I was attacked again.”
“Are you sure it was Higgins? Perhaps you have other enemies on Spender Street.”
“It was Higgins,” I attested. “I should know him anywhere at this point.”
“Well then, we shall have to put this spirit to rest,” Holmes replied, and resumed playing his violin, the tune taking a darker and more mysterious turn.
At breakfast the next morning, Sherlock Holmes was in a mood as cheerful as the Queen at her own jubilee.
“Do you feel like taking in some art, Watson?” he asked, putting down his coffee.
“I suppose I might,” I replied. “My patient list is unsettlingly healthy at present.”
“I hear the Pembroke museum is showing the Moonlight Mona Lisa, the most precious painting that Italy’s national gallery has ever owned. I should like to have a look at it before someone steals it.”
“Do you suspect a crime?” I asked.
“I suspect a crime has already occurred,” he replied. “Except you are the only one who has any idea of it.”
“Me?” I protested. “I had not heard of this Moonlight Mona Lisa before just now, when you told me of it.”
“Good old Watson,” Holmes laughed. “Always getting punched and pulled by the dead, yet never knowing what they are truly after!”
“My living soul, I should think.”
Sherlock Holmes pulled a small covered canvas from beside his chair.
“While you slept peacefully through the night, Watson, I was out for a little burglary.”
My disappointment was plain to my friend, which he acknowledged with a nod, and continued.
“You see, Watson, Albert Higgins was the day watchman at the Pembroke museum, where the famous Moonlight Mona Lisa was being displayed. Or should I say, a forgery of the Moonlight Mona Lisa was being displayed. The actual painting had been switched out by the museum’s curator, a scurrilous rogue who likes to finger firearms more than a man with loose carpets should do. Fortunately, he did not catch me in his midnight rounds of the museum, and I was able to ascertain where he had hidden the true Moonlight Mona Lisa beneath another painting due to the its peculiar placement in the gallery and solvency of its oils.”
“You made quick work of that, Holmes, I must say. I do wish you’d have let me accompany you, in case the villain had trained his gun upon you!”
Holmes tutted me with a genial smile.
“He’d have been no match for you, Watson, of that we can be assured. But allow me to present to you the fruit of my midnight labors, inspired by your ghostly encounters: The Moonlight Mona Lisa!”
Sherlock Holmes placed the canvas on the table facing me and pulled away it’s cloth drape with the flair of a true showman.
And I gasped in horror as the painted eyes of Albert Higgins, the Moonlight Mona Lisa, locked their gaze with my own.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This unpublished text would seem to be Watson’s only attempt to create a ghost story out of one of his adventures, an adventure that we now know the true events of thanks to Watson’s own documentary footage found in the depths of YouTube, purporting to be a television show from 1954 with the episode title, “The Case of the Belligerent Ghost.”