O the chill breath a-blowing, and the salt on my lips,
From the seaport, and the roadstead, and the straining sails of ships!
O the sharp scent of the golden weed about the grey stone quay,
And the heart of me a-leaping at a smell of the sea!
Cicely Fox Smith.
Posted on 2015-06-19
July, in London of the year 1902, was not exactly what one might have expected of a month normally regarded as high summer in England: It was cool and dull and certainly disappointing to Dr Watson as he surveyed the morning gloomily from the sitting room window of 221B Baker Street Marylebone in London. The temperature, despite the month, occasioned fires still being lit every day. Holmes had contended it was more like March than July, and Watson could not disagree. This morning was no exception and, deciding hot tea was necessary to raise spirits, he lit the gas ring and put the kettle to boil.Nothing in the newspapers did much to fill him with real joy, although there were odd items of interest. August would bring the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Westminster Abbey, and the end of May had seen the Treaty of Vereeniging between the South African Republic, the Orange Free State and the United Kingdom finally bring the Boer War to an end. Of interest nearer to home was the fact that the first British person to be convicted of a crime on fingerprint evidence was named as one Harry Jackson. Holmes's view was that he didn't need such evidence and he would have solved the crime regardless. Argument, Watson knew, would be completely pointless, so he kept his counsel and offered none.
Of late, Sherlock Holmes had satisfactorily solved another puzzling case and, since the weather was less than encouraging, was currently out on a visit to the local book store in search of indoor pleasure. Watson, indeed, had encouraged his companion to walk out and take some air. Almost anything was preferable to a day of classical concertos on that damned violin of his. Holmes's desire for seeking out a particular book had begun two days previously. He had taken to reading the works of Jane Austen, and was currently perusing "Persuasion" a novel he had learned was published in 1818 a year after her death, and titled by her brother Henry. Holmes had expressed a wish to learn something of the locations in the stories, Bath and Lyme Regis, thus the bookshop visit. When He arrived back from his shopping he had acquired several books and, divesting himself of his caped topcoat, he held one out to Watson.
"A copy of Jane Austen's "Persuasion", old chap. I thought we might discuss the book as we go along! The weather isn't really encouraging for walking so I thought we might broaden our minds with some reading."
With little else in prospect right then, Watson had no real objection to the idea and took the book to his armchair. Holmes lit his pipe and did likewise and for a couple of hours, broken only by a serving of tea and biscuits and the half-hourly chimes of the mantle clock, they read on in companionable silence. At five o'clock, with official teatime imminent, a knocking was heard from below, assumed by both to be a delivery or message boy. Both were wrong as a tap on their door a few minutes later brought in Mrs Hudson. Her expression betrayed the fact that she was not wholly happy with the timing of the visitor coinciding with her home-baked potato pie being ready to serve for tea.
"Will Mr Holmes receive a Mr Jeremiah Elliot for an appointment?" she asked a trifle stiffly. Holmes, knowing the source of her displeasure was the hour, a constant source of ill-timed interruptions in her daily schedules, glanced at the mantle clock
"I shall make it a brief one" he announced diplomatically, and Mrs Hudson stepped aside and admitted an exceptionally well-dressed gentleman who Holmes estimated to be in his forties. Holmes smiled at the coincidence of Mr Elliot being the name of one of the characters in the book he was reading, well at least, Sir Walter Elliot was, if not Jeremiah. The visitor was tanned by the elements, causing Holmes to wonder if he had a sea-going background.
"Thank you indeed, for seeing me Mr Holmes. I hope to not keep you very long."
"Please take a seat. This is my colleague, Doctor Watson, Mr Elliot. How may we be of service to you?."
The man nodded smilingly and put a smart Gladstone bag and his rolled umbrella on the floor beside the chair. He was wearing a caped topcoat with a heavy collar, over a neat conservative navy-blue suit, with an ease that showed that as his everyday style of dress. The quality if his attire, though the style was a little on the old-fashioned side, made Holmes assume that the man was not without money.
"I am hoping you may be able to help me with a little family history, Mr Holmes. My family name is of great interest to me, but around the time of the Napoleonic wars we seem to have become a little, er, cloudy, shall we say? The truth is that our family, originally of Scottish heritage, had moved to France and only managed to escape with their very lives at the time of the French Revolution. All out family records were left behind and, when this was followed by the wars in Europe, everything was lost. We did have some family ties with a family of Dalrymples long ago but again this all very vague as both names are of Scottish origin. Being an avid reader, I have long been aware of the fact that Jane Austen wrote of both the Elliots and Dalrymples in her novel, "Persuasion" and I have often wondered if it was pure coincidence that she used those names?"
Holmes chuckled dryly and reached for his pipe.
"Forgive me interrupting you sir, but you must know that Jane Austen wrote fiction, and even if she knew of such families she surely would not use them in a published work!"
"Oh, assuredly so, but it just seems so coincidental that she also used Lyme Regis as a place visited in the novel and it seems we once had some distant connection with that place. I wondered perhaps if Miss Austen's use of the names came from something she had heard. I have heard vague mention of the Damrymples of old being involved in certain, less than lawful activities appertaining to the English Chanel and Lyme is......."
Holmes sighed, and shook his head. He smiled good-naturedly, his reading knowledge fresh in his mind.
"Jane Austen went to Lyme on holiday with her family. Like other seaside resorts it was a popular venue for good old Mrs Bennet's "spot of sea-bathing". She also went to Bath and other places. She wrote of what she knew and, I believe, despite opinions to the contrary, whom she knew. I am almost sure that would not include using their given names. She might, for instance, have known someone in the clergy who was pompous and foolish. He would not be called William Collins in reality if he did exist, I am almost certain.! If you will forgive me stating this without disrespect, Sir Walter Elliot of the novel is not a character I would wish to be related to. He is rather stupid, exceedingly vain about his appearance and regardless of reality in his financial matters. Of the family members, only Anne Elliot comes across as genuine. The rest, quite frankly are shallow and without much sense. It is also known that political figures were sometimes, no often, targets in Jane Austen's works, though obviously not by their real names.. "
Mr Elliot rose to his feet with a resigned sigh. He raised a hand to Holmes and smiled.
"Just as I expected, Mr Holmes. I will trouble you no further, but I ask that if you should come across anything related, then please contact me. So far I have done nothing but hit blank walls in my search for family ties. If you should wonder why I came here, I was in the bookshop when you purchased your works on Austen, Lyme and Bath. I asked the young lady for your name from the bill of sale. When she told me you were a well-known detective, well, I did hesitate in coming but decided I had little to lose..."
Holmes returned the smile. "I know. I was aware of your interest and saw you come out and take a cab. I am truly sorry I can be of no real assistance to you!"
He showed Mr Elliot to the front door, his mind already on hot potato pie, peas and red cabbage. Perhaps that was the reason he did not notice right then that his visitor had left no address to be contacted at.
The following morning brought a complete surprise for Watson. Returning from his morning stroll he found Holmes perusing railway time-tables. Seeing his enquiring look, Holmes clapped his hands together enthusiastically and grinned.
"How do you fancy a trip to the seaside Watson? Oh, I'm not advocating sea-bathing of course, but I have a sudden urge for salt and sea-spray and some bracing walks by the pebbled shore. Reading of Lyme Regis has made me desire a small vacation by the sea. What say you, for we have worked hard enough of late? A sally or two along the Cobb where Jane Austen once trod, sea brezzes and some freshly caught fried cod for dinner, appeals mightily to me. Are you in agreement? "
Watson needed only a moment before he acceded to Holmes's request. They would spend the day packing, taking care of imminent matters and making travel arrangements, and leave early next morning: By train from London to Axminster, and then by carriage for the six miles or so on to Lyme. Thus it was arranged. Watson dined that evening with a lady of his acquaintance and Holmes reclined by the fire and lost himself in his books.
With some six hours or so of a train ride across the countryside, it was not too long before, morning newspapers perused and exchanged, conversation turned to their destination and Jane Austen's book that had occasioned the trip. Watson had questions, Holmes, quite far ahead in the reading gave his views as answers.
"Why do you think Austen made this Walter Elliot fellow such an obviously foolish man, Holmes? I mean, who would be so vain as to have a bedroom full of mirrors and put stuff on his face? His whole actions were those of a buffoon of a man. In Pride and Prejudice the heroine, just like this Anne Elliot character, seemed strangely normal and sensible but surrounded by foolish folk. Is it an Austen trend?"
"Oh, I believe so Watson. I find old Sir Walter a splendidly entertaining chap. I rather think that Jane Austen took much pleasure in satire and wit rather than the obvious straight story telling. She made caricatures of some of her characters and if you study the tales, those characters are actually what make the situations so enjoyable. I prefer to believe that she actually knew some people as foolish as the Baron of buffoonery and co, or at least tending that way, and used them as models for her tales. She likes to poke fun at the aristocracy not even falling short of royalty. She also makes some of the females, indeed quite a few of them, just as empty headed and nonsensical as the males. I think she took core characters and let life in all its facets flow around them. Few people in life have the sun shine on them all the time, or are exempt from the mundane"
Watson nodded, then remembered a question he had forgotten to ask in the hurried decision for the vacation.
"So why choose Lyme and not Bath for a visit, Holmes? Surely there is much more going on in Bath than at a coastal seaside resort, a place admittedly, I've never been to?"
"Much more of what exactly, Watson? Bath has admirable architecture, some pretty locations, fancy shops and hordes of lemmings strolling aimlessly around hoping to see someone to wave at, or get invited to tea or a puppet show or take the spa waters for gout. I also have no desire to listen to some would be string quartet members sawing the catgut into surrender in the name of some German musician chap I have never heard of. No, Watson, I tire of cities. We live in our country's capital and share its fog and crowds oft times enough. Give me the fresh ozone blowing in from the Channel any time. I brought my spyglass along to watch the ships sail by. Splendid idea, think you not? "
Holmes nodded and took refuge in his book for a while, even sketching Holmes reading his newspaper, in his sketch-book journal.. Somewhere along the way the rattle of the rails and sway of the carriages lulled him off to sleep. Holmes awakened him as they were approaching the end of the line. The climate at Axminster was somewhat brighter and warmer than that they had left in London and soon they were on the platform with their bags and looking around for a carriage. Only one vehicle stood by the platform and the driver walked over to them. He wore a brightly, checked weather coat and a light grey bowler hat, tilted at a rakish angle, which he raised in their direction.
"Gentlemen, good afternoon. My master is bound for Lyme, and if by chance that is also your own destination, he invites you to share his carriage!"
Holmes and Watson exchanged glances and both smiled at such a stroke of luck. Holmes nodded his thanks and they picked up their luggage.
"Excellent. We would be delighted to accept such a kind offer, for indeed we are bound for Lyme Regis. We are strangers there and have booked no place to stay as yet, but perhaps your master may recommend a decent hotel to us?"
The pair walked across to the carriage and the driver held the door for them to enter. When they were seated and the bags stowed inside, the gentlemen opposite raised his hat and smiled. Holmes could hardly contain his surprise when he found Jeremiah Elliot smiling warmly at them.
"Mr Holmes, Doctor Watson, what an amazing coincidence, and what a pleasure to see you here heading for Lyme!"
Jeremiah Elliot leaned forward and shook both men's hands. Holmes gave a quizzical smile and unbuttoned his topcoat. The late afternoon sun was still pleasantly warm.
"Coincidence indeed, Mr Elliot. We are here for a short vacation on the coast and some sea air, admittedly prompted by Jane Austen. What brings your good self so far from the city of London?
Elliot smiled again, raised his hands in partial surrender and shrugged.
"My own reason is simple, Mr Holmes; I live here, or at least I have a cottage here and spend quite some time on the coast whenever I can. My lungs need some fresh sea-air quite frequently, or so I tell myself. I confess I have been meeting the London train for the last two days since we met, for judging by the books you purchased it was a pure hope on my part that you might find yourself here. You would not need a guide to Lyme Regis or Bath just to read a Jane Austen book. As I say, I hoped you might choose Lyme. Had you waited another year you could have travelled direct London to Lyme, for we are having a splendid aqueduct constructed to put us on the railway route if it should ever be finished on time. That will open next August. But then again, if you had, we may never have met. Fortune was kind. I am sure that you will wish the comforts of a hotel and there are several on and around the harbour, where I shall set you down. I am almost sure that somewhere with a view of the Cobb will be a requisite for you. I am also aware that you will probably both prefer to be left to wander in peace, but when you are settled in, perhaps tomorrow evening, we may dine and converse at my house, for I have a small proposition to put to you. But, enough of that for now; you will no doubt need to stretch your legs after your journey. Very shortly we will be in sight of the sea, ever a pleasure to look forward to, is it not?".
"Indeed it is. We shall take a stroll by the seashore directly after booking into a hotel, then, I think, a hearty meal and an early night, It has been somewhat of a long day cooped up in a train and some sea air will be most welcome. If I am not mistaken the smell of the briny is approaching rapidly and there are seagulls a plenty in sight already. May I lower the window, the better to take it all in?"
Some thirty minute after Jeremiah Elliot's coach had left them at a small but comfortable hotel overlooking the harbour front itself, Holmes and Watson, bags unpacked and topcoats left behind, were setting off to stroll in the ozone. The sea indeed had a unique fragrance of brine and fish that made both take deep satisfying breaths. The air was filled with the harsh cries of seagulls wheeling overhead, waiting, alert and hovering ready to plummet down on any waste sprats the fisherwomen tossed into the waters from their sortings on the inner harbour wall, or the fishermen threw overboard from the boats. The sea itself was in temperate mood, rolling in on long gentle swells rather than crashing in as it would on a windier day. Across the harbour the curved barrier wall around the Cobb absorbed the waves with ease whilst the moored sailboats on the inner harbour just rolled gently on the placid water. Holmes and Watson ambled slowly around the inner harbour. The outer barrier top walk, jutting out towards the open sea, scene of Louisa Musgrove's renowned fall in the Persuasion tale, could well wait until the morrow for Holmes. Watson had some catching up to do in his reading. After a glass of fresh milk , some biscuits, and a pipe of tobacco, the pair retired contentedly to bed, windows open in the warm night and the hypnotic, lazy roll and splash of the waves to hasten their slumbers..
Though it was barely past eight o'clock the following morning, the smell of cooking greeted Holmes and Watson as they descended from their rooms, and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and fried bread, with a glass of orange juice and a pot of hot tea to finish was very welcome indeed to both. The morning held promise of a fine day and the pair were soon abroad in search of a newspaper and the first pipe of the day. They elected to sit on a couple of empty barrels looking out to sea with the sun, already well-risen on their left, turning the sea into a golden mirror. Watson had his small knapsack with his journal and Holmes had the local guide in his pocket and had brought along his spy-glass. He trained the latter on a lone sailing ship crossing the horizon and possibly bound for a French port. Watson perused The Times and puffed contentedly on his briar pipe. They spent some fifteen leisurely minutes in this fashion before Holmes rose to his feet and stretched his arms widely. In front of them a couple of fishing boats were already returning with the morning's labour completed, and people were out along the quayside mending nets and preparing to unload the catch when the boats docked with their catches of herring, cod, mackerel and whatever other marine life their nets had dredged from the deep.
"Come Watson, let us stroll along this famous wall and see the scene of literary history"
Holmes lit his pipe and waited as Watson folded and pocketed his newspaper. The pair turned left and set out along the Cobb wall. In a short time they had reached the place where steps, one of three sets, descended to the lower and sheltered level of the stone promenade on the landward side. Holmes eyed the steep and somewhat narrow steps, some ten in number, that angled in towards the stone wall, and looked quizzically across at Watson.
"Dammit Watson, it is certainly more sheltered from the wind down there, but hardly a place for playing silly games. These steps are no more than a couple of feet wide and not even level. I wonder if Jane Austen actually did jump about herself on these as well as using them in her tale? I would imagine, age wise she would have more sense"
"I don't know, Holmes, I should well imagine it possible, but you wouldn't catch me hopping about anywhere near them on a wet and windy day, that's for sure. If some silly girl hit her head on this stuff it is a wonder she didn't crack her skull wide open.!"
Watson shivered at the thought then realised Holmes was going to walk down the steps. With a shrug he kept his hand on the wall and his eyes inward and gingerly followed. Holmes watched him descend and smiled widely.
"Do you know Watson, that in 1867 Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet, another of those Baron chaps, came to Lyme and wanted to see the spot where Jane Austen's fictitious young lady fell, and here we are doing the same thing. Did it strike home to him that Jane Austen herself had probably been in the very same spot? She certainly made an impact on people writing about it. She was actually here in eighteen o'three and four, and they must have had some social life because she went to assemblies with her mother and father"
It was indeed noticeably quieter and more sheltered on the inner side of the Cobb wall and Watson had to shake his head and stop imagining young ladies in muslin dresses skipping along the harbour edge. The view back to the landward side across the harbour was tranquil and picturesque with boats moored in the bay and the rising, dark hills as a backdrop. Holmes too found it easy to imagine little had changed geographically in the hundred years or so since Jane Austen may have had holidays as a young woman in the very spots they were walking now. He waved to Watson to ascend back to the high wall from where they had an uninterrupted view across the channel. The breeze blew spray against the base of the Cobb wall on the sea side and Holmes realized he was actually seeing the same view, seawards, totally unchanged, that Jane Austen and her family would have seen. It was somehow a rather strange feeling. The pair climbed back up and walked around the wall and back to their lodgings above the harbour. He knew it would pass, but at that moment he was left with an odd feeling of being unable to separate fact from fiction.
Lunch was the aforementioned fried cod with fried sliced potatoes and well steeped peas. The restaurant overlooked the harbour and, since the weather was clement, several tables were located outside in the open air. Holmes and Watson elected to use one of these and both declared the lunch, with added salt and vinegar, to be delicious. On finishing they retired to a seaside bar and took a flagon of beer whilst smoking a pipe of tobacco. They agreed unanimously that the day thus far had been an excellent start to their vocation. A stroll around the town and identifying various locations on a map Holmes bought at a seafront souvenir shop, made their first afternoon both pleasant and interesting. Watson sketched seagulls and a sail boat moored in the harbour. At seven o'clock, refreshed and changed they made their way to the location of Jeremiah Elliot's cottage overlooking the harbour.
The walk to their host's house was short but climbed steeply upwards and when reached, provided a quite breathtaking view over Lyme bay, and out to the distant horizon. From here, the sea gleamed dazzlingly in the lowering sun like a sheet of hammered brass. The cottage turned out to be two buildings renovated into one and was tastefully if simply furnished in keeping with its marine roots. A splendid scale model of H.M.S Bounty fully rigged for sea, stood on a deep window-sill flanked by two carved narwhal tusks. A John Speed map of the British Isles hung on the wall opposite to the window. With a local's anticipation of a cooler evening, a cheery log fire burned brightly in the wide slate hearth, reflecting redly off the copper utensils hanging over the mantle. The room was lit by several lanterns and a couple of candles already, although the sun still had quite an amount of power left. . Elliot greeted them warmly and served them a glass of chilled , German Hockheimer wine from a wooden bucket, via the same servant who had met them at the station. He discussed on general topics until they had eaten and this was perfectly acceptable to all. If the visitors had been expecting seafood, the meal came as a total surprise. A large, freshly baked pork pie, served with sausages on mashed potatoes done with milk and butter and followed by treacle tart and custard, was rounded off with mature local cheese and cream crackers and a glass of claret. Both guests were effusive in their praise of the meal, much to Jeremiah Elliot's delight. As Elliot's man cleared away the meal remnants all three lit pipes and sat back to relax. Conversation stayed on the quality of the food for a few moments, then, Jeremiah Elliot cleared his throat and addressed Holmes directly:
"Mr Holmes, A man of your perceptive skills cannot be unaware that my delight at seeing you here was tempered somewhat with a measure of relief that my instincts had paid off. You could so easily have decided to visit Bath, or indeed postponed your trip until a later time altogether. I took a fifty-fifty gamble that reading Persuasion was more about the incidents at Lyme and one Elliot, than Bath and a whole family of them. Thus decided I awaited the daily train as much in hope as any real certainty. You certainly did not expect to see me here, I'll warrant?"
Holmes turned a hand and nodded smilingly.
"No, admittedly, I did not. The fact that you have a home here certainly surprised me. I can only conclude your actions beyond that, and your aforementioned proposition, have some ties to your family records search, but what, I cannot even begin to imagine. One thing I can almost guarantee, at the risk of repetition, is that your name would not intentionally have any factual connection in a Jane Austen work of fiction. The lady seems very careful to me to confine her stories to people, places and events she knew There may well have been characters she based on those she had encountered or knew of, but certainly she would disguise them beyond easy recognition and most certainly never let their names bear any relation to public figures of note. I give the lady credit for more intelligence than that".
"I have to agree with that, but I just cannot believe that it is pure coincidence that Elliots were in a story and were related to Dalrymples, two families connected to myself, and that Jane Austen took them and placed then here in Lyme, a place also connected to myself, just by pure good fortune, or indeed ill-fortune, whichever the case may be. My proposition is this Mr Holmes: You are here by your own choice on vacation, so spend one week here in Lyme, for which I will pay both your hotel bills and expenses for the two of you, and make some enquiries on my behalf. If you find no links, then nothing is lost and we can go our separate ways. What do you say, will you do it?"
Holmes regarded Elliot's somewhat concerned expression, his own eyes narrowed in thought. He rubbed the side of his brow for several seconds then leaned forward.
"Persuasion is very fresh in my mind. I have completed it in the last couple of days. It is basically a love story stretched over lost years and finally ending happily. That is the core of the story and all the rest if the happenings are events woven around it without really being of any real consequence. It is a almost a star-crossed lovers saga with demure Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth in the lovers roles. Anne apart, Jane Austen is mocking the Elliot family and only Mrs Russell comes out of it well. In my opinion, the Lyme excursion is but a way of adding interest and tying up loose ends. Louisa Musgrove is an obstacle in the way of Anne Elliot and Wentworth's romance, so she has to be removed. Quite drastically, I'd say, but removed she is, and kept that way by a conveniently available broken-hearted ex-seaman. She could just have easily fallen off one of those damned paten things prancing around Bath. That is how I see it. Jane Austen knew Lyme, and probably well enough indeed, and based part of her tale on that, and using names of Scottish origins would be far less risky than using family names from tombstones in Westminster Abbey, say. My own reason for being here was caused by the attraction of the place rather than just the story. I could quite easily have imagined the story locations from my armchair at home. Lyme is a reality in an otherwise fictional tale and it was that I wished to see. So far I find it quite delightful. I fear that if I accept your offer it can only be to disappoint you in the end. I will, if you so wish, find out what I can, but I doubt it will be much. Persuasion, whilst enjoyable as a tale, is pure fiction!"
Elliot smiled widely and clapped his hands together.
"Splendid. I accept what you say on both counts. Your best will be good enough for me, and now I will reveal to you the reason for my persistence, possibly give you a starting point, at least to consider!"
Elliot stood up and crossed the floor to a cupboard in a corner of the room. He returned with an old and worn, leather-bound book, about the size of a personal missal, and handed it to Holmes, who's eyes were immediately assessing details almost as he took it. It was titled "The Book of Common Prayer, according to the use of The Church of England" and was printed in London in 1734. He raised his eyes enquiringly to Elliot.
"There are two letters inside the cover. Please handle them carefully. The book came to me via a local bookshop, but I never knew its history beyond that. It was whilst I was moving up here that I found and read the letters inside the book whilst idly perusing the bookshop. I bought the book immediately but I am not sure the shop owner even knew the letters were there. That was about five years ago, and I have been searching in vain for their meaning ever since!"
Holmes opened the book and carefully removed the letters within it. He gently unfolded the first document, noticing immediately that it was written in a decent hand but that time had faded the ink somewhat in several places. The letter read:
This 14th of March, in the year of our Lord 1740
"Dear Miss Russell,
It is with the deepest regret that I must inform you of the death of my Ship's Master, and your fiancé, Frederick Elliot, who was sadly washed overboard during a severe storm in the English Channel whilst returning from a voyage to France. Master Elliot was a fine seaman and skilled in his many duties. His possessions, including letters from yourself, which, be assured on my honour, no one but I have seen, and any outstanding monies, will be delivered to you in due course. We conducted a burial service aboard ship when the storm abated and six other fine men were also lost to the sea. May your beloved fiancé find eternal rest in the name of Almighty God..
Respectfully, Arthur Harville, Royal Navy Admiral of H.M.S Berwick.
The letter, like those of its time was a sheet, folded and sealed with wax. The name on the front fold was. .Anne Russell. Holmes pursed his lips in thought as he opened the second sheet. This was in a different hand and on paper, not parchment. The hand was clear and easily read. This too had been sealed and addressed to Anne Russell.
"My dearest, Darling Anne.
At last I return and we can finally be joined as one in matrimony. Eight long years we have been apart, firstly from foolishness, indecision and the interference of others, and then from the demands of my profession. All is complete and I now head for home with a vow never more to be parted from you. Our future is secure as a decent fortune has been made. In all those years I have never lost my love for you, or let hope die that one day we would be as one. That time is close, my darling Anne, and I pray the tide rushes me home to you on fleet wings.
Always and ever, your loving fiancé, Frederick Elliot.
Holmes thoughtfully passed the letters toWatson and carefully leafed through the old prayer book. Inside the front leaf was the name, Edwina Russell 1765, written in ink. He waited until Watson had read the letters, then folded both and put them back in the prayer book which he handed back to Jeremiah Elliot. The latter scrutinised Holmes's face intently. Holmes appeared deep in thought and was silent for a full minute. Eventually, he sighed and let out a deep and somewhat agitated breath.
"I must take some time and think carefully on what this may mean. For that reason I prefer to say no more of it until I have done so. I sense several pipes of tobacco may be needed. Watson, would you record those names and dates in you notebook please"
After taking a final glass of wine and arranging to communicate in a couple of day's time, Holmes and Watson thanked their host again and, bidding him goodnight took the easy walk back to their hotel. Surprisingly the streets were exceptionally well lit by gas lamps. Watson paused to light his pipe and looked quizzically at Holmes.
"I am not quite sure what to make of any of that Holmes . What on earth does it all mean?
Holmes raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and gave a tight smile.
"At this moment, old friend, I really have not the faintest idea!"
Posted on 2015-06-20
Being totally familiar with the modus operandi of Sherlock Holmes, Watson knew that when he was focussed on a problem he was, at times, incommunicado with the world around him. It came as no surprise then to find him missing early the following morning. The serving maid informed Watson that Holmes had taken an early cup of tea and gone walking. Nothing, not even breakfast would break his chain of concentration when thus occupied. Deciding on a usual course of action at such times, Watson walked out for a newspaper then returned to devour a healthy breakfast himself. The weather was much more like it should be in July, warm and sunny, and he decided to walk around the bay to Lyme Parish Church, the Church of St Michael the Archangel he had seen pictured in Holmes's local guide. He estimated it to be less than a mile and donned just a lightweight jacket and his straw hat. A small knapsack with a bottle of water, his sketch-book, pipe and Holmes's telescope and he was ready to go. Within a short time the jacket was being carried over his arm and when he finally reached the old church he was perspiring freely. The guide book told his some facts about the building's history, and parts of the exterior stonework were truly atmospheric, but he was exceedingly glad to find the interior cool and shaded after the hot sun. For a while he just sat in quiet contemplation of the stained glass windows and the magnificence of the church, so surprisingly at odds with the weathered exterior, enjoying the soothing sense of peace and tranquillity his surroundings provided. Dust motes drifted gently down through the sun's rays, tinted by the coloured glass, and the warm scent of wax candles filled the silent air. A large statue of St Michael the Archangel stood on an altar in a side chancel. Eventually he rose and walked through the quiet church until he reached the bell tower. He was staring upwards when he suddenly became of someone behind him. Turning, he beheld a grey-haired gentleman in a clerical collar standing smiling at him.
"Good morning. I am Jacob Williams, vicar of St Michaels. Mr Elliot mentioned he had friends visiting and said you might call here. He asked that I help in any way I could with your questions. Are you Mr Holmes or Mr Watson?"
"Dr John Watson, sir. Pleased to meet you. Army doctor in the past and now general practitioner in London. My friend Holmes is on the prowl somewhere around Lyme, but where, I know not. He can disappear like a puff of smoke when the fancy takes him."
Watson, a strong man himself, was surprised at strength of the vicar's grip as they shook hands. The man's hands were rough and hardened and Watson's surprise must have shown on his face. The vicar looked down at his own hands and smiled wryly.
"Not exactly those of a concert pianist are they? I've always had a love of church bells and still like to take a turn pulling the ropes whenever I can. Not as often as I would like these day, mind!. I suppose Mr Elliot is still on a Grail quest in search of family heroes and that you are helping in that, hmmm? Unfortunately, our Church records show naught of his family, but that could be for many reasons. Lyme is prone to disappearing in sizeable chunks from time to time when the sea decides to devour some of it. You will have noticed that this church is rather worryingly near to the water's edge due to that very reason. If I were not a man of the true God I may believe the old stories about the gods being angry with us and letting nature punish us"
Jacob smiled and shook his head sadly, then took Watson's arm and led him down the church. towards one of the stained glass windows, still talking as they walked.
"I can tell you little that any common guide to the town does not. Church records get damaged and lost, particularly in ancient edifices like this. St Michael's goes back to Saxon times originally, then Norman and it is still standing today. It is not that there are not carefully kept registers of much of the time, but, for instance, it is known that from fifteen seventy two until sixteen fifty three, a gap of some eighty years, there is nothing at all recorded. The same thing with tombstones. A ten feet area of the building was lost to road widening in eighteen twenty four. Who knows exactly what has happened or how much has been truly lost over time? The sea has always been our enemy here in Lyme, and one of the very bells you were looking at bears the inscription "O Sea, Spare Me". We owe many thanks indeed to our Cobb wall."
Watson listened with interest, particularly to the vicar's words about lost records and tombstones. Jacob Williams stopped and indicated one of the colourful, tall windows.
"There is one church record we are proud was preserved. Our local fossil queen, Mary Anning. She died in eighteen forty seven aged just forty eight years old, but she brought fame to the town with her fossil finds. Are you aware of her?"
Watson nodded truthfully, because he had read of the lady in Holmes's guide. The vicar pointed again at the window.
"Her actual grave is in the ground just the other side of that glass. Her history is logged and easily remembered. Would that I could say the same for the family of Mr Elliot! I can say with honesty that I have truly looked in everything we have without any success. "
They had by now reached the porch and Watson held out his hand to Jacob Williams, who shook it strongly. .
"Many thanks for your helpful chat. I shall pass those facts on to my friend Holmes to see what he makes of them. He has a repetitive habit of finding things that others miss".
"I shall wish you both luck with your quest then, and say goodbye for the time being.".
With a nod and a parting smile Vicar Williams turned and went back into his church. Watson sat down on a tombstone and jotted a few lines down in his ever-present notebook, then rose and was about to head back to the path when he realised someone in a sail boat down off the jetty was waving in his direction. He raised a hesitant hand in acknowledgment thinking it was just someone being friendly, peered more closely, then walked forward to the edge of the jetty and shook his head in surprise. Sherlock Holmes grinned widely and beckoned him towards the jetty steps as he skilfully manoeuvred the boat alongside them.
"Come on Watson. Lovely morning for a sail around the bay. Climb aboard old chap!"
"Is there really any reason why I should be surprised? Holmes turns up sailing a boat. At least he isn't wearing an eye-patch and flying a Jolly Roger from the masthead."
Watson shook his head again and laughingly climbed down the steps.
"Tell me Holmes, what has a sailboat got to do with Jeremiah Elliot's family problems?"
"Absolutely nothing, Watson, nothing at all. We came here for a vacation, remember, and Mr Elliot's problems are an addition, not our whole reason for being here. It is a lovely morning, the boat was for hire and off I sailed. There is the fact, of course, that out at sea I can think clearly and uninterrupted by Hardy's "madding crowd"
Watson nodded in agreement and used Holmes's spyglass to watch the stack smoke of a distant steamer smudge the almost cloudless blue sky as it sailed for parts unknown. Holmes was correct, the day was indeed beautiful and they were on vacation. Everything else could take its turn at getting their attention. It didn't, at that particular time, occur to him to ask why Holmes had been in the proximity of St Michael's Church. It was during a repeat fish, fried potato and beer lunch that he did so. Holmes pondered the question for a moment.
"Tell me, if all we were here for was a pure and simple vacation, what should we do? Let me phrase the question a little differently. Much about Lyme must be very similar in character to when Jane Austen came here, twice apparently, and with her parents. What would she have done? I speak of course of the daylight hours and certainly have no wish to consider an assembly for dancing and dating. Where would she go, and how would she have filled her days? I have checked her history and she came here when she was twenty eight years old, and again a year later. She was hardly a child at the seaside. If we are to get at the problem of the Elliots and the bones of Persuasion, we must think like Jane Austen and, if necessary, be Jane Austen. There are some limits to that of course. I have no wish to see you traipsing down the streets in a ball gown and bonnet and carrying a parasol, but thought-wise we must get into her head"
Holmes broke off as Watson's guffaw at the mental image made him also smile.
" A start was made this morning by strolling the churchyard alone and just looking at tombstones and wondering about the lives of those within them. That could impact upon Persuasion. Now, as interesting as they appears, fossil hunting and sea-shell collecting are of little real importance. She may well have done both, indeed, probably did, and also perused the many examples of flora and fauna of mother nature. They again are not of any consequence in her plot, nor indeed is local history in the broad sense, because Persuasion contains little or nothing of either. But Jane Austen almost certainly walked the town and met people. She will have socialised with friends. I intend to spend at least some time in the same fashion. You, Watson, shall do as you wish, for I am, as you well know, not the best of company whilst pondering."
Watson nodded his agreement and decided to first return to the hotel, pick up his books then stroll out into the green and pleasant land, listen to the hum of bees and, well, "be Jane Austen", as the man had just said!
Sherlock Holmes, despite his need for uninterrupted thinking, decided to take a leisurely stroll and do it amongst the town streets and shops. The steeply upward-sloping Broad Street seemed ideal for his purpose. Striped, pull-blinds made small havens of shade against the hot afternoon sun, and shops of all description dotted both sides of the street. Still deep in thought he followed a practise of peripheral vision, being aware of all of his surrounding but only concentrating when something caught his eye. Thus was the case when he found himself outside a small and dusty bookshop with some of its many wares displayed on tables on the sidewalk. What was it that had registered worthy of attention. He studied the books, the window and the shop itself, concentrating on nothing, seeing everything. Quite suddenly, he smiled, snapped his fingers and walked up the single step into the dim interior. He emerged, some five minutes later with a satisfied expression on his face. He paused for a moment outside the bookshop, then decided to sit at a shaded table across the street and partake of a dish of local ice cream. Idly, he watched the world go by for fifteen minutes, his alert mind marshalling facts and considering possibilities. Eventually, he rose to his feet and took a breath of the warm air, before striding leisurely off back down the street.
"The game, dear friends, is indeed afoot " he murmured softly to himself.
Watson had a pleasant afternoon, doing a little sketching and reading in the sunshine and inevitably, became drowsy, lay back and dozed off. When he awoke, his hat had rolled off his head and his throat was unbearably dry. Unfortunately, his knapsack had been left in direct sunlight when the sun moved, consequently, the water in his carry bottle was warm and a little brackish and he decided to walk down the slope to the town and his hotel, via a visit to a main street where he could find a drink. Checking his pocket watch, he saw that it was four thirty already, so gathering up his books and bag he set off downhill. In a short time he was at street level and entering a small but neat and friendly-looking café situated next door to a pharmacy, where he ordered a very welcome pot of tea and a large cream scone. "Just the one" he promised himself, guiltily, knowing that his evening meal would be a couple of hours away yet. His table was in the small bay window and the one next to it was occupied by an elderly gentleman in a linen jacket. His straw panama hat was on a chair and a walking cane with an unusual handle stood in the corner beside him. Watson smiled and nodded in his direction as the waitress brought his order. The elderly man smiled back.
"Good afternoon. If I may be so bold, you look like you have been lying in the sun, sir. Be a little careful here with that, you can very soon get sun burned".
Watson suddenly realised his face was tingling a little and decided mentally to purchase some sun cream or lotion. He shrugged and opted for the truth.
"Yes, I got a little inattentive and nodded off whilst reading. I've only been here two days and I should have realised it is easy to burn beside the sea. I'm not unused to warmer climes having been in India at one stage, but nevertheless, it was careless"
They chatted on general pleasantries for a while during which it emerged that the man and his family had lived in Lyme for many years. The gentleman revealed he was eighty three years of age and that his mother and father had met at the local assembly rooms back around the early part of the nineteenth century. Watson looked at him in surprise and revealed that his friend and companion had only mentioned those assembly rooms in connection with the visits of the authoress, Jane Austen. He pulled the copy of Persuasion from his knapsack to illustrate his remark. The man chuckled and nodded animatedly.
"My mother, God rest her soul, may well have been dancing alongside that very lady, although back then she would have been just another dancer among many, for in season the assemblies were held each Tuesday and Thursday. Many people came to Lyme for sea bathing and recreation. Much has changed since then, although physically it could also be said that the opposite is the case. I do believe I still have in my possession an old entry ticket to an assembly that she used to use as a bookmark. They were quite informal affairs as we have so many visitors here and the tickets are quite plain and were probably printed by the hundreds. I have no children of my own and I would be happy to let you have it if you so wish and it is of interest. It is of no use to me now!"
Watson expressed his absolute delight and thanks at the offer and the gentleman said he would leave the ticket in an envelope with the café owner. Shaking hands, the old man gathered his hat and cane and left the café in rather sprightly fashion. Watson, quite delighted at his luck, set to contentedly to finish his tea and scone. His luck continued with the fact that he was able to purchase sun lotion from the shop next door before strolling back to the hotel in great good humour to bathe, shave, and prepare for dinner. Holmes was still absent at the time and only appeared in the corridor outside his room as Watson was going down the stairs . He also, had been in the sunshine and looked quite relaxed and in good humour as they greeted each other. Over dinner, which they had decided to take at the hotel, Watson related the story of meeting the old man in the café and his promise of the assembly ticket. Holmes nodded and smiled at the news but it was obvious his mind was on other things. Watson asked him what preoccupied him. Holmes looked at him thoughtfully, cutting his meat into strips.
" Jane Austen was twenty eight and twenty nine on her visits to Lyme. As far as I have been able to find out, she never came back after that, yet Persuasion was the last of her finished major works. She wrote all sorts of other things, but from the last visit in eighteen o'four, her other works took precedence and Persuasion was published last, and by her brother after she died in nineteen seventeen. From visiting Lyme it was seven years before she was able to publish anything at all due to convincing a publisher to do it. Since I have only completely read two of her works, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, I might be tempted to wonder why the latter was her last work and not her first. It is naught but idle curiosity, but ...Damn it, those letters are somewhat puzzling and...?"
Holmes shook his head and left the sentence unfinished as he chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of food. On the following evening they were to meet with Jeremiah Elliot to discuss progress, indeed if any had been made. That matter, in itself, was of no great consequence, for Watson knew that Holmes was hooked into solving the problem for his own satisfaction and not that of Elliot alone. He also knew, with a slight feeling of reservation, that the vacation was now taking second place to the puzzle of the letters. They finished an enjoyable meal of roast beef with horseradish sauce, roasted potatoes and carrots, followed by slices of ginger cake, and Holmes suddenly jumped to his feet and smiled as he exclaimed:
"Come on Watson, light your pipe as we walk. I have yearning for a draught of Brutton's Stout I saw advertised in a public house called the Volunteer Arms on Broad Street. The evening is fine enough for a walk before we retire. Tomorrow is soon enough to do whatever we shall do. My brain needs a rest. For now, let's drink and be merry! "
They did just that, enjoying a couple of pints of stout and engaging in a game of darts with the locals in the Volunteer Arms. Not really to Watson's surprise, Holmes proved an admirably skilled player. They eventually strolled back to their hotel in high good humour to take a last pot of tea and retire to bed.
The following morning brought a change in the weather and a note from Jeremiah Elliot, delivered by his man. He had booked a table for dinner that evening and proposed to treat them to his hospitality at the Three Cups Hotel on Broad Street, overlooking the Cobb harbour. Watson looked enquiringly at Holmes who, although somewhat preoccupied again, willingly voiced his approval and thanks. The bay had clouded over and the wind risen enough to facilitate the wearing of topcoats and, after some deliberation the pair decided to confine their activities to perusing the many shops, at one of which, titled originally, The Fossil Shop, Watson purchased a small species half the size of his palm and stated to be found locally and of a hundred and ninety million years of age, for a half-crown. They called at the café Watson and met the old gentleman in the previous day and, true to his promise, he had left the envelope with the assembly ticket with the waitress. After procuring and sharing a pot of tea, Watson eagerly opened it up and lifted out a small square of pasteboard some three inches by two in size. One side was blank, the other brown and bore the simple legend: Lyme Regis Assembly Room . Price One Shilling. Admit One. Tea, Sixpence extra. 8-0 clock-11-30. G.Portland, H Hermitage managers.
The ticket was, as the gentleman had said, rather plain, and undated. Watson passed it to Holmes who examined it then passed it back. Watson took out his sketchbook and carefully placed the ticket inside it. He looked up to find Homes regarding him thoughtfully.
"Good Lord. Dammit, Watson if you haven't...!"
He waved a hand dismissively to prevent Watson asking for an explanation and , jumping up walked out of the cafe. Watson watched open-mouthed as Holmes strode across the street and into the old bookshop there. He shook his head but decided to finish his tea. He was still watching the shop when Holmes emerged, a broad grin on his face. He came back across the street and resumed his seat as if nothing had happened. At Watson's enquiring stare he raised a finger and smiled mysteriously.
"This evening Watson, this evening !. I think I have it. Be patient until then old friend and let me organise my thoughts. I am pretty sure I may have at least one answer to our friend's proposition. For now, let us walk along the Cobb in different weather!"
They did, and spent a bracing hour strolling the harbour as the wind rose and the skies changed from blue to a steely grey. When the first large drops of rain came down, and being without umbrellas, they dashed laughingly back to the hotel and lunch. Holmes excused himself straight after, and disappeared to his room. Watson decided, mindful of the weather preventing much in the way of entertainment, to take a short nap. Soon he was oblivious to both weather and problems as he slid easily into a dreamless slumber.
The rain had abated leaving a clear and fresh sky as Holmes and Watson took the short walk to Broad Street and the Three Cups Hotel at seven-forty-five as arranged. Jeremiah Elliot was there before them and the head waiter led them over to his table. He had already ordered wine and greeted them smilingly.
Gentlemen, good evening. I trust you have been enjoying our town, at least until mid-day. Rain does not always give warning here and somewhat spoils the pleasures of our local scenery. Please treat this evening just as a social get-together of friends and tell me what pleasures of Lyme you have thus far experienced. I accept and realise that little will ever come of my own initial enquiries, so please leave the topic be until another time. A toast then, to friendship and fossils!"
They smiled and touched glasses and it was Holmes who addressed their host.
"If we may trespass on you hospitality in your house later tonight, Jeremiah, I actually believe I may finally be able to put you problem to bed. I don't claim to have a total answer as I believe that is beyond earthly powers to achieve or provide, but a solution that is acceptable to myself is the best I can offer. That, thanks to my good friend Watson, I now have. But let us put it aside till later and enjoy our meal".
Watson raised his hands and shook his head in bewilderment at Elliot's enquiring gaze, so the host led the conversation away and to the fact that many famous people had enjoyed Lyme's views and hospitality: Two monarchs, two prime ministers, William Pitt, and William Pitt the younger, Henry Fielding, Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, the artists Whistler and Turner and, of course, Jane Austen. At the last, Elliot smiled widely.
"Would you be surprised to know that Hiscott's Boarding House, where Jane Austen stayed here in Lyme, before this place was built? was on the very spot we are now eating upon?"
Holmes and Watson were genuinely surprised and interested and the evening passed in excellent fashion as a superb meal of roast lamb chops with mint sauce, creamed potatoes and carrots and turnips was consumed It was followed by local strawberries and cream and pot of well-made coffee and a brandy and cigar each rounded off an enjoyable evening for all. The bill, it appeared, had already been settled by Elliot despite his guest's protests, and it was Holmes who finally rose and smiled at his companions.
"And now, good sir, if we may retire to your abode, I shall attempt to explain all"
Thus, less than thirty minutes later they were once again settled around the table in Elliot's comfortable extended cottage with a glass of wine and pipes alight. Holmes began:
"I must do this with total truth or not at all. I confess at the onset I had no single idea as to how all the remnants of this story could ever be assembled into anything satisfactory or sensible. In your case, Mr Elliot, your concern was the link, if any, between characters in a Jane Austen Story and your family name. Let me state at the start of things and until you actually produced those letters, that I had all but dismissed the whole thing as wild imagination. The letters, naming an Elliot, were seventy five years previous to the story
Jane Austen wrote. You can possibly claim now, that if indeed the Frederick Elliot of the letters was your ancestor, and your family had links with Lyme, then his burial at sea would explain the lack of a grave, and his single status possibly the lack of a family record in the church. That sir, you must accept as being as far as I can possibly go with that matter. What happened with your family beyond Frederick I cannot possibly ever know. That much must end your, and indeed my own, questions as being answered as much as they ever will on that aspect. And now, if you will allow me, I shall tell you how I believe Persuasion came to be!"
Holmes now had a totally captive audience and paused long enough to drink part of his wine and relight his pipe.
" Imagine if you will, a very normal, single young woman of twenty eight or so years, on holiday. An intelligent woman with a lively mind who communicated almost her every living thought with her dearest friend, her sister, Cassandra. And many times at that, by the written word. She was a natural writer and pen and paper were as food and drink to her. She would walk, make friends, dance and do all the things a young woman might do, then commit her thoughts to paper. "Watson, if I may?" Holmes held out a hand and Watson handed him his knapsack. Holmes had earlier asked him to bring it and his permission to use its contents. Watson, without explanation, had done so. Now Holmes laid out on the table before him Watson's sketch book, the fossil, his pocket notebook and finally, the admission ticket to the Lyme assembly. From his pocket he added a copy of Steel's Navy List for the year 1765.
"I had some questions in my mind and found out a couple of pointers, but it was actually whilst I was watching Watson sketching seagulls that the whole thing started to make sense. Look at his sketches and the items here. What do you really see?"
The question was addressed to Elliot, but Watson leaned forward an enquiring frown on his brow. Elliot raised his eyebrows and peered at the items on the table.
" I see some possessions I suppose and, yes, possibly souvenirs of his trip so far. Some well-drawn sketches and a few notes.... ?"
"Splendid, and almost right, but what you really see are memories. Things he will look at in years to come and remember what they meant to him. His notebooks and sketch pads will bring back pleasant memories of things he thought important enough to preserve. His fossil will make him remember where he got it and the assembly ticket he so carefully folded into his book will do the same. He met an old gentleman from Lyme who gave him that, and already he was remembering that old man by sketching his walking stick!"
Holmes smiled and pointed at the pencil drawing of the head of the unusual cane Watson had noted. The opposite page had several seagulls drawn there. Elliot carefully picked up the assembly ticket, nodded and gave a somewhat whimsical smile before putting it back down.
"Watson was doing what Jane Austen would have done. He was being Jane Austen. Writing stories was her pleasure and the ingredients for them were all around her. The Cobb, the spray, the wind and those steps that she might well remember from how cautious that made her decending them. Lyme had all the elements for collection and saving that her lively mind needed. She would commit them to paper and her memory."
"But the letters...they are a total reality, are they not?" Elliot's voice held a little of his uncertainty and bewilderment, and Holmes smiled and nodded..
"Ah, the letters. Now we come to something that can only be an opinion, but maybe a key to it all. It all depends how you take it. I do but offer my view. How and when did Jane Austen see those letters? For indeed there are too many coincidences for any comfort to deny that she must have. One of my visits was to your local bookshop, the place where you discovered the letters, and was to ask a couple of questions of the bookseller. He assured me that there have been booksellers in his family as far back as he can remember, so that helps in a positive way. He also confirmed to me that hardly anyone buys or sells second-hand prayer books. He cannot imagine anything worse that having stocks of them because they are so personal an item that people only ever buy new. For that they will go to special religious outlets. Books like your prayer books and family bibles only ever get into a bookshop via clearances when people die without relations, or the relations do not want the books or goods. That is most likely the story of your book. The letters were in the book and part of its story. Somewhere, Anne Russell passed on, maybe from a broken heart and a relation kept the letters and later somehow lost possesion of the book and letters for reasons no one can know. If you had not bought them they could have just crumbled to dust eventually."
Holmes paused and took another mouthful of his wine. He still had the attention of Watson and Elliot to the point where both remained totally silent and waiting.
"What it does confirm is that Jane Austen, regardless of whoever owned the shop in her time, must have browsed through the books in the shop and seen those letters. She would not want to buy the book or even have the letters, but reading them must have set off a scenario in her mind that made an impression she did not forget. She may well, indeed probably did, do what Watson did and make a note of something that touched a chord within her, and used her notebook to record the details. Years later those details were brought out, maybe by just perusing her private possessions, and, with memories of Lyme and by changing a few names she gave Frederick and Anne in print what life had denied them in reality In Persuasion, Frederick's letter brought Anne the joy that in fact had brought deep sorrow to the real Anne. In the story, Bath and the false values affected by the Elliots were unimportant opposites to the real values that Anne Elliot possessed. There was a real ship called H.M.S Berwick, not Benwick, in the navy lists of 1770 that listed her as broken up in 1763. A seventy gun fighting ship of the Royal Navy. Jane Austin promoted Frederick from a Ships Master to an Admiral to avoid him being scorned by the likes of the Elliots and the ridiculous Dalrymples. Bath was the life she disliked, Lyme and its Cobb and the sea, the memory she cherished. This part is pure presumption on my part, but it rings as a feasible possibility. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact!"
Where had Watson herd Holmes utter the latter words before? It occurred to him with certainty that he had done so. Holmes let out a sigh, spread his hands.
"And that, rightly or wrongly, is my deduction. Based upon what was available, the best anyone can claim is presumption. I claim nothing more. Sad as it seems, Mr Elliot, the bones of your relation may well still lie somewhere beneath the English Channel and that is where they must remain!"
Jeremiah Elliot actually smiled at Holmes's words and nodded. He let out a sigh.
Mr Holmes, it is almost a great relief that it is so. I shall no longer wonder and I may even show the letter to the vicar and ask him to enter the details in the church records as "Drowned at sea". Maybe even a small memorial stone in the churchyard? I am deeply in your debt for your efforts and you must accept recompense for them"
Holmes shook his head firmly.
"The price my friend has been well paid by your hospitality. Tomorrow, Watson and I will put Jane Austen away for a while and do all the things that tourists to Lyme Regis do. We shall take a boat trip, maybe fish a little, explore the sights and potter around for fossils amidst your Jurrasic coast until we have had enough. If your carriage happened to be headed for Axminster to allow us to catch the London train when that happens, then that would be truly grand!"
Holmes and Watson parted from Jeremiah Elliot on the best of terms and set off to stroll the short walk back to their hotel. Holmes lit his pipe then chuckled, causing Watson to cast him an enquiring look.
"It may just be another coincidence Watson, and one I did not mention, but a true fact regarding the name Wentworth, those navy lists tell us that on June 10th 1635, a Hugh Wentworth did actually sail as a passenger from London to Bermuda. The name of his ship was, The Truelove! (with credit to Anne Stevens of packrat-pro.com)
Watson guffawed and nodded at the irony.
" So then, no more Jane Austen for a while Holmes?"
"Certainly not. To just enjoy a laid-back, problem-free vacation, I shall need no persuasion at all!"The End