Island of Point Nemo - Excerpt
Martial Canterel was forty-five. Imagine a thin face, hair pulled back and sticking up in all directions . . . big green eyes with lashes so thick that one would have thought him naturally made-up, a nice nose, and—between a French mustache and a tuft of hairs forming a fan on his lower lip—a fleshy little mouth with a disconcerting pout. His mustache was no less bizarre: very thick beneath the nose, it undulated out horizontally, stretching to an uncommon length before rising up, and then fading into tawny whiskers. Canterel maintained it obsessively. Add to this a braided frock coat over a waistcoat of quilted silk, a white collared shirt with a double bow tie the color of a Périgord truffle, cashmere trousers, and grey beaver boots, and you will understand that the figure whom we are examining cultivated the appearance of a dandy.
Canterel inspected his attire in the mirror. He was adjusting his collar when Holmes entered, followed by a black man whom he did not know.
“Hello, my friend!” he said, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “Just what are you playing at, Martial, leaving me waiting at your door like some common delivery man?”
[. . .]
“Allow me to introduce Grimod, my butler,” said Holmes.
“Delighted,” said Canterel, eagerly shaking his hand. “Grimod?”
“Grimod de la Reynière,” continued Holmes, noticeably embarrassed. “It’s a long story, I’ll tell it to you one of these days. But I am here regarding a more important matter. Would it be possible to discuss it while not standing on one foot?”
“Forgive me,” said Canterel. “I will find us a more suitable place. Miss Sherrington,” he said, guiding them toward an adjoining room, “tea for me, and a Longmorn 72 for our guests, please.” He turned to Grimod. “I know Shylock’s tastes, but you may also have tea, if you prefer . . .”
“Fear not, the Longmorn will be perfectly fine,” said Grimod with the smile of a connoisseur.
[. . .]
“Have you read this weekend’s New Herald?” asked Holmes, pulling a notebook from his jacket pocket.
“You know very well that I never read the papers . . .”
“Anyone can change, even you. But let’s continue. That means you did not come across this astonishing bit of news. I’ll read it to you: ‘Last Monday, a hiker on a beach on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, was surprised to discover a human foot cut off at mid-calf; mummified by the salt, this appendage was still shod in a sneaker. Two days later, thirty kilometers to the east, at the source of the loch at Glen Shiel, the sea washed up a second, quite similar foot. And, yesterday, to the south of Kyle of Lochalsh—that is, at the tip of an equilateral triangle formed by the two previous points—Mrs. Glenfidich’s dog brought his mistress a third foot, hewn off in a similar manner and also wearing the same kind of shoe. These gruesome discoveries are rare in a county where there are neither sharks nor crocodiles; moreover, the police have not had report of a single disappearance in two years.’” Holmes paused for a moment and lifted one finger, drawing Canterel’s attention to the end of the story: “‘The plot thickens: regarding what the locals are already calling the “mystery of the three feet,” it should be noted that these are three right feet of different sizes, but shod in the same type of shoe.’”
“What is the make?” Canterel demanded.
“Ananke . . .”
“I hope you haven’t come all this way just to tell me that?”
He placed a ladyfinger in the cookie-dunking device that Miss Sherrington had left near his cup and used it to soak the cookie in his tea for several seconds.
“Ananke, you say?” he resumed, bringing the moistened cookie to his lips.
“Yes,” said Holmes. “‘Destiny,’ the Greeks’ unalterable ‘necessity’ . . .”
“Except that this make does not exist,” continued Grimod, sniffing his glass of scotch.
“However,” added Holmes, “it is the name of the jewel that was stolen this week from the heart of that same triangle, Eilean Donan Castle . . .”
“To the point, Shylock, get to the point!” exclaimed Canterel.
“The Ananke,” Holmes continued without losing his composure, “is the largest diamond ever excavated from an earthly mine: eight hundred carats once cut, appraised at over fifteen million florins! This marvel belonged to Lady MacRae, widow of Lord Duncan MacRae of Kintail, in other words a certain Madame Chauchat who should not have been completely erased from your memory, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Chauchat, Clawdia Chauchat?” Canterel murmured.
“The same,” said Holmes, pulling a cigar from his waistcoat pocket. “It is she—and the insurance company that offers my services at an exorbitant price—who have recruited me to retrieve this magnificent stone.”
Canterel’s face had darkened suddenly.
“Obviously, this changes everything,” he said, massaging his temples with two fingers. “Miss Sherrington, I beg you, I am going to need some of my medication . . .”