The Moonstone Club Challenge (a David & Mr. Goliath Mystery)

Submitted into Contest #212 in response to: Write a story about a pair of pen pals.... view prompt


Mystery Fiction

London, 1898

The Moonstone Club

“Max,” said Sherlock Holmes, "I want to introduce you to my friend, Mr. Goliath."

The four famous detectives — Sherlock Holmes, Max Carrados, Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke, and Chevalier Auguste Dupin — were gathered by the fireplace at the Moonstone Club library.

Max Carrados held out his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Goliath.”

Sherlock Holmes burst into an explosion of laughter as Max recoiled at the touch of the tiny hand.

Max Carrados turned his blind eyes in Holmes’s direction. “Even a baby’s hand is larger.”

“Max, allow me to be your eyes. I shall describe Mr. Goliath,” creaked the ancient voice of Auguste Dupin, eighty-eight years of age this day — his birthday being the occasion for this private celebration at the Moonstone Club. “Mr. Goliath is a dapper gentleman with dark hair and a white beard, dressed impeccably in a black coat, evening waistcoat, white shirt, white tie, top hat, and he is, I should say, around twenty inches tall. Am I far off, David?”

"Remarkably close, sir,' said David, the octogenarian librarian of the Moonstone Club. “Mr. Goliath is twenty-two inches tall. Not including the top hat, sir.”

“Which is to say,” said Dr. Thorndyke, “that you, David, are exactly three and one-half times taller than your pet monkey.”

“Precisely so, sir.”

“Seventy-seven inches.” Max Carrados turned his blind eyes upwards in the direction of David’s long face. “You are six foot five inches tall, David?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Mr. Goliath is your pet monkey?”

“A Panamanian white-faced capuchin,” said Sherlock Holmes.

“The very same breed that was the pet of Katharine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII,” added Dr. Torndyke.

“The classic organ-grinder’s companion,” said Auguste Dupin. “I do not refer to Katharine nor Henry, but the monkey. Quite intelligent, as I understand. Again, referring to the monkey.”

“I find that, for a simian, Mr. Goliath has a remarkably keen intellect, sir,” said David.

“Now that introductions are out of the way,” said Sherlock Holmes, “shall we enjoy some brandy and our favorite tobacco? Lead the way, David.”

The tall, white-haired octogenarian librarian ushered them into the private smoking room in the Moonstone Club library, with Mr. Goliath perched on his shoulder.

“Mr. Carrados,” David said. “You will find that we have a selection of the rare cigars you prefer. I took the liberty to consult your manservant, Parkinson, sir.”

“Splendid,” said Carrados, taking his seat and selecting a cigar, lightly squeezing it, then running it under his nose.

“I brought my own smoking implements,” said Sherlock Holmes, fishing out his cherrywood pipe.

“As have I,” said Dupin and pulled out his curved meerschaum pipe.

Dr. Thorndyke selected a cigarette from the case in the middle of the round table and sat down.

Mr. Goliath jumped down from David’s shoulder, selected a cigarette from the case, and used it as a gentleman’s walking stick as he jauntily promenaded around the table, twirling the cigarette-walking-stick and tipping his tiny top hat at each of the famous detectives in turn, to their great enjoyment.

David served the brandy.

“Marvelous fellow, your Mr. Goliath,” said Dr. Thorndyke, taking a sip of the amber liquid.

“He aims to please, sir.”

“Now,” said Sherlock Holmes, “may I suggest a little game?”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Dr. Thorndyke.

“In celebration of Auguste Dupin’s eighty-eighth birthday, we shall institute the inaugural annual Moonstone Club Challenge. Tonight, I will relate to you a mystery.” Holmes brought out three objects. “To which I alone possess the answer.”

Sherlock placed the three objects on the table.

“These, gentlemen, are your clues. First: a portrait of a lady in white, second: a dagger, and third: a blood-stained handkerchief. All are connected to the case. However, there is only one true clue, whereas the other two objects are red herrings. Your challenge is to identify the true clue among the three objects, and then solve the mystery.”

With this, Sherlock Holmes began to tell the tale of …

The Mystery of Mandrake Manor’s Missing Maid

More than twenty years ago, at Mandrake Manor, the ancestral home of Lord Arthur Danvers, the 13th Earl of Fulmouth, on a stormy night, the parlor maid — Margaret Hartley, 42 years old — vanished without a trace.

The maid’s room was found in disarray, with a blood-stained handkerchief left behind.

The maid’s leather-bound diary lay open, with its final entry in block letters:


Despite an exhaustive search, Margaret was never seen nor heard from again.

Recently, I was called in to investigate the matter.

I shall relate the persons who reside at Mandrake Manor and who were also at or near the premises on the night in question, twenty years earlier.

The Right Honourable Lord Arthur Charles Danvers, Earl of Fulmouth, is a widower. At present he is 70 years of age, and he was 50 years old at the time of the maid’s disappearance.

Lady Olivia Charlotte Danvers, the Earl’s daughter, is a strong, independent woman. Although she is older than her brother, Charles, she does not inherit the title, as according to the Letters Patent of the Earldom of Fulmouth the successor is the oldest living male issue. At present she is 40 years of age, and she was 20 years old at the time of the maid’s disappearance.

The Honourable Charles Arthur Danvers, Viscount Mandrake, is the Earl’s son, Lady Olivia’s younger brother, and the heir apparent to the Earldom. Lord Charles is brooding and introspective, often found immersed in the study of the family’s lineage. At present he is 38 years of age, and he was 18 years old at the time of the maid’s disappearance.

Eleanor Poppingwell, called ‘Poppie’ by Lady Olivia and Lord Charles, is their childhood governess. In her heyday, Poppie was a tall, strong, zesty woman, but following the disappearance of the maid, who was her close friend, she had a stroke and is now wheelchair-bound and mute. She is currently 63 years of age and was 43 years old at the time of the maid’s disappearance.

James Cooper, the butler, 74 years old at present, was 54 years old at the time of the maid’s disappearance.

Martin Hartley, the gardener, was the younger brother of the missing maid. He is currently 58 years old and was 38 years old at the time of his sister’s disappearance.

William Hartley, the under-gardener, is the son of the gardener. He is currently 42 years old and was 22 years old at the time of the maid’s disappearance.

In addition, at the time of the maid’s disappearance, the Earl’s wife, Lady Eleanor Danvers, Countess Fulmouth, was still alive. Countess Fulmouth was 48 years old at the time, and passed away three years later, at the age of 51.

There are a number of other staff at Mandrake Manor, but none have any relation to the maid’s disappearance — and indeed none of them were even in the employ at the Manor twenty years ago — so we shall leave them out of the matter.

Now, as I mentioned at the outset, I was asked to investigate this case only recently, twenty years after the disappearance of the maid. The precipitating event was the recent discovery, by Lord Charles, the Earl’s son, of old letters that revealed something important about the maid and two other members of the household.

 * * * 

Sherlock Holmes paused.

After a few moments of silence, Max Carrados said: “Is that it? If so, it hardly seems a fair game. We have only the names, ages, and relationships among certain persons, along with the three objects on the table.”

Mr. Goliath, who was sitting on the table-top next to Sherlock Holmes, scratched his little white beard.

“It is merely the beginning of the game,” said Sherlock. “Now comes the questioning phase. You shall each have one round of questioning about the facts of the case. Each question must state a hypothesis and you may only ask me whether this hypothesis is true or false. Then follows one round of examination and questioning about the three objects on the table, along with your proposed solution. Let us give the honours to our birthday celebrant for the first round.”

Mr. Goliath walked around the table and settled down next to Dupin, removed his top hat, and cocked his head in a quizzical manner.

“Very well,” said Dupin. “As you were so careful, Sherlock, to report the ages of all the residents, this would appear to be of some importance. It strikes me that the age difference between the gardener and his son, the under-gardener, is a mere sixteen years. Although it is, of course, biologically possible to sire a son at the tender age of sixteen, it seems more likely to me that Mr. Martin Hartley is in fact the uncle, not the father, of Mr. William Hartley, and that William is not, in fact, the nephew of the missing maid, Margaret Hartley, but instead her son, born to her when she was twenty years old.”

“True,” said Holmes. “The parentage of William was one of the facts of the case discovered in the letters that Lord Charles found. John, I believe you are the senior to Max by a few years, so you shall go next.”

Mr. Goliath moved over to Dr. Thorndyke, placing his top hat back on his head with a flourish, and stood, leaning on his cigarette-walking-stick.

“Since, Sherlock, you indicated that Lord Charles is a student of the family’s lineage,” said Dr. Thorndyke, “let me hypothesize that William’s parentage was somehow related to the family lineage. I put it to you that the letters were correspondence between Lord Arthur and his solicitor, related to the Letters Patent of the Earldom, on the legal question whether his true-born son, Charles, could be challenged for the title by his bastard older brother, William, who was sired out of wedlock by the Earl himself.”

“True,” said Sherlock. “In fact, as Lord Arthur’s solicitor reported in the correspondence, the Letters Patent anticipates an Earl’s extramarital dalliances and only allows a true-born issue from the Earl’s lawfully wedded wife to inherit the title, unless the bastard issue is formally adopted by the Earl. You are quite right, William was the son resulting from the affair of Lord Arthur and the maid Margaret — when the Earl was 27 years of age, and the maid was 19 years old. At that time, Lord Arthur was not yet married, not even yet engaged to Lady Eleanor, the future Countess Fulmouth. Let us move on to you, Max. What is your hypothesis and question?”

Mr. Goliath walked over to Max Carrados and climbed onto his shoulder. Max smiled.

“Let us see,” said Max. “It seems to me that the butler, James, has been mentioned but not much has been provided, other than his age. Therefore, I hypothesize that this ‘least likely suspect’ — other than by those who always assume that ‘the butler did it’ — was in love with the maid, and that he found out about her long-standing affair with the Earl, as well as her love-child with the Earl.”

“False,” said Sherlock. “You have read far too many romantic pot-boilers, Max. There was no relationship between the maid and the butler. Now let us move on to the three objects. We start with you, Dupin.”

“The dagger,” said Dupin. “It was used by young Master Charles to kill the maid. Twenty years ago, at the age of eighteen, he had already found part of the correspondence from Earl Fulmouth to his solicitor, in which his father, the Earl, asked the question about the succession, and, not having the solicitor’s response, Lord Charles believed his future Earldom was in danger from a claim by his bastard older brother, William.”

“False,” said Sherlock. “If that was the case, then why only kill the maid, leaving the potential usurper William alive? No, Lord Charles did not kill the maid with the dagger. John, you are up next.”

“The painting of the woman in white,” said Dr. Thorndyke. “I put it to you that this is a portrait of the now deceased Countess Fulmouth. She discovered the affair between the maid and her husband, which had in fact not ended after the marriage. In a fit of jealousy, she killed the maid.”

“False,” said Sherlock Holmes. “This is not the portrait of Lady Eleanor Danvers, and Countess Fulmouth did not have anything to do with the maid’s disappearance. In fact, Lady Eleanor died with no knowledge of her husband’s dalliance, nor of the true identity of William Hartley. Max, we turn to you. Can you solve the mystery?”

“I will need your eyes, Sherlock,” said Max Carrados. “Please describe the handkerchief.”

“It is a white handkerchief, of ordinary, coarse linen,” said Sherlock Holmes, “bearing the initial ‘C’ embroidered in block lettering. There is an old blood-stain covering approximately one quarter of the handkerchief.”

“I shall reason this out,” said Max Carrados. “The handkerchief is clearly the one that was found at the scene of the crime in the maid’s room, since it would be too much of a coincidence to have two blood-stained handkerchiefs in the same case.

"The embroidered initial 'C' could be that of Lord Charles, but it could also be the middle initial of Lord Arthur Charles Danvers, Earl Fulmouth, and finally, I notice that Lady Olivia’s middle name is Charlotte. However, the fact that the initial is embroidered in a block letter would appear masculine, so I exclude Lady Olivia.

"Now, the handkerchief itself is in ordinary, coarse linen, which does not seem the proper cloth for a member of the British aristocracy. Therefore, I return to the butler, James, whose last name is Cooper, and therefore the initial ‘C’ fits.

"I was wrong about the butler being in love with the maid. The answer lies not in love, but in loyalty.

"The maid confided her story to the butler and told him that she would reveal all to Countess Fulmouth, and that she would press the Earl to adopt William as his true heir, thereby robbing young Lord Charles of the Earldom. The butler took matters into his own hands and removed this threat to the family he served so loyally.”

Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands together.

“Marvelous, Max,” he said. “You are right that the handkerchief belongs to the butler. And in another respect you are right as to the motivation, and even that the maid confessed her secret, and the intention of pressing for the adoption of William as the Earl’s heir.”

Max Carrados smiled.

“However,” said Holmes. “The bloodstain on the handkerchief was related to a minor accident in the kitchen, and was in fact the butler’s own blood. The maid had offered to clean the blood from the handkerchief. This was the only reason the handkerchief was found in her room. As to the crime — the butler did not do it. None of you have solved the mystery, so I will —”

Holmes stopped in mid-sentence as Mr. Goliath leapt from Max Carrados’s shoulder to the middle of the table, lifted the portrait of the woman in white, flipped it over, exposing the back of the painting.

“Is it possible?” Holmes said. “Does the monkey have the solution?”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said David. “I signaled to Mr. Goliath, in the sign language we have developed between us, to provide this dramatic interruption.”

“For what purpose?” asked Holmes.

“Purely to satisfy my curiosity, sir. May I examine the back of the painting, Mr. Holmes?”

“By all means.”

“Ah, it is as I suspected, sir,” said David, as Mr. Goliath clambered onto his shoulder. “There is an inscription on the back. It reads as follows:


“But, then I was right,” said Dr. Thorndyke. “This is, in fact, the portrait of Lady Eleanor Danvers.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said David. “The inscription is addressed from ‘M.H.’ Therefore, I believe it is a portrait of the maid, Margaret Hartley.”

“Go ahead,” said Holmes. “Do you have a proposed solution to the mystery, David?”

“Yes, sir, if I may be so bold. The Eleanor to whom the portrait was given in friendship is not Lady Eleanor Danvers, Countess Fulmouth — ’friendship' would be far too presumptuous for a maid toward a Countess. There is another Eleanor in the case. I propose this portrait was found in the room of the governess, Eleanor Poppingwell, or ‘Poppie’ as Lady Olivia and Lord George called her.

"Mr. Carrados was not far from the truth when he proposed that the motivation was not love but loyalty. However, it was not to the butler, but to her friend, Eleanor Poppingwell, that Margaret Hartley confessed her secret along with her intention to disrupt the family by revealing all and to press for her son, William, to become the next Earl.

"Poppie was loyal to the family and in particular very protective of her brooding, introspective young pupil, Lord Charles.

"She killed the maid, wrote the mysterious message in block script in the maid’s diary, then carried the corpse out of the room and concealed it far from the Manor. She was, as you described, a tall, strong woman — zesty, I believe, was the word you used — and I suspect the maid was a small woman.

"In the aftermath of her deed, committed in a ‘zesty’ fit of passion, Eleanor Poppingwell suffered a great shock and the stroke that has left her wheelchair-bound and mute to this day.”

“Bravo, David,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Correct in every particular.”

Mr. Goliath, still perched on David's shoulder, removed his top hat with a flourish and gave a deep bow.

August 21, 2023 13:28

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Rabab Zaidi
07:14 Aug 27, 2023

Well developed


Geir Westrul
22:16 Oct 08, 2023

Thank you, Rabab, I'm glad you liked the story!


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Chris Miller
20:24 Aug 23, 2023

A very well developed story, Geir. Nice scene-setting and a well woven mystery puzzle.


Geir Westrul
22:18 Oct 08, 2023

Thank you, Chris! I'm a big fan of Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, and I was recently watching an old BBC series from the 1970s about the "Rivals of Sherlock Holmes" (including Max Carrados, the blind detective, and Dr. Thorndyke, so it was fun to put them all together. Even more fun to have them be upstaged by the octogenarian librarian and his pet monkey.


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Mary Bendickson
08:53 Aug 23, 2023

Intriguing and entertaining. Jolly good.😁


Geir Westrul
22:19 Oct 08, 2023

And jolly fun to write. I'm glad you liked the story, Mary.


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16:27 Aug 21, 2023

Bravo! I never could solve a Holmes mystery so my record remains broken! Very clever Geir. And oodles of classic fun


Geir Westrul
22:20 Oct 08, 2023

Thank you, Derrick. I love Sherlock Holmes stories as well, and, like you, I have never been able to resolve them until Holmes explains his reasoning, then it's all clear, of course.


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04:46 Oct 02, 2023

Loved the monkey but couldn't understand why you named him Mr. Goliath. I had a good laugh about some of the wrong assumptions of who had done it. Definitely a game for super sleuths. Loved it. Wasn't obvious about the pen pals though. Amazing to weave such a yarn within 3000 words. Not easy.


Geir Westrul
22:24 Oct 08, 2023

Kaitlyn, the Mr. Goliath name was a just a twist on the expectations of Goliath being a giant, and David a smaller, younger man, so turning that around with a 6'5" octogenarian David and a 22" miniature "Goliath". I quite like the combo so I might write about them in the future. It was fun to have the super sleuths get things wrong. And I agree the "pen pals" (the Earl and his solicitor's correspondence) was a stretch, but that was the story that came to mind somehow from that prompt.


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09:57 Sep 12, 2023

Amazing! Bringing all our favourite (unpatented, I suppose) classic detectives into one room... And the outsider solves the case. I've always wondered if it was possible to fit a well-formed mystery into less than 3000 words. Now I know it is! Would love more David and Goliath mysteries! :)) (and perhaps more classic sleuths?)


Geir Westrul
17:12 Sep 23, 2023

Khadija, I'm so glad you liked it! This was a trial balloon, of sorts, and I would love to write more "David and Mr. Goliath" mysteries.


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Liya Dawit
17:35 Aug 27, 2023

This is amazing! Great job :)


Geir Westrul
22:20 Oct 08, 2023

Thank you, Liya, I'm glad you liked the story!


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Annie Persson
18:27 Oct 22, 2023

I love this mystery! I love they way you set it all up and then broke it down via the game, so we can see how it was done. Bravo!


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