But, more disturbingly, the clock's owner had received seven macabre Christmas cards, signed only by 'a friend'. After taking on the case, Holmes and Watson had a heart-stopping encounter on the dark streets of London.
It was late the next morning, and we were still sitting at the breakfast table when we were alerted by the sound of horse's hooves and the clatter of four wheels as a carriage stopped directly outside the apartment. The doorbell rang, and next we heard a carefully measured step upon the stairs approaching the corridor.
His eyes were drawn at once to the teapot and, rubbing his hands together, he announced: 'I'll have a drop of that if you don't mind. I rose to pour another cup and the man from Scotland Yard warmed himself in front of the fire.
It set me thinking as to what sort of mind could conceive of such dreadful things.' 'The artist's name is Hubert Smythe,' Holmes drawled and went on to describe the events leading up to our visit to Shadwell.
After the disappearance of its occupant, we had entered the house but had found little of significance in the squalid interior. Smythe lived alone in a single room with a bed, a table and a small stove.
'We know the first set of cards came from the General Post Office in St Martin's Le Grand, and it may prove helpful to make the acquaintance of the postman who made the deliveries. Lestrade nodded and a short while later the three of us were walking towards the great temple that was the General Post Office, in the shadow of St Paul's.
The snow was falling heavily today, hanging in the air as if unwilling to sully itself on the street below. The few people who passed us were so wrapped in coats, hats and mufflers that they barely seemed human at all.
As we approached the building, we came upon a stone platform with a line of bright red mail vans, accelerators as they were called. The cries of the carriers rang out as, stooping like miniature Atlases beneath their great sacks, they scurried towards them.
In this way did the morning mail begin its journey to the London railway stations and on into the countryside. We were met at the entrance by an elderly gentleman, wearing a neat suit of sober black, who introduced himself as Mr Frobisher and who escorted us inside, talking all the while.
'It is a monstrous task, Mr Holmes, even with a veritable army in our employ. Personally, I believe the penny post has led to a prodigality of stamps and paper.
We had entered a long, cavernous room peopled by some two or three hundred clerks in tailcoats, the majority of them standing at counters that stretched to the far wall where a great clock showed the passage of time. Electric lights burned above them and everywhere I could hear the hum of machinery.
An endless stream of letters poured down a wooden chute at the far end of the room, to be snatched up by errand boys and delivered in a rush to the sorters. The letters are sorted into railway districts over there and on the other side you will find the hospital, where we deal with missives that are torn or damaged.
Two postmen dressed in frock-coats and winter gray trousers were waiting for us beneath the clock, their caps in their hands. 'This is the famous detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes, ' the postmaster exclaimed in a loud voice.
Perhaps you will recall the block capitals or any other small detail that will have struck you, at the time, as strange.' 'This is the famous detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes, ' the postmaster exclaimed in a loud voice.
Pictured: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on holiday with his family 'Sir William received a great many letters and brochures in connection with his business.
'I was off sick the next day, sir, so my round will have been divided between the postboys. Mr Barrow man is fast to kick up if he believes his mail has been lost or delayed.
'Are you aware that Sir William Mason was murdered last night?' 'Then I expect I'll soon be delivering letters of condolence to his widow,' he remarked.
There was little more to be done at the General Post Office, and once Mr Frobisher had shown us out, we travelled with Lestrade to The Elms, a noble, ivy-covered house on four floors, close to the viaduct. A Christmas tree decorated with candles, ribbons and sweetmeats greeted us in the hallway, but the atmosphere was somber.
Lestrade led us into the study where a dark, irregular stain on the carpet in front of a handsome, antique writing-desk told its own grim tale. 'Sir William was stabbed in the heart, not with a knife but a pair of scissors such as you might find in an office,' Lestrade told us.
His attention had been captured by a collection of Christmas cards on display above the fireplace. The housekeeper, a lady by the name of Mrs Turner, had accompanied us from the front door.
She had the appearance of a martinet, with severe features, dressed in gray with a white apron stretched across her ample stomach. It seemed that the killer had entered the house through a window which had been left unlatched, and this had brought him directly into the room where Sir William had died.
Mrs Turner was indignant, refusing to accept that she was at fault. 'Sir William was amused and even insisted on displaying them, but Lady Mason was most upset.
He had picked up the cards from the General Post Office and that's all he knew. We left Lestrade at the house and continued the short distance to White cross Street in Farrington, the home of Clifford Barrow man.
A statue of Harlequin from the Com media dell'ARTE stood on the front lawn, one hand raised as if to assure us that this was indeed the home of a true home DE theater. We rang the bell and a manservant showed us into a well-populated library where the impresario was sitting in front of a smoldering coal fire.
He was surrounded by books; texts by Euripides, Shakespeare, Racine, Golden, Ben Jonson and many others. I could not help but remark upon the empty space on the mantel where the Louis XVI clock should have stood.
Mrs Hudson was waiting for us when we returned, the smell of a wholesome roast woodcock emanating from within. 'And as for you, Mr Holmes, you'll take your place by the fire while I bring you both a little cognac.
My blood ran cold while a shadow fell across my friend's face and in those sharp, inquiring eyes I saw a glimmer not so much of fear as of weary acceptance. 'I placed them on the mantel,' Mrs Hudson replied, and, with a smile, she left to busy herself with the dinner.