Read The Final Tales of Sherlock Holmes - Volume 1 Online
Authors: John A. Little
Tags: #Sherlock, #Holmes, #mystery, #murder, #crime, #serial killer, #british, #novel, #fiction, #Watson, #Lestrade, #Hudson
The Final Tales of Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes and the Musical Murders
Dr. John H. Watson, M. D.,
as edited by John A. Little
2014 digital version by Andrews UK Limited
First edition published in 2014
Â© Copyright 2014
John A. Little
The right of John A. Little to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.
All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without express prior written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted except with express prior written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended). Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damage.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not of MX Publishing.
Originally published in the UK by MX Publishing
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No doubt the readers of this book will groan inwardly and mutter to themselves about yet another would-be writer pretending to be Watson and dreaming up more âundiscovered' Holmes adventures in the hope of making a bob or two. While I have some sympathy with such a reaction, nothing could be further from the truth. For a start, I am not a writer, merely an editor. As you will soon discover.
The building known to all Holmes afficionados as 221B Baker Street had fallen into such disrepair by 1955 â thanks to the efforts of the German Luftwaffe, and many years after the detecting duo had passed on â that the local authorities deemed it unfit for habitation. It had to be knocked down. By my father, as it happens.
Eneder Little had built up a successful business as a builder in London, having been forced to emigrate from Ireland after the lunatic DeValera's disastrous economic policies of the 1930s. His company (Motto: âNo Job Too Big For Little') was granted the contract to demolish nos 220A, 220B, 221A, 221B, 222A, 222B, 223A and 223B Baker Street and rebuild a terrace of spanking new luxury four-bedroomed town houses, complete with all modern conveniences.
Before the buildings were due to be levelled, he was examining the basement at 221B when he discovered a tall dust-covered office cabinet hidden in a corner behind a dilapidated kitchen dresser. Having no keys, my curious father grabbed his jemmy and cracked open the lock that controlled the four metal drawers. There was nothing but wrapping paper inside the top one, but the other three drawers revealed a series of packages of A4-sized spiral-back notebooks, each held together by two elastic bands in the shape of a cross. Never having read a book in his life apart from his annual accounts, he had no comprehension of his discovery. But he was a cautious man and decided to dump the lot into a cardboard box and take it home that night. And then promptly forgot all about them.
I became aware of this event only six months ago, when I was helping my mother and sister to clear out his effects the day after his funeral. He married late in life, and returned to live in Dublin towards the end of the 1970s with his wife and two small children.
I had climbed up a ladder into the attic and started handing down cartons of what was obviously rubbish âancient account books from his building company, newspapers, magazines, old clothes, sporting equipment from his hockey and cricket-playing days â when I discovered a cardboard box, covered by some spare fibreglass insulation. Its bottom was lodged firmly between two beams and pulling it out almost caused my foot to slip off the beam and crash through the bathroom ceiling.
A rapid inventory produced sixteen packages, each of which contained a varying (one to nine) number of A4 notebooks, dated from 1925â1930. Later, when we were sitting down, exhausted after our day's work and with our shared grief, I asked my mother about them and she told me what little she could recall of their origin at 221B Baker Street. I pulled off the elastic band and opened the first notebook of a package marked February 1925, the earliest period. Intriguingly, it showed a faded red stamp with the tiny word âStrand' repeated around the edges, and âREJECT' in large letters diagonally across the middle. It was in surprisingly good condition, for a manuscript that had lain in its cardboard coffin for over eighty years.
I had only to finish a single chapter to realise what I held in my hand. All my life I had been a great fan of Holmes and Watson, and had read their exploits avidly, once when I was a teenager, and again when I had been hospitalised for a week while some varicose veins were being stripped. After a quick check of all the packages, it became clear that we had in our possession one novella-length and fifteen shorter adventures of the Baker Street detectives in the last years of their lives, all of which had been rejected for publication by Strand Magazine for a variety of reasons. One of them pitted the pair against the evil witch of Clapham Junction. Others treated pornography, rape and necrophilia. These were dark subjects for their time, but it occurred to me that Conan Doyle's later pre-occupation with all things supernatural â caused by the loss of his wife and son â may have been a factor in the rejection of the final detective stories, which, as everybody knows, should always have a rational solution, with no hint of smoke and mirrors, magic acts or spiritualism.
As I read on through that dark night, I understood why the first story had never been published within their lifetime. It concerned a series of quite appalling serial murders that, in the London of 1925, would most certainly have caused public mayhem and a possible breakdown of society, had it been fully reported in the press, or if Holmes and Watson had not finally solved the case.
The next morning, a quick phone call to a publisher friend of mine was followed by an early lunch and her excited validation of the first manuscript's authenticity. She confirmed that it could be published as written, with just a little editing to smooth out Dr. Watson's rather archaic writing style and even though its contents were still bound to excite a scandal among today's sophisticated readers, with their enlightened attitudes towards the story's central theme.
So here it is. Why not judge for yourselves?
John A. Little,
October 31st, 2013.
Chapter I. The First Murder.
I had thought that I would never see my dear friend Sherlock Holmes again after he departed the London smog in the autumn of 1903 in order to study the habits of bees in Sussex, while I continued my medical practice and idyllic marriage with my second wife, Beatrice. Our sojourn apart was interrupted by a single adventure in 1914, which I have documented elsewhere as
His Last Bow
. I then re-entered the army as a surgeon, and served in that terrible conflict known as the Great War, while he returned to the safety of his cottage at Cuckmere Haven, on the southern slopes of the Sussex Downs. Or so I had imagined.
We lost touch with each other after that. When the war ended, I was forced to immediately enter a war of a different kind, as assistant to my own sweet Bea in her desperate struggle against tuberculosis, a fight she was tragically to lose. This left me a twice-widowed doctor with a dwindling business and haunted by some increasingly distant memories of a time of high excitement and derring-do, when I had recorded my adventures with the best and wisest man whom I have ever known.
But this vale of tears has a habit of sneaking up behind us mere mortals and shaking us out of our grief. It was another tragedy that brought Holmes and I together again, one that led to those marvellous last years of our lives, complete with so many dangerous new adventures and difficult challenges. For a couple of pensioners, that is.
Mycroft Sinclair Holmes passed away in his chair at the Diogenes Club on Saturday, February 9th, 1925. Heart. His masterful brow had, in fact, been stilled for about ten hours, but nobody noticed, as by this time his days were normally spent asleep in that same comfortable chair, his head covered by the latest periodical. His services to the government as a repository of knowledge were no longer required after the war.
Despite being a Knight of the Realm and the Chancellor of a well-known University, he had apparently collapsed into a complete stupor, sated by hedonistic pleasures of a culinary nature. He had been lazy when I knew him previously, but towards the end, even changing his clothes and performing his daily ablutions proved too much for his enormous girth.
Thus I was informed by McNeill, one of the elder Diogenes retainers whom I happened to be standing beside in the Chelsea All Saints Old Church. Of course, I had hoped that my friend might have appeared at the funeral of his own brother, but try as I may I could not see him anywhere.
As I gazed around the simple hall, I realised how few mourners there were â far too few for such a remarkable servant of the Crown as Mycroft. Most of them looked as though they might be retired Whitehall mandarins, ready for a similar service, and were simply paying their dues. Sherlock's brother must have been approaching eighty, and I supposed many of his colleagues had already leapt aboard the growler to that vast station in the sky.
ââ¦ ess you aynd keep you.
The Lord make his fayce to shine upon you, and be graycious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenaynce upon you, and give you peace, both now aynd evermore.
I have always found an Anglican service to be a certain cure for insomnia and had begun to nod off when I was struck by the tone of the clergyman's voice. Even with a faint Irish brogue, it sounded vaguely familiar to me, but for my life I could not place it.
He was a lean stooping figure with a fretwork of lines on a face that spoke of too many sleepless nights spent worrying about the state of his flock and the dreadful plight of the English-speaking peoples after the war to end all wars. A few stray fingers of white hair fought a battle for containment around his ears as his head wagged backwards and forwards in enthusiasm for his jaded text. He looked at least ten years older than Mycroft, and seemed to be passing time himself.
I cast my mind back into the previous century, struggling to match that high-pitched croak with a suitable candidate from yesteryear. A fellow soldier from the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, with whom I had served in the Second Afghan War? Perhaps a client of ours when Holmes was in his exacting prime? Or an unlikely reformed villain? Had Stapleton sunk in the Grippen Mire? Were Professor Moriarty and Colonel Moran really dead? What about that revolting blackmailer, Charles Augustus Milverton? A customer of mine, whose bowel disorder I may have temporarily ordered? One of my two wives' many relatives? No. No.
. It just would not come. And so I decided to approach this fellow after the funeral service, and demand that he provide some explanation of those deeply frustrating echoes.
He was standing at the door to greet the mourners as they filed their way out into the freezing fog of a typical London February morning, a regular pea-souper that might have travelled all the way from Hades. I held back until the end deliberately, enjoying the scent of the fresh lilies, so that I could challenge him on our possible acquaintance.
âThaynk you for coming,' he croaked as I shook his wrinkled hand.
âNot at all,' I replied. âMycroft helped me at a time when I worked with his younger brother Sherlock, the famous consulting detective. I read about his passing in the Times. I had no idea Sir Mycroft had such an illustrious career. He deserved a better attendance at his funeral.'
âYays indeed, but it's a cauld, cauld day. And does it matter, when he hays no dowthgone to a better playce?'
âPerhaps not. My name is Watson, by the way. Doctor John Watson.'
âAaaaagh, yays' he cackled. âAre you that same hayck who inflicted on a long-suffering public all them complaytely romanticised cayses, pandhering to popular taystes and ignoring most of the scientific detail I had specifically asked you to include?'
His voice had changed pitch and accent from the word
onwards. Gone was the brogue, most of the facial etching shad faded away and a pair of familiar piercing grey eyes shone clearly into mine with high amusement.
âI most certainly did noâ¦ Holmes!' I cried in complete bewilderment and joy. âIs it really you?'
âHushhh, hush,' he muttered, glancing around and taking my arm. âSomeone may be watching. You must come with me into my vestry and I shall endeavour to explain. These are dark days, Watson. Mycroft was murdered, by the way.'
âMurdered, you say? But McNeill told meâ¦'
âYes, yes,' Holmes said distractedly. âThe Diogenes Club would not want the truth to come out. There had to be some story, in case the dozy misanthropic members of the oddest club in London actually woke up and absconded in terror.'
He was sitting by a mirror, removing his scalp, with its few strands, to reveal a mat of healthy grey hair. This was followed by his make-up, and when he turned around to explain, I was staring at the hawklike features of my old friend, eleven years older admittedly, but extraordinarily healthy and definitely recognisable as he looked me up and down, grinning amiably.
âIt would seem, Watson, that you have aged a bit over the past decade. That moustache of yours is as white as a full moon on a cloudless night. Why have you eschewed the excellent new motorised Beardmore taxi-cabs in favour of those filthy old horse-drawn growlers that used to delay us so much? Your practice seems to have dwindled somewhat. I notice you have started to read the Telegraph, a certain sign of aging. Oh, and surely you have not separated from your good wife?'
âAh, no,' I said. âSheâ¦ she died, actually.'
âWatson, my dear old fellow, I am so sorry. Why didn't you let me know? I had no idea.' He gripped my shoulder in dismay, in what he probably considered a comforting manner. I was reminded of my old friend's well-known deficiencies in human sympathy and his cold, unemotional nature. But then, how could someone who had never known the love of a good woman possibly share in the ongoing, palpable grief of a double widower? I exclude the inestimable Irene Adler,
the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet
, from my observation, of course.
lost touch with each other. I imagined you as still wandering over the Sussex Downs, harvesting honey and writing a complex monograph on the mating habits of different species of bumble bee. And just why are you disguised as an Irish clergyman at your brother's funeral? Good God, Holmes, have you made a Faustian pact with the devil? Look at you! You seem so damned youthful and thin, while I'm falling to bits. You're seventy-one years of age and you look fifty-one! I'm not going to ask how you knew about my hatred of those evil motor things, or about my work, as I'm sure it's something really obvious.'
âIt is. You haven't forgotten my method, have you? It is founded on the observation of trifles. Although your appearance accords with your customary neatness, I perceive that your overcoat needs replacing, suggesting a possible difficulty with filthy lucre. Your shoes lack that depth of shine one normally associates with a conscientious wife. Those old carriages are beginning to smell, and unfortunately you reek of one. The Telegraph crossword is sticking out of your pocket. By the way, Royal Jelly is what keeps me looking and feeling healthy. It has many fine vitamins and fights the aging process. I must get some for you.'
âYes. Well, that's quite enough to be going on with.' I said, nettled. âAll perfectly simple, as usual. I see you haven't changed that much.'
âWhere did this disaffection for the taxi-cab come from?' asked Holmes. âI seem to remember you owning a car at the beginning of the war.'
âI had a bad accident shortly after that. Knocked down some damned silly pedestrian, who sued me for a bucketful of money. Sold the thing, and never want to ride in one again. Enough of that. Tell me about Mycroft. How did he really die?'
Holmes moved swiftly to lock the vestry door. He placed a finger to his lips, as though afraid of being overheard.
âWhat I have to tell you will come as a shock, Watson. Needless to say this conversation never happened and you must repeat it to no one. You can never write this story up.'
âHolmes!' I cried, incensed.
âSorry, old chap. But it has been a long time, hasn't it? Eh, have you ever heard of the term musical when applied to men?'
âOf course. It means they can play an instrument, like you with a violin. Or a composer, I suppose. Singer?'
I was obviously on the wrong track, as Holmes kept shaking his head impatiently.
âLet me put it another way. When you were in the army, did you notice any of your comrades who might be â ahem â interested in otherâ¦ men?'
A light shone dimly from a recess within my brain.
âOh, you mean, nancy boys?'
âYes, I suppose.'
âThere were a few such people, but they weren't tolerated much, and had a pretty miserable time of it. Not their scene really, fighting and wars. Felt a bit sorry for them, myself.'
âWell, Mycroft wasâ¦ musical.'
âYes, Watson. Mycroft confessed his true nature to me only a few years ago. He seemed a bit guilty about it, although his life was celibate by then. I reminded him that his younger brother was the world's first consulting detective and had actually worked it out for himself. It didn't bother me. He also mentioned that as a part of his active sexual life, he had once been a member of a group of free-thinking bohemian types known as the Bloomsbury Group, a mutual admiration society that used to meet regularly in a smug ivory tower in Gordon Square, over by the British Museum. You know, that ghastly Woolf creature. Free love, and all that nonsense.'
I scratched my head, not knowing what else to do. Mycroft, a nancy boy! A musical man! In effect, a criminal! As for free love? That sounded like an oxymoron to me. Love has to be expensive, otherwise it wouldn't be love, surely?
Holmes removed his dog collar and stood up to shake off the two cassocks which had covered his normal clothing.
âNow. You remember George Lestrade, don't you, Watson? Well, his son Jasper has followed his father's footsteps into Scotland Yard. He had heard of my exploits, and of Mycroft's, and managed to put two and two together when my poor brother's body was found on the floor of the stranger's room, the only room where members and guests are allowed to fraternise. The details are rather gruesome, I'm afraid.'
âHolmes. Have you forgotten how you greeted me when we first met?
I perceive you have been in Afghanistan
, I think it was. A doctor does get to see the worst of all things, especially in a war situation. Kindly continue.'
âVery well. I'll say this once, and never refer to it again, except as the
. He was emasculated.'
âGood God! That's terrible! Eh, what does that mean, exactly?'
âHe was blindfolded, tied up and his genitals were sliced off entirely and stuffed down his throat, with a wraparound bandage. He died from loss of blood. Slowly.'
I stood up abruptly, almost knocking over his table in my anger.
âGood grief! Such savagery!' I spluttered. Then turning to my friend: âMycroft did not deserve such an end, despite his predilection for otherâ¦ men. This doesn't bear thinking about! Holmes, we must find his killer and have him hanged by the neck until he is dead!'
âMmmm. I have different plans for him, when I find him. It was an amateurish and messy business, so our friend is probably not a surgeon. Some form of knife was used, I suppose. Watson, the reason that I am in this unholy garb is not because I have suffered a late conversion to Anglicanism. The Reverend Thomas was happy enough to allow me to conduct my brother's service, which requires merely a basic reading skill, combined with a degree of gravitas, quite simple to fabricate. The reality is that I believe my life to be in considerable danger. Here. Read this. It was found by the body. Young Lestrade sent it to me this morning. It can be handled, as both I and Scotland Yard have checked it for fingerprints without any luck.'