Authors: June Thomson
(with the assistance of Aubrey B. Watson)
FOR GIVING SO GENEROUSLY
OF HIS TIME AND EXPERT ADVICE
My thanks also to John Kennedy Melling and John Berriman for their help and expertise on Victorian Music-Halls and Victorian Pocket-Watches.
I should again like to express my thanks to June Thomson for her help in preparing this second collection of short stories for publication.
Aubrey B. Watson LDS, FDS, D. Orth
by Aubrey B. Watson LDS, FDS, D. Orth
In the Foreword to
I described how a certain battered tin dispatch box, with the words ‘John H. Watson, M.D., Late Indian Army’ painted on the lid, together with its contents, came into the possession of my late uncle, also a Dr John Watson. In his case, however, the middle initial was F., not H., and he was a Doctor of Philosophy rather than medicine.
It was sold to him in July 1939 by a Miss Adelina McWhirter, who claimed it was the same box which Dr John H. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ companion and chronicler, had deposited at his bank Cox and Co. of Charing Cross
and which contained records in Dr John H. Watson’s handwriting of sundry adventures undertaken by the great consulting detective which, for various reasons, had never been published. As a relative of Holmes’ Dr Watson on her mother’s side of the family, Miss McWhirter alleged that she had inherited the dispatch box and its papers which, finding herself in straitened circumstances, she was forced reluctantly to sell.
My late uncle, struck by the similarity of his own name to that of the other illustrious Dr John Watson, had studied widely in the Holmes canon and had made himself an acknowledged
expert. On examining the dispatch box and its contents, he was convinced of their authenticity and was planning to publish the papers when international events overtook him with the outbreak of the Second World War.
Anxious about their safety, he made copies of the Watson documents, depositing the originals in their dispatch box in the strong-room of his own bank in Lombard Street, London EC3. Unfortunately, it suffered a direct hit during the bombing of 1942 which reduced the contents of the box to charred fragments and so blistered the paint on its lid that the inscription was indecipherable.
Left with nothing more than his own copies of the papers to prove the existence of the originals and unable to trace Miss McWhirter, my late uncle, fearful of his reputation as a scholar, decided very regretfully not to publish them in his lifetime and, on his death, the whole collection, together with the footnotes he had added, was bequeathed to me under the terms of his will.
As I pointed out in the Foreword to
I am by profession an orthodontist and, having no academic reputation to protect and no one to whom I can in turn bequeath the papers, I have decided, after much careful consideration, to offer these documents for publication although I make no claim for their authenticity.
The first account I have chosen for this second collection is the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, referred to in ‘The Five Orange Pips’ and assigned by Dr John H. Watson to 1887. It was one of a long series of cases which engaged Sherlock Holmes’ attention during that year, not all of which were published although Dr John H. Watson states that he ‘kept the records’. The account of the Paradol Chamber case was among those alleged to have been deposited in the dispatch box at Cox and Co.
With regard to the question of dating this particular adventure, readers might be interested in a short monograph which my late uncle wrote on this matter and which is printed in full in the Appendix.
This first collection of hitherto unpublished adventures, supposedly undertaken by Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson, was first published by Constable and Co. in September 1990. (Aubrey B. Watson)
Dr John H. Watson refers to this dispatch box in the opening sentence of ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge’. (Aubrey B. Watson)
It was not often that Sherlock Holmes called on me at my consulting rooms in Paddington,
preferring to remain in the seclusion of his lodgings at 221B Baker Street which he left only rarely.
I was therefore considerably surprised when one morning in November ’87, not long after my marriage,
and my purchase of the practice from Mr Farquhar, the front door bell rang and my old friend was ushered into the room
‘Ah, Watson!’ said he, striding forward to shake me vigorously by the hand. ‘I trust you and Mrs Watson are well?’ On receiving my assurance that we were both in excellent health, he continued, ‘I see that your practice is quiet at present and you are not over-burdened with patients. That being so, could you spare me an hour of your company? It is a case which I think may interest you. I may assume, may I not, that domestic
pleasures have not quite blunted the edge of your former interest in our little deductive adventures?’
‘No; indeed not, Holmes,’ I replied warmly. ‘I am delighted to be asked. But how can you be so sure that business is slack enough to allow me to take up the invitation?’
‘Two reasons, my dear fellow. Firstly, the condition of the boot-scraper by your front door. Although it is miry underfoot after last night’s rain, so little mud has been deposited on it that I deduced only one or two patients could have made use of it since it was cleaned earlier this morning. Secondly, I noticed the extreme tidiness of your desk. Only a man with time on his hands would have arranged his papers in such immaculate order.’
‘You are quite right, Holmes!’ I exclaimed, laughing not only at the simplicity of his explanation but with pleasure at his renewed company.
‘Then are you prepared to accompany me to Baker Street? I have a cab waiting.’
‘Certainly. I shall be but a few moments informing my wife and writing a note to my neighbour, also a medical man, who will take over the practice while I am away.
It is a reciprocal agreement. What is the case?’
‘I shall explain once we are in the hansom,’ Holmes replied
Having made these necessary arrangements to cover my absence, I hurriedly put on my topcoat and, seizing my hat and stick, joined him outside in the cab. As soon as it had started off and was rattling on its way to our former lodgings, Holmes produced a letter from his pocket which he handed to me.
‘It arrived only this morning by the first post,’ he explained, ‘hence the necessity of collecting you in person rather than summoning you by telegram as the client requests an interview at eleven o’ clock. Read it, my dear fellow, and tell me what you make of the contents.’
With that he folded his arms and leaned back against the seat, allowing me to peruse the letter in silence.
It bore the previous day’s date and an engraved address: Windicot Villa, Little Bramfield, Surrey, and read:
Dear Mr Holmes,
May I request an interview with you tomorrow morning at eleven o’ clock in order to discuss a matter of extreme delicacy? It concerns a close acquaintance of mine who appears to have returned from the dead. I prefer to give no further details at this stage.
I apologize for the short notice I have given you but the case is of great urgency.
Because of its unusual nature, I shall be accompanied by my solicitor, Mr Frederick Lawson of Bold, Brownjohn and Lawson of Guildford, Surrey.
Yours sincerely etc.
Edith Russell (Miss).
‘A curious case, is it not, Watson?’ Holmes asked when I had folded up the letter and handed it back to him.
‘A return from the dead!’ I cried. ‘Miss Russell must have imagined it.’
‘That may indeed be so. However, I prefer to wait until I have heard Miss Russell’s account before indulging in any speculation, either scientific or metaphysical. It was for this reason that I wanted your presence at the interview. As a medical man, you will no doubt be able to confirm whether or not Miss Russell is of an hysterical or over-imaginative disposition.’
‘Of course, Holmes,’ I assured him, gratified to be asked for my professional opinion.
We arrived at Baker Street only a quarter of an hour before Miss Russell and her solicitor. Even so, I was hard put to it to contain my curiosity and, when they were shown upstairs, I rose to my feet as they entered the sitting-room, eager to study their demeanour, especially that of the young lady.
Miss Russell was tall and graceful, with an air of breeding and quiet intelligence about her features; in no way inclined, I thought, to be of a nervous disposition.
Her solicitor, Mr Frederick Lawson, was also young, distinguished-looking
and possessed of a similar sensible, no-nonsense attitude, apparent in his firm handshake and his direct gaze.
They made a handsome couple and, from Lawson’s solicitous manner towards Miss Russell, I suspected at once that his feelings for her were more than those of a legal adviser towards his client.
Once the introductions were over and Holmes had received Miss Russell’s agreement that, as his long-term and trusted colleague, I should be allowed to remain, Mr Russell opened the interview with a short, introductory preamble.
‘Miss Russell has already written to you, Mr Holmes, explaining to you very briefly the background to the situation but not, in her preliminary letter, referring to anyone by name. As the persons involved are distinguished members of the highest society, I know that we may rely entirely on your discretion, as well as that of your colleague, Dr Watson, not to allow any of the facts ever to be made public. That being said, I shall leave my client, Miss Russell, to make her statement to you in her own words, as she has already given it to me.’
Lawson then fell silent and Miss Russell began her account in a clear voice and an unhurried manner which showed few signs of nervousness apart from an occasional clasping and unclasping of her gloved hands as they lay in her lap.
‘First of all, Mr Holmes, I must explain a little of the background to the events which have brought me here to ask for your assistance.
‘My father is a retired City banker, a widower, suffering from a heart complaint. On the advice of his doctor, we moved from London to Surrey where my father bought Windicot Villa, a house situated on the edge of the village of Little Bramfield which is a few miles from Guildford. The nearest residence to ours, a mere half-mile away, is Hartesdene Manor, the home of the young Marquis of Deerswood and his uncle, Lord Hindsdale, the younger brother of the Marquis’s late father who died in a hunting accident. Because Lord Deerswood was left an orphan, his mother having died many years ago in a Swiss clinic – of consumption, I believe – Lord Hindsdale was made
the young man’s guardian and continued to live at the Manor after the Marquis came of age and inherited the title.
‘About seven months ago, I made the acquaintance of Lord Deerswood under rather unusual circumstances. Like his mother, the young man suffered from poor health and, for that reason, rarely went into society, nor were visitors encouraged to call. He was, I understand, educated at home and has – or rather had, up to the time of his death – led a life of almost total seclusion. However, although he was seldom seen in public, he was permitted a little light exercise and he would walk his dog, a spaniel called Handel, in the nearby fields and lanes, always accompanied by a groom.
‘It was during one of these excursions last spring that I first met him. I myself was returning from a walk when I saw him and the groom crossing a meadow close to the house. They had reached the stile and the groom, who had safely climbed over it, was holding out a hand as if to steady his master, when Gilbert, as I came to call him, appeared to lose his balance and fell, striking his head against the post.
‘I ran up to give assistance and, as the house was nearby, I suggested that we took the young man there. He seemed dazed, as if suffering from a mild concussion, but was able to walk and, between us, the groom and I supported him back to Windicot Villa where I gave him what medical attention I could. Meanwhile, the groom ran on to Hartsdene Manor to raise the alarm. Shortly afterwards, the uncle, Lord Hindsdale, arrived in the carriage and the young man was taken away.
‘About a week later, the Marquis, in the company of his uncle, called at the villa to thank me formally for my help and when, in the course of conversation, I happened to mention my love of flowers, Lord Deerswood invited my father and myself to the Manor to inspect the hothouses there.
‘It was the first of several visits I was to pay over the subsequent months in which my acquaintanceship with Gilbert deepened into a true friendship. I found him a lonely young man, very much to be pitied; eager for the company and conversation of people of his own age. We shared many interests and the time I spent with him passed most pleasantly.
Indeed, I felt as warmly towards him as I might towards a brother.
‘The only drawback to our friendship was the attitude of Lord Hindsdale. He seemed very fond of his nephew – too fond, perhaps, for he was, in my opinion, over-protective towards the young man, although this was understandable considering Gilbert’s poor state of health. Indeed, there were several occasions when my visits to the Manor were cancelled on Lord Hindsdale’s directions because he considered Gilbert too unwell to receive callers. He is a proud, rigid man, Mr Holmes, and I felt he disapproved of my growing friendship with his nephew.
‘I come now to the events of last summer. Gilbert and his uncle had left Hartsdene Manor in order to spend August in another family residence, Drumpitloch Castle, on the Scottish coast. About a week after their departure, I received a letter from Lord Hindsdale – such a terse communication, Mr Holmes! – informing me that his nephew had been drowned in a boating accident. He gave no further details and I had to discover the facts of Gilbert’s death from the reports in the daily newspapers. Perhaps you, too, read them, Mr Holmes?’
Holmes, who had been listening to Miss Russell’s account with keen attention, replied, ‘Indeed I did. Pray continue, Miss Russell. Although the body was never found and it was assumed it had been swept out to sea, there was a memorial service, was there not?’
‘Yes, there was, Mr Holmes. It was a private ceremony, held at St Saviour’s church in Little Bramfield, which only immediate members of the family and the servants attended.’
For the first time, Miss Russell’s calm manner failed her and her voice faltered as if remembering that occasion to which, despite her friendship with the young Marquis, she had not been invited.
I saw Frederick Lawson lean forward anxiously in his chair but, after a few moments’ silence, Miss Russell had sufficiently recovered her composure to continue.
‘I heard nothing from the new Marquis of Deerswood, as Lord Hindsdale became on his nephew’s death, and my connection with Hartsdene Manor appeared to have been severed. However,
three nights ago, at about half-past ten, my father and I were driving back from Guildford where we had dined with Mr Lawson who, over the years has acted as my father’s solicitor, and has become a close family friend. The road passes Hartsdene Manor and, as we drew opposite the gates, I glanced across at the house, thinking I confess, of Gilbert’s tragic death. I was seated on the right-hand side of the carriage and, the blind being up, I had a clear view of the garden which fronts the Manor. There was a full moon so there is no question that I was mistaken in what I saw.’
‘And what was that, pray?’ Holmes inquired. He seemed impressed, as I was, too, by the concise nature of her account although a tremor in her voice spoke of deeper feelings.
‘I saw Gilbert walking across the lawn. He was facing towards me and his features were quite distinct although thinner and more haggard than I remembered them.’
‘Was he alone?’
‘No; he was accompanied by two men, one of whom I recognised as Macey, the butler. The other I had never seen before. He was a tall man, exceptionally broad across the shoulders. There is one other fact which I must acquaint you with, Mr Holmes,’ and again her voice trembled with emotion. ‘Macey and the other man were grasping Gilbert by the arms as if trying to force him back inside the house. And his poor face! It held an expression of such terror that I shudder even now to recall it!’
‘What did you do?’ Holmes asked gently.
‘I called on the coachman to stop but, by the time the carriage had halted and I had jumped out and run back to the gates of Hartsdene Manor, the garden was empty and there was no sign of Gilbert or the other two men. It was, of course, too late to make inquiries. Besides, I was greatly distressed by what I had seen and needed time to consider calmly what action I should take. After discussing the matter with my father, I consulted Mr Lawson the following day and, on his advice, I drew up a letter to Lord Deerswood, asking for an urgent interview, but without giving any details, merely stating that it was a personal and delicate matter which could involve legal complications. For this
reason, I requested that Mr Lawson, as the family solicitor, should be present.’
‘A most wise decision,’ Holmes murmured. ‘I understand that, on his nephew’s apparent death, his uncle inherited not only the title but also the estates, which are considerable.’
‘Yes, indeed, Mr Holmes. After Gilbert, his uncle was the next direct heir. Because of this legal aspect to the affair, I felt I could not undertake the interview alone and my father’s heart condition does not permit him any undue anxiety or emotion. The interview with the new Lord Deerswood took place yesterday morning.’
Miss Russell turned to address Frederick Lawson.
‘As it was held under your direction, I think you should describe exactly what took place. I still find it most painful to recall.’
As she sat back in her chair, evidently relieved that her part of the statement was now over, Frederick Lawson took over the account, his handsome features grave.
‘It was indeed a most uncomfortable occasion, Mr Holmes. As Miss Russell has already explained, Lord Deerswood is a very proud, rigid man, exceedingly cold in his manner. He listened in silence as I repeated Miss Russell’s account of what she had seen and then he categorically refuted any suggestion that his nephew was still alive. Miss Russell was mistaken, he insisted, although he did not deny that an incident had taken place in the garden two nights earlier. However, the man she had seen was not Gilbert but the groom, Harris, who had been taken suddenly ill and whom Macey and another servant had walked about the lawn in order that the fresh air might revive him. As Harris bore a resemblance to his nephew, this was how the mistake must have arisen.’