Authors: June Thomson
‘It was Adams, of course?’ Mycroft Holmes enquired, to which my old friend replied, ‘Yes, it was Adams.’
At that moment, I made the connection. When Holmes had hesitated so uncharacteristically over the word ‘my’ when discussing the case with me earlier, he had not intended to refer to ‘my informant’, which he had so quickly inserted into his statement. Instead, he had meant to say ‘my brother’ or perhaps even ‘Mycroft’, the first syllable of which is the same as the personal pronoun.
This small deduction on my part gave me enormous satisfaction and I sat back to enjoy to the full the subsequent thrust and parry of the brothers over the identities of two men they observed through the window coming down the street.
For a glorious moment, I felt I had something in common with this extraordinary pair of brothers whose powers of observation and deduction outrival those of any other experts in the country, if not in the whole world.
It is therefore with a touch of sadness that I must accept Holmes’ prohibition over the publication of this account for the sake of Sir Reginald Maitland, who is still alive and whose reputation might be damaged should the truth be known. However, given the choice, I would have dearly loved to display before my readers my own small success in the field of deductive endeavour which at the time had given me so much personal satisfaction.
Mr Melas was a Greek linguist who acted as interpreter for foreign tourists in London and also at the Law Courts. He was asked to interpret for Paul Kratides and his kidnappers.
: ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’. Sherlock Holmes was introduced to the case by his brother Mycroft. See footnote below for further details. Dr John F. Watson.
Mycroft Holmes was Sherlock Holmes’ elder brother by seven years. Although ostensibly employed as a Government auditor, he was in fact a Government adviser on important issues. He was a founder-member of the Diogenes Club in Pall Mall, not far from his lodgings.
: ‘The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans’. Dr John F. Watson.
Midas was the king of Phrygia, part of Anatolia, and was said to have married the daughter of Agememnon. According to Greek myth, he was granted his wish that everything he touched should turn to gold by the god Dionysus, a wish he came to regret when food turned to gold as he picked it up, as did his daughter when he embraced her. His name became a by-word for extreme riches. Dr John F. Watson.
A tantalus was a wooden stand containing decanters of spirits, e.g. whisky, which could not be removed until a bar holding them in place was unlocked. It was named after Tantalus, a mythical king of Phrygia, who was condemned to stand for ever in Tartarus surrounded by food and drink which he could not reach. Dr John F. Watson.
Cabs could be summoned by blowing a whistle, one blast for a four-wheeler, two for a hansom. Some Londoners carried a special whistle with them for this purpose. Dr John F. Watson.
The Diogenes Club was a gentlemen’s club situated in Pall Mall. It contained a Strangers’ Room, the only part of the premises where conversation was permitted. Mycroft Holmes was a founder member.
: ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’ and ‘The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans’. Dr John F. Watson.
Sherlock Holmes wrote a monograph on the polyphonic motets of Orlando Lassus, (d. 1594), a German composer who wrote mostly sacred music. The monograph, which was printed privately, was said by experts to be the last word on the subject. Dr John F. Watson.
Although Dr Watson stated that Sherlock Holmes took ‘no interest in Nature’, as he grew older, Sherlock Holmes admitted that he ‘yearned for that soothing life of Nature during the long years spent amid the gloom of London’.
: ‘The Adventure of the Naval Treaty’ and ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’. Dr John F. Watson.
Thurston, Christian name unknown, was a fellow member of Dr Watson’s club, name also unknown, and the only man with whom Dr Watson played billiards. Dr John F. Watson.
Tisiphone was one of the group of three goddesses of Vengeance in Greek mythology. In order not to arouse their anger, mortals referred to them as the Eumenides, the Kindly Ones. Dr John F. Watson.
Dr Watson once referred to Sherlock Holmes as a ‘brain without a heart.’
: ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’. Dr John F. Watson.
Piquet was a card game known under various names which originated in the fifteenth century. It could be played by two, three or four players. Dr John F. Watson.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813–1883) was a German composer. Sherlock Holmes was eager to arrive at a Wagner night at Covent Garden in time for the second act.
: ‘The Adventure of the Red Circle’. Dr John F. Watson.
Sherlock Holmes had made a study of the different styles of newspaper type faces.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
. Dr John F. Watson.
, in the agony column of which Emilia Lucca’s husband published messages to her, was a fictitious newspaper.
: ‘The Adventure of the Red Circle’. Dr John F. Watson.
Dr Watson first met Sherlock Holmes in 1880. The case of the Greek Interpreter has been variously assigned to dates between 1882 and 1890. Dr Watson had therefore known him for between two to ten years. Dr. John F. Watson.
According to Sherlock Holmes, the sister of Emile Jean Horace Vernet (1789–1863), the French artist, was his grandmother.
: ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’. Dr John F. Watson.
An investigation by Sherlock Holmes into the theft of the Bruce Partington plans for a secret submarine from Woolwich Arsenal and the murder of Arthur Cadogan West, who witnessed the theft.
: ‘The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans’. Dr John F. Watson.
See footnote 6. Dr John F. Watson.
When Sherlock Holmes introduced Dr Watson to his brother Mycroft at the Diogenes Club, Dr Watson was impressed by the brothers’ ability to deduce many details about the lives and backgrounds of two strangers they saw from the window walking down the street, including their marital status and how many children one of the men possessed. Dr John F. Watson.
I have remarked before in one of my published accounts
that the year '95 was a particularly momentous one for my old friend Sherlock Holmes. His increasing fame brought him a number of remarkable cases, including that of Wilson, the notorious canary trainer,
and the tragedy of Woodman's Lee, an account of which I have published under the title of âThe Adventure of Black Peter'.
But perhaps an even more extraordinary investigation was that into the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca, which Holmes undertook at the express desire of his Holiness the Pope.
It was in March, I recall, that an unexpected visitor, Father O'Shea, a Roman Catholic priest, arrived at our Baker Street lodgings. He was a plump, well-fed, rosy-cheeked man who, judging by the laughter lines round his eyes, was by nature an easy-tempered, jovial individual, although on this occasion his expression was more serious than was its wont, I suspected.
He was accompanied by an older woman, respectably dressed in black, whom he introduced as Mrs Whiffen and who kept a handkerchief tightly clasped in one hand as if she had had recourse to it recently and expected to have recourse to it again.
It was Father O'Shea who did the talking.
After apologising for having called without an appointment, he continued in his lilting Irish brogue, âHowever, the case is so serious, Mr Holmes, that I felt obliged to waive the usual niceties and come straight to your door.'
âAnd what is the case, pray?' Holmes enquired, indicating two chairs where his visitors could seat themselves.
âIt concerns the disappearance yesterday of Cardinal
Tosca of the Vatican,' the priest replied, at which Mrs Whiffen raised her handkerchief to her lips and began to sob quietly into it.
âNow, now, my good woman; no more tears, I beg you,' Father O'Shea admonished her gently. âAs I have told you before, you are not responsible for Cardinal Tosca's disappearance. And how can you tell Mr Holmes what happened if you sit there weeping like a willow in an April shower?'
Whether or not this bizarre image had some effect, I do not know but, on hearing it, she smiled faintly and put away her handkerchief to everyone's relief, including hers, I suspected.
âNow,' Father O'Shea continued briskly, âfirst allow me to lay the facts before Mr Holmes here. And the facts, sir, are these.
âCardinal Tosca arrived in London three days ago from Rome on private business, not connected with the church. Because of this, he chose to stay not at one of the official residences for visiting dignitaries of his rank but at St Christopher's House, a small private hotel in Kensington which is used by priests as well as lay members of the church when they come to London. Mrs Whiffen is the housekeeper at St Christopher's. My church, St Aloysius's, is close by and I act as parish priest for the staff of St Christopher's, including Mrs Whiffen and any guest staying there.
âWhen Cardinal Tosca failed to return to the house
yesterday, Mrs Whiffen quite properly came straight to me to report his disappearance and I, in turn, realising the gravity of the situation, immediately went with her to Scotland Yard, thinking it best to involve the police at the most senior level rather than the local constabulary. It was an Inspector at the Yard who recommended you, Mr Holmes, as being the best private consulting agent in the whole country and the most discreet.'
âWhich Inspector was this?' Holmes enquired.
a Scotsman, judging by his accent, and a Presbyterian too, I should not wonder, but none the worse for being that, I suppose.'
I saw Holmes suppress a smile at this magnanimity on Father O'Shea's part.
âOf course,' the little priest was continuing, âI had to seek permission from his Holiness the Pope for you to take the case, should you agree to do so, and, to that end, I sent a telegram to his Holiness yesterday and received an answer this morning granting his permission. All that remains is to obtain yours, Mr Holmes. So, sir, will you accept the case or no?'
âI will indeed, Father O'Shea,' Holmes replied. âAnd now, Mrs Whiffen,' he continued, turning to the landlady who had sat in silence throughout Father O'Shea's rather lengthy introduction, âperhaps you would be good enough to tell me the circumstances of Cardinal Tosca's disappearance. He has been missing, has he not, since yesterday?'
âThat is so, Mr Holmes,' the lady agreed nervously, still twisting the handkerchief between her fingers. âHe left St Christopher's House soon after breakfast yesterday morning, saying he'd be back for luncheon at twelve o'clock sharp. But he never appeared, sir! He's never late for a meal and when it got to three o'clock, I knew something was wrong. So I went straight round to Father O'Shea at the church.'
She seemed about to burst out weeping again and to staunch any fresh outbreak of tears, Holmes hurried on, not giving her time to dwell on the painful details.
âWhat was he wearing when he left?'
âWhat any gentleman would wear in town, sir; a black frock coat and trousers, starched shirt, a silk hat and a black cravat.'
âNot clerical garb?'
âOh, no, sir. Whenever the cardinal came to London private-like on his charitable affairs, he never wore clerical clothes.'
âCharitable affairs? What exactly are these, Mrs Whiffen?'
âI don't rightly know, sir. He never spoke of them to
me. All I know is, once a year he'd come to London to stay at St Christopher's for a week and he'd go out and about visiting these people he helped with his charity; poor people, I suppose, Mr Holmes, them as deserved help.'
âYes, quite,' Holmes murmured and turned to Father O'Shea, who shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands in an eloquent gesture suggesting his own ignorance of these
activities on the part of the cardinal.
Holmes turned back to Mrs Whiffen.
âHow long had Cardinal Tosca been engaged in this charitable work?'
âBeg pardon, sir?' she replied uncertainly, overawed at finding herself the centre of so much attention.
With admirable patience, Holmes rephrased the question.
âWhen did Cardinal Tosca first come to London on behalf of this charity of his?'
âOh, years ago, sir; when he was a young man.'
âHow many years precisely?'
Mrs Whiffen made some quick mental calculation.
âIt was twenty-nine years ago, sir, in 1866. I remember him coming because I'd only started working at St Christopher's eighteen months earlier as assistant to the then housekeeper. It was also about the same time that he started â¦'
She broke off suddenly and, lowering her head, began to examine the handkerchief she was still
holding with great attention, turning it over and over in her hands.
âThe same time as he started what, Mrs Whiffen?' Holmes prompted her.
Looking decidedly flustered, the lady replied with an air of improvisation, âStudying English, Mr Holmes. It seems he'd been sent to England by the Vatican especially to learn the language.'
At this point, Father O'Shea intervened with a frown of disapproval.
âAnd how did you come to find that out, may I ask?' he demanded of the lady. âThat sort of information was supposed to be confidential.'
Mrs Whiffen seemed close to tears again.
âMrs Potter, the housekeeper, told me, Father,' she stammered apologetically. âI don't know where she heard it.'
âBut, knowing Mrs Potter, I can guess,' Father O'Shea said with a fine show of indignation. âListening at keyholes! I have never known a woman with a keener interest in other people's business nor a sharper ear for hearing conversations through closed doors! I used sometimes to wonder if she didn't sit outside my confessional, listening there as well to what the poor penitents had to say about their sins.'
Mrs Whiffen made no reply, only hung her head lower and subjected her handkerchief to further scrutiny. It was Holmes who eventually broke the silence. With the air of beginning the interview afresh, he asked, âNow,
Mrs Whiffen, I should like a full description of Cardinal Tosca.'
Mrs Whiffen began to look more cheerful now that the conversation had moved from the embarrassing subject of how she had found out about Cardinal Tosca's private arrangement with the Vatican to the less controversial matter of his appearance, about which she could speak openly.
âWell, sir,' she began, âhe's of medium height and somewhat of that gentleman's figure,' she said, glancing across at me as she spoke.
âWell built and broad across the shoulders, would you say?' Holmes enquired with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as everyone's attention was suddenly turned on me. âHowever, I assume, unlike Dr Watson, he does not wear a moustache?'
âOh, no, sir!' Mrs Whiffen sounded scandalised at the suggestion. âThe cardinal is clean-shaven.'
âColour of hair and eyes?' Holmes continued.
âGrey-haired, although rather more silvery than grey, I'd say; very distinguished, I always think. Eyes? Well, I've never liked to look too closely,' Mrs Whiffen admitted with a little nervous laugh, as though it would
be presumptuous of her to submit a priest of such eminence to so close a scrutiny.
Father O'Shea, who clearly did not share her scruples and was becoming restive at being excluded from the conversation, was quick to demonstrate his superior knowledge.
âDark brown,' he put in decisively.
âAge?' Holmes suggested.
Now that he had gained the advantage, Father O'Shea was reluctant to relinquish it.
âIn his middle fifties, I would estimate, Mr Holmes, and I pride myself on being able to judge within five years the age of any man, woman or child you might care to put before me. But remarkably well-preserved. And beautiful hands!' he added unexpectedly. âThose of a real gentleman and, though I may be exaggerating just a wee, tiny bit, he had the bearing of a prince of royal blood.'
âThank you both very much for such an excellent description,' Holmes said gravely, taking care to include Mrs Whiffen in this accolade, at which the lady blushed deeply at this brief moment of appreciation.
âNow, about Cardinal Tosca's charities,' Holmes began but was cut short by Father O'Shea, who held up an admonitory finger.
âI can tell you nothing about those,' he replied and added a little more sharply in case Holmes decided to question the lady herself, âand neither can Mrs Whiffen. As I understand it, they are deserving cases which the
cardinal has heard about during his visits to London over the years and whom he helps financially out of his own pocket. He is a very generous man but modest as well and never speaks of these private charities of his to anyone, unless it is to his Father Confessor in the Vatican. Speaking of which, you are quite sure about taking on the case, Mr Holmes?'
âI am indeed.'
âThen I shall immediately send another telegram to the Vatican informing his Holiness of your decision. And now if there are no more questions?'
Father O'Shea suddenly seemed anxious to leave and, having shaken hands with both of us, he bustled Mrs Whiffen out of the room.
âA fascinating case!' Holmes observed when the door closed behind them. âA missing cardinal and a parish priest who, I suspect, knows more about this affair than he cares, or perhaps dares, to divulge.'
âYou felt that, too, Holmes?' I remarked. âWhat on earth do you suppose it could be?'
âWe may never know. But at the moment, there are more substantial matters to resolve than some hypothetical secret from the past, and that is the present whereabouts of Cardinal Tosca. And for that to be discovered, we have to wait on MacDonald and his colleagues to find the answer.'
In the event, the solution came that very same afternoon more quickly than we had anticipated and
was brought, not by the Inspector but by a messenger of his, a red-faced constable in civilian clothes who arrived post-haste in a four-wheeler and presented himself in our sitting-room, very out of breath, to announce that, on instructions from Inspector MacDonald, we were to accompany him without delay.
To Paternoster Yard, Spitalfields, it seemed, according to the address the constable gave to the cab driver who was waiting downstairs in the street.
âI assume a body has been found,' Holmes remarked as we clambered inside the four-wheeler, which set off at a brisk trot.
The constable looked startled.
âYou know about the dead man, sir?'
âI know of a missing person,' Holmes replied. âI deduce from the urgency of Inspector MacDonald's summons that it is probably a criminal matter and that the man is almost certainly dead; possibly even murdered. But Spitalfields! That is the last place in London I would have expected his body to be found.'
I could understand Holmes' reservation over the address when, having driven us through a poor district of London to the east of Liverpool Street station, the cab set us down at the entrance to Paternoster Yard, a large cobbled area overlooked on three sides by the high, soot-stained brick walls and broken windows of a derelict factory, closed off from the yard itself by a pair of tall, black-painted doors, their tops bristling with iron spikes.
The yard was deep in mud and strewn with malodorous rubbish including what appeared to be a bundle of old clothes, roughly covered with sacks, which was lying in a corner formed by the angle of two walls and over which Inspector MacDonald and two uniformed officers were standing guard. A self-important, plump, little man in civilian dress, with a leather medical bag set down on the ground beside him, who was making an examination of the corpse, was, I assumed, a police surgeon called out to certify death before the body was taken away for a post-mortem.