It was quite early in the morning in the summer of 189- when I hurried to the rooms of my friend Sherlock Holmes, at 221b Baker Street.
To my profound surprise and disquiet I found that the door, rather than being securely locked, as was Mrs Hudson's custom, was ajar. Filled with concern for my friends' well being I entered, only to hear the voice of the worlds greatest detective booming down the stairs.
"Up here Watson and be quick, the game's afoot!"
I hurried up the stairs and entered the comfortable apartments with which I had become intimately familiar during my long association with Holmes. I was shocked to find myself in almost total darkness. The blinds were drawn and only a tiny sliver of light, filled with dust motes, alleviated the gloom.
Still puffing from my exertions I barked my shin sharply against a chair
that had been placed, for no apparent reason, in the centre of the room.
"Holmes! Holmes where are you?" I cried, "What on earth is the meaning of all this?" A tall cadaverous figure appeared, as if from nowhere, by my side.
"Come, come Watson, you are aware of my methods, surely you must have some perception of the situation in which you find yourself." I looked into the smiling countenance of Sherlock Holmes and martialled my resources as best I could.
"Well Holmes, my first assumption would be that the blinds are drawn because you are expecting an assault from Dr Moriarty, a man you have yourself described as the "Napoleon of Crime"." Holmes smiled indulgently and shook his head. A little nonplussed I continued.
"In that case, my second assumption would be that you have developed a
sudden sensitivity to light, which could indicate that you have contracted
one of a number of illnesses which could prove to be quite catastrophic."
Holmes smiled once more.
"The chair Watson, the chair, it did not get where it is by itself, what dear friend, might you deduce from that?"
"Well Holmes it has obviously been placed there for a purpose. Aha! Perhaps you are about to expose yet another fraudulent spiritualist!" Sherlock Holmes gazed down at the carpet and then threw his head back, the little shaft of sunlight falling on his aquiline features.
"Bravo Watson, bravo, for there is most certainly death involved in this matter, but these are deep waters Watson, far deeper than those into which a conniving medium might draw us." I must confess that I was baffled still by Holmes' apparent ability to see through walls and floors
"Holmes there is one question I must ask of you, how did you know that it was I who was downstairs just now and not some casual passer by? I saw no one at the window." Holmes tutted.
"Really Watson, it was quite a facile deduction. Today is Thursday and Thursday is the day on which you hand your practice over to a locum, having ensured as always that they are well versed in your current cases. As you are a man of methodical and precise habit, it was therefore quite a simple matter for me to deduce, that, having delivered the practice to the tender mercies of your colleague, who I perceive to be that rare commodity, a female practitioner, you would leave your practice at Eight O'clock precisely, as you always do, and take a brisk walk from South London to these very rooms..." He consulted the Gold Hunter attached to his waistcoat. "...A journey for you of some 45 minutes. It is now ten minutes to nine and I heard footsteps in the hallway at precisely eight forty five. I myself have undertaken the same journey in 35 minutes, but I do not have your leg wound to contend with!" He returned the watch to his waistcoat pocket and looked at me expectantly.
" Holmes, you must be possessed of the supernatural, how could you know that my locum is female? Today is her first day and I have not seen you for some time." My friend considered me with a wry smile.
"Perhaps you should observe yourself in the mirror Watson. Your moustache is trimmed, your hair carefully brushed and combed, you are wearing a new suit, your boots are polished to a shine that would surpass those of a guardsman and your new cravat is tied and pinned to perfection. Only a man wishing to make an impression would take such care in his deportment. Only a man wishing to make an impression on a female! I trust that Doctor Adams was suitably appreciative of your appearance."
I have observed on many occasions that my friend's powers were almost
miraculous at times, but this surpassed anything I had noted before.
"But Holmes how could you possibly have known...?"
"Elementary my dear fellow, elementary. If you would be so good as to observe your right hand you will note the name Veronica Adams inscribed on it in ink. I would presume, as is again your habit, that you noted it there as an aide memoir to remind you to contact MISS Adams, as I assume her to be, hence your interest, via the new telephone that you have recently had installed in your surgery, in order to ensure, ostensibly, that she had experienced no difficulties during the course of the day." I shook my head in wonder.
"Holmes, you never fail to amaze me, but what of this? This darkness, this chair placed in such an awkward position, the unlocked front door, what is the meaning of this Holmes?" My friend, who I knew to be mercurial of nature, looked at me and his countenance changed to one of barely suppressed anger.
"One might say the same of THIS Watson!" By some feat of legerdemain Holmes produced, from apparently nowhere, a copy of The Strand magazine, which he held in his hand for a few seconds before dashing it to the floor in disgust. "What of THIS Watson, what of THIS indeed?" I was staggered by my friends' change in demeanour even though the cause had been the underlying reason for my visit.
"Holmes I had hoped to speak with you before..." Holmes interjected.
"Enough Watson, enough. You must know that I am grateful to you for chronicling my cases and bringing them to the attention of the world at large, but you go too far Watson, you go too far!" I stood abashed. This was the last thing that I had wanted, I had no desire whatsoever to incur the wrath of my friend Sherlock Holmes and would have done anything within my power to avoid it.
"Desist Watson. Though why you must persist in THAT particular folly I know not. You cover your own true identity with this absurd pseudonym of John Watson, when I and everybody else knows you far better as Arthur Conan - Doyle, and yet I Watson, good grief, even I call you Watson now, and yet I am afforded not the slightest amount of anonymity! You portray me as a cocaine toping misogynist, who plays the violin badly, who randomly shoots holes in the wall to alleviate his boredom and whose only frequent associate is another man!" Holmes was now in high dudgeon. Even in the gloom I could see an unusually high flush to his cheeks. I have spoken of him, in his more morose and brooding moods as being in a brown study, but this, why this, was but a study in scarlet!
I realised that to try to intervene when Holmes was in full flow was to
attempt to ford a river in full flood - nigh on impossible. I allowed him
"Do you realise what people might think in less enlightened times than these Watson? Have you any idea what conclusions they might draw from reading tales of two men who share each other's lives so fully? Have you the slightest inkling...?" A hot flush of mortification rushed to my cheeks.
"No Holmes! No! Surely not! Why it never even occurred to me..." Holmes sighed.
"Watson, Arthur, oh you can be so naïve at times that I cannot possibly be angry with you for long. You are indeed a dear friend and a brave and steadfast companion. I also know that you have my best interests at heart, but how, in all our adventures, could you possibly fail to mention...."
"Myself?" A warm and distinctly feminine voice floated towards me from the direction of Holmes' inner sanctum. I turned hastily, glad in fact of the intrusion, to see Lady Isobel Langdon walking towards the desk of Mr Sherlock Holmes. A place even I, Holmes' confidante of many years standing, knew better than to encroach upon.
Lady Isobel opened Holmes' humidor and selected a small cheroot, which she rolled between delicate fingers. Picking up a wax taper she padded toward the fireplace where, even on a warm day such as this, a fire was glowing in the hearth. She knelt and touched the taper to the embers whilst I, out of a sense of decency, averted my gaze, for Lady Isobel was wearing nothing but a long black nightgown of the finest filigreed lace.
She warmed the small cigar with the lighted taper and then slipped the cheroot between her full lips. When the end was glowing to her satisfaction she took a deep draft and then blew smoke in the direction of the ceiling.
She approached Holmes and touched the collar of his tweed jacket. She appeared
to brush away a speck of lint and turned to me, with a smile.
"Holmes, you really are being far too harsh with Arthur, he wishes only to protect me, AND yourself from the public acrimony that news of our association would undoubtedly produce." But Holmes was not to be swayed.
"My good woman...." I knew from past events that Lady Isobel was not a person to be trifled with.
"Do not "my good woman" me Holmes! A notorious philanderer my husband may be, but he is, in the eyes of the law, still my husband, and I would be deemed to be little more than a common...." I interceded.
"Quite, quite, Lady Isobel and despite the importance of the contributions you have made to many of our cases I have no desire to..."
I have on many occasions observed that the temperament of my friend Sherlock Holmes was, to say the least, somewhat mercurial in nature, and over the years I had become accustomed to his sudden changes of mood and his impulsive behaviour, but nothing could possibly have prepared me for the events that followed.
Holmes had been standing behind Lady Isobel with his back to me; before I had finished he turned and placed his right arm across Lady Isobel's shoulders in an uncharacteristically intimate gesture. The good lady, obviously as surprised as I was, leaned back into him, her long dark, pulled together by a red velvet ribbon, brushing against his face.
As she closed her eyes, Holmes bought up his left hand, in which I noted he held a small gauze pad. Before I could react he had placed the pad over the nose of Lady Isobel and held it there with some considerable pressure.
Realising her predicament Lady Isobel tried to struggle against the activities of her unexpected assailant. But despite being nearly as tall as he, she had been caught off her guard and her attempts to free herself soon ceased. In a matter of seconds all signs of consciousness had gone from the form of Lady Isobel Langdon.
Sherlock Holmes stood before me, the slim figure of Lady Isobel, barefoot
and attired in the flimsiest of chemises, limp and inert in his arms
"Holmes!" I cried, "Have you finally taken leave of your senses? What in God's name do you think you are doing?" Holmes half dragged and half carried lady Isobel to the chair in the centre of the room. He now sat her down on it and placed his finger to his lips.
"Hush Watson. I wish you merely to observe. Your arrival here today was fortuitous, else wise I would have summoned you, your presence will be invaluable to me, as always."
With that Holmes gathered a number of items from the polished walnut escritoire
and laid them on the floor next the chair on which the unconscious Lady Isobel
was slumped. He paused and knelt to study the still smouldering cheroot that
had fallen from Lady Isobel's grasp as he had rendered her insensible. He
picked it up carefully and tossed it into the hearth to be consumed by the
fire. There remained a small quantity of ash on the carpet. He turned his
"Cigar ash Watson! A singular indication and something that I have taken upon myself to study at great lengths." I was aware of Holmes' monograph on the subject, but I saw no relevance there to the current circumstances, I could only watch in continued amazement as my friend began to unfurl a number of bundles of silken ivory coloured cords that were on the floor in front of him.
Picking up the first length he stood up and secured it tightly around the waist of Lady Isobel. When he was satisfied that it was secure, he then attached it to the middle rung of the chair and tied it in place with several knots. As was his practice Holmes worked methodically, tying cords expertly around Lady Isobel's upper and lower chest and then securing them to the rungs of the chair, as before.
He bent down and placed her right leg against the corresponding leg of
the chair and, pulling up the hem of her nightgown a little, he began to
secure Lady Isobel's bare ankle tightly to it. I noticed for the first time
that the nightgown was split almost to the thigh and with mounting horror
I perceived that my friend was about to pull it to one side in order to place
a rope around Lady Isobel's right knee and secure it to the upper part of
the chair leg. I could contain myself no longer; I could see the whole of
Lady Isobel's right leg, bare from toes to thigh.
"Holmes this is to say the very least entirely undignified, how can you do this? How can you do this to one you love so dearly?" Holmes stood up and moved to the other side of the chair in order to repeat the process on Lady Isobel's' left leg, when he looked at me there was compassion in his steely grey eyes.
"Have patience with me Watson. Human restraint is something that occurs in many of my cases, as you well know, and I have had no option but to make a considerable study of it, often with the help of Lady Isobel here. In fact, in collusion with a gentleman by the name of Erich Weiss, who you may recognise more readily by his stage name of Harry Houdini, I am about to publish a singular monograph on the subject. It may make some of your somewhat lurid case histories seem rather pale in comparison I fear."
Having secured her ankles and legs to his satisfaction Holmes was
now standing behind Lady Isobel. He was putting long black satin opera gloves
onto her hands and pulling them firmly up her arms until they fitted tightly
just above her elbows.
"But Holmes, why the need for chloroform? And why the need for gloves, surely there are other parts of Lady Isobel that you should be covering? Why she is virtually naked! Have you no sense of decency?" Holmes was kneeling once again, he had tied a small cord to the central chain of a pair of open, police regulation handcuffs and was now attaching that cord to the centre rung of the chair back where he left them to dangle in mid air. Standing up and collecting three silk scarves from the escritoire, he addressed me once again.
"My dear Watson, my dear, kind, compassionate Watson. You know me well enough by now to know that there is always a reason behind my actions, however abstract that reason may be. In fact to misquote your friend Dickens, I might almost say that this is a far, far better thing I do..." Lady Isobel began to stir and her mouth opened a little.
"Hola Watson, now I must put my plan into practice!" Holmes dropped two of the scarves into Lady Isobel's lap. The one that he retained he wadded into a small pad, thinking that he was about to mop lady Isobel's brow with it, I watched in horror, as instead, he opened her jaw slightly and pushed the pad firmly between her teeth. He then picked up the second scarf and tied it tightly around Lady Isobel's' mouth preventing her from expelling the pad. The third he used to blindfold her. I could take no more of this and I started forward.
Lady Isobel was beginning to move her hands and Holmes was already on his
knees securing her wrists with more silken cords. I was beside myself with
"Holmes this is too much! I cannot let this folly continue any longer!" At that moment I did something that I had never dreamed I would even countenance before. I drew my service revolver from my pocket and trained it upon my good friend Sherlock Holmes.
"Untie her Holmes and be good enough to remove that packing from her mouth before she suffocates. I am sorry that our friendship should end in such a squalid manner, but I warn you Holmes that if you do not bring this assault to an abrupt end then I will have no option but to fire and forever regret the consequences!" Sherlock Holmes stood up and regarded me kindly.
"I would expect no less of you, old friend." He replied and then he turned his back to me to facilitate the removal of the gag from Lady Isobel's mouth. I was totally unprepared for what happened next.
I was standing slightly to one side of Holmes with my gun still trained upon him, when I heard a series of sharp hissing sounds. To my absolute horror Holmes was thrown backwards to fall heavily against the carpeted floor like a marionette whose strings had been severed. A second or so later an object flew past me and crashed against the fireplace. Having no time to discover exactly what the object was, and full of concern for the welfare of my friend, I dropped my pistol and knelt beside the prostrate form of Sherlock Holmes. Still tied tightly to the chair and still gagged and blindfolded, Lady Isobel did not stir.
I seized Holmes' wrist hoping against hope to detect a pulse when suddenly
and to my intense relief his eyes flashed open.
"Concern yourself not for me Watson, kindly focus your attention with all urgency on the current circumstances of Lady Isobel and mentally note all that you see!" With that he raised his voice, "You may come out now Le Strade, the demonstration is over!"
I followed the direction of Holmes' eyes and saw the familiar figure of Inspector Le Strade walking towards me. I could only assume that he had positioned himself behind the selfsame door from which Lady Isobel had entered earlier. I looked from him to the inert form of Lady Isobel. At first I saw no change in her situation, but then I noticed, to my surprise, that the silken rope that had previously held fast her wrists, was now lying in a heap on the floor. To my even greater surprise, not to say bewilderment, I observed that far from being free her wrists were now confined in the tight embrace of the handcuffs that Holmes had secured to the chair earlier.
"My God Holmes what devilish work is this? You had no time to remove those
ropes and there was no one else who could possibly have...." Holmes was now
on his feet once more. He walked towards me with the object that he had retrieved
from the fireplace and held it out for me to see.
"Air guns Watson," he intoned, his voice little more than a whisper, "Have I not warned you before of their inherent dangers?"
"But Holmes," I cried, "You are unharmed! How could that be so?"
Sherlock Holmes smiled and unbuttoned his tweed waistcoat. Underneath it were several layers of thick cardboard and in that cardboard was a precise circular pattern of six holes. Taking a small penknife from his pocket, Holmes removed the cardboard from the waistband of his trousers and began to dig into one of the holes with it. A few moments later he produced a large pellet, which he held in the palm of his open hand.
"Observe Watson, and consider the consequences if the weapon involved had
been a revolver rather than an air pistol." I have to admit to having become
quite agitated by the events that had recently unfolded before me.
"Why Holmes," I ejaculated, "You would most certainly be dead or at best mortally wounded! But why Holmes? Why stage this "demonstration" as you referred to it? Why should you need to chloroform Lady Isobel and render her quite helpless in the flimsiest of clothing? And what of Le Strade here? Why should you want him to witness so lascivious a display?" Sherlock Holmes regarded me for a few moments with kindly eyes.
"You are to be congratulated, as always, Watson, for you sensibilities and your humanity! However, you have the cogent facts before you and you know my methods, perhaps you would like to expostulate a theory. Both Le Strade and myself would be interested in your opinion."
I sensed movement behind Holmes. Lady Isobel was struggling against the
bonds that fastened her so tightly to the wooden chair. She was also beginning
to protest, as best she could, through the thickly wadded scarf in her mouth
that prevented any intelligible speech. I have to admit that at that moment
I feared mightily for her safety.
"Holmes I beseech you, untie Lady Langdon forthwith, she is obviously in considerable distress!" Holmes looked fondly upon Lady Isobel.
"Fear not Watson, for Lady Isobel is quite safe, I assure you. As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time that she has assisted me in an experiment of this nature, and if she should feel in any way threatened she has recourse to a number of safety systems that she and I have discussed at great length." I was not entirely reassured by this statement, especially as Lady Isobel's protestations seemed to be growing louder by the second.
"Very well Holmes," I replied somewhat reluctantly. "I place Lady Isobel's safety and well being entirely in your hands." Holmes nodded gravely.
"Thank you my friend, I assure you that your trust will not be misplaced." His tone brightened. "Come now Watson and share your thoughts with us." I cogitated for a few seconds before replying hesitantly
"Well Holmes, tenneting my theory on the events that I have just seen, I would deduce that Inspector Le Strade has once again found need to refer a case to you which has baffled the official police and I would further deduce from your comments and this demonstration that it be a case where murder is involved!" Holmes clapped his hands.
"Bravo Watson! Pray continue." Fortified by his praise I continued, a little more boldly this time.
"I would deduce Holmes that this case involves an intruder, as evidenced by Le Strade, who, having overpowered and chloroformed the lady of the house, Lady Isobel, then hid in wait for her spouse, your good self, and on his or should I say, your arrival, shot him to death and then made good his escape! Although for what reasons I have no idea and quite frankly Holmes, your purpose for re-enacting such a simple affair is beyond my credulity!" Holmes looked at me and I swear that I saw a twinkle in his eyes.
"Excellent Watson, excellent! Once again you are the harbinger of my deductions. What you have so eloquently stated is exactly what the police were expected to deduce from the circumstances with which they were presented. I must admit to having been somewhat unfair to you in not presenting the facts fully but your conclusions are excellent as always Watson... and almost entirely erroneous! Perhaps Le Strade you would be good enough to explain the case to the good doctor!"
Inspector Le Strade nodded and turned his attention toward me.
"Several nights ago Doctor, the wealthy industrialist Sir Jolyon Montcrieff, was found shot dead in the drawing room of his home in Mayfair. His wife Alice was a few feet away from his body, bound in the same manner as Lady Isobel in night attire and gloves, with a small bottle of chloroform lying beside her. According to her statement she was asleep upstairs, when she heard a noise and went down to investigate. She was apparently wearing the gloves to alleviate a slight skin condition. On her arrival an intruder overpowered and chloroformed her, tied her up and then lay in wait for her husband. Several neighbours reported the sound of gunfire at approximately eleven forty five that night. A patrolling constable entered the premises by force and found the scene exactly as I have described. The murder weapon, a Colt .45 of American origin, was found a few feet away from Sir Jolyon's body. He had been shot six times in the stomach at point blank range.
" The French windows were open through which, we must assume, the assailant
made good his escape. None of the staff live in so there were no witnesses
to the crime.
Earlier that day Sir Jolyon had cause to dispense with the services of one of his staff, a manservant by the name of John Farmer. A heated argument ensued in which Mr Farmer, in full view of several witnesses, threatened to take his revenge on Sir Jolyon and kill him. At the scene of the crime we found cigar ash. Neither Mister nor Mrs Montcrieff smoked, but Mr Holmes was able to identify it as a variety of small cheroot imported into this country from Havana and smoked by Mr Farmer, who we apprehended the following day at Paddington Station, where he was purchasing a single ticket to Penzance. He was unable to produce a coherent account of his whereabouts on the night of the crime, as he claims to have got drunk in a public house and spent the night with a lady whose name he cannot remember. The owner of the pub remembers him, but cannot recall him leaving. Mr Farmer has since been arrested and charged with the murder of Sir Jolyon. It is most likely that, if convicted, he will hang"
"An excellent and concise account Le Strade, and I thank you for it." Holmes was now standing next to the escritoire, tamping tobacco into his Meerschaum, whilst regarding Lady Isobel, who struggled still and whose protestations were becoming ever more loud. He reached forward and touched her lightly on the shoulder. Lady Isobel reacted as if she had been electrified, her whole body shook in a paroxysm of torment and she threw back her head as if in a fit. There is no doubt in my mind that she would have screamed if she had been able, but all that emerged from her tightly packed and covered mouth was a series of muffled whimpers before the tension in her body suddenly disappeared and her head fell forward once again. Lady Isobel now went completely limp, much as she had when Holmes had first delivered her into the arms of Morpheus.
"My God Holmes!" I cried, unable to conceal my emotions, "What have you done to her? Untie her at once!" Holmes was now lighting his pipe.
"All in good time Watson. I can assure you that Lady Isobel is unharmed. For the purposes of this demonstration it is essential that she remain where she is for the time being." He put his fingers against her forehead. "Her pulse is steady, as is her breathing, you may examine her if you wish."
Unnerved by what I had just seen and reluctant to take advantage
of Lady Isobel in her vulnerable and undressed state I declined Holmes' invitation,
trusting to his judgement as I had done many times in the past.
"Very well Holmes I will take your word as a gentleman. But please be so good as to explain this apparently obvious mystery, that Lady Isobel might be released at the earliest opportunity." Holmes seated himself in his favourite armchair and motioned for Le Strade and myself to be seated as well. He puffed contentedly on his pipe and then began.
"I must apologise to you Watson, for the discomfort that I have caused you, I am afraid that my flair for the dramatic has once again got the better of me. However it was essential to the unravelling of this case, that my theory be put to the test, and with Lady Isobel's' knowledge and assistance I believe that we have accomplished that task and accomplished it extremely well."
It goes without saying that I was profoundly shocked.
"Holmes are you telling me that Lady Isobel was completely aware of what you were going to do to her?" Holmes looked at me sharply.
"But of course Watson! How could you possibly believe otherwise? We planned everything minutely, down to the very last detail. The only thing that Lady Isobel was not aware of was exactly when I would do the deed; I thought that the element of surprise might add a little piquancy to the proceedings! You see Watson, there are certain aspects of this case which are entirely singular in the annals of crime and which only a painstaking and methodical detective like Le Strade here would notice. Not all policemen are bumbling fools Watson! Le Strade has suffered at the hands of your pen on many an occasion and when you see the lengths that he has gone to to save an undoubtedly innocent man from the gallows then you would do well to offer him an apology." I looked at Le Strade with concern, but the Inspector merely smiled in return.
"That will not be necessary Mr Holmes, Doctor Watson does us a great service. As long as criminals think we are fools then they will take less care when they commit their crimes." Homes nodded in agreement.
"Quite so Le Strade, quite so." I think he would have continued but footfalls on the stairs caused him to pause, much to my intense relief.
Mrs Hudson entered the room, a silver tray in her hands. She walked past
the tightly bound form of Lady Isobel, silent now in the gloom, without giving
her a second glance.
"I thought you and your guests might like some tea Mr Holmes, I know Lady Isobel is always grateful for a cup after..."Holmes put down his pipe.
"Indeed she is Mrs Hudson. And you know that I am always grateful to you for your thoughtfulness. If I might draw your attention to just one small point however. When you leave the house to visit your sister on Thursday morning as is your custom, I would be indebted to you if you would lock the door behind you, as you gave cause for Dr. Watson, or Mister Conan - Doyle if you prefer, to be extremely concerned for my welfare earlier this day." Mrs Hudson, having put down her tray, threw her hands to her face.
"Oh Mr Holmes I'm sorry. But how did you know?" I feared Holmes was about to reveal the irritable side of his nature.
"Good grief Mrs Hudson do I have to explain everything in this house?" Holmes paused and then his countenance changed once more and a beatific smile crossed his face.
"Suffice it to say that I am aware of your sister's circumstances Mrs Hudson and I am also aware that today, the day on which you are remunerated, is the day when you visit your sister in order to give her a considerable portion of that remuneration. You will find a substantial increase in your wages from now on Mrs Hudson. You have my word!" For a brief second I thought that Mrs Hudson was about to throw her arms around her employer.
"Oh Mr Holmes, what can I say? Thank you sir. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!" Holmes had the good grace to look mildly embarrassed and he held up a slender hand.
"Think nothing of it Mrs Hudson, it is the least that I could do, just be so kind as to keep that door locked in future... for Watson's sake." For a moment I thought that Mrs Hudson would curtsy, but she gathered herself abruptly and left the room smiling.
I have to admit to being beside myself with curiosity and anticipation
and I could do little to contain myself.
"Homes, will you never come to the point of this confounded mystery?" My friend smiled once more.
"You are quite right Watson, we have dallied far too long and I will do my best to alleviate the suspense that I have created. Inspector Le Strade approached me because several things troubled him. One you have already noted yourself; and that is the silken cord lying on the floor directly below Lady Isobel's wrists. Fortunately the patrolling constable was quick witted enough to leave the scene of the crime relatively undisturbed and he found the self same cord in exactly the same place beneath Mrs Montcrieff as it rests now below lady Isobel. It could have been left there by the intruder or it could have served another, more sinister, purpose. Le Strade's suspicions were further aroused by his discovery, upon closer examination of the chair to which Mrs Montcrieff was bound, and which is currently the resting place of Lady Isobel, of a small ledge affixed directly beneath the seat, a ledge Watson, which Alice Montcrieff claimed to have been put there to hold books, but a ledge which, on closer examination by myself, revealed small deposits of a very light oil. Oil of a type used only for cleaning and maintaining revolvers!" There was now a far away look in the eyes of Sherlock Holmes and he continued.
"Le Strade was also troubled by the fact that there was no sign of a forced entry. The butler reports that he locked and bolted the French windows before leaving at approximately nine thirty. If assaulted by an intruder, as is her claim, Mrs Montrcrieff would have no reason to unlock them before the alleged intruder made good his escape" I was baffled, rather than unravelling this mystery, Holmes had only served to muddy the waters even more.
"Then Holmes, surely the intruder must have had an accomplice who let him on to the premises." Holmes steepled his fingers.
"Possibly Watson, possibly, but the remaining staff all left together and they will all swear to the fact that Mrs Montcrieff was alone in the house. Which would mean that our intruder, who may well have been under the influence of alcohol remember, was either able to scale the wall of the house and enter via an upper window, or else he could walk through walls! Remember Watson, once you have eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And the truth in this matter is that there never was an intruder! There never was a third party in the house that night, only Sir Jolyon and Mrs Montcrieff! What began as a simple game Watson, soon took a more deadly turn." I was finding this whole thing extremely difficult to comprehend.
"Holmes I do not understand...."
"Neither did I at first Watson, until I suggested to Inspector Le Strade that he obtain a warrant to search the premises whilst I, heavily disguised as a humble manservant and replacement to Mr farmer, infiltrated the house. The results were enlightening to say the least. Inspector Le Strade found, hidden in a spare bedroom, many items similar to those currently adorning lady Isobel, whilst I discovered that Alice Montrcrieff had been engaged in a tryst with a ne'er do well by the name of Oliver Tobias Robbins, a gambler by profession and a man well known to Scotland Yard.
"On the afternoon of the crime, I learned that Mr Robbins had visited the house twice, Sir Jolyon having already left for a business appointment. On the first occasion he stayed for nearly an hour, on the second no more than five minutes. In Sir Jolyon's eyes, his wife could do no wrong whatsoever, and although the visits of Mr Robbins had been bought to his attention, he fully believed his wife's explanation that he was helping her to compile data for a manuscript that she was preparing on the seamier side of London life. Mrs Montcrieff, you will recall Watson, is a writer of some note. Are you beginning to see the light now?" I have to confess that I was none the wiser for my friend's explanation. Discerning that I was currently in as much in darkness as Lady Isobel was, Holmes continued.
"I can see that you are still sorely troubled Watson, perhaps these will help." From the escritoire he handed me a sheaf of papers "These private papers were among the items which Inspector Le Strade found in the spare bedroom. I have to say that they make interesting, if somewhat titillating reading!"
I took the foolscap sheets, which Holmes proffered and began to read them with ever growing astonishment. They had, it appeared, been written by Alice Montcrieff herself and contained lucid but sordid accounts of the nocturnal activities of her and her husband. I shall not dwell on these details for the sake of the reader's sensibilities; suffice it to say however, that she and her husband played games of a somewhat dubious, and indeed sexual, nature. Games I must point out that she appeared not only not to be averse to, but, in actual fact, to thoroughly enjoy and indeed instigate. Games that involved her being rendered unconscious with a small amount of chloroform whilst wearing only the scantiest of clothing and then being tied up and gagged in a variety of places and positions whilst subject to the apparently tender mercies of Sir Jolyon.
Finally the pieces of the puzzle with which I had been presented began
to fall into place and at last the reason for Holmes' apparently mindless
assault on Lady Isobel became clear.
"So Holmes, what you are suggesting is that far from being assailed by an unknown intruder Mrs Montcrieff was in fact..."
"...chloroformed into unconsciousness and tied up by none other than her own husband upon his return from his business meeting! Exactly Watson, exactly!" Another voice interrupted Holmes' musings.
"But instead of making fervent love, as was their practice after these games. Alice Montcrieff seized her long awaited opportunity and blasted her husband to death with the pistol that she had concealed under the chair, in exactly the same way that I shot Holmes with the air gun earlier. Something, I feel compelled to point out, that may well happen to him again and with a real pistol this time, should he ever be inspired to attempt that particular feat in the future!" We three all turned to see the smiling face of Lady Isobel Langdon. She was standing behind us still attired in her nightgown but no longer wearing the opera gloves. Her hair was a little askew, but otherwise she appeared to be none the worse for her ordeal. Her body was now completely devoid of ropes; although the brightly coloured silk scarf that Holmes had used to cover her mouth was now loosely surrounding her neck. She regarded Holmes with a benevolent smile.
"Well Holmes have you no shame at all? Do you not even have the good grace to offer me the cup of tea that Mrs Hudson knows me to be so grateful for after a morning's "experimentation"?" Holmes, who, to my eyes should have been mortally embarrassed, merely bowed his head in deference to Lady Isobel. I, however, was still in a state of confusion.
"So Lady Isobel, it was not Le Strade who fired the air pistol at all..." Lady Isobel drew up a carver chair and sat down, she placed her bare feet on the front of the seat and embraced her knees with her arms.
"Indeed it was not Arthur. You see both Holmes and I were convinced that this was a lover's plan to eliminate Sir Jolyon, who had no heir incidentally, and whose wife, it transpires, would be the sole beneficiary in the event of his death. Given these facts it was a fairly simple matter on my part to deduce that Alice, who is much taken by younger men and who is in turn considerably younger than Sir Jolyon, should connive with Oliver Robbins to see her husband dead at the first opportunity. The debacle with John Farmer giving them exactly the chance that they needed. It would have been a simple matter for Robbins, once aware of the circumstances, to purchase the brand of cheroots that John Farmer smoked and to deliver them, along with the revolver, which he no doubt obtained by illegal means, during his second brief appearance at the house, to Alice. All she then had to do was to enter the drawing room when the staff had left, and smoke enough of the cigar, as I did earlier, to produce the telltale ash, which would so damningly implicate Mr Farmer.
" It would have been she, Arthur, who opened the French windows to suggest that an intruder had left through them and she who would then suggest, clad only in night dress and gloves, that Sir Jolyon and herself should indulge themselves in one of their games when he returned home. She would have collected all the items that she needed, including the chloroform, from the spare bedroom and no doubt laid them out on the drawing room table. The open French windows would also have served to clear the room of any smell of cigar smoke that remained, ensuring that Sir Jolyon's suspicions were not aroused.
" It was again Alice who suggested that she be chloroformed and then tied
to the chair and Alice who, when Sir Jolyon was in close proximity, reached
under the seat with her now unbound hands, retrieved the pistol, and, in
the coldest of blood, shot Sir Jolyon six times in the stomach. The force
of the blast would have sent her husband reeling several feet from her and
all she would have to do then would be to toss the pistol away from her in
the approximate direction of Sir Jolyon, leaving the police to assume that
he had been shot by a casual intruder. To further suggest this, she then
put her wrists into the handcuffs that she had tied to the chair back earlier,
and closed them, making it appear seemingly impossible for her to be implicated
in the crime." Lady Isobel was now resting her chin on her up drawn knees
and looking at me with expectation, but I was not convinced.
"You make it all sound so simple Lady Isobel, but her wrists were tied behind her, as yours were, and the handcuffs, surely Sir Jolyon would have noticed them and used THEM rather than the silk cords?" Holmes relit his pipe, and Le Strade began to pour the tea. Lady Isobel only smiled.
"You must remember Arthur, that Alice was the instigator of these games. Even though SHE was the one who was frequently bound, it was she who was most definitely in charge of the proceedings. SHE would tell Sir Jolyon what she required and how she wished to be tied, for Sir Jolyon really had no stomach for it, as those papers you saw earlier will testify. He went along with matters simply to accommodate Alice, whom he loved dearly. Sometimes, as you will see again from the papers, she would even leave instructions for him in writing and sometimes Arthur, she would confound Sir Jolyon, as she also notes, by escaping from the tightest of bonds and appearing, quite naked, before him! On this occasion, I would imagine that she told him to tie her legs and upper body first, which would have allowed her time to recover from the effects of the lightly administered drug and to ignore the handcuffs and tie her wrists with the silk cords. She probably suggested that she had another more interesting use in mind for the former later in the evening." I was still troubled and I voiced my concerns.
"But HOW did she untie herself, Lady Isobel, and how did you untie yourself for that matter, and what was the significance of the gloves?" Lady Isobel threw what I perceived to be a slightly petulant glance at Sherlock Holmes.
"I would assume Arthur, that Holmes has made reference to one Harry Houdini, an escapologist and magician who is fast coming to public attention in the United States. I was fortunate enough to meet with Mr Houdini on a visit there a year or so ago. Over the course of several days he vouchsafed to me some of the techniques that make his escapes appear so miraculous. And one of them Arthur, is to expand and tense and hold somewhat awkwardly, the joint about to be immobilised! This is precisely what I, and I have no doubt, Alice Montrcrieff did, when our respective wrists were tied. Relaxing the wrists allows the muscles to contract and the ropes to loosen; it is then relatively simple to work them free. Once free the cords can be held in place for as long as is necessary. In my case I dropped them once Holmes was by my side, ostensibly attending to the gag in my mouth, which incidentally, he had no intention whatsoever of removing! Whilst his attention was thus engaged, I was able to reach under the seat for the air pistol and attack him! When I attached the handcuffs to my wrists immediately afterwards I engaged the ratchets only loosely, although they appeared tight because of the manner in which I held my wrists, which allowed me to free my hands and indeed the rest of my restraints at my leisure, whilst Holmes was at least good enough to engage you in conversation with your respective backs to me.
"The gloves were a necessity for Alice because they would leave no trace of fingerprints on the murder weapon, but not a necessity for myself as there would be no need to examine the air pistol! Since I know Holmes to be far more expert at placing and tying ropes than Sir Jolyon ever could be, we agreed, or rather I believed us to have agreed, that for the purposes of this demonstration, the gloves would be dispensed with!" She looked sharply at the contented figure of Sherlock Holmes. "You should be made aware at this point Arthur, that Holmes and Myself had contracted a small wager that I would not be able to free myself fully and in full view of yourselves. The winner buying lunch for the loser. You see Holmes did not believe that I would be able to escape from my restraints, but to be doubly sure and to protect his bet, he contrived to place the opera gloves on my hands, as he is fully aware that to try to free oneself when the fingers are contained by gloves is an extremely difficult task to accomplish. But accomplish it I did, despite the intervention of Mister Sherlock Holmes!" She studied me closely. "Does that finally clear the matter in your mind Arthur?"
I had grown quite accustomed to the amazing deductions of Sherlock
Holmes but it was now becoming clear in my mind that Lady Isobel Langdon was
also a considerable force to be reckoned with.
"Why yes Lady Isobel indeed it does, I wish only that I could chronicle your contributions to this case at a later date, but sadly and for reasons that I have already described....". Lady Isobel stood up and removed the red velvet ribbon from her hair, throwing it carelessly to the floor.
"Think nothing of it Arthur, I care only that an innocent man should go free and that the perpetrators of this crime be brought to justice."
"An action that Lady Isobel is attempting to ensure," Said Holmes also standing up, "By visiting the area of John Farmer's residence on a nightly basis, disguised as a lady of the night, in order to track down the lady with whom Mr Farmer spent the evening of the crime. I must tell you Watson, that in fishnet hose and high heeled boots she is indeed a sight to behold!" Lady Isobel was advancing, silently on bare feet, toward the fireplace. It suddenly occurred to me that there was one more question that it behoved me to ask.
"Lady Isobel, forgive me if I am impertinent, but do you have any history of epilepsy in your family? For I was considerably concerned that you may have suffered some kind of fit earlier this morning!" Lady Isobel knelt at the hearth and retrieved the poker from its place on the wall.
"No Arthur I can tell you most unequivocally that I have no history of epilepsy, but I can also tell you that the cause of my apparent "fit" is about to be dealt with even as we speak!" She advanced menacingly on Sherlock Holmes, poker in hand. Inspector Le Strade put a hand on my shoulder.
"Doctor Watson, would you be good enough to join me for lunch? There is an excellent Chop House a few streets away that serves a delicious steak and kidney pie and I think Mr Holmes and Lady Isobel have some things that they may need to discuss!" As I had not eaten since the previous day, the thought of home made steak and kidney pie appealed to me greatly, but I was a little concerned for the welfare of my friend Holmes who, even now, was retreating into a corner in the face of Lady Isobel and the poker. Holmes, sensing that I was in a dilemma attempted to dispel my concern.
"Fear not Watson, for I am, as you are aware, well versed in the Eastern arts of self defence. Lady Isobel and I will join you later, suitably disguised of course, since it now appears that I will be paying for lunch this afternoon," He paused "Perhaps," He ventured, eyeing the poker with some trepidation, "In more ways than I suspected."
As we descended the stairs Le Strade turned to me once more.
"Doctor Watson I trust you have your medical bag with you." I held my right hand out for him to see.
"But of course Le Strade, I carry it with me always, but what should occasion your question?" I had just finished speaking when there was a resounding crash that could only have come from the apartments of Sherlock Holmes.
"Oh nothing really Doctor, I merely suspect that Mister Holmes may be in need of a certain amount of medical attention when he and Lady Isobel finally join us."
With that he slapped me heartily on the back and we both stepped
out into Baker Street and headed in the direction of the dining rooms and
lunch, the sound of breaking crockery echoing in our ears.
(c) Wallace 2002. The author retains the right to be recognised as the writer of this piece. This is a work of fiction and bears no resemblance to any events real or imaginary or to any persons living or dead. No reposting without permission.