The Dissecting Room . . . August 1990
Something Amiss With The Sheep
Some questions are better left unasked. Some gaps of ignorance are better left unfilled. Sometimes you are better off not knowing something, because once you know, you can never, ever forget.
If, having read that admonition, you feel like you have to finish reading this month's column, be my guest. But if your sleep is a little uneasier in the days to come, don't blame me. You could have stopped here and remained blissfully ignorant.
It's all Lucy Sonmierfield's fault, actually. Lucy was one of the handful of diehard Hansoms at our May meeting, discussing that Canonical classic "Silver Blaze." You remember it, of course -- the horse was the murderer, did it in self defense after his trainer drugged the stable-boy and tried to nick the horse's tendon. We were discussing the lame sheep that the trainer had practiced his tendon-nicking on, when Lucy suddenly came up with a very pertinent thought. The stable-boy was drugged with powdered opium in his curried mutton. Was that mutton, Lucy asked, the final fate of one of those lame sheep?
Probably so, we all agreed. But as my mind chewed on that morsel in the days that followed, an unpleasant aftertaste developed. The sheep limping around the paddock were an important point in the case against Silver Blaze's trainer. So was the doped mutton. Both points hinged a little too strongly on the sheep, I thought. And something was awfully funny about those sheep.
First of all, if the trainer, John Straker, had practiced his tendon-nicking on the sheep, why would he make so many attempts after successfully laming his first sheep? Why had he chosen the sheep to practice on anyway? I'm no zoologist, but the musculature of a sheep has to be far different from that of a horse. Something doesn't ring true here.
Is it possible the sheep were faking?
Think about it -- how hard would it be for a sheep to fake a limp? Not too hard at all. Especially if the sheep wanted Sherlock Holmes to confirm a theory they had already planted in his mind.
Sheep are, by nature, very jealous creatures. To keep sheep anywhere near an animal as pampered as a prize race horse is just courting disaster, and disaster is just what the residents of King's Pyland got.
Unbeknownst to their shepherd, the cook, or any other of the supposedly higher life forms of King's Pyland, the sheep were plotting against Silver Blaze. They patiently spent months feeding a member of their society digestible quantities of opium until his entire being was fairly well permeated with it. He would be the first sheep to pretend to go lame, and subsequently sacrifice himself for the stew pot. On the night their gallant comrade was served up to members of the household, the sheep moved ahead with their plan.
The stable-boy who watched Silver Blaze was one of the household's big eaters, so the sheep knew that the opium's effect would be strongest upon him. The dope would also keep most of the household sleeping soundly while the sheep sneaked in and tied up John Straker, gagging him with Fitzroy Simpson's cravat, lost just outside their pen. Even the dog, sedated by table scraps, let them pass unnoticed.
They loosed Silver Blaze, carried Straker out to the moor, and prepared to deal Straker a death blow, making their frame of Silver Blaze complete. Straker awoke at the last minute, however, and it was in that struggle with his captors that he sustained the gash to his thigh. The sheep holding the cataract knife between his teeth could reach no higher. The wound to his thigh caused Straker to fall, at which point another sheep pounced on his skull, and it was all over. The sheep returned to their paddock, content that filly favoritism was at an end at King's Pyland.
The horse didn't do it afterall; the sheep did. The only evidence against this evil plot by malevolent mutton is the small matter of the tracks on the moor. Only horse and human prints were found there -- none belonging to sheep. But remember PRIO, in which horseshoes in the shape of cattle hoofprints were used to throw off the forces of good. There were sheep on that moor, too. Sheep who watched . . . and learned.
Sleep well. But forget about counting sheep.
(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, August 1990 )