|10-28-2022, 04:45 AM||#31 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Chapter V: Being for the Benefit of Mr. Lestrade
Holmes presumably having already prepared the ground before we arrived, the maid bade us enter the Liebert home. In the fateful room in which the master of the house had met his end, Holmes took the key out of the lock and waved it in front of Lestrade.
“Never thought to check this, did you, my good Inspector?”
Lestrade looked puzzled.
“What is there to check about a key?” I confessed I, too, saw nothing which the key could have told us, but then, I was not Sherlock Holmes.
“When I entered,” he said, showing the key to us both, replacing it in the lock and returning to stand before the fire, which was now lit, the night drawing in, “I noticed dark marks on it here, here and here. You will see that they correspond with the points at which someone would have held, and turned, the key. I was not entirely certain, of course, but I made so by smelling the metal.”
“Smelling?” Lestrade darted me the kind of glance he always used when he believed that, brilliant and analytical a mind as Sherlock Holmes had, sometimes he considered my friend quite mad.
“Yes. I smelled what I suspected I would smell, which was tobacco. High Plains tobacco in fact, made, as I told the late M. Baudelaire, only in Canada – the Yukon Territory, to be precise - and only for purchase there. This told me that someone who had been smoking High Plains had handled, and turned the key. The marks of his fingers and the smell from them were on the key. Since the door was locked, it follows that this person was the one who locked it.”
Understanding began to dawn on the inspector's face.
“So you could tell that neither Mrs. Liebert nor her husband had locked the door?”
“Precisely. And so we have a scenario, whereby we assume one of the two is in the room with Baudelaire, when the other enters, either by accident or design. The Canadian crosses the room and locks the door. This may or may not have been with the permission or agreement of one or both, but considering that what was discussed in that room was of an intensely, ah, private nature, we can assume the former.”
It never failed to amaze me how Holmes took the smallest clues and built an entire world around them. The tiniest detail was often all he needed – or the first thing he needed, at any rate – to reconstruct a crime and solve the case.
“Now, we shall re-enact the crime, if you gentlemen will be so kind. Watson, you shall be Baudelaire, please stand there.” He indicated a point just beside the fire. “Inspector, I must ask you to play the role of the unfortunate Mr. Liebert. If you would just position yourself... so.” He had Lestrade face me, as if we were talking, about a yard or so apart. “And I,” he said, seating himself before the fire, “will be Mrs. Liebert, with the greatest of apologies to that eminent lady, whose beauty, grace and poise I could never hope to duplicate. But we shall work with what we have.”
And so saying, he steepled his fingers. He looked over at the fire, glanced at me, looked back.
“Watson, you are the killer, so if you would please advance to the door and lock it. Thank you. Now, you are facing the wrong way, my friend. Please turn so that you and Lestrade are facing one another. Excellent. Capital. Now, We need a weapon. So. This will do.” He indicated a candle which was on the mantelpiece, unlit. I picked it up.
“This is your knife, Watson,” he told me, rather unnecessarily, but I knew once Holmes got into his stride he would explain everything and leave nothing to chance. “You have been arguing with Mr. Liebert over, ah, well. Over Mrs. Liebert of course. Lestrade, you take exception to something Watson says. You lunge at him, he takes the knife – so! He plunges it into your heart. You fall.”
“You fall, Lestrade, if you please!”
Lestrade fell to the ground.
“In the guise of Mrs. Liebert, I faint, so.”
Holmes made a rather convincing swoon.
“Watson, you approach and take the knife – the candle. You place it in my right hand, as did Baudelaire. However, Lestrade!” He tsked, shaking his head. “Had you only checked, you would have found out with minimal effort that she is left-handed. So the idea of her either striking with her right hand the blows that killed her husband, or of, even more fantastical a theory, somehow changing hands before fainting, are so ludicrous as to be not even worthy of contemplation.”
Somewhat stubbornly, Lestrade grumbled “We did think of that, Mr. Holmes. We considered Mrs. Liebert might be one of those people who can use either hand – what do you call them? Ambivalent?”
Holmes smiled thinly. “Ambidextrous. No, she is not. Again, a simple experiment proved this not to be the case when I visited her in Pentonville. You really must take your people more to task, Lestrade! You may get up now, Inspector.” He smiled sardonically as Lestrade scrambled to his feet, brushing dust off his coat. He tutted again, reached inside his jacket, extracted a slip of paper. It was the note – or part of it, at any rate, which he had shown me before. He handed it to Lestrade for his perusal.
“There!” The inspector pointed triumphantly, sure he was about to turn Holmes' clue against the great man. “It says it there, right at the bottom. Love, Frances. A love letter from Liebert's wife to...” He screwed up his brows. “Deschamps? Well, Baudelaire? They were carrying on? Ah yes, I see!” He nodded. “Mr. Liebert found out, challenged the Canadian, who killed him.”
Holmes smiled again.
“Not quite, Inspector. I fear there you do the lady an injustice. If you examine the note, you will notice that it bears no resemblance to Mrs. Liebert's handwriting. She is also unlikely to sign herself as Frances; she does not like the contraction and always uses Francesca, in her correspondence. Fran," he added, with an arch wink at me, "in more familiar terms. But never Frances." You will also note," he pointed at the name, "that our killer, being of - ah, not English extraction, was no doubt unsure as to the spelling of the lady's name. You see, here, he has used an "i" instead of an "e". Francis, not Frances. The male version, a common mistake." Again he arched his eyebrows. "A certain saint from Assisi would not be impressed."
“Well we shall never know for certain,” Holmes said carefully, “for we cannot intrude upon the private affairs of a lady who has now been found to be entirely blameless of any crime, and so her secrets are hers to keep. Were I to hazard a guess though, I would say that the letter was fabricated by Baudelaire, who had become infatuated with Mr. Liebert's wife, and had pressed his most unwelcome and unreciprocated advances upon her. Did you know that Liebert and Baudelaire had worked together in Canada?”
Lestrade shook his head.
“I did not.”
“This was, of course,” Holmes waved his hand airily, “before Baudelaire became the most feared killer in the territory. Oh yes. You knew Mr. Liebert had made his money in timber? Yes of course you did. But were you aware that he had started at the bottom, as a lowly lumberjack, a tree-feller in the wilds of Canada? No? A little research is a wonderful thing, Inspector. I discovered that twenty years ago, the two had been on the same crew, and had become somewhat friendly. He was using his own name then, Francis Deschamps. When the job they had been assigned to ended, each went his separate ways, but after going on a killing spree – the reason for which we will never know now; perhaps the isolation of the Yukon sent him mad – Baudelaire found the territory too hot for him, as Mr. Nilsson, the ringmaster of the circus, would no doubt say.
He managed to cross over the border into the United States, where as luck would have it – bad luck, I am afraid, for poor Mr. Liebert and his wife – he met Nilsson, who sympathised with his situation, though of course the Canadian refrained from clarifying why he was on the run from the law. Nilsson has his own reasons for hating the American legal system, and given the agility and dexterity of Baudelaire – who was of course now calling himself Deschamps – he offered him a position in his travelling circus, as an acrobat. When the circus came to England, he then either met Liebert by chance or engineered an encounter, fell in love with the man's wife (if such a man can be said to even understand the word) who rejected his advances, leading to her husband's murder and she being accused of being his killer, which occurred due to the real killer's quite clever attempt to throw off any suspicion which might somehow lead back to him, placing the knife in the hands of Mrs. Liebert, who had, not surprisingly, fainted at the sight of her husband having been struck down.”
Holmes smiled at Lestrade.
“We have come to the end of our little play, as far as the scene was when you, Lestrade, and your men entered.”
The inspector turned to him.
“Ah, but it is not, is it, Mr. Holmes?” he countered. “It is not as it was when I entered.”
Holmes nodded. “Of course you are right, Inspector. Our little party is one too many. Watson – that is, Baudelaire – was not present when you arrived.”
“So then, put us out of our misery, Mr. Holmes, for the love of all that is good! Where did he go? He can't have vanished into thin air, surely!”
Holmes grinned, turned his eyes towards the fire.
“He did not, of course.”
“The chimney?” We both chorused. Holmes nodded.
“The only other possible avenue of escape from this locked room. I admit, I had not quite worked it out immediately, as in the normal manner of things, and discounting for one moment a certain corpulent figure popular with children, a man could not climb up such a structure.” He paused for effect, grinned again. “But an acrobat? Gentlemen, an acrobat could perform such a feat with ease.”
A stunned silence descended over the room. Then Lestrade burst into a fit of impromptu applause. I joined him.
“Capital, Mr. Holmes! Capital! Though,” he looked a little dubious, “would not the heat...?”
Holmes waved his hand dismissively.
“The fire had not been lit since the previous day,” he pointed out. “The chimney would therefore be relatively cold, or at least not hot. And Baudelaire made his living originally as a lumberjack in Canada. He scaled trees with his bare hands and feet. His skin had toughened to the consistency of leather, as Miss Penny discovered first hand, as it were, when the brute struck her.” He murmured to himself “I really must see she is properly recompensed for the danger I unintentionally placed her in.”
Something had occurred to Lestrade.
“Back in the tent, before he bolted, you mentioned a jacket to Baudelaire.”
“What jacket?” I asked.
“Just what I want to know, Doctor,” agreed Lestrade.
Holmes sat back. I swear, there were times when he could be quite insufferable when he knew more than anyone else in the room.
“I sent Wiggins and his team on an expedition,” he told us. “They were to visit every washer woman in the vicinity and report back when they located the one who had washed a jacket dirty with soot.”
“Soot? But surely...?” Lestrade pointed at the chimney. Holmes grinned.
“Ordinarily, yes, Inspector, such a quest would be pointless, for every sweep in London would be sending his jacket in for cleaning. But you may remember, we are even now in the middle of the longest strike of chimney sweeps in the city's history. Not a chimney has been touched in two months and more. So the only person likely to have that much soot on his jacket would certainly be our killer.”
Holmes turned to me, shrugged.
“Granted, it was only one piece of evidence in a rather long chain I had already established, but our quarry was not to know that. Unaware of his blunder in putting the knife in the wrong hand, ignorant of my knowledge of tobacco, and indeed, completely unaware that his presence in this country had even been detected, he would have seen the sooty jacket as the only thing to tie him to the crime, even assuming someone” - he smiled, self-indulgently - “happened to be clever enough to put the pieces together.”
“Have I left anything out, Inspector? Anything you still do not understand?”
Lestrade shook his head, rising and putting on his hat as he tapped out his pipe.
“No, Mr. Holmes,” he said. “You've laid the case out nice and plain, once you understand the links. Well, I will bid you gentlemen good night. You've done a wonderful thing here, Mr. Holmes. You've solved, at a stroke, seventeen – no, eighteen, if we don't count the trapeze man, for we all saw Baudelaire push him to his death – eighteen murders, unmasked a killer we did not even know was in the country, helped our Canadian cousins and in the process saved an innocent woman from the gallows. I wish to the Lord I had a force of Sherlock Holmeses to assist me in these type of cases,” he grinned. “Or maybe not. Mayhap I would find myself surplus to requirements!”
Holmes offered him his hand.
“Never that, Lestrade!” he declared. “Scotland Yard will always need good, honest, forthright men like you, and I can only be in one place at any one time. You continue to do the good work, Inspector, but never hesitate to call on me should you need me. My door is always open.”
“Speaking of which,” I grumbled, “I should be quite glad to see that particular door. This has been a trying day, Holmes.”
He clapped me on the shoulder.
“But a profitable one, Watson! As Lestrade says, we have not only saved Mrs. Liebert from death, her son from scandal and her good name from being blackened, we have maintained the reputation of her late husband and have also found justice for those seventeen unfortunates killed in the frontier of Canada by that despicable murderer.”
I smiled in reply.
“All the same, I could do with my bed. It is almost ten o'clock.”
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|10-29-2022, 11:29 AM||#32 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Chapter VI: The Real Story
The next morning was a Sunday and I rose late, having no surgery. I was not in the least surprised to find Sherlock Holmes waiting for me, his breakfast long cleared away and the room full of the smell of his pipe smoke. He looked up as I entered.
“Slept well, Watson?” He winked at me. “I think we helped our friend Lestrade as much as we could be expected to, but not as much as perhaps we might have, had we not other... considerations to take into mind.”
I sat down to my breakfast, tapped my spoon against the shell of my first boiled egg. I sat facing Holmes – it would have been rude not to – and carefully watched his face.
“I knew there was more to this case than you told the Inspector,” I said. His face clouded over, the humour vanishing from it in a moment.
“The truth, Watson, is often not only hard to hear, but is something which must be kept from – ah! That will be our visitor!” A knock had sounded at the door, and in walked a lady I had not personally seen before, but knew from the news reports. It was in fact the very woman whom Holmes had just saved from the gallows, Mrs. Francesca Liebert. She looked somewhat the worse for her time in Pentonville, which was only to be expected – her face was drawn and haggard and her eyes looked those of a much older woman – but she was out of that horrible place now, and the healing could begin. I was aware it would be a slow process. Places like Pentonville are greedy and grasping: they retain a part of the soul, even when the person is freed. From what Holmes has told me, and my own experience of patients who have been inside those forbidding walls, it never really lets go, and the damage can be permanent. However Francesca Liebert was a young woman, and her chances of putting it all behind her seemed to me rather hopeful.
“Come in, Mrs. Liebert, come in!”
Holmes helped her to a chair; she walked with a slight limp, a result of the attack upon her by another inmate when she had been allowed out for her daily exercise. I wondered if, considering the fortune left to her by the passing of her husband, we could expect a case to be brought against the Metropolitan Police and Scotland Yard for false imprisonment and damage to her reputation? Given how voracious the legal system was though, taking all and giving nothing in return, I imagined she might very well be considering putting it all behind her and starting afresh.
“Words cannot express my gratitude to you, Mr. Holmes,” she began, a light long dimmed now shining behind her troubled eyes. “Had it not been for you...” She dropped her head, leaving the sentence unfinished, though its meaning was clear.
“My dear madam,” Holmes told her, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture, “it was my distinct pleasure. Not only was I able to save you, but in the process, as you may have read, we brought to book a multiple murderer. You were not the only one for whom justice has been seen to be done. Apart from that, and looking at it purely from a selfish, personal point of view, the case provided me one of the most interesting conundrums I have had in my career.”
She looked at him, as if there was something she wished to say, but was fearful of broaching the subject. I had foregone my breakfast in respect to her, allowing Mrs. Hudson to take out my uneaten repast. It seemed churlish of me to sit there and eat while she poured out her thanks to my friend.
“Mr. Holmes,” she began, a tremble in her voice, “Please do not think me ungrateful in any way for the wonderful work you have done in clearing my name, and please forgive what must have seemed like my unconscionable behaviour towards you both times you visited me. But I was given no details, other than that I was free to leave that awful place and return home. If my freedom has been bought at the expense of my family's reputation...?”
Holmes took her hand gently.
“You need not trouble yourself about that, Mrs. Liebert,” he assured her. “Your son – Harold, is it not? In boarding school I believe? Yes, well, young Harold need have no fear. Not a breath of scandal shall touch him, nor yourself. For there is no scandal. The good Inspector Lestrade has been told only those details which allow him to tie up the case and not ask any awkward questions.”
Hope seemed to flush her face, a tiny smile broke out on her features.
“Then... then I have nothing to fear?”
“Nothing at all, I do assure you. As far as Scotland Yard, the public press and anyone other than myself and my good friend Doctor Watson here are concerned, you were pursued and harassed by unwanted attentions from a man your husband knew. This man turned out to be a killer, from whom your late husband tried to protect you, losing his life in the process. There are minor details, such as that Mr. Liebert worked with the man you knew as Francis Deschamps in Canada, but not a scrap of evidence to tie him to the multiple killings perpetrated by he whom we now know to have been the Yukon Terror, Charles Emile Baudelaire. No blame attaches to you, dear lady – in fact, you have the full sympathy of the public, though there may be one or two wagging tongues who will give voice to a calumnious belief that the attentions paid you were not unwanted, and that you were having an affaire de couer with the man who killed your husband. Why, they will ask, did you stay silent when you could just have accused the man who was responsible?”
Her eyes went wide at the sudden intimation of a fresh struggle to fight against, but Holmes held up his finger. I noticed of course that he had tapped out his pipe, knowing from her sister of Mrs. Liebert's asthma.
“I have their answer, madam, and it is one you can use to refute and rebuff such fools who may make such claims. It is simplicity itself. When the door was forced, there were only two people found in the room, with no avenue of escape for a third. This is what you will tell, if you wish to respond to any such allegations, those who accuse you. How could you convince the police that there had been a third person in the room, when to them it was patently obvious that there had not been? What use to protest your innocence when the police had already decided you were guilty?”
She relaxed visibly. “You are correct, of course, Mr. Holmes. However I must confess that I am confused. Where did Deschamps – or, what did you call him? Balaire?”
“Baudelaire. Charles Emile Baudelaire.”
“Quite so. Where did he vanish to?”
Holmes stretched his long legs out before the fire, folded his arms.
“Well, Mrs. Liebert, I will tell you. Dr. Watson knows, but as yet he is unaware of the full extent of the scandal which, thankfully, we have banished, but I think we owe it to him to tell him the full story, do you not agree? I can promise you, it will go no further than this room. My friend is the soul of discretion.”
“Thank you, Holmes,” I said, a trifle stiffly. I could speak for myself, after all. I repeated the assurance my friend had given. I also swore an oath, which is why this story has been held for publication until after my death, and is only to be told when the time has come that such matters no longer cause the furore they did in my day. That time may be fifty years in coming, or a hundred (I pray not so long!) but my will makes it very clear that only when such a revelation as would cause a terrible scandal and cause irreparable damage to a family's reputation can guaranteed to no longer have such an effect, may the story be released to the public. Perhaps, even now, it resides unread in my archives, awaiting a more tolerant time.
Reassured by our promises, Mrs. Liebert began her story. Sherlock Holmes listened intently, nodding when something he knew or had divined was mentioned, frowning when new information reached his ears, and occasionally interrupting the lady to ask a question or clarify a point.
“As you already have found out,” she said, “Peter made his money in America. He was apprenticed to a well-known timber merchant in Philadelphia, but chose to strike out on his own when opportunities presented themselves across the border. In the wild Yukon he joined a crew felling huge swathes of forest, and here it was that he met another young lumberjack, a Frenchman called Deschamps. I don't think he ever knew his first name; the man was close-mouthed and secretive, and always went by his surname.”
“Francis, I believe,” Holmes interjected. The lady nodded.
“Well, it matters not. The two became friends, and, well -” Here her eyes dropped and a flush crept up her cheek. “Perhaps more than that. Peter never spoke of his time in Canada, but I always had the feeling he had a secret he would not, or could not tell me. It seems that one day there was a tragic accident. The men were taking their lunch in a local eating spot, a log cabin set up by one of those enterprising breed of woman who had no fear of the new frontier. But things were certainly rough out there, and probably through no fault of her own, the meat was undercooked. Three of the men developed food poisoning from it, and one died. Deschamps was sick for weeks, close to death's door. When he finally recovered, he swore to Peter that the woman had deliberately tried to poison them, and he vowed revenge upon her. He left the camp that very night. Nothing more was heard of him after that.”
Holmes' eyes were hard. "Go on, madam,” he urged our visitor. She lifted the coffee cup to her lips, sipped, spent a moment breathing the steam from the rim, then did as he bid.
“The next morning the woman was discovered dead, murdered in the most foul and horrible manner. Her two helpers, little more than children, had also been killed. They turned out to be, so I am led to believe by yourself, Mr. Holmes, the first victims of the man who would become known to Canadian history as the Yukon Terror.”
Holmes steepled his fingers and leaned back. His eyes were closed in that half-dreamy state he tended to lapse into when considering ideas. “Yes, I believe he waylaid some poor soul the next day, killed him and planted his documents and wallet upon him, so as to fool the police into thinking it was he, and that he had met his own form of rough justice for the killings. He then changed his name, and vanished into the wilds of Canada."
He made that gesture which again told me he had forgotten he was not smoking his pipe, banished the thought with a slightly irritated look, and looked out the window from where he sat. Outside, the faint sound of children playing, the steady clop of hooves and the occasional shout rose up from the street below. The untamed wilderness of the Yukon seemed at that moment even further away than it was, a world away.
“I have followed the career of this man for years,” he told her, “for crime in all its forms is my passion, and none more so than murder. Of course, I could do little to help. We are a long way from the shores of Canada, and I had not been asked to help the police. Had I received such a summons, I cannot say with certainly that I would have answered it. It is many months' journey to Canada, and I am not at all familiar with the place. I feel I might have been quite out of my depth. I have, however, often wondered what was the spark, the spur that drove this otherwise pleasant man – by all accounts, not least that of your late husband – to become a killer. It fascinates me. In general, a man can get up one day and decide to revenge a wrong, or in some other way commit a crime which may result in murder, but on the whole, one does not simply take it into one's head to murder a large number of people over a wide area for no reason.”
“There are the insane, Holmes,” I offered my semi-professional opinion. I am a doctor, but of the body, not of the mind. Holmes sniffed.
“Doubtless you are right, Watson.” His eyes strayed to the pipe on the mantel, but again out of sympathy for Mrs. Liebert's asthma, he kept his hand from it. “There are those who kill because they are mad, unbalanced, psychotic even. But those sort of people do not generally have the sort of mind that allows them to plan further killings, move from place to place, hold a job, and evade the law for over a decade. Even the infamous Whitechapel Killer hunted in the one area. No, the kind of man who kills many people must have some sort of a reason why he begins, and now it seems we have the catalyst for Baudelaire's crimes. Believing the woman had intended to poison him, he took his anger out on her, and her poor staff.”
It was clear to me that such talk was distressing to Mrs. Liebert, but what also shone through was the woman's fortitude, her determination to have the true story told, even if it was only to be for our ears. Holmes, apparently oblivious to her discomfort, went on, talking as if he were giving a lecture on killers to interested students. I confess that I was intrigued, but I did not believe the subject was a fitting one for a lady's ears. Still, this man had been the reason she had lost her husband and been accused of his murder. It was thanks to his cowardly actions that she herself had been incarcerated in one of England's worst prisons, and had her reputation shattered. I supposed she wanted to know all she could about him.
“From that day, Baudelaire seems to have undergone a change. He developed a pathological hatred of women, believing, perhaps, that they all sought to do him harm, and of the seventeen murders which he is known to have committed – I have no doubt at all there are others which were never discovered or reported, or marked off as accidents or natural causes, not least of them our own poor flower girls recently – fourteen of them were women. The only men involved were either incidental – happened to be there when he made his attempt – or police officers, of which two were killed by this maniac, plus our own brave constable, yesterday at the circus. And the unfortunate who was killed to assume his identity in death. For seven years he blazed a trail of blood and terror across the Yukon Territory, eventually crossing over into the United States of America, where Canadian law could not touch him.”
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|10-29-2022, 11:30 AM||#33 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Mrs. Liebert now took up the story.
“You have told me, Mr. Holmes, that he fell in with a circus crowd, and travelled with them for some years across America. It was with this circus that he then came here, to England.”
Holmes stroked his chin.
“Indeed. I have checked local police reports in nine of the states through which the circus travelled, and have come across a further twenty-four unexplained deaths, twenty-one of which are women, so I think we can take it that our friend Baudelaire was either unwilling or unable to restrain his murderous impulses. But because the circus only stayed a short while in each city, and nobody was familiar with his face in America, his crimes went unremarked and he was able to roam the States, free to kill at will. An interesting story in the Milwaukee Herald for October 1 1889 speaks of a Canadian man whose body was found in Lake Michigan, and though the death was treated as a drowning accident, I wonder if this might have been a tongue silenced, eyes which recognised the face of the infamous killer, and which had to be closed? I do apologise, Mrs. Liebert, I seem to be editorialising. Do go on.”
“You fill in much of the detail of which I was until today unaware, Mr. Holmes,” she told him, then continued. “All I know of the man is of course limited to his arrival in England, and indeed to his time in London as part of the circus. I know he met Peter in some club called the Adonis?”
“Ah, yes.” Holmes looked over at me with a strange expression on his face. “We have had some small experience of this most notorious venue, have we not, Watson?”
Before I could answer, our visitor was talking again, somewhat hurriedly, as if, did she not speak now and tell all, she might shrink from the task altogether.
“There the two men – well, that is to say – they became – close...” She trailed off. Holmes looked over at me again.
“They fell in love, Watson.”
I took a moment to digest this information, frowned, then spluttered my indignation.
“Holmes! For God's sake, man! The lady...”
“The lady,” Holmes said with what to me seemed cold unconcern, “is quite aware, I think you will find, of how things lay. Matters had not been cordial between you and your husband, Mrs. Liebert, is this not so?”
“Again, you are correct, Mr. Holmes.” The lady looked abashed, and a little concerned. “Though how you knew...”
“Elementary, my dear lady. When I visited you in prison I noticed you wore no ring on your finger. Now, that may have been due to its having been removed from you on entry, true; I believe this is standard procedure at all the major prisons, as otherwise jewellery can be stolen by other inmates, or sometimes used to barter for services, or even concessions. Not, I hasten to add,” he looked at her almost kindly, “that a woman of your breeding would stoop to such tactics. But even now, I see your finger remains bare. I also noted that there was a large picture on the wall of the room where your husband met his death. It had been turned around. On examination, this revealed itself to be a wedding portrait. Only someone who has fallen out of love with their spouse does such a thing.”
Mrs. Liebert sighed.
“I cannot deny it. We had not been a proper couple for several years. Peter's interests lay in... other directions. He had male friends call to the house at strange hours, and would not talk about them. I followed him one night when he went out and found he was visiting that club, which I knew nothing of but which you since have told me is called the Adonis Club.”
“Indeed. A club whose membership is highly exclusive, and whose secrets are jealously guarded by its members. A club where gentlemen of similar persuasions can meet discreetly and in safety.”
The import of what Holmes now revealed hit me like a thunderbolt.
“You mean... you mean.. good God, Holmes! Here, in London?”
“A club for homosexuals.” Holmes nodded, Mrs. Liebert buried her face in her hands.
“But surely Holmes!” I ejaculated. “This is against the law! We must inform Lestrade at once!”
Holmes held up a hand calmly.
“Think, Watson!” he snapped, as if irritated by the fact that I had not. “Recall, if you will, some of the names on that list you took down! The great and the good, the scions of noble families, powerful financiers.” His voice dropped to a murmur, his eyes sliding to his left to where the lady still sobbed into her lap. Speaking behind his hand and through gritted teeth he whispered “Members of the government? Do you not realise that to expose such an, um, specialised club would have serious consequences for the ruling class? Perhaps even...?” He made a downward motion with his finger, and raised his eyebrows at me.
My eyes widened. “Bring down the government?” I hissed back, but I could see all at once that he was right. If such news were to leak out, the opposition would have a field day – although my list bore more than one of their members, too! - while many noble families would go under, dragged down by the inexorable weight of a public scandal the likes of which had not been seen since the almost ruin of King Louis XIV and the Affair of the Poisons in Paris in the seventeenth century. For the good of the kingdom, the very existence of that place must not come to the attention of the police, let alone its membership list.
Mrs. Liebert had pulled herself together, and resumed her story, dabbing at her eyes with a white silk handkerchief.
“I believe it was at that damnable place my Peter was reacquainted with that man, would to God he had died in Canada!” The moist eyes were suddenly hard, full of fire, and I considered Baudelaire somewhat fortunate, despite his grisly death, not to have had to face the anger of this most remarkable woman. “He tried to renew the, ah, relationship between the two, and for a time Peter, in many ways a weak man, agreed. But when Deschamps – you will forgive me referring to him as such, but it was the only name, up till yesterday, under which I knew the man – found he was married he flew into a rage. He made Peter swear to divorce me, and Peter, seeing the madness in his eyes, agreed. They met me in the room that morning, ostensibly to break the news and go off together, but Peter, though he no longer loved me, had no wish to involve me in a scandal. He also, I am forced to admit, feared for his business if the truth were to come out. Besides, he told Deschamps he no longer loved him, that what they had had in Canada, though it had been special (she almost spat the word) was over, and that there was no room for him in his life.”
“To say nothing of the laws of the land,” remarked Holmes. She nodded.
“Deschamps assured him he had friends in high places,” she said, and Holmes raised his eyebrows in my direction. “He could smooth it all over, make sure nobody ever found out why he had left his wife. Then did he fall on his knees before Peter, professing his undying love and producing a letter he had written to him. Strange,” she mused, “how a man so cold-hearted and ruthless, who would, according to you, strike down those who got in his way without a thought, could be reduced to the state of a lovesick girl.”
“Love makes fools of us all,” quoth Holmes, rolling his eyes at me, “and softens the hardest heart,”
Mrs. Liebert sniffed contemptuously. “I would say to characterise what Deschamps felt for my Peter as love was stretching the definition to its breaking point, Mr. Holmes. As to the letter, he handed it to him, but Peter laughed at it. Deschamps snatched it back angrily, but it tore, leaving one fragment in my husband's possession. I watched all this with, I do confess, the air of one who is above such things, as someone who watches a play. But then the play became a tragedy.”
She shook as she recalled the events. Holmes rose and placed a steadying hand on her shoulder.
“Deschamps raged at Peter, told him he would regret treating him so badly, and produced a knife, which he plunged again and again into my husband's chest. Peter staggered, I screamed and fainted, and that was the last I knew until I was being revived and my husband was dead at my feet. I had no idea how it had happened, and was about to accuse Deschamps when I thought of Harold.”
“Your son. Of course.”
“I asked myself what it would do to him, having his father revealed as a homosexual, a deviant, a criminal? Would not the mud stick? Would the old adage, 'like father, like son' be seen to apply, and would it not destroy his young life? Surely such news would lose Peter's companies most if not all of his business clients, and we should be plunged into penury? Besides, even had I decided to speak up, everyone swore there had been, could have been, no third person. How had he escaped? How could I prove Deschamps had been in the room, and if somehow I could, how would that help us? Better to go to my fate with the family name intact, and allow my son to believe his mother had murdered his father. A black stain, certainly, but it would reflect only on the distaff side, and most likely I would be pronounced mad. Such things have happened before, and the result is not condemnation but sympathy for the son of such a woman. This was my only hope; to remain silent, though it allowed a killer to go free and unpunished, yet save my son from the horrible hand of public scandal and ruin.”
Holmes nodded. “And this is why you would not tell your sister the truth.”
“I could not.” She hung her head. “If Mary had known, she could not have kept silent and seen her only sister die to protect her dead husband and her child.”
I felt I had to interject.
“I think it would be a good idea to let her know as much of the truth now as you wish her to know, Mrs. Liebert,” I advised her gently. “She was – probably still is, even with your exoneration and release – very concerned about you.”
She looked up at me. “I will, Doctor Watson. You are right. I have put her through so much, the least I owe her is an explanation for my behaviour.”
Holmes now took up the narrative, reseating himself and leaning back in his chair.
“The scrap of the letter found in the dead hand of Mr. Liebert was taken, quite erroneously, of course, by the police as having been signed Frances. It was therefore believed to be a love letter, or part of one. This was true: it was. But not from a man to a woman, rather from a man to a man. The signature looks like Frances, but the killer had not closed his letters properly, you see?” He produced the fragment again and presented it to me, pointing at the name which was written at the bottom. “Not Frances, with an "e", but Francis, with an "i". The male, not female version of the name. Francis. Francis Deschamps.”
“Extraordinary!” I breathed, handing the paper back.
“For once, I absolve both you and the police, Watson. I would normally declare such an oversight as poor observation, but not this time. Indeed, I had no clue myself – other than that the letter was, if it purported to be from Mrs. Liebert, a clear forgery, as you never sign your name thus, madam?”
She shook her head. “I detest that contraction,” she muttered. “It always sounds to me like the name of a scullery-maid.”
“Quite.” Holmes smiled tightly. “The true importance of the letter only became clear when our good and brave friend Miss Penny went above and beyond the call of duty that night. She had been asked merely to speak to the men coming out of the club, to try to ascertain its nature. In this she failed, as men who are not interested in women are not to be beguiled by one. She even received a blow from the tough-handed Yukon Terror for her pains, for which I mean to ensure she is adequately compensated. When I consider, in the light of our knowledge now of the true identity of that man, what might have happened...”
He was silent for a moment, reflecting, his eyes narrow, his hand trembling just a touch. It balled into a fist, relaxed.
“But our intrepid lady of the night was in fact more successful in helping me crack the case than I could have ever imagined,” he went on, the dark mood lifting and a triumphant smile coming to his lips. “She relieved him of a paper which she perceived protruding from his pocket and – my word! I had not realised! But of course!” He sat like a man thunderstruck, and there was open admiration in his eyes. “She goaded the man! Watson! She saw the paper, reasoned it might be something important, something I would value – a list of members, perhaps, or some itinerary, or secret communication – and pushed him into striking her so as to get close enough to thieve the thing from him. Well! It appears I have greatly underestimated the courage and guile of that young lady!”
He sat for a moment, shaking his head and chuckling, while both Mrs. Liebert and I watched him in some astonishment. At length, his mirth subsided, and he reached into his coat.
“This is the full letter,” he declared, waving it in the air. “It speaks of the love Baudelaire, in his guise as Deschamps, professed for Peter Liebert. Its language is flowery, but one must expect that I suppose of our transatlantic cousins, to say nothing of his French origins. Reading it, I could see how things lay, and that both Lestrade and I had been on completely the wrong track. Once I knew that it had been a lovers' quarrel between two men, and with Mrs. Liebert still alive, the only possible reason for her not being also murdered had to be to throw off suspicion from the killer and thrust it upon the lady. It was almost a perfect crime. Who, after all, would even think to look in the dirty, musty corners of male love to uncover the real story behind this crime? Who would anticipate such a thing, and who would be brave enough to investigate it? ”
He sighed, his eyes darting to his pipe, as if eager for the lady to leave that he might indulge himself without endangering her. He rose.
“And now the tale is told, Mrs. Liebert. The police have their story, which exonerates you completely without any chance of scandal, and we have ours, the truth, which will, as I have sworn to you, go no further than this room. I think we can, in the main, consider the case closed.”
“Thank you again, Mr. Holmes.” She rose, almost a stately figure now, if one did not look too closely into those haunted eyes. “You have paid me a great service. If ever I can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|10-30-2022, 05:01 PM||#34 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Chapter VII: Revelations, Reflections and Ruminations
Holmes would speak no more of the case, yet I felt there was something still troubling him, something he would not give voice to. I knew him better than to force him, though; if he wished to speak of it he would, in his own good time.
It was several days later when I chanced to call in at St. Margaret's. I had a mind to light a candle for the late Mr. Liebert, and the door banged behind me as I entered, the bright sunshine cut off abruptly as I plunged into the half-gloom of the chapel. There was one other person in the pews, up near the front, but he did not turn at the sound, though he seemed, unless I was imagining it, to be marking my footsteps as I advanced up the aisle. As I drew level, I nodded to him, only to find myself looking with astonishment into the eyes of my friend.
“Holmes!” I hissed, as one does not raise one's voice in church. “What the dev – ah, what the blazes are you doing here?”
He gave me a look I found a little too cold for my liking.
“Is not the house of God open to all men?” he asked, something bitter in his tone. I had the distinct impression he was less than pleased to see me.
“Well, yes, of course,” I blustered. “I didn't mean to – it's just that, well, I never saw you in church before.”
His eyes were even harder, the many winters which had pressed down upon him showing in their brittle gaze.
“You and I, Watson,” he snapped, “are not joined at the hip. I go where I will, and I defy any man to tell me I cannot. Just because you have not met me in church does not mean I have never stepped foot inside one.”
I wondered if I should walk on and take a pew on the other side. He did not seem to be in a very good mood, and my own, which had not been all that pleasant before I walked into the church, was turning black too.
“I meant no offence,” I snapped back. “I merely asked because -”
Suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind clouds, a thin smile played over his face and the cold look left his eyes, which now twinkled in a way which reminded me much more of my old friend.
“Do excuse me, Watson,” he apologised. “I was not expecting to meet you. I thought you had surgery today?”
“Wednesday, Holmes,” I reminded him. “Half day closing.”
“Ah yes, of course. I have been so intent on my own thoughts that I forgot. Well, now that you're here you may as well take a seat.” I did so. “Do forgive me, my good fellow,” he offered a second apology. “I did not mean to be so sharp with you. I just – well!” He stifled a laugh, out of respect for where we were. “I would not have you thinking your old friend had gone soft in his advancing age.”
I grinned back. “That is never something which would occur to me, Holmes,” I assured him. “But do you mean to say you are a frequent attendee?”
He shook his head.
“Hardly that, Watson. No, you are correct in your observation that I seldom have need of the church, but I find myself somewhat at a crossroads after our recent adventure, and so I turn to the highest power I can.”
“As you did before.”
Holmes looked at me in mild shock.
“Oh come now, old fellow!” I laughed. “There is no harm in seeking assistance from the Almighty when all other avenues have proven fruitless.”
Holmes frowned, then smiled in understanding.
“Of course. You saw me that morning, the day I went to see Mrs. Liebert in prison.” He stopped, covered his mouth for a moment, bowed his head. I realised with some small annoyance that he was laughing. “Oh my dear chap!” he chortled quietly. “The Good Lord gave me this incisive and analytical brain; it would be poor use of it indeed were I to seek his intercession the moment a case became difficult! A fine return that would be. Oh, do excuse me, Watson,” he gasped as the fit took him again, and he slapped the runner in front of him. “I do not mean to make fun of you, but you have quite misunderstood my reason for visiting here that day.”
I was not amused. “Then pray explain it to me,” I invited him, rather coldly. Hearing the tone in my voice, he gained control of his laughter, wiping his eyes.
“You remember the curate?” he asked. I looked blank, believing he was avoiding the question. “The newspaper article?” he pressed. “About Lord Bailey's accidental death?”
“I recall,” I said, still stiffly, “something about a priest giving him the last rites.” I could not see how this bore upon the matter.
“Oh my dear Watson!” Holmes wagged a finger at me in admonishment. “When will you learn to take notice of trifles? Have we not spent enough time together, have I not shown you enough times how important the smaller things may be?”
My ire was rising a little now. I really felt he was making fun of me.
“The curate's name was recorded in the article,” he went on. “As was his parish, this one. I therefore came here to speak to him.”
I was still mystified. “But why?”
“Watson, he took the man's last Confession. If a man believes, at the last, that he has sinned against the Church and against God, he can be expected to hedge his bets, even if he is not a believer. No man wishes to go into the Great Unknown with a black stain on his soul, whether he credits the existence of one or no. So he will attempt to gain absolution, which is why almost everyone wants a priest present before they pass on. His Lordship would surely have been no different. Knowing he had sinned, he would confess to the priest, in the hope the man would then intercede for him with his maker.”
I scoffed at the idea, which really was not worthy of my friend.
“But Holmes,” I reminded him a little sharply, “you know as well as I do that the Confession is a sacred trust which no priest could or would break, any more than I could reveal the private details of one of my patients, or a lawyer the intimate contents of a client's case!”
“Of course not.” He looked affronted at the suggestion. “I would never expect a man of God to break the sacred seal. But you may recall, Watson, that on more than one occasion I have been, shall we say, able to follow your train of thought without you uttering a word. That time, for instance, when you sat thinking about the Civil War, just before we investigated the curious case of the severed ears. Or when you had decided not to invest in South African mines. A man's expressions, the movement of his eyes, his very breathing can speak in the loudest voice to the man who has the talent to be able to listen and understand the language.”
I remembered well Holmes' almost supernatural power of being able to work out what I was thinking without my so much as moving from my chair, and how it has astonished me. I believe I may have remarked at one point that, had he displayed such acuity a hundred years or more ago, he might very well have been burned at the stake for practicing black magic.
“And what did your powers of observation tell you about the curate?” I was still stinging from the merriment he had had at my expense, but I confess I was fascinated now.
“Not very much, really.” Holmes waved his hand. “Though of course he would not, could not tell me what Lord Bailey's final confession was, nor did I presume to ask, I was able to divine that it had shocked him to his core. The way he crossed himself when I mentioned Lord Bailey – it was more than a priest making the sign of his god. This was a man actively trying to ward off evil. I also noted his hands, red from scrubbing, as if he had desperately tried to wash away the contamination he felt he had picked up when touching the man. The whole episode had sorely tested his faith, and he saw it, I believe, as such a test. His eyes flicked as we spoke in the direction of the cross, and the look told me that he was wondering how our Saviour could have died for such men, too? Then those eyes moved down to the floor, where some stray confetti still adhered to the carpeting, left over from a rather too exuberant wedding in which someone obviously could not wait until the wedding party was outside to signal their favour. This told me that he was thinking of the sanctity of marriage.”
I shrugged, still reluctant to let my bad mood go. But I could feel it would be harder to hold on to the more Holmes explained himself.
“Everyone knows Lord Bailey was married.”
“Yes, but not everyone knows that the marriage was a sham,” Holmes pointed out. “I did not know. Well, I do not interest myself in such things. What are they to me, but useless clutter? What should I care whose marriage is happy and whose is not? Unless it impinges upon a case. In this instance, of course, it did. If Lord Bailey's marriage was not a happy one, why was that? Many reasons, certainly: the man was hardly a paragon. But chiefly, perhaps, the lack of children, as supported by Father Dwyer toying with a bracelet of daisies his youngest daughter had surely made for him.”
“How could you...?”
“Watson, when a father touches something his child has lovingly made for him, especially something he wears, it is a hard man indeed who does not smile. The curate's face was a picture of sadness, therefore he could only be thinking of Lady Bailey's misfortune, that she had no daughters, or sons, to comfort her in her old age.”
I had to admit this made perfect sense.
“So you had the idea Lord Bailey was not faithful to his wife?”
“Not quite. While Father Dwyer may be a priest, he has been so for many years and has been here at St. Margaret's for ten; he is well used to the ups and downs of the marriages of his parishioners, of all classes. He is not a naive man. He knows people stray, fall out of love, cheat. He does not of course endorse such behaviour, be he has become, shall we say, immune to it, to a certain degree. The idea of a peer of the realm seeking solace in the arms of another would not be so trying to him that he would raise his eyes to the Lord in such a pathetic plea. No, Watson. There was obviously far more going on there.”
“But still,” I insisted, perversely determined to pour cold water on his efforts, “none of that surely told you what you needed to know?”
Holmes shrugged. “It helped confirm my suspicions. I have heard, through certain contacts, about the Adonis Club for some time now, Watson, but never knew of its location. Through the auspices of the good Father Dwyer, who had no reason to protect its secret – and, from his face, every reason to assist in its exposure – I learned the name of the street the club is in. At least, he told me where the accident had occurred, a fact which had been redacted by the newspapers, no doubt on the instructions of the powers that be. Once I knew where to look, I was able to put my plan into action, and now my theory has been borne out.”
I considered carefully before asking the next question, but it seemed important.
“What do you think about the whole thing, Holmes?”
He looked at me, his expression unreadable, almost blank.
“For myself,” he said, “I favour neither man nor woman, as you know. My mind is too highly-trained that I should allow it to be distracted by the, ah, pleasures of the flesh. But it seems to me, Watson,” and here he turned serious, his face pensive, “that no man should be able to tell another man whom he can love, and certainly, when the authorities get involved, when such behaviour deemed deviant or aberrant is criminalised, I fear for our poor world. There are places, of course, as you no doubt know, where the relationship between two men is not only allowed but smiled upon, and others where it is barely remarked upon. England has,” he sighed, “a long way to go.”
His remarks had, I had to admit, somewhat surprised me.
“So you would not expose this – this – den of homosexuals? Even though it is illegal?”
Holmes gave me a level look, which seemed to be equal parts scorn and pity.
“Many things are legal, Watson,” said he, “which I think you'd agree should not be. For instance, would have a man hanged over a theft of a few shillings? Of course not. But then you would have a man imprisoned for daring to choose who he gives his affection to? How can that be fair?”
“But the case...”
“The Adonis Club played no part in the case,” Holmes insisted rather severely, “other than as a hunting ground for Baudelaire. Here he no doubt met, or at any rate saw, Lord Bailey, and heard of the man's history with the Lieberts, choosing him as a far better bet to sentence Mrs. Liebert to death. Here, too, he more than likely poisoned Sir Robert, ensuring that Lord Bailey would take his place on the bench. It's possible – though I would doubt it – that he received some shelter from the, ah, homosexual community at that club, but I could not see any of them, especially the more eminent members, shielding a murderer.”
I thought about this.
“Maybe,” I suggested, “he was blackmailing them. Surely none of the higher class members would wish their connection with the Adonis Club to become generally known?”
Holmes considered this. “It is possible,” he allowed. “Lord Bailey may even have been induced to replace Sir Robert as the judge on the Liebert Case, under the threat of his secrets being revealed, perhaps sold to the highest bidder? Having heard how Baudelaire maintained a reign of terror over the circus, it is perhaps not unreasonable to think that he might have similarly cowed the members of the Adonis Club, forced them to do as he said. Of course, many of them are powerful men, and surely his removal could have been arranged. So perhaps we are on the wrong track there. We will, of course, never know. Even getting one of them to admit to the existence of the club, let alone being a member, would take more guile and determination than even I possess.”
“So we just leave it?”
“What harm has been done?” Holmes looked surprised at my question. “If we take away Baudelaire's involvement with the club, would you still desire it closed? Or exposed?”
“Well...” I was determined to stick to my guns, even if it seemed a little bloody-minded to do so. “If it is against the law, then surely we have a duty to report it?”
Holmes sighed, shook his head.
“Watson, who a man loves should be between him and God. No man has the right, in my view, to question that, and certainly not to forbid it. However, prejudice is a terrible evil in our society, the worse when supported by law. I fear that even when homosexuality is decriminalised, as it surely must some day be, if some of the names of the members of the Adonis Club are indicative of those who support it, there will still be those who will take the law into their own hands, threatening, harassing and even hurting those who are different. There has been prejudice practiced for most of man's history against his brother – the Jew, the negro, the Irishman, the Chinaman. Can you imagine a world where state-sanctioned violence against, say, Jews existed? What horror would be unleashed then? It does not bear thinking on.”
I nodded, both my hands on the knob of my cane, my chin resting on them.
“We have already seen,” I pointed out morosely, “how that has worked out for the black man across the water.”
“Precisely.” Holmes was looking straight ahead now, up at the altar, as if appealing to the crucified Christ, or perhaps, like his curate friend, asking was this what our Lord died for, to allow such hatred and inequality? “Men have fought a bloody war over the right to keep others of their race as slaves, for the right to treat them as less than human. Thank God the side of right prevailed in that conflict. But who is to say what waits in the future?”
I shook my head. “You paint a gloomy picture of our prospects, my friend.”
A smile suddenly broke out upon his face and he clapped me on the shoulder.
“As I say, Watson, who knows what awaits us in the future? For myself, I retain the hope that some day, long in the future likely, all men – and women - will stand equal, shoulder to shoulder, as brothers and sisters, and nobody will care one jot who loves who. Everyone will be free to follow his own heart, without fear of reprisal from the law, or indeed outside forces. Sadly though, I think you and I will both long be dust ere such a day dawns.”
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|10-30-2022, 05:02 PM||#35 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
We sat in silence for some time, each thinking our own private thoughts. For my part, I was reflecting on the case we had just solved, how tragically it had come to an end – despite being a murderer, it gave me no pleasure to see a man torn apart by a lion, something I had seen more than once when in service in India – and how it had been certainly the most singular I had ever been involved in. A thought struck me, and I hissed to Holmes.
“That explains why you were here, but not why you are here now. Surely this curate can be of no further use to you, now that the case is closed?”
Holmes did not meet my eyes immediately; it was possibly the first time I had seen him be in a state of what I could only call discomfort. He looked like he had something to say, but was not sure if he could say it, or if he wanted to. At length he responded in a low voice.
“When one's perfect world of logic and science no longer makes sense, Watson, it is perhaps no surprise that one seeks out such a place.”
I understood. “You're thinking about the ghost.”
He sighed. “I have built my career, my very life around disproving the supernatural, Watson,” he told me, as if I needed to be told. “I have never believed in it, and even when it seemed there was such an agency involved, I have proven it to be of earthly origin. But this last case has forced me to re-evaluate how I think about such things.”
I nodded, leaning on my stick, staring ahead at the great cross which hung like a massive judgement over the altar. Not a breeze stirred the row of lit candles before it; the very sound of our voices, hushed and sepulchral, seemed to be swallowed up in the all-pervading silence.
“I feel the same way, Holmes,” I admitted, shaking my head. “There is no doubting we were both witness to something, well, inexplicable in Mrs. Fraser's house. I can think of no way that writing could have appeared on the wall before our very eyes, and yet I, too, like you, am a man of science, and prone to dismiss such things. It is proving most difficult though to retain that innate skepticism and scorn with which I usually greet such occurrences.”
Returning to more familiar ground, Holmes began to analyse the issue.
“The first point, the most important, Watson, I think you'll agree, is the question: do ghosts exist? A few days ago as rational, thinking, logical and intelligent men I have no doubt you and I would both have said no, quite obviously they don't. However what we saw brooks no rational or logical explanation, and as we both saw it – along with Mrs. Fraser – it cannot be dismissed as hysteria or some trick. Believe me, Watson, I have spent many hours in the past few days going over every possibility, not only to determine if such an effect could be produced by human means, but also, if it could, to what end? We can discount the killer, who most certainly would not have wished to have put us on his trail, something that only really happened after we read that ghostly message. Mrs. Liebert, of course, wrongly accused, could have motive, but she was locked away in Pentonville Prison, and of her only other living relatives, one was away at boarding school and too young to be able to even conceive, never mind execute such a trick, and the other was standing in the room with us. Could Mrs. Fraser have somehow manipulated some device to make us think that what we saw was a message from beyond the grave? Doubtful. Remember, she fainted when she saw the words begin to appear, and with her agreement I returned to her house the day before yesterday and made a thorough search for any machinery, magic lanterns, or any other chicanery. I must admit I found none.”
I shook my head. “I cannot believe that Mrs. Fraser was responsible,” I declared. “For one thing, even had she been somehow able to communicate such information, from what source could she have had it?”
Holmes seemed to agree. “It was certainly news to me, and badly delivered too, resulting in my mistaking one word for three. And then there was the larger writing which appeared on the ceiling. I should mention also, Watson, in case the thought had occurred to you, that no, the writing is not still there. Mrs. Fraser told me it was gone soon after we left, therefore we can reasonably assume the message was for us alone.”
A creaking sound behind us caused us both to turn at once, as a lance of bright sunlight pierced the cloaking darkness of the church, but it was only some old woman, come to practice her devotions. She sat at the back of the church; nevertheless, we both found ourselves lowering our voices further, and Holmes motioned towards the altar.
“I had hoped to gain some insight into the existence of the spirit world here, Watson, but it seems the Almighty is silent on the subject. Perhaps, at the last, it is a question which even our maker cannot answer.” He sighed, crossed himself, something I had never seen him do, and rose. “Let us light a candle for the late Peter Liebert, Watson,” he suggested, “and be on our way.”
The sunlight was almost blinding as we emerged from the gloom, the sounds of the street welcome after the funereal stillness of the church. As we walked back to Baker Street, Holmes talked some more, his voice now at its normal level and pitch.
“I believe we are forced to accept the unacceptable, Watson, and countenance the existence of ghosts. Or at least,” he smiled tightly, tipping his hat as we passed two ladies, “one ghost.” He turned to me suddenly, pointing with his walking stick at my chest. “Assuming they do exist then, Watson,” he asked me, “why do you believe they remain here?”
I thought about it. Talk of ghosts and the spirit world and spectral messages suddenly seemed rather foolish out in the light of the sun, yet I could not deny that we had both witnessed something neither of us could explain.
“The clairvoyants, the fakirs and the mesmerists would have us believe,” I said, “that a ghost remains on or returns to this – what do they call it? Spiritual plane?” Holmes nodded in agreement as we walked on. “Well, they return to this plane due to unfinished business, something that they had to do before they died, or something they must put right now that they are no longer living.”
Holmes looked up at the sky. The yellow orb of the sun blazed brightly in a clear blue, with a few small clouds seeming to scatter from its burning power. The ground was warm underfoot. All seemed right with the world. Yet there was a troubled look on my friend's face.
“Can we, then, Watson, have been aided by a ghost? The very spirit, surely, of the murdered man, determined to have justice for his killing and save his wife?”
“Save her!” I breathed. Holmes waved a hand impatiently.
“Well of course, once the rather enormous hurdle of belief in ghosts is cleared,” he said, “the meaning becomes clear at once. Who else, after all, would a ghost – the ghost, if we are to stretch credibility to its limit, as we must, of Mr. Liebert – wish us to save? There was no question it was his wife he referred to. I find myself, though, pondering on the death of Lord Bailey.”
“It is true he was the judge in the case,” I pointed out.
“Exactly so.” Again, Holmes looked reluctant to voice his theory, given his usual dismissal of the supernatural. However, he forged ahead, his eyes hooded. “Might it not be too much of a leap to assume a ghost, seeing his wife treated thus by his old enemy, and certainly, it must be said, taking his revenge on her, should contrive to scare him so that he would inadvertently step out into the road and be run over?”
I clicked my fingers.
“Like Baudelaire was lured to the lion's cage at the circus!”
“Quite likely. There is, of course, no proof for any of this, nor any way to test it. Lord Bailey may merely have had one too many and stumbled into the path of the approaching carriage. However I am, as you know, no believer in coincidences, and they pile up in this case, and especially in the matter of His Lordship. Baudelaire, surely, as a circus employee for some years, must have known the danger of backing up against the cage of a hungry lion. These beasts may be trained and somewhat domesticated, but they are still creatures of the jungle, and their predatory blood runs in even the smallest house cat. The smell of a human within reach, to say nothing of the stench of his fear – something it is said animals can sense – would surely have caused the lion to attack him.”
I shook my head, tapped my stick on the ground in front of me.
“So Peter Liebert had his revenge from beyond the grave?”
Holmes smiled, looked up at the sun. It all seemed so far-fetched and so much nonsense, out here in the brilliant sunlight, with all life teeming about. I began to wonder how unlikely it might seem back home, when I extinguished the lamp and turned to bed. Alone in the dark, would I still smile at the idea of a ghost seeking its vengeance among the living?
“We will never know for certain, of course,” Holmes admitted. “However, for my part I feel we might both do well to harken to the words of the Bard: there may, after all, be more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamed in both our philosophies, Watson.”
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