Copyright 2001 by legallady2000 - all rights reserved - intended as a parody
I recently came into possession of a remarkable manuscript -- the details of the transaction I am sworn to protect -- except to say that there is no doubt of the authenticity of the work -- attested to by experts in London and New York -- and the ancient lady who entrusted it to my care asked me to assure her that I would see that it had a proper publication.
The career of the late Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, has had
a wide following in many quarters, and it is to be hoped that this hitherto
undiscovered chapter will receive the attention it deserves. It shows the
brilliant sleuth in a wholly new light, as heretofore he is portrayed by
his faithful Boswell as possessiong at best an indifference to the female
sex, and at worst a contempt that bordered on misogyny! Here, perhaps, is
an insight into another side of Holmes.....
THE ADVENTURE OF THE MAID'S DRAWERS
Readers who have followed my humble chronicles of Mr. Sherlock Holmes will remember that I have often remarked on Holmes' seeming indifference to the fairer sex, with only the sole exception of Irene Adler in the affair of the King of Bohemia's photograph to establish the otherwise invariable rule. However, the great detective's disdain of a permanent connexion with a woman by no means meant that he took no notice of feminine beauty or accomplishment. His efforts in the matter of Miss Violet Hunter was further evidence that Holmes had an eye for that rare pairing of a keen intellect and a pulchritudinous appearance. If further evidence were wanting, it was supplied when Holmes took a sudden unwonted interest in Offenbach's Gaiety Parisienne, when he had previously been almost scornful of the French composer's musical efforts. When I questioned him about this sudden volte-face, Holmes replied emphatically,
"Ah, Watson, never let it be said that I am so uncharitable as to fail
to recognize an artist who can learn from his past mistakes and even grow
into greatness!" And off we would toddle to yet another performance of what
I regarded frankly as a disgraceful exhibition, designed to pander to the
lustful urges of the lower middle classes!
With that evidence before me, I should have been less surprised by the strange beginning and swift conclusion of the singular case of the Duchess of Albany's blue diamond, in which my companion's legendary powers of observation were concentrated in a wholly unexpected direction.
It was the early autumn of 1894. The leaves had not yet fallen from the trees, but their brown colours were barely visible from the window of our Baker Street sitting room as the City was, as usual, enveloped in a thick, almost impenetrable fog.
Holmes and I sat reading the morning papers. Holmes was at present at leisure,
having just successfully recovered the plans for the Parratt Steam Mortar,
thought to have been purloined by agents of the Kaiser but which proved to
have been merely left behind in the luggage room at King's Cross Station.
As always when Holmes seemed to lapse into languid boredom, I steeled myself
to remonstrate against any return to the cocaine bottle, which as a medical
man I knew to be contrary to my friend's mental and physical health.
"Nothing of interest in the newspapers," said Holmes, disgustedly, as he
threw aside The Times. "The whole of criminal London seems to have taken an
extended Bank holiday." I sought to reassure my friend. "Remember, Holmes,"
I said. "You always say something of a stimulating nature will turn up if
a little patience is shown!" "Patience! Ha!" The detective was not in a generous
mood. "Do you have any notion of the strain of inactivity on my deductive
powers? Can you imagine the indignity of having to send down to Lestrade
to ask if anything of interest has turned up on the police blotter? No, patience
may be a virtue in some quarters but it has no attraction for me save in
the pursuit of some nice little problem! My mind craves stimulation. If not
intellectual, then... Now, here's something!!"
He held up the Daily Telegraph. "Here, in the Stop Press box," he continued, suddenly energized. "The Duchess of Albany's famous blue diamond, 'The Star of Mysore', is to go on display at the British Museum tomorrow morning." Holmes rubbed his hands in satisfaction. I, no doubt, looked puzzled. I knew a little of the jewel's infamous history since it had been purloined from the palace of Tipu Sahib in the afternoon of Wellesley's triumph at Seringapatam, but in recent years the aura of black luck following its owner had seemed to subside as the fabulously wealthy but unprepossessing Duke of Albany had bestowed it on his young bride, Cordelia, with scarcely a ripple of notoriety.
Holmes broke in on my thoughts. "You wonder why I find the announcement
of the impending public viewing of this bauble to be of interest?" "It does
seem a rather prosaic event," I ventured. "Ah, there you have it!" cried
Holmes. "It is the very mundane nature of the exhibition, coupled with the
gem's great reputation, that I feel sure will attract the most sublime criminal
masterminds seeking to spirit it away. No, I feel a case coming on, and another
rogue will no doubt be added to our Baker Street gallery, and another literary
effort to your box in the vault at Cox & Co." And he trailed off in helpless
Almost as if on cue, there was a knock on our sitting room door. It was Mrs. Hudson, holding out a telegram for Holmes. He tore it open eagerly, and with an exclamation of triumph held it out to me. I read it carefully but could find no justification for Holmes' sudden euphoria. "I confess I find little cause for your interest in this message," I said. I read aloud, "Miss Miranda Montague begs to request a consultation with Mr. Sherlock Holmes on a most urgent matter attending her employment. No reply necessary as she will be en route to call upon you at 11:00 a.m." I shook my head. "Some domestic intrigue, no doubt," I said, shaking my head, "but hardly worthy of your talents, Holmes."
Holmes gave me that disdainful smile I have so often seen when I am slow to pick up on his own observations. "Really, Watson, have you learned nothing of my methods from our long collaboration? Pray study the telegram and tell me what it reveals." I did so dutifully, but hopelessly. "It tells me nothing save that it was dispatched from Exeter at 8:00 a.m. this morning," I said, finally. Holmes spoke as if to a backward schoolboy. "Exeter, Watson, is the nearest railway station to Heatherstone House, and Heatherstone House is ..." But now the light dawned, and I finished Holmes' sentence. "The ancient seat of the Dukes of Albany!!" "Yes, Watson. You see, you can both lead a horse to water and make him drink! On occasion, anyway," he added, a trifle maliciously.
"But who is this Miranda Montague and what connection could she have
to the diamond?" I asked. "Well, we shall perhaps have to await our client's
visit to go beyond intelligent speculation," Holmes said, affably. "But perhaps
a few small deductions are possible. First, we may suppose that Miss Montague
is a confidential servant, quite probably the personal maid of the Duchess
herself. Second, she is young, and quite attractive. Third, she is greatly
distressed over some sudden occurrence at the Albany manor. Fourth,
some calamity has befallen the Star of Mysore, and finally, she is extremely
punctual." I was puzzled as usual by the scope of my friend's observations.
"But how...?" Holmes cut me off with a wave of his hand.
"It's really quite elementary, Watson. The return address on the telegram is, in fact, Heatherstone House. The distress of our correspondent is evident both from her inclusion of a return address even though she then tells us no reply is necessary and the obvious haste in which it was sent. The telegram was dispatched from the station at Exeter, indicating that she had hurried to make the London Express, at great expense to a young lady in waiting, rather than await a local that would get her to the City only forty-five minutes later at half the cost. Her position in Her Grace's household and the mishap to the diamond are, I confess, a bit of a leap, but as you know, I am not one to believe in coincidences, and I should be rather shocked if Miss Montague were here merely to consult the famous Sherlock Holmes over a matter of purloined flatware!"
"And the fact that she is young, attractive and punctual?" I pursued. "Well, Watson, as to that you must learn to exercise your own limited powers of observation. As we were speaking, a cab has discharged a most charming young lady at our doorstep, and she has been pacing up and down these last few minutes, obviously fretful at being before her time." And with that, Holmes motioned to the Vienna regulator on our mantelpiece which showed one minute before eleven. "Astounding, Holmes!" I exclaimed, awed as usual. "Really, it is quite elementary," Holmes replied with that curious blend of modesty and superiority that so often accompanies a display of his remarkable powers. "But here is our visitor!" And so saying, he leaped to open the door just as Mrs. Hudson was about to knock.
"Miss Miranda Montague," announced the harried landlady, and our visitor
strode briskly into the room. Her worried but gentle countenance won me over
before she had uttered a word. Attired in a tailored brown wool traveling
suit, a tasteful hat, and carrying a small parasol, she was the very picture
of young English womanhood. As the readers of these chronicles knows,
my experience of women had spanned many nations and three continents, and
I should be forgiven if I had come to regard myself as an expert in such matters.
Inevitably I felt a swell of pride that the Empire could produce such sublime
Holmes leapt to his feet. "I have it!" he exclaimed. "You know where the jewel is, Mr. Holmes?" said Miss Montague, a note of hope creeping into her soft voice. "I have my suspicions," said Holmes, gravely. He stopped in his place and looked hard at our fair visitor. "I assure you that in a very short time, all shall be revealed," he said, with a smile both enigmatic and vaguely lascivious. "But it is necessary that you put yourself entirely in my hands, Miss Montague. No matter what I may ask of you, you must obey me without question or I can be no further help to you. Is that agreeable to you?" Holmes paused, and again seemed to look quite through Violet Montague's figure perched on the edge of the sitting room chair. She stared down at her lap, and then, almost as if speaking to herself, replied, "I really haven't any choice, do I?" And then, more audibly, "I rely on your great reputation, Mr. Holmes. I shall do whatever you require, whatever the cost!" I silently applauded the young lady's resolve, but misgivings crowded in on my mind. Holmes had, in the past, displayed a penchant for the dramatic that had more than once placed a client in mortal danger. Sir Henry Baskerville suffered the attack of the great hell-hound of Dartmoor, in part because Holmes wished to unmask the evil Stapleton only at the last moment. And at least one other client met an untimely and terrible end for want of a candid explanation from Holmes that might have saved him. Thus I waited to hear Holmes articulate what no doubt would be a dangerous scheme to recover the missing gem. What I heard next, however, astounded me completely!
"Excellent, Miss Montague," said Holmes. "I shall not fail you. You may
reasonably anticipate a successful end to our little quest. Now, stand up
if you please." Somewhat puzzled, Miranda stood up. Holmes gazed at her a
moment, and a hint of a smile came to his lips. "Very good," Holmes said.
"That is a most handsome traveling costume you have on. Please be so good
as to remove it, but take care that you do so carefully and slowly!"
"What! Undress myself, here, in your rooms? What on earth can be the reason?" Miranda Montague spoke, not in anger but in a tone of surprise and dismay. I sprang from my chair, in a frenzy of shock and shame at the words of my companion. "This is unworthy of you, Holmes!" I said, reproachfully. "What possible motive can you have for asking a virtuous young lady to disrobe?" Holmes did not look at me, but instead spoke directly to his client, who stood, her bosom heaving, staring at him. "You recollect that you promised to place yourself in my hands," said he. "My orders are not given lightly. If you wish to reconsider your previous answer, you are certainly free to leave."Holmes' words were spoken coldly, with none of the empathy he often displays toward distressed female visitors. "No, Mr. Holmes," answered Miranda, "I recall, and I am prepared to comply, if that is your instruction." And she began to unbutton the long row of buttons down the front of the jacket of her costume. I moved toward the door. "I will certainly not remain here under these circumstances," I said, coldly. Holmes took me gently by the arm. "Really, old fellow," he said. "Do you suppose that I do this solely for my visual gratification? In any case, surely you, as a medical man, have seen gentle young ladies undressed on many occasions. Your presence here as my chronicler is indispensable, and Miss Montague would no doubt welcome a physician as a proper chaperone." I hesitated, then looked at both Holmes and the girl. Holmes had a way with words that always overcame my misgivings. And Miss Montague paused in unbuttoning her dress to give me a sweet smile. "Yes, please remain, Doctor. I shall feel so much more at ease with you in attendance!" I looked more closely at Miss Montague. She was undoubtedly a great beauty, and such beauty should not go unnoticed or unadmired! I made my decision. "I shall stay," I said, firmly, sitting back in my chair.
Holmes rubbed his hands, anticipating, what? The solution? Miranda's impending
dishabille? Our visitor, without further prompting, commenced to continue
to open her jacket, which was soon carefully slipped off her shoulders and
deposited on the nearby couch. This revealed a starched, high collar
white muslin blouse, tightly fastened with a series of tiny mother of pearl
buttons. Although the fabric was largely opaque, it was carefully tailored
and close-fitting, and thus a hint of lace was visible beneath.
Miss Montague paused, unsure of what to do next. "Perhaps your blouse?" Holmes offered, helpfully. Miranda began to carefully undo her blouse, beginning at her throat, slowly working each button through its hole. Her fingers moved nimbly down the garment, opening the remaining buttons but modestly keeping the two front halves of the blouse together to shield her underlinen from our keen gaze! Soon it was undone to her waist, but now she was forced to lift the tails of her blouse from beneath the waistband of her skirt, which still held the remainder of the fabric in place. This maneuver at last caused the two flaps of her blouse to come apart as Miranda unfastened the final few buttons and her snowy undergarments lay open to our eager eyes!
Covering Miss Montague's still heaving bosom was a delicate cotton lace
camisole, with eyelet openings at the edge, and which itself buttoned down
the front. As the young lady eased her blouse off her shoulders, more of her
undergarment, really an underbodice that fully covered her corset, came into
view and we could see it was held up by equally delicate lace shoulder straps.
Miss Montague now commenced to unbutton the cuffs of her blouse, so that
she could slide her arms out of the confining sleeves. This action consumed
but a few moments, and she soon held her blouse, now fully removed, out in
front of her to fold it carefully before placing it on top of her discarded
jacket. The pure white of her underclothing revealed above her waist as well
as her bare arms stood in stark contrast to her elegant long skirt, which
she, for the moment, still retained!
"Pray continue this most revealing demonstration," Holmes said, puffing impassively on his Meerschaum pipe, filled anew with tobacco from that ubiquitous Persian carpet slipper. Miss Montague now did so, turning her attention to the double row of large black buttons which ran the length of her long skirt, expertly undoing them, while attempting, with a somewhat misplaced modesty, to prevent the skirt from opening in front of us and revealing her lower undergarments! This effort, if it can truly be called that, was destined for failure, however, as Miranda's ability to hold her skirt closed gave way to her need to reach further down the front of it to undo the lower buttons! She accordingly abandoned the struggle, and, under the weight of the heavy woolen fabric, the skirt gradually came open at the waist until it was obvious that no additional effort was needed to remove it! Miranda thus simply slid her skirt down past her knees, exposing a delightful lace petticoat, and then, rather than let the skirt fall to the floor, gracefully stepped out of it, holding the waist with one hand as she lifted first one and then the other stocking-clad leg from inside her final article of outer attire! Holmes now interjected suddenly, "Please hold the skirt up in front of you." This the young lady did, while Holmes broke into an enigmatic smile. This garment, too, was then carefully folded by our guest and gently placed with its sisters. Miss Montague then turned back to us, and Holmes and I could now examine our half-undressed visitor in all her pleasing dishabille!
I have already briefly described the delicate camisole which still shielded the young ingenue's upper body from greater exposure. Her petticoats were nearly ankle length, as became a modest young woman, which Miss Montague had certainly been before her rendezvous with the great detective, whose actions, I confess, had left me even more befuddled than usual, and were festooned with a succession of little pink bows that engaged my attention more fully than I felt entirely proper!
"Let me be fully candid with you, Miss Montague," said Holmes, breaking in on my reverie. "You are to be undressed completely! Not a stitch of any kind will be permitted to remain on you, and both Dr. Watson and I shall of course observe every detail of your disrobing! Are you agreeable to this harsh but, I assure you, entirely necessary procedure?"
The young lady flushed a bright crimson as the my friend's words rent the room. The humiliation of her present and impending condition was brought forcefully home to her, the more so because it was at the hands of one from whom she had so innocently sought advice and salvation! I had agreed, reluctantly, to remain in the room while Holmes proceeded to degrade our trusting guest, but this last outburst was the final straw! I could remain a party to this crime no longer!
"Holmes!" I cried. "I am appalled at your words! You treat this virtuous young lady as if she were a common street trollop purchased for your guilty pleasure!" Holmes looked at me disdainfully. "Do you really suppose, Watson," he said icily, "that I have no better use for my time than to amuse myself with the undoubted exceptional taste exhibited by Miss Montague in her choice of undergarments? Pray temper your outbursts while I pursue the solution to our client's problem!" I paused, abashed. Then Miss Montague won me over completely. She took my hand in hers and, clad as she was in just her underlinen, gently kissed me on my cheek! "Please, Dr. Watson! Please do not trouble yourself on my account. I promised myself when I came here that only disgrace and humiliation awaited me unless Mr. Holmes could somehow solve this horrible mischance, and I am prepared to risk all to avoid that awful day!! Ah," she continued, about to dissolve into tears, "if only my poor mother were here!"
My resolve stiffened once again! I knew I could not abandon such a woman in her hour of necessity! I sank back into my chair, prepared to witness the worst!!
Holmes moved his hand impatiently. "Every moment we waste with airy persiflage
in another moment in the hands of a ruthless criminal mastermind," he said
with conviction. "Please continue, Miss Montague," he said, rubbing his hands
together in the familiar fashion. "I am anxious to see what further truths
may be revealed this morning!!"
Our blushing visitor turned an even deeper shade of crimson, but took Holmes' comments as an order to proceed. She proceeded to undo the tiny mother of pearl buttons on her lace camisole until the garment was thrown open over her now bare shoulders and a black and ivory lace Parisian corset in the latest fashion was revealed. Miranda gave no outward sign of her feelings at this fresh indignity but proceeded to unfasten and step out of, in turn, two attractive and obviously expensive lawn petticoats which she laid down on the growing pile of maidenly attire.
With her petticoats and camisole gone, our visitor was most exquisitely attired in just her long black corset and of course, her long tiered drawers and rosette garters, tied securely over her long black, opaque, silk stockings!
Holmes, however, was pitiless. "The police may be here any minute," he
said harshly. "Do you imagine they have remained ignorant of your movements?"
I could see Miss Montague cringe. "You had best make a clean breast of things with us," he continued, more gently. I looked at Holmes with a degree of astonishment. Holmes -- summoning the police? A betrayal of a helpless and beautiful client?
As if reading my thoughts, Holmes broke in on them disdainfully. "Do you really imagine, Watson, that I had merely trifled with this young lady only to turn her over to the dolts at Scotland Yard?" He turned to his client, still obediently undoing her dainty corset. I felt it my duty to observe her closely, lest any sudden medical emergency arise. Obviously unable to herself unlace the constricting garment without assistance, which she clearly disdained, she instead merely unhooked the fasteners down the front of her garment until at last it was laid completely open in front! My mind traveled back sadly to all of the times I had assisted my dear, late wife Mary with this daily ritual and the way she would giggle at my clumsiness as I fumbled with the laces. "John!" she would laugh, "you will surely cause me to die of asphyxiation if you lace me any tighter!!" And we would fall to, well.... the mutual duties that a loving husband and wife owe to each other.
I tried to clear my mind of these fevered memories. Holmes, and especially our vulnerable young client, demanded my full attention!! Holmes had continued his speech to the lady, now stepping gracefully out of her loosened stays, which she had lowered carefully to her dainty ankles!!
"Watson!" I realized my friend was addressing me. "You seem to have been transported to another world," he said, with a first trace of a smile. I mumbled an apology and refocused my attentions on our delicious young visitor, now standing in her chemise, stockings and drawers!
"The police will be here at any moment, Miss Montague," Holmes repeated to our blushing companion, who was no doubt freshly mortified at the thought of being visited in such dishabille by fresh eyes! "You must know that their suspicion would naturally fall upon you, as the Duchess' confidential maid, and your sudden and unexplained departure from Heatherstone House, by express train, no less, will surely have brought Inspector Lestrade and his minions to your trail. Lestrade is nothing if not dogged in pursuit of even a false trail," Holmes laughed harshly. He looked intently at our almost disrobed visitor. "There is very little time left now, Miss Montague. You must reveal everything to me!"
For the first time since she had entered our rooms and begun this serial depillage Miranda Montague smiled. "I seem about to do that, Mr. Holmes, do I not?" she said, with a trace of coquettishness that both surprised and intrigued me as she sank into a nearby chair and began, ever so carefully, to remove her stockings and high buttoned shoes. Holmes leaned back and lit his pipe, awaiting her tale with a sigh of satisfaction.
"I was the youngest of three daughters of a country mathematics instructor,"
she began, concentrating on undoing her stylish ankle boots. "He was in straightened
circumstances when he met with an unfortunate accident. It was painfully
obvious that there would be no grand prospects for me, and to spare my mother
and sisters further anxiety, I resolved on a life of service. I had a pleasing
manner, moderately attractive looks," here she blushed noticeably as she
raised the hem of her lacy chemise to untie one of the black rosette garters
tied around her black silk stocking, "and I quickly rose on good references
to become the confidential personal maid of Her Grace."
"You mean the Duchess of Albany?" I interjected, somewhat stupidly, mesmerized not by her narrative but the slow pantomime taking place before us. Miranda had shed one shoe and was carefully peeling the black silk down her leg as she continued, nodding silently at my question.
"The Duchess was very kind to me, and made me many small presents, some of great value. How horrible that she will now imagine I have betrayed her!!"
And with that, our heretofore poised visitor dissolved into sobs. I went to her side at once, as she buried her tear-streaked face in my chest and I held her lightly by her now bared arms, patting her gently on her chemise-clad back. "Now, now, my dear," I said soothingly. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes has never yet failed a damsel in distress!" Holmes looked at me sharply. Abashed, I allowed Miss Montague to extricate herself from my grip and reseat herself.
"I'll be all right," she said, obviously embarrassed by her sudden show of emotion. "Perhaps if I might just have something to steady my nerves...."
"Of course, of course!" said Holmes, equably, and he rang for Mrs. Hudson.
My friend's eccentricities as a lodger were by now well known to our long-suffering
landlady, but even his habit of using paneling for target practice in which
he traced the letters V R with cartridge holes could scarcely have prepared
her for the sight that met her eyes as she entered with a small tray of sherry!
Two middle aged English gentlemen, chatting amiably with an almost completely
undressed young lady, her stylish costume and dainty underlinen piled beside
her on the chair, sitting in her chemise and drawers, and removing her stockings!!
But if Mrs. Hudson was taken aback at this sight, she recovered immediately,
and offered a glass to our visitor, who gulped it greedily. "He's a strange
'un, sometimes," she offered soothingly, "but always a gentleman, dear."
Holmes smiled indulgently, handing the landlady a folded paper on which he
had been scribbling during this intermission. Mrs. Hudson looked at it, and
then at him, inquisitively, but Holmes dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
"IF you please, Mrs. Hudson," was all he said, but the patient housekeeper
knew her duty and silently vanished, leaving us once more with our defrocked
"Pray continue with your narrative," Holmes said, a little coldly, I felt, given the obvious strain the young lady was under. Miranda Montague had set down the glass of sherry and sat for a moment, regaining her composure before setting out to undo the buttons of her other shoe.
"The diamond was a present from the Duke. She and I joked about its curse. She said perhaps it would bring her bad luck. I expressed the hope that nothing untoward would happen to the Duke. 'Oh, no, dear,' she laughed. 'That would be GOOD luck!' And we giggled over that, too." She paused. "Perhaps I should explain," she offered. "The Duchess was the Duke's second wife and only a few years older than I. Quite often we were more as older and younger sister than mistress and servant." Miss Montague now held up and pulled out the other of her two silk stockings, which joined its mate on the pile of discarded garments.
"Miss Montague," said Holmes. "I do not wish to hurry your explanations, but as I have already said, the police will surely be on your trail, and if you wish to have me fully informed before...."
"Yes, Mr. Holmes," she said, flushed. "I understand. Thus it was that yesterday morning poor Edith....the Duchess I mean.... entrusted the jewel to my care, knowing that she would wear it up to the Museum for the Exposition today. I had only heard about it, never seen it up close. Mr. Holmes, gentlemen, you have no conception of the size and perfection of the Star of Mysore until you have seen the morning sunlight glint from its prism!" The young lady's eyes sparkled at the memory. "Yes, yes," said Holmes impatiently. "And then?"
"Mr. Holmes, I guarded that jewel all day and into the night as if it were
my life itself! It never left my person, until...."
"Until what?" I prompted, gently, seeing the maiden once again in the throes of despair. She stood up and began to unbutton the front of her chemise. "Until this morning," she said, pulling the thin garment up and over her head in a single motion, "when it disappeared!!" The melodramatic statement was matched by the sudden appearance of Miranda's naked upper torso, her magnificent breasts, small but perfectly shaped as if sculpted by Pygmalion himself, rising and falling as she breathed heavily at the utterance of the fateful words! I wondered that Holmes could look so impassive, even indifferent to this display of feminine charms!! As for me, I felt a small intake of breath as Miranda carelessly flung her chemise on the couch. She was standing before us, unclothed but for her ankle length drawers, the last vestige of her maidenly modesty!!
"And what," said Holmes, doggedly, "did you say to your Mistress upon the discovery of this fearful event?" The girl made no effort to shield her breasts from our view, instead carefully undoing the tapes of her drawers. She looked up at Holmes' question. "Why, nothing, Mr. Holmes!" she said, shame-facedly. " In a panic of frustration and horror, I feared to break the awful news to her. I determined instead at once to seek your assistance, and, having ascertained the departure time of the London Express, scribbled a few lines to despatch from the station stop, and made my way from the house of my shame!!"
At the word "shame," Miss Montague let go the untied waist of her exquisite drawers, which thereupon obedient to the law of gravity fell to her ankles where they rested in a snowy heap. She was naked!!
"Ohhh!" said our visitor, forlornly, as if she had suddenly become aware
of her compromising position. With the loss of her last covering garment,
only excepting her hat, which she still retained, her transformation from
the stylishly attired, if nervous young woman who had only a few minutes
before entered our rooms dressed in the height of fashion was complete. Holmes'
purpose in all of this was still obscure to me, yet his flair for the melodramatic
was such that I waited patiently for all to be revealed!! Or, to put it perhaps
more delicately, in view of the condition of our client, as the solution
to the problem was made manifest!
Utterly stripped of her modesty as well as her garments, Miss Montague presented a sight which could not fail to excite the most indifferent viewer! Her skin was a fine alabaster, her hair carefully pinned underneath her hat, her complexion young and unafraid, the concealed charms of her inner thighs concealed no longer! A finer example of young English womanhood could scarcely be imagined!
"Miss Montague," said Holmes, not unkindly, "I must ask you to think carefully. Who visited you while you were in possession of this priceless jewel? Any little detail, however small, may prove to be the key that unlocks the mystery of its disappearance!"
"Oh, Mr. Holmes," cried our charming client, as she bent to retrieve her drawers from her feet, stepping neatly out of them, and folding them carefully, almost lovingly before placing them at the top of her clothes, "do you offer me hope, then?" She shivered... was it from the chill in our rooms, or from the sudden realization that she stood, nude, her charms on view to the both of us as we sought to concentrate on her narrative rather than her obvious nakedness!!
"It is dangerous to theorize ahead of one's data," said Holmes, guardedly. "I have a few small ideas, which, if supported by the facts, may bear pursuing. But pray answer my question." He rubbed his hands in satisfaction. I could tell that for Holmes, the game was afoot! Clearly the young lady's narrative had suggested something that to us mere mortals was still opaque! But I had learned enough of Holmes and his methods to forbear from premature inquisitiveness. The great detective, in good time, would, with the theatrical flourish of a magician pulling aside his black cape to reveal the lady thought to be dismembered to be restored to good health in a single body, offer his solution to an admiring audience!
"I have thought long on your question even before you pose it to me," mused
the naked maid servant standing before us. "On the train from Exeter I considered
the matter carefully. Except for the Duchess herself, Emily the upstairs
maid, and Master Heathcliffe, there was no one. Ah, Mr. Holmes, I fear there
is no one else on whom suspicion will fall!"
Holmes considered this statement. "Think very carefully, Miss Montague! What exactly did the young master say when he addressed you? I gather he is not persona grata around your mistress!"
Holmes' knowledge of the family secrets of the Albany household seemed
to come as a surprise to the young lady. "I.. that is... Heathcliffe Heatherstone,
as you appear to know, Mr. Holmes, is the illegitimate son of the Duke by
a former parlour maid. There was a frightful scandal at the time, before His
Grace had met and married the present Duchess, but even so she resented his
presence in the household. For my part, I detected an undercurrent of
evil in the young man. Knowing he could not inherit the estate, he seemed
to take great glee in any misfortune that befell his father or his half brother
the Marquess." Here, at least, my own knowledge was not inferior to Holmes.
The young Marquess of Cronenberg, heir to the ducal title, had himself been
the subject of a scandal which even the penny dreadfuls could only hint at,
but apparently involving a training academy for young ladies in which clothing
was deemed a privilege that was quite frequently lost! I had made enquiries
about the establishment as a purely intellectual matter, but was always met
with rebuffs. Several prominent peers and politicians were, however, rumored
to be among the academy's visiting committee. I silently resolved to
continue my research once our current problem was behind us!
"You suspect Master Heathcliffe, then?" said Holmes, arching one eyebrow and taking a puff on his pipe. "Oh, no, Mr. Holmes! I accuse no one," said our undraped Venus, flushing again. "Yet his conduct toward me yesterday was so improper that I blush to think of it!!" And she did, offering an even more provocative display of a nude young lady embarrassed, not by her present state of undress, but by the recent memory of some lascivious comments addressed to her by a spoiled young nobleman. "Tell me his exact words!" Holmes cried, seizing on her explanation. Miranda hesitated, frowning. "I believe he said something like, 'I shall look forward to seeing more of you,' and then he made a vulgar reference to my .... my privates," she finished, reddening more. The shade was most becoming, and I felt my own weather vane in such matters rising to the occasion. Meanwhile, I could not help but notice a distinct stiffening of the lovely nipples of our unclothed client, hardened atop her upthrust young breasts! The sudden labored breathing and seeming change in her tone of voice recalled my happier days with Mary, my wife, and I recognized distinctly the onset of a level excitement in our client that I found puzzling and incongruous. Yet, perhaps the extended divestiture of her many garments, and the public nature of her disrobing before two men -- for a creature who had hitherto obviously led a modest and sheltered existence, had flooded her with sensations new and unfamiliar to her. I resolved to assist her medically as soon as this interview was concluded!
Holmes rubbed his hands again and began to rise from his chair. "Miss Montague," he said, "you have provided with me with the final piece of the puzzle! If you will but stand there facing the window, I promise you that the culprit who purloined the Star of Mysore will be completely exposed!"
"Ah, Mr. Holmes! If only it were true! But then, I have the greatest faith in your powers!" And the young woman rose and went to the large window overlooking Baker Street. Holmes stepped to her side. "Look, down there!" he pointed to the lamppost. "Just one more question, if you please. Your father's accident --- was it perhaps at the Reichenbach Falls?" And with that, I heard a gasp from Miss Montague and the sudden click of a pair of handcuffs. Holmes spun the young lady around to face me, arms imprisoned behind her back, and her legs spread open before us. She gave Holmes a look of pure hatred.
"You clever, clever fiend!!" she hissed. I must have looked utterly dumbfounded, as indeed I was. "Holmes!" I cried. "What does this mean?"
"Allow me to present Miss Cassandra Moriarty!" Holmes said with a broad smile. Our visitor seemed utterly transformed. A defanged asp was the metaphor that occurred to my befuddled mind. Before I could speak again and seek Holmes' explanation, there was a knock at the door.
"Inspector Lestrade," announced Mrs. Hudson, and the little detective strode
confidently into the room.
"Well, Mr. Holmes." he said, chuckling. "You seem to have outdone yourself this time. When your note arrived saying you would expose the criminal and reveal everything, I never anticipated such a delightful exhibition!" Holmes allowed himself a smile. Despite his professed contempt for the Scotland Yard regulars, he nevertheless loved to bask in their admiration. And he seemed to have an unaccountable soft spot for Lestrade, whom he had once referred to as "the best of the professionals." Clearly, he had chosen Lestrade as the recipient of the credit for Miss Moriarty's arrest, as Holmes himself never desired to appear publicly in these affairs. Meanwhile, our erstwhile client stood, eyes flashing, naked, handcuffed, as Holmes with perfect manners offered Lestrade a seat.
"If you don't mind, Mr. Holmes, I believe I had better do my business first." And, turning to the naked Cassandra, addressed her in his best official voice. "Cassandra Moriarty, I arrest you in the name of the Queen for the theft of the Duchess of Albany's blue diamond! And it is my duty to warn you that anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence against you." A sudden thought inspired me! "You might say that was her Miranda warning," I said, amazed at my prescient wit. Holmes groaned, and Lestrade merely pulled his notebook from his coat pocket as if expecting a statement from his prisoner. Miss Moriarty, however, merely drew herself up to her full height and said, "You can prove nothing!"
Holmes smiled. "In good time, Miss Moriarty. But, gentlemen, you must have questions. Pray be seated." And he gestured us both into our chairs, leaving the prisoner on display standing next to the window.
"Holmes!" I said. "How...when?"
"My dear Watson," Holmes said, eyes twinkling. "Do you really imagine that I am such a cad as to require a virtuous young lady's maid to undress herself in our rooms? My suspicions were aroused..." here Holmes paused and smiled at our guest, whose breasts were heaving and who still appeared to be in the throes of some feminine reaction, "as soon as Miss Moriarty appeared in our rooms. For a confidential maid, even to one as generous as the Duchess undoubtedly is with her servants, to possess a 40 guinea traveling suit was quite unusual. I elected to pursue my theory in a rather unusual fashion, which quite rightly aroused..." here Holmes paused again, "your chivalrous nature. I had quite determined that no young woman in the circumstances of Miss Montague could possibly agree to the outrageous demand which I made of her. When she accepted my conditions, it was further proof that the young lady was not who she claimed to be."
"But why did you not take me into your confidence?" I cried, confused and hurt that my friend should allow me to make a public spectacle of my indignation.
"Good old Watson," said Holmes, laughing. "I knew I could count on you to show the proper amount of outrage. You could not possibly have been so effective had you known of my suspicions. I assure you, old fellow," he continued, "that your show of reluctance went a very long way toward lulling our young mistress of deception," shooting a sideways glance at an increasingly furious captive, "and played an essential role in gaining time for me to summon the Inspector here!!" I was prepared to show my hurt feelings, but Holmes' high praise, as always, softened me. And after all, had I not told myself that Holmes preferred to work in secrecy? Yes, there was no doubt that my unfeigned sincerity had worked to gain the confidence of our clever adversary!
"Watching the supposed Miss Montague disrobing only confirmed my suspicions,"
Holmes continued. "Her undergarments were those of a lady of the very highest
social standing, perhaps the daughter of an Emperor, even the Napoleon of
Crime himself! No, gentlemen, when a young lady's maid purports to wear the
latest Parisian corset, and silk instead of cotton for stockings, even a
confirmed bachelor such as myself must ask if she is who she pretends!"
"But how...." I asked. "She told us two pieces of true information, Doctor. That her father was a mathematics teacher, and that he met with an accidental death. You no doubt understood my reference to the Reichenbach Falls?" Holmes smiled again, enjoying the rapt attention of his audience. Even Cassandra Moriarty seemed taken by the tale. "When she told me that, there was a gleam in her eye that seemed to be taunting me, as if to offer those morsels without my understanding their meaning was itself a triumph over my powers of observation!" At that, even the prisoner smiled wanly, as if in silent tribute to the brilliance of my friend.
"But the telegram....?" I ventured. "Oh, all quite true," said Holmes. "But what Miss Moriarty neglected to mention was that she had been the personal maid of the Duchess for only a few weeks, after her predecessor unaccountably left without giving notice. I think Inspector Lestrade's enquiries," here he smiled at the little detective, whose energy in such matters was legendary," will turn up a young lady who was paid very handsomely indeed to visit the South of France in the company of one of Miss Moriarty's confederates." Here Cassandra shook her head again.
"You clever, clever fiend," she repeated.
"By the time Miss Moriarty had reduced herself to her present state of
dress," Holmes smiled maliciously, "a performance, I should add, not unlike
that of Salome before Herod, designed to utterly distract us from the problem
my conclusions were complete, and I awaited only the arrival of the ever prompt Inspector to place the handcuffs most deliciously on a most worthy opponent!" And Holmes, with unfeigned sincerity, rose and bowed to the lady, who flushed, this time with what seemed reciprocated admiration!
"But what did she hope to gain with this... this... demonstration?" I asked, remembering the attention with which I had closely observed every detail of the Miss Moriarty's display. "Ah, Watson! These are deep waters, and perhaps Miss Moriarty herself will have to enlighten us," here he looked inquisitively at the indignant nude, who shook her head violently in a sneer. "How unfortunate! But perhaps I may hazard a few informed guesses? Lulled into sympathy by her carefully crafted performance and her show of innocence wronged, she no doubt assumed that we would insure that the authorities overlooked her otherwise inexplicable presence at the scene of the crime, and, rather in the fashion of a clever finesse, would be allowed to dress and make her escape."
I recalled the sudden labored breathing and the obvious physical reaction of the lady to her sudden exposure! I put it to Holmes. "Ah, there we are perhaps a little too far ahead of any real basis for speculation, without the assistance of our guest," here he looked again at Cassandra, who merely smiled enigmatically, "but in the absence of Dr. Freud, let me suggest that Miss Moriarty obtained a most distinctive reaction to the sense that she was about to triumph over her father's nemesis, a reaction that was heightened by the satisfaction..."here Holmes smiled again.... "she obtained from the act of disrobing herself and holding us in thrall."
"Amazing, Holmes!" I said, admiringly. "Elementary," said Holmes.
"But the jewel?" I suddenly was reminded of our prisoner's boast that we could prove nothing, despite my friend's brilliant deductions. Holmes made no answer but rose and went to Cassandra's pile of clothes and picked up her delicate silk drawers, which the lady had so carefully folded a scant few minutes ago. Picking them up gingerly by the seat, he turned them upside down. He held them by the lace trimmed legs and shook them a moment. An enormous blue stone, the size of a man's fist, fell on the table!
Lestrade and I looked at each other for a moment and then burst into loud applause. Even our third member of the audience seemed lost in admiration. Holmes looked greatly pleased with himself. Lestrade reached across the table and took the jewel.
"I'll be placing this in evidence, if you don't mind, Mr. Holmes." He looked
at my friend with frank respect. "We're proud of you at the Yard," he said,
"Yes, sir, that we are! And if you was to come back there with me now with
this young lady," here he grinned at the thought of escorting Miss Moriarty
in her present state to the booking desk, "there isn't a man from inspector
to constable who wouldn't be proud to shake you by the hand!"Holmes looked
genuinely moved. "Thank you! Thank you!" he said, bowing.
"If you don't mind, Lestrade, I will forgo the pleasure of accompanying you and this charming young lady to headquarters, but will beg of you one favor."
"Name it, Mr. Holmes," said the little detective, no doubt agreeably happy that he would once again receive all the official credit as well as the approbation of the newspapers for his coup.
"Miss Moriarty has behaved badly," Holmes said, "and deserves to be punished!" And with that, he took the lady in question by her lovely slim waist and pulled her over his knee, proceeding to administer three dozen loud slaps to her bare bottom!! "Let this be a lesson to you, Miss Moriarty," he said severely. "Leave criminal masterminding to the masters!" Miss Moriarty's initial shrieks and cries of protest turned quickly into cries of another nature entirely, and became entirely out of rhythm with the loud blows administered enthusiastically by my friend, until her whole body seemed to shudder and a loud long moan escaped her. When she looked at Holmes as he helped her to her feet, the look was entirely different than any she had aimed at him earlier in the evening.
My friend again lifted Cassandra's drawers from the chair where they had fallen. "A little pocket, discreetly located," he pointed out. "And now, gentlemen, I would be remiss if I did not offer you some port and cigars. The Graham '59 is really quite worthy of your investigations!" And for once, a lady was present as the gentlemen drank and smoked in good fellowship!!
* * * * * * * * * * *
It was a few weeks later. Holmes and I had returned from a late dinner at Simpson's. Mrs. Hudson had entered with our coffee and the evening papers. There had, of course, been nothing in the papers about the episode of the Star of Mysore except effusive praise for the brilliant deductive work of Lestrade, and an account of the arraignment of Miss Cassandra Moriarty, who had skilfully served as her own counsel at the initial hearing. Holmes had taken leave for a few days to visit Exeter, and returned with a smile and, apparently, a large cheque, since he volunteered that we would soon be able to spend the impending winter in Florence.
Mrs. Hudson re-entered our sitting room with a small wrapped parcel as I scanned the Standard.
"Holmes!" I cried.
"Miss Moriarty has escaped from prison?" said Holmes, laughing.
"Yes...but how....?" I turned to watch Holmes holding up a pair of exquisite ladies' silk drawers from the parcel. Holmes' eyes twinkled. "Perhaps not all of my deductions are so mysterious," he said. "Pray supply the missing details."
"Sensation at the Old Bailey. Disappearance and escape of the beautiful jewel thief. Flight of Miss Cassandra Moriarty. A sensation erupted in court today as the matron sent to return Miss Cassandra Moriarty to court following the luncheon recess was found naked and tied in the defendant's cell. Miss Moriarty left a note saying that she had a prior engagement and regretted the inconvenience. The matron was unhurt but was alleged to have a very sore bottom. The only light she could shed on her experience was the defendant's comment that she was merely returning the only punishment she expected to receive for her little endeavor. A police search turned up only a woman of the defendant's description having been last seen at Waterloo Station."
Holmes carefully folded the undergarment. "Our adversary writes that she
hopes I will accept this as a memento of our first encounter," he read, in
an odd voice. " Perhaps you will return them to me the next time we meet."
Holmes held the trophy to his nose. "Lavender bath essence, House of Medici,"
he said, smiling. "Ah, Watson! It will indeed be a winter to remember!" And
he reached for his Stradivarius, filling the room with the strains of Sarasate.
DISCLAIMER: The forgoing story is intended as a parody.