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The Adventure Of The Lion's Mane (1907)

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It was the summer of 1907 when our tranquil life was disturbed by the arrival of a visitor. It was Sherlock's brother Gaylord, now fifty-four years of age but as irrepressible as ever, although thankfully somewhat less annoying. The year after our move, he had finally settled down after a trip to India from which he brought back a native lady called Kali, and according to Sherlock they were very happy together. I asked what had brought him to Sussex.

“You, doctor”, he said, to my surprise. “Someone called at Baker Street to see you on a matter of some urgency, and I needed to know if you wished to see them.”

“Who?” I asked.

“A Mr. Lionel Delaware”, he said.

I shook my head. The name meant nothing to me.

“He is a lawyer representing a man accused of industrial espionage at the place of his employment”, our visitor explained. “The man's name is Mr. Benjamin Warburton.”

I tensed and looked across at Sherlock, who immediately got up and came over to stand next to me, placing his hand reassuringly on my shoulder.

“Is the gentleman's client known to you?” Gaylord asked, looking curiously between us. “Because I have to tell you, from what little he did say of the case it does not look good.”

“The man in question is the son of a former acquaintance of John's, a Mrs. Warburton”, Sherlock said calmly. “We happened across them in a case back in 'Eighty-Nine, when the lady's husband was wrongly suspected of trying to drive his father mad.”

Eighteen years, I mused. I had not seen Ben since that time, when he was only four years old, though I had remained in communication with his mother Lisa, and had sent money for birthdays and Christmas, which she had put in a bank account for his recent coming-of-age. The last photograph I had received was of him at that great event; there had been little of me in those looks (I did not know whether to be relieved or not at that), but he did have Sammy's glorious long hair, a complete lion's mane just like my grandfather had had in his day. Indeed, physically he bore some resemblance to Sammy's eldest boy Johnson, who was almost eighteen years old. I was thankful that the two would almost certainly never meet.

On reaching eighteen Ben had, with the help of a supporting letter of recommendation from myself, obtained a place at the Leicester School Of Art And Science, studying, of all things, automobile technology. He had said in his letter of thanks to me that he hoped the day would come when everyone could afford one of these horseless carriages or automobiles, a thought which had frankly made me shudder. His last letter had been a couple of months ago, announcing that he had finished his course successfully and had obtained a job at a factory in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, where they produced not only assorted metal products but also experimental vehicles.

It had been his mother's intention that, on his twenty-first birthday last year, he would be informed of the circumstances of his birth. However, a little before that time his grandfather had fallen gravely ill, and she had written to me, asking to wait until either he had recovered or not. Her latest letter had said that the doctors now feared that Colonel Warburton was not long for this world, and that she would tell Ben the truth once the old fellow had died and everything had been settled. I did not like the delay, but I had had to accept it.

“What are they claiming that he has done?” I asked brusquely. Mr. Gaylord Holmes raised an eyebrow at my tone, but did not comment on it.

“I do not have all the details of the case”, he said. “That is for the lawyers. But I think it comes down to the fact that a rival factory produced something identical to what they were working on, and they think that he leaked some plans to them.”

“Why would he do that?” Sherlock asked.

“You would have to meet with the lawyer to find that out”, our visitor said. “Normally Mrs. Lindberg would have just forwarded the lawyer's request to you via telegraph, but seeing as it was urgent and I wished to call in on Luke, I decided to bring the news myself. I am guessing from the look on the doctor's face that you will be wanting to see him?”

“Definitely” Sherlock said. “Please inform him that we are currently on a brief return trip to Great Britain, and would welcome the chance to discuss the case with him at a time and place of his convenience.”

I placed my hand over his in thanks. He had not even hesitated. I was sure that I could not love him any more, but I would try.

+~+~+

One of the best rooms in the little cottage (after the bedroom, of course) was the bathroom, which was positively luxurious for such a small building. Whilst we had been waiting for the transfer of the property Sherlock had, with the permission of the seller, taken the opportunity to knock through to an adjoining large cupboard, making the bathroom large enough to incorporate a huge iron bath. And I do mean huge; the two of us could fit in it easily.

I was stressed after Mr. Gaylord Holmes' visit, so much so that for once I did not notice that Sherlock was not by my side. When I came to that realization, there was a brief moment of panic before I heard the bath running. An odd time for a soak in the middle of the day, I thought, and stuck my head round the door to ask him why.

He was standing there completely naked. As usual, I drooled.

“Come over here, John”, he said gently.

I walked unhesitatingly towards him. The thought to ask why never crossed what remained of my mind, and even that began to dissolve when he slowly began to remove my clothes.

“This has been a shock to you”, he said quietly, pausing to turn off the taps. The room smelled of honeyed bath salts, and I took advantage of his pause to run my nose all over his chest and under his arms, taking in the glorious scent of my mate. Whatever this case threw at me - and my son - in here I was safe.

Sherlock smiled, and let me do what I wanted until I was ready, then finished undressing me and led me into the bath, seating himself behind me and easing me down to rest against him. I was surprised that he was not even hard, but then neither was I.

He slowly began to wash me down with the ivory soap that he still preferred, and I leant into the scent of it. It brought back a brief memory of the time when that scent had been all I had left of Sherlock, those three long years after “Reichenbach” when I thought him dead, but that only served to remind me of his return and our happiness since, and I smiled lazily. He stood me up and lathered me all over, then held the soap out to me to do the same for him. Still neither of us was hard, and I was not surprised. This, not sex, was what I needed right now. Trust my man to know that.

We both slipped back beneath the waters to sponge ourselves off, and once we were done Sherlock pulled me close. Despite its antique appearance the bath had a heating device fitted which kept the water warm for a considerable time, so we could continue to soak there in comfort. And it was cleverly designed so the taps were at the side, meaning that we could also sit facing each other. Which was good, because Sherlock eased me round to face him, then set himself to wash my hair. I sighed happily as he did so, and once he was done, I did his as well.

Even with the heater, the water was now getting cold, and Sherlock got us out before drying us off with a huge towel. Normally rubbing my naked body against my man's would have had only one eventual outcome, but this time we both remained quiet, content to have each other close. Once we were dry, he led me out and to the bedroom, where he slipped us both under the covers.

It is probably an unmanly thing to admit to, but sometimes I had an almost insatiable need to cu.... held by my mate. Of course he knew that this was one of those times, and he gently took hold of me as I snuggled up against his muscled body, sighing happily as I surrendered to sleep. The world and its troubles could wait a little longer. John had his Sherlock, and that was all that mattered.

+~+~+

The meeting with Mr. Lionel Delaware took place in his Wellingborough offices on the following Saturday. In the days leading up to it Sherlock proved that he was as sure-footed as ever in our relationship, never missing a chance to touch me for reassurance and always allowing me to be as close to him as I wanted. I do not know why, but the threat to my son made me that much needier than normal, not so much for sex as for simple contact. And thankfully I had Sherlock, so that need was more than fulfilled.

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you have agreed to help with this case, Mr. Holmes”, the lawyer said, wiping his forehead. He was a short, almost round fellow with a notable birthmark on his face, and rapidly receding blond hair. “Frankly I had my doubts when my client claimed an acquaintanceship with your friend Doctor Watson – it has been my bitter experience that some accused people have a tendency to say almost anything when under duress – but it was all true.”

“We are delighted to help”, Sherlock said. “The young gentleman's mother is indeed an old friend of the doctor's, and any friend of his is by default a friend of mine. Now, please tell us about this case.”

The lawyer sighed and sat back in his plush chair.

“It is very bad”, he said. “I do not like to say it, but I can see no way that Mr. Warburton cannot be guilty, despite what he says. However, I have read the doctor's books, and I know of your ability to produce miracles from time to time. One is certainly needed now!”

I could feel my spirits dropping.

“The event concerning my client occurred up to and over the weekend of the fourteenth and the fifteenth”, the lawyer went on. “Without wishing to deviate into technicalities, which I find confusing, the men at the works were building an automobile powered not by steam, as is usual, but by the newly-invented diesel engine. I should explain that the technological side of the business is relatively small, and consists of precisely three developers, one of whom was Mr. Warburton.”

“I am surprised that they have the time to do it”, I ventured.

“That ties in with the case”, the lawyer said. “The government periodically funds the development side, but like all governments they expect something in return. Now that the rival office in Derby has produced a vehicle that performs reasonably well, it is likely that there will be less money for my client's workplace.”

“Are we to assume that the Derby vehicle just happens to bear a striking resemblance to the plans drawn up in Wellingborough?” Sherlock asked. The lawyer nodded.

“Mr. Warburton explained to me that they had just overcome one of the major obstacles in making the design feasible for mass production”, he said. “Only one, and they had several more to go, but it would make the test vehicle considerably more efficient. On Saturday evening, he and the other two men left their room and locked it, with the plans safely inside. Outside, they each went their separate ways home. However, Mr. Warburton was then attacked by at least three men whilst walking along the riverside path, and left unconscious in a nearby storage hut. Only the fact that he was due to meet a lady friend off the train the following evening, and that she had the wit to call the police when he did not appear, initiated the search that found him. He had also been drugged, and was still unconscious.”

I thought that curious. Why drug someone and then keep them unconscious for a whole day? To what end?

“And the papers?” Sherlock asked.

“He is adamant that they remained locked in the office”, the lawyer said, “although of course that does not preclude copies having been made. Four days later, the rival establishment in Derby produced a car with the very improvement that Mr. Warburton had been working on. And there is more. When the police searched his house, they found not only a return railway ticket from Wellingborough to Derby for Sunday morning, used, but five hundred pounds in cash.”

“Why would the police do that?” I asked testily. “They were supposed to be finding his attackers!”

“I am rather afraid that they were driven by the works manager and Mr. Warburton's superior, a Mr. Dimbleby”, the lawyer said, a look of distaste on his face. “One of those fellows who thinks that he has to be a Man of Action to be respected; you know the sort. The actual works owner, a Mr. Samuel Primrose, has been helpfulness itself in what few inquiries I have been able to make, but Mr. Dimbleby is convinced of his employee's guilt.”

“Or possibly trying to mask his own”, Sherlock said. “Who is the investigating officer, please?”

The lawyer's face cleared somewhat.

“There, at least, we have been fortunate”, he said. “Sergeant Richards is a good man; he was very firm with Mr. Dimbleby when he tried to tell him how to pursue the investigation. I am sure that he will wait for facts rather than seek out only those that support a certain viewpoint. Poor Mr. Warburton needs all the help he can get.”

“Then it is to the sergeant that we must address ourselves”, Sherlock said. “Mr. Delaware, may I ask you a somewhat impertinent question to finish? You do not, of course, have to answer.”

The lawyer looked surprised. “You may”, he said warily.

“Who is paying your fees in this case?”

“Captain Matthew Warburton, Mr. Warburton's father, of course.”

“Of course”, Sherlock said.

+~+~+

“It is very obviously a set-up”, Sherlock said as we drove to the police-station. “What sort of attackers mug a man, leave him unconscious but not dead, drug him for no apparent reason, and then contrive not to search his house for the money they were presumably looking for, and that was so easily found when some did look for it? Unfortunately the pressure is always on the police to find a solution, and less obvious things than that have been overlooked in the past. Do not worry, John. You saved him once, and we shall save him this time as well.”

I wished that I could share his confidence.

I felt a little better after we met Sergeant Oliver Richards, who seemed the sort of policemen that we needed on this case. A young fellow (all policemen looked even younger, nowadays), he was fully prepared to let Sherlock and I look at the evidence, though he did admit that things looked black for my son.

“The money was drawn out of a recently-opened bank-account at Lloyd's Bank in Derby on Thursday the twelfth”, he said. “A false name, of course. I do however have more hopes of the railway ticket. No-one at the station remembers seeing Mr. Warburton, and he often went there to see his lady-friend off on the train. She lives in Irchester, the next stop south of here towards London.”

“Do you have his ticket to Derby?” Sherlock asked.

The sergeant produced an envelope, and tipped out a second-class Midland Railway return ticket.

“As you can see, it has been clipped twice”, he said, pointing to where the train conductors had marked the ticket at its lower end.

Sherlock smiled, and I felt my spirits rising again. He knew something!

“As I understand it”, he said, “the contention of Mr. Dimbleby is that Mr. Warburton faked the attack, then took a train to Derby to hand over the plans. And then faked being drugged so that he could come round and collect his ill-gotten gains that he had so poorly hidden in his own house?”

“Correct, sir”, the sergeant said. “Because of the late hour at which he left work that Saturday, that would have had to have been a Sunday morning train, as although he could have reached Derby that night, there is no train back. Expresses don't stop at somewhere as small as our little town.”

Sherlock made some notes about the ticket markings in a notebook.

“With luck, we may be able to prove Mr. Warburton's innocence from that ticket alone”, he said. “That being the case, we have four other people in the case; Mr. Dimbleby, his two fellow employees and his lady-friend who alerted the police when he failed to show for their date on Sunday.”

The sergeant nodded, and opened a case file.

“Ladies first”, he said. “Miss Patricia Stewart, aged twenty-one. Lives with her mother and two sisters at a house in Irchester, close to the railway station. Has been dating Mr. Warburton since he came here in July. He was due to meet her at the station on Sunday the fifteenth, and of course didn't show. She waited a little while, then walked to his house and found it empty. A neighbour told her that Mr. Warburton hadn't been home the day before – I love nosy neighbours! - and she started worrying. She came to the station, and we initiated the search that found him just under an hour later. It would have been sooner, but he took the riverside walk home rather than the more direct route past the edge of town.”

“What was Miss Stewart doing when Mr. Warburton was attacked?” Sherlock asked. The sergeant raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Surely you don't suspect her?” he asked.

“I suspect everybody”, Sherlock said. “Did you ask?”

“I did”, the sergeant said. “She last saw Mr. Warburton on Thursday, when she met him at the works. He was, she said, very excited over his new discovery, though of course she hasn't the first clue about mechanics, so it all went over her head. She says she just nodded and smiled a lot. Saturday she went shopping in Northampton, and spent the evening with her parents. Sunday morning she took the first train up to see her dotty grandmother who lives in Kettering, north of here, and cooked a Sunday dinner for her, returning to the station here to meet – or not – Mr. Warburton. Her train came in on time at 3:55; the station-master remembers speaking to her as she left.”

An alibi for the time of the attack, I noted. Though whoever did that must have used hired thugs, so that meant little or nothing.

“Quite a contrast, young Mr. Warburton's work colleagues”, the sergeant said. “Mr. Walter Turley, fifty-one, been with the company over thirty years, totally respectable in every way. However, his alibi for the time of the attack is very poor. He went to the local pub, and his wife did not remember him returning home that night. One or two people in the pub claimed to have seen him, but their reliability as witnesses.... well! Sunday morning he went to church with his wife. I checked that, and it was confirmed. He seemed to get on well enough with the accused, even Mr. Dimbleby had to admit that.”

Grudgingly, I suspected.

“I would favour the other one, Mr. Graham Brown”, the sergeant continued. “Twenty-four, a right little know-all and – here's the good part – a one-time recipient of Miss Stewart's favours, before Mr. Warburton's arrival on the scene. Our Mr. Brown thinks a great deal of himself, without much cause I should say. Mr. Dimbleby told me – twice - that there was no love lost between the two young men. But typically, the young buck has a pretty much watertight alibi for the time of the attack. He was helping out with a theatre group that he works with in town. He might have been able to slip away for a few minutes perhaps, but nothing more. Sunday morning he also went to church, and the vicar remembers talking to him as he left. There's no way he can have left town and got back again.”

“And Mr. Dimbleby himself?” Sherlock asked.

“Mr. St. Cloud Invincible Tripolitania Fortescue Dimbleby, so he clearly had cruel parents!” the sergeant grinned. “Fifty-eight, been with the company since forever, and rumour is that they were thinking of moving or forcibly retiring him. A bit of a bully, in my humble opinion. He clearly dislikes Mr. Warburton, but now that the rival place up in Derby has produced a decent automobile, he himself may get the sack, or they may even close down the technological department here. So, not that much of a motive. Claims he was at home all Saturday evening and Sunday morning and his wife backs that up, but she's clearly terrified of him, so that means little.”

Sherlock nodded.

“I think, sergeant”, he said, “it would be in your interests to concentrate on the money. Quite clearly five hundred pounds was paid into a bank account and then withdrawn, so as to create a link with Derby. Now, most people do not have that sort of money lying around, so someone must have obtained it somehow. The most likely way is a short-term loan; perhaps your colleagues in Derby can go round the local banks and loan sharks to see if anyone has borrowed that sum or something slightly in excess of it recently.”

The sergeant nodded, and moved to close the file. I saw that it actually had a photo of Ben attached to it, and he caught me looking.

“Latest technology”, he said. “We photograph anyone we arrest and add their picture to the record. Don't think much of it myself, seeing as how people can change their looks so easily, but the higher-ups love it because it's Being Seen To Use New Technology, so we have to do it.”

I nodded. Ben must have cut his lion's mane recently, I noticed, and he looked as miserable as I felt. Sherlock also looked at the photo, and then at the sergeant.

“Whilst we are gone”, he said, writing something on his notepad, “you could do me one extra favour if you would.”

“Of course, sir”, the sergeant said. “What is it?”

“Ask Mr. Warburton that question”, Sherlock said, tearing the sheet out of his notepad and passing it over. “We are for the local railway station. Let us hope that Lady Luck is with is!”

+~+~+

As it was lunch-time and my stomach chose the steps of the police-station to unsubtly inform me (and Sherlock, and a startled passer-by!) of that fact, we decided to adjourn to a local restaurant before going to the station. The establishment we chose was pleasant enough, although there were three somewhat unsavoury-looking young men in the corner who were eyeing us up for some reason. I was glad to leave the place, especially as they did not serve pie, the heathens!

At the station, Sherlock sought out the station-master and asked him about the line's conductors.

“What I wish to know”, he said, “is if you can tell me who the conductor on a certain train was, and what was his route that day?”

The station-master scratched his bald head.

“Well, I could tell you who it was, sir”, he said. “The conductors, they work the same route week after week, so if you know the train, I can say who was on it easily enough. But you'd then have to go and ask them if they stuck to their schedule; sometimes they change with illnesses and the like. Though if you're well enough to breathe, you're well enough to work, that's my view!”

I smiled at his forthrightness.

“The train I am concerned with would have been the first train from here to Derby on a Sunday morning”, Sherlock said.

“That'd be Ethelbert, Mr. Cowper”, the station-master said unhesitatingly. “He's local, and works the semi-fast trains from London to Leicester. Goes up and down the line several times a day, and always catches the last train to his home in Oadby, just south of Leicester.”

“I understand that when the railway company clips their passengers' tickets, they do so with a code”, Sherlock said. “I have a ticket with '17A' on it. Can you tell me what those numbers mean, please?”

“Seventeen is the semi-fast route from London as far as Leicester”, the station-master explained. “Each conductor has his own clippers, with a different letter on them; Mr. Cowper's is 'A', so he had to have been on duty that day. There's hell to pay if they lose them!”

“Do you happen to know where Mr. Cowper is now?” Sherlock asked. The station-master shook his head.

“But he'll be through on the last train tonight, the 8:15”, he said. “If you wanted to catch him, you could buy a ticket to Finedon and talk with him on the train. Unless it's a long conversation you'd be wanting, in which case buy through to Kettering.”

“I have but two questions for him”, Sherlock said with a smile. “Thank you, sir. You have been extremely helpful.”

A coin changed hands, and we left.

+~+~+

Outside the station, I was concerned to see that the three ruffians had followed us from the restaurant. I wished I had brought my revolver, now in my bag at the local hotel where we had booked in for the night. To my surprise, Sherlock left my side and walked over to them. There was some muted conversation, then he returned. The three men hurried away.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“Those were the three men who attacked your son”, Sherlock said.

“We should have them arrested!” I said at once. To my surprise he shook his head.

“They were hired hands”, he said. “We want the person who paid them; the organ-grinder rather than the monkeys. And if Mr. Cowper confirms what the station-master told us about him tonight, then we will be one step closer to securing them!”

+~+~+

There was no sign of the ruffians when we returned to the station that evening, but I was glad that we dropped in on the police-station on the way there, and even gladder when Sergeant Richards said that he would accompany us. At the station we met the station-master, who told us he had wired ahead for us and that Mr. Cowper would alight from the train to talk with us, provided that the conversation was kept brief. In fact Sherlock spoke with the fellow for barely thirty seconds, then thanked him and paid him for his time.

“I asked Mr. Warburton your question, sir”, the sergeant said. “He said the day before the attack. Apparently Miss Stewart did not like his long hair, so he thought he would surprise her with cutting it off. Like Samson.”

“Let us hope that the consequences are rather less grave!” Sherlock smiled. “Did you have any luck with the money?”

“A Mr. Pickard borrowed five hundred pounds from the North Midland Bank in Derby”, he said. “A false name, of course. The manager who made the loan said that he was a slight man, quite young but of good character - at least until his wonderful references proved a load of baloney!”

“Three of your local youths beat up Mr, Warburton”, Sherlock said. “They used a similar description of the man who employed them, except they added that he smelt really badly of cologne. Which is what I expected.”

“Why?” the sergeant asked, clearly confused.

“Let us get back to the warmth of the station, and I will tell you”, Sherlock smiled.

+~+~+

“This crime”, Sherlock began, “started shortly after the arrival of Mr. Benjamin Warburton to Wellingborough, and his employment at the technical department of Wayland Industries. It rapidly became clear to his co-workers that he was a man of exceptional talent, and in a situation where the department might be reduced at short notice, that provoked some alarm. In one person in particular, who felt that they had more to lose than most.”

“Who?” I asked

“Miss Patricia Stewart”, he said calmly.

We both stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Consider”, he said. “She is dating Mr. Graham Brown at the time. Mr. Brown is, despite his opinion of himself, unexceptional, and might easily be the first to go if the department is reduced in size. So the two of them hatch a plan. First, Miss Stewart dumps Mr. Brown for the more attractive Mr. Warburton. Few would be surprised at such a development. A little time passes, and one day she disguises herself as a man and travels to Derby as 'Mr. Pickard' to borrow some five hundred pounds from a bank there. It is vitally important that, since they wish to tarnish Mr. Warburton, a link is established to the town where the rival works exists.”

“Next, and again in her male disguise, Miss Stewart secures the future services of three of Wellingborough's un-finest to attack the man that she is now dating. Unfortunately she overdoes the cologne; you might wish to see if there is any of it in her house, sergeant, as I think she would find it hard to explain away.”

The sergeant nodded, but stayed silent.

“On Thursday, Miss Stewart visits Mr. Warburton at the works, and he mentions that they have achieved a technological breakthrough”, Sherlock went on. “She knows that now is the time to strike. Doubtless like too many young bucks, he assumes that the technological spiel that he inflicts on his lady-friend goes clear over her head, but although she may not fully grasp all the details, his report of the approaching breakthrough is what causes her to set her own plans in motion. An essential part of those plans is that the attack has to take place on a Saturday. And here she has her first piece of bad luck. She makes a throwaway comment about her friend's overly long hair, and he decides to cut it without telling her. The lion loses his mane the following day, the consequences of which will soon become clear.”

“On Saturday her hired ruffians do their work, and place Mr. Warburton drugged and asleep in the place that she asked. They then guard him to make sure that he does not wake too soon. It is imperative that he is out cold whilst Miss Stewart puts the next stage of her plan into action.”

“What was that?” the sergeant asked.

“Miss Stewart goes to Mr. Warburton's house, deposits the money, and dresses herself in his clothes”, Sherlock said. “She has already dyed her hair blonde, and concealed it under a hat, and now she unfurls it – and unwittingly makes her first mistake. Mr. Warburton has had his hair cut the day before – but since she was obviously nowhere near the attack, she assumes that he still has a full lion's mane, and heads to the station under a fulsome set of locks. Meanwhile Mr. Brown has returned unnoticed to the works and obtained the copy of the plans that his rival has been working on. These he brings to his partner in crime.”

“I learnt from my inquiries that on some railways – and fortunately the Midland Railway is one of them – each conductor has a personalized set of clippers”, Sherlock said. “Mr. Ethelbert Cowper, who was on the train that Miss Stewart took on Sunday morning, had 17A on his clippers, denoting the route that he worked as well as his personal letter. He duly clipped her ticket to Leicester shortly after her train left Wellingborough. She made a point of approaching him, hoping that he would recognize her as Mr. Warburton, and might later report the sighting to the police. When I asked Mr. Cowper, he did indeed confirm that a long-haired gentleman, smelling rather strongly of cologne, had insisted on having his ticket punched shortly after boarding the train at Wellingborough. Most annoyingly for Miss Stewart, Mr. Cowper did not inform the police of this fact.”

“She proceeds to Leicester, where she alights.”

“Why Leicester?” I asked.

“It is where she meets her confederate from the rival Derby works”, Sherlock said. “It is about half-way between the two towns, and the trains cross there. There is just time for her to hand over the copies of the plans that Mr. Brown has supplied her with, and then to return as far as her grandmother's house in Kettering. We were told that that lady was 'dotty'; if she had been asked and had remarked on her grand-daughter's arriving later than had been claimed, her evidence would most likely have been dismissed.”

“Upon entering the up train, the apparently leonine young gentleman goes straight to the toilets, and swiftly changes back into Miss Patricia Stewart. By this time the train will be some way out of the town, and the disguise is jettisoned through an open window. But she now makes her second mistake. She changed back her appearance, but she forgot to change back her smell. That was the other question that I asked Mr. Cowper. Scent is often under-rated as a human sense, and he recalled being surprised that he had had two customers that day who seemed to have bathed in cologne, especially as one was a lady. The description of the second malodorous passenger he gave matched Miss Stewart perfectly – and no-one was looking for her on a train headed south.”

“Meanwhile, Mr. Brown or one of his ruffian confederates has been keeping an eye on Mr. Warburton, doubtless dosing him with chloroform any time that he looked to be coming round. Once Miss Stewart arrived back, she went to call at Mr. Warburton's house and played her part of the concerned lady-friend, whilst secretly rejoicing at the apparent destruction of her true love Mr. Brown's rival. In the confusion, it was easy for her to slip her own railway ticket in amongst her victim's possessions.”

“Is there any evidence?” I wondered.

“The similarity between Miss Stewart and 'Mr. Pickard'”, Sherlock said. “Somewhere on the line-side south of Leicester, a set of clothes, possibly even with finger-prints on them. And on that subject, I think that she will find it hard to explain why her finger-prints will be on that ticket to Leicester, a ticket she should never have been anywhere near. No, they will get her, my friend.”

They did. The sergeant agreed to release Ben into my custody pending a formal dismissal of charges, which he was sure would soon follow. I had wanted to see my son from the moment that we arrived in the town, but a mixture of fears that we might fail him and that I was, after all, someone he had not seen for nearly two decades, had held me back.

When he emerged, I stared in shock. Even the unflappable Sherlock, standing close behind me, let out a gasp. The photograph had totally underplayed his appearance. He was me at twenty-two, perhaps a tad taller and with shorter hair, but there was no doubt about it. He was my son.

“Uncle John?”

I snapped out of my reverie, and moved forward to pull him into an embrace. I could feel him shaking as he fought not to cry, and I was perilously close to making a scene in Sergeant Richards' office, where (mercifully) he had brought him.

“Ben”, I muttered. “It's all right. Everything's all right.”

I had a son. And yet, I had not. I could not ruin his life by charging in and taking more than I already had. I squeezed him, and he pulled back to smile at me. Then he looked over my shoulder.

“Uncle Sherlock?” he said quietly.

My heart broke. Again.

+~+~+

Next, some more vignettes from our cottage days, as the dark clouds of war gather over the Continent.