The Case of the Racehorse Ringer

For Rosemary, as ever, with love

“I wish all Holmesian pastiche could be as honest, as knowledgeable, as enthusiastic and as well written – in short, as good – as these children’s books.”













Other Baker Street Boys Adventures

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About the Author

ight,” the man rasped. “Out you come. We’re here.”

He threw open the door of the horsebox, reached inside and grabbed Gertie’s arm with a grip like an iron band. Gertie blinked as he dragged her out into the street. It had been dark in the back of the van, and now she was out in the daylight everything seemed too bright

“Where’s here?” she asked

“Your new home,” the man said

As her eyes adjusted to the light, Gertie saw that they were standing outside a grim, grey building behind tall iron railings

“It don’t look much like home to me.” She sniffed. “Looks more like a blinkin’ prison.”

“What do you want? Roses round the door?”

“Sure and that’d be nice.” Gertie grinned. “Pink and white would do just fine.”

“Cheeky little devil!”

“I ain’t goin’ in there.”

“Oh yes you are. Come on!”

He tightened his grip on her arm and began to drag her through the gate. Gertie yelped in pain, but there was no way she could escape

The man yanked on an iron handle at the side of the front door, and a bell clanged somewhere inside the building. After what seemed like an age, Gertie heard footsteps approaching. There was the sound of a key grating in the lock and the heavy door creaked open. A hard-faced woman stood facing them

“What’s this?” she demanded through thin lips. “Major Lee told me it was a girl.”

“It is a girl. This is Gertie O’Grady.”

The woman glared at Gertie. Gertie glared back. Neither of them liked what they saw. Gertie saw a big woman in a long black dress, buttoned high up at the neck, with a large bunch of keys dangling from her belt. The woman’s pale eyes moved down from Gertie’s cropped ginger hair and freckled face, taking in her ragged jacket, tattered boy’s trousers and bare toes poking out of well-worn boots. She did not try to hide her dislike

“Where are her things?” she asked the man

“I ain’t got none,” Gertie said. “My stuff was in our wagon and the coppers—”

“Be quiet!” the woman barked. “Who said you could speak?”

“You asked about my things—”

“And don’t answer back! In this house you speak when you’re spoken to, and not before. Understand?”

“Sure and I was only—”

“Hold your tongue, miss!”

The woman slapped her, hard, on the side of the head. Gertie glowered at her in silence

“I can see we’ve a lot to teach you before you’ll fit in here,” the woman sighed. She nodded curtly to the man. “Very well, Hogg. You may go.”

“Thank you, madam.” He let go of Gertie’s arm and stepped away. “She’s all yours – and the best of luck to both of you.”

When he had gone, the woman closed the door behind him and locked it. Then she walked slowly around Gertie, inspecting her carefully

“My name is Mrs Hackett,” she announced. “I am the matron of this orphanage.”

“I ain’t a orphan, missus,” Gertie began. “I got—”

“Quiet! What did I tell you? Speak when you are spoken to, and address me at all times as Matron or Mrs Hackett. Do you understand?”

“Yes, missus. Er, Matron.”

“That’s better.” Mrs Hackett turned and yelled down the hallway as loud as a steam whistle. “Ethel! Sarah!”

Her voice was still echoing round the walls when two young women wearing long aprons and mob-caps scuttled out of a doorway. Mrs Hackett shoved Gertie towards them

“Clean her up!” she snarled. “And get rid of those filthy rags!”

The next half-hour was one of the worst Gertie had ever known. Ethel and Sarah grabbed an arm each and hauled her up the stairs and into a bare, grey room, in the middle of which stood a large bathtub filled with water. Gertie had never seen a bath before, and she feared this was some sort of torture chamber. Her fears were soon justified

The two maids roughly pulled off her clothes, then dragged her towards the bath. Gertie kicked and bit and scratched and yelled, but it was no use: they picked her up and plunged her in. Gertie was used to cold water – ever since she was little she had swum in rivers and lakes and ponds. But this was so cold that it took her breath away. When she got it back again, she screamed louder than ever. Ethel and Sarah shut her up by pushing her head under the water, then attacking her with bars of hard, foul-smelling yellow soap and scrubbing her all over until her skin was red and raw

At last they pulled her, shivering, out of the water, rubbed her dry with a rough towel and thrust a small pile of clothes at her

“Now put these on,” Ethel ordered. “And look sharp about it. Mrs Hackett don’t like to be kept waiting.”

Gertie stared at the clothes. A coarse woollen vest, navy-blue knickers, black knitted stockings, canvas shoes, a white mob-cap … and a thick grey cotton dress

“I don’t wear frocks,” she said

“You do here,” Sarah replied. “That’s the uniform.”

“What’s a uniform?”

“It’s what everybody has to wear. So put it on and shut up.”

“No! I won’t!” Gertie folded her arms and shook her head

“What’s going on here?” a harsh voice barked out. “And what’s taking so long?”

Mrs Hackett stood in the doorway, her face like stone. As she stepped forwards, Gertie saw that she was holding a length of bamboo with a hooked handle. A cane. It made a humming noise as the matron swished it through the air

“Get dressed!” she hissed. “Now!”

Bravely, Gertie shook her head again. The matron raised the cane and whacked her on the back of her leg. The pain came as a shock to Gertie. But she clenched her teeth and did not cry out, staring defiantly at her attacker

“Hold her!” Mrs Hackett told the two maids. “Hold her tight while I give her the beating she deserves.”

“Just you wait!” Gertie cried angrily. “Just you wait till my da comes for me. He’ll show you what for!”

“Your da won’t be coming for you,” Mrs Hackett sneered. “He’s never coming. Your precious da is a murderer. And he’s going to hang!”


Rosie was carrying the day’s flowers from Covent Garden market back to HQ, the secret cellar where she and the other Baker Street Boys lived. It was still early and the streets of London were empty. Behind her, the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves cut through the quietness, slowing from a trot to a walk and then stopping altogether. Rosie turned and saw it was Mr Gorman, the local dairyman, bringing large silver churns of milk from the farm in his pony and trap. He had a passenger with him, a strange-looking girl in a grey dress.

“Rosie!” the strange girl shrieked. She leapt from the trap and hurled herself at the flower girl, throwing her arms around her.

“Oi! Mind my flowers. Who d’you think you are?”

“Don’t you know me, then?”

Rosie certainly knew the voice. Her mouth dropped open.

“Oh my word! Gertie! What happened to you?”

“I’ll tell you all about it when we get to HQ.” Gertie turned back to the milkman in his peaked cap and long striped apron. “Ta, Mr Gorman. Thanks for the ride.”

Mr Gorman waved and started his horse again. The two girls hurried back to HQ.

Queenie was dishing out porridge to the rest of the Boys – Wiggins, Beaver, Shiner and Sparrow – when Rosie and Gertie clattered down the steps and into the cellar. Porridge for breakfast was a rare treat, and no one looked up from their battered tin plates to see who had come in until Rosie called out.

“Look who I found,” she said.

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