Recently, a US district court judge ruled that most of the elements of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes are in the public domain. Everything with the exception of the elements of stories written in the last eight years of Conan Doyle’s life are free for use.
Eight or so years ago, I wrote my own Sherlock Holmes story. The reason is a little past my memory. I think it’s as simple as “because I wanted to”.
I’ve never done anything with this story except shelve it. Until now.
For your reading enjoyment, I present you my own Sherlock Holmes story.
The Adventure of the Double Kidnapping
By Scott Lyerly, after Arthur Conan Doyle
In the course of my friendship with Sherlock Holmes I had the great fortune of following him on some of the most unusual and spectacular criminal cases of which I’d ever heard. I have also had the good fortune to be able to put pen to paper and record many of them. During the length of time I knew him, I would estimate that he had worked on over a thousand cases, perhaps as many as fifteen hundred. As a witness and oft-times chronicler, I recorded perhaps half of those, a small sample of which have been published in various pulp magazines, some journals of criminology, and even the occasional medical journal. But in all of my long years of acquaintance with Holmes, his cases, and his investigations, perhaps I found none more chilling than the case of Mrs. Annette Uxbridge.
It was early spring in ’88, and the weather, which had been both wet and turbulent, had just changed once more. After nearly a fortnight’s worth of rain and wind, the clouds parted and the sun had finally been good enough to show his face.
One morning that April I had taken a stout walking stick from the canister of them by the door to our flat and went for a lovely stroll through the brighter parts of London. A breeze was up and the sun shone down upon my face in a warm and inviting way. As I was finishing my walk and returning to Baker Street, I witnessed, exiting our flat, a large man with rough shaggy hair and a woolen coat that appeared to be second-hand. He stepped up in the driver’s seat of a hansom that was parked before our building and gave the reins a shake. Horse, stirred from its own reveries, started forward and soon the hansom had passed me and gone off around the corner.
I climbed the steps to my door, and upon entering I found Sherlock Holmes standing at the foot of the stairs.
“Watson! You are just in time. I’ve just been entertaining a visitor for whom this meeting was not a social call.”
“I assume you are referring to the hansom driver?” I asked.
“Excellent! You’ve seen him. What do you think?”
“I really have had little time or information to form an opinion of the man. Has he brought a case to you?”
“Indeed he has,” answered Holmes, his eyes twinkling. “A kidnapping no less.”
“Really Holmes,” I scolded lightly, doffing my hat and holstering my stick in the canister by the door, “you seem to take such delight sometimes in the misfortunes of others.”
“An understandable but incorrect conclusion, my friend. I never take delight in the dastardly actions of men and women, but I do enjoy the opportunity they provide to stretch the science of deduction. Shall we go upstairs where I may explain it to you over a cup of tea?”
“By all means.”
We proceeded up the stairs and into our living space where a fire warmed the room and Mrs. Hudson, being always attentive to our dietary needs, had already laid a small platter of tea and two cups for us. We had just settled into our chairs, cups in hand, when there came a fresh knock upon our door. We listened for a moment to the footsteps of Mrs. Hudson as she crossed the floor to see who was calling.
“Two visitors in one day?” remarked Holmes. “What is that saying, Watson? ‘It never rains, but it pours’?”
“I believe that’s it indeed, Holmes, but how do you know it is not the same visitor from earlier, come to give you fresh insight that he has recently recalled?”
“Easily, Watson. In the case of our first guest, Mr. Michael Holiston, he rang the bell, rather than knocking. Why should he alter his method of announcing his presence having been here so recently? Additionally, Mr. Holiston was a very agitated and quick mannered man, whose movements and gestures appeared hurried and rapid. The knock at our door below suggests a person with a slower and yet more deliberate manner. And if I am not mistaken, based on the footsteps on the stairs, there are two visitors. But here they are.”
Entering our rooms were indeed two gentlemen, one an older man and the other a younger straighter man. The older man, a frail figure with thinning white hair, walking stooped with age over an ornately carved cane. He was well dressed though a slight bit disheveled. The other man was taller, erect of posture and dapper of dress, which bordered on meticulous. He had sandy colored hair and a tanned face, which I gathered he got from numerous outdoor excursions.
“Are you Mr. Sherlock Holmes of whom I’ve heard so much about?” asked the older man.
“I am Sherlock Holmes, though I can not speak to what rumors you may have heard. This is my friend and associate John Watson.”
The older man nodded in my direction and I likewise.
“I am Mr. Emberley Harrison and this is my son-in-law Mr. Julius Uxbridge. I have come to you on an errand of great urgency.”
“Please, come sit. There is tea if you would like”—the old man waved his hand in polite dismissal and his son-in-law followed suit—“No? Very well. Pray tell me what has brought you to me and please spare none of the details.”
Mr. Harrison began to tell Holmes his tale.
“I am, Mr. Holmes, the wealthy patriarch of our family. I have acquired a great deal of money throughout the years through the careful management of my company, which specializes in shipping freight over and across the seas. It has been very lucrative and, at times, very dangerous. Shipping is a rather cutthroat business and I have mad more the a few enemies throughout my years. I have made both friends and enemies.”
Holmes placed his hands under his chin, folded, his eyes closed halfway.
“You also ship inland, an easterly course all the way to the orient.”
“Indeed. How do you know this?”
“Your walking stick has some of the more fantastic ornamental designs I have ever seen. They are eastern by nature and of impressive detail and quality. From it alone I can imagine the breadth of you wealth.”
“Yes, I have had many dealing with the east. Shipping knows no bonds. And as I said, it has been terribly lucrative, both personally and professionally.”
“I met my wife on one of my trips to the orient.” At this Mr. Harrison paused and took on a rather sad countenance.
“Pray continue,” said Holmes.
“Many have tried to take a piece of my fortune from me, by legal means or by more dastardly methods, but until now, I have always been able to fend off any such attacks. But recent events have shaken me to my very core and I do not think that I will have any choice but to acquiesce to the latest attempt to take part of my fortune.
“Two nights ago, my only daughter, Annette, was kidnapped. She was taken in the middle of the night by one, or perhaps several persons. Yesterday evening I received a note demanding a ransom in return for her release. I am an old man, Mr. Holmes. My wife died giving birth to my daughter. She is one of the only bright spots left in my life. I must have her back safely.”
Holmes’s eyelids raised and he shot me a look across the coffee table that was so quick, our guests did not notice it. But I did, and I knew full well what he was thinking. A second case of kidnapping in so many hours. It seemed a strange coincidence.
“Do you have the note with you know?” asked Holmes.
Mr. Harrison drew it from an inner pocket of his waistcoat and handed to Holmes, who unfolded it and proceeded to examine it carefully. He rose from his chair and strode over to the desk where, among the clutter of all manner of personal papers sat his magnifying glass. Sitting down again, he gave the letter a closer review until, after several minutes had passed in silence, he handed the letter back to Mr. Harrison, who proceeded to read it aloud for my benefit.
“ ‘To Mr. Emberley Harrison-
We have taken your daughter and she is in our control. Should you ever wish to see her alive again, you will comply with our monetary demands within three days time. If you choose to ignore this letter, your daughter’s life will be in grave peril. Any attempt on your part to bring law enforcement into this situation will result in an equally dangerous position.’
The letter goes on to state the monetary demand as well as instructions regarding its placement.”
Holmes had brought his fingertips together in front of him. His eyelids had lowered again and he stared at our two guests with a resolute look.
“Do you recognize the handwriting at all sir?” asked Holmes.
“It does appear in some way familiar but I’m afraid I’m unable to pinpoint it.”
“Have you followed the letter’s instructions thus far?”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, I have. The police have not been contacted, nor has any other member of the law enforcement community. I would gladly follow the letter’s every detail were it not for the feeling I have deep in my stomach that I should not, or else there will be foul play.”
“I agree with you, Mr. Harrison. I feel you should withhold the ransom at this time until we can come out to your estate and examine it thoroughly. Has the scene of the crime been preserved?”
“As much as it can be, considering the rain. The morning we realized that Annette was missing, we scoured the grounds for any trace of her. We found a ladder that appeared to have fallen over on the ground below her window. I believe this is how the blackguards gained access to my daughter’s rooms. Additionally, there were several footprints in the mud under her window. Surely these were the footprints on the kidnappers.”
Holmes nodded. “On the face of it, I would agree, sir.”
Julius Uxbridge interrupted at this point, saying, “But how are we to be sure that tracks are not those of our groundskeepers? We do, after all, employ several of them, as the estate is rather large.”
“I would think,” Holmes said, “that the recent weather we have had the pleasure of experiencing would keep them from planting petunias in the garden. Surely they would want for better weather to work in and less rain to wash away the dirt they so carefully use plant such delicate flowers.”
Mr. Uxbridge went silent, apparently having little more to contribute to the conversation. Holmes addressed Emberley Harrison.
“Mr. Harrison, we will be out to your estate later this afternoon. There is a matter that concerns us in the city first, but we shall be out by two in the o’clock. Will you be back by that time to escort us through your home?”
Indeed we shall, Mr. Holmes.”
“Excellent. We shall see you then.”
As soon as the door closed and we witnessed through our window the two gentlemen stepping into their hansom and driving away, Holmes turned to me, his eyes positively smiling.
“Watson, what would you figure the odds are of our two kidnapping cases being related?”
While the timing of our introduction to the two cases seemed flawless, I still found nothing to connect them, and I stated as much to Holmes.
“Indeed, it would seem that there is little to connect them. However, I should be less than surprised if they are related.”
“Based on what evidence, Holmes?” I asked.
“My dear fellow, this may come as a great shock to you, but this time it based not on evidence, for there currently is none, but rather on a feeling. Odd, that?”
The remained of the morning was spent on the case of our first kidnapping victim, a Miss Nefri Holiston. We journeyed to the Whitechapel area of London, a dank and seedy locale where people lived meager, often debased existences. We passed grimy fruit sellers and other hawkers trying to sell their wares in the crowded streets. This was the time before the notorious Ripper began to assault unfortunate woman whose only crime was a life less ordinary. Down a side street we ducked and into a small courtyard we found ourselves. Lined with brick, and with brick walls of the surrounding buildings looming up on four sides, I felt that we had not entered into the living area of some Whitechapel residents, but rather into the exercise yard of a house of corrections. There were a few short doors around the courtyard that opened into one-room living spaces that were rented for less that other areas of London, but still more than they were truly worth. At the third one, Holmes knocked.
The door opened and standing before us was Michael Holiston. He was a tall man who made himself smaller by hunching over. This was possibly a result of Mr. Holiston’s profession, eternally slouched forward over a horse, reins in hand. His manner, though quick of movement and constantly agitated, was humble and apologetic.
“Mr. Holmes! Please, come in! Come in.”
“Thank you Mr. Holiston. Please allow me to introduce John Watson, a friend of mine whom I find invaluable on cases such as these.”
I shook hands with the man, his large hand and firm grip enveloping my own.
The interior of the room was as one would expect in a place such as Whitechapel. It was small and cramped, with little space to maneuver around from the stove that served as a kitchen. The only other furniture in the room was a bed and a side table. A strong smell wafted from a kettle on the stove.
“You are up fairly early for a man who works the night shift,” I said to Holiston. Both he and Holmes turned to look at me, Holiston with the expression of a man who has just been asked a question, and Holmes with a quiet expression of surprise.
“Well, yes I am, sir. I have an errand to run before I begin me rounds. A licensing matter with the city.”
“Watson,” said Holmes, “you have quite impressed me. Forgive my look of shock, Mr. Holiston, but I have not had the opportunity to inform my friend of your situation. Perhaps you could fill him in rather quickly while I look around your room. But first, Watson, you must tell me how you deduced Mr. Holiston works a night shift.”
I felt rather swelled with pride and beamed a bit while I explained. “Well, to begin with, Mr. Holiston is brewing coffee. While coffee is often a drink of the morning, it is by far not the choice of the typical Englishman. Therefore, I deduced that you drink it not for the flavor, but rather for the properties it has, chiefly its ability to keep one wide awake, even when one is tired. In addition, it is rather late in the morning for a cup of coffee, with breakfast for a working man usually coming between five and six. But what fully clarified my suspicion was the especially pale color of your skin. You have the racial earmarks of a fairly dark complexion, one which normally would not lend itself to a paleness of skin, which led me to believe that you do not get much sun. Therefore I felt safe deducing that you work only at night.”
Holmes gave a triumphant cry while pursuing the contents of the side table. “Outstanding Watson! There are occasions I under-estimate your abilities. Mr. Holiston, is this a picture of your wife?”
Holmes handed a small portrait over to the man, who shook his head.
“No,” he said, “this is my wife’s mother. She gave this to my wife a very long time ago and my wife treasures it dearly. I will say that the resemblance between my wife and her mother are tremendous.”
Mr. Holiston turned the portrait toward me so that I could see it. It showed a rather handsome woman with long hair of the deepest black color. The overall complexion was olive in color, suggesting to me some of the Afghan women I had seen during my time in the campaign in the same country. Most striking, though, was the color of her eyes, and clearest green I have ever seen. When I commented that the color seemed to be exaggerated for the purposes of the portrait, Mr. Holiston nodded.
“I would have agreed with you, Mr. Watson, had I never met my wife. My wife, Nefri, shares the exact same eye color as her mother. They are more striking in person than they are in the portrait. I never had the opportunity to meet my wife’s mother, for she died a number of years prior to our introduction, but I have no doubt she was as handsome as her daughter is.
“As to the current situation, there is really very little to tell, other than the fact that my wife is missing. She departed for her daily rounds of washing early morning two days ago and has not been back since. I have no evidence that she has been snatched other than a feeling of disquiet that lingers in my head. I’m really a humble man, sir, with little to offer a kidnapper as ransom. I really have no idea what someone would want from my wife or me.”
“Nor do we, Mr. Holiston,” remarked Holmes, “though I share your feeling that your wife has been taken, probably against her will.”
“What draws you to that conclusion, Holmes?” I asked.
He began wandering around the room, pacing in the limited space that was available on the floor. He pointed to various things as he spoke.
“To begin with, none of her personal effects are missing. They are all here, including such treasures as this portrait of her mother. You had stated to me earlier that she held this picture very close to her heart. I can certainly see why, as it is of tremendous quality. It is safe to assume that, if she were leaving you for another man or another life altogether, she would have taken it with her. But other basic items remain present, such as her brush and her clothing. Even the most basic trip requires some measure of packing to make one comfortable. Another point that makes me feel as though she has not simply left is the deep feelings you and your wife appear to have shared. Little things such as these notes that you leave each other outline a truly happy union. It also illustrates to me that, though you love each other, you do not see each other often. These are notes that she has left you as she is leaving to do her washwoman work during the day, and the notes you leave her are written as you are leaving to drive your hansom each night. And it is safe to assume she has not met any untimely end, as there has been no mention of any body being found in recent days matching her description. It is always possible that she has met foul play at her own hand, perhaps lying lifeless at the bottom of the Thames, however I feel certain she would have left you a note stating such as well as her reasons. Therefore, while it can never be ruled out, I do not feel it is likely. So I am forced to pursue an investigation that leads down the path of kidnapping. The question that remains unanswered to me is the motive for such an act.”
Holmes maneuvered around the tiny flat once more and bent to pick up a slim package. He examined it and passed it to me. It was a rather exotic brand of cigarette.
“What do you make of this, Watson?”
“Well, it is certainly a different brand of cigarette than the normal person enjoys. This brand cannot be easy to find.”
Mr. Holiston shook his head.
“No, it is not. I can only find it across the city at a little tobacco shop that specializes in the oriental brands. Costs me a pretty penny, it does, but then again, my wife likes it so I’m willing to pay for it.”
I gave the package over to Mr. Holiston, at which time Holmes announced our exit.
“Mr. Holiston, I believe I have the beginnings of an understanding of your case. I truly hope I am wrong, for if I am not, I feel that your wife is in for a fiendish end. However, you may rest assured that I will do everything in my power to keep that from happening.”
Mr. Holiston shook Holmes hand heavily and thanked him several times. Then, thanking the man for his hospitality, we took our leave.
“Do you feel we can really affect the outcome of case, Holmes?” I asked him with eagerness.
“I do, Watson, but we must hurry. If I am right, then we will need to act with the utmost alacrity. But before I can say definitively that I am right, we must first visit the estate of Emberley Harrison.”
We returned to our space on Baker Street and Holmes dashed up the stairs for something. Then, he re-emerged and we turned our attention to waving down a hansom. A large black one made its way over to where we stood.
“Watson, look out!”
Holmes grabbed me by the arm and pulled me backwards. At that very same moment, a heavy black carriage thundered past, running up part of the cobblestone curb and then crashing back onto the street. The horses gave whinnies of fear but kept up their galloping pace while the driver, a large man with a heavy woolen scarf wound around his face whipped them into a frenzy. As quickly as it had been upon us, the carriage was gone, racing down the street and turning sharply around a corner.
Holmes helped me to my feet, as I had tripped over my heels and fall backwards as he pulled me back.
“Are you hurt, my friend?” he asked quickly.
“No, Holmes, I’m quite well. Although I shudder to think the state I’d be in had you not seen that carriage coming. What could drive a man to push his horses so hard as to endanger the very lives of pedestrians?”
“I think you’ve found the answer you seek in your question, my dear Watson. I believe that carriage had in its sight the very lives of the two people standing here on the curb.”
“Surely you don’t mean us?” I cried.
“I’m afraid I do. I think our cases are drawing closer even as we close on our adversary.”
“Which adversary would that be, Holmes?” I asked him, but he refused to answer, choosing instead to wave down the hansom we had hailed earlier. He gave the drive a few terse instructions and with a crack of the reins we were off.
It took us a little more than an hour to reach the Harrison estate, situated just outside of London. It was a sprawling expanse rolling green hills decorated by copses of trees that were just beginning to bloom after the April showers.
The Harrison house itself was a massive monument to the man’s wealth and discretion. It was large even by estate standards, boasting no less than a hundred and ten rooms total. Yet the house was an effort in flawless architecture, blending beautifully with the landscape around it. It was largely made of stone, with wood for accent here and there.
The curtains on one of the windows moved slightly. Looking up, I had just enough time to see a woman’s face before it vanished. I mentioned this to Holmes, who merely murmured under his breath.
The hansom delivered right to the front door, where a large man, rather overgrown with hair, awaited us. This, we learned later, was the chauffer and footman for the elder Mr. Harrison, one Mr. Dreifus Walton. He was a burly man in the shape of a gorilla, with long thick arms, a long torso, and shorter squat legs. His feet were exceptionally small in comparison to the rest of his frame. His face showed no mirth of any sort and his dark brooding eyes bore into Holmes and I as we approached him. He was attired in a crisp uniform that was rather ill-fitting to his body.
“You would be Mr.’s Holmes and Watson?” he growled. “Follow me please.”
He turned and led us into the grand home, through the cathedral foyer and into a small parlor where a fire crackled in the grate.
“Please make yourselves comfortable here while I inform the master you have arrived.”
The moment we were seated I spied Holmes eyeing me in a peculiar way.
“What is it?” I asked him.
“Did you not recognize the Mr. Walton from somewhere?”
I admitted to him that I did not.
“He is, I believe, the same driver who ran his rather ominous carriage up the curb this morning.”
“Surely not!” I cried. “He is in the employ of Mr. Harrison? Whatever can that mean?”
“I think we can safely surmise that this case is becoming more curious with each passing encounter. As it happens, the solution becomes clearer with each encounter as well.”
I was about to press Holmes further for clarification of his statement when Mr. Harrison appeared at the door.
“Mr. Holmes, Mr. Watson. Thank you for coming out so soon. My heart is glad for it.”
Holmes, replete in his deerstalker cap which he had yet to doff, addressed Mr. Harrison directly. “Allow us to waste as little time as possible on pleasantries, Mr. Harrison. I feel we must set to work right away if we are to find your daughter alive.”
The directness cut right to the heart of our host, who grew ashen but remained determined of face.
“Indeed, Mr. Holmes. Then let me take you to my daughter’s rooms.”
We followed the elderly man up the stairs and into a large set of rooms that had the distinct accoutrements of a feminine touch. Laces curtains covered the windows and similarly adorned the large four-post bed.
Holmes set about the room in his usual fashion, observing every nuance and subtlety it had to offer. He opened draws to the daughter’s dresser and looked inside, he lifted up the bedsheets and peered underneath, he opened the closets and took a mental inventory of each of the items contained therein. He went to the window and opened it, sticking his body nearly halfway out as he poured over the sash, casement, shutters, and outerwall.
Mr. Harrison stood to one side, watching Holmes with intent interest. It appeared that he wished to ask the consulting detective what if anything he found that could be of use in finding to poor man’s daughter, but his patience was triumphant and he stood stoically in silence. Just as Holmes was finishing his explorations, Julius Uxbridge entered the room. In his hand was a white cloth which he held so tightly his knuckles had turned white.
“What can you tell us, Mr. Holmes?” he asked.
Holmes straightened from the bent position he had assumed in order to look beneath the dresser of drawers. Between his fingers he held a used cigarette.
“Does your wife smoke, Mr. Uxbridge?”
“Yes, she does occasionally. It is much more of a social thing for her then a regular habit. Have you found one of her cigarettes?”
“The remains of one only, I’m afraid. It is quite cold and had doubtlessly been under the dresser for some time.”
Holmes passed the cigarette to me. I examined it and was shocked to find it the same brand that we had found in the tiny room of Michael Holiston. My surprise must have been evident on my face, for Mr. Harrison addressed me.
“Are you feeling alright, Doctor?”
“He is surprised only, gentlemen. The brand of cigarette your wife enjoys is the same choice of our landlady, Mrs. Hudson. As it is a rare brand indeed, the coincidence is a surprise to us.”
Holmes looked at me and I gave the cigarette back to him, which he proceeded to place in his pocket. I said nothing, for Holmes surely had a method to his machinations, which I was certain he would reveal to me in due time.
“Mr. Uxbridge, I have noticed that your wife’s closet is only half full. There are many hangers that are unused.”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, that is true. Annette and I were to go to America for a tour of great cities of that land within a few weeks time. She had already packed a good many of her things and had them shipped abroad.”
“And is this cloth in your hand the same that was soaked in chloroform and used to subdue you wife?”
Mr. Uxbridge looked shocked.
“It is the very same! How did you know chloroform was used on my wife?”
“It is the easiest of the anesthesia products to procure and it would certainly not be the first time the product had been used in a case of kidnapping. May I see it?”
“Of course,” said Uxbridge, who handed over the rag. Holmes looked at it, felt it with his fingers, and then gave it a good strong sniff. He then handed the rag back to Mr. Uxbridge. Holmes addressed Mr. Harrison.
“Mr. Harrison, who else is in your employ within the house?”
“There is Walton, our cook Mrs. Fenderlane, my valet, Jameson, and our maid and serving woman, Ms. Wentworth.”
“I would like to survey a few other rooms and speak for Ms. Wentworth.”
“Certainly, Mr. Holmes.”
“Would it be possible for both of you to accompany Watson to the exterior of the house, so that he may survey the grounds?”
In this fashion did I find myself outside the house, walking around the grounds underneath the bedroom window that appears to have been the means of escape. I had reviewed a few footprints that had been left from the crime when Holmes reappeared.
Turning his attention to Mr. Harrison, Holmes asked him:
“When is the ransom due for you daughter?”
“I am to deposit the money in a pre-arranged location tonight. Should I refrain from doing so?”
“By no means. My advise to you is to deposit the money where it has been requested and at the specified time. I believe that, immediately following, you shall see you daughter again.”
“I will make to arrangements immediately.”
“I would also send someone as your proxy in this matter. There is no reason why you should be forced to make such a journey again. It can be perilous for the aged to be involved in tenuous transactions such as these. Perhaps Mr. Uxbridge would be willing to deliver the ransom?”
“I am not so old as all that, Mr. Holmes. In any event, I would certainly rather be there when my daughter is released.”
“Mr. Harrison, I do not believe your being present will help the situation. The kidnappers will likely not release your daughter immediately, not until they have confirmed the amount of the payment. In addition, they would have no desire to reveal themselves to you, thus opening themselves up to legal action. I think you would deliver the money and find you were given an additional set of instructions while they complete the transaction. I believe that someone else to represent you is a far wiser idea. Given that Mr. Uxbridge is equally affected by the outcome of this transaction and is a younger man of strength, I would recommend you send him.”
Mr. Harrison considered this for some time before he finally agreed.
“I will take your advice, Mr. Holmes, though my heart is saddened at the thought that I will not be present to welcome my daughter back into my arms. But if you feel so strongly on this issue, I will acquiesce to your demand.”
“Excellent!” cried Holmes. “Now, may we impose upon you once more, and request your Mr. Walton deliver us back to London?”
“But of course. He is at your disposal.”
The carriage swayed on the ill-kept roads as Dreifus Walton drove us back to London Holmes sat across from me, seemingly lost in thought. He puffed on his pipe, a noxious cloud from the coarse shag tobacco he favoured billowing out the open windows.
“Well, Watson, What do you think of the situation?”
Holmes surprised me with his question. Typically he did not care to discuss the aspects of a case when the conversation could so easily be heard by outside parties. I was therefore astonished at his question given our close proximity to the driver, Walton, given that he may have attempted a murder upon my person earlier in the day.
“Well, it would seem to me that we have two cases that are connected.”
“Indeed. Pray, continue.”
“Given that you found the same exotic brand of cigarette in Mrs. Uxbridge’s rooms as we did earlier today in Whitechapel, I can only surmise one conclusion.”
“And that would be?”
“That our vanished women are in fact one and the same person.”
“Eureka, my dear Watson!” cried Holmes. “I have come to the very same conclusion.”
“Which would mean, of course, that her life is not in any real danger. But I cannot understand what would be her motives.”
“It is really a simple matter of the heart, Watson. Mrs. Uxbridge has clearly fallen in love in equal parts with two men. One of them is wealth by association, the other is not. I suspect that Mr. Uxbridge is her first husband, therefore the one who has taken up residence with her at her father’s estate. The second man, poor Mr. Holiston, could clearly not reside with her, so he remains in a poorer condition in Whitechapel. There would seem to be a desperate need for money for Mr. Holiston, perhaps to pay off some debt of gambling with which we are not familiar. Since Mrs. Uxbridge would not be able to ask her father for the money, she has feigned her own kidnapping for ransom. Once paid, she will turn it over to Mr. Holiston and return at once to her first husband’s side. Excellent piece of deduction, Watson.”
Naturally I felt very pleased with myself over Holmes praise. His own poweres of deduction were so severe that I often found myself bringing up the rear of any conclusion to which he may have come. With the case so conclusively solved, it seemed to me a perfect time to watch the lovely countryside of England pass by while we continued our ride home.
We were deposited just outside our rooms on Baker Street. Holmes thanked Dreifus Walton and we watched as he snapped the reigns of the horses and the carriage pulled away. Almost instantly Holmes gave a shrill whistle to a passing hansom and flagged him down.
“Quick, Watson, inside!” he cried, grabbing at my arm.
I was so stunned at his abrupt change from mellow discontent to vigorous pursuit that I had no time to argue.
“Follow that carriage, and quickly!” Holmes barked at the driver. He cracked his whip and the hansom jolted forward.
“Holmes, what on earth?” I cried.
“Peril of the gravest sort, dear Watson. Peril and murder most cold. I only hope we are not too late!”
We dashed after Dreifus Walton’s carriage, Holmes occasionally barking commands to our driver. We kept the carriage in view, but we remained back far enough that we would not draw attention to ourselves. After taking a long rather circuitous route through the city, we eventually came to a stop by a section of the docks. The carriage was in sight and we saw Walton climb down and disappear in between the many buildings to sat on rusty haunches in the docks yards.
Holmes jumped out of the hansom, throwing a few notes of money to the driver and giving him curt instructions to remain until we returned. Then he was off and I struggled to catch him.
When he finally came to rest, it was in the shadowed doorway of a low building at the edge of the wharf. I pulled myself in next to him. Rather out of breath, I panted my questions to him, but he raised a finger to his lips, and I ceased my interrogation. We waited in our darkened spot until we saw Walton re-emerge from a building across the yard from us. He walked with his gorilla gait back toward his carriage, climbed aboard, and was off.
Holmes and I returned to the hansom. I climbed in but when I turned round, I saw Holmes did not mean to join me.
“I need to stay here Watson,” explained he, “I have some business I must see to here, but I do need you to return. Can you manage a late night rendezvous here with her old service revolver?”
“Certainly, Holmes. But why?”
“All in good time, my dear Watson.”
And with that I was off.
I returned to the exact same spot later in the evening when the sun and sunk below the hills and the docks were bathed in the silvery shadows of the full moon. Holmes met me and in an instant we were off to our hiding place once more. We waited for what felt like an interminable time, but just as I began to feel sleep encroach on my consciousness, there came movement at the head of the alley that led to our building.
Entering the building as he had before was Walton. He carried what appeared to be several old burlap sacks. I expected Holmes to follow him but he made no move. We sat for another hour at least.
Another movement at the head of the alley caught my attention. Down the lane walked a man. The sharp tenor click of his footsteps gave him to be a gentleman in fine shoes rather than a dockworkers with the thick heavy alto of workboots. He wore a fine hat and a long gray overcoat. In his hand he carried a satchel that appeared heavily weighted.
I gave a sharp hiss, to which Holmes clasped his iron grip to my wrist in a command for silence. The man passed us by. There could be no mistaking him. It was Julius Uxbridge.
He entered the same door that Dreifus Walton had entered earlier. Once the door closed, Holmes made his move. He snapped his fingers twice. Out of the darkness rushed a form, dark and silent. As it approached, I recognized it instantly as on of the many street urchins Holmes used for information and assistance on his cases. He bent and said something low in the boy’s ear and then the boy was off, running from the wharves like a shot from a gun. Then Holmes turned to me.
“Your revolver, please, Watson. We should take no chances.”
With my pistol gripped handily, we stole across the lane and into the same building we had seen the previous two men enter. It was a large empty space, a warehouse currently little used. It was black as pitch inside with the exception of one corner, which was dimly lit by lamplight. We approached cautiously.
In the middle of the circle of light cast by the lanterns sat a girl o a chair, bound and gagged. Ropes wound around her waist and chest and snaked around her wrists. The moment I saw her I recognized her face. It was Nefri Holiston, the vanished washwoman. While I had expected to see her in some fashion by the end of our case, I was stunned to find her bound to the chair.
There were low voices off to her left. Through the weak light I could see the two forms of the men, standing close by. They were deep in conversation and had not noticed our approach. The conversation broken off suddenly. Walton advanced slowly on Nefri Holiston. He reached into his jacket and withdrew the most wicked knife I had ever to that point seen.
Holmes jumped forward and I with him, my pistol trained upon the driver. He stopped midstride and looked for an avenue of escape. Holmes read his mind.
“Stand still, if you please, Mr. Walton. You as well, Mr. Uxbridge.”
Holmes turned up the lantern nearest to us, allowing a brighter light to illuminte the scene. The drive bore an evil grimace and Uxbridge wore a sour expression. Nefri Holiston retained the wide-eyed look of panic she had worn moments ago.
“You remain a continual nuisance, Mr. Holmes,” remarked Uxbridge.
“You would not be the first to find me so,” answered Holmes. “Now, kindly put down you knife, Mr. Walton, or I will instruct my good friend here to take whatever might be necessary to gain your co-operation.”
Behind us I heard the familiar snick-snick of a revolver hammer being drawn back. I spun quickly and found a woman standing not more than five feet from me, a pistol in her own hand. It was pointed at my heart.
“Drop you pistol, Dr. Watson.”
I had no end to my surprises that day. Standing before me was Nefri Holiston. Although it was not quite the bound woman in the chair. The hair, though equal in color was on a much different style and the clothing was far from the rags of a washwoman. But the face and eyes were exactly the same. I realized with sudden clarity that these two women were twins.
Holmes had not turned around. He kept his stare locked with the fierce glower of Dreifus Walton.
“The game’s up, meddler,” said Walton.
“I think not yet,” replied Holmes.
A moment later, with a noise akin to a stampeding herd of cattle and the vigorous shouts of the cattlemen, the warehouse filled with bobbies. Walton, Uxbridge, and the woman with the gun found themselves quickly surrounded and Holmes worked the knots biding the poor girl in the chair with his nimble fingers. Inspector Lestrad appeared and advanced upon Holmes.
“We came as soon as we got your message,” said he. “I hope we are not too late.”
“Your timing is impeccable, Inspector,” replied Holmes, who then gave over to the inspector the full details of the crimes, both committed and attempted.
Once the matter had been settled, Nerfi Holiston was been re-united with her husband. The next morning found Holmes and I safely ensconced in our rooms at Baker Street, I eating a light morning meal while Holmes puffed on the dreg remains of his pipes from the day before. Through the slate blue haze he explained to me the gaps in my understanding.
“It seemed to me,” said he, “that our engagement of two cases of kidnapping on the very same day was suspect. Realizing the odds against the two cases being related, I still felt that there could be a possible connection. One might even call it a hunch—please don’t laugh, Watson, I know my reputation for relying strictly on the facts of the case—yet somehow I believed them to be related. And it seems that I was correct.”
“But when did you first realize that the girls were in fact twins?”
“I did not know for certain until we arrived at Emberley Harrison’s estate. You may recall the picture we found at Michael Holiston’s flat? While you were reviewing the grounds outside with Uxbridge, I had the chance to investigate a few additional rooms within the house. It was there that I found a portrait that hung in a sitting room. The subject was a nearly identical image of the one we found at Michael Holiston’s flat.”
“A portrait of the other daughter, no doubt?”
“More likely their mother, given the age of the painting. From that I surmised that Harrison’s wife had given birth to twins. My thoughts were confirmed when I questioned Ms. Wentworth.”
“The serving woman? How does she figure it this case?”
“She has been serving woman to the Harrison’s for many long years. In her youth, she also served as their midwife.”
“I see,” said I, beginning to come around to Holmes clarity in the case. “She would have been midwife to Harrison’s wife and therefore was able to tell you that Annette Uxbridge was one half of a set of twins.”
“My conclusions in the hansom ride back to London were completely erroneous,” said I.
“Indeed they were, my friend, but that was to our advantage, as our drive was Dreifus Walton himself and I knew he would be able to hear the entirety of our conversation. It served perfectly as a diversionary tactic on our part.”
I felt Holmes was giving me more credit in this regard than I truly warranted, but I savored his inferred compliment nevertheless.
“But what confounds, Holmes,” I continued, “is what Nefri Holiston is doing living in Whitechapel while Annette Uxbridge is living on the Harrison estate.”
“My discussions with Ms. Wentworth were fruitful, Watson. During our conversation I learned that Mrs. Harrison, unhappy with the life she led with Emberley Harrison, had in fact faked her own death to get away from him. The midwife helped her in this regard. Thus, while he mourned her loss and took solace with his new infant daughter, Mrs. Harrison—her name was Suri, by the way—literally vanished into the night with her other daughter, one Nerfi Holiston.”
“Well, that certainly explains the twins and why Mr. Harrison knew nothing of his other daughter’s existence. But I’m still I in the dark regarding the kidnapping and murder plot.”
“That, my friend, is were fate stepped in for both daughters. You see, Nerfi Holiston was making a meager wages as a washwoman. Her mother, Suri, had passed some years earlier. One afternoon, she arrived at a townhouse in London at the request of the owner. There was laundry to be done immediately. When Nefri Holiston walked into townhouse, she came face to face with her sister, Annette Uxbridge. Both were so unnerved by the chance encounter that neither could find a way to communicate it to anyone. But eventually Annette Uxbridge moved past her shock and told her husband. Together they hatched the plot that drew us into the case in the first place.”
“What could they have hoped to gain from murdering the poor twin girl?”
“Money, of course. Since Emberley Harrison did not know he had a second daughter, they would kill the poor washwoman and arrange for her body to be discovered. Upon death, you see, a large sum of the Harrison fortune would have transferred automatically to Julius Uxbridge. Then together they would sail to America where they would become lost to poor old Emberley Harrison. This is why they faked Mrs. Uxbridge’s kidnapping.”
“How cold-blooded!” I cried. “It’s fortunate you were consulted when you were.”
“No,” answered Holmes. “I had little to do with saving the girl. I think we can safely say that what saved Nerfi Holiston from death was not my intervention, but rather the Uxbridge’s greed. Had they not decided to ‘double-dip’ as it were by attempting to extort money from the old man via ransom, then I’m certain they would have killed the girl immediately and made off with the money in hand.”
And with that, Holmes took a last puff from his pipe and settled back into his chair, the dull gray boredom of inactivity filling his eyes.