Wednesday, 13 December 2017

This Excellent Inspector

(This piece was originally published in the FMHC Annual Report, 1992 (The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge) pp28-31. It was written by Alan Saunders)

Inspector Baynes is absolutely unique among all the representatives of the official police to appear in the Canon, for whilst in all the other cases where they appear the police are pushed firmly into second place by Holmes, in WIST Holmes is completely outclassed by Baynes. Unfortunately he is not given full credit for this because, of course, he does not have a loyal Watson to record his exploits. It is the purpose of this piece to reconstruct Baynes' handling of the investigation using Watson's account of the case and a healthy dose of common-sense.

We know from Watson the details of Baynes' initial investigations. He studied the body of Garcia and was able to determine his identity, address and the connection with Scott-Eccles from a note found on it. He was also able to determine an approximate time of death, using a method similar to that used by Holmes in discovering the murder weapon in BOSC.

Baynes then states that he wired Inspector Gregson in London to run Scott-Eccles down whilst he proceeded to search Wisteria Lodge. How did Baynes know that Scott-Eccles would be in London? It is just as likely that he would still be in the local area, or if he really was guilty of some crime, had fled hours before in some other direction. What probably happened was this. Baynes went to Wisteria Lodge before he wired Gregson and discovered that someone had been there up until a very short time ago. We know this was true because Scott-Eccles states that he woke just before nine, yet Baynes arrived at Wisteria Lodge 'after nine' and found it deserted. Therefore Baynes only just missed Scott-Eccles. He then made enquiries at the station where some railway official, who no doubt remembered Scott-Eccles from the previous night , told the inspector that Scott-Eccles had just caught a train back to London. It was at this point that Baynes wired Gregson, before returning to Wisteria Lodge.

Baynes then made a thorough examination of Wisteria Lodge, finding the bizarre items in the kitchen and the discarded note in the fireplace. When he showed the note to Holmes he had already made a string of observations and deductions concerning it; Holmes' own additions were pretty irrelevant and were probably only an attempt by him to save his wounded professional pride.

Despite the deductions, Baynes claims to have made nothing of the note, apart from the fact that 'something was on hand and that a woman, as usual, was at the bottom of it.'. This was, however, a mere bluff on his part. His keen mind was already pondering the significance of 'our own colours, green and white' bearing in mind that Garcia was a foreigner. He had also probably concluded an assignation in a local, large house and had sent for a list of suitable properties and owners before he came up to London to rendezvous with Gregson. Holmes himself, when he receives his list of houses says that Baynes would have already adopted this plan.

The next step of his investigation we can move over fairly quickly, as it concerns his visit to Baker Street and the interview with Scott-Eccles. This is all recorded in Watson's account of the case. Baynes' next important lead was on his return to Wisteria Lodge with Holmes and Watson. The constable on duty at the Lodge described a fearful apparition he had seen at one of the windows. Notice how Baynes seems to attach little importance to this incident, but he had no doubt recognised the description as being that of Garcia's mulatto cook. He then goes on to show Holmes and Watson the curios items in the kitchen; items that, given the mundane nature of the other objects in the house, were quite probably connected with the return of the cook to Wisteria Lodge. Whilst he probably did not have any real idea that the curiosities in the kitchen were connected with voodoo ritual he realised that the mulatto might make another attempt to recover them. At this point Baynes and Holmes agree to work separately from one another. Watson states that Holmes was on a 'hot scent'. What he fails to realise is that Baynes is on a scent which is hotter and that he has a plan of action already mapped out.

Baynes' plan was to wait for the return of the mulatto and ambush him. Knowing that the mulatto is a member of Garcia's household he knew that he could use him to help with his enquiries. Whilst waiting for his ambush to be sprung however, Baynes followed up some of his other leads. Local enquiries would have lead him to suspect Henderson as being implicated in the case, for much the same reasons that Holmes suspected him. He probably deduced the San Pedro connection at this time; two sets of Hispanic, but not necessarily Spanish foreigners, a mulatto cook, suggesting the Americas, and the colours green and white, the colours of the San Pedro flag. Whilst this is a fairly tenuous chain of reasoning it would have acted as a good working hypothesis.

After a few days the mulatto walked into Baynes' trap. The arrest of the mulatto had three purposes. Firstly, by seemingly arresting the wrong man, Baynes could make Henderson feel he was not suspected anymore. Secondly, it protected the mulatto from the same danger that struck down Garcia. Finally, it provided Baynes with information. This last point may seem a little strange for in Watson's account, Baynes tells Holmes that '[The mulatto] speaks hardly a word of English, and we can get nothing out of him but grunts.'. However, this does not mean that the mulatto is incapable of providing Baynes with information; he may not speak English, but an interpreter, Spanish rather than Greek in this case, could be sent for from London. Through an interpreter Baynes was able to placate the somewhat aggrieved mulatto and acquire the full story, including, of course, confirmation of his own suspicions concerning the San Pedro connection. The interrogation of the mulatto would have taken place at about the same time as Holmes and Watson were preparing to break into High Gable, and that Warner was rescuing Miss Burnet.

The fact that Baynes was able to interrogate the mulatto explains one of the more perplexing mysteries of the case; how was Baynes able to know that Henderson was in fact Don Murillo, and furthermore trace his route across Europe, all within the space of a few days. The subject of his whereabouts had been the subject of speculation in the European press for four years and a society dedicated to Don Murillo's destruction had taken three years to trace him. Even Holmes is unaware of Henderson's true identity, although both he and Watson know of Don Murillo. However Don Murillo's enemies would, once they had found him, have been able to trace his movements since he left San Pedro and the mulatto, being a member of this group, would know much of this information. He may have been superstitious but was probably not unintelligent; a man in Garcia's dangerous position would make sure that all of his closest followers were reliable and useful men. Once the mulatto realised that Baynes was on his side, he would have outlined much of this information to him.

We can see in this case, Baynes was able to equal or exceed Holmes’ investigative capabilities throughout. On a final note, it can be seen that even the greatest success of Holmes and Watson in the case, that of rescuing Miss Burnet, was only made possible because Inspector Baynes flushed Henderson out into the open. Their plan of breaking into the house, whilst courageous, would, given the ruthless nature of the occupants probably have ended in tragedy. Baynes truly earned Holmes’ description of him as ‘ ... this excellent inspector ...’.