[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]
It was September, a glorious late summer's day in 'Seventy-Eight. I had at last officially become a doctor, my final essay having been submitted and passed a few months earlier. Even better I had the afternoon off which was fortunate as I could join the crowds on the banks of the mighty River Thames. After much effort both physical and diplomatic a giant ancient obelisk from Egypt was this day finally being unveiled to public view. In typical London fashion it had been nicknamed 'Cleopatra's Needle' even though it dated from many centuries before that famous queen. I despaired of my fellow citizens at time but then again it had taken nearly six decades to get the thing here so I supposed that I would have to grant them some leeway.
Some ancient Egyptian queen's 'Needle' might be safe in its home but as I was to find out a few short hours later, I might very soon not be.
“We have a problem”, Holmes announced gravely over dinner that evening.
“Another case?” I asked hopefully. Since the Ricoletti case Holmes had been involved in a number of minor cases but none of them had been very interesting. And one particularly aggressive female had all but propositioned him while pressing him – physically as well as literally – to take her case. Some 'ladies' these days had no morals at all!
“More serious than that”, he said. “We are about to be made homeless.”
“What?” I exclaimed in horror.
“Mrs. MacAndrew suffered a fall coming up the stairs this morning shortly after you left”, he explained. “Naturally I took her straight to the hospital but the doctor says that she needs complete rest and relaxation and she has decided to go and live with her sister in Scotland to achieve this. Hence she is selling this house which means we shall likely need to find somewhere else to live. The new owner may wish to keep us on but we cannot be sure of that.”
My heart sank. I had come to value my odd little friend but in my heart of hearts I had known that someone as rich and charming as he would surely soon be looking to find a nice girl and settle down somewhere to raise a family. I felt a curious pain in my stomach.....
“I looked in the newspaper once I came back”, he went on mercifully unaware of my silent panic attack, “and a Mrs. Hall who has a house in in Cramer Street is offering rooms to let at a reasonable rate. It is still fairly close to your surgery though not quite as much as here.”
That was surprisingly considerate I thought. And he wanted us to remain together. My heartbeat began to return to normal.
“I do not know the road”, I said calming down a little.
“It is off Thayer Street less than half a mile from your famous – or infamous – Harley Street”, he said. “I went round today to take a preliminary look at the place. The rooms are similar to the ones we have here and the area is pleasant enough. The only problem is that Mrs. Hall is planning to emigrate to the United States five years from now – it is all arranged - so she will definitely be selling the house at that time. But the rooms are good and bearing in mind the urgency of our situation it would do for now.”
He looked at me earnestly and I was quietly touched that this amazingly clever man actually valued me as a friend. Though having (as Sammy had more than once said) the emotional capacity of a teaspoon I could not think of a way of expressing my gratitude. Thus I simply nodded.
“I know that you are free this Saturday”, he said, “so I told Mrs. Hall that we would be round to view the rooms then and let her know our decision straight away. I hope that is acceptable?”
“That sounds very good”, I said.
He nodded and resumed his dinner. I supposed that at least I would not miss the maid service here. All the dust they left in our room made my eyes water at times.
Mrs. Evadne Hall was on first sight somewhat frightening. Upon further consideration I retract the 'somewhat'. She was a large lady and her excessive use of lavender water – it was like walking into a wall of scent - literally made my eyes run when I entered the house (it must have been worse for Holmes I only later realized as he was mildly allergic to the stuff). Fortunately as things turned out she owned two houses and lived in the other one, the Cramer Street property being run by her sister Miss Letitia Hellingly. She was shorter, a lot more refined and, mercifully, about ninety-eight per cent less pungent! Mrs. Hall was also eyeing up Holmes in a way that was I thought quite unbecoming; she may have been a widow but she was at least ten years older than him as well as twice his size! Fortunately the rooms and terms both proved adequate and on the (unspoken) understanding that we would see - and smell! - precious little of her I agreed to the move.
Although I was supposed to have had the day off that day it was just my luck that the surgery was called by a patient at the other end of Cramer Street, and since they knew that I would be there they dispatched me a telegram asking me to call in when I was done. Holmes headed back to Montague Street while I went to Number 13A. Unlucky for some I thought as I knocked at the door.
I was with Miss Ophelia Mayberry for under a minute before I concluded that the only thing she was suffering from was an advanced case of hypochondria. Worse she was also quite clearly desperate for a man – any man - and I had had the bad luck to be here. Most patients exhibited at least some unease if I suggested a physical examination; she looked put out when I said one was not needed (even if it had been I would have lied!). I did check her heartbeat but she edged herself far too close to me in the process and her perfume was overpowering!
Of course Holmes knew; I suppose it was the perfume that wafted off me as I re-entered our rooms. I set a bath running and went to get changed but he intercepted me.
“Who was she?” he asked curiously.
“One of my patients who wanted her physical examination to be a little too physical”, I said testily. I was looking forward to my long hot soak and getting the scent of whatever it was – violets, I think – of Miss Mayberry off of me.
He continued to look oddly at me then his expression softened.
“Would you like some of my bath salts?” he asked.
That was.... surprisingly considerate. Not that Holmes could not be generous (I would soon find out just how much I had underestimated him in that field) but he rarely seemed to exhibit affection towards anyone. Indeed it was that coolness even with myself that had led me to fear the worst over the coming change of address. And his bath salts would hopefully be pungent enough to remove the stench of the desperate housewife from me. I smiled at him.
“Thank you”, I said as I went into the bathroom.
We were to make the shift to Cramer Street in three weeks' time – Mrs. MacAndrew's cousin from three doors down her fellow Scotswoman Mrs. Ferguson was running the house for her during this time - and the main room would need a major tidying. Holmes' side of it reminded me of the first sight of his rooms with Stamford back in Oxford. I smiled at the memory.
“What about your papers?” I ventured. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I have never got round to organizing them”, he said plaintively. “I suppose that I should have.”
“It might help in future cases?” I suggested.
He looked pointedly across at my own desk which was markedly neat and tidy, and smiled. I have no idea why I said what I did next but it was neither the first nor the last time that my mouth would leave the station while my brain was still waiting in line to buy a ticket. Or possibly not even up the station steps.
“I could order it for you?” I offered. “Unless of course there are things....”
“Watson?” he said softly.
“Of course I trust you.”
I blushed fiercely. If I were honest I would have admitted that the prospect of seeing the many small cases I knew he undertook on his own was intriguing but I also enjoyed cataloguing things in general and knew that I could make some semblance of order out of the disaster area on the other side of the room.
By that evening I was wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. On my instructions Holmes had gone out and purchases a number of large notebooks and folders in which I intended to categorize the people involved in the cases and had then left when a message had arrived from his friend Henriksen. I wondered if it was another case.
My questions were answered when Holmes returned that evening with fish and chips, a warm apple-pie from my favourite pastry shop and some custard that Mrs. Ferguson had whipped up for him. The man was a saint!
“Sergeant Henriksen wished to consult me over the disappearance of Mrs. Farintosh's opal tiara”, he explained once we had finished eating.
I sighed feeling wonderfully full. And there was still a slice for later, Holmes having very generously settled for just the custard. I was definitely keeping him!
“She is the sister of the Duchess of Montfort?” I said.
“I see that you are still not reading the 'Times'social pages in the morning!” he teased.
I scowled. So much for keeping him; a gentleman was entitled to a range of interests, damnation!
“How did she lose her tiara?” I asked.
“It is all very strange”, he said. “She travelled down with her husband from Argyll-shire two days ago. She took the afternoon train from Lachlan Hall Halt, a private station serving her sister's Lowland residence, through to Glasgow and thence the night sleeper to London. She definitely had the tiara on boarding the train at Glasgow as she wore it to the dining coach.”
“As you do!” I muttered. Holmes smiled at my cynicism.
“Her compartment was locked while she was in the dining-car”, he said. “She returned to her coach and turned in for the night. The following morning the maid woke her an hour prior to their arrival at Euston and she checked on her tiara, only to find it gone.”
“Did the train stop anywhere?” I asked.
“Not after the time the tiara was last seen”, he said. “It was a Caledonian Railway train and the London and North Western, over whose metals much of the journey was accomplished, has latterly fitted water-troughs so engines can travel non-stop. The train did slow to forty miles per hour for them and also to about twenty miles per hour for a stretch around Watford due to a distant signal but it did not stop.”
“So how could the tiara have been stolen?” I asked. “I assume that everyone was searched at Euston?”
“Mr. Farintosh demanded it”, Holmes said. “Mr. Miles Buttermere, one of the railway's longest-serving employees, had visited her in her coach after dinner and had checked if it was acceptable to lock everything up or if she needed to send to the dining coach for anything. She acceded and then went to bed. The tiara was definitely in her possession at that time. Equally definitely it was not there eight hours later.”
“Mr. Buttermere could have done it”, I ventured. Holmes shook his head.
“He locked the carriage when Mrs. Farintosh left”, he said, “then went to attend to the other first-class passengers in the carriage on the other side of the dining-car. He did not return until he was sent for when the theft was discovered.”
“So that leaves only the people in her coach”, I said. Holmes nodded.
“The coach only has one large compartment for passengers and two smaller ones for servants”, he said. “There is no way anyone could have accessed that coach during the journey and yet indubitably the tiara was stolen. Hence a ring is drawn around Mrs. Cecily Farintosh, her husband Andrew, her maid Alice Bailey and her husband's valet Mr. Brian Lingard.”
“The husband?” I asked tentatively.
“Andrew Farintosh is fifty-one and an under-secretary in Her Majesty's government”, Holmes said. “Unfortunately he has a strong predilection for gambling. His brother-in-law has already had to step in to clear his debts on at least one occasion.”
“Motive”, I said. “And opportunity.”
“On the other hand it was he who was insistent about the police searching all of them at Euston.”
I had a thought.
“What about Mrs. Farintosh herself?” I asked. “Was the tiara insured?”
Holmes gave me that look of his as if I were a dog that had just performed a particularly difficult trick. I would have been insulted but I rather valued those looks of praise if only because they were so rare.
“A good point”, he said, “which is one reason that Henriksen is involved. Mr. Andrew Farintosh took out an insurance policy on it only last month - to the value of five thousand pounds!”
My eyes widened. That was a lot of... motive.
“The maid?” I asked.
“A girl of good character so her mistress claims”, Holmes said. “Alice Bailey, twenty-seven; she has been with her for three years. She would seem to have no motive unless she were working with someone else.”
“The valet?” I asked.
“We are on shakier ground there”, Holmes said. “Mr. Brian Lingard, thirty-six and has spent time in gaol for fraud. His family is loosely connected to the Farintoshes through a marriage some decades back and Mr. Farintosh gave him his current post about twelve months ago. He has performed satisfactorily Mr. Farintosh told the police although there was a small matter of some gold cuff-links going missing some months back. They were never recovered.”
“It is a big jump from cuff-links to a tiara”, I observed. “The problem seems to be one of opportunity. I mean, it is not as if one of them just threw the thing out of the window.”
Holmes gave me the look again although this time I had not the slightest idea what I had said to earn it.
“I think that we should send Henriksen a telegram”, he smiled. “Sometimes Watson, you amaze me!”
Chuckling, he left the room. I stared after him in wonder.