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Chameleon - The Death of Sherlock Holmes

By Annette Siketa, and based on the original characters and writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright 2017 by Annette Siketa.

No part of this book may be reproduced or manipulated in any manner whatsoever, without the express permission of the author.

Distributed by Smashwords.


Author’s Preface

Legal Notice

Forward by Doctor John Watson.

Part One

Chapter One. 27th December. The Letter.

Chapter Two. 28th December. Behind The Scenes. Lestrade’s Discovery.

Chapter Three. 29th December. Narrative. Forsythe Hall.

Chapter Four. 14th February. Behind The Scenes. The Robberies.

Chapter Five. 18th February. Narrative. An Intimate Chat.

Chapter Six. 5th March (Part I). Narrative. Ferris Buckley.

Chapter Seven. 5th March (Part II). Behind The Scenes. Capture of Charles Lidell.

Chapter Eight. 5th March (Part III). Narrative. Prisoner & Witness.

Chapter Nine. 30th April. Behind The Scenes. A Pair of Green Eyes.

Chapter Ten. 3rd May. Narrative. A Piece of Paper.

Chapter Eleven. 7th May. Behind the Scenes. Under Lock and Key.

Chapter Twelve. 8th May. Narrative. The Inquest.

Chapter Thirteen. 15th June. Behind The Scenes. The Tryst.

Chapter Fourteen. 19th June. Behind The Scenes. King’s Cross Station.

Chapter Fifteen. 20th June. Narrative. A Busy Day.

Chapter Sixteen. 23rd June (Part I). Narrative. The solicitor.

Chapter Seventeen. 23rd June (Part II). Narrative. The Interrogation.

Chapter Eighteen. 26th June. Narrative. Disaster.

Part Two

Chapter One. 2nd August. Behind the Scenes. David Prescott.

Chapter Two. 4th August. Narrative. Belleview Gardens.

Chapter Three. 5th August, (Part I). Narrative. An Unexpected Complication.

Chapter Four. 5th August, (Part II). Behind The Scenes. Mrs Driscoll.

Chapter Five. 5th August, (Part III). Narrative. Fandor’s Nocturnal Adventure.

Chapter Six. 22nd August. Behind The Scenes. The Ball.

Chapter Seven. 24th August. Narrative. Fingerprints.

Chapter Eight. 24th August. Behind The Scenes. Gassed.

Chapter Nine. 25th August (Part I). Narrative. Almost Dead.

Chapter Ten. 25th August (Part II). Narrative. Discussions.

Chapter Eleven. 25th August (Part III. Narrative. Another Daring Robbery.

Chapter Twelve. 1-3rd September (Part I). Narrative. INVESTIGATIONS

Chapter Thirteen. 3rd September (Part II). Narrative. The Trunk.

Chapter Fourteen. 4th September. Behind the Scenes. Mr Smith.

Chapter Fifteen. 8th September. Narrative. The Mouse Trap.


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About Me

Author’s Preface

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never ‘killed off’ his famous Detective, and his one attempt to do so was met with public disfavour. In the anthology, ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’, the story, The Adventure of the Empty House’, begins with Holmes providing an account of his life & death struggle with Professor Moriarty on the precipice of the Reichenbach Falls. But why was he Holmes’s enemy? Though Doyle penned a smattering of teasers, he never provided a definitive answer for this antagonism.

There is a literary maxim that runs, ‘there’s nothing new in writing’, meaning that somebody, somewhere, at some time, has written it before. And yet, given the wealth of material featuring Sherlock Holmes, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has written a ‘death of’ story.

Doyle, like Agatha Christie many years later, formulated his plots from a series of set patterns. But unlike Christie - and much to his credit, Doyle rarely introduced a ‘convenient’ fact or element at the end of a story to bring about a successful, though not always satisfying, conclusion.

According to several websites, Holmes was born in 1858, and although Conan Doyle continued to publish until 1927, many Holmes stories were either undated, retrospective, or only gave a vague reference as to the year the story was set. It is therefore difficult to ascertain in terms of timeline, which was the ‘last’ Holmes story. I have therefore set this novel when Holmes is no longer in his prime, but not too old that he’s in his dotage.

It would have been near impossible and arguably ridiculous, to have written this book in the Victorian style, mainly because most authors of the era were fantasists. They painted the world how they preferred to see it and not how it really was. The following brief summation of the life of a servant will perhaps exemplify this point. It will also provide some social and psychological insight as to why ‘real’ people, and not the incredulous characters created by romantic authors, behaved as they did.

In his book, ‘The King in Love: Edward the Vii’s Mistresses’, respected author and historian, Theo Aronson, provides an uncompromising account of life in Victorian England. Indeed, it is compulsory reading for anyone interested in the period. Some of the data and quotations in the following are taken from Aronson’s book, for which I extend my gratitude and thanks.

Once upon a time there was a magical land where nobody had a care in the world. Nobody was allowed to go hungry, the Queen and her family were loved and respected, and servants worked tirelessly without complaint.

Regrettably, much of the nostalgia associated with the Victorian era, and unashamedly exploited by movies and television over the decades since, is like the above fairytale, complete bunkum. The notions of inconspicuous, long serving family retainers, flat-capped dothing outdoorsmen, and jolly apple-cheeked cooks, are myths to disguise the awful truth.

What slavery was to the Americas, servitude was to the British Empire. The symptoms and causes may have been different, but the disease was the same – inbred superiority.

The Victorian era had three distinct levels, the lower class, the middle or upper class, and the monarchy, and the gap between each was a seemingly unbridgeable void. By the end of the 19th century, over one and a half million people worked in London as domestic servants, thereby forming the largest single group of working class, with the majority being either illiterate or illegitimate, or both.

Domestic servants had few if any employment rights, were governed by inconsistent rules and regulations issued by intimidating mistresses, domineering upper-servants, rigid housekeepers, and tyrannical masters, and were often poorly and irregularly paid.

"Class distinctions permeated the whole social structure, and could be as rigid in the servant's hall and in the village as they were in the castle. Their distinctions were however, tempered by gracious manners, and in general, a courteous consideration for others, alas so rare today, governed the relationship between all ranks of society." Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, C. 1881.

Like many other aspects of Victorian society, the concept of a family retainer dying in his kind mistresses arms after years of faithful service, is also pure fairytale. The average length of service in a household was eighteen months.

Even though the industrial revolution was touted as the great leap forward, no care was given to the swarm of humanity eager to capitalise on its benefit. Consequently, London and the provinces were bursting at the seams. Buildings that might have once housed a single family, now accommodated five or six or even seven, proliferating such slum suburbs as Holborn, St. Giles, and Whitechapel.

Despite the prophesised prosperity, the only people reaping the promised reward were unscrupulous landlords and their exorbitant rents. They thrived while their tenants starved to death. The same streets that were allegedly paved with gold, were also littered with shattered dreams and corpses. Anger and frustration festered like an open wound, and violence and unspeakable cruelty became an everyday occurrence.

Yet there was work to be had. To run their home, even a modest aristocratic family employed the bare minimum of servants - butler, cook, governess & nanny (if required), and two maids and a boy, the latter being a general dogs body. Typically, the butler and boy slept in the basement, the governess & nanny on the nursery floor, the cook and the maids in the attic, and all taking their meals in what was grandly titled 'The servants hall', which in actuality was nothing but a separate room in the kitchen.

By the standards of the day, this ratio of servants - 2 for each member of the family, was extremely conservative. 4 to 1 was more usual, with the ratio in wealthier families being 8 to 1. At Eaton Hall in Cheshire, the Duke of Westminster employed over 300 servants, while the Duke of Portland employed even more.

When the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), brought an especially large house party to stay with Lord Derby during Grand National week, and questioned the accommodation arrangements, his lordship was unflustered.

“That makes sixty extra servants,” he calculated. “And with the 37 who live in, nothing could be simpler.”

Not that one needed to be especially wealthy or well born to employ servants. A bank manager or a doctor might have three – cook, parlourmaid, and kitchen maid. Even the humblest tradesman could afford a skivvy. The wages for a 13 year old were only a shilling a week. The average wage for a housemaid employed by a family whose annual income might exceed £30,000, was £20 a year.

It is little wonder then that the vast majority of aristocratic homes could afford an army of servants. It was not uncommon in stately homes to find the following staff: housekeeper, cook, lady's maid, nurse, housemaids, kitchen maids, scullery maids, laundry maids, maids of all work, butler, under butler, valets, footmen, pantry & lamp boys, odd-job men and kitchen porters. All these in addition to outdoor servants which included coachmen, grooms, stable lads, gardeners, and gamekeepers.

Many aristocrats compounded the toil of their servants by imposing ludicrous conditions. The 10th Duke of Beaufort would instantly dismiss any female servant he saw after midday, by which time her work was supposed to have been finished. The 3rd Lord Crewe was even more tyrannical, stipulating that no housemaids were to be visible at any time of the day.

“Masters and servants,” said Lady Cynthia Asquith, “knew their places, and kept too the like the planets to their orbits.”

The life of the average female servant was demeaning and wretched at best. They were poorly and often irregularly paid, had no job security or pension right, and lived under the threat of dismissal for a minor infraction without a reference. The ultimate degradation was seduction by a master or his son, and then thrown out if found pregnant.

The term 'job satisfaction' was still over 100 years away. According to a former butler of a landed estate, the scullery maids were, “Poor little devils, washing-up and scrubbing away at the dozens of pots, pans, saucepans, and platters, up to their elbows in suds and grease, their hands red raw with soda, which was the only form of detergent in those days. I have seen them crying with exhaustion and pain, the degradation too I shouldn’t wonder. Well lets hope they get their reward in heaven.”

There were exceptions of course. Servants, if they worked for a good-natured employer or in congenial company, could enjoy a comfortable life. But the widely accepted image of a securitous 'below stairs' existence, full of happy contented servants with unquestionable loyalty to their masters, is grossly exaggerated.

Given the almost unendurable hardship, many servants turned to prostitution. By the time of the Jack the Ripper murders in the 1880s, London alone boasted over 250,000 prostitutes, both men and women, and by 1898, most women preferred to work in shops or factories rather than a home.

Yet the impoverished and grinding existence of women was not the exclusive domain of the Victorian era. As Francoise Dubinet, former mistress to Louis XIV of France said in 1647, "Modesty should be the lot of women. Your sex obliges you to obedience. Suffer much before you complain about it." Clearly in both eras, female subjugation was deemed inviolable.

Like the American plantation owners, English society was built on three supposedly unassailable principals – power, money, and status. This so-called 'natural superiority' even encompassed the church. Pious yet no less hypocritical, the aristocracies observance of Sunday services and the supposed ‘day of rest’, did not extend to their servants - the maids and valets who dressed them, the cooks who prepared the huge meals, and the stable men, coachman, and grooms who provided the transport.

Moreover, there was a strict hierarchy inside the church, gentry to the front and lower classes to the back. Should anyone need reminding of their position in society, or lack of it, the following verse from the hymn 'All things bright and beautiful', left no room for doubt.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

God made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

And yet, suffering notwithstanding, the life of a servant was pretty uncomplicated compared to their 'betters'. Trapped by their own omnipotence, the lives of the aristocracy were constantly subjected to scrutiny. Interaction between polite society was basically limited to one outlet, entertaining, and even then it was fraught with social suicide. If the wrong 'type' of person were invited to a function, then a much sought after invitation may inexplicably go astray.

Persons who directly represented ‘queen & Country’, such as military officers, diplomats, and cabinet ministers, could attend luncheon or supper parties, but only if the latter were strictly informal. The reason for this limited access to the echelon was that these trained, and arguably highly skilled professions, were regarded as ‘lower class’. Consequently, they would not be invited to a formal function where high nobility or royalty were in attendance. The exception being if the person concerned was a member of the peerage themselves, Lord Kitchener or Queen Victoria's private secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby for example.

The clergy, along with maiden aunts, were generally restricted to Sunday afternoon tea, but even then only if of good character. Doctors, solicitors, accountants, or other learned professions, could be invited to a garden party but nothing more familiar. Those involved in trade or commerce or other common professions, such as policemen, were never invited to any function beyond their ‘class’. But, the ultimate betrayal of the 'social bible' was to claim an association with an artisan, no matter how slight.

"London has gone mad over the principal actress, Sarah Bernhardt, a woman of notorious character. Not content with being run off on the stage, this woman is asked to respectable people's houses, to act or even to luncheon and dinner, and all the world goes. It is an outrageous scandal." Lady Frederick Cavendish, 1879.

This view was reinforced in 1880 by Lady ‘Daisy’ Brooke, future Countess of Warwick and mistress to the Prince of Wales. "The majority of the people who made up society…disliked making the effort necessary to appreciate books, pictures, music or sculpture, and what they disliked they distrusted. We acknowledge that it was necessary that pictures should be painted, books written, the law administered, we even acknowledge that there was a certain class whose job it might be to do these things, but we did not see why their achievements entitled them to our recognition. They might disturb, over stimulate, or even bore."

Social relations were a fine balancing act, and repeated offences could result in ridicule and scorn, or the ultimate punishment, complete ostracisation.

This delicate etiquette aside, the zenith of the social mountain was the country house weekend. Popular hosts included the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, the Duke of Beaufort at Badmington, the Duke of Sutherland at Dunrobbin, the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall, and the Duke of Portland at Wellbeck.

At least 20-40 guests were invited, and with the exception of the private quarters, the entire house was accessible. The meals were gargantuan. Breakfast usually consisted of fried, poached, or scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, kedgeree, and cold ham. Lunch was often a picnic which might include various types of game pie, and afternoon tea included scones, tarts, cakes, sandwiches, muffins, and crumpets, and all freshly baked by an army of cooks. Dinner was usually comprised of 10 courses, each with its own wine, and should hunger persist, there was always a supper of cold chicken or lobster available.

Though the house party might be designated as ‘informal’, a strict code of dress was usually observed. Men would be required to change clothes three times a day - tweeds for daily activity, white tie and tails for evening, and velvet smoking jackets for nighttime 'pursuits'. This code was even more rigid for women. For breakfast, a plain morning gown would suffice, for a picnic lunch it was tweeds, or if the lunch was indoors, something a little more formal was acceptable. Afternoon tea permitted the gowns to be slightly ostentatious, after which, the ladies retired to rest and dress for dinner. And they needed the time, for it was during dinner when they could finally parade their femininity. Evening gowns were sumptuous creations. Necklines plummeted, waistlines were ‘thinned’, and jewellery enhanced the extremities, and all accentuated by an ostrich plumed fan.

But, if adherence to social etiquette was a minefield, then sex was a never ending battle. It was a quirk of social engineering that the higher one climbed, the less inhibited one became. The attitudes to morality and fidelity were so diametrically opposed, that it was the gentry and not their servants who were disloyal and unfaithful. The sexual experience of many unmarried society women was virtually non-existent, propriety dictating that they should be ‘unspoilt’ on their wedding night. To be accused otherwise could lead to brandishment and social disgrace. A little coquettish flirting was permitted, but anything more forward was considered brazen.

Not surprisingly, the opposite was acceptable and even expected for men. Experience was primarily garnered from chorus girls, shop assistants, prostitutes, and servants, whether consent was mutual or not. The number of illegitimate children produced under this circumstance is incalculable, with very few acknowledged let alone accepted.

Given the harsh reality of the 19th century, perhaps it is not surprising that poets and authors tried to be more ‘up beat’. Unfortunately, by modern standards, most of this literature is virtually unreadable. Convoluted dialogue, irrelevant repetitiveness, and superfluous descriptions, were the requisite format, so that many writers had little opportunity to express their individual style.

There were exceptions of course, otherwise names such as Poe, Dickens, and Wilde, would have faded into obscurity. But even these works in their original format make for hard if not incomprehensible reading.

Fortunately, Conan Doyle did not always adhere to this ‘template’, and as this book contains a considerable amount of his original narratives and dialogues, it allowed for greater freedom of construction. But this is not to suggest that the compilation was easy. Far from it. It was, to put it mildly, a heck of a ‘cut & paste job’, though it should be noted that, in order to conform to modern standards, some of the original writing has been edited.

Further, to ignore progress and advances in technology would have been foolhardy. However, for the purists, I have retained as much of the ambience of the late Victorian era as possible. Indeed, the horse & carriage was still in use until the late 1920’s, though sadly, its days were severely numbered.

Annette Siketa, Adelaide, 21st June, 2017

Legal Notice

We, Messers Upton, Johnson, and Peak, in accordance with the last Will & Testament of the late Doctor John Watson, do hereby release this manuscript for public consumption. We understand it to be a faithful account of the death of Mr Sherlock Holmes, commonly associated with 221b Baker Street, London. We accept no liability for any misrepresentation of character or fact, implied or otherwise.

Forward by Doctor John Watson.

As regular readers of my chronicles will know, my great friend, Sherlock Holmes, was responsible for the unmasking of numerous criminals and murderers, many of whom received their just dessert at the end of a hangman’s rope. What is not commonly known however, are the precise details of his own death. Indeed, considering the number of persons involved, it is surprising that the circumstances have continued to remain obscure.

Such was my grief at the loss of my friend, that I lost all inclination to chronicle his last cases. However, it would not serve justice nor his memory to maintain my silence. I have therefore decided, though not without trepidation, to commit the facts concerning his death to paper.

When a major event occurs in one’s life, especially an event involving strong emotion, at what point can you declare, ‘yes, that was the start of it’. Take a penniless widow with three young children for example. Cold and hungry, she is hurrying down a street when a gust of wind blows a crumpled £5 note into her path. The money literally saves her life and those of her children, one of whom will grow-up to be a famous artist. What circumstances conspired to bring the woman to that particular place and time? This was the dilemma confronting me when I decided to record the demise of arguably the greatest analytical mind of the age, that of Sherlock Holmes.

The more mature reader will recall the days when the motorcar and the telephone belonged to the realm of science fiction. Nowadays, they have been incorporated into society to such an extent, that the days of the horse & carriage and it’s all-knowing driver, and an army of messenger boys’ scurrying hither and thither through alleys and streets, seem antiquated by comparison.

Then there are the advances in medicine, education, and forensics, though for me personally, the latter is somewhat bittersweet. How well I recall Holmes crawling across a floor with a magnifying glass in his hand. Nowadays, it only takes a single press of a button and a camera records a crime scene or fingerprint.

Yet even with these advances, the capacity to leap beyond logic, to put in order that which seems chaotic, still remains the purview of the human brain, and it was for this that Sherlock Holmes was renowned. A master of deductive reasoning, he could usually see what others could not, revealing what might be termed ‘the blatantly obvious’ to the astonishment of those concerned.

This is not to suggest that he went unchallenged. Indeed, many criminals from all classes had tried to outwit him, and Holmes was usually victorious. But, when young Ferris Buckley entered his life, not even Holmes, with his uncanny power of perception, could have foreseen that he would soon encounter, not only his equal in intellect, but his greatest enemy.

Part One

Chapter One. 27th December. The Letter.

Dear Mr Holmes,

No doubt you are aware from the reports in the newspapers, of the deplorable murder of my grandmother, Lady Halifax, and that her alleged murderer, Charles Lidell, is now a fugitive from justice.

Sir, I beg you not to believe a word that has been printed about him, for I have the upmost conviction that he is innocent, and in this regard, seek your help to clear his name. No doubt you will want to be acquainted with the facts, and whilst there are some particulars to which I was not party, my own recollections of the past few days are so vivid that I can recall them with total accuracy.

My parents were keen botanists, who died of disease in the tropics some five years ago. I was left an orphan, and my grandmother, Lady Halifax, took charge of my care and education. She was very sweet and kind to me, and such was her regard and reputation for benevolence, that she was received in the highest social circles.

Indeed, it was her kindness that prompted her to invite poor Lady Maddox to spend Christmas with us at Forsythe Hall. Lady Maddox’s husband, as I am sure you must also know from the newspapers, disappeared some three weeks ago.

On the evening of the 23rd December, my grandmother held a small supper party at the Hall. With the whereabouts of Lord Maddox still undiscovered, perhaps you might think it indelicate of my grandmother to hold such an intimate and usually joyous occasion. I can assure you the only motive was to shed a little light into the darkness in which Lady Maddox had been plunged.

The guests were as follows: Lady Pamela Halifax, Lady Rita Maddox, Baroness Phillipa de Forneaux (friend of all and known affectionately as ‘Philly’), Mr Justice Cedric Hargreaves (recently retired), the Reverend William Hope (friend of Lady Maddox), Mr Rigby Creswick (co-director of the Trafalgar Bank), Charles Lidell, and myself, Ferris Buckley.

I ask you to picture the scene. The dinner, which included the taking of photographs for amusement, was over, and we had returned to the drawing room for after-dinner drinks. The fire was crackling, the room was warm, and conviviality abounded. My grandmother, who rarely stood on ceremony when at home, invited the men to smoke, and Dolan – our wonderful butler, poured the drinks. I was even allowed a small sherry, even though I am barely sixteen years of age.

Mr Creswick is perhaps a little austere, and this was his third visit to the Hall in recent weeks. Mr Justice Hargreaves, despite the severity of his former profession, is a jolly old soul who entertained us with reminiscences of his time on the bench. Reverend Hope is what I would term ‘a loveable rogue’. I had not met him before, but there was no doubting his devotion to his vocation, his patroness – Lady Maddox, and his stomach.

The Baroness de Forneaux, I think, needs little introduction, for her patronage of the arts is well known. Indeed, she has a particular interest in Jack Dolan, (son of our butler), who is fast garnering a reputation for his hand-painted pottery. Mr Dolan Snr also has a daughter, Elizabeth. She is two years my senior and lives with her brother in London. Neither were at the Hall on the fateful night.

And now for Charles Lidell. If the surname is familiar to you, perhaps it is because he is the son of Ernst Lidell, the famous anthropologist. This gentleman is a long-time friend of Lady Halifax, and although he spends much of his time on one continent or another, their exchange of correspondence was quite frequent.

Charles spent much of his youth in boarding schools, and as a consequence, rarely saw his father. I think he rather resented his absent parent, for whenever the two were staying at the Hall, rather than a filial bond, there was always a degree of tension between them.

I should explain my use of the singular. Mrs Lidell is highly-strung and rather frivolous, and like her husband, was an absentee parent, residing much of the time in Paris or some other European city. Unfortunately, about a year ago, she was committed to an asylum in Glasgow, and from what I understand, is unlikely to ever be released.

Charles had recently returned from a protracted tour of the Continent, and Lady Halifax declared that she would not allow him to be alone during the holidays. She therefore invited him to spend Christmas with us, telling him upon his arrival that he could stay at the Hall as long as he wished.

I always admired Charles, and would often think about him, alone and parentless at boarding school. I wrote to him quite often, and always tried to make his visits to the Hall as pleasant as possible. I suppose I had a young girl’s crush, but then, were not my feelings towards him warranted?

I will now return to the sequence of events. It was about eleven o’clock when Mr Hargraves, Mr Creswick, and Reverend Hope, departed with the Baroness in her big yellow motorcar. I think the Reverend was a little intimidated by the mechanical monster, but as it was bitterly cold and snowing hard, he did not demure from accepting a ride. The remainder of us went to bed immediately after their departure.

The following morning being Christmas Eve, dawned with all the excitement one might expect. But sadly it was not to be. Annie, the housemaid, awakened me about seven o’clock saying that there had been an accident. One look at her pale face was enough to tell me that it was serious, and my first thought was that something had happened to the car and its occupants. But, the poor girl was in such a state that when I put the question to her, it was all she could do to shake her head and point to my door.

I dressed quickly and went into the corridor, and the first person I saw was Dolan. He was standing outside my grandmother’s room, and like Annie, his face was as pale as death. “No, no, Miss, you mustn’t come near,” he insisted, but I was determined.

Oh, Mr Holmes, what a terrible sight. My grandmother was in bed and lying in a pool of blood. As we now know, her throat had been cut. Naturally the authorities were summoned immediately, and shortly thereafter, Lady Maddox observed that Charles was absent.

Thinking he had gone for an early morning gallop, I went to the stables but no horses were missing. Then, when I returned to the house, Dolan informed me that upon checking Charles’s room, he, Dolan, had found a blood soaked towel in the bathroom, and that there was evidence of blood on the bed, the bedside table, and on the wardrobe. There was even a smear on the handle of the door.

An intensive search was then undertaken but Charles was not to be found. Mr Holmes, I KNOW in my heart he is innocent. Perhaps he saw the murderer, perhaps he even witnessed the deed, but in either event, something happened to frighten him away from the Hall. It would be remiss of me not to mention at this point, that he was terribly concerned he had inherited his mother’s insanity. Even so, he was very fond of Lady Halifax, and would never have done anything to harm or disgrace her.

I will be remaining at the Hall until the 30th December, and thereafter at the Baroness’s home in Birch Grove, telephone Kensington 2121. Unfortunately, the Hall does not have the telephone connected, though my late grandmother was seriously considering having the instrument installed. In consequence of this inconvenience, I would be glad to receive you at the Hall without announcement.

If you can do anything to help, then I beg you to do so as soon as possible.

Yours most sincerely,

Ferris Buckley.

Chapter Two. 28th December. Behind The Scenes. Lestrade’s Discovery.

The man raised his hat and asked politely, "Does Mr Michael Gurn live here?"

Mrs Potter, the landlady at 47 Hastings Court, scrutinised the tall, dark man with the handlebar moustache. His soft hat and tightly buttoned overcoat, the collar of which was turned up to his ears, hid most of his face.

“Yes,” she answered warily, "but Mr Gurn is away at present."

"I am aware of that. Nevertheless, I need to go up to his rooms. You may accompany me if you wish."

"Oh, are you from that company come to collect his luggage?"

“Yes, that’s right,” he responded coolly, for this was not how he had anticipated gaining access.

"You don’t look like a removal man,” she commented. She glanced through the window into the street. “Where’s your truck?”

"I am an assessor. I need to see the luggage to gauge how much room it will take-up on the ship."

"Oh, I see. Well in that case you’d better come with me." The landlady sighed and grumbled as they climbed the stairs to Flat 9 on the third floor. "It's a pity you didn't come earlier when I was doing my work, I shouldn't need to climb these stairs again. I'm not as young as I used to be."

The man murmured words of sympathy until they reached the third floor, whereupon the landlady produced a key and unlocked the door. A small hallway led to a neatly furnished lounge, in which two large trunks dominated. An open door on the left revealed the bedroom, and to the right, an archway led to a compact kitchen, which was partly obscured by a heavy velvet curtain.

"I must air the place before Mr Gurn returns," said Mrs Potter, opening a window.

“Do you expect him soon?”

Mrs Potter shrugged. “He comes and he goes. I think he’s a commercial traveller."

"So, he does not live here regularly?" asked the man, his eyes taking in every detail as he spoke.

"Oh, no, sir. Mr Gurn is often away for a month or six weeks at a time. He always pays his rent in advance."

"And Mrs Gurn?"

"Mr Gurn is not married."

"Just the occasional friend, eh?" said the man, winking meaningfully.

Mrs Potter was indignant at the implication. “Now, you listen ‘ere, I run a respectable house. Mr Gurn only has one lady friend, a real society lady to judge from her clothes, always smartly dressed and wears a hat with a veil."

Just then, a voice hollered from the ground floor, “Anyone ‘ome?”

Mrs Potter went out onto the landing and leaned over the banister. “Up ‘ere. What do you want?”

“We’re looking for a Mr Gurn." The man in the Flat gave a sudden start.

"Another one?” yelled the landlady in surprise. “Come up to the third floor. I am in his rooms now." She went back into the Flat. "Here's somebody else for Mr Gurn."

"Does he have many visitors?" the man enquired, his words slightly rushed.

"Hardly any. It’s strange that he should have two on the same day."

Two men, one in his early 40’s and the other much younger, and both wearing green uniforms, appeared at the door. "We’re from the South Seas Steamship Company, come to collect two trunks,” and taking no notice of the third man, he pointed to the items in question. “Are those them?”

Surprised to see that the men did not know each other, the landlady asked, "But aren't you three from the same company?"

"No,” said the elder employee. “We have nothing to do with this gentleman. Now, if you don’t mind, we have no time to waste."

The man in the hat spoke with authority. "Do not touch the trunks."

The landlady looked first at the man in the hat and then at the men in uniform, who were already showing signs of impatience. Now highly suspicious and knowing she was alone on the floor, Mrs Potter turned to flee.

The man in the hat seemed to expect such a move, for he took her arm and said gently, "Everything is above board." But the landlady ignored him. She opened her mouth and started screaming for the police.

Sighing in exasperation, the elder employee turned to his colleague and said, "Run down the street and fetch a policeman. Maybe then we can get on with the bleedin’ job."

Several tense minutes passed in which not a word was spoken. And then heavy footsteps were heard on the stairs and a policeman appeared in the doorway. "Now then,” he said brusquely, “what's all this about?"

The man in the hat withdrew an item from his pocket. “Inspector Lestrade, Scotland Yard," he announced, and flashed his warrant card.

The policeman, who was clearly unprepared for the revelation, saluted a little nervously. "I beg your pardon, Inspector. I didn’t know the Yard were in the area."

Lestrade did not waste time on explanations. “Your name?” he asked.

“Entwhistle, sir. Who would you like me to arrest?”

The landlady now broke in, impressed by the hitherto stranger’s credentials. "If you had told me who you were, Inspector, I would not have made such a fuss."

Inspector Lestrade smiled. "If I had told you when you were screaming for help, you would not have believed me." He turned to the two workmen, who now looked thoroughly baffled. "As for you, I must ask you to return to your office at once and tell your manager…what is his name?"

"Mr Bradshaw," supplied the younger employee, speaking for the first time.

"Tell Mr Bradshaw that I want to see him here at once. He is to bring any papers relating to Mr Gurn. And gentlemen, not a word to anyone."

The two men hurried away. Lestrade kept the landlady with him, partly to extract information, and partly to prevent her from gossiping. He indicated that she should take a seat, and as he began a systematic search of the Flat, asked her to describe Mr Gurn.

"Fair-haired, medium height, clean shaven. There is nothing distinguishing about him."

“I see. Entwhistle, go into the kitchen. These trunks are locked. See if you can find something to break them open."

The Constable returned with several objects, including a small screwdriver. Lestrade nodded in approval. “Right, lad, get to work on those locks." He turned to Mrs Potter and asked, "The lady friend you mentioned, do you know her name?”

“No, sir. I don’t think I ever heard her speak either.”

“And when was the last time Mr Gurn saw his lady friend?"

"About three weeks ago. He saw her fairly often. Sometimes they were together until six or seven o'clock at night, and once or twice she didn’t leave until after nine o’clock."

"Did they ever leave together?"

"Not that I can remember."

"Did the lady ever stay the night?"


“Are you alright?” asked Lestrade as Entwhistle suddenly muttered an oath.

“The screwdriver slipped and cut my finger."

Mrs Potter jumped to her feet and made for the door. “I’ll go downstairs and get…” But Lestrade stopped her in her tracks. He had recognised the eagerness in her gimlet-like eyes and knew that she was itching to gossip.

“Look in the kitchen instead,” he ordered her. It was then that he noticed the coat hanging on the back of the front door.

Lestrade inspected the garment thoroughly. It was brown and made of a lightweight material, more suited to summer than winter, and although the pockets were empty, he did find one oddity. The inside label bore the legend, ‘Withers & Smith – Pretoria’.

Meanwhile, Entwhistle, his finger now wrapped in a strip of clean cloth, had opened the first trunk. "Full of clothes,” he announced after a quick search.

“Labels?” prompted Lestrade.

Entwhistle began to rummage. “That’s odd,” he said after a moment or two. “All the labels have been removed."

“Boots? Shoes? Slippers?”

Entwhistle rummaged in the trunk again. “None, just clothes."

Standing with the coat draped over his arm, Lestrade said thoughtfully, “Now, why would a man pack a trunk and not include footwear?”

“Should I open the other one?” said Entwhistle, not knowing whether the Inspector was asking a question or speaking rhetorically.


Entwhistle forced the lock and then gasped in horror. Lestrade reacted instinctively. He dropped the coat and fell to his knees beside the trunk. A terrible spectacle met his eyes – the body of a dead man.

Mrs Potter leaned forward in her chair, and seeing the grizzly contents of the trunk, fell back half fainting. However, curiosity soon roused her senses, and she caught glimpses of the corpse as the movements of Lestrade and Entwhistle exposed it to view.

There was nothing especially repellent about the body. The man was aged about fifty-five, with a ruddy complexion and a lofty brow, the latter heightened by premature baldness. His face was adorned with a long and now drooping moustache, and his clothes were fashionable and well fitted. He was doubled over, with knees bent and head forced forward by the weight of the lid. There was no apparent cause of death, and what little of his expression could be seen bespoke of mild surprise.

Lestrade turned to the landlady. "Has anyone been here in the last three weeks? Think very carefully."

"No, nobody. I would swear to it."

Entwhistle, who was much brighter than he looked, understood the implication at once. "No smell. The window’s open, so perhaps the cold weather is responsible."

Lestrade shook his head. "She opened it just before…hello, what’s this?” He had pulled down the dead man’s collar, revealing a dull yellow stain at the base of the throat.

With the least disturbance possible, Lestrade carefully searched the body, finding the watch in its proper place. Another pocket was full of small change, but the one object he was desperate to find - the man’s pocketbook, which doubtless contained a means of identification, was not there.

He swore under his breath and then said to the landlady, "Did Mr Gurn have a car?"

"Not that I know of. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no particular reason, " said Lestrade indifferently. Entwhistle frowned but said nothing. Instinct had told him that the Inspector was on to something.

"Who last cleaned in here?"

"I did, but as Mr Gurn was seldom here, I didn't do the place very often. The last time I did it was about a month ago."

"So, Mr Gurn went away a week after you last cleaned up?"


"Mrs Potter, I know this is distasteful, but please look at the man in the trunk and tell me if you recognise him."

She looked at the victim steadily for a moment. "I have never seen him before."

"Are you sure? You never saw him enter this house?"

"No. As I said before, people seldom enquired for Mr Gurn. The dead man must have come up by himself."

Lestrade could not think of a further reason to detain her. He did consider warning her against gossiping, but knew it would be pointless. Women like Mrs Potter would never be silent. He had just dismissed her when there was a knock on the door and a man entered. He was in his late 40’s, short and stout and with a well cultivated paunch.

“Inspector Lestrade? I am Mr Bradshaw, Manager of the South Seas Steamship Company. I believe you…Oh my God!” He had just seen the contents of the trunk.

”If you would just answer a few questions, sir,” said Lestrade in his official voice, “you can dispense with this unpleasantness quickly."

Mr Bradshaw mopped his forehead. “Of course, of course. What would you like to know?”

“When did you receive instructions regarding the trunks?”

Collecting his wits, Mr Bradshaw produced a document. "On the 14th of December. Lord Maddox, who has been a client of ours for several years, sent us a letter instructing us to collect two locked trunks from this address. He appended that the landlady had orders to let us take them away."

"To what address?"

"To our receivers in Johannesburg. The trunks were then to be collected."

“Was the order paid in advance?”

“No. We were to send two invoices with the goods, which is standard practise, and a third invoice to Box 63, Charing Cross Post Office."

Lestrade made a note of the address. "In what name?"

Mr Bradshaw seemed rather surprised at the question. "Why, Lord Maddox of course."

“Do you still have his letter?”


Bradshaw produced it and Lestrade read it carefully before handing it back. "Lord Maddox’s disappearance was widely reported in the newspapers. Were you not surprised to receive his letter?"

Mr Bradshaw’s response was haughty and defensive. "I am a businessman, sir, not a Detective. Lord Maddox was a valued client. I simply followed his instructions."

"And you were satisfied that the order was sent by Lord Maddox himself?"

"Absolutely. His last order was identical in form and terms to previous letters. You are at liberty to come to my office and compare this letter with others, but I assure you, there is no cause for suspicion."

Lestrade inclined his head. “I bow to your expertise. Could you describe his lordship?”

"No. He always sent us his orders by letter, and once or twice he has spoken to me on the telephone, but he has never been to our office."

"Thank you. That will be all for now."

Mr Bradshaw promptly departed, and Entwhistle, who had hitherto remained silent, now spoke up. “I wouldn’t send my cat as far as Portsmouth with him."

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