Authors: Paul Gilbert
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories; English, #Mystery & Detective, #Watson; John H. (Fictitious Character), #Holmes; Sherlock (Fictitious Character), #Traditional British
I would like to dedicate this to my late agent, Mr David O’Leary, who recently passed away. He was a true gentleman. Also to my wife Jackie who continues to have unlimited patience.
ear readers, as you are doubtless aware, throughout the narration of his sixty wonderful stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made numerous passing references to past cases that were never to see the light of day as narratives in their own right. This has always seemed a shame to me, as some of the titles and premises offer intriguing opportunities and possibilities, (although others seemed to be humorous indulgences on his part). In compiling this, my second humble offering, I have selected those references that have presented me with the broadest possible canvas, i.e. those containing the least detail, and, therefore, enabling my imagination to run riot.
Holmes would have chastised me for my indulgence, Watson would have chastised himself for not having commended these tales to print. As for myself…? Well, I shall be eternally grateful to Sir Arthur for his inspiration and to you, my readers, for your support and for providing me with the opportunity to present my second collection of stories. I sincerely hope that each one will satisfy the curiosities of all my fellow ‘Sherlockians’.
‘… the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent
in the minds of the public
… he had succeeded where the police of three countries
had failed … he had out-manoeuvred, at every point, the
most accomplished swindler in Europe.’
The Reigate Squires
by A. Conan Doyle)
uring the course of the weeks subsequent to our return from Rome, I must confess to becoming as obsessed with the subject of Moriarty’s impending revenge as had my friend, Sherlock Holmes. However, I was becoming a little surprised at the off-handed manner with which Holmes was now rejecting so many potentially satisfying and intriguing cases. As a result of our triumphant recovery of the statue known as the ‘Dying Gaul’, from the avaricious clutches of the infamous Professor, Holmes’s name was still ringing throughout the capital cities of Europe. Consequently we had become deluged with requests for consultations, from some of the continent’s most exalted houses. This rendered Holmes’s rejection of some of these cases the harder to comprehend.
As anyone who has read my record of that case will recall, it was during the longest section of our journey, the
train from Paris to Turin, that Holmes finally broke his silence. He had then revealed to me how four years of investigation and deduction had resulted in the realization that it had been Moriarty’s brother, the Colonel, who had perished at the Reichenbach Falls in his stead. A gradual accumulation of evidence from across the continent, brought him to the conclusion that Moriarty was behind the theft of the statue ‘The Dying Gaul’ from Rome’s Capitoline Museum. It was this realization that had now led to our current obsession.
Our time was now being constantly engaged either in scouring every newspaper, whether domestic or foreign, for news of noteworthy crimes, or ploughing through the endless reams of police reports that Holmes had requested from his continental colleagues and which were now engulfing our letterbox on a daily basis. Keeping our rooms in an orderly fashion had never been an easy task for our much put-upon landlady, Mrs Hudson, but the overlay of papers and files with which she was now frequently confronted reduced her to the point of despair and a stout refusal to re-enter our rooms until it was all cleared away.
Consequently all our meals were brought, by me, from the kitchen and our housekeeping was neglected to the point of dereliction. At last, when we were reduced to a situation whereby I was becoming anxious for our general well-being, I demanded that we should, at the least, dispose of the majority of the redundant newspapers and allow Mrs Hudson an opportunity to restore our rooms to something close to being habitable once again. Mercifully, Holmes made this small concession and Mrs Hudson returned to her former duties with a mixture of relief and disgust.
During the course of the throwing out of these journals I chanced upon a name that was, inexplicably, familiar to me. Unbeknown to Holmes, and against his explicit instructions, I had retained many of the letters and calling cards requesting his help or advice that he had rejected as being irrelevant to his quest for the elusive professor. Discreetly, within my room, I riffled through these in an effort to solve my mystery. In but a few minutes I had found the item in question, a small, elaborate white card announcing Lady Beasant of Belgravia. The words on its reverse, however, were what excited me:
A consultation regarding the Master Swindler would be
most appreciated. Please communicate with my secretary
at your very earliest convenience.
At the bottom of the note was a postscript:
Maupertuis must be stopped!
I raced into our sitting room in a state of great excitement, only to find a dishevelled Holmes in his armchair, an unlit pipe hanging, dejectedly from his thin lips.
‘Holmes!’ I exclaimed. ‘Do you recall a certain article from the French press, regarding the notorious Baron Maupertuis?’
‘I believe so,’ Holmes replied, with an exaggerated indifference that barely acknowledged my presence in the room.
Undeterred by this I hurriedly continued: ‘Then you will also no doubt recall a report from your friend with the Salzburg police, which makes reference to a shadowy Austrian aristocrat who has incurred much rumour
regarding his business dealings, perhaps even of his being connected to a murder?’
‘Yes?’ Holmes now raised his eyes to me, summoning vague interest. ‘I also remember rejecting these as worthless pieces of gossip, an assessment in which you do not seem to have concurred.’ Holmes answered, accusingly.
‘Well, it may prove to be just as well, for you also asked me to dispose of this.’ I tossed the card from Lady Beasant into his lap.
Holmes snapped the card into his hand and, after reading it slowly, turned it over again and again, while lost in his own thoughts. ‘This is a piece of very expensive stationery. Not for the first time, Watson, we might be moving in very illustrious circles. However, there is no obvious connection between this Baron and Moriarty.’
‘Perhaps not, but surely an interview with Lady Beasant might go some way to confirming this. After all, this is what we have been waiting for. A mysterious master criminal, operating in at least three separate countries!’
‘Rumour and gossip, Watson, rumour and gossip.’ Holmes replied. ‘None the less,’ he continued, ‘there is much merit in the argument that you have made. There is certainly more likelihood of picking up Moriarty’s trail again if we take up Lady Beasant’s consultation, than if we sit here sucking pipes. Would you, Watson, reply to this on my behalf and arrange an immediate interview, while I put my toilet to rights. Oh, and ask Mrs Hudson to clear up this appalling mess!’
I went about my errands with an enthusiasm born of the knowledge that Holmes was, once again, upon the trail of adventure – an adventure that might conceivably lead us to Moriarty. However, at this point speculation was futile and
the following afternoon found us pulling up outside a magnificent white pillared mansion in the heart of Mayfair, to interview a peeress of the realm.
In truth, the interior of this awe-inspiring pile was somewhat less impressive than its shell. Certainly the décor and furnishings were of the most exquisite taste and quality, yet somehow there was a melancholy air about the place, a sense of slow and gradual decay. Notwithstanding this, one could still not fail to be impressed by the sheer scale and grandeur of a building, which at one time must have played host to dignitaries and ambassadors.
A tall, elderly butler, well into his seventies, answered our summons at the front door, alerted by our pulling on a large bell chain. He showed us through to a, relatively, small anteroom, where he left Holmes strumming his fingers impatiently on a marble mantelpiece and myself sitting pensively and uncomfortably on the edge of a large, ornate Regency chair, while he informed her ladyship of our arrival.
Holmes and I were somewhat surprised at the length of time we were required to wait for our summons, especially in view of the tone of urgency that had been evident at the end of Lady Beasant’s note. However, we both refrained from smoking in so confined a space, and Holmes resorted to pacing endlessly along the worn Persian rug, with his hands clenched tightly behind his back.
‘Her ladyship will see you now,’ the butler announced upon his eventual return, thus saving the rug from still further damage. He proceeded to shuffle slowly ahead of us, down an endless corridor, to the door of the drawing room, upon which he quietly knocked with a white-gloved hand.
The room into which we were then shown was surprisingly
small and dimly lit, for that time of day, with the heavy curtains tightly drawn. It was almost as if the room’s sole occupant was reluctant to show herself clearly to us. In that she was undoubtedly successful, though her motives for so doing were, as yet, unclear. It was discernible that the lady was quite tall and that despite her great age still held the bearing of one of her class and creed. However, her features and eyes were almost pale shadows, and at no stage of our interview did either betray her thoughts or emotions. She was seated in a high-winged chair and she waved us, casually, to a pair of low, arm less seats positioned several feet away from her. When she spoke it was in a clear, light whisper.
‘Oh, gentlemen,’ she began, barely suppressing a laugh at our obvious discomfort, ‘we shall not be too formal today. I shall require your assistance and advice and, therefore, should be glad if you would concentrate on my predicament, not on your etiquette. Pray smoke if you wish, also. There is nothing you could ignite that would be more obnoxious than my late husband’s infernal Indian cigars. If you feel you must address me formally, please use “madam” and not “your ladyship.” The latter is too tiresome and would certainly waste much of your valuable time.’
‘Thank you, madam,’ I acknowledged, while taking my seat. I declined her invitation to smoke and readied my notebook and pencil.
Holmes, on the other hand acknowledged her words by eagerly lighting a cigarette, and declined the offer of the chair by moving it to one side, perching himself instead on the edge of a windowsill to the lady’s right.
‘Madam,’ Holmes began, ‘as my friend Doctor Watson here will readily confirm, I shall have no difficulty at all in
laying etiquette to one side. The vagaries of social mannerisms have always been and still remain mysteries to which I have no desire to find a solution. As to my advice and assistance, you are very welcome to both.’
‘Bravo, sir! It is rare to find a man who can speak so frankly and honestly to a lady of my rank and station,’ Lady Beasant declared.
I could sense Holmes’s growing agitation and impatience and politely interceded on his behalf.
‘Madam, although my friend is too modest to make such claims on his own behalf, I should point out that he counts dukes and royalty amongst the array of clients who have employed his services in the past.’
‘Of that I am in little doubt,’ Lady Beasant replied. ‘I value amongst my closest friends Colonel Sir James Damery, a dear gentleman for whom, I understand, you once performed a most stirling service. Although a man of great honour, indeed he would not divulge one iota of detail concerning that matter, he did inform me that you are a man who will stop at nothing to uphold justice, that you even jeopardized your own life in his cause. I also understand that your own discretion is beyond reproach.’
Holmes bowed awkwardly in acknowledgement. ‘Sir James’s role in that affair, concerning a most illustrious client, should not be underestimated either. Were it not for his intervention I might even now be languishing within the confines of Her Majesty’s less salubrious, accommodation! It is true to say, however, that the case had a most satisfactory conclusion and that one of Europe’s most dangerous criminals was rendered harmless as a result I might add that you may expect the same level of discretion from both myself and my colleague here, Dr Watson.
‘Now, madam, in the most exact and concise terms, please outline the circumstances and events that have led you to seek my assistance and advice upon this matter. Perhaps you might begin by explaining why you have arranged your curtains and lighting in such a way as to render your features as almost invisible to us?’
‘That is easy enough to explain, Mr Holmes, although it embarrasses me enough to do so. However, to establish a level of frankness and honesty, between us, I shall tell you in spite of that. Because you have the language and manners of a bohemian, yet possess the cynicism of a detective, I am sure you suspect me of shielding my features because there are aspects of what I am about to tell you that I do not wish you to fully understand. The truth of the matter, however, is that the sudden and heartbreaking demise of my dear husband manifested itself in large, unsightly red eruptions upon my skin, which it pains me to reveal to others. Therefore, even at the risk of arousing your suspicions, we shall continue to suffer this unsatisfactory light. If you do not wish to continue on that basis I shall bid you a good day, sir!’ Lady Beasant concluded defiantly.
Holmes waved her remarks aside. ‘That will not be necessary, madam. Pray proceed.’
With a rustle of her silk skirt, Lady Beasant adjusted her seating position, and sipped from a glass of water, which she then replaced on to a small rosewood table next to her chair. Her delay indicated that the imparting of the information that she wished us to hear would prove to be painful to her. Nevertheless, she persevered.
‘Gentlemen, at the outset, I must inform you that my late husband was a most kind and devoted spouse and that not once during the twenty-six years of our marriage did I have
cause to regret even one of them. He was a true and honourable gentleman and conducted himself accordingly in every aspect of our lives … save one. His judgement, when it came to conducting our business affairs, was appalling! I should explain that it was only necessary for us to become involved in any sort of commercial dealings because the estate that we had inherited from my father-in-law, the baronet, was considerably smaller than we had been led to expect.