Posted on 2015-05-22
Sherlock Holmes, with no particular cases requiring immediate attention, put down his newly bought copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and thoughtfully filled his pipe with tobacco. He looked across at Doctor Watson, who was idly perusing a newspaper in an armchair by the fire.
"Watson, have you ever read this Pride and Prejudice book? he asked, pausing to light his pipe, and Watson looked up and glanced across at him.
"Hmm, can't say I have Holmes. What about it?"
"Damned unusual story. It intrigues me in what it doesn't say as much as what it does. Lend me an ear for a while and I'll explain. Holmes picked up the book and turned a few pages:
"Speaking broadly from what I've learned and not worrying too much about horology yet, at the time of Jane Austen's writing of her fictional tale of manners, Pride and Prejudice, the title was to initially have been First Impressions, incidentally, Fitzwilliam Darcy is a twenty - seven year old, very rich young man who resides in a grand estate called Pemberley, in Derbyshire, here in England, and appears to also own a house in the fashionable area of London. He is unmarried and his parents are both deceased; his father, five years previously so to the time of the story. The elder Darcy appeared very wealthy but untitled and Fitzwilliam Darcy's mother was a certain Lady Anne. We will later find that Darcy has a sister of sixteen years, Georgiana, who resides away from home, currently in parts southern, but that is for later. Our Mr Darcy also has a rich aunt, his mother's sister, who lives in, or near to, Westerham in Kent, in a palatial estate called Rosings Park. "
Holmes peered across at Watson who had put down his newspaper. Satisfied that he had his friends attention he continued:
"Now, this Darcy chap has friends in a Charles Bingley and, through him, his two sisters, and the husband of the elder one, a Mr Hurst, a man of little consequence in the tale except that he likes to play cards and is a specialist in eating breakfasts and not doing much else. Darcy, the two Bingley sisters and Mr Hurst all appear to hold themselves in high self-esteem, based on wealth and social position. Darcy firmly believes, based on his upbringing, that he is a truly superior being, and above almost all of those around him. Later, we will also learn that this belief, rather than a developed character fault, has been ingrained in him almost since he was old enough to walk and talk. In the tale he seems so aloof from everyone as to appear never to associate with lady friends in a romantic way, or, Bingley apart, many male friends either. How very odd at twenty seven, Watson? Has he led a very sheltered life or are there some untold of skeletons in his cupboard? Is he a man of mystery? In his somewhat very closeted-seeming worldly exile, presumably mainly self imposed, he appears as unrestrained, master of all he surveys and answerable to no one. His pride in his and his family's achievements, wealth and social superiority allow him to believe himself in an upper class almost akin to royalty . He must talk to people sometimes, I suppose, but his chat circle appears very select indeed. Possibly, he sometimes takes a stroll around the portraits of his ancestors in the august corridors of Pemberley and shouts abuse at them to relieve his feelings. They obviously can't answer back, although rumour has it one once did. Gave him quite a turn until he realised he was looking at a mirror"
Holmes raised a smile as Watson barked a laugh at the fictitious witticism. Holmes took a long pull on his pipe and blew the smoke upwards. He tapped the book in front of him:
"As the story unfolds, we know little of Darcy at all, previous to his attending a country dance assembly in Meryton, a small village cum market town, some three miles from an estate called Netherfield Park, just recently leased by his friend Bingley, another wealthy young man from the north of England, who invited him there. We will also, later, find out that Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, a widow of the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh, resides in an equally grand estate in Kent and is very rich and also shares the same airs of hauteur as her nephew. We may wonder at the start, Watson, why both he and she are rattling around in huge houses like a pair of peas in a barrel, but maybe that's none of our business, I suppose? These things happen, apparently. Both his and her homes are large enough to hold society balls, in we presume. This Lady Catherine woman has a sickly daughter who is almost a recluse, seemingly rarely venturing beyond the grounds of Rosings Park where she indulges in a daily gallop around the herbaceous borders in her pony and trap, or "phaeton", to be strictly correct. We don't and won't know the name of her pony, but "Unicorn" sounds feasible in a fictional tale, ha ha! Darcy's aunt, we also later find, is under the somewhat misguided impression that he is engaged to her daughter, although that particular rumour appears not to have surfaced on the Meryton information network at the onset of the story. Now for some observations from points I jotted down because they intrigue me. Take note Watson and see how they strike you!"
Holmes put down his pipe and picked up a list he had put together in his journal. He read a few lines to himself then nodded.
"The first impressions the Meryton locals get of Fitzwilliam Darcy via our narrator, are those of a tall, handsome young man of fashion who, within minutes of his arrival ignites a rumour amongst them that he is immensely rich and his estate yields some ten thousand pounds per year, quite a staggering sum at the time. Now remember, neither the Bingleys or Darcy had ever visited Meryton before the story opens. They were strangers and... What?"
He frowned enquiringly across at Watson who was holding up a finger.
"What time, Holmes? You say, "at that time. .Where are we historically?"
"Ah, yes, sorry about that. The year is around the end of the Napoleonic wars, so eighteen fifteen or so? Anyway, to continue: Even more staggering is, where did that personal information about his wealth get to the locals from? A man never before seen or even heard of in the area, Watson? There must have been an early version of the British Intelligence Service , militia division, of course, in operation at that time with an operative disguised as a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker spying from the wings. No one even knew Darcy was coming to the Assembly till he actually arrived there, yet somehow the village network had all the relevant details of his status. How could that be Watson?
"Why Militia Holmes?" interrupted Watson with a puzzled frown .
" Because that's what the story tells us Watson. Meryton is hardly London or any of the main coastal seaports, and militia are mainly reservists who watch things on the home front and keep the peace locally in rural areas. This tale, as you will see, needs a few regimental types strutting about in their finery, but they're all militia, not regular army. We'll come to that later. Now then, the locals. Very odd in that the rumour also surfaced that twelve ladies and seven gentlemen were supposedly arriving; a number that resolved into Bingley, two sisters one with husband and Mr Mysterious himself. From a supposed nineteen people down to five? We'll just have to allow for local exaggeration and servant gossip for that, I suppose, but it is rather odd. Darcy had only arrived that day or so from London. This news even overwhelms the fact that his friend, Charles Bingley, also being a very rich man of some five thousand pounds per year, was the catch of the season till he arrived. This Darcy chap seems so reclusive that he would hardly discuss his affairs with anyone, least of all people he had never met. Just how much wealth new visitors have seems a very relevant, indeed a total priority factor in how interesting they are: Jane Austen's introductory statement to the story, listen to this Watson, is: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife", although somewhat humorous, and undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek, from the author, actually indicates clearly what we are to expect from Pride and Prejudice as a theme, that is, that both gentlemen are immediate prime targets in the marriage market, before a highly polished riding boot or gleaming dancing shoe has even alighted on the Meryton mud. Seems hardly safe for young men to leave their homes anywhere near the hot-bed of romance and gossip that is Meryton, if they fit the "universal" truth criteria."
Holmes allowed himself a smile and broke off as a tap on the door announced Mr Hudson with afternoon tea. This was duly poured and the lady exited the room. He picked up his pipe and lit it again before resuming his conversation:
"Initially, local interest now focuses on a seemingly socially reluctant Darcy, who, whilst his friend Bingley mixes freely with his new neighbours and happily shows his dancing techniques, pleasant manners and favours amongst the young ladies, adopts a reserved and somewhat uninterested attitude to the assembly folk in general. Appearing to be a retiring person almost to the status of a Trappist Monk, he stays with his close company, dances just a couple of sets with the Bingley sisters -which must have been a lot of fun given his general demeanour - and keeps very much to himself, showing little or no interest in any of the locals and not encouraging conversation or introduction. Without formal introduction, behavioural guidelines of the time state no contact can feasibly be made without offending codes of social conduct. Not dancing when young ladies are without a partner is tantamount to excommunication from Mrs Bennets twenty-four-family circle, Christmas card list. Ah, but I should perhaps mention here that the Bennet family, a central core of the tale, comprise of a father, mother and five female daughters. The mother, as tradition dictates amongst the upper middle-class families of the time, is very determined to marry off her daughters at any and every opportunity. We shall know more of them later, but meanwhile, staying with Mr Darcy: When Bingley presses him to dance, and even suggests a partner for him- declaring her very pretty and offering to do the introducing - Darcy states the young lady, in question, a total stranger, is tolerable but isn't handsome enough to tempt him to dance. Now even though that is ungentlemanly Watson. his statement can hardly be taken as anything more than this since even amongst the marriage-hungry mothers' guild, talk of romance with a lady he had never even spoken to would be just a little premature, but it bodes ill for him in the popularity stakes because, despite it being remarked upon to Bingley, the eagle-eared young lady just happened to overhear him say it. In short, he wasn't interested in dancing, but he then put himself in a further bad light with the readers, by declaring it would be a punishment to stand up with any of the ladies present. Oh, dear, Watson. That cannot be taken in any way as less than insulting. Bad mistake Mr Darcy. Unfortunately, although the said young lady didn't catch that remark and it wasn't uttered in anyone's hearing except Bingley's, the citizens' committee seem prone to mass disapproval of him anyway. The young lady put the story around of what she did hear amongst her friends and his goose was well and truly cooked...."
"Well, bad form, granted, Holmes, but not a hanging offence surely?
"To you and I, perhaps not Watson, but to these jolly husband hunters, a very serious breach of social etiquette. In Mrs Bennet's eyes He was supposed to fall in love with someone and propose marriage on the spot. The fact that he didn't know them was of no consequence. These females seemed relentless in their pursuit of wealthy, potential husbands. Here's a good word for you Watson, "slighted". Very offensive thing to be accused of, what?. Anyway, the forbidden word "slighted" is hissed venomously by the young lady's mother, who seems to take offence that one of the newcomers hasn't already proposed to her daughters despite seeing them for at least a couple of hours. This is insupportable. Do they not know that a gentleman once wrote one of her daughters some very pretty poetic lines when she was but fourteen years old ? That might be a cause for some concern with a lot of fathers in this age,Watson, but hey-ho. Anyway, how annoying. She immediately makes plans to cross Mr Darcy off her social calendar as soon as she gets home. It must be said Watson, that Mr Darcy doesn't seem to be worrying particularly. The young lady thus "slighted" one Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest of five daughters, and the main female character of the tale, is somewhat affronted, since leaving a lady without a partner at such dance occasions, besides igniting Mrs Bennet's ire, is also held as unbelievably bad mannered. Miss Bennet however, soon relates the incident amongst her fiends with a carefree laugh and a gay dismissive wave of a lace-gloved hand. We are told she makes light of it, yet in conversation with her close friend, one Charlotte Lucas, next day, states her pride has been mortified. At this time she vows publicly never to trot a gavotte, reel, jig or even a Boulanger, with the despicable gentleman who was so disdainful of her charms . Since Mr Darcy, at twenty seven years old, has so far effectively remained single, one can most probably assume that fact will not cause him any great loss of sleep at this particular time in events."
"Good Lord Holmes, a chap isn't safe to roam abroad in this Meryton place!"
"Thus it would seem Watson. Tis but a small market town yet a veritable hive of romantic activity, it appears. To press on: The said young lady's mother, we realise from reading, is a somewhat hysterical seeming person and a woman of unbalanced and somewhat silly views, who, besides constantly complaining of her "poor nerves", insists Elizabeth has been slighted and instigates a campaign of dislike against Darcy amongst the local sewing circle, the main topic of conversation it seems being directed solely at his lack of manners for not expressing any desire to become acquainted with the mothers and daughters of the village (in other words, herself and family) and thus possibly be a fair target for marriage). Not a brilliant start Sir! Mrs Bennet's good humour is somewhat restored when the charming Mr Bingley dances not once, but twice with her eldest daughter Jane. Unlike his po-faced friend, Bingley is a real rug-cutting, gay caballero with a bonhomme air and a charming manner. Get ready to publish the wedding banns! Romance is in the air and marriage must surely follow. Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tra-la-la-la-la........la-la-la-lah......and all this being mentally arranged in Mrs Bennet's fanciful imagination."
Watson shook his head, laughed and replenished his cup from the teapot on the tray.
"I'm a little surprised at your choice of book, Holmes. Very high-society, and not a villain in sight!"
"Be patient Watson, all will be revealed. Now then, although a total stranger and just a guest of new neighbour, Bingley - who himself was paying a first visit to the assembly - within a short time Darcy is thus declared totally unfit for the locals to trouble themselves with and is mentally ostracised from their interest. That is serious stuff; a little like the local gentleman's club black-balling a stranger because he comes from Wigan and he wouldn't lend somebody a pen. Darcy is, after all, just a friend of the loveable Mr Bingley and will probably soon disappear, hopefully never to return to Meryton. In short, he is a man of no consequence, a persona non-grata. Mrs Bennet eventually returns home happy and with but one target in mind, the new tenant of Netherfield Park, as a son-in-law . Bingley nee Bennet has a nice ring to it, preferably a diamond one. Ten thousand a year lost, but five still alive. Prospects are still good."
Watson reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out his half-hunter pocket watch which he consulted.
"And so, to an appointment for me Holmes. Your dialogue, though interesting, must wait for later I'm afraid. Time waits for no one, and my charming dinner companion for this evening is no exception." Watson rose, stretched and went off to prepare for his evening.
Holmes pick up a pen and made another note in his journal.
Posted on 2015-05-24
The following evening, neither of the gentlemen having prior engagements, Holmes once again persuaded Watson into hearing his theories on the book, Pride and Prejudice. When both were seated with a healthy tot of rum, hot water and sugar before them, Holmes took up his tale again.
"I spoke yesterday of the young fellow who had become a tenant at Netherfield Park, a pleasant estate some three miles or so from Longbourne, which in itself was a mile or so from Meryton. Longbourne, Watson, so as not to confuse you, is the estate of a Mr Bennet, patriarch of the aforementioned Bennet family and father to the five daughters. I can return to him later, but for now, the said tenant of Netherfield, young Lochinvar Bingley, entices entirely the opposite reactions to Darcy from the locals. He himself is in addition, showing a decided and growing interest in Jane Bennet, eldest of the daughters, and his sisters seem to like her very much; so much so that Jane soon receives an invitation to dine with them. Now here we see some controversial feminine plotting, Watson. Hark at this!
Watson took a swallow of his rum and settled back in his armchair. Holmes raised a hand for emphasis and continued:
"Due to Mrs Bennet's insistence that a horseback ride in imminent pouring rain - note, a horseback ride and not in a carriage Watson - is a good idea for installing daughter Jane in a sick-bed as a guest at Netherfield as part of Operation Wedding-Bells, poor Jane duly becomes bed-bound suffering from a dose of galloping wet-saddle syndrome. Next day, Elizabeth, the slighted one of the Bennet daughters, if you remember, has recovered her composure enough to go leaping gaily through three miles of muddy fields - because remember Watson, it had poured with rain only the previous afternoon - to her sister's side, afoot and alone begad, arriving with her hair all over the place and looking a sorry spectacle with muddy petticoats all awry. Her rather dishevelled appearance is sneered at by the Bingley sisters, and then she is forced to spend a few days in the company of the arrogant Mr Darcy, and the devious, green-eyed, sarcastic Caroline Bingley, an experience she has no intention of enjoying due to deciding she isn't going to like Darcy in any way, ten thousand a year or no. Some things, Watson, are beyond price. Her kind and caring male host, Mr Bingley, does send off to the family pile at Longbourne for a trunk of dresses, ribbons, fans, shoes and stuff so she won't feel too insignificant. Mrs Bennet packs enough for a three-month vacation for both daughters and mentally starts composing a wedding guest list. So far, all is going to plan"
"Holmes, Holmes, stop! Where is all this leading? As I remarked, this is just a ladies book about high society and I am somewhat baffled where such interest lies with you? It just isn't in character with you at all. I'm sorry, old chap, but there it is!"
Watson's face wore a puzzled expression as he regarded his friend keenly. Holmes did no more than smile gently wave a dismissive hand at the comment. He took a sip of his drink then began to pack his pipe, then raised a finger as if to emphasise a point.
"Be patient Watson, something is emerging here that may lead us forward. Tell me, what is the most baffling and, as yet, unsolved case on our books?
Watson pondered for a moment, puzzled again by Holmes's somewhat strange direction of thought. Something was causing this whole topic to be relevant and of interest to his friend but he could not even imagine what it was. Eventually he leaned forward and smiled as he considered Holmes's question.
" Not like you to have such a case for long Holmes, but the Lady Henrietta Twitterington robberies are absolutely baffling. Someone is really targeting that unfortunate lady. Damned handsome woman like that too. Rich and influential she may be, but she really has been very unfortunate these past months. An expensive hunter stallion stolen, silver and paintings removed in a break-in. Why, she was even robbed on the highway of some very expensive jewellery. Her coach wheel broke, her driver went off to seek help and when he returned, footpads had robbed her Ladyship and made off with her valuables, but I still fail to se ". Watson raised his hands, a puzzled expression on his face
Holmes nodded, his gaze distant, then snapped his fingers, almost it seemed to bring his own attention back to his subject.
"Correct, Watson. Now I will ask again for your patience. There are things here that I cannot as yet quite explain. Stay alert and see if anything becomes relevant with our own case"
Watson spread his hands in acknowledgement and settled back in his chair. Holmes nodded, massaged his brow absently, took a pull on his pipe then continued
"We now get our first glimpse of this Darcy chap's growing interest in Elizabeth Bennet as her own dislike and disinterest in him goes in the opposite direction. Initially, and this is nothing to his great credit, he looked her way only to criticize, but on closer inspection realises he may have been a trifle hasty in his observations. He does however, soon rein in his feelings so as not to let young Elizabeth's pulse rate become over animated as he realises the inferiority of any connection between them could seriously pollute his trout stream and Pemberley's rhododendron bushes. He decides in this instance, discretion is the better part of valour and he must rein in his feelings. Thus decided he consequently displays a distinctly cold shoulder in the general direction of our heroine but condescends privately to Charlotte Bingley that she has "fine eyes. When his gaze moves south away from the fine eyes he grudgingly concedes that the rest of her is presentably decent also. And here, I shall state a few more observations on the book. This will not do. This man, Watson, rightly or wrongly, is obviously falling into a trap of his own making. He's resisting but cannot deny his interest."
"Holmes, for God's sake man. An obvious romantic tale of gentry and their affairs of the heart is so very foreign to you. Are you yourself in love man? Come, confess."
Holmes let out a hearty laugh. "Nay my friend, far from it. It is not the romantic aspects that interest me, but the characters and their actions. The tale asks questions and sets me problems to solve. Thus Watson, it sharpens my detecting skills."
"Then please, inform me how. What problems and questions has it set you? I see none that stand out?"
Holmes considered this for long enough to take a couple of pulls on his pipe then nodded.
"Very well Watson. I have been a little unfair on you. Because you haven't read the book you may well not yet see things as I do. Consider this then! One of the first points I made was how the Meryton locals had prior knowledge of Darcy and Bingley's financial affairs. That stood out as a question that needed an answer. Who told them? The only answer acceptable is that no one did. Jane Austen did not inform us of such, just that the locals had gathered such information. It could not be that they had such private knowledge, so where did it come from. The answer is, it did not. You will learn that the Bennet estate gives a yield of two thousand pounds per annum. This we know as a fact. Now Bingley has no yield since he is only just letting Netherfield as a tenant. His fortune is one left by his father and thus is money in the bank providing a healthy living from the interest. The figure of five thousand pounds a year can only thus be an estimate based on guess work and be known only to the bank and the client. It can be nothing more then a somewhat wild guess and would be idly stated as such. It was but a gossip fuelled rumour with no basis but estimation. A very clear case of a tale growing in the telling, Watson, A figure pulled from the air and one put out by the locals and not the narrator!"
Holmes sat back and regarded his friend, looking for his reaction. Watson considered his words for a moment then nodded.
" I have to accept what you say, but how did they find out about Darcy's financial yield of ten thousand a year? That could be feasible. How would they know?"
Holmes smiled widely, holding back his answer as Watson continued to regard him.
"What is two times five Watson? I make it ten. Therefore if someone claims one man is twice as rich as another, after being informed that the former has five thousand pounds a year...?".
Watson raised a hand, smiling and accepting the point. He let his mind go back to their previous conversations on the topic for a moment, then asked..
"And the mistake in number of people attending the dance thing with Darcy?"
Holmes shrugged dismissively.
"How long is a piece of string? How many people in a party? I toyed with the question and accepted it was probably servant gossip and nothing more than that. We can dismiss that off hand. Now then, the story to press: Thus Jane Austen introduces the readers to her two major players, Mr Darcy, who whilst as yet fully unrevealed in character, is hardly shown in a positive light except that he is exceedingly rich which, to the mothers makes all else unimportant, and Elizabeth in a somewhat kinder role We are left with the feeling that we are a part of the Meryton citizens and seeing the strangers, including the Bingley sisters, as a somewhat mixed bunch. Our own opinions are already at work. What then are we supposed to think? Where is Jane Austen leading us? Is the whole tale really only about the rich, beautiful and handsome of society? Surely not, Watson? I asked myself the question and then went a little further. Austen has told us things, but what has she not revealed? I then started to think a little laterally and asked myself, as you are no doubt doing this instant, what is this really all about? Two things emerged: One, the lady was offering things to our imagination in the story whilst leaving a few sprats dangling to catch much bigger mackerels if we but dared to speculate and use our imaginations. The basic plot, apart from one small shock, is pretty much a novel designed to please. What we now call "happy-ending" romances. It was when I started to let my own imagination flow that I realised it might just be of use in some alternative thinking. Sir Walter Scott and Kipling have praised Jane Austen's works and they would hardly do it for what you call " a lady's book , I should imagine"
"Walter Scott and Kipling have read the book?" Watson's surprise was obvious.
"Indeed, amongst other Watson, the Jane Eyre lady from Yorkshire for one! Now then, what is the book all about Watson? Well, you not having read it I shall have to tell you the answer. It's about "money" Watson. Cleverly disguised with some romantic piffle as camouflage for effect, but the whole structure of this indolent upper-middle class carousel revolves around a core of golden guineas. It is like a gigantic version of a penny peep show, or a seaside telescope, full of intrigue but only if fed money. No money, no show. Women like the idiotic-seeming Mrs Bennet actually point us in the right direction. They knew, Watson, that marrying wealth, however acquired was far more use than some empty title. Did Jane Austen herself not provide a clear clue in that opening statement about a universal truth? Did she mention love or beauty, Watson? No, indeed she did not. " A single young man of good fortune" was what she said. Not one word about handsome looks at the onset. Think about that Watson!" Now ask yourself, despite massive changes in society's structures in the last hundred years, what is the common denominator that existed then and still does today? "
"Money, of course" ventured Watson, "but I still cannot see how it is in any way linked to a criminal investigation that involves us?"
Holmes smiled a trifle mysteriously and sipped his brandy.
"We shall see, Watson, we shall see!. Many things are useful to the human brain. Now then, this Darcy chap has done himself no real favours by his actions of indifference but his ignoring strangers were his main sin rather than directly offending anyone, and his remarks were but to his friend and not publicly made. He is persona-non-grata with the locals anyway now, as we know. None but our good selves really know what was said, so inspiring a mild dislike at his manners would be an acceptable reaction for us, but we know very little of him and certainly nothing to ignite anger or outrage. Being the discerning folks that we are, we withhold judgement. He isn't that interesting right now. It would be an assumption therefore, at this stage, to condemn him, so we shall put him aside temporarily, in order to examine those around him a little more closely. I shall now shorten things somewhat to avoid your boredom, Watson. Come, take another spot of brandy and, to save you pain I shall summarise what I myself have observed and where it is relevant to ourselves without relating the whole story."
Holmes duly dispensed brandy before scraping out his pipe and refilling it. He added a few pieces of coal to the cheery fire and used a spill to light the pipe before resuming his seat.
"As the story progresses, we see the other side of the coin, so to speak, the Bennet estate. Through no fault of its current owner, Mr Bennet on his demise, will forfeit his home and belongings to a stranger due to a law that today seems totally idiotic. The law was that of property entailment in favour of male heirs by default, thus preventing wives or daughters from inheriting their own property. All seems very strange and more than a little unfair to our modern minds, but that is how life in upper- middle class, rural England was at the time of Jane Austen's tale. Our author seems, at this stage, to want to deem Mr Bennet indolent and selfish in not providing lump sums for his daughters to continue their lives of eating, shopping, chattering, buying new bonnets and attending balls and social functions to pass their days until their potential husbands appeared, wholly because that is what middle-class ladies in England did, circa 1815 or so. Way of the world, you know. We may think it strange, but to Jane Austen it was but the norm of everyday life. My point here Watson, is that money was a totally relevant asset to keep the upper-middle class folk secure in their jolly little world. The main motivation from a woman's point of view was security. True romance, contrary to popular reader belief, was of secondary importance, and a handsome man needed an equally handsome wallet to make him a desirable asset. If anyone was fortunate enough to find both qualities in the same man, then they were fortunate indeed. One of the tale's most sensible ladies did actually realise this and married a boring but harmless buffoon of a man because he could provide her with a basic, if not sumptuous living. Good for her. Now then, to cut to the chase, Watson, enter the villain..."
Holmes leafed through his journal until he found the page he needed. Watson sank deeper into his arm chair and began to clear his own pipe into an old saucer. Holmes continued:
"New arrival in Meryton, one George Wickham, but recently installed on a commission as an officer in the militia - and thus resplendent in his scarlet "regimentals", seems just the man to further the male case in the tale. To the life, Wickham is the very image of the immaculate hero of a hundred oil paintings, handsome, debonair and dashing. The militia regiment itself was only recently arrived in the area to keep the peace locally and be available if called upon for military duties as I said previously. Your lower rank and file chappies would be encamped in some nearby meadow whilst the officers found lodgings in the town. For the officers, their military duties seem to include much parading along the main streets for admiration by the Meryton ladies, dining with the local gentry, attending any social functions that became available, providing dance partners for the ladies, strolling and library visiting. Thus, elegant George is soon spotted on Meryton's boulevard of romance by the two youngest, and supposedly silliest, of the Bennet sisters as he is introduced to all via another regimental heart-throb of their acquaintance. George struts dazzlingly onto the boardwalk and Elizabeth Bennet's - the slighted one)- imagination becomes fired into fantasy mode when good old Mr Darcy rides by with Bingley as she is being introduced to Officer Wickham, and she perceives all is not exactly peace and love between them. Her curiosity is awakened and, almost without her mentioning a word, our handsome, dashing and with enough charm to bring Greco-Roman female statues down from their plinths, have every heaving female bosom bursting with desire or even persuade the local traders to extend him credit, gorgeous George, surely evokes a few male groans when instead of impressing us with gallant macho behaviour in an evening soiree, he sallies straight into a " no one cares for me" sob story highlighting Mr Darcy as villain supreme in his suffering. Even worse, the delectable Elizabeth Bennet somewhat disappointingly to we readers, is taken in hook, line and sinker. Does our hero have feet of,....clay W.......?"
Watson peered across at his companion as his voice tapered off into silence.
"Holmes, am I supposed to deduce something relevant from all this, because it just seems a story so far that any one of a hundred writers could concoct? Where is the mystery in a village ball and a few strollers rambling up and down in some rural hideaway down in...wherever it is supposed to be...Holmes....Holmes..."
Watson stood up and shook his head in exasperation. Holmes was fast asleep. Turning down the room's gaslight globe by pulling down its chain, Watson quietly left the room and went to off to his bed.
The following morning brought Watson some respite from tales of Regency matters when Holmes informed him he was off to visit Lady Henrietta at home and was desirous of his company. The morning was fine and Watson had no objection at all to a carriage ride. Her Ladyship, an exceedingly elegant and handsome woman in her late thirties, greeted them civilly when they were introduced at her palatial estate on the leafy outskirts of Marylebone. After offering them tea and biscuits, which were declined with thanks, she immediately enquired about progress in tracing her stolen possessions. Holmes informed her that their enquiries were very much alive but, as yet, unrewarded. Her Ladyship appeared quite distraught, but when Holmes asked if it would be convenient to further examine the property and grounds she pleaded forgiveness but was expecting visitors soon. Holmes assured her it would wait till a later time as he had other lines of enquiry to pursue. Once outside the grounds Holmes told the cab driver to halt and wait and turned to Watson.
"What do you make of her Ladyship's character Watson? Do you see her as a strong person? "
Watson pondered the question. He had not formed any such opinion, only that she was a woman he could easily admire for her elegance and charm.
"I'm not certain Holmes, to be honest. She could appear a little vulnerable I suppose, but she has been through a very traumatic time. Why do you ask?"
Homes just shook his head then leaned out of the cab window and told the driver to drive slowly around the estate's perimeter. He produced his pipe and lit it before settling back in his seat and just watching the view. Watson produced a newspaper and began to read it. The drive took some fifteen minutes to complete and Watson was surprised when Holmes asked the driver to repeat it. Holmes seemed to be thinking rather than viewing the scenery but eventually informed the driver they would return to Baker Street.
"I need to know a little more of Rupert Chance Watson. What's the chap's background, do you know? All I know is that he is rumoured, and I stress rumoured because there has been no announcement, to soon propose marriage to her Ladyship and he's a man of great wealth and social connection. He is a member of several gentlemens' clubs: Whites, Army and Navy, Athenium et-cetera, and well known amongst Parlimentary politicians. I know of no scandal attached to him, but....?"
"I know of him Holmes, but am not personally acquainted with the man. I can ask around if it matters. What do you suspect him of?"
"Do so please Watson. I have nothing to suspect him of at this moment. In return, I shall buy you lunch"
Lunch took place in a restaurant of Holmes's choice in a mews near Harley Street. Once the potato and leek soup was dispensed with and their main course of roast beef, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding placed before them, Holmes returned to the topic of the novel, Pride and Prejudice.
"In respect of what we were discussing of late, Watson, I feel that Jane Austen might be being a little judgemental against certain individuals in her work"
He was more than a little surprised when Watson grinned broadly and produced an edition of the work from his bag.
"I knew you would get back to that, Holmes, so I decided to see where you were leading. As of yet, I am still perusing anything that might give me your direction. Up to now I have only read a couple of chapters. To what do refer with your last comment?"
"Hmm. I think it's the way that she highlights certain types of character, both male and female and make them heroic, whilst at the same time lambasting others that she downgrades somewhat. I suppose the system and method of life around her, and even people she knew personally, might make up the more earthy characters, whilst the heroes and heroines were her fantasy material. What I'm saying is that she may well have known a real-life William Collins, even a Mr or Mrs Bennet, but did she know a Darcy or an Elizabeth Bennet ? Did she know a Bingley or a Wickham?"
"Why would it matter Holmes? I'm not sure what you are inferring here. Surely all the characters are fantasy figures?"
Quite so, Watson, so ask yourself this: Where does fantasy begin and end? What is probable and what improbable? This is a question that is the basis of all detective theory. Remove the latter, and what is left must be an answer. In this story it is reasonably easy to see what we want to see. None of the characters are actually described physically, so the imagination of each of us sees different things. Jane Austen allows us to do that within reason because her plot is defined, but what does she not tell us? "....
"You have me at a disadvantage Holmes. I really do not know where all this is going, but I'll familiarise myself with it a little more and some light may emerge....eventually!"
Watson returned the book to his satchel and they finished their lunch at leisurely pace and terminated it with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, much to Watson's delight.
Posted on 2015-05-27
Sunday morning, Dr Watson, mindful of Holmes's request for information on Rupert Chance, was surprised to see the very man in the vicinity of St Marylebone Parish Church. Even more mindful of the fact that Holmes would not want him to become obviously interested in Chance, he held back as he watched the man speaking to a middle-aged couple, then a gentleman in a bowler hat, outside the steps leading up to the church building. Quite a few people passed by and went into the church before Rupert Chance did so. A stooped old lady with a walking cane went up the steps in surprisingly sprightly manner followed by a family of father, mother and two young girls. Watson scanned the others going up the steps, seeing a heavy-looking male with a thick beard and spectacles, a man dressed in a loud check suit, two women and then Chance himself. The man in the bowler hat turned away and hurried from sight down the side of the church. Last to go in was the vicar and Watson debated following but decided nothing was to be gained by doing so. Nothing could occur inside a church that needed his attention and he could make more useful enquiries elsewhere. The church square was now almost empty, with just a shabbily dressed male lethargically pushing fallen leaves along with a broom.
That evening after hearing Watson's comments on his day, Holmes settled himself back in his armchair with his pipe and produced his copy of the Pride and Prejudice novel. For a short time he flicked between the book and notes he was making in his journal. They read for some time and it was Watson who broke the companionable silence. Holmes noted he had also brought his book along but refrained from comment.
"Holmes, I've read on a little on your Regency love story and I'm not too impressed with the Wickham chap. I've reached the part where the cousin in the clergy arrives and manages to take a shine to three women in turn and make two proposals in successive days, one of them successfully. For a man of the cloth that is quite impressive, especially so since he is a buffoon of a chap obviously under the thumb of that dragon lady down where he lives. "
Holmes looked up and smiled. He found the chapter in his own copy where the said cousin, one William Collins, arrives at Longbourne. He read half a page then looked up again.
"You know Watson, all could have begun and ended with that particular gentleman, had Jane Austen so desired! He is a shining example of the fact that looks, wealth and charm matter and do actually have some bearing on lives and choices"
"How so, Holmes?"
"You will see for yourself, no doubt Watson, but if he had been a handsome and graceful man, able to dance, possessed of a good manner and with some social charm, Elizabeth Bennet could have ended the worries of the whole family within a dozen chapters or so by accepting his proposal, retaining her home and making life secure for her family. As it was, Austen made the fellow someone of little account and beneath Elizabeth's notice. Almost an ignorable man, in fact, except in his own self-indulgent eyes."
"Indeed Holmes, clergymen in general are in a small percentage of notice by most. Not really dashing figures, in the main. I suppose they lead pretty mundane and unnoticed lives. Incidentally, that chap you were asking about, Rupert Chance, I saw him today!"
"Ah yes, he went to church this morning. Spoke with a fellow in a bowler hat who didn't go in for the service. Chance did, then left on foot when it was over. He took lunch at one of his clubs before returning home in the afternoon. Incidentally, Lady Twitterington also had an interesting looking visitor today, but it turned out to be her brother, or so one of the groundsmen informed me for a small pittance."
Watson blew out an exasperated breath then smiled and shook his head.
"Holmes, you are an infuriating chap at times. Very well, knowing your penchant for disguise, how did you manage to remain unobserved whilst following him. You must have been someone I saw there, an old woman, a man in a loud suit, another male with a beard and spectacles, two other ladies...ah, or a scruffy character sweeping leaves. Who were you. I'd wager money on the beard and spectacles type?"
"Holmes acknowledged Watson's observance skills with a nod, then chuckled and shook his head.
"Indeed, none of them. As you remarked, who takes special notice of a vicar outside a church, Watson, particularly on a Sunday?"
Watson laughed aloud in delight then settled to further peruse his book. Surprisingly, he was finding a degree of interest in the tale he had not expected. He found he was taking at first, a dislike of Reverend Collins, then a grudging admiration of his dogged pursual of a bride. Holmes was making further notes when, quite suddenly, he surprised Watson with a question.
"Would you say, Watson, that Jane Austen set out to lead us up a wrong path with her initial introduction of Darcy? In truth, what man could have started out on a more wrong foot? In the beginning he comes across as less than heroic. Would you say that is true? "
Watson looked up and studied the question thoughtfully. He took a penknife from his waistcoat pocket and scraped out his pipe in his saucer before replying. He packed the bowl with fresh tobacco but hesitated before lighting it.
"Well, he actually seems an unmannerly oaf at the dance shindig and, since we see it and it isn't just another local assumption, we have to believe she is not doing him favours. Then again, at the onset we don't really know, but to answer your question, yes, it would seem so, although his faults seem a lack of manners rather than aught else. He thinks very highly of himself, for sure. Elizabeth Bennet's original reaction to him is a strong dislike"
"Hmm" Holmes looked thoughtful but didn't comment further.
Holmes had just arrived home, after taking lunch with a lady of his acquaintance, when Watson tapped on the sitting room door, peered in then entered quickly. The familiar faint odours of gas and strong tobacco greeted him. Divesting himself of his coat and hat he addressed Homes in a hurried tone.
"What do you think Holmes? Rupert Chance has visited Lady Henrietta and been turned away. By pure fortune I happened to be visiting my tailor, when who should come in with another gentleman but Rupert Chance. I was having a fitting for a new tweed jacket and happened to overhear him tell his friend that he had paid a call on Lady Henrietta twice in the last couple of days, only to be told her Ladyship wasn't receiving visitors. Dashed odd, I thought, for she seemed well enough when we called on her. More than odd if the rumours of his intended proposal have any truth? "
Holmes eyes narrowed thought fully and he exhibited a puzzled frown at Watson's news. For a minute he did not answer and seemed lost in thought. Watson, very well used to his friends regular habit of receding into deep thought, remained silent and waited for a reply.
"There is indeed something rather strange about this whole business with Lady Henrietta, Watson. I have a distinct feeling all is not as it should be with her. I can't help entertaining the thought that something out of the ordinary is afoot "
Watson's face betrayed his surprise at Holmes's statement, but before he could ask, Holmes bade him take a seat. He rang the bell for Mrs Hudson and asked if they could have tea and biscuits. Their landlady gave him a somewhat reprimanding look, glancing pointedly at the mantle clock, then sighed and left the room. Holmes realised, a trifle guiltily that it was her afternoon for visiting her sister. Ah, well, too late now.
"Tell me Watson, what did you notice the other day when we visited Lady Twitterington to request viewing the premises?"
Watson thought on the question for several seconds, lighting his pipe in the process, then shrugged and shook his head..
"I remember us driving around the place for a while, but I was reading the morning newspaper and didn't take too much notice."
Holmes nodded, a distant expression again on his face.
"When we arrived we were offered tea which we refused. It seemed we would have had time to sit and chat whilst drinking it, yet her Ladyship had no time to let us look around the place because she was expecting visitors. We then spent half an hour driving slowly around with the house hardly out of our sight. In that time, no visitors arrived. Why would her Ladyship engage in such deception Watson? It didn't have to be suspicious, but due to what has been happening to her Ladyship lately I have a feeling that something deeper is brewing ".
"Hmm, didn't think of that Holmes, but now you mention it, yes, a little odd. Why indeed?"
"I would say that, just like happenings in our Pride and Prejudice tale, money is at the root of it all. The higher a lifestyle in society people move into, the more it costs to maintain. All the objects stolen are items of high value. I decided to pay a nocturnal visit to Marylebone Court and see it a little closer, Watson. I fear all may not be quite as straightforward as it appears. We need to gain access to the inside".
"So, are we to expect a Buckingham Palace guard in full regimental uniform to arrive to charm Lady Henrietta out of her fortune Holmes? A sort of latter day George Wickham?" Watson chortled the words and formed a mental picture of them. Holmes just continued to look thoughtful. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and smiled.
"Possibly not Watson, but a policeman in full uniform just might do that!"
Watson, his eyes widening, looked askance at his friend.
"Homes, you are surely not contemplating dressing up as the law to gain entrance to Marylebone Court? Good as your skills are, I doubt Lady Henrietta would be unable to recognise you. Impersonating a policeman is an offence. You would never get away with it."
"Possibly not, Watson, but you might. Yes indeed, you have just the bearing and we can make you look quite the part. It will not be the first time you have been someone other than your self! Oh, this can be such a good idea. You will be Chief Inspector George Wickham of Longbourne Constabuary. I shall stay in the background as Sergeant Bingley and you can say I have a heavy cold. That will discourage anyone from paying me too much attention. I won't need a uniform, just a hat and possibly a sweeping moustache. You were probably not particularly noticed by her ladyship, so possibly some spectacles for you. We needn't stay very long. I just want to ascertain a couple of small facts. Come Watson, to work. The game's afoot!".
Watson groaned and let out a sigh of resignation. He prepared himself to offer a dozen reasons why this was not a good idea. He also knew that Holmes would refute them all.
Lady Henrietta's maid showed Watson into the drawing room after they had announced themselves to her. True to his plan, Holmes stayed in the rear holding a handkerchief to his nose. When her Ladyship appeared she looked pale and somewhat drawn. She indicated Watson to a seat whilst Holmes stood against a rear wall. Tea was offered and this time accepted by Watson. Her Ladyship then looked questioningly at him and suddenly shook her head and produced a smile that was somewhat strained but also amused. The smile turned into a chuckle. She put her head on ones side and inspected Watson from head to toe.
"The last I heard of the villainous George Wickham he was northward bound, heading to Newcastle after unwillingly marrying Lydia Bennet, and that was some eighty something years ago. Charles Bingley was far too mild and retiring to ever be a your everyday policeman. The very thought would confine his friend Darcy to his bed for a month, aghast at his friend's behaviour. Come, gentlemen, pray confess. I suppose there is just a small chance those are your real names, but from Longbourne, you assuredly are not. My own library here is quite comprehensive, good sirs, and it contains all Jane Austen's novels in addition to many other well known works. I know Pride and Prejudice very well. So, now would you like to tell me why you are impersonating two men who were never more than fictional anyway?"
Watson's expression was a study and he was literally lost for words. It was Holmes who stepped forward and held up a hand. He pulled off the bushy false moustache and smiled. Inside, he was exceedingly embarrassed and most annoyed with himself for his almost schoolboy error.
"Your Ladyship must excuse us, well, myself mainly, for never taking that obvious fact into consideration. Please forgive the deception for we are actually policemen of a sort. My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am a detective. You no doubt now recognise me as the chap who requested looking around your premises the other day. That was quite in order, because we work closely with the police and were asked to do so. My friend is Doctor John Watson. Forgive us too, for posing as such well known literary characters. It was a careless error on my part. Any extensive library would possibly contain most works of popular fiction. I am but recently converted to Jane'Austen's stories, but that is no excuse in the main. I certainly don't consider myself a Mr Bingley or that I resemble him in any way"
Lady Henrietta smiled, this time with a real twinkle of humour in her eyes. She relaxed visibly and indicated for Holmes to be seated .
" Do you know, Mr Holmes, that no one really knows what one of the most famous men in literature actually looks like? Darcy is the individual property of every woman who has ever read Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Austen left him free to a thousand imaginations.. Indeed, what does anyone in that story look like? We have a pair of "fine eyes", a few descriptions like tall, handsome, pretty etc, but the rest is all up to the reader. Jane Austen had a penchant for making people think for themselves. And now Sir, perhaps you will tell me the real reason you are here, now that you are yourself again?"
Holmes took the tea cup she proffered and added sugar. His only option was the truth, so, stirring his tea, he decided to be honest.
"I know of your recent problems with theft and burglary from a friend in the police. Your case interested me and I just, as I always do, wished to look around the crime scene and draw my own conclusions. My reasons are no different than our on our first visit. You may recall that when we called previously, you were expecting visitors. Now that we are here, perhaps your Ladyship would indulge me in my telling you of my personal observations regarding your case.?"
Lady Henrietta was silent as she listened to his words. Eventually she let out a deep sigh and nodded in agreement. There was an air of almost resignation in her expression. Holmes leaned forward and interlocked his fingers, considering his own declaration.
"Lady Henrietta. I am a detective and have solved a great many cases of burglary by the simple method of asking myself if the facts and evidence uphold the claims made. A burglary is not an uncommon occurrence, especially at premises where expensive items can be expected to be stored or kept. Even two break-ins can happen to the very unlucky. Either way, there should be some evidence of damage to doors or windows and from a cursory examination of the building, my associate, Inspector Lestrade, says this is not the fact. It is one of the reasons he mentioned the case to me. There was no forced entry. I took the trouble of examining the supposed broken window on the ground floor. If it had been broken from the outside, the glass would not be on the flower bed outside, but inside the room.!"
Holmes paused, noting Lady Henrietta had gone a little pale. He continued.
"What has occurred with you is more than mere coincidence, I fear. This leads me to some fairly unavoidable conclusions, and you must believe I am merely stating things as they would appear on a general basis: One, the victim was robbed by someone who had access to the building and could come and go at will, or two: the victim was in collusion with the robbers and allowed them access. Three: the robbers entered via the front or rear doors and threatened the victim with violence, or four: there was no robbery at all! Those my Lady are the plain facts as they appear. Who broke the glass as a deception, I can only imagine, but it was not burglars. I could believe thieves stole a horse from a stable in the grounds, but in conjunction with the other thefts and a highway robbery,to quote Mr Darcy, it all seems too ..."insupportable", ...?"
Holmes let his sentence hang in the air and waited for her to answer. Lady Henrietta took a lace handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the corners of her eyes. Holmes waited silently as he let her consider his statement. Finally she nodded and looked directly at him.
"I never really believed I could cover the losses up from close inspection. I was just hoping no one would look too closely into it. I had to inform the police because the staff would notice items missing. My butler insisted I do that. The truth is, money, and a large amount, was needed quickly. It still is. Mr Holmes, I was warned not to discuss the robberies in detail with anyone under pain of disgrace. Now, I fear, my life will be in real danger of total ruin."
"Have you told your brother of this? He visited you the other day, did he not?"
Lady Henrietta started in surprise and paled even further. She raised a hand to he mouth and appeared unable to speak. Holmes regarded her then scratched an eyebrow.
"Your Ladyship. I am a man used to observing. It is my living and I have made myself a reputation by being good at it. It is very obvious that you are in some kind of trouble. A series of burglaries of a dubious kind leave you anxious and worried and quite obviously concealing some matter or other that leaves you under threat. I would advise that you tell us the whole story and I am sure there will be a way we can help!"
Lady Henrietta lowered he head and clasped her hands together nervously. Finally, she looked up appeared to have reached a decision. She nodded and Watson leaned forward. next to Holmes. He Ladyship thought for a second then said..
"It all began with my brother!"
Posted on 2015-05-31
"So it was your brother who visited you the other day then"
Lady Henrietta nodded her confirmation of Holmes's statement.
"Yes. That was Thomas. He came to see if I was any nearer raising the money he needed. I can do it with difficulty and in time, provided no further demands are made, but time is what I need and do not have Mr Homes!"
She shook her head and took a few seconds to compose herself before carrying on.
"A short time ago, Thomas acquired a new friend and started to frequent a public house, down in the south east end of the docklands, called The Cockatoo. I am told it is a rough area down there, near the West India docks, a place where all the banana and sugar warehouses are and where the ships are unloaded. Thomas can take care of himself, he is an ex-serviceman, but one night, according to the story he told me, he went there with his friend and had become rather too drunk and got into a high stakes card game. His friend said he was going home early and Thomas started to lose quite a bit of money before he realised that one of the players, a man he called Gaviota, was cheating him. Thomas accused him of it and a huge argument started. It spilled outside onto the dock and this Gaviota character pulled out a knife and threatened Thomas with it. Thomas hit him. Then someone broke a bottle on Tom's head and he became unconscious. When he came around, Edmonds, the landlord of the pub, told him he had better go before the police got there, because Gaviota had been stunned by his blow and had staggered and fallen into the dock and drowned. Thomas panicked and left the area bleeding and still very drunk. The following day he came to see me, turning up in a cab I had to pay for because he had no money. He was most distressed when he related the story and asked if he should go to the police, because it was an accident. We talked it through extensively and agreed it was the only thing to do. Thomas was a wreck, he had killed a man. His friend knows nothing of any of this !"
Lady Henriette almost sobbed out the last words and lowered her head to hide her tears. Holmes rubbed his chin, his face serious and his eyes held a myriad questions. Lady Henrietta looked up and raised a hand to forestall them.
"Let me finish Mr Holmes, for now that I have told you, you must hear all of the story. When Thomas left here to go to the police he found the landlord, Edmonds, waiting for him in a carriage. He had followed Thomas here and claimed several witnesses were prepared to swear Thomas had threatened to kill Gaviota, then done so. He asked Thomas for a large sum of money or he would go the the police himself, and Thomas, afraid he would keep his threat, paid him. That should have been the end of it, but Edmonds was soon back asking for more. He had found that I was Thomas's sister and seeing this house realised the family had their own money. I sold the stallion and claimed it had been stolen so that Thomas could use the money to pay Edmonds off. I also made up the story of the highway incident. It was useless. I sold jewellery and some silver but he has now demanded a huge sum and if we do not pay it he will inform the police and make sure the newspapers get to hear the story right away that Thomas is a murderer and I have been shielding him. If that gets out, Mr Holmes, my reputation and also the family's will be ruined for ever. Mr Edmonds well knows that and has become arrogant in his demands".
"And no doubt you will lose the respect of Rupert Chance, a gentleman that society has the rumour was about to make an offer of marriage to yourself. Forgive me for stating that fact your Ladyship, for it is commonly known, but the time for concealing any small aspect of this business has gone. If we are to help you, then hold nothing back, for every detail may be relevant."
Lady Henrietta dabbed at her eyes again and nodded miserably.
" I have refused to see Rupert a couple of times when he called. None of our shame must touch him. He is a fine man and it is better if he knows naught of any of it. Yes, this has ruined my chances of a successful marriage with a man I believe truly loves me. I see no way forward but to sell everything and move away. We are ruined Mr Holmes. There is nothing we can do!"
Holmes rose quickly to his feet, a grim expression on his face. He held out a hand to Lady Henrietta.
"There is nothing you must do, my Lady. Do not pay this villain another penny until I can endeavour to find out the truth. A liar does not confine himself to one lie and we know he is already a thief and a liar. Get your brother to stall him. Tell him you are prepared to make the payment but you need a few days yet. I shall have to ask you to trust me until I at least find out the truth of things. Come Watson, there are matters to be attended to"
Holmes and Watson took their leave and Holmes was sure her Ladyship's eyes held a small spark of hope. Whether he could make that permanent was something he decided not to speculate on right at that moment.
"What exactly are you planning to do Holmes? I entertain a suspicion that we may be about to visit a viper's nest. Please tell me that this is incorrect. The West India docks are about as far removed from Jane Austen's Meryton as can possibly be imagined. Not a place for strutting in regimentals or following George Brummel's fashion trends. Please say I am wrong in my assumption, Holmes. The dear lady would probably swoon at the very thought of such association?"
"Nonesense Watson. She had brothers in the navy in wartime, where life expectancy was very short. Men were beaten, flogged and keel-hauled for indiscretions. Jane Austen would know all those things and was no shrinking wallflower. Men were hung for many a crime back then just as now. Why, even in Pride and Prejudice she mentions a militia soldier receiving a flogging as the norm, and ignoble Wickham was in debt to half of Meryton as well as his other deceptions. But, indeed, you are correct my friend. We must see the scene of the crime and ascertain what the police know of all this. In that, I must tread warily. Lestrade is no fool and I can disclose nothing to him that may worsen things for Thomas Twitterington, if that is even possible. Can I leave it to you to test the waters there? We need to know what has been reported and what action the police are taking? I, meanwhile, have some serious thinking to do. Several pipefulls' in fact."
Watson sighed and, checking that his notebook and fountain pen were in his pockets, made to leave the room. He would take his lunch en-route because Holmes was already striding away to his desk, all else forgotten. In his mind, the chase had already begun.
" So, Watson. What facts do we have? Does Lestrade have any suspicions as to who he is looking for? Strangely, I can find nothing in the last week's newspapers of the event. Even down in that area, a death would get some mention. What is the police view?"
Watson made himself comfortable by the cheery fire and produced his pipe. Mrs Hudson, who evidently had heard him come in, appeared with freshly brewed tea and he sighed contentedly, glad to be back home and out of the biting wind that had sprung up. He took out his notebook and consulted it..
"Well, I could obviously not approach Lestrade with any direct questions, and in fairness that area is a little far removed from his patch, several miles in fact, so I just said I was visiting his area and took him out to lunch. Despite some very subtle probing on my part, he never mentioned anything of a dockside murder or even a death of any sort. He keeps up with general activities and he knew that two men were arrested a couple of nights ago stealing bananas from a warehouse and two more went to court for causing a disturbance by drunken behaviour. This last week a chain broke on a sugar hoist and two men were injured, but not seriously, by a falling pallet. It could have been nasty but they were quite lucky. Beyond that, nothing more than domestic call - outs for disturbing the peace, drunken brawling and muggings etc. Interestinglythough, he volunteered the information that Edmonds, the landlord of The Cockatoo had been fined for keeping a disorderly house more than once. I got the distinct impression that much of what passes for life down there is left alone. He did ask what investigations you were involved in, but I said nothing of consequence. Of the main matter, although a murder, not even a mention. That is very surprising is it not Holmes?
Holmes stroked his jaw, his expression thoughtful.
"Perhaps not so surprising Watson, indeed I did entertain the possibility that would be the case. There are several reasons for it, one I am sincerely hoping will provide an answer. We must visit The Cockatoo my friend. We shall go tomorrow and in the daytime and not after dark. I have no wish for us to finish up floating in a West India dock, Watson. We shall of course, not be either ourselves or Wickham and Bingley this time, although I imagine I could probably announce myself as Fitzwilliam Darcy without a single flicker of recognition of the name except to mock me. The Cockatoo frequenters, if I know the docklands, I am expecting to be more familiar with Wanted notices than literary gems. No, we shall adopt a little subterfuge, Watson, indeed, even the good Mrs Hudson will probably not recognise us!"
Holmes smiled in satisfaction at his statement. Watson groaned inwardly in dismay, suddenly in need of a stiff brandy. Tantalisingly, the thought of a gentle evening in the company of Elizabeth Bennet by candlelight had some distinctive advantages and he left Holmes to his deep studies and retired to his bedroom. He found he was decidedly not looking forward to the morrow with any discernable enthusiasm.
"Come Watson, hurry along or, as the good Reverend Collins might say, 'make haste'. I know this family and we shall use a room here for our visit. We had better to walk from here on, not many carriages pull up at the Cockatoo, I'll wager."
Holmes sprang lightly out of the hire cab holding a large hessian sack. Watson followed carrying a similar sack and looked in some amazement at the Chinese restaurant facade in front of where they had arrived. Holmes ushered him inside and was immediately greeted by a beaming Chinese man wearing a skull cap. Holmes introduced his as Mr Lee and the man showed them upstairs to a room overlooking a rear alley and with two single beds. They had set out very early in the morning as Baker Street was almost twenty miles from their destination of the Isle of Dogs. Mr Lee served them with some lunch and Holmes, immediately after eating, began to change into the contents of the sack. Watson stared in distaste at the collection of grubby and stained work items and battered work boots that emerged as he shook his own sack contents onto the floor.
"Leave everything of value here Watson. It will be quite safe. I have enough coins for our purpose, so no watch, purse, wallet or anything that might identify us in any way. Oh, and rub some of this on your hands and face too, it is just artist's make up but you cannot be seen as clean and shiny if you are a manual dock worker!"
Watson sighed and began to change.
During the ride to their destination, a duration of some three hours during which perusing the morning newspapers and conversation helped to pass the time, Watson had surprised Holmes by bringing up the topic of Pride and Prejudice again. A fast reader, he had made considerable progress in the tale and now he had questions. Holmes himself had only read the book after being challenged to do so by a female friend. It was she who had told him of other authors' good opinions of Jane Austen. He pondered Watson's questions as their cab made its way across the capital.
"The Lydia Bennet affair, Holmes. It came as something of a shock. George Wickham had almost disappeared from the scene. Why do you think she brought him back in such drastic circumstances? Austen could have just let him slide away and be done with"
"I believe she did it to get rid of Lydia. Left in, she would have continued to annoy and misbehave in her self-promoting manner whilst still living at home. Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane were always happy-ending candidates, but there were three other sisters who had to be tidied away. Kitty, we are told, later spent time with her elder sisters and thus may, in time, meet someone who will lighten her life. Harmless Mary will be left to her own devices ,as she has been the whole story. Lidia was never going to conform to any rules but her own. Selfish, insensitive, irresponsible and an eternal flirt with no monetary sense, she would ever be an embarrassment to her family and inevitably bring them more shame by her behaviour. Wickham was another loose end with no future with the Bennets or in Meryton and digging his grave with a debt shovel. Solution, tie the two loose ends together and post them off into the wild blue yonder!" Darcy did the noble deed, found the elopers, got his wallet out, saved the day and earned himself the love of his life. I will confess I did wonder why not Reverend Collins and like-minded Mary together to solve the family entailment problem , but that was not to be. But for Mr Collins arriving we would not have had Lady Catherine introduced and thus her nephew would not have got the Rosing's time with Lizzie. The good Reverend also tidily removed, Elizabeth's good friend, Charlotte Collins, It was all nicely plotted. Neat thinking, by Jane Austen."
Watson had seemed satisfied with the explanation and settled back into a corner with his newspaper. Holmes had much to think about. His plan was about to be set in motion. The pair were now dressed as workmen of the type who filled the docks on a daily basis. Workers, and those seeking it, thronged the wharfs, unloading the incoming ships with commendable speed. With faded and creased trousers, shirts and jackets both
Holmes and Watson looked little different to the hundreds who thronged the waterfront like so many ants around a garden path. Large crumpled caps completed the disguises. When they left the restaurant two rickshaws organised by Mr Lee were to take them a good part of the way. Holmes gave Watson's cap a tweak and grinned at him.
"Ready, Watson, the game's afoot?"
"As I'll ever be" said Watson swallowing nervously, and climbed into the rickshaw.
If Watson was apprehensive, Holmes, as he ever did on such a mission, felt a surge of excitement as the pair neared their destination. The rickshaws had dropped them off in a side street not far back and they had walked the rest of the way in an aimless stroll typical of men looking for work. Seagulls wheeled overhead and the area was a hive of activity. Suddenly, Holmes pointed straight ahead. There, almost on the quayside, was a stone-built, downtrodden looking public house with a garish caricature of a cockatoo painted on its swinging sign. It may have been a well-painted work at one time. Now, over-painted many times, it just stood out as a garish daub. The Cockattoo!
"Not exactly a candidate for the Victoria and Albert Museum, Watson. Now, leave the talking to me except where you cannot avoid otherwise. Best if we say as little as possible. We won't be spending too much time here, so come on, let us get it over with!"
Five minutes later they were seated at a scarred table with half-pints of rough porter before them. Watson had his back to the room but Holmes sat facing him with a good view of the occupants. There were perhaps a dozen or so people there, all male apart from a serving girl. Watson had a large stick in prominent view by his side and his glances around were fleeting and stared at nothing or no one. He was doing quite a creditable impression of someone half-drunk and somewhat aggressive. Holmes had the peak of his ragged cap pulled well down over his eyes as he glanced around the room with apparent disinterest. Occasionally, he twirled a grimy copper penny on the table in front of him. The place was far from full as many of the drinkers had gone back to work. Over on the far side a table sat in the niche beside the chimney breast and half a dozen people were seated around it. Some sort of a card game was in progress between four of them but no one seemed really that interested in it. Holmes studied the group, then signalled and ordered another two half pints from a girl idly watching the game. He made a point of counting out coins from the few on the table and made no attempt to pay the girl any real attention. She seemed quite happy to return the compliment. Some conversation was occurring with the group in the corner and suddenly laughter broke out. A large man, presentably dressed, got to his feet and stretched before finishing his drink and walking over to the plank on two barrels that served as a bar. He looked around the room and his glance lingered for a few seconds on Holmes and Watson before he moved over to a door in the rear wall and disappeared through it. One of his companions got up and went over to the same door and followed him. He appeared to be in his early thirties and was also quite well dressed. He was neat in appearance and wore a clean white shirt which made him look out of place amongst the other clientele. Their moving away brought a third man into view. This one was slim and dark-haired, with tattoos on both of his arms below shirt-sleeves that were rolled up to the elbow. He had the tanned appearance of a sailor as he also got up, but he went in the opposite direction. He stood in the front doorway for half-a-minute viewing the dock, then left the pub and walked out of sight.
"Time to go, my friend. I think I've seen what I wanted to. Come, let us depart. Walk a little unsteadily as we go out. Don't hurry but keep walking."
Holmes rose slowly to his feet and Watson almost staggered to his. With a creditable impersonation of an inebriated drunk he used his stick to help him cross the room and exit the front door. Holmes was wary of anyone paying them attention but no one was. In a short time they were walking back towards the street where the rickshaws waited.
"Well, Holmes. That was somewhat a waste of time was it not? I'm still not sure what you wanted to see, but we saw almost nothing except that the pub exists. We are no further forward, I fear."
"Oh, indeed we are Watson. I saw exactly what I wanted to see and now there is only one piece missing from the puzzle. What was someone like Thomas Twitterington doing in that sort of company, indeed in such a place? It was hardly his normal environ or even the sort of district one would expect a gentleman of his status to be in. Why did he go there?"
"Did not Lady Henrietta claim he went there with a friend who went home? Perhaps we might be able to trace him and ask him? "
"Splendid, Watson. I am almost sure I know who he is, but we need to speak to Thomas himself to be absolutely certain. Come, I think we can put aside our charade now and return home. We shall see what tomorrow brings. I am sure it will be very interesting!"
Later that day, after they had returned home, a visitor arrived. Mrs Hudson announced that a Mr Rupert Chance was downstairs requesting an audience with Mr Holmes. Holmes raised his eyebrows in surprise but told her to show the gentleman up. He looked questioningly at Watson but waited in silence until Rupert Chance was shown in.
Chance was a handsome, well-dressed man with an air of good breeding about him. He appeared well mannered and, after introductions were made, he hesitated uncertainly for a moment. Holmes broke the silence.
"Lady Henrietta Twitterington! Could she be the reason for your visit sir?"
Chance's surprise was evident in his expression. He let out a deep breath then smiled"
"I was informed of the immensity of your detecting skills Mr Holmes, but that is very impressive indeed. Since we have never met, how could you possibly deduct that?"
"Simple, but only because we are currently conducting an investigation into some break- in occurrences at Marylebone Court. The social connection between the two of you is, I'm afraid, public property. I am, I confess, curious as to how you connected Watson and myself with it as I am sure Lady Henrietta did not tell you?"
"Mr Holmes. I will be totally honest with you, I did not connect you. I came to seek your help in your professional capacity about what is happening there, and why a lady I am very fond of is refusing to see me. I have a man I sometimes use as an investigator keeping an eye on Marylebone Court, but all he can tell me is that Henrietta's brother has been observed there and she is confining herself to home. I was hoping you may be able to find out a little more of what the problem is, because I am convinced one exists?"
"Sit down Mr Chance. Will you take tea whilst I gather my thoughts as how best to answer you without breaking confidences?"
Watson rose unbidden and left the room to beg Mrs Hudson's indulgence with tea and boiling water. Chance looked around him with just the faintest trace of amusement and surprise at the jumble of odd items scattered around on every surface. His gaze lingered for a moment or two on the open violin case on a table. He looked away, then quickly back again.
"Good Lord, is that a..?"
"Stradivarius? It is indeed. I bought it originally from a broker for the princely sum of fifty-five shillings. I estimate it is worth a great deal more. I paid what he asked and the rest is my good fortune!" Holmes smiled, just as Watson returned with a tray with cups, teapot, milk and sugar bowl. Holmes nodded appreciatively as he noticed the plate of shortbread biscuits also on the tray.
"Now sir. Take some tea and I shall try to fill in a few gaps for you!"
Holmes related the basic story of the robberies and his and Watson's visit to Lady Henrietta. He then leaned forward and looked Rupert Chance directly in the eyes.
"Can I safely assume you are a man of honour sir? A man that I will ask for trust and expect to receive it, as from one gentleman to another?"
Chance frowned and looked affronted at the question. He didn't speak however, just nodded abruptly. Holmes smiled and nodded himself in unspoken reply.
"Forgive the question, it wasn't meant disrespectfully, but there are confidences involved here that I may choose not to disclose. All I will ask is this: If I can resolve a problem that exists for her ladyship and her brother, and right a great wrong in the process, a matter that in no way involves yourself, could I call on your help to do that and, in return, I will restore the status quo between all parties to what it was a couple of weeks ago?"
"Do but ask, please, and it shall be done. I ask nothing but for that to happen. Whatever the problems I am willing, and able, to give a great deal of assistance including financial help if so needed!"
Rupert Chance's face lit up with a smile and Holmes smiled his own satisfaction.
"Excellent. Then tell me, could you at short notice, command the company of several rather large gentlemen to behave in a somewhat threatening manner? Oh, I doubt they will need to do more than appear ready to tear anyone limb from limb, just give the impression they are able and willing to do so. They will be there merely to right a dastardly wrong just by their very presence !"
"How utterly intriguing? Damn sir, I can do that easily. I am a member of the England Rugby Union Committee and know many such chaps. Matter of fact I'm no weakling myself and if it is helping Henrietta, consider it done..."
Holmes smiled his satisfaction and rubbed his hands together as he rose to his feet and moved over to the tea tray.
"For this matter Mr Chance, I would like you to come along, but to wait in a carriage outside. If Lady Henrietta should choose to tell her story to you later, then fine. I may not yet do so. We shall need to travel and assemble near the West India docks, for that is to be our final destination. Will there be problems getting your chaps there tomorrow for say, two in the afternoon, as many of the resident will be working, or is that a problem? The fewer observers around, the better. Watson and I will arrive as soon as they are in position and enter a somewhat dubious dockside public house called The Cockatoo "
Chance looked decidedly disappointed and sighed. Then he smiled widely again and took the cup that Holmes preferred. The worried frown had disappeared from his brow.
"Dammit Holmes, this sounds exciting I should dearly like to be a part of it, but the rest is not a problem. I will lay on carriages to collect the chaps along the way. We shall arrive promptly on time, fear naught."
Holmes smiled his delight and reached for his tobacco. Now the game was truly afoot.
That evening, the mood in Baker Street was relaxed and cheerful. Holmes had taken a carriage ride in the afternoon after Chance had left and Watson was sure he had been to see Lady Henrietta. He had returned in good humour, whistling tunelessly as he removed his coat and hat. Later, Holmes and Watson both dined at home and retired to the fireside with pipes, a decanter of port and newspapers. Holmes brought up the topic of his visit to Marylebone Court without being asked.
"Thomas Twitterington is living with his sister, somewhat in hiding at the moment. I had an idea it might be so and, when her Ladyship asked him to explain about the friend who had taken him to the Cockatoo, it turns out he hardly really knew the chap. He had met him in a London club and the "friend" had taken him to the dock area to "see a little life" of the more common variety. He has not seen him since"
Holmes seemed very cheerful and, changing the subject, picked up his paper. Watson did likewise, knowing that the morrow would come soon enough. The discussions on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice had been on his mind and he had now acquired a good deal of familiarity with the characters and a degree or two more of respect for the author from him. He still had a good deal of curiosity on some aspects. He had questions for Holmes.
"Holmes, what do you think occasioned this Darcy chap into reaching the age of twenty seven and still being unattached? I mean, he's a very wealthy socialite with contacts and friends in London, aside from those he may have nearer home. Knowing this Lady Catherine de Bourgh character, tucked away in Kent, it can only be assumed that Darcy senior must have met her sister in the social environs of the capital, then whisked her away up to Derbyshire. Given how far apart the places are, do you not wonder why both he and his son missed out half of England in their search for brides?"
Holmes gave him a surprised glance then shrugged his shoulders.
"I have never actually considered that particular question. Maybe just because he didn't wish to marry? I don't suppose there is any real reason except that Jane Austen decided it to be so. The collective Derbyshire estates were presumably already family property before Darcy Senior inherited them, perhaps? Darcy was twenty-two when his remaining parent, his father, passed away, and had presumably spent some time at university. The father was regarded by all, even George Wickham, as the very best of men, so maybe he left such a responsibility of several estates onto shoulders a little young for the task. Maybe there was little time for romantic frivolities, particularly with a sister who would only be eleven or so at the time, in his charge. I did indeed wonder why Lady Catherine didn't take the daughter, her niece, under her care, but I suppose distance was the prevailing reason. Kent and Derbyshire are near enough two hundred miles apart, with coaches or horseback the only transport. Then, of course, would Georgiana, a young girl of eleven prefer a caring and supportive brother and an agreeable governess, presumably, over an overbearing dragon lady of an aunt who could have conquered Outer Mongolia had she ever learned? Conclusion then, young Georgiana was probably the reason Darcy never really got the time to consider marriage? The lamentable situation with Wickham did have one positive aspect. It showed clearly that Georgiana had grown up and matured. You see Watson, Jane Austen has got you asking questions now. That's why the lady is so very readable. There are always questions to be asked!"
Watson grunted non-committaly and, lighting his pipe, picked up the day's copy of The Times newspaper. Holmes had leaned his head back into his chair cushion and was seemingly absorbed in studying the fire's flames with a thoughtful look on his face. Glancing across, Watson was sure his companion's thoughts were not based anywhere around the counties of Hertfordshire, Kent or Derbyshire, but much more likely around London's docklands. He reached for his tobacco pouch and prepared to read of the day's events to take his mind off those imminent on the morrow. .
Posted on 2015-06-03
Watson hesitated, outside the front door of the Cockatoo, took a deep breath then drew his service revolver, which surprisingly had become a rather large flintlock, and turned to watch his companions deploy from three barouche carriages, and assemble on the sidewalk.
"Are we prepared gentlemen? It is time to bring these villains to justice once and for all"
"Oh, I say, Watson. Do you think there are enough of us? I mean, we don't really know what to expect. There may be a room full of armed and very dangerous men waiting"
A man, who looked very much like the waiter from the Baker Street Café, spoke the words then checked his own flintlock and placed a nervous hand on his sword hilt.
"Oh, come Bingley. I hope you are not suffering one of your changes of mind. Justice must be done and if someone suggested to you we should all go home, I do believe you would leap on your horse and do so without arguing the pros and cons of why. Step up man. No one tries to blackmail Elizabeth Bennet and gets away with it, no one, and that includes the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel and the Duke of Wellington!"
Rupert Chance, dressed in an immaculately cut coat with brass buttons, white breeches and gleaming riding boots, grasped his genuine Moroccon leather riding crop and whacked it against a gloved hand. He turned to their leader and gave a curt nod of his head.
"Lead on Sherlock, we are ready!"
"Capital, capital. Well said Darcy"....a voice from the rear of the group called.
Sherlock Homes, dressed for some reason in clerical garb, and white knee stockings, adjusted his hat and stepped firmly over the threshold of The Cockatoo. Once inside he strode determinedly over to a table in the corner where the owner and landlady of the establishment was playing cards with her cronies. The lady, "Good Lord, was it Mrs Hudson?" looked up in surprise. The woman with the gimlet eyes from the local library, those very same eyes alert like an expectant hyena stalking an antelope, sat next to Mrs Hudson's daughter, Anne, holding a large butterfly net and a giant fly swat. Watson remembered her well, for she had remonstrated roundly with him for getting three raindrops on the cover of a copy of Robinson Crusoe. A tall, handsome-looking stranger, resplendent in scarlet regimentals and wearing white gloves in case a stray dust mote should settle, sat next to a bored looking girl, who resembled the one that worked at the cake-shop, he holding a hand of cards, she a glass of wine and a straw bonnet she had been mutilating with a corkscrew. Mrs Hudson looked up in astonishment and glared angrily at Sherlock Holmes. Behind him, Watson, Chance, the café waiter, and half-a-dozen burly servants dressed in fine blue and gold livery, spread out threateningly around the table. Mrs Hudson glared angrily at Holmes.
"Mr Collins!. What on earth is this? Did you make an appointment? Oh, and I want a word with your wife about buying a full leg of lamb to last you two weeks, when half of one would have sufficed for a month. Explain yourself man; and what are all these scoundrels doing treading mud all over my newly mopped flagstones? Good Lord, is that you Darcy and...Fitzwilliam......?"
Mrs Hudson broke off and stared in astonishment at Rupert Chance and the waiter who had appeared at Chance's shoulder brandishing a sabre. The garish cockatoo perched on her own shoulder shrieked in anger.
" All out at once? disgraceful. Shut the door"
Sherlock Holmes opened the large Bible he was carrying, revealing a pistol secreted in the cut-out pages. He withdrew it with a flourish and pointed it at Mrs Hudson. Watson stepped forward in alarm but Holmes barred his approach with a raised arm.
"The game is up Lady Catherine. Offering practise on your pianoforte will not get you out of this. You are under arrest.".......You, Mr Hurst Sir, put that knife and fork down immediately! You will see no more hearty breakfasts inside a prison cell, I'll wager."
A weighty man, eating at the table, dropped his knife and fork and tried desperately to empty his mouth of three beef sausages, two whole mushrooms, a slice of fried bacon and a tomato. Eventually, he swallowed hugely and managed to gasp..
"Just one pistol sir? How very singular!"
Opposite him, a thin-faced character spilled a glass of port down his waistcoat in fright. The regimental type card player, surreptitiously dropped a three of clubs, playing card, beneath the table and replaced it with an ace of spades he produced from his sleeve. A middle-aged woman Watson had seen before, possibly selling newspapers near Baker Street, sat in a corner beside the girl from the cake shop. She eyed Watson's heavy gold watch chain with some interest and winked at him.
"And you sir, are you married? I have three daughters at home right now. Do you dance? For I warrant you will not find prettier tavern girls or better drunken fiddle-playing anywhere than here in the Cockatoo".
"Dance you say? Why, if I had ever learned this Can-Can thing the French music hall strumpets do, I should have been a great proficient and..."
What Mrs Hudson would have said was never uttered. Chance whacked his riding crop down on the table top with a crash, his eyes smouldering angrily.
"Enough! We are not come here to dance madam, but to arrest you, Lady Catherine de Burglar, for blackmail. You tried to besmirch the honour of the woman I love, Elizabeth Bennet, and rob her of her rightful upper-middle class lifestyle."
Mrs Hudson, who everyone kept calling "Lady Catherine"? almost spat the words at him
"Silence, Darcy! Do not mention that woman's name here. It will pollute the shades of the docks. She has taken you in when you should have married my daughter. I would have seen her penniless, but I will not be taken alive. Anne, get the phaeton and prepare to flee. H.M.S Rosings is moored at the dockside and we can be on our way to France by nightfall"
Mrs Hudson threw aside her brocaded shawl and revealed a large blunderbuss. She aimed it directly at Watson, grinned fiendishly... and pulled the trigger....
...Watson woke up with a start and, struggling upright, peered owlishly around him. He found he was breathing heavily, almost gasping for breath. In the dark bedroom the brass knobs of the foot of his bed glowed faintly in a pale moonlight. He frowned and tried to remember what had awoken him, then shrugged his shoulders and turning on his side soon dropped into sleep, this time deep and dreamless.
The following morning, Watson dressed and shaved early and let himself out into Baker Street. Several cabs were already taking people off to their various destinations, and a news vendor was calling out headline topics as he strolled. The morning was fresh and Watson took several deep breaths as he walked along, pausing to purchase The Times and Telegraph newspapers on his way. Deciding Holmes may not yet be abroad, Watson went into a small café and ordered morning tea and a fresh muffin. The day's newspapers contained reports of a section of British soldiers forced back by Boers after a six hour engagement. No great losses were mentioned. Kitchener declared it would take a year and many men to defeat the Boers, and The Times questioned the British tactics. In football, northern club Bury beat Southampton 4-0 in the F.A.Cup Final. Watson folded the papers: He would read both later. He finished his breakfast snack, paid his bill and strolled leisurely back up Baker Street. He climbed the stairs, let himself quietly into the sitting room and was quite surprised to see Sherlock Holmes already dressed and alert. Watson was even more surprised to see him cleaning and polishing his Webley Bulldog pistol. Holmes raised a hand and smiled a greeting, before pointing the weapon at a cactus plant in a pot on the windowsill and simulating pulling the trigger. Watson never doubted for a moment the weapon was fully loaded..
"Morning Watson. Didn't know if you were up and about. I was thinking we both should walk out and take a hearty breakfast later. It is quite possible that travelling may interfere with our lunch!"
Watson eyed the gun Holmes was holding, thoughtfully as he was removing his coat. He carried his old Adams service revolver himself on occasion, mainly when he knew he would be abroad after dark, but, after what Holmes had told him just before they retired last night, had not thought today would be an occasion for firearms. Perhaps he had better take his own gun after all?
Holmes saw the direction of his gaze and smiled as he put the weapon in his pocket.
"Worry not Watson. I am but being prepared for anything to happen, although I seriously doubt much will. My plan will involve more conversation then bullets, believe me!"
Watson nodded wordlessly, hoping he was right, and went to light the gas ring to make more tea.
The five landau carriages provided by Rupert Chance made an unusual sight as they drew up in line along the dockside on the West India dock complex. Work went on regardless, with the dockers unloading the two ships moored in that section, but the sight still drew a small crowd of curious onlookers as the five carriages discharged their somewhat heavy loads. Holmes, Watson, Thomas Twitterington and Rupert Chance had all travelled together and Chance once again looked regretfully at the fifteen burly individuals who clambered down onto the flags outside The Cockatoo pub. He glanced with distaste at the sign with its crude daub of the bird that gave the place its name, then looked across at Holmes and held out his hand.
"Whatever it is you have in mind, these lads will be only too pleased to make sure you are not interrupted or interfered with. Good luck my friend!"
Holmes shook the offered hand, took a deep breath, looked around the assembled players and smiled.
"Gentlemen, I think the landlord would like to buy you all a drink. Follow me please"
Jeffrey Edmonds, owner and landlord of the Cockatoo public house, seated with his three cronies at his usual table, could hardly believe his eyes when Holmes and Watson entered the dingy interior of his premises. His eyes at first lit up at the sight of two gentlemen, well dressed and obviously past the first flush of youth. The smile that was about to quirk his lips was halted when he observed the crowd of very large males following them in. His eyes suddenly became wary as Holmes crossed the room and stood before his table. Apart from the one in the corner and its four occupants, only a couple of tables contained drinkers. The men at both seemed suddenly to realise they had business elsewhere and drank up quickly and left. The newcomers spread and seated themselves around at the empty tables. Looking over them, Watson was exceedingly glad they were on his side.
"Good afternoon, Landlord. Mr Edmonds is it not? Porter for my friend and I, then follow it with a round for all these gentlemen, if you will. There are things of interest to both of us that we should discuss, I do believe. I think you had better summon your waiter. Jump to it man, lively now. We do not have all day"
Edmonds looked at him, his mouth opening and closing in shock. Finally, he glared angrily at Holmes, but sweat had suddenly appeared on his florid face.
"Ere, who are you to be telling me what to do in my own pub?" he blustered. "I give the orders in here and you better believe it .Are you police or something? " He nevertheless, signalled to the girl standing behind the plank table to dispense porter to the silent watchers. Holmes took a seat at Edmond's table, after making a brushing gesture over the stained bench there. Watson took up station behind him. The decently dressed young man and the sailor-type with the tattoos, of their previous visit were seated there. The girl serving maid deposited two flagons of porter on the table and went off to serve Holmes's companions. Holmes took a mouthful of the beer and withdrew two pieces of paper from his pocket. He left them on the table before unhurriedly producing his pipe and looking steadily at Edmonds. He reached into his waistcoat and produced a box of safety matches and slowly lit the pipe. He then addressed the landlord, his eyes suddenly flinty.
"No, there are no police here yet, but there well may be very shortly if you do not listen very carefully to what I am going to say. After that, the decision will rest with you! My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am a professional detective. The man behind me is my companion, Doctor Watson. The large gentlemen are spectators, for now. Now then, a short time ago, your son, for this gentleman is your son, is he not?" Holmes indicated the young man at the table, "posing as a new friend, tempted a man here to drink and play cards. After cheating and robbing him of his money, you rigged up a charade to make him believe he had killed one of the card players after a row over cheating. From that point, once you found he was of a wealthy family, you pressured him into parting with a great deal of money by a vicious scheme of lies, blackmail and threats using disclosure of his crime as a lever......Sit down and stay where you are!"
Holmes barked the words and pointed at the man with the tattoos who had risen to his feet. He switched his attention to him noting his furtive look.
"You are back from the dead it seems. The last heard of you was as a corpse floating in the dock, killed by the same unfortunate man you cheated. One of your "friends", and I use the term loosely indeed, hit the man with a bottle and knocked him unconscious. When he came round, injured and still partially drunk, you were missing claimed dead. I don't have to relate the whole story, do I? It is all too familiar to you. You were very easy indeed to identify when we my friend and I came here the other day. Gaviota was the man claimed murdered and yet here you are alive and well. Yes, you are that man. You see, my friend, I happen to know that "Gaviota" is the Spanish word for "seagull", two of which are tattooed on your arms. That young man beside you had to be the owner's son, for he was as out of place in a rat-infested hovel like this as we are. He would not be here unless he had a right to be so and was guaranteed to be safe.!"
Holmes switched his attention back to Edmonds who was now perspiring freely.
"Now, you may deny as much of it as you will, but if necessary I am quite prepared to get these men to keep you all here whilst someone contacts my friend Inspector Lestrade of the police and brings him here. I can assure you he will be far more inclined to believe me than you that the only crimes committed are yours. I also have the man you cheated and injured seated in a carriage outside. I doubt it is the first time you pulled this devious, vicious trick, but I guarantee it will be the last!"
Edmonds had lost his ruddy complexion and was pale and perspiring freely. Holmes sat back waiting for the denials, none came. Gaviota had a haunted look and his tanned face had also paled. The younger man just looked helplessly at his father.
"What do you intend to do?" Edmonds former brash tone had become almost a croak.
"You are obviously the instigator of the whole dastardly scheme and the hurt and anguish you have caused cannot be undone. The money you stole will be returned, every single penny of it, and how you achieve that I care not a fig about. You do not have the excuse of a crime since none was committed except your own threats and blackmail. Here is a list drawn up from the figures you demanded and took from the young man and his family. Very fortunately we stepped in before your final outrageous demand could be met. There is a man also outside, a good friend of the lady you stole from, who has very powerful connections in both police and government. He is far from amused, but the family wish to avoid embarrassment by making these details public so he has some reservations on proceeding, whilst I, sir, have no such limitations and would do so in a heartbeat, for you are the lowest form of life I can think of. I care not how much it hurts you to return the money, but return it you will. You have one week to deliver it for the attention of myself, care of a Mrs Hudson at 221B Baker Street, Marylebone. The amounts, address and details are on this sheet of paper."
Holmes placed the larger of the two sheets he had put on the table in front of Edmonds.
"In addition to the police, should you fail to do this, my companions will visit you again with even more friends. What might be left of your establishment after they visit will be suitable only for firewood! It is only at the request of the family to avoid publicity that you do not finish up behind bars this very day. You have got off very lightly indeed. There is, in addition, one last thing that you will do if you wish not to see me again. Carry out the instructions on this other sheet. Do not fail, for you are a very lucky man, as are your companions. I shall return within a week to see that you have complied. I think our business is now concluded. Come gentlemen, let us leave this rats den of thieves and scoundrels!"
Holmes placed two pounds on the table in front of Edmonds. He would not have it said that they had left without paying for their drinks. He stood up and walked from the place without a backward look and followed by Watson and some grim looking, heavyweight gentlemen.
One week later, much to the delight and gratitude of Lady Henrietta and her brother, Holmes's promised Status Quo was restored. The stolen money, complete to the penny, had arrived in a package at Baker Street only two days after the visit to the docklands. The Times that morning had carried the announcement of the engagement of a well known society gentleman, Mr Rupert Chance and Lady Henrietta Twitterington of Marylebone Court, much to the delight of all concerned. Holmes and Watson were now in a carriage approaching the West India docks. Behind them, as escorts, came a second carriage containing four of the same large gentlemen that had visited The Cockatoo the previous week. Holmes had one interest in the case left. He wanted to ascertain that his last demand of the villainous Edmonds had been met.
"What exactly are we going to see, Holmes? You've been damned secretive about this whole thing. My curiosity is aroused. All you say is "wait and see"
"Patience Watson, for we are approaching the answer to your question right now. Mr Edmonds likes birds, it seems, but Cockatoos are rather foreign in London and his sign was a disgrace, so I changed the scenario somewhat. Ah, there we are...splendid !"
Holmes smiled widely as their carriage pulled up outside the public house. He waved a hand grandly and pointed at the pub doorway. Over it, on a new bracket and chains, a shiny, professionally painted sign hung in splendid and colourful isolation of the grime around it. Watson peered at it then smiled broadly. The smile became a guffaw and the guffaw an explosive laugh, joined in by Holmes. The pair could be heard laughing uproariously as the driver flicked the reins and the carriages turned for home. Watson would ask himself later, in a quiet moment, did he really hear a woman's voice echoing their laughter....or was it just his imagination?
Behind the disappearing carriage, swinging gently in the breeze, the sign announced to all and sundry, the premises to be....... ......The End