Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hired Help

The gas lights flickered on the mausoleum despite the protection of the glass enclosures. Tate sat on the stone bench, hands resting on his ivory topped walnut cane, rocking it to and fro as he meditated on the inscription over the heavy iron doors.  "Smyth", the five six inch letters, carved in marble, declared with a silent authority. The letters followed the traditional form, except for the "y", which had a whimsical curl at the bottom which nearly made a complete circle.

The cane stopped rocking and he focussed his gaze on the center of the curl.  He dropped his right hand to his thigh, and pushed the brim of his silk hat up with the white duck head atop the cane, it's black glass eyes seeming to look on as in conference with its master.  His broom mustache cocked up to the right in a half smile, he rose and thoughtfully strode towards the doors of the tomb.

A cool fall breeze blew through the cemetery, carrying with it some of the first amber leaves that could be coaxed from their branches. Casually surveying the area to ensure he was in the company of only the dead, he began his analysis. Holding the cane by its base, he raised it above his head and gently tapped the stone below the "M".  It gave a solid, clear ringing tone in response.  Then he tapped the center of the curl, and as he suspected, it replied with a muffled "clack - clack".  Grinning widely, he took his leave, wrapping his long green coat around him as the breeze stiffened and cooled.  Mr. Peter's barometric glass would no doubt confirm that a storm was coming ashore.


"I know where he put it", Tate said into his hat to Mr. Peter, who was busily unpacking a hydrographic device that had arrived by coach that noon.

"Where who put what?", Peter queried rhetorically, somewhat annoyed, somewhat bored, and quite a bit resigned to Tate's frequent, often absurd, but always ultimately fascinating impositions.

The young Major left the shop with his parcel under his arm after his long pause in front of the display case that contained several sextants and a selection of finely crafted chronometers.  Tate's eyebrows cocked up, his eyes sought the left and right extremes of their orbits without so much as a quiver of his head and then returned to bore into Peter. "I know where Wallace hid Smyth's cipher."

Mr. Peter froze, his eyes darted up to meet Tate's intense gaze.  "Indeed. Truly? Yes, verily, you do know, don't you.  My word."

"I need a couple of your fantastic new surgical devices.  Something thin and sharp, and something else that can grip the smallest of protrusions."

"Ah, yes. I have something that should suit nicely.  Who or what is the patient?"

"I also need you to hold my stool."

"Your... you mean a stool.  Naturally."

Tate flashed a toothy grin. "Dinner at the club at seven?  We can return here for what we'll need and it won't take long for us sortie, delve, and fly back here with our prize for a well earned tumbler of that scotch I left in your care two weeks past."

"Best we restock that ahead of our celebration.  I had to medicate myself most severely Sunday eve."



"Mercy on you, my dear Mr. Peter. You're more saint than sinner yet. Seven?"

"Bless you, seven at Black's it is Mr. Tate, not more than five past."


"Hold it steady now, Peter."

"If I can keep the soused pig's face steady in my gullet, I will do as you request.  The third remove was one too many."

Stretching up, Tate worked the scalpel around the circumference of the curl, loosening  bits of dried black caulk as he went.


"Here you go, dull end please."

"Both ends are equally dull now, I fear. Thank you."

With the the tooth extracting forceps in hand, he grasped the edges of the small stone plug and gently pulled.  The marble disk came away easily, but he couldn't see what was behind it because he could not see directly into the cavity it had protected in the face of the stonework.


"Naught.  What for?"

"To probe.  Pipe?"

"Of course."  Peter handed up his second best pipe in exchange for the forceps.

Poking the stem of the pipe gingerly into the hole revealed a depth of no more than a half inch, precisely the thickness of the cut marble plug that now sat in the bottom of Tate's coat pocket.  Reaching up with his finger, he carefully felt inside the hole.  The back was smooth and cool.  He pressed gently and felt it give ever so slightly, but also press back on his finger as he withdrew it.

"Here's your pipe back."

"What have you discovered?"

"There's a pressure plate behind... was behind the plug.  I'm not sure what to make of it yet.  Wallace wasn't given to violence, was he?"

"No, I should think not.  He was troublesome, mischievous, tardy, droll, negligent, but not harsh, violent, or evil.  If anything I'd say he was more like a cat with a mouse... before eating it."

"If I were Wallace, and I knew that I, Tate, would eventually come along, following the crumbs he had left behind as for a dog, would I want to toy with me further, throw yet another obstacle up, engage in misdirection or... could we be at long last nearing the end of the chase?"

"Good Lord in Heaven, I do hope so.  Three years is a bit long for even you.  Wallace has been slowly composting in his grave these past 2 years and each clue has brought us undeniably here, to what should have been the first and now obvious place to look.  It's vintage Wallace.  He no doubt heartily laughs at us from beyond, and a well earned chortle it is, we're such a pair of dolts."

"Indeed.  A dolt would put me to shame today.  Very good.  Here it is then.  I think our pressure plate here is the cache.  I believe the cipher lies behind or within.  If I press very much harden, something exciting should happen... whether I get to keep my finger I suppose we shall learn."

"Pipe again?"

"No, finger it is."  Pressing firmer, Tate was rewarded with a click, and the plate sprang forward, ejecting a tube from the recess in the stone. Drawing it neatly out revealed a tinted glass cylinder with a roll of paper inside.

Peter gasped in relief and triumph.

Tate gave a sigh.  "It's sealed.  Shall we return?"

"Yes, yes!  Indeed!"


"Let's have that candle." Gently waving the end of the tube over the flame, Tate gradually melted the wax from around the plug in the end, and at last it surrendered to gravity and dropped onto the silver tray waiting below.  With a light tap, the tightly rolled paper tipped out into his palm.

Peters took a long draw from his glass, then sipped more moderately.

Carefully uncurling the sheaf of paper revealed another rolled up inside.  The inner piece was rather unique, to say the least.  A rainbow of colors had been used in a most startling manner, fading smoothly from one to the next, to impress one of the most intricately designed engravings either man had ever seen.  The paper appeared to be made with a high quantity of fibers, some of which were colored.  Most intriguing was the band or ribbon that was woven top to bottom through the right half of the highly detailed document.

"Is that some sort of bank note?"

"I don't know.  The language and markings are unfamiliar... I've never seen something so... breathtakingly complex and beautiful, but it's clearly a denomination of some sort.  100 somethings.  This chap on the reverse seems ordinary enough.  Hang on... look at this!  If I put the candle behind it, his likeness is also a watermark!"

"What's on the other sheet?"

"Let us see.  Hand me your glass.  The print is tiny in the extreme."  He held the paper at a distance from the large, hand ground magnifier.  "Wallace, you're mad. May you rot slowly."

"What is it?"

"Numbers.  And letters.  Thousands of them.  But... not all letters.   Hang on... yes, just so.  Only A through F.  Now what do you make of that?"

"As you thought, it's a cipher."

"No, I don't think so.  It's not the cipher, it's the message.  There's too much here to be a cryptographic key.  It's a long and encoded message... very long.  My goodness.  I'll go blind transcribing this."

"So, one through nine and A through F?"

"And naught.  Naught through F.  And several thousand of them packed tightly in long rows."

"Do you suppose one explains the other?"

"It must.  Why put them together else?  This bank note, I think it's not a foreign or unknown language.  I think it too is encoded.  I think this message, decodes this one.  But foremost, we need to figure out how to read this first message."

"I'll turn it over to young Babbage in the morning.  Let him copy it out neat in a ledger and then we can begin to work the puzzle."

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