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The Adventure of the Natal Treaty

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 5 months ago

"The Adventure of the Natal Treaty; or, A Fight at the Opera"


Once again I found myself without the door of that detective of renown, Mr. Shorleck Humes; his modest abode at 212B Beagle Street scarcely hinted at the genius contained within its progressively dilapidated facade (for, truth to tell, every one of the flock of bats along this thoroughfare had been condemned six months ago -- a fact of which Humes seemed blithely unaware).


As Mrs. Hubson, Humes's efficient but cranky housekeeper, ushered me in out of the dark and stormy night, I noticed a fuse dangling from the pocket of her apron. "Expecting trouble from that nefarious nibbler Professor Moreorey, Mrs. Hubson?"


"Och! Thot professor is nay a threet in compares'n wit sairtain dee-teck-teeves I cood naam." And with that laconic and dark declaration, she did the customary thing and threw my hat and coat out into the rain-drenched street. "Eef you ayre a mind, yool find 'im oopstairs." Then she was gone.




"Ah, Wadson," said my friend as he ineffectually tried to straighten up crooked piles of back issues of THE POLICE GAZETTE and ENGLAND'S MOST WANTED. "It is good of you to come on such short notice."


"As always, Humes, I am at your service. But I am curious to know why you insisted that I don formal evening wear and bring along my opera glasses."


"Elementary, my dear Wadson. We're going to the opera."


"The opera!"


"Hmm. There IS an echo in here, despite what Mrs. Hubson says. --Yes, Wadson. It is crucial that we attend this evening's performance of 'Der Ringen Lamette de Barba.'"


"Bless me, Humes, but I have never considered attendance at the opera as 'crucial.'"


"Nor had I, Wadson, until I received this note from my smarter brother Nycroft this afternoon. Would you be kind enough to read it aloud, inasmuch as I have misplaced my dictionary?"


I had met Humes's smarter, older brother on several previous occasions; the impression he always left was one of ineluctable indolence, attested to by his drooping eyelids, slurred speech, and dissipated manner. I had the persistent feeling that he could swoon at any moment. Apart from their formidable intellects, the two had nothing in common, and I was forced to consider the possibility that one of them had been born on the wrong side of the blanket.


The note read as follows:


The Morpheus Club

Soho W1N976

29th Oct. 1899


Dear Sir or Madam:


Shorleck, something important has arisen! England expects every man to do his ... his ... you know. It is vital that you attend tonight's performance at Albert's Haul. Agents provocateurs--the Philistines!--are planning to disrupt the proceedings in an attempt to queer relations between Germany and Italy--specifically in regard to the Natal Treaty. As you are well aware, Continental tensions are running high right now, what with the Swiss cornering the market on cuckoo clocks and the Russians on revolutionaries. The delicate balance England has achieved with her intricate treaty alignments could well be upset if the Germans and Italians get cheesed off.


Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to monitor tonight's performance of 'Der Lamette de Ringen Barba' and forestall any disruptions. I would do it myself, of course, but I must attend my weekly meeting of Somnambulists Anonymous.


Before you doze off, let me forewarn you that F.I.A.T. and B.M.W. will doubtless be present somewhere in the theatre, and they might not think twice about perforating an Englishman.


Good luzzzz,

Your brothzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz



"I take it he fell asleep."


"Yes, Wadson; the note itself would still be on the floor of the Morpheus Club had not an alert navvy tripped over it and broken a collar stud. --So, now you know all."


"Not quite, Humes. Nycroft mentions the Natal Treaty."


"He and I have previously discussed it on the QT; it is the most highly classified treaty in Whitehall's silicon dispatch reticule, and the revelation of its contents could precipitate a world war."


"You may rest assured, Humes, that such secrets are safe with me and my editors and three million readers of the STRAND."


"Very well. The Natal Treaty is a quid pro quo arrangement between Italy and Germany, in which the Italians promise to restrict the birthrate of spaghetti farmers in exchange for Germany's pledge to limit the births of nihilistic philosophers -- an eminently sensible agreement, one would think."


"Indeed. But Nycroft also mentions F.I.A.T. and B.M.W."


"The Forza Italiano Anti-Tiramisu, the Italian secret police, and their German counterparts, the Braunschweiger Mittelwerke Wasserhahn."


"Do you think Professor Moreyorey will embroil himself in this affair, Humes?"


"While I am loath to underestimate that notorious nosher, Wadson, nevertheless I have it on good authority from several of my Irregulars that he is presently engrossed in yet another one of his execrable monographs, this one entitled 'The Sex Lives of the Infusoria.' After we wrap up this case, I plan to counter him with my own production: 'Upon the Polyphonic Epiphanies of Rodgers & Hammerstein.' That'll show him! --But we must hasten, Wadson, or we will miss curtain rise!"




"Are you familiar with this particular opus, Wadson?" Humes asked as we settled into our box seats in the Albert's Haul.


"I must confess an unfamiliarity with most opera, Humes."


"Since the curtain will be going up momentarily, I shall be brief. 'Der Ringen Lamette de Barba' is a bilingual co-production between Germany and Italy, the aim of which is to promote cultural amity between the two nations. This work touches upon the primordial mythologies of both countries and is performed alternatingly in German and Italian. To say that they are sensitive to the public reception of this work would be an understatement."


Just then the overture commenced, and Humes relaxed backwards into his seat; nevertheless, he kept a wary watchfulness of his surroundings, occasionally borrowing my opera glasses to scan the crowd and, satisfying himself there was no immediate threat, tapping his toes to the beat.


As the performers began to sing, I had considerable difficulty following the plot since I know but little German and no Italian. Seeing my perplexity, Humes leaned over and began to translate sotto voce.


"Hildebrunne is singing plaintively to Friedsieg about her lost snood, Wadson."


"Haben Sie et was zu vorzollen?" The steady, clear soprano voice of Signorina Cosifantutte filled the hall.


"You haven't seen my snuffbox by any chance?" translated Humes.


"Come si chiama questo!" replied the equally crystalline tenor voice of Herr Steinderweisen.


"What a question for the most delicate of all of Heaven's beauties to ask!"


The strong contralto of Signorina Rackapoverini, in the part of Lettavio, interposed contrapuntally: "Ich hatte gern ein Doppelzimmer!"


"You two should get a room!" (Humes added: "I think she's jealous, Wadson.")


The basso profundo, Herr Weltanschauung as Fredalfo, thundered: "Puo parlarle piu adagio, perpiacere?"


"Do you know the way to San Jose?" Humes's eyes widened. "No, wait. That can't be right."


Then pandemonium broke out. At just the moment when Signorina Rackapoverini's voice hit J above middle G, several people in the audience leapt to their feet, shouting and throwing rotten tomatoes and needle-sharp bangers and mash at the performers on stage. Immediately Signorina Cosifantutte and Herr Steinderweisen went down under the barrage; at the same moment, Humes raised the opera glasses to see better, then tossed them to me.


"Ah, ha! That's all the proof I need. Quick, Wadson, follow me!" I had just enough time to observe the broken lenses before I pursued Humes out of the box and down to the stage.


The confusion in the audience had peaked by now; in sideways glances I could see that a large number of men, possibly as many as half the people in attendance, wearing ill-fitting cutaways had subdued a handful of provocateurs and had them spread-eagled on the floor. These individuals badly in need of sartorial improvement, I surmised, were members of F.I.A.T. and B.M.W., and my conclusion was later to be confirmed.


By now, Signorina Cosifantutte, looking a lot like a meal I had last Tuesday, had managed to struggle to her feet, with the help of the show's two producers, Signor Castrati and Herr Lebensraum.


Herr Steinderweisen, in contrast, resembled an entire buffet table, stretched out on the stage like that. Fearing he might be dead, I knelt down and checked his pulse; he moaned, grimaced, and said, "Konnen Sie mir mit meinem Gepack helfen, bitte?"


I appealed to Signor Castrati. "What did he say?"


"He-a say, would-a you please-a get off-a his-a family jewels?"


Humes, meanwhile, was conferring with Herr Weltanschauung, the basso profundo, who was also, as it turned out, head of the B.M.W. detachment -- a versatile fellow, that Weltanschauung.


"Well, Wadson, everything seems to be under control. I am sure Signor Castrati and Herr Lebensraum would concur that the show is over for the evening?" The two producers nodded reluctant agreement. "Splendid! Then let's allow these good people to clean up, after which we shall all repair to Beagle Street for refresherments, eh, what?"


Yet, as the performers left the stage for their dressing rooms, I noticed Humes crook a thumb at Herr Weltanschauung, who signalled four of his men to follow the group backstage.




"They say art imitates life. Curious how life can imitate art, is it not?" Humes lit his pipe and surveyed the group assembled before him. Never had Humes's abode bulged with so many people: the two producers, the four performers (with Weltanschauung standing apart from the rest, rather than sitting with them), and four burly gorillas in evening dress. The whole tableau would have been more fitting at the Palladium on a Friday night than the wee hours of a dark and stormy Monday morning.


Humes directed his attention to the producers. "Gentlemen, you and I have been looking in the wrong direction. From the start we were supposed to believe that politics would be the driving force behind any disruptions that might occur, and when they did at last happen we were meant to go hieing off after phantom anarchists and bomb-throwing revolutionaries. But life does imitate art, at least on occasion, does it not ... Signorina Rackapoverini?"


The demure young contralto was clearly caught by surprise; her eyes widened briefly, but then her placidity returned.


"I-a ... I-a don't-a know what-a you mean, Signor Humes."


"You can drop that phony accent, Myrt. The jig, as the Americans say, is up."


She dropped the phony accent by saying nothing.


"Let me introduce you all to Myrt Durdge, lately of Milano but originally from Manchester. According to the April '97 issue of ENGLAND'S MOST WANTED, Myrt has a police record longer than a Tory's shirttail. Myrt's one of the slyer examples of her type: a talented money thief of the first order. --You, Signor Castrati, have fallen under her spell of late, have you not?"


"Well-a ... I-a ... I-a suppose I have. What-a of it?"


"I am willing to bet she has persuaded you to give her shares in the opera company, no? With the prospect of a wedding not far distant?"


Castrati frowned. "What-a you say, she's-a true enough. We-a were to elope last-a night."


"But Humes," I interjected, "why would she stage an event that would almost certainly damage the reputation of the opera company? Wouldn't she stand to lose a lot if the company went bankrupt?"


"These things take time, Wadson. Marry on Monday, sell off her stock on Tuesday, take off for parts unknown on Wednesday; by Thursday the stock would likely have plummeted to almost nil, but poor Signor Castrati and Herr Lebensraum would be the ones left holding the empty plenum. --As an aside, gentlemen, I would begin working on restoring confidence in your company, if I were you." Both nodded solemnly.


"Humes, you said earlier that this was a case of life imitating art. How so?"


"Since you didn't have a chance to see a full performance of the opera, you wouldn't know -- as Myrt here clearly does -- that Hildebrunne marries Friedsieg under false pretences, with the intention of selling her snood and that stolen snuffbox to Throbb, the God of Migraines, at a thirty percent discount rate."


"And what about the proof you spoke of? What about the opera glasses?"


"Do you remember when I was translating that I said something couldn't be right? You see, I pored over every note and word of the libretto this afternoon in the off chance that it could be significant." He nodded at a stack of paper reaching from floor to ceiling in the corner. "When the basso profundo sang 'Do you know the way to San Jose?' instead of 'You're a fetching wench,' I knew something was amiss; the change in wording was doubtless a signal to the agents provocateurs in the audience. All the more ironic since it was to be sung by the security agent in the cast; Myrt persuaded Weltanschauung that the change had been approved by Castrati. Isn't that so?"


The B.M.W. agent nodded almost imperceptibly, keeping his flint-hard eyes fixed on Myrt.


"As for the opera glasses: When Myrt -- I mean, Signorina Rackapoverini -- hit that J above middle G, I knew at once that was also wrong and possibly yet another signal to her accomplices. Coupling that note with the rest of the chord being sung by the others would produce a resonant frequency sound wave that would shatter almost anything made of glass in the auditorium. The broken lenses were merely a confirmation of my suspicions."


"Amazing, Humes!"


"Elementary, Wadson. --And I notice that Mrs. Hubson has already left us breakfast ... although it is most unusual to see a candle with a sparkler placed in a pineapple."


"Uh, Humes, about that .... "






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