Authors: June Thomson
‘Carrying?’ I repeated, even more mystified, for Holmes had made no reference to anything Johnson might have had in his hand, such as a bag or some other receptacle.
Holmes’ eyes were sparkling with mischief. It was evident that he was hugely amused not only by my obtuseness but the opportunity it gave him to tease me.
‘Under his arm?’ he suggested, smiling broadly.
Light suddenly dawned.
‘Oh, the crutch!’ I exclaimed.
‘Well done, Watson!’ he cried. ‘And what was the crutch made of?’
‘Aluminium, was it not?’
‘Exactly so! A light-weight metal which is capable of being moulded into different shapes; in this particular instance, a hollow shaft with a cap on top of it which was concealed under the head of the crutch where it fitted into the owner’s armpit. After he had discarded the velvet wrapping, all Johnson had to do was to release this cap and drop the rings one by one down
the shaft of the crutch. Once that was done, he clipped the cap back into place and no one was the wiser. An ingenious hiding-place, was it not? If he was stopped and searched, who would think of looking inside such a piece of orthopaedic equipment? And was it not ironic that this same appliance which had been his lifetime’s support, so to speak, should in more ways than one literally bring about his eventual downfall, as Lestrade pointed out? When one hears stories such as this, one cannot help thinking that Fate is not only inexorable but has its own rather bizarre sense of humour as well.’
‘So you found the rings after Johnson was arrested?’
‘Indeed we did. Johnson put up no resistance when the sergeant arrested him. In fact, he was remarkably sanguine, no doubt thinking that, as the jewels would not be found on him, he could not be charged with receiving stolen property. This confidence was considerably shaken when we accompanied him to the local police station where he found the other two members of his gang, George and Rosie Bartlett, who were already in custody. And it was altogether shattered when I took his crutch from him and, having removed the cap, tipped out a dozen or so valuable rings, the choicest items from Mr Greenbaum’s stock.
‘I let Lestrade take all of the credit and, as a result, his failing reputation at Scotland Yard recovered remarkably after the arrest of the Notting Hill jewel gang, as they came to be known.
‘As for the gang itself, all of them were tried, found
guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, George Bartlett, the brains you might say behind the enterprise, receiving the heaviest sentence, Johnson the lightest as he had taken no active part in the robbery itself, only receiving the jewellery after it was stolen. His death in Pentonville prison seems a heavy price for him to pay for his misdeeds, for he was never a violent criminal, only a misguided one.’
He seemed genuinely saddened at the thought of Whitey Johnson’s untimely demise, a display of sympathy which I have rarely seen him demonstrate even for his clients and certainly not for a member of the criminal classes.
‘By the way, Watson,’ he added, his voice curt as if to prevent any softer feelings from manifesting themselves, ‘I should prefer you did not publish an account of the case.’
He offered no explanation for this prohibition and the sight of his closed, fastidious profile discouraged me from pressing him to give one. I can therefore only hazard a guess at his motive, but my instinct told me it was for Whitey Johnson’s sake, rather than his own, that he wished no written account to be preserved. It was clearly Holmes’ wish that the sad little man with the withered leg whom Fate had treated in so cavalier
a fashion all through his life, including the manner of his death, should pass into decent obscurity, a behest I have obeyed. This account will, therefore, be placed among my private papers with all those other written records which, for one reason or another, will never be put before the public.
Sherlock Holmes was in the habit of keeping his tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper which hung on a hook near the fireplace.
: ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’. Dr John F. Watson.
On first coming down from university, Sherlock Holmes rented lodgings in Montague Street, a turning which runs alongside the British Museum. Dr John F. Watson.
The first case for which Inspector Lestrade asked Sherlock Holmes for his help was a case of forgery.
A Study in Scarlet
. Dr John F. Watson.
The Baker Street Irregulars were a group of street urchins, led by one called Wiggins, whom Sherlock Holmes recruited to help with his investigation because they could ‘go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone.’ They helped with three investigations, the Study in Scarlet case, the Sign of Four investigation and the Crooked Man inquiry. Sherlock Holmes paid them a shilling a day. Dr John F. Watson.
Dr Watson met Miss Mary Morstan when she came to ask Sherlock Holmes to enquire into the disappearance of her father, Captain Arthur Morstan. Dr Watson fell in love with her and married her at some time between November 1888 and March 1889. It was a happy though childless marriage. She died during the Great Hiatus, when Sherlock Holmes was assumed dead but was travelling abroad. The date and cause of her death are unknown. There are several references to her in the canon.
The Sign of Four
, ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery’, ‘The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’. Dr John F. Watson.
The fact that Sherlock Holmes had five secret addresses is mentioned in ‘The Adventure of Black Peter’. Dr John F. Watson.
In ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery’, Sherlock Holmes states that his methods of investigation are based ‘upon the observation of trifles’. Dr John F. Watson.
Madame Tussaud (d. 1850) was a Swiss lady who learnt the craft of modelling in wax in Paris. She came to London in 1802, bringing her collection of wax images of famous and infamous people to London where she first exhibited them at premises at numbers 57–58 Baker Street. The collection was later moved to Marylebone Road, near Baker Street Station. Dr John F. Watson.
In ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’, Dr Watson described Sherlock Holmes as a ‘brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as he was pre-eminent in intelligence’. Dr John F. Watson.
It was shortly before my old friend Sherlock Holmes became involved with the strange affair of Mr Melas, the Greek interpreter,
that another extraordinary inquiry came his way. As in the Melas case, Holmes’ brother Mycroft
played a significant role in the Manor
House mystery, as I referred to the investigation in my notes, although I was not aware of his involvement until the inquiry was over.
It began, as had many of Holmes’ cases, with a letter from a prospective client, asking for an appointment on the following morning to discuss a problem which his correspondent, a Mr Edward Maitland, described as ‘an urgent matter of life and death’. But as he gave no further details, we were left in the dark as to precisely what the urgent matter might consist of.
‘Although in my experience, the concept of the gravity of a situation differs widely from one person to another,’ Holmes remarked philosophically. ‘I remember once being asked by a certain actress, who features frequently in the gossip columns of the popular press, to find her missing lap dog, a King Charles spaniel by the name of Tootles.’
‘And did you find it, Holmes?’ I asked, much amused by the idea of my old friend, who prided himself on being the only private consulting detective in the world, becoming involved in such an absurd and trivial inquiry.
Holmes gave me a pained look.
‘There was no need. From what the lady told me when I questioned her, it was quite clear the creature was on heat and I simply advised her to place a bowl of Tootles’ favourite food on the doorstep. I was informed later that the animal returned that same evening, unharmed if somewhat dishevelled.
‘We may find that Mr Maitland’s problem falls into the same category as Tootles’ and requires only the
human equivalent of a bowl of boiled rabbit to solve it, although I must admit his handwriting has a sensible, well-formed quality about it which does not suggest an over-heated imagination.’
Holmes’ analysis proved to be correct, for when Mr Edward Maitland was shown up to our sitting-room the following morning at the appointed hour, it was immediately evident from his appearance and demeanour that he was an intelligent young man of good sense and judgement. He was in his thirties, well-dressed and had a pleasant, frank air about him which was appealing.
Having been invited to sit down and state his business, he came straight to the point.
‘In my letter to you, I deliberately withheld details of the matter which is troubling me, Mr Holmes, because I thought it better to explain it to you face to face. The business concerns my great-uncle, Sir Reginald Maitland, who is in his late seventies. You may have heard of him. Before he retired, he was a stockbroker in the City of London and was known among his colleagues at the Exchange as ‘Midas’,
because everything he handled seemed to turn to gold. As you may deduce from this, he is extremely wealthy.’
‘But not a fortunate man in other ways, I believe,’ Holmes interposed. ‘Did he not also have the reputation of attracting bad luck to himself?’
Maitland nodded in agreement, his expression sombre.
‘Indeed he did, Mr Holmes, and some of that misfortune was of his own making. He was, and indeed still is, a very stubborn, opinionated man, who, over the years, has managed to quarrel with all who were once close to him, family, friends and colleagues. He never married but was once engaged, I understand, to a charming young woman who broke off the relationship because she found his behaviour quite intolerable. He quarrelled with his brother, my grandfather, and refused to have anything more to do with him or my father. However, for some reason, he seemed more sympathetic towards me and, on my father’s death, sent me a letter of condolence. As a consequence of this, I met him from time to time for luncheon at his London club and, after his retirement, at his country house, Holbrook Manor, in Sussex.
‘Recently, however, these visits have become more and more infrequent. Then a week ago, I received this letter.’
Taking a sheet of paper from his pocket, he passed it to Holmes who, having received Maitland’s permission to read it aloud for my benefit, proceeded to do so.
It began abruptly.
‘Sir. I consider your threatening behaviour totally
reprehensible. I refer, of course, to the anonymous letters you have sent me since your last visit. I therefore forbid you to enter my house ever again or to try to maintain any form of correspondence with me whatsoever. I have informed my solicitor and any attempt by you to transgress this prohibition will, if necessary, be dealt with in a court of law.’
‘There is no closing salutation, merely a signature,’ Holmes concluded.
Refolding the sheet of paper and handing it back to Mr Maitland, he remarked, ‘An extraordinary missive! What is this anonymous correspondence your great-uncle refers to?’
‘I found out about that only a few days ago. However, as soon as I received my great-uncle’s letter, I became alarmed for his safety.’
‘Really? On what grounds?’
‘On the growing influence one of his servants is having on him – a man called Adams who is my late great-uncle’s coachman. Adams has been in his employ for the past four years, ever since his previous coachman retired. I have good reason to believe Adams is behind this attempt to prevent my visiting my great-uncle.’
I saw Holmes lean forward in his chair, his eyes bright and his expression as alert and eager as that of a gun dog which has scented game.
‘Pray continue, Mr Maitland,’ said he.
‘Adams is a plausible rogue who has contrived to worm his way into my great-uncle’s confidence,’
Maitland went on. ‘Although I have never liked the man – he is too ingratiating for my taste – I had at first no reason to mistrust him. He seemed a reliable servant, devoted to my great-uncle’s welfare and anxious to please him. He tolerated his ill humour with exemplary patience, listened to his long accounts of his glory days on the Stock Exchange and was always prepared at the shortest notice to harness the horses and take him out for a drive in the countryside. In this manner, he gradually made himself indispensible until eventually, after my great-uncle dismissed his manservant, Jordan, for the theft of a pair of gold cufflinks, Adams was invited to take his place.
‘I was only made aware of this change in Adams’ position in the household when I visited Great-uncle Reginald about six months ago, not long after the man’s promotion. To be frank, Mr Holmes, I was very uneasy at the time, but there was little I could do about it except to take my great-uncle’s housekeeper, Mrs Grafton, into my confidence and express my misgivings to her. She is a sensible, trustworthy woman who has been in my great-uncle’s employ for many years. What she had to tell me distressed me even further. She shared my distrust of Adams and in turn confided in me her suspicions that Adams had contrived Jordan’s dismissal by stealing the cufflinks himself and concealing them in the manservant’s room. She had seen Adams creeping about the house on several occasions but did not dare report it, as my
great-uncle had such a high opinion of the coachman’s trustworthiness. At my suggestion, she agreed to keep me informed about my great-uncle’s welfare as well as Adams’ behaviour and any changes which might take place within the household.
‘When I wrote in return, I was to send my letters to the vicar’s house, as we both agreed there was a strong possibility that Adams might examine the mail on its arrival and become aware of our correspondence or even destroy my letters before Mrs Grafton received them. It was therefore through her that I heard of several disturbing developments which had taken place at Holbrook Manor over the intervening weeks.’
‘Such as?’ Holmes prompted as Maitland hesitated, passing a hand over his face as if trying by this physical action to arrange his thoughts.
‘Nothing that could be construed as of deliberately evil intent but which, in the light of what Mrs Grafton had already told me, increased my suspicions of the man. For example, there was the matter of the cancellation of several appointments with my great-uncle’s physician, Dr McFadden. He had a fixed arrangement to visit my great-uncle every Friday morning to check his pulse and his heart and so on. On four occasions, Adams sent the gardener’s boy to McFadden’s surgery with a letter cancelling the appointment. It is possible Adams played no part in the situation. The letters were always in my great-uncle’s handwriting and I know from experience that he was often very impatient with
McFadden’s medical advice, especially that concerning his diet and his consumption of alcohol. My great-uncle enjoyed a glass of whisky and resented what he called the doctor’s meddling in one of the few pleasures left to him.
‘Which brings me to the matter of the whisky decanter. Mrs Grafton noticed that she had to refill it more frequently than in the past and suspected that either my great-uncle was drinking more than usual or Adams had access to his master’s tantalus.
Once again, I was left with nothing tangible on which to base my suspicion; certainly nothing with which I could confront Adams. All I could do was keep up my correspondence with Mrs Grafton and continue visiting my great-uncle on the first Sunday of every month as I had done in the past.
‘And then three weeks ago, Mr Holmes, I received the letter which I have shown you, forbidding me ever to enter the house again because of my “threatening behaviour”, as my great-uncle calls it.’
‘You are referring, of course, to the anonymous letters. Have you any idea what was in them?’
‘I have indeed,’ Maitland replied. Reaching once
again into his inside pocket, he drew out an envelope from which he extracted a folded sheet of paper which he again handed to Holmes, who scrutinised for several long moments in silence before passing it to me without any comment.
As far as I could see, it was a piece of ordinary, inexpensive white writing-paper such as one might buy at any stationer’s. Its only remarkable feature was the message on it, which had been laboriously composed of words or single letters cut from a newspaper and stuck to the sheet.
It read: ‘Beware! You are an old fool who deserves to go to Hell.’
It was undated and bore no name, not even initials.
‘May I see the envelope?’ Holmes enquired and, having been given it, he again looked at it in silence before passing it on to me.
Like the message, words and individual letters cut from a newspaper had been used to compose the address. Apart from this, I only noted that the envelope was of the same ordinary brand as the writing-paper and that it bore a West Central London postmark.
As I was examining it, Maitland was continuing, ‘At my request, Mrs Grafton removed this letter from my great-uncle’s bureau drawer and sent it to me with a note explaining that there were six more similar letters sent over the four weeks since my previous visit to Holbrook Hall. I should also add that my address in
London is in the West Central postal district. I can only assume my great-uncle, with Adams’ encouragement, has come to the conclusion that it was I who sent the letters.’
‘To what purpose?’
Maitland gave a wry smile.
‘Exactly, Mr Holmes! What possible motive could I have for threatening my great-uncle in this way? On the other hand, Adams could have a very good reason for causing a rift between my great-uncle and myself. In the first place, I am now barred from seeing him again, thus preventing me from witnessing whatever devilry Adams has planned against Great-uncle Reginald. And secondly, I am the main heir to my great-uncle’s estate. Should I be disinherited, I fear Adams will become the sole beneficiary.’
‘Would Sir Reginald be foolish enough to cut you entirely out of his Will in Adams’ favour?’
‘He is a very stubborn man, Mr Holmes, who once he has taken against someone, for whatever reason, would never forgive that individual. My father is a good example of his intractability but there are other instances I could give you of friends and colleagues whom in the past he has discarded quite ruthlessly. You can understand now, I assume, why I referred in my letter to you of the urgency of the affair.’
‘Indeed I can, Mr Maitland,’ Holmes assured him grimly. ‘And I give you my word that the case will receive my immediate attention. Before you leave,
however, there are one or two further details I need to establish. To begin with, I assume Adams came with references?’
‘I believe so. Mrs Grafton would be the best person to ask about this matter.’
‘Of course. That brings me to my second point. Please give me the vicar’s name and address so that, if need be, I can write to Mrs Grafton myself.’
‘Of course. He is the Reverend George Paget and the address is The Vicarage, Meadow Lane, Holbrook, Kent. Both the vicar and especially his wife are on friendly terms with Mrs Grafton, who is a regular member of the church, and they understand some at least of the situation at the Hall. They will, I am sure, do everything they can to help you, should you apply to them.’
‘May I keep the threatening letter and its envelope for the time being?’ Holmes enquired.
On receiving Maitland’s consent, Holmes rose to his feet and held out his hand.
‘Then that is all for the moment,’ said he. ‘I shall write to you as soon as there is anything to report.’
After his client had left the room and we heard the street door close behind him, Holmes turned to me.
‘I fear that Maitland is correct in thinking some devilry is afoot and that Adams is behind it.’
‘You seem quite convinced of that, Holmes.’
‘My dear fellow, it is as plain as the proverbial pikestaff. The anonymous letter confirms it.’
‘Does it? I confess I do not see how. Anyone could have sent it. And if it is indeed Adams, how did he contrive to post the letters in London?’
‘Oh, that is easily arranged!’ Holmes said, waving a dismissive hand. ‘He has an accomplice to whom he sent the letters and who in turn posted them in a pillarbox in the West Central district. I think we may find his co-conspirator also played another role in the affair. Which reminds me. I have an errand to carry out myself at the post office.’