THE BRADFIELD PUSH:
From the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD
Discovered by Hugh Ashton
Published by Inknbeans Press, 2012
© 2012 Hugh Ashton and Inknbeans Press
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are written in respectful tribute to the creator of the principal characters.
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This story was the first I discovered in the deed box that came to my hands via a circuitous route, from the vaults of a London bank to my present home in Kamakura, Japan.
Handwritten in a vile, almost illegible, doctor’s writing, these brittle yellowing pages revealed a previously unpublished chronicle of Sherlock Holmes as I gingerly turned them.
The timing of this adventure would appear to be some little time after the events described in A Study in Scarlet, but before those of The Sign of Four (given Watson’s open admiration of Miss Eileen O’Rafferty, which would seem to argue that Miss Mary Morstan had yet to enter his life). As such, this story is interesting to scholars and followers of the great detective’s exploits who can now see the younger Holmes in action.
Of my adventures with the famous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, the one I relate here commenced, I believe, in perhaps the most unusual fashion of all.
The events described took place close to the beginning of my friendship with Holmes, at a time when I was still lodging in Baker Street with him, and he had yet to attain the national fame with which he is now associated. Cases were not coming to his door as frequently as he would have wished, and as a consequence I was forced to endure what seemed to my unmusical ears to be endless scrapings on his fiddle as he whiled away the hours. At other times my nostrils were assailed by the odour of mysterious and evil-smelling experiments in chemistry, one of which also assaulted my ears, and left ineradicable brown stains on Mrs Hudson’s carpet, as a glass retort of some nameless liquid that he was heating over the gas shattered with a loud explosion.
Holmes swiftly tugged at the window and opened it in order to clear the noxious fumes that had resulted from the accident, remarking wryly, “If I believed in a Divine Providence governing such things, this would be a sign to me that I should cease this particular analysis.” He and I attempted to clean up the worst of the disorder, following which he suggested that we leave the house for a while. “Come, Watson, when we have restored some order from this chaos, let us take the air and exercise our critical faculties in the analysis of our fellow-citizens, rather than that of inanimate salts.”
I assented readily. The weather was a glorious October day, warmer than the season would suggest, and I felt it would be beneficial to the health of both Holmes and myself if we were to take some more healthful air into our lungs than that which currently filled the room.
Accordingly, in less than thirty minutes, we were promenading along Regent Street, with Holmes’ low voice providing a commentary on various passers-by.
“I hope the clerk whom we just passed will be able to locate his young lady in this crowd,” remarked my friend. Thanks to Holmes’ tuition, I had been able to remark the double crease on the right sleeve marking a man who spends his working hours in the production of written documents, and the small bouquet of flowers that he carried, while looking anxiously around him.
“That was a simple deduction, even for me,” I smiled. “What of this, then?” indicating as inconspicuously as I could a lady dressed in the latest modes, holding the hand of a darling infant, not more than four years of age, gazing into the window of the famous toyshop that stands at the heart of Regent Street.
“An interesting case,” remarked Holmes. “Most interesting,” he added, with an inscrutable smile, as the mother and child turned from the window towards the carriageway and started to walk away from us.
I continued to watch their retreating backs. With no warning, someone in the crowd, unseen by me, jostled the mother, who stumbled against the child.
“My God!” I shouted, and dashed forward to save the infant, who had been thrown down by the impact, and was now lying in the path of an approaching omnibus. I scooped up the squalling child in my arms, and lifted him to safety, with seconds to spare before the approaching horses’ hooves crushed him.
“Oh, how can I thank you enough?” exclaimed the mother, embracing the boy while he was still in my arms. “You have saved my precious little larrikin!” The child had not ceased his wails and continued to howl at the top of his lungs while she attempted to comfort him. At last, the sounds of woe ceased, much to my relief.
“I am a doctor,” I informed the lady, “and it is my strong opinion that you should take your son home as soon as possible and allow him to rest in order to recover from the shock he has received. I would also advise asking your family physician to examine him at the earliest possible opportunity. Maybe you will allow me to summon a cab for you? Or perhaps you have your own carriage waiting?” I suggested.
She thanked me gravely. “We did not take the carriage today. If you would be so kind...” I raised my hand to summon a passing hansom cab, and I helped her and the child into it. Holmes assisted me in handing the lady to her seat.
“Return to Baker Street now,” he hissed at me as the hansom trotted off in the direction of Regent’s Park. “Ask me no questions,” he added, hailing a cab himself. As he sprang into the hansom, I heard him rap on the roof with his stick and instruct the cabbie to follow the vehicle into which we had just placed the lady and her child.
I was not yet as accustomed to Holmes’ fancies as I was to become later in our friendship, and I stood in astonishment as I watched the departing cab bearing my friend. I guessed that it was now time for my return to Baker Street, regardless of Holmes’ mysterious instruction, and reached for my watch to confirm this, only to find that I was seemingly in possession of the chain alone, with the watch apparently having slipped from its mounting, and now nowhere to be found in my pockets. Not a little angry at this mishap, for the article in question had been an inscribed presentation from my regiment when I retired from the Army, and apart from having this sentimental value, was a costly timepiece in its own right, I examined the end of the chain to see how the watch might have been lost. I was more than a little astonished to discover that the links had been cut through, and there was no question of the watch’s having accidentally become detached from the chain.
Obviously I had been the victim of a skilled pickpocket, and I took the opportunity of checking my other belongings to ensure that all was in its appointed place. Happily, it appeared that the watch was my only loss, but I rapidly abandoned any thought of the police being able to locate and apprehend the thief. Holmes and I had passed literally hundreds of people in our walk along the crowded streets – any of whom might well now be sporting my watch or handing it in to a pawnbroker in exchange for a sum well below the value of the object.
It was with a heavy heart that I resigned myself to the loss of my valued timepiece, and turned back to retrace my steps towards Baker Street.
I was still brooding over my loss some two hours later when Holmes returned.
“Do you have the time?” he asked me, and chuckled as he watched me unthinkingly pull the chain out of my waistcoat pocket, having temporarily failed to remember that my watch was no longer attached to it.
“It is not amusing,” I told him, more than a little irritated by his laughter. “The chain was cut and my pocket picked while we were on our walk this afternoon.”
“I know,” he replied calmly. “I observed it.”
“You observed my pocket being picked, and you took no action?” I replied with some heat. “Even for one of your detached nature, Holmes, this is going too far!”
“I never claimed that I took no action,” he smiled, drawing his hand out of his pocket and displaying my watch resting in the palm.
“Holmes!” I exclaimed. “How on earth did you...?”
“I flatter myself that my skills as a pickpocket are at least equal to those of she who took it from you originally,” he laughed.
“‘She’?” I asked, somewhat taken aback.
“Yes, the woman with the child whom you saved from the wheels of the omnibus.”
“I cannot believe it!” I retorted. “The mother of that sweet little child!”
“That was not her child. As you saw, I hired a cab and followed her cab, which stopped, with the child leaving it, it a little after it reached the Park. A woman, dressed in a style not in keeping with the child’s clothing, met it and led it away by the hand. I was more interested, as you can imagine, in the woman, and continued following her cab, which drove on, passing Baker Street, and then turned down the Edgware Road, dropping its fare at Marble Arch. I alighted, and followed her to her house in Upper Grosvenor Street, where the door was opened for her by a liveried footman.”
“But my watch!” I cried. “What of that?”
“I had observed her while she embraced the child. She had a small pair of strong scissors which she used to sever your watch chain before removing the watch itself from your pocket.”
“How did you come to observe that?”
“I was expecting something of the sort. It was obvious to me that she was not the mother of that child,” he replied enigmatically. “Her action in pushing the child into the roadway hardly makes her appear a loving parent,” he added in explanation.
“Holmes, you cannot be serious in making that accusation! That would have been murder if the results had been other than what they were.”
He shrugged in reply. “I believe she chose her time to carry out her deed precisely in the expectation that there would be time for an active man, such as yourself, to rescue the child. I believe she could have performed the rescue herself had you been a little slower.”
“And the watch?” I asked again.
“I marked the location in her clothing where she secreted it, and retrieved it from there when I helped her into the cab. In my early days, I acquired a certain small skill in picking pockets from a man who was a true master of the art. Sadly, he is no longer plying his trade. He has reformed his ways, and is currently the pastor of a small evangelical church in the Midlands, where his flock have no knowledge of his past. This means that I am now unable to call on his services as I was accustomed to do.”
“Thank you,” I replied as he handed my watch to me, somewhat bewildered by this latest addition to my knowledge of Holmes’ skills and his acquaintances. “What do you make of the woman who took this from me?”
“She is unfamiliar to me,” admitted Holmes. “She appeared to me to be dressed fashionably, but I lack your interest in such matters, Watson.” His eyes twinkled as he said these words.
“She was indeed dressed in the height of fashion,” I declared. “The hat was of the very latest style, and I could not help but remark the gloves that she was wearing, with the coral buttons, which are a very recent trend.”
“So you would assume that she is a lady of some standing?” asked Holmes. “I would concur with that judgment, given what I observed. Since the front door was opened to her, and she had no occasion to ring, I think it is safe for me to assume that 45 Upper Grosvenor Street is her abode.” He strode to the bookcase and pulled down a thick reference volume – a directory of central London.
“That address is given here is that of the Marquess of Cirencester,” he declared. “But, if I recall correctly, the Marquess is of advanced years, and is childless. Be so good as to reach me that Debrett’s,” he requested. “As I thought, the Marquess and Marchioness are both over seventy years old and are childless. The woman we saw is known to them and the household, however, or the servant would never have opened the door to her.”
“A guest who is currently residing there” I hazarded.
“Obviously that must be the case,” replied Holmes. “Tell me, did you notice anything strange about the woman’s speech?”
“She hardly said anything.”
“Even so, there was a distinct timbre to her voice that was not entirely English. Something of the Antipodes, if I am not mistaken. And that word, ‘larrikin’ that she employed,” he mused. “I believe that is chiefly an Australian term of affection. It has much the same meaning as our term ‘hooligan’, I believe, but though it comes from an English dialect phrase, it is my understanding that Australians use the term much more frequently than do we. Furthermore, it is not the kind of vocabulary I would expect to be employed by a woman of the class that was suggested by the dress of our acquaintance.”
“I have met very few Australians,” I confessed, “and I would not undertake to identify the way of speaking.”
“Tomorrow I shall find out all there is to know about this woman, never fear.”
“How will you achieve that?” I asked, full of curiosity.
Holmes declined to answer the question, but merely commented upon an article in the evening paper describing the theft of some jewellery at a ball the previous evening. “This is the fourth such case in as many weeks,” he remarked. “I am somewhat surprised that Lestrade has not yet contacted me regarding his inability to solve the problem. It may be that we can expect a visit from that quarter in the near future.”
In the event, Holmes’ prophecy was fulfilled the next day. I awoke to discover on the breakfast table a note in the familiar writing of Sherlock Holmes, “Will be out all day. Expect me for dinner. S.H.”
I fell on the waiting bacon and eggs with a good appetite, and had barely finished my meal when Mrs Hudson announced the arrival of Inspector Lestrade.
The little Scotland Yard detective entered the room with a cheerful greeting on his lips, which died as he peered about the room and failed to discover my friend. “Where is he?” were his words, not taking the trouble to name the object of his inquiry.
“To be frank with you, I am not entirely certain,” I replied. “He left the house before I awoke, and will not be returning until the evening.”
Lestrade’s face fell a little at the news. “I was hoping that he might be able to lend us some assistance with a problem whose solution seems to be temporarily beyond our grasp,” he said, seemingly more than a little embarrassed at the confession of the failure of the official guardians of law and order.
“This is in connection with the jewel thefts from the society balls and parties?” I asked. The effect of my words upon Lestrade was remarkable. His mouth dropped open, and he stared at me. Then he started to laugh heartily.
“Dr Watson,” he exclaimed, between his fits of merriment. “I would have sworn to you that no-one except Sherlock Holmes, and maybe not even he, could have guessed my errand, and almost before I have opened my mouth, you tell me my own business! By all that’s remarkable, I feel that Sherlock Holmes will soon meet his match in the business of impudence and nerve, in the person of John Watson!” He made an ironic bow in my direction.
“If you relate the facts to me, I shall be happy to present them to Sherlock Holmes upon his return,” I offered, amused despite myself at Lestrade’s reaction.
“That’s very decent of you, Doctor,” answered Lestrade, accepting the cigar I offered him and settling himself comfortably in an armchair. “You probably know that there have been four such robberies reported over the past month or so. A fact of which you may not be aware, however, is that there have been several more losses, sustained under similar circumstances, which have remained unreported in the Press for reasons of discretion.”
“All occurring at society functions, then?” I enquired.
“You are correct there. And none of these losses is valued at under one thousand pounds,” he replied. “The thief, whoever he may be, obviously has an eye for quality.”
“And those attending the functions?” I went on. “Is there no one person who has attended all these functions, and who therefore can be regarded as a suspect?”
Lestrade threw back his head and laughed once more. “My dear Doctor,” he informed me. “Those who attend are what is sometimes known, I believe, as ‘the Smart Set’. The same group moves from ball to ball, and from party to party, and retains essentially the same composition, no matter where the event is held, or who is acting as host. To make matters more difficult for us, these people are typically of the highest rank, and do not take kindly to the sound of police boots echoing in their hallway. Even the act of questioning is regarded as an outright accusation, and we are shown the door pretty smartly under these circumstances, I can tell you.”
“I begin to see your difficulties,” I replied. “Have you not attempted to place some of your plain-clothes men at these functions, as waiters or as other servants?”
“Police detectives do not usually make the best footmen or servants, we have discovered. We did attempt such an operation, but with a lamentable lack of success.”
“And your request, then?”
“Is for you and Sherlock Holmes to attend these functions in the future, as guests.”
“We do not move in such exalted circles,” I protested. “I scarcely think that we would find ourselves invited as guests to these parties and balls and so on.”
“It could easily be arranged with a word from the right quarter,” smiled Lestrade. “Please consider the matter and put it to Holmes when he returns. The purpose, of course, is for you and he to keep your eyes and ears open for any thefts or suspicious persons and report them to us.”
“Do you have a list of the missing items, together with their owners and the circumstances surrounding them?” I asked. “I think that Holmes would appreciate such information.”
“I guessed that request would be made, and I have accordingly prepared such a list,” replied Lestrade, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket and handing it to me. “There is one other thing I would like to mention while I am here,” he went on. “There have been several reports of pickpockets operating in the West End recently. If you or Holmes were to see or hear anything relating to this outbreak, believe me, Scotland Yard would be more than grateful for such information.”
I mentioned yesterday’s incident to Lestrade, but omitted Holmes’ actions in retrieving the watch, or his subsequent following of the woman who had purloined the article. Lestrade thanked me, and commiserated with me on my loss.
“This is all very good of you, Doctor,” replied Lestrade, rising to his feet and reaching for his hat. “As you know, Mr Holmes has been very close to solving a number of cases in the past where we have reached an impasse, and his hints have enabled us to bring a number of villains to justice.”
Lestrade’s vanity, as Holmes had remarked to me on several occasions, was such that he was unable to admit the value of others’ work in the solution of the puzzles to which he sought answers. Far from being offended by this attitude, however, Holmes regarded it with a detached amusement, seeing the satisfaction of solving these puzzles as its own reward, without seeking public recognition or financial reward.
I pondered the prospect of Holmes and myself making an entry into the layer of society that Lestrade had named as the “Smart Set”, and smiled to myself at the thought of the celebrated detective waltzing with Society beauties. For myself, I rather welcomed the thought of such an evening, as it had been some time since I had experienced such an entertainment.
In the afternoon, I left the house for a constitutional stroll, remembering, as I had promised Lestrade, to keep watch for the pickpockets that he claimed were infesting the metropolis, but saw nothing to engage my attention in that regard.
On my return to Baker Street, Mrs Hudson stopped me as I was going up the stairs.
“I hope you don’t mind, sir, but there’s a man waiting outside your rooms. He wouldn’t go away, and he’s just standing there on the landing.”
“How long has he been there?” I asked.
“A good thirty minutes, I’d say, sir.”
“A gentleman, would you say, Mrs Hudson?”
“Oh no, sir. Quite the opposite, if you want my opinion.”
I mounted the stairs to our rooms to discover a somewhat dishevelled elderly man standing outside the door, with his most distinctive feature being a shock of white hair standing out from his head in all directions. He was dressed in garments that might have been smart once, but had certainly seen better days when they belonged to someone other than their present wearer. The disparity between the dimensions of the legs of the trousers and the length of the legs of their current occupier, despite his stooped posture, informed me that they had not been purchased by our visitor.
“Beggin’ your pardon, guv’nor, but you must be Mr Sherlock Holmes?” he demanded of me in a strong Cockney accent.
“I regret to inform you that I am not. I am a friend of Mr Holmes, whom I believe to be absent at this moment, and whom I am expecting to return soon. May I enquire your business with him?”
“That’s for me to say and him to hear,” replied the other truculently. “If you let me in, I’ll wait for him.”
I was somewhat reluctant to allow him access to our rooms, but I judged that should he attempt anything untoward, I was younger and stronger than his appearance suggested, and I would come off better in any potential physical encounter. I therefore acceded to his request, unlocking the door and inviting him to enter.
Once in the room, he seemed slightly ill at ease, moving from foot to foot restlessly. “You don’t mind my sitting down?” he asked, moving to place himself in the chair usually occupied by Sherlock Holmes.
“I would rather you chose another place to sit,” I admonished him, turning away to indicate the preferred location. “That chair—”
“—is my usual seat,” he replied in a completely different voice. I turned and looked, astonished. The white hair had gone, as had the bent posture, and Sherlock Holmes was sitting in the place of my aged unkempt visitor, his wig now in his hand, laughing at my surprise.
“Holmes!” I exclaimed. “Why on earth...?”
“There are occasions, Watson, when Sherlock Holmes is not an identity with which I necessarily wish to be associated. Today, Enoch Masterton has been exercising his trade and assisting the grooms of Upper Grosvenor Street with currying the horses and cleaning out the stables. And many interesting things he learned, too, while he was so engaged. Allow me to resume my usual attire and appearance,” he added, rising, “and I will tell you all.”
Holmes reappeared in a few minutes, dressed in his usual style, and with all traces of the grime and dirt that had previously disfigured him now washed away.
“Before you start, I must tell you some things,” I said to him, and proceeded to tell him of Lestrade’s visit, handing him the list that had been presented to me.
Holmes scanned it and frowned. “This upsets my theory,” he said. “I was almost certain that I was on a strong scent, but this throws me back to the start.” He noticed my look of puzzlement and continued. “Let me explain. The object of today’s little masquerade was, as I am certain you realise, to determine the identity of the woman who took a fancy to your watch yesterday. To that end, I assisted the grooms and coachmen of the house where I saw her enter, as well as some of the neighbouring houses – in order to divert attention away from my main object. I discovered that the woman in question is, as we surmised, from Australia. However, she is a niece of the Marquess, and comes from a wealthy family. Miss Katherine Raeburn arrived about six weeks ago on an extended visit to her relations and has impeccable credentials.”
“Miss Katherine Raeburn? Unmarried?” I asked. “So the child is definitely not hers?”
Holmes shook his head. “None of the servants seems to have seen any child at the house. The child we saw yesterday seems to have been borrowed as a property, to use a theatrical term, for an occasion such as the one that transpired.”
“And you say that she is from a wealthy family? Why, then, would she wish to engage in acts of pilferage and theft such as yesterday’s?”
“That makes little sense to me also. In cases of the condition known as kleptomania, the afflicted person typically acts on impulse, seizing the object on display in an almost spontaneous, somewhat magpie-like action. Such was not the case here. There was a strong suggestion of forethought and planning, as evidenced by the use of the scissors – which must be of a particularly sturdy construction, given that they cut through your watch-chain so readily – and the use of the child. These would appear to be the work of a dedicated thief, and there is no apparent necessity for this, given that she is by all accounts independently well-off, and furthermore is a guest of one of the wealthiest peers of the realm. I confess to suffering from some mental confusion here.”
“And I suppose there is still a possibility that this Miss Raeburn is not the woman that relieved me of my watch yesterday?”
Once more, Holmes dismissed my suggestion with a motion of his head. “There is no doubt whatsoever. No other person remotely answering to that description appears to have entered the house in the past few days. Furthermore, as I was engaged in cleaning the wheels of the landau, the woman in question was pointed out to me as she departed the house, and she was, without a shadow of doubt, our acquaintance of yesterday.”
“It seems most mysterious,” I said.
“Indeed it is. But notwithstanding these factors, I remained convinced that somehow there was some connection between her and the thefts that have taken place of which we talked last night, and concerning which Lestrade paid his visit this morning. But it appears that I was mistaken.” He waved Lestrade’s list in his hand. “This wretched piece of paper has upset all my calculations.”
“One of those who reports a missing diamond bracelet, valued at three thousand guineas, is a Miss Katherine Raeburn.”
“That would certainly seem to argue her innocence.”
“As regards that particular series of crimes,” he admitted. “But the fact remains that I discovered her red-handed, Watson, in the theft of your watch. Can she be both perpetrator and victim?”
“We have a chance to find out,” I pointed out to Holmes. “Should you accept Lestrade’s invitation to the ball, if I can put it that way.”
“Humph. I can imagine more enjoyable and productive ways of passing the time,” he remarked. “Still, these functions may prove to be of some interest if there are to be lawbreakers as well as the nobility present. And of course,” he added with more than a touch of cynicism and a twinkle in his eye, “the two groups are not necessarily distinct from each other.”
It was two days later that Holmes and I set out for Lady de Gere’s ball to be held at her Park Lane residence. The ball was a splendid affair, and though I was introduced to many guests whose names were familiar to me from the newspapers, only a few were known to me personally. There were two Royal personages present, to whom Holmes and I were presented, and I noticed with some amusement Holmes’ pride in his name being recognised by them. The ladies were splendidly and fashionably dressed, and I noticed many glittering ornaments, almost dazzling in their brilliance, which would undoubtedly constitute a temptation to any thieves such as those whom we were seeking.
When the dancing began, I was presented to a charming young girl blessed with glorious auburn hair and eyes of emerald green, the daughter of an Irish aristocrat. We chatted together happily as we circled the floor, almost as old friends rather than acquaintances of a few minutes’ standing. I was struck by Holmes’ skill in dancing as he escorted his partner around the floor. He moved with a grace that I had previously only ascribed to habitués of dance-halls and similar establishments. My fair partner and I danced the next few dances together, after which I led her to the supper-room, where we availed ourselves of an ice apiece and retired to an ante-room away from the crowds. To my astonishment, Holmes was already there, partnering the purloiner of my watch as he helped her to refreshments.
I could not help being fascinated by the sight, and I fear my interest must have been obvious, because my partner broke in on my reflections.
“Do you know that lady? Or that gentleman?” she asked me. “You seem most interested in that couple.”
I saw no reason to dissemble my acquaintance with Holmes, but somewhat to my disappointment, I confess, she appeared not to recognise his name or his reputation. “The lady,” I concluded, “I do not know. Are you acquainted with her?”
“She is the cousin or niece or some such relation of the Marquess of Cirencester. She is visiting this country from Australia, I believe. She was introduced to me first about three weeks ago. Indeed, it was exactly three weeks ago, I remember, for it was on that evening that I lost my locket, and Papa was most fearfully angry.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” I replied. “Was it a valuable piece of jewellery?”
“Papa tells me that it was, and he scolded me for being so careless. But indeed,” she assured me, with an attractive fluttering of her eyelashes, “I was not careless in the least little bit. The locket was securely fastened by a chain around my neck, and the chain broke, and the locket must have dropped to the floor without my realising it. Though we searched after the ball, and we made enquiries of the servants, the locket was nowhere to be seen. I wish you had been with me to help me find it, since you tell me that you are a friend of a great detective.” She appeared almost kittenish as she made her innocent appeal to my limited powers of detection.
I was intrigued by her story, which had a somewhat familiar ring to it. “This may appear a somewhat unusual request,” I said to her, “but do you perhaps have the chain of the locket with you at this moment?”
She looked at me strangely, as well she might. “I suppose this is a result of your acquaintance with that man,” she replied. “Do you know, I may possibly have it in my reticule, for it is the same one that I was carrying on that occasion.” She opened her bag, and withdrew a slim golden chain, which she passed to me.
I moved over to a spot under a gasolier, by whose light I examined the chain closely. As far as I could make out without the benefit of a lens, the chain had been cut in the same fashion as had my watch-chain a few days earlier.
I returned the chain and thanked her. “Did you inform the police of your loss?”
She flushed slightly. “Oh, no. Papa has a strong aversion to publicity and seeing his name in the newspapers.”
We returned to the ballroom, and spent the next few dances agreeably discoursing of trivial matters, before she excused herself, telling me that she had to take an early Holyhead train the next morning. I bade my fair companion a good night, and handed her into a cab, before returning to the revels.
On my way to the ballroom, I nearly collided with a large man blocking the entrance, whose corpulence and red face spoke eloquently of his taste for the good things of this life.
“By Gad, Watson!” he exclaimed. I was somewhat dumbfounded by this sudden greeting, but looked a little closer at the speaker.
“It’s Brookfield!” I cried as I recognised an old Army comrade. “I thought you were still in India with the regiment. Fancy meeting you here!”
“The same might be said of you, you old dog. No, no India for me, old boy. A touch of the old malaria did for me, and I came home,” he answered, digging me familiarly in the side with his elbow. “By the way, I saw you with that charming little Miss Eileen O’Rafferty. An elegant filly, is she not?”
I particularly detest such talk, but there appeared to be no escape from the man, who now seized my arm and dragged me to the supper-room where he loudly demanded two brandy and sodas.
“Here you are, sir,” answered the footman, handing over the glasses. Something in the inflection of his speech attracted my attention, and I spoke to the man.
“Excuse me, my man, are you in Lady de Gere’s employ?”
“No, sir. I work for the hotel kitchen providing the catering for this occasion.”
“You’re not a Londoner?” I asked him.
“No, sir, I am not. My home’s in Sydney, Australia. I arrived here some six weeks back. Now, if you’ll excuse me, sir, there are others waiting.” He turned to another guest and started to open a bottle of champagne.
“I say, Watson,” said Brookfield, who had been listening to the exchange. “Do you always chat to the servants in that way? Dashed bad form, if I may say so, at a ‘do’ such as this.”
I bit my lip against the possible retorts I could make to his words, and instead asked him what he was doing in civilian life.
“Insurance,” he sighed. “Fire, loss, damage, or theft. Y&L Insurance. Best in London. Come and see me some time and buy a policy. Special rate for old comrades in arms.” The brandy he was drinking was obviously far from his first of the evening, and the drink was having its effect on him. “Extraordinary thing,” he remarked to me in an over-loud voice. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of villainy that goes on in this town. Even in places like this, it’s amazing the amount of jewellery and things like that going missing. Mysterious business, wouldn’t you say?”
Before I could reply, Holmes was at my elbow. “Can you persuade your oafish friend to keep his mouth shut?” he hissed at me. His mouth was smiling, but there was anger in his eyes. “Let us get him outside.” Holmes and I took an arm each, and assuming as friendly a manner as we were able, escorted my acquaintance to the door. A footman followed us, bearing Brookfield’s hat and coat, which we handed in to him after we had installed him, with surprisingly few complaints on his part, in a hansom cab.
As the cab clattered away, Holmes turned to me. “I apologise, Watson,” he said to me. “I do realise that you are not responsible for the actions of your friends, and I understand you well enough, I hope, to know that the fat fool now making his way home is not the kind of companion with whom you would choose to spend an evening. My ill temper comes upon me, though, at times and lashes the undeserving. My sincere apologies.”
“Accepted without reservation,” I replied, touched by this manly confession of his weakness.
“I fear, though, that we have outstayed our welcome somewhat, and it may be as well for us, too, to depart. Come, let us collect our hats and coats, and make our way back to Baker Street on foot. It is a good night for a walk, do you not think?”
Our way home took us along Upper Grosvenor Street, and Homes paused for a moment outside number 45. “Only the servants are awake, waiting to admit Miss Raeburn, I assume,” he remarked, looking at the darkened windows.
“I noticed you dancing with her,” I replied. “And remarkably skilfully, I might add. I had no idea of your terpsichorean expertise.”
“Pah! The trivial exercise of dancing presents no fears to me. Fencing and boxing are good training for the dance-floor,” he retorted. “But yes, I was indeed dancing with the lovely picker of pockets. She had no opportunity to exercise her skills while she was with me, I can assure you. As soon as I saw her eyes fix on some bauble adorning another dancer, I was able to direct the dance to another part of the room.” He chuckled. “How she must have hated that series of seemingly accidental movements around the floor, forever removing her from her quarry.”
“So there is no question at all of the identity of the thief?”
“None at all in my view. In addition, while we were refreshing ourselves she unintentionally allowed me to observe that her reticule contained a piece of paper – a telegram, in fact. I managed to extract it without drawing her attention to the fact that I had done so. Before replacing it, I made a copy of the wording and other information. You may read it for yourself.” He passed his notebook to me.
“Sydney, NSW, 14 October 189–,” I read. “That was two days ago,” I remarked. “Addressed to Miss Katherine Raeburn. ‘GLEBE PUSH SALED LAST NIGHT STOP SUGEST COME HOME NOW STOP JAY’. Do you understand this, Holmes?”
“At present, no, but I intend to do so tomorrow. What did you learn?” he asked me in his turn.
I told him of the fair Irish maid’s loss of her locket and my examination of the chain, and his eyes shone. “Well done, Watson! Bravo, indeed. More grist to the mill, would you not say?”
“I agree, given what you have just told me. And there is one other point which may or may not be significant.” I informed him of the Australian footman, who had come to England at the same time as Katherine Raeburn.
The effect on Holmes was electrifying. He clapped his hands together and stood on his tiptoes in a seeming ecstasy. “Watson, you have solved the whole problem for me! That was the link that was missing and you have found it. You have exceeded my expectations!”
“I fail to grasp your meaning,” I said.
“Never mind,” replied Holmes, more soberly. “Tomorrow night, Lestrade has secured us an invitation to the dance given by Sir Geoffrey and Lady Marchmont, has he not? Good. I foresee an excellent evening’s entertainment ahead of us.”
The next evening, we both dressed for the occasion, with our only departure from formal evening attire being a revolver, which I carried in an inside pocket of my dress coat, and a weighted life-preserver, which Holmes bore in a similar place of concealment. Each of us also carried a police whistle.
“It would be foolish to be unprepared for opposition,” Holmes had remarked to me when suggesting the adoption of these accessories. “I am not anticipating any such, but one never knows.”
“Will your little Irish friend be here tonight?” asked Holmes as we entered the house.
“Alas, no,” I replied. “She informed me that she had to travel to Ireland today, and left for Holyhead by an early train this morning.” However, to my great delight, for I had much enjoyed the company of the pretty maid of Erin on the previous evening, I discovered I was mistaken, for she was standing in the ante-room, and, to my greater pleasure, came towards me smiling.
“Doctor Watson,” she said to me. “You mentioned your friend Mr Holmes, the famous detective, last night. This is he?”
“I am indeed,” replied my friend courteously, as I introduced them. “But Doctor Watson informed me you were to be in Ireland today.”
“We were to travel today, it is true,” she replied, “but Papa was feeling unwell, and we have put off our journey for a day or so.”
“I am delighted to hear that your father is unwell,” I replied, before I fully realised the meaning of what I had said. “What I mean to say is that I am very pleased to have the opportunity to meet you again, even considering the circumstances,” I blurted out in my confusion. I noticed Holmes smiling to himself at my gaffe, but my pretty companion thankfully took my meaning rather than my actual words.
“A word with my friend, if I may, Miss O’Rafferty?” Holmes requested. He drew me aside and spoke in a low voice. “I spoke with Lestrade earlier today while I was at the Yard. His men are surrounding this place, and are ready to enter as soon as you or I blow our whistles. If you see anything untoward – you know my meaning – do not hesitate, but blow three blasts on your whistle. If you hear me do the same, no matter what you are doing at the time, come to me, as I will to you.”
“I understand,” I replied, though in truth I understood little.
The ball proceeded along its course, and after a few dances with Miss O’Rafferty, I suggested that we adjourn to the supper-room and partake of champagne and some light refreshment. She assented gladly, and I gave her my arm as we left the ballroom. Not altogether to my surprise, I saw Miss Katherine Raeburn in the almost deserted supper-room. She appeared to be in conversation with the footman with whom I had spoken the previous night, whose company had obviously been engaged for this occasion. Neither appeared to have noticed me, as I disengaged myself from my partner, and moved forward as quietly as I could, motioning to Miss O’Rafferty to remain silent. I was now close enough to overhear their conversation.
“...more than you did for the last one. That was worth three thousand, and you only got seventy-five for it,” she said to the servant.
“It’s not up to me, Beckie,” whined the footman. “I get what I can from those damned Amsterdam sheenies. What do you want me to give you? I can’t give you what I don’t have.”
“If you can’t do better than you have been doing, I’m out of it.” She spoke in a low voice, and there was menace in her words. “I’m going to pack it all in and go back home tomorrow, and you can swing, for all I care. The Glebe Push is coming this way, and we’ve not got that long before they’re on our backs and then we’re going to have to pack it in, anyway.”
“You wouldn’t peach on me, would you, Beckie?”
“I’d peach if I b— (and here she pronounced a word that I had never previously heard used by a woman) well like, you b—. I know you’re getting more for the swag than you’re telling me, and I want you to know that I’m not going along with it any more. “
“You can’t—” and the man stopped in horror as he realised my presence.
“What have you been listening to?” asked the woman, turning and looking at me aghast. “I know you, don’t I?” as she scanned my face. “You were the bloke with the jerry in Regent Street the other day, weren’t you? And then the jerry went missing when I got back. Some b— had twigged it. What the h— are you doing here? No, Jem,” she said to the footman, who was advancing towards me. “You can’t do anything here. In any case, she’s watching us,” pointing at Miss O’Rafferty.
“Stay where you are and do not move,” I ordered them, taking the whistle from my breast pocket and blowing three sharp blasts. Within a minute the music in the ballroom ceased as the dancing stopped, and the guests peered cautiously into the supper-room.
“Rebecca Sudthorpe and Jeremy Atwood, stay where you are and do not move!” cried Holmes in ringing tones, as he pushed his way through the crowd to stand by my side. The two appeared stunned and frozen, but Atwood’s hand made a sudden move towards the inside of his livery coat, which was checked by Holmes’ advance on him, brandishing the life-preserver above his head. Sudthorpe’s face froze in a mask of horror as she recognised her erstwhile dancing partner of the previous evening.
At that moment, Inspector Lestrade arrived at the head of a squad of uniformed constables.
“Put the derbies on them, lads,” he called to his men, and in a trice, the woman that society had known as Katherine Raeburn and the footman, who was speedily relieved of his pistol, were securely handcuffed. “That was a mighty fine piece of work there, Mr Holmes, I don’t mind telling you. Maybe you can tell us how you came to make these discoveries.”
“I would sooner that we were without an audience,” replied Holmes, waving a hand at the crowd of immaculately dressed onlookers who were thronging the entrance to the room, some with their mouths literally hanging open.
Lestrade ordered the room cleared and the doors to be closed, but my dance partner, Miss O’Rafferty, clung to my arm and murmured to me, “It’s all so terribly exciting. Do you think that I might be allowed to stay and listen?”
Holmes, with his keen hearing, overheard this, and smilingly nodded his assent, with (I am ashamed to say) a knowing wink in my direction.
“It was a few days ago in Regent Street,” he explained to us, “that Sudthorpe picked the pocket of my friend Dr Watson, severing the chain of his watch with a stout pair of scissors, which, I have no doubt, will be on her person at this moment.”
“So that’s what happened to my locket!” exclaimed Miss O’Rafferty.
“I believe that to be the case,” acknowledged Holmes to my partner, who was now blushing prettily, seemingly at her temerity in interrupting. “It was obvious to me that the child was not hers, even before the ‘accident’ that pushed the child into the roadway. This was confirmed when I followed her cab and saw her give the child to another—”
“You are a cunning b—, aren’t you? So it was you following me!” broke in the Australian.
Holmes bowed ironically to her. “I had that honour,” he replied.
“How did you know that the child was not hers?” I asked. “Forgive me for interrupting.”
“When we were walking behind her and the child, who was walking on the outside?” Holmes asked me.
I recalled the scene in my mind. “Of course. The child was walking on the outside closest to the carriageway. No mother would expose her child to the danger of the passing traffic in that fashion.” I noticed Sudthorpe shaking her head ruefully at Holmes’ observation.
“When I read the list of the items stolen at the balls and dances, it appeared to me that all of them could have been removed by the same method, other than the bracelet that was reported stolen by Miss Katherine Raeburn. That was an anomaly, Lestrade, a glaring exception, that should have alerted you immediately.”
“Never mind that,” replied the Inspector gruffly. “Why did she report a theft that never took place? And where is Miss Katherine Raeburn?”
“As to your first, Inspector, it was dust thrown in our eyes. It blinded you successfully, Lestrade, and it nearly blinded me. As to the second, I believe that Katherine Raeburn was murdered by the members of the Bradfield Push – ‘Push’ is an Australian colloquialism meaning ‘Gang’ – and Sudthorpe took her place. Her hands are not those of a lady – I am unsurprised that she habitually wears gloves, but I noticed the redness and roughness when she removed the gloves to partake of the refreshments. Your table manners, Miss Sudthorpe, if I may venture a personal remark, are also hardly those of a lady.”
“That’s a lie about the murder!” cried the woman. “Thief I may be, but murderer never. I was maid to Miss Raeburn, working as an indentured servant. She was a good mistress to me, but on our journey from Australia to England she suddenly took sick and died of a fever in Cape Town, where we had only just arrived and we were completely unknown. She had told me that no-one in England knew what she looked like, so it was easy for me to take her body, dress it in the clothes I wore as her servant, and lay it in my bed. She took my place, as it were, and I took hers, dressed in her clothes, and copying her voice and her ways, and took my opportunity to lead a good life here in England. She had a decent burial in Cape Town, in case you’re wondering. Her gravestone has Rebecca Sudthorpe on it, and I paid for it all with her money. The ship for England sailed the week after she died, and none on board knew me from Adam’s wife Eve, except Jem here, who by pure chance happened to be on the same boat.”
“Ah yes,” replied Holmes. “Jeremy Atwood, the leader of the Bradfield Push, as I discovered from the records in the Colonial Office earlier today. How did you come to know Rebecca Sudthorpe?”
It was the woman who answered. “My father was under Jem in the Push, and Jem had been close to our family. I swear to you that I was going to lead a good life here, and then go back to Australia, but Jem came up with this idea that you have discovered. He was to dispose of the jewels I stole at these dances and we would split the proceeds.”
Holmes nodded. “I knew that there had to be some way of disposing of the loot. No pawnbroker or jeweller had ever reported any items being offered to them – I must congratulate you, Lestrade, on your thoroughness and tenacity in verifying this – and it was obvious that the jewellery was being passed to a confederate at the very events where it was being purloined. There was too great a risk of discovery if Sudthorpe were to retain them on her person, let alone in Upper Grosvenor Street. Either the goods were being held by a third party, or, as I judged more likely, they were being sold abroad.”
“Amsterdam, I believe,” I added.
“Indeed?” asked Holmes. Atwood nodded sullenly in confirmation. “Amsterdam, then. Given the diamond trade there, I should not be surprised, I suppose. So Atwood, in his intervals of serving at the gatherings to which the supposed Miss Raeburn was invited, slipped across the Channel and raised the cash by selling the loot passed to him. And with the Glebe Push arriving in London in a month or two, it was obvious that they would have to work fast before the competition, as it were, arrived on the scene. For now, I would be interested to see what is concealed on their persons in the form of tonight’s takings.”
“I have a woman here who will search Sudthorpe if a room can be provided,” announced Lestrade. “Atwood will be searched by the constables.”
The two were led away by the police officers, and Lestrade turned to Holmes. “Well, Mr Holmes, maybe there is something to these methods of yours, though I dare say I should have reached the same conclusion in the end.”
“I dare say,” commented Holmes absently.
“All this excitement has made me quite hungry,” complained my little companion. “Doctor Watson, may I presume on your kindness,” she smiled up at me, “and request that you take me to supper at a restaurant somewhere?”
“I will be more than delighted to do so,” I replied, taking her arm. “I am sure that Mr Holmes and Inspector Lestrade have many points of the case that they wish to discuss.”
I was informed later by Holmes that the search had revealed three pendant brooches, valued together at over ten thousand guineas, as well as the stout pair of scissors used by Sudthorpe to acquire the items. The other stolen items, apart from one that had been abstracted on the previous night, were never recovered, and my little Irish lass had to be resigned to the loss of her locket.
“The moral of the story is, Watson,” Holmes remarked to me with more than a touch of cynicism, “that one should never trust the fair sex.”
I objected to his misogyny at the time, but had cause to remember his words a few weeks later, when Miss Eileen O’Rafferty announced her engagement to Captain Lucan of the Connaught Rangers.
If you enjoyed this story, you should look for more adventures of Sherlock Holmes discovered in the deed box of John H. Watson MD, which shed new light on the character and times of the famous sleuth and his faithful friend and chronicler.
These stories are recounted in Tales from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD, where The Odessa Business, The Case of the Missing Matchbox and The Case of the Cormorant are set forth, and More from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD, containing The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness, The Mystery of the Paradol Chamber, and The Giant Rat of Sumatra.
Coming soon is a third volume of these stories: Secrets from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD.
All of these transcribed from the original manuscripts by Hugh Ashton, and published by Inknbeans Press in paperback and ebook formats, available from purveyors of fine literature around the globe.