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- Mattie Stepanek
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As I sit down to pick the best case to present for your consideration, I must humbly confess to your discretion that making the sound choice hasn't been an easy task. I am tempted by numerous narratives, many of which offer multiple facets of interest, both to the ardent aficionados of the art of deduction as well as to the layman readers. I am tempted by many, for instance, the singular disappearance of the bridegroom from the altar; or the perplexing case of triple murders which were committed in a room locked from the inside; or the strange shouts of terror emanating from the deserted Blackwood Castle. Prudence ordains me to put forth the ‘Curious Case of Stabbed Onion’ for its sheer enigmatical grotesque.
I was spending the weekend at our old dwelling at 221B Baker Street at Mr Sherlock Holmes’ behest. My wife was away for the weekend with her friends, while I, having nothing better to do, joined Holmes and hoped for an adventure reminiscent of our old days. It was one gloomy winter day and the fog threatened to engulf the whole of London in its misty haze. The brumous melancholy had seeped into our living room, as Holmes paced agitatedly like a hungry lion longing for a hunt. I watched with nervous pity; I could only imagine what the poor fellow was going through for I had witnessed in the past, the mutilation a month without a case had inflicted upon his mind. He was about to begin a tirade bemoaning the mediocrity of the criminal class of London, castigating them for his destitute mental state and then ponder upon joining their ranks himself. I picked up three day old newspaper and scanned for a baffling crime mystery, hoping to ameliorate my friend’s vexation. On the third page, I found something interesting.
“Listen to this Holmes,” said I.
MURDER AT JACKSON MANOR [it said]
London: On Sunday, the police discovered the dead body of Lord Curzon Jackson at Jackson Manor in Kingston. Scotland Yard police have taken over the case and is being investigated by Detective Inspector Lestrade. “The autopsy has revealed the cause of death to be multiple stab wounds to the gut. Our preliminary investigation reveals there was a struggle; it could have been a fight with a family member or an attempted burglary gone wrong,” said Detective Inspector Lestrade. Lord Curzon Jackson lived with his wife Emily Jackson and his brother Remus Jackson who are nowhere to be found since the tragedy. When asked whether either of them was a suspect, Detective Inspector Lestrade refused to comment, fearing for the integrity of the investigation. “We are confident that we will—
“If Lestrade doesn’t need my help then the case isn’t challenging enough,” said Holmes pompously.
I sighed. Before I could reply, we heard footsteps. I prayed for a client, perhaps even more earnestly than Holmes himslef, for Holmes without a client for a month was downright petulant and unbearable. It was Mrs Hudson.
"A client for you Mr Holmes. One Elizabeth Crawford. Should I –”
"Yes, please send her up," said I, before Holmes could respond.
"Right away," said Mrs Hudson and disappeared down the stairs.
A few moments later, a remarkable woman entered the room. She looked barely twenty. She had brown hair, big, hazel eyes and a dimple chin. Alluring and elegant, her bewitching, radiant eyes gave a fleeting glimpse to an underlying sense of high self- esteem. As a disarming smile dawned with tantalizing dimples on her velvet cheeks, she carried her frail beauty with grace. Enchanted for an ephemeral moment, I am not proud to say that it slipped my mind that I was a married man. But Holmes, as always, was above the mundane problems of earthly mortals such as the charms of the feminine grace; and this woman was no exception. He had the old glint in his eyes, reflecting his hunger for a perplexing puzzle. She looked at me and then at Holmes.
"I presume you are Mr Sherlock Holmes," said she, uncertain.
"Indeed I am. And this here is my friend Dr Watson who will be assisting me with your case. Please, have a seat," said Holmes, as we both bowed and sat.
"You seem perturbed madam; a glass of scotch for your nerves " said Holmes.
"That's mighty kind of you, thank you," said she.
Holmes got to his feet and walking over to the liquor cabinet, poured three large of single malt scotch.
"So, Miss Crawford" said he, handing her over a glass and one to me, choosing his salutation based on the conspicuous absence of a ring on her finger. "Pray tell me what brings you to our doorstep on this chilly winter day?"
She took a swig before speaking.
"My predicament is to a certain extent, comical. A very strange chain of events have occurred in the recent past, Mr Holmes," said she.
"Pray tell me all about it from the very beginning, madam" said Holmes, as he leaned back in his chair and pressed his fingertips together, resting his chin atop, in his characteristic position.
"I live in the countryside of Weston-super-Mare with my parents and servants. Four days ago, a few strange artifacts were delivered at our doorstep," said she and reached for her bag and extracted three curious objects. An onion, a knife and a miniature model of a boat. "Our butler opened our front door and he found these objects. The onion was stabbed with the knife, and the boat was simply placed next to it. The butler immediately warned me about his peculiar findings," said she.
Intrigued, Holmes leaned forward and extended his hand and she handed him the objects and he began examining them one by one.
"An ordinary kitchen knife," he remarked. "And how far would you say was the knife sunk in the onion?" he queried.
"Up to half the length of the onion, I presume" said she.
I hurriedly gulped down the remainder of my scotch whiskey and put the glass down so that I could examine the objects myself. Holmes passed the onion and the knife to me and began examining the model of the boat himself. I looked at the objects in perplexity, feeling none the wiser but rather more curious for further information.
"Pray continue Miss Crawford," said Holmes.
"My first thought was that it was simply a childish prank by local kids; there's a ten year old who lives off the street and loves his practical jokes, you see. But then, when I saw my mother’s expression, I felt as if she was concealing something from me. She exchanged one glance with my father and they both urged me not to think about it at all assuring me it was simply a prank. Indeed I wouldn't have thought about it anymore if another strange incident hadn't occurred two days later. I was out for my morning walk when I came across... a huge beast of a dog. It was a kind that I had never seen before; it was furry and brownish with big ears and he almost looked like a wolf. And it looked very old. Now, I am a dog lover by nature, but I wasn't prepared to meet such a beast and I froze in my tracks. And then, the dog trotted towards me and started wagging his tale. I gathered some courage and patted him. And then he began following me everywhere. I took the wonderful creature home. Father was not pleased as he isn't very fond of dogs in general. But mother didn't mind, and so we fed him and allowed him in the house. But here comes the strangest and scariest part. The very next day, our butler opened the door as usual to clean the yard, and there he saw the most harrowing sight he had ever seen. A dog collar with leash attached, was on our doorstep, sitting in the puddle of blood! He panicked and ran, and alerted me of the situation. I almost screamed when I saw the grotesque sight, for my first thought was Mr Lancer—that’s the name of the dog, was hurt. But he was happy and fine alright and he came trotting to greet me from the yard. Then, the first thing I did was to ask the butler to clean up the mess and then throw away the leash and the collar in the garbage, for I couldn't stand the thought of all the blood and that dog leash right outside my front door. On retrospect, I realize perhaps you would have liked to examine the leash and the collar," she concluded.
"Not at all miss Crawford. That wouldn't be much of a problem," said Holmes.
"That's mighty kind of you sir. But please help me. I do not understand whether to make a head or tail of the problem. I hope you will be able to shed some light on the matter. Indeed, it is quite possible that there's nothing to it at all and that these are all a series of sporadic events culminating to form an ostensible puzzle," said Elizabeth.
"Indeed one cannot deny the possibility, Miss Crawford. But trust me to judge the merit and validity of the case. On the other hand, I must congratulate you for bringing to my notice a case with such intriguing intricacies. Now, I have a few questions for you. Have you ever owned a dog in the past?”
“Never. Father isn’t very fond of them.”
“How old are you?”
“Excellent. And how would you describe the dog's bark? Booming?" said Holmes.
"Yes, it is quite loud,"
"Loud enough to wake a sleeping person?"
"And where is the dog during the night?"
"Out in the yard."
"And you didn't hear any bark?"
"No I didn't. He was quite silent throughout the night."
"And is the dog allowed outside the gates to roam on his own?"
"No, never. He isn't exactly very friendly, he can get territorial. I alone take him for walks every evening and morning on a leash."
"When you take him for walks, does he pull you in one particular direction?"
"You say you stay in Weston-Super-Mare; have you always lived there?"
"No Mr Holmes. We used to stay in London till I was ten. Then we moved to Weston-Super-Mare."
"Any particular reason for moving?"
"None that I can recall. We had an ancestral home in Weston-Super-Mare. Father simply suggested one day that we move there."
“Do you remember the day on which your father decided to move to Weston Super Mare? Can you describe your mother and father’s behaviour on that day?”
She frowned. “I was ten years old and I remember almost everything. It was quite strange. I was picked up from my school two hours early. Even father had come home quite early that day I was informed that we were moving to our ancestral home in Weston Super Mare—”
“And what was your mother’s reaction? Did she protest?”
“Not at all. On the contrary she seemed to agree with father.”
“Excellent. Pray continue madam.”
“As I was saying, I didn’t want to move to a new place for my school was in London; but they assured me that they would find school just as fine in Weston Super Mare and did not offer any explanation for the abrupt decision of moving there.”
"Thank you Miss Crawford, I have no more questions for you but I certainly have some for your mother and father. When would be a convenient time to visit your place?" said Holmes.
"Any time would be suitable, Mr Holmes," said she.
"Excellent. Watson, would you be kind enough to please check the next available train to Weston-Super-Mare and book three tickets?" said he.
It was 2:30 pm when we boarded the train for Weston- Super-Mare from King’s Cross station. Miss Crawford and I sat across each other, looking out the window as I sought to engage Miss Crawford in a formal tete-a'-tete.
"How do you do Miss Crawford?" said I, politely.
"I am doing very well Dr Watson, apart from the obvious predicament on my hands. But please do tell me about yourself," said she.
"I used to be a doctor in the Indian army; now retired," said I.
"How modest of you, doctor. Please, tell me all about your exciting experiences in the army," said she.
And I began my story, narrating my experiences of the Afghan war and the injury, and subsequently landing up in a dwelling with Mr Sherlock Holmes. She listened, fascinated with my adventures.
If Holmes felt even a twinge of exasperation at our warm exchanges, he never showed it. He was lost in a reverie of thought, and I could tell that he had deduced a lot more than I had about the case from the presented facts. He abhorred the personal interactions involving emotions of any kind; he dismissed the virtue of politeness as a waste of mental faculties. As a disciple of science who enshrined the pure, cold reason on the altar of rationality, it was no aberration that he was afforded a glimpse of the truth far beyond the horizons of ordinary men. That his powers of reasoning were impeccable and of the highest order was beyond dispute, and yet, one cannot disregard their hand in fueling his aloofness and leaving him bereft of human touch. One could argue and would be justified in doing so in full measure, that his detachment in turn bolstered his abilities of deduction as they allowed him to view the world through the prism of a crystal clear objectivity, unmarred and undistorted by emotional bondages which engender a biased judgement of the world. I sometimes envied him, not his abilities of deduction, but his proclivity to trust nothing but the rational thought, guided only by quest of the truth, unswayed in the face of most turbulent storms, which compel best of us to abandon our faith in reason and find solace in irrational beliefs.
My camaraderie with Miss Crawford meant as little to him as the scenic beauty the nature had to offer as our train blazed past the meadows and pastures of the countryside. After a while Holmes reached for his bag and pulled out the fat encyclopedia A-Z. It contained information on some of the most bizarre subjects—information that he had collected from various newspaper articles and saved alphabetically over the years. He sifted through some pages and then put it away.
After a journey of three hours we arrived at the station of Weston-Super-Mare. We hailed the first cab we saw and made it to Miss Crawford's home.
My first impression of the villa was that of a lavish old place that one envies a friend for inheriting. As we stepped up to the gate, we were greeted by the barking dog; the butler rushed to control the beast but to no avail. It was indeed as she had described. It was big, brown and furry and looked ferocious but very old. It didn't resemble any breed I had seen before. It was only when Miss Crawford rushed ahead to contain the beast, did he subdue. When we entered the premises, his suspicious eyes followed our every step, ready to pounce the moment it was free. We then entered the house through the front door and Miss Crawford commanded the butler to chain the dog.
"This is Mr Sherlock Holmes and this is Dr Watson," said she, to her parents.
Holmes advanced vigorously and shook Mr Crawford by hand.
"Why Mr Crawford, it’s wonderful to meet you!" he exclaimed. "And Mrs Crawford," said he, bowing.
Mr Crawford was a had all the facial features a British aristocrat would be proud of—a thick, bushy beard, moustache and keen, penetrating eyes. Mrs Crawford’s brown hair were tied in a neat bun and she had a long face and a prominent, pointy chin, and a set of kind old eyes.
"Mr Crawford, what a fine beard you have!" exclaimed Holmes. "But don't you think it is now quite out of fashion these days? Me, I prefer to be clean shaven. I am absolutely sure that a fine gentleman like you would be very much comfortable with a clean shave!" said Holmes.
"Well, I haven't thought about it Mr Holmes. But yes, certainly, I will consider your suggestion," said he, rather uncertainly.
"But no it cannot wait. I insist you get a clean shave immediately! I assure you, you will feel much younger, with a clear, smooth face. Come, let us go to the barber's," said Holmes vivaciously.
I looked down at my feet and shuffled uncomfortably and tried to stifle the embarrassment I felt on behalf of my friend. I had always put up with his quirks and idiosyncrasies, indeed, even indulged some at times, convincing myself it fueled his ingenuity. But his present behaviour was grotesquely unbecoming.
"But Mr Holmes, I am not sure if I want to—" said Mr Crawford, exasperated.
"Oh but you will see how wonderful you feel when you shave and feel the gush of fresh air against your soft cheeks! Come come. Let us proceed to the barber's shop!" said he and took him by his hand.
"But Mr Holmes, I do not wish to shave!" the man protested.
"But I insist!" said Holmes and was already walking the bewildered man to the door.
With an awkward and apologetic look to Miss and Mrs Crawford, I followed Holmes and Mr Crawford out the door, utterly bamboozled. As we stepped out, the dog began barking again, but that was all he could do, owing to the iron chain binding him to the fence. We stepped out the main gate and onto the street as Holmes and Mr Crawford continued arguing.
"I am sure I saw a barber's pole round the corner while coming," said Holmes enthusiastically.
"But Mr Holmes this is highly irregular!" protested Mr Crawford.
"I understand Mr Crawford, but trust me, a clean shave will certainly suit your looks," said Holmes.
"But I don't understand the urgency. This is quite strange!"
"I am sure Dr Watson here agrees with me as well. What do you think Watson? Don’t you think that Mr Crawford should shave?"
"Er..." said I and coughed, "Yes indeed. You should shave. It will suit your countenance," said I and smiled apologetically at Mr Crawford, to which he simply frowned and shook his head.
He was now convinced that Holmes was deranged and any further resistance would be futile. He simply resorted to frowning and muttering under his breath and shaking his head in exasperation. I walked along with them, engulfed by the most awkward silence I had experienced till date. Three minutes later we rounded the curb and came across a barber's shop.
"After you, Mr Crawford," said Holmes with a bright smile and held the door open for him.
Mr Crawford entered the shop, and continued shaking his head and muttering all the while. The word 'insane' was distinctly audible.
"Clean shave for the gentleman," Holmes instructed the barber.
The barber began shaving Mr Crawford as we took our seats on the couch and waited. I looked quizzically at Holmes, hoping for some silent elucidation of his peculiar behavior. But when he caught my eye, he simply smiled pleasantly. We again lapsed into a silence and waited for Mr Crawford to complete his shave. After he was done, Holmes immediately stepped forward and paid the barber. Holmes gave Mr Crawford a long look and smiled brightly.
He looked very different now. He had a smooth chin, a strong jaw and a small mole on his rosy cheek.
"How perfect you look now, Mr Crawford," said Holmes.
Mr Crawford scoffed and we stepped out the door and began walking towards the villa. Mr Crawford refused to even acknowledge our presence as we continued our brisk march, willing to put as much distance as possible between himself and Holmes.
As we reached the Crawford villa, the chained dog began barking again, and Miss and Mrs Crawford were standing in the doorway. As they had the first glimpse of Mr Crawford, Mrs Crawford covered her mouth in utter disbelief and Miss Crawford did her best to contain her emotions as she teetered on the verge of outrage and laughter.
"You actually made him shave?" said Miss Crawford, stifling a giggle.
"Yes indeed. I am sure you will agree that the new look does suit him quite well," said Holmes jovially.
"There is no denying that," said Miss Crawford, now laughing.
Mr Crawford shook his head and entered the house while muttering phrases such as 'insane git' and 'bloody twat' loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Mrs Crawford, did you hear the dog at night?"
"No Mr Holmes," said Mrs Crawford with certainty.
"Miss Crawford... a word please?" said Holmes
Miss Crawford came up to him, looking curious.
"Come Watson," said he and I followed the duo out of the front door.
"Miss Crawford, your life's in danger in this house. It is highly imperative that you leave this place immediately," said Homes.
"You concluded that by shaving my father?" said Miss Crawford, disbelievingly.
"Miss Crawford, do you trust me?"
"Yes, Mr Holmes,"
"Then please, heed my advice. You are not safe here. You must accompany us to a nearby inn and stay there, at least for tonight," said Holmes earnestly.
"And what reason should I give for my moving?"
"Say you need to assist us with the case."
Miss Crawford reluctantly agreed and went back in the house as we waited outside.
"Watson, I need you to watch over her all the time," said Holmes.
"Yes of course; but won't you be there too?"
"No, I won't. I will proceed to investigate further; there are some things that I need to look over, some telegrams I have to send," said Holmes.
"Holmes, I think time has come for you to shed some light upon the enigma of this case. From whom does she have to fear? What does the stabbed onion and the boat and the blood stained leash mean? And why in the name of God did you make the man shave?" said I.
"You know my methods Watson, apply them," said Holmes with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"You know Holmes, sometimes you can be downright annoying," said I.
"Don't worry so much my dear fellow, I have almost cracked the case. If everything goes right, we should have all the answers soon enough. We'll discuss all about it tonight when I return to the inn. Till then, look after Miss Crawford, for she is indeed in real danger. Stay in her room till nightfall, I am sure you will not run out of interesting topics to talk about," said he, cheekily.
"What is that supposed to mean?" said I, indignantly.
Holmes merely chuckled.
"Ah, here comes Miss Crawford. Miss Crawford, Dr Watson will accompany you to the inn. He will be with you till nightfall; after nightfall, please lock your door from the inside and do not open for anyone else other than us both. Watson, I trust you are carrying your service revolver?" said Holmes.
“Is this all necessary?” said Miss Crawford, shocked.
"Yes madam, it is. Now, I presume there's a decent inn in this town?"
"Yes Mr Holmes. There’s 'Arthur’s Inn' by the railway station, shouldn't be longer than a five minutes cab ride," said she.
"Very well then, I'll see you both tonight at Arthur’s Inn," said he.
We bid our farewells and hailed a cab and proceeded to Arthur’s Inn. Upon reaching our destination, we booked two rooms for two days. It was nearly 6:30 pm and we ordered two teas; it was a pleasant evening as we looked out the window to be greeted by a salubrious view of the thick cover of trees the besieged the town. We went out into the veranda and enjoyed our teas.
“Would you mind terribly if I smoke?” said I once we had finished our teas.
“Not at all, doctor,” said she and I lit my cigar.
“Whom do you think I have to fear?” said she darkly.
“God only knows. Well, actually Holmes knows too,” said I.
“But doesn’t he confide his deductions in you?”
“Holmes has a soft spot for theatricality; he will wait till the very end and pull out the perfect solution to the problem from under a hat and revel in the bewilderment of his audience.”
“Oh yes, he likes doing that…Thor Bridge, Valley of Fear… ”
“Have you read my accounts?” said I, raising an eyebrow.
“One or two of them. And I must say doctor, you certainly have a gift with the words.”
“You honour me, madam.”
“I am sure you must have had so many fascinating adventures together! Please do tell me about them.”
And then, I began, meandering through the meadows of reminiscences of our invigorating adventures as she held my hand through the journey, fascinated by the enthralling vistas. I started with ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and then began narrating random accounts of my favourite adventures so far. So captivating were the accounts of our reminiscences of times bygone that by the time I reached the story of ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ it was already time for supper. We concluded that there wasn’t any point in waiting for Holmes and proceeded downstairs for a hot supper. There were barely two other guests in the inn. We sat on an empty table and the good landlady brought us food.
“So which was the scariest adventure so far? When were you really terrified?” said Miss Crawford as she knifed a pork chop.
“Well, the scariest adventure has to be the ‘Speckled Band’. I cannot pretend I wasn’t scared when I waited in that room in the dark with Holmes and heard the whistle,” said I.
“Oh! How exciting! And tell me doctor, when were you mightily impressed with Mr Holmes’s abilities of deduction?”
“Ah! There have been far too many instances of that. Well, let’s see, he displayed unparalleled powers of deduction while solving the mystery of the Thor Bridge. And then there was the amazing puzzle of Blue Carbuncle; also The Beryl Coronet; and The Red Headed League. Oh! And how could I forget The Five Orange Pips and The Adventure of Dancing Men. And then there was The Hound—
“Stop! My interest is piqued! Do tell me more about these cases,” she cut in.
And so I began, the endless stories of many bygone adventures, of horse drawn cabs in foggy London, of criminal masterminds and ghastly crimes and illustrious clients. By the time I was done narrating the story of the ‘Red Headed League’, we were long done with our supper; we thanked the landlady and proceeded to the rooms upstairs.
“Holmes has instructed me to stay with you all the time; I hope you do not mind, Miss Crawford,” said I.
“Not at all doctor, I quite enjoy your company,” said she and smiled as she opened the door to her room.
We proceeded inside and took our seats.
“Based on your vast experience doctor, what do you think of this case?” said Miss Crawford.
“Your case is quite peculiar, Miss Crawford. From my experience, cases which do not involve crime turn out to be quite absurd,” said I.
“Well… when you have a series of random events, they are generally a precursor to a crime,” said I cautiously.
“So… are you expecting a crime to happen?” said she, alarmed.
“No, I don’t expect the criminal to succeed Miss Crawford. Because Sherlock Holmes is working on your case.”
“I suppose the crime he is expecting to be committed is my murder…” said she with melancholy.
“Now now, don’t dwell on such morbid thoughts Miss Crawford. And I assure you no harm will come to you as long as I am here,” said I.
“You are very kind, thank you doctor,” said she.
She looked up at the wall clock and instinctively I did the same and realized it was quite late.
“I didn’t realize it was quarter to eleven already; you must be tired, I will now take your leave,” said I.
“Yes, I think I will now retire to bed.”
“Please lock the door and do not open it for anyone else other than me or Holmes.”
“Yes doctor, I won’t.”
“Goodnight Miss Crawford,” said I, touching my hat.
I left her room and heard the sound of latch as she locked her door from the inside; I checked the revolver in my pocket and felt reassured. I entered my room and decided to wait up for Holmes. I immersed myself in the newspaper to kill time. Nearly half an hour later I heard steps coming up the stairs and a knock on the door. I hesitated.
“Who is it?” said I.
“Open the door Watson, it’s been a long day,” said Holmes’ voice.
I rushed forward and opened the door.
“What took you so long?”
“A lot of things. I trust you had a pleasant time with Miss Crawford?” said Holmes.
“Yes, I did,” said I, with a twinge of impatience, “but do tell me about your evening.”
“My evening was quite interesting. I am expecting my work to pay off tomorrow” said Holmes.
Holmes took off his jacket and took out his clay pipe from one pocket and extracted a tobacco pouch from the other pocket. He took his seat on a chair and filled the pipe with tobacco and started searching for a match box, which I offered. He lit his pipe and took three long drags of smoke. I lit a cigar myself.
“I sent a few telegrams to the Scotland Yard. I requested Lestrade to send some data. Then I went over to the Crawford’s and asked for their dog,” said Holmes.
“Their dog? What did you want their dog for?” said I, bewildered.
“Their dog is the central part of this mystery,” said he, adding to my bewilderment.
“Holmes, I have had enough of mystery. Please tell me, what did you do tonight?”
“I went to borrow their dog and Mr Crawford was outraged at the suggestion.”
“I don’t blame him,” I mumbled.
“But, Mrs Crawford was able to convince him to lend me a helping hand and allow me to borrow the dog. But, when I actually tried to take him away, he wouldn’t even let me touch the leash, let alone walk on my command; I abandoned the idea and set out alone into the woods. I set out to seek someone hiding in the woods. I had little hopes for the forest is too big, but, nevertheless, I had to try. I searched for long and after nightfall I lit a wick lamp and tried signaling… to no avail,” said Holmes.
“Who were you expecting to find?” said I, frowning.
“You know my methods, Watson. Apply them,” said he, smiling.
“I thought you would say that; I think I’ll retire for the night,” said I, stubbing my cigar and doing my best to apply his methods.
I slept as soundly as I could that night, with copious thoughts about the case swirling in my mind, confounded by strange nightmares in which the Crawford’s dog resembled the hound of Baskervilles and murdered Miss Crawford in the moonlit moors and then Holmes insisted on shaving the hound.
Next morning we had a sumptuous breakfast of bread, bacon and eggs served by Mrs Collingwood, the landlady of the Inn. Miss Crawford anxiously queried about the developments of the case and Holmes filled her in with his activities of last night. He told her that he had made certain enquiries with the Scotland Yard regarding the case.
“Scotland Yard is getting involved because an onion was delivered to my doorstep?” said she, incredulously.
“No no. They are merely assisting me with some data,” said Holmes quickly.
“How long do I have to stay at the inn?” said Miss Crawford.
“The danger is far from over, Miss Crawford. I think you should still continue to stay here at the Inn,” said Holmes.
“I think I now have a right to know; who do you think I have to fear?”
“I have theories, nothing more,” said Holmes, refusing to let any more information.
Mrs Collingwood brought us a pot of coffee. She poured three mugs and we started drinking. Miss Crawford looked annoyed. She clearly wanted more answers but knew it was futile to press for any more information.
“What should be our next course of action?” said Miss Crawford.
Before Holmes could answer, a postman entered through the open doors of the inn. “Telegram for Mr Sherlcok Holmes,” said he, looking around the room.
Holmes sprang to his feet and received his telegram eagerly. “Lestrade is quick,” he muttered to himself.
As he read the telegram, his eyes grew wider and his expression grew intense. “Ah!” he muttered under his breath.
“Watson. Do you remember the article you read before Miss Crawford came to seek our counsel? It was about the murder of Lord Curzon Jackson; am I right?” said he.
“Yes, positively,” said I.
“Wonderful!” said he and clapped his hands, unable to control his excitement. “Watson, I have to send another telegram. I’ll return soon,” said he and darted out of the door.
It was nearly lunchtime and Holmes was pacing around impatiently, smoking his pipe, waiting for Lestrade’s reply by the telegram. We were sitting in our room at Elizabeth Inn and I was comfortably warming my feet by the fire.
“What did you write to Lestrade?” said I.
“I requested him to send all the details of Lord Curzon Jackson available at his disposal,” said Holmes.
“Cruzon Jackson—the man who got murdered last week in Kingston?” said I.
“Yes, the same Curzon Jackson,” said Holmes curtly.
I frowned, unable to make head or tale of Holmes’s line of investigation.
Just then, answering Holmes’ call of prayer came the postman with another telegram. Holmes read it with the same excitement.
“Ah! Watson, Lord Curzon Jackson was an onion trader. He imported onions from the Indian subcontinent and often had to travel for his work to India,” said Holmes, his eyes gleaming. “And Curzon Jackson was not a very civilized man. He has had a violent past… many bar brawls and fights.”
I nodded, still in the dark.
“I think, Watson, it is time to brief Miss Crawford about our findings,” said Holmes.
“I think it’s time to brief me about your findings,” I said with feeling.
“However, I am afraid I am going to have to be quite sensitive, since… well it is all very delicate,” said Holmes darkly, ignoring my remark. “Let us meet for lunch,” he added brightly, “And I’ll fill you both in about my deductions.”
We sat around the lunch table as Mrs Collingwood served us lamb chops and boiled potatoes. I kept glancing at Holmes, wondering when he would broach the topic. After our third helping, Mrs Collingwood brought us some wine. Holmes now looked ready to speak.
“Miss Crawford—” he began.
The door of the dining room burst open and a policeman came charging in, puffing and sweating. He was quite young, with a bulky build, bright eyes and a friendly demeanour.
“Mr Sherlock Holmes sir?” said he, looking at Holmes and me.
“I am,” said Holmes and extended his hand.
“Inspector Jenks, sir. What an honour it is, sir. I always imagined meeting you one day, sir. Pity it had to be under these circumstances. Although, the prospect of working on a case with you does make my pulse race. But pity, it’s such a tragedy. Not that any murder isn’t a tragedy. I mean, it’s just that I want you to know sir that I don’t enjoy the tragedy but only solving crimes like you—”
“I presume there is a particular purpose for your visit, inspector?” Holmes cut in sharply.
“Oh yes, sir. I heard that you were in touch with the Crawfords, sir? There has been a tragedy… Mr and Mrs Crawford were murdered in their home sometime back. I was speaking with the butler and he informed me that you were in the town and I couldn’t hide my excitement at the thought of working on this case with you—”
His monologue was cut short by a loud ululation of a stricken lament from Miss Crawford. She covered her mouth with both hands as her eyes brimmed with tears. I hurriedly got up and rushed to her side, doing my best to comfort her. It finally dawned on the policeman that she was the daughter of the murdered couple and he looked aghast at the manner in which he had broken the news to her. Holmes surveyed the policeman with contempt for his lack of tact but knew that no time was to be wasted. He put down the half-finished wine glass and swiftly got up to his feet as I did my best to assuage Miss Crawford’s anguish of bereavement.
“Watson, stay with Miss Crawford, I’ll rush to the scene of the crime. Miss Crawford, I assure you I’ll get to the bottom of this—” said Homes
“No. I am coming too,” said she, wiping her tears.
“Miss Crawford I think—”
“I am coming,” she repeated.
There was something in her voice that suggested Holmes that it was futile to argue; her sudden loss had armed her with a sense of purpose that defeated all thoughts of fear.
The four of us stepped out of the inn and hailed a cab. We travelled to the Crawford Villa in complete silence. I could feel Holmes’ rage building inside him. It was on rare occasions that he was outwitted by the criminal, and on this occasion he was suffering from a deep sense of guilt. For Elizabeth Crawford had come to him with her predicament and trusted him and had been poorly repaid. As we rounded the corner and caught the first glimpse of Crawford Villa and I felt a sinister foreboding as I was stung by the eeriness in the air. The place had an aura of tragedy. The butler was sitting in the doorway holding his head in his hands. There was no sign of the dog. As we entered through the main gate, he looked up and it was clear from his eyes that he had been crying.
He got to his feet as soon as he saw us. Miss Crawford walked up to him and held his hands in hers and they both couldn’t hold back their tears.
“My lady,” mumbled the butler softly as he sobbed.
A moment or two later they collected themselves and looked up. Homes silently motioned, indicating that we should now proceed inside to the scene of the crime. As we all started moving inside, the butler interrupted.
“My lady, I strongly feel that you shouldn’t see what lies inside,” said the butler.
“I am going to see the last remains of my mother and father,” said she with the same steely resolve.
We proceeded to the living room. None of the positions of the furniture had changed. But in the center of the room, spread eagled on the carpet lay two dead bodies of Mr and Mrs Crawford almost parallel to each other. Their throats had been slashed in almost identical deep gashes, clearly slicing their jugular veins. The carpet was soaked in blood and there lay a scarlet puddle on the floor adjoining the carpet, comprised of the blood that had overflown through the carpet. On the opposite wall were the following words, written in blood:
SURRENDER NOW OR ELSE . . .
As Elizabeth Crawford looked upon the harrowing sight, her knees gave away and she buckled; I rushed to support her and helped her steady herself. Once she was upright, she brushed my hand away; I looked up to her to see that there wasn’t a trace of a tear in her eyes, but the same steely resolve fueled by anger that overshadowed all traces of grief. She walked up to the wall and stared at the writing. She turned to Holmes with the same resolve.
“Find the one who did this,” said she.
“I give you my word, madam,” said Holmes. “Perhaps you should now wait outside and let us do what we do best: solve the crime.”
Without much ado she proceeded out of the living room to join the butler in bereavement. Holmes swiftly got to work; he took out his magnifying glass from his pocket and started scanning every inch of the room while the inspector bobbed on the balls of his feet and exchanged awkward smiles with me. Holmes went down on his knees and started examining the floor and beneath the chairs. I walked up to the body and looked at the wounds closely. They were precise and almost identical; as if the murderer knew exactly what he was doing. I examined more closely and noted that the carotid arteries were slashed too. The cause of death was clearly the colossal amount of blood loss. It was definitely a very painful death. All the pain could have been avoided had the murderer chopped off the head cleanly.
“What do you think, Watson?” said Holmes, who had finished his examination and was now bending, looking over my shoulder and examining the wounds himself.
“The wounds look precise and identical… it seems the murderer knew what he was doing. He is a doctor perhaps,” said I.
“Possibly. But unlikely,” said Holmes.
Holmes turned to inspector Jenks. “Inspector, may I safely assume that none of the evidence was touched before we arrived?”
“Not touched at all,” said inspector Jenks.
“Excellent. And I presume that you have cross examined the butler?”
“Yes Mr Holmes.”
“Excellent. Would you mind sharing the details?”
“Not at all sir,” said inspector Jenks as he produced the notebook from his pocket and handed it to Homes. Holmes perused its contents thoroughly and handed it back.
“Watson, it says here that the butler was out for shopping of groceries in the market. And when he returned he saw no sign of the dog and the front door was ajar. He rushed inside to find the room in the state that it is now and immediately headed towards the police station,” said Holmes, turning to me.
“Mr Holmes,” said inspector Jenks, “What do you make of the writing on the wall? Who does it refer to?”
“It is asking a certain person to surrender and the consequences of not doing so…” Holmes hesitated, “would result in the murder of Miss Elizabeth Crawford,” Holmes finished.
Inspector Jenks raised his eyebrows.
“Mr Holmes, I think the time has come to fill me in with all the details of the Crawford case,” said inspector Jenks as he took out his notebook once again.
“Well, Miss Elizabeth Crawford came to me to seek my counsel on a peculiar matter. She had a stabbed onion and a miniature model of boat delivered to her doorstep few days back. She assumed that it was a practical joke of some sort and brushed the matter aside. After that she came across a singular looking old dog; he looked very ferocious and wolfish, but to the contrary turned out to be quite friendly and followed her around. She brought the dog home. The next day, her butler found a dog leash lying in a puddle of blood as he opened the front door. At this point, she decided to seek my opinion,” said Holmes.
The policeman wrote furiously in his notebook, with his tongue between his lips. Once he finished, he looked up and said, “How very peculiar. So what was your course of action Mr Holmes?”
“We accompanied Miss Crawford on the afternoon train to Weston Super Mare. Once we reached here, we met Mr and Mrs Crawford and I conducted my preliminary enquiries. After that I vehemently insisted to Mr Crawford that he get a clean shave. He was reluctant at first but then he obliged,” said Holmes.
Inspector Jenks frowned. “You persuaded Mr Crawford to… clean shave?” said he
“Yes, a clean shave” said Holmes with a straight face.
It was clear that inspector Jenks thought that Holmes was pulling his leg. He glanced at me for help but I merely shrugged. He uncertainly wrote down the details in his notebook.
“So what did you do after that?” said inspector Jenks.
“After that I insisted Miss Crawford to move out for the night in an inn for she could have been in danger in that house. So we moved out to Elizabeth inn near the railway station. I then set out to collect some data and sent a few telegrams to Scotland Yard for their help; then I set out into the forest to look whether anyone was hiding, but couldn’t find anyone, naturally, as the forest is far too big. And then… we heard the unfortunate news from you today afternoon,” said Holmes.
Inspector Jenks wrote down everything in his notebook, very much impressed by the fact that Sherlock Holmes could order the Scotland Yard to send him some data.
“In your opinion, whom did she have to fear?” said inspector Jenks.
“I feared it was someone within the house. But I was wrong… she was under the threat of the murderer who committed this crime,” said he.
Inspector Jenks frowned again.
“Who do you think committed this crime?” said he.
“I have some ideas,” said Holmes.
“Would you care to share?”
“It is quite obvious that the murderer served in the Royal Indian Marines and he was posted at Bombay. The man is approximately five feet six inches tall. He is expertly trained and is a marine with a high rank—he is in his late forties; possibly retired. He has suffered some kind of wound in a past battle to his index and middle finger of his hand, although the fingers are not severed and are very much intact. He is also a connoisseur of the canines and frequents the dog shows and possibly travels all over Europe to attend them. He definitely attended a dog show in Karlsruhe in Germany few years ago,” Holmes finished.
Although I was used to Holmes’ disconcerting ability of deduction, I couldn’t help but feel amazed. I glanced at inspector Jenks. His mouth had formed a comical ‘O’ and he raised his eyebrows as he teetered on the edge of incredulity and awe.
“You deduced all that by looking around this room?” he managed to say.
“Naturally,” said Holmes.
“Well, isn’t it rather farfetched?”
“Not at all,” said Holmes. “To a well trained eye, these details but leap to attention. I suggest you start looking for the man who fits the description...” Holmes’ voice trailed away as he gazed away slowly from inspector Jenks. There was a glint in his eyes.
“Watson,” said he, turning to me, “we have to leave immediately for London. Along with Miss Crawford.” He could barely keep the excitement out of his voice.
“But hang on—” began inspector Jenks.
“There is no time to explain. Start looking for the man with the description I just gave you; but we have to leave now!” said he and rushed out of the room as I followed him.
“Miss Crawford! We have to leave for London immediately,” said Holmes.
“What?” she stammered.
“There is no time! I’ll explain everything on the way back!” said Holmes.
Sensing the urgency in his voice, Miss Crawford and I moved out of the room. Inspector Jenks followed us, trotting, utterly bewildered.
“But Mr Holmes—”
“I am sorry I cannot help you now. We have to leave,” Holmes replied as we walked on to the street and hailed a cab.
“But what happened to the dog?” shouted inspector Jenks.
“The dog belonged to the murderer. Find the murderer and you will find the dog too,” Holmes shouted back as the horse started trotting and our cab left for the station.
“Make it quick cabbie! I’ll give you half a crown more if you get us to the station as fast as possible,” said Holmes earnestly.
And the cabbie tugged sharply at the horses’ snaffle and the beasts started racing. I could feel Holmes’s excitement even though I had no clue what he was on to. Even Miss Crawford seemed to have forgotten her grief in the wake of all the rush.
As we reached the station, we rushed to the ticket counter and were relieved to find that the next train left for London in fifteen minutes. We bought three first class tickets and Holmes finally calmed down. He needed tobacco for his pipe and walked to buy a pouch from the shop on the station. The train arrived on time and we took our seats and eagerly waited for Holmes to begin. He filled his clay pipe with fresh tobacco and started smoking.
“So,” said he, in between his puffs. “Miss Crawford, what I am about to tell you is very delicate. But you have to be strong,” said he, leaning forward and meeting Miss Crawford’s eyes. She nodded.
“Miss Crawford, I am afraid your parents weren’t your biological parents.”
Miss Crawford went very white and her lower lip trembled.
“You are the daughter of Lord Curzon Jackson and Emily Jackson who lived at Jackson Manor, Kingston in London. I know this because of your chin. Yes indeed. When I first saw you, I noticed your dimple chin—” I nodded for I had noticed it too, “And chins are fascinating organs. It’s been more than fifty years since Gregor Mendel published his work on genetics, but the field is dynamic and keeps evolving. There are certain dominant traits in human beings that are hereditary. A dimple chin, for instance, is almost always hereditary… which means that if you have a dimple chin then either your mother or father is most likely to have it. Your mother clearly didn’t have it, and your father’s chin was hidden underneath his thick beard and so I had to force him to clean shave. And when I saw that he didn’t have a dimple chin either, I assumed, in all probability, that your parents, weren’t your biological parents.
I sent a telegram to Detective Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, requesting him to send me police reports of missing infants filed twenty years ago. There could have been multiple explanations of course. It was possible that you were merely adopted; or perhaps your mother had had an adulterous affair twenty years ago with a dimple chinned man. But I decided to pursue this line of investigation and requested Lestrade for the data. Lestrade was prompt—he owes me a favour or two. There were twenty such complaints out of which fifteen had been resolved, that is, the babies were returned to their rightful parents. So I focused on the five remaining cases but one name caught my eye—that of Lord Curzon Jackson of Jackson Manor, Kingston, London. The name leaped to my attention because Lord Jackson was murdered only last week, as Watson had read it out to me from the newspaper just before you had arrived. And fortunately, the murder case was being investigated by Lestrade. I sent him another telegram requesting all the information he had on Curzon Jackson. I received his reply stating that Lord Curzon Jackson was an onion trader by profession; he imported onions from the Indian subcontinent and sold them in Britain. He had a wife named Emily Jackson. He also had a brother named Remus Jackson who served in the Royal Indian Marines. Both the brothers had a violent streak, but Curzon more so. He had been charged with assault, battery and been involved in at least fifteen different instances of bar brawls and fights.
It all made sense now. You father, Lord Curzon Jackson, had a streak for violence of which at times, your mother was a victim. After your birth, your mother, Emily, vowed not to raise you in that household. For when does a mother willingly give away her child? Only when there is a danger from the father. Emily somehow managed to smuggle you to the Crawfords without the knowledge of Lord Curzon, and they graciously agreed to take you in and raised you as their own. Lord Curzon then registered a police complaint about missing infant, and even though he knew his wife to be an accomplice, he didn’t complain against her, for he couldn’t afford to have his wife arrested by the police; given his violent past, it is highly probable that he indulged in domestic violence and was afraid of his wife giving him away to the police. He started looking for the baby using all the resources at his disposal but to no avail. Emily was quite careful; Emily and the Crawfords agreed upon a secret code, which would warn them if Curzon discovered their whereabouts and they could flee London at a moment’s notice. Their code, in all probability was simple but brilliant—an onion; because Lord Curzon was an onion trader by profession.
Ten years passed and Lord Curzon remained in the dark about your whereabouts.
Remus Jackson—the brother of Lord Curzon Jackson, served in the Royal Indian Marines. He had the similar violent streak as well, only he was a sharper man than his brother. He was also a connoisseur of the canines and attended dog shows all over Europe. At a dog show in Karlsruhe in Germany a new dog breed was first displayed—‘Deutsche Schaeferhund’ or a ‘German Shepherd’. A highly intelligent and strong breed bearing resemblance to the wolf, fiercely loyal to its master and which could be easily trained to tail a suspect. I daresay this breed is going to play a major role in police department in years to come. Remus bought the dog and trained him to trail. As Watson knows, I have an Encyclopedia A to Z, containing a lot of trivia. It has newspaper cuttings related to the royal family trees and types of tobaccos grown in India and breeds of dogs and what not; I verified it was the same breed when I saw your dog. Remus then decided to assist his brother to look for his child. He spied on Emily and discovered that she followed you, the ten year old you, to the school or maybe to the park in the evenings. He set the dog on your trail and the dog tailed you for a few months perhaps. I do not know why Lord Curzon didn’t catch up with you as soon as the dog had located your whereabouts. For reasons best known to himself, Remus did not divulge the information about you to his brother and the dog continued to tail you. And then Emily knew; she saw the dog on your trail. She possibly dropped an onion at the Crawford’s doorstep as a warning. Mr Crawford wasted no time and fled the same day along with the family to his native village of Weston Super Mare.
Ten more years passed. And Emily… murdered Curzon. Reasons are best known to her, but I suspect that it was because he may turned violent after a drink or two and she struck him down in self-defense… I do not know. And then, Remus was beside himself with rage. He vowed to avenge his brother and bayed for Emily’s blood.
Emily came straight for Weston Super Mare. She was careful not to use public transport to avoid leaving a ticket trail and the police. She made her entire journey on foot. Remus started pursuing her with the help of his dog and the dog led him here at Weston Super Mare. She was on the run from law and Remus, but she was also elated; she was going to see her daughter—you, at last. She wanted to come directly to your home, but couldn’t, for fear of being discovered by Remus and inadvertently putting your life in danger. She hid in the adjoining forest and tried to send you a message. She sent you a stabbed onion—which implied that the onion merchant, Lord Curzon, was dead. And Remus’s model of boat, which meant he was on her trail. Thanks to my Encyclopedia again—I recognized the model of the boat as it was given to the Royal Indian Marines at Bombay port in 1869, for it was the thirtieth anniversary of the steam powered vessels being inducted in the Royal Indian Marines at Bombay. So clearly, the owner of this model had served in the Royal Indian Marines for more than twenty years, and hence was a commander of a high rank and possibly retired. Mr and Mrs Crawford knew what an onion meant, but they weren’t sure what a stabbed one meant. They had no clue about the miniature boat either. But Emily couldn’t risk writing direct letters in case they were intercepted by the police or Remus.
While Remus stayed in the village, on the lookout of Emily, the dog strayed by your house and while you were on a morning walk, he came across you. The dog recognized you as the girl he had tailed ten years ago; German Shepherds are sharp. And hence the dog was friendly with you despite belonging to an aggressive breed. You took the dog in. Emily was now getting desperate to see you, she had been yearning for the past twenty years. She came by your house in the night to attempt to contact your parents again, and to her horror, saw the German Shepherd in your yard. She knew at once Remus Jackson was in town. He could come looking for the dog any moment and she had to force you to give up the dog. But she couldn’t write a threatening letter or something to that effect for there was a danger of the police getting involved, and that was the last thing she wanted. So she resorted to another creative message—she dipped the dog leash in scarlet dye water and put it on your doorstep; it wasn’t real blood, because if it was, the dog would have happily licked it off. And since the dog was very familiar with Emily, he never barked during the night.
After this point of course, I got involved. And I made a fatal mistake. I assumed only you were in danger. I asked you to move out of the house. Remus then, searching for his dog came by your house. He saw Mr and Mrs Crawford and immediately recognized them as your parents whom he had spied upon ten years ago. Rage filled his head. He finally understood why Emily had come to Weston Super Mare. Too see you. He decided to kill the Crawfords to send a message to Emily. And as you saw, after murdering Mr and Mrs Crawford, he wrote the warning on the wall, asking her to surrender herself to him, otherwise he’ll kill you next. He took the dog with him after murdering your parents. And now, when Emily reads the warning on the wall, through the newspapers or any other way, the first thing she’ll do is to surrender herself to Remus to save you.
And that is where we are headed, to stop him and save your biological mother. However, there is a problem. When we hand him over to the police, your biological mother will be arrested too. Because, in all probability, he is the only link tying her to the murder of Lord Curzon Jackson. As he has set out to murder her to avenge his brother, he is sure about Emily’s guilt and has probably witnessed the murder. Without him, I daresay the police will barely have any evidence against her.
You must have the strength to do what is right. To punish the murderer of your parents who raised you as their own, you must be prepared to send your biological mother to the gallows,” Holmes finished.
Spasms of anguish were conspicuous on Miss Crawford’s countenance. Something very painful was being processed inside her as her eyes welled up. She gazed out of the window distantly. Train was now speeding through the bucolic countryside full of verdant pastures. The clouds were too shy of the limelight to appear in the sky as the narrow beams of reddish golden sunlight spread afar, racing each other to the horizon. A lone cloud ventured out audaciously to occlude the sun, but blazed with brilliance instead, as the ferocious flair of the golden rays kissed its edges, humbling its perfidious conspiracy, lightening up the heavens with a reddish hue in their wake. The cool breeze fluttered lustily, waking up the drowsy leaves and lazy flowers from their slumber, enhancing the innate beauty of that day. Miss Crawford tore her eyes away from the window and looked back at Holmes. She seemed to have aged in the last hour.
“Where is my mother, Emily, going to surrender to Remus?” said she.
“It has to be only one place. Jackson Manor in Kingston,” said Holmes.
“And is that where are we headed?”
“Are you both carrying weapons?”
We both nodded.
“May I please ask a favour form you Mr Holmes? I beg you not to call the police before I have had the chance to speak with her,” said she.
Holmes frowned. “As you wish. But remember, if you seek to save your mother from the law, then Remus Jackson will walk a free man too,” said Holmes.
Miss Crawford nodded solemnly.
Sometime passed in silence.
There were a few questions in my mind regarding Holmes’ methodology of deduction; but now was not the time to broach the subject. Miss Crawford gazed out the window again and we spent the rest of the journey in silence. As the train stopped at King’s Cross station, I felt nervous with excitement. We hailed a cab at once and made our way to Jackson Manor in Kingston. The door had been taped and notice proclaimed:
CRIME SCENE. DO NOT ENTER.
However, there was nobody guarding the place. Holmes asked for Miss Crawford’s hairpin and picked the lock. We entered through the front door and entered the living room and made ourselves comfortable on the sofa.
“And now… we wait,” said Holmes.
And wait we did. An hour passed and I began to pace up and down.
“Perhaps we should look for ropes. To tie up Remus when he arrives,” said I.
“You are right Watson; we should,” said Holmes.
And so we all began searching the manor and fifteen minutes later Miss Crawford found a coil of rope in a closet off the dining room. We got the coil out into the living room and even decided the chair to which we would tie Remus. We were certain that Remus would come before Emily, to lie in her wait; it would be some time before Emily read the writing on the wall and decided to surrender.
I started pacing again. I began wondering how Holmes had figured it all out. I tried deducing analytically. I did my best to apply his methods, but my head swam.
“Holmes,” said I, “How did you deduce so much about Remus Jackson at the murder scene of Mr and Mrs Crawford?”
Holmes smiled with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“Well—” he began.
We heard footsteps. Holmes shot to his feet and I drew my revolver.
“Perhaps you should go in the bedroom, Miss Crawford,” I whispered.
“No. Remus might have his dog. We’ll need Miss Crawford to save us,” said Holmes as he drew his weapon.
“Come with us, Miss Crawford, but stay behind. And if he doesn’t have a dog, immediately run inside. Watson, we are dealing with a highly trained Navy officer. Be careful,” whispered Holmes as he picked up the coil of ropes.
He motioned us to follow him out through the passage to the front door and we tiptoed. We heard the sound of key entering the lock and a frantic panting: he had the beast with him. We both took our positions, he in front of the door and I to the right, revolvers poised. A scraping noise, and the lock turned; I clenched my revolver tightly. The door opened and Remus Jackson had barely stepped inside when Holmes raised the revolver to his face and shouted “Hands in the air!” He froze; but the dog leaped and ferociously bit Holmes’ hand as he yelled in pain and dropped his revolver. Remus seized the opportunity and punched Holmes in the face and immediately bent down to pick up the revolver. I rushed forward and kicked it out of his reach and heavily brought down the butt of my revolver on his head. He staggered; I put the nozzle to his head and cried “Don’t move!” and he stayed put. Miss Crawford called loudly out to the dog and he rushed to her side. She held him tightly by the collar and he began growling, seeing his master in distress, but did not attack Miss Crawford. Holmes, despite the bleeding arm, managed to tie his hands tightly as I held my revolver over his head. It was over as soon as it had begun. We marched our prisoner into the living room and tied him to the chair.
“Who are you? What do you want?” said our prisoner. But we ignored him.
“I’ll search for a first aid box,” said I and began searching the closets. Wound on Holmes’ hand had now stopped bleeding but it still was very raw. I discovered some antiseptic and bandages and started dressing his wound.
“Miss Crawford, I urge you to let the law take its course. We should alert the Scotland Yard,” said Holmes.
“Please, Mr Holmes. He isn’t going anywhere. I beg you to let me speak to my mother once, before you involve the police,” said she.
Holmes nodded with a sigh.
“You will regret this,” spat Remus Jackson but we ignored him again. He made more loud threats, struggled with his ropes but we kept ignoring him. Miss Crawford gathered some ropes and tied the dog in a bedroom. Holmes went out into the living room and collected his revolver which he had dropped during the scuffle.
We spent another hour in silence. I kept pacing around, excitement building inside me, trying to wrap my head around the situation. This man had come to murder Emily Jackson; Emily Jackson was on her way here to surrender herself so as to save Miss Crawford; Miss Crawford, I believed, was going to turn them in to the police. I tried to imagine the dilemma Miss Crawford was dealing with and couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
Another hour passed. It was dark outside. I looked out the window to see the full moon challenging the dauntingly dense darkness of the night, its brilliance vanquishing the sparkle of the stars, bathing the earth in radiance of pure white. A gentle drizzle started, as the alluring scent of the earth beckoned outside. I started feeling weary and sleepy.
Half an hour later we heard steps. Holmes got to his feet sharply.
“We don’t have to use force against her. Only ensure that she doesn’t make a run for it,” said Holmes as we made our way into the living room.
We realized that we had left the door ajar. I rushed to the door but before I could reach, a woman appeared in the doorway. She suddenly reached in the pocket of her coat and pulled out a knife and brandished it in front of my face.
“Stay back!” she yelled.
“Mrs Jackson, please—” Holmes began.
“Who are you?” she yelled.
“I am Sherlock Holmes and this is Doctor Watson. I am assisting your daughter, Elizabeth Crawford and we have caught the murderer of Mr and Mrs Crawford, Remus Jackson. He is tied to the chair inside and your daughter is waiting for you,” said Holmes.
Her expression softened. She pocketed her knife and stepped inside.
“Alright. I am ready to speak to my daughter,” said she. Holmes nodded and we three proceeded to the living room.
Miss Crawford rose to her feet sharply. Remus Jackson let out an angry hiss but none paid heed. He stared at her in murderous rage.
“Twenty years… I have waited for this…,” said Emily, choking, looking upon her daughter.
“Tell me everything. I want to hear it from you,” said Miss Crawford.
“I curse the day I married that man. Lord Curzon Jackson was the foulest man that roamed the earth,” said she venomously as her mouth twitched with contempt. “He was a madman. He once beat a man within an inch from his life because he had stepped on his toes in a bar. When we got married, I regret that I had overlooked his odious streak of violence because of its insidious nature. That household was a living hell. I was used to his drunken beatings every day. I wasn’t allowed to step out of the house. I clung on to the withering shreds of hope in those deep depths of depravity, somehow, fighting till the last inch of my soul to survive in that hell hole. Had it not been for the Crawfords, I would have killed myself. I met Mr and Mrs Crawford at the local church—that was one place I was allowed to visit every Sunday. They were the nicest people I knew and over time, our bond began to strengthen. I confided in them the sorry state of my anguished life and they in turn told me of their grief. They had been trying to conceive for quite some time but were unfortunate. I, on the other hand never wanted a child, for that would tantamount to sentencing an innocent soul to the daily tyranny of that monster, in that house, subject it to regular beatings, force it to watch its mother getting beaten in the mad drunken rage of his evil father. But I was forced to sire a child. He forced himself on me regularly and one day, I conceived,” said she, her voice shaking and eyes blazing. “But I was firm on my resolve, that I wouldn’t raise a child in that hell. Fortunately, after I became pregnant, he went away to India. He was generally away for a couple of months in a year for he imported onions from the Indian sub-continent to Britain. He was still at the sea when you were born. I still had good ten days before he was scheduled to arrive. On the ninth day, I gave you away to Mr and Mrs Crawford with a heavy heart. It was more painful than any beating I had endured. We agreed that we would now severe all the ties and act as if we didn’t know each other. We agreed upon a code that would signal danger, in case Curzon discovers that Crawfords have adopted his child. Our code was simply an onion, because Curzon was an onion merchant. We agreed that Crawfords would flee, along with you, to their native house in Weston Super Mare, the moment they see an onion on their doorstep.
When Curzon came home, I told him that I had given birth to a stillborn girl child. He didn’t believe me at all and demanded to see the child’s grave. I took him to a fake grave that I had made for you; he was still very suspicious. He roughed up the Padre at the church and he cracked under his interrogation and told him he had never performed the last rites on my child. He beat me black and blue that night. But I now had a renewed strength to bear it all, for now I had a purpose to remain alive. I dreamed that one day I will meet you, and speak to you,” she choked with emotion. “Following few days I was incarcerated in my house. I was starved, locked up and beaten but I didn’t breathe a word about you. He registered a police complaint for missing infant; he even mentioned me as a suspect but didn’t register the complaint against me directly, for he didn’t want me to be arrested, lest I tell on him to the police. He then suddenly became nice to me, brought jewelry and pampered me and hoped that I would tell him your whereabouts but I didn’t budge. He started allowing me to go to the church again. He spied on me, shadowed me, hired detectives to follow me but I never once visited you. Even at the church, I never even glanced at the Crawfords and they rarely brought you to the church. Finally, he conceded that he was never going to set his eyes on his heir. Ten years passed and I daresay he gave up his quest.
Remus came home one day,” said she looking at Remus tied to the chair. “He was generally away for nearly a whole year, serving in the Royal Indian Marines and came home barely a month. He is no better man than his brother, and worse, he was devoted to Curzon. And Curzon, evil as he was, was also shrewd and astute. He never touched me when Remus was home. He pretended to be courteous and very gallant in front of him. I knew it was futile to confide my torment in Remus, for he was blind to his brother’s flaws. Nevertheless, I always looked forward to his month’s stay, because it meant no beatings. He was also an aficionado of the dogs and visited many dog shows. He brought a new dog from a dog show in Karlsruhe in Germany. It was a new breed and the dog was very ferocious but very friendly and loyal to the family members. He trained the dog to follow people on command.
Remus knew all about the baby’s disappearance, and like Curzon, he suspected me as well. And one day, while I was returning from the post office, I came by a new park that had been constructed near the Crawford’s residence, and, to my astonishment, I saw you, a ten year old you, playing. You looked so happy, I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. I acted on maternal instinct and entered the park. I watched you from a distance for a long time. Mr and Mrs Crawford smiled at me but we didn’t speak. Remus was already shadowing me; as he saw me squinting at you from a distance in the park, he became sure that you were my daughter. But he needed much more information before he could go to Curzon. As he had already trained the dog, he set him on you. The dog tailed you stealthily as he was trained to, and later, led Remus to the place where you lived, your school, the park where you played, the church Crawfords visited. He found all he could about the Crawfords, and almost a fortnight later, warned me that he was now going to give me up to Curzon.
I begged him, pleaded on bended knee. I told him his brother wasn’t the man he pretended to be. He was a wife beater, a maniac drunkard who had no control over his temper. Instead of showing any trace of sympathy or pity for a helpless woman, this vile monster, forced himself upon me, in exchange for his silence. I endured it all, because that meant, you were safe.
I was sorely tempted to send an onion to the Crawfords, but I was worried that Remus would panic if his quarry suddenly disappeared. The dog continued to trail you, and Remus kept a watchful eye over you, but didn’t breathe a word to Curzon. Remus even extended his stay by a couple of months. When Remus finally left for his naval posting in India, the first thing I did was to send an onion to the Crawfords. I suppose you all fled the house same day and moved to the old villa in Weston Super Mare. I started taking the dog out to walks, and he still tried to pursue your scent, took me to your house in London, but never understood where you all had disappeared. Nearly a year later, when Remus visited us again, he was furious that the Crawfords had disappeared. But I assured him that I had nothing to do with it and had no knowledge of their current whereabouts although he didn’t believe me. I implored him yet again, to not to divulge anything to Curzon and he grudgingly obliged.
Nine more years passed without much ado. Remus and Curzon had both given up their quests by now. Remus came to our house one night, for his customary month long stay while on a holiday from the Royal Indian Marines. The dog greeted him with the same enthusiasm; he was very old, but quite sharp. Remus had reached at midnight and was quite exhausted from the twenty day journey from India. He went straight to bed without unpacking his luggage case. That night, Lord Curzon got drunk—more than his usual self. In a mad fit of rage he began his assault. He reached for my throat, and wouldn’t stop strangling. I didn’t mind dying really, and fighting back wasn’t in my nature. But one and only one thing made me reach for the knife and defend myself: it was the prospect of dying without ever meeting you again. I reached for the knife and stabbed him in his gut. I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on his face, upon my act of retaliation. I pulled the knife out and stabbed him again. I felt relief such as I had never felt before, feeling the spasms of twenty two years’ worth of solid hatred and anguish, I plunged the knife back in his gut and he fell to the ground, dead. Instead of panicking, I felt a very strange feeling. I felt free. At peace. It was as if I was cured of a ghastly disease after twenty years of painful struggle. Hearing the commotion, Remus stumbled into the room and was horrified to see me standing over the dead body of Curzon with a bloody knife in my hand. He charged at me like a mad bull, determined to avenge his brother. I grabbed his own luggage case and swung it hard into his face. The blow knocked him out cold. I pocketed the murder weapon and his luggage case and fled. The dog tried to follow me but I made him go back to the house and locked him in another bedroom. I started walking alone in the dark; I could think of only one destination— Weston Super Mare. I made the entire journey on foot, lest I get spotted on public transport in case the police were looking for me. When I arrived at the village, I hid in the surrounding forest. Then I approached the Crawford villa—”
“Yes, we know about your creative messages and warnings to the Crawfords. I take it that you found the miniature model of the boat in Remus’ bag?” said Holmes.
“And Remus, correct me if I am wrong—you came to after a few hours, and when you searched the house for Emily and found she wasn’t there, you set out to seek her?” said Holmes.
“I came to rather late; next morning it was. I went up and unlocked the dog. I then set out and commanded Archibald—that’s his name—to help me trail her. It took a very long time, he kept losing the scent because the distance was quite far, and I was injured as well but we finally made it to Weston Super Mare. I was barely able to feed him during the journey. Once we reached the village, he gave me a slip, was probably looking for food; and then I couldn’t find him for two days, but I was more preoccupied with finding her—”
“To murder her,” cut in Holmes tersely.
“Yes. To avenge my brother,” said Remus, eyes blazing. “There was only one way to coax her out of her hiding—hurt her daughter. I waited till the butler left the house, but when I entered the Crawford’s house, she wasn’t there. So instead, I killed the Crawfords,” said he, without a trace of remorse.
“Very well. That simplifies everything. I have enough evidence to send you to the gallows—” said Holmes.
“Mr Holmes,” said Miss Crawford, “please. I was orphaned today and I found my mother again. She cannot go to jail. I know that you have fought as the most loyal warrior of law, but I implore you to have mercy. I would let a hundred murderers escape justice if it meant my mother would be set free,” she implored.
“The advantage of not being an official policeman is that I shall not be guilty of delinquency for not reporting my findings to the police. I won’t of course, lie to them,” said Holmes and walked over to Remus with an expression of pure loathing on his face. “I am offering you a deal. Leave Britain immediately. Sail away to France; Britain does not have an extradition treaty with France. I shall contact inspector Jenks at once and give him evidence against you, not that I need to, since you have foolishly left your thumb print on the wall while you wrote that warning message in blood. I’ll give this chair to inspector Jenks on which you have left so many prints. I shall wait for two hours before I contact inspector Jenks which will give you enough time to leave the shores of Britain. If you ever try to touch Miss Crawford or Mrs Jackson, that is, if you ever dream of setting your foot on Britain or any of its colonies, you shall feel the full weight of the hand of law as it falls upon you,” said Holmes.
Remus nodded slowly.
“As you for you, Mrs Jackson, I assure you that no Court convened in the name of Her Majesty will be able to convict you without Remus’ testimony. You must move back in this house, and when the police comes to question you, you must state that you were on a holiday alone, and you had no idea about your husband’s death. Perhaps you might have to create alibis about your stay at hotels. And be careful about hiding your murder weapon; best way is to fling it out into the sea. It may seem peculiar and Lestrade will certainly be very suspicious, but there won’t be any clear evidence proving your guilt. Your trial will start, and I daresay, you will be acquitted within six months. And as for you,” said Holmes turning to Remus, “When I give evidence against you, they will start a huge manhunt and the papers will have a field day slandering the Royal Indian Marines for harbouring a murderer in their ranks and the case may eventually be transferred to Scotland Yard. With the newspapers breathing fire down their necks, Lestrade will leave no stone unturned. But you must lie low in France. You will be safe there,” finished.
“Alright,” growled Remus.
I accompanied Remus Jackson to the ship and ensured that he set sail for France on board Excalibur and Holmes went to Weston Super Mare and handed over the evidence to inspector Jenks. I went back home as I had many patients to attend to, and for the next two days I was unable to close my clinic early. On the third day, however, I politely asked last few patients to leave and closed my practice early and made my way to 221 B Baker Street.
“Ah! I was expecting you earlier Watson,” said Holmes.
“I have been busy with the patients. But I have been yearning for a few answers Holmes,” said I.
“I know you have. Please light a fire and pass me the tobacco pouch, will you?” said he.
I lit a fire in the grate and we both sat by it, warming our legs and started smoking.
“When Miss Crawford first came to seek our counsel, why did you ask her if she had always lived in Weston Super Mare? How did you suspect?” said I.
“She told us she had never owned a dog before. Then why was the dog so friendly to her? Clearly, the dog knew her. Naturally, the dog was trailing her for his master and her father noticed or was tipped off and they fled to London the very same day. Later, as you know, I verified from the encyclopedia that the dog specialized in trailing.
And about the leash… the person who delivered the leash, dipped in fake blood, clearly wanted to tell the owners of the house to abandon the dog. They didn’t want to hurt the dog, otherwise they would have done so during the night. The dog clearly knew them, because he didn’t bark during the night. And more importantly, they didn’t take the dog away when they had the chance. Why? Because, they were afraid of someone, who would come looking for the dog. Presumably, it was the owner of the dog. For, once out in the open, the dog would have attracted too much attention, and it would have blown their cover. They didn’t want to lead the owner to the Crawford’s house and neither wanted the owner to find them. It also explained the cryptic messages; if they had written notes in plain English, there was a danger of being intercepted by the dog’s owner. And the best place to hide within Weston Super Mare was the forest… I suspected I might find someone there but the forest was too big…,” said he.
I nodded impressively. “But Holmes, why did you assume that Remus was the owner of the dog? It could have been Curzon too,” said I.
“It was clear that the dog had been following the ten year old girl for at least a month or two; otherwise he would not have remembered her after all these years. Which confirmed that Remus was the dog’s master and not Curzon, otherwise Curzon would have wasted no time in laying his hands on his daughter the first day the dog had followed her. For reasons best known to him, I assumed, Remus had withheld the information regarding his niece from his brother, which we later found out of course,” said he.
“You also mentioned at the crime scene that he was five feet four inches tall. And he had suffered a wound to his index and middle finger but the fingers are still intact. I verified that when we caught him… he did indeed have those injuries. How did you—” said I.
“Ah yes. It was the message written in blood. A man, while writing on the wall, generally writes above his eye level and it was written approximately at the height of five feet and four inches. And if you would have closely observed, Watson, you would have noticed that the writing on the wall was much thicker; it was clearly written using a thumb. Why would someone write with a thumb? When your index finger is injured, you would write with your middle finger. And so naturally, he had injuries to both his middle and index fingers. The fact that he could so swiftly use a knife, conveyed that his fingers weren’t completely severed,” said Holmes.
“Ah. Seems obvious now,” I mumbled.
“That is why I detest giving elaborate explanations,” said he.
“Holmes. Are you quite sure that they will be able to take the fingerprint from the wall? Wouldn’t it be smudged with the blood?” said I.
“They might… or may not,” said he, his eyes twinkling. “But Remus doesn’t know that. And that will be enough to keep him at bay.”
“That is impressive,” said I, smiling. “And what have you planned for the rest of the evening?”
“Two more cigars and an hour of violin,” said he.
I smiled. “Well, until our next case then,” said I, touching the rim of my hat and Holmes gave a slight bow. I turned to leave, and, hand on the doorknob, I glanced at the newspaper lying around. The word ‘Excalibur’ had caught my attention.
“Holmes,” said I. “Have you read todays’ newspaper?”
“No,” said he.
I picked up the newspaper and read the entire article.
“My dear Holmes!” I whispered. “It says here that the Excalibur drowned at the sea yesterday. And amongst the deceased was Remus Jackson of the Royal Indian Marines,” I finished.
Holmes gave a low whistle.
Like all that is attributed to humans, our judiciary comes with an inherent flaw and the long arms of the law have their own limitations. But this time it was the hand of Providence that lay heavily upon the sinner and pulled him to the depths of sea and ensured Justice.