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Case 94: The Adventure Of The Hammersmith Wonder (1889)

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[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

Looking back from today (1936) over three decades to the events of this story, I am minded once again to correct what seems to be an increasing perception that the Victorians were frigid and strait-laced when it came to sexual matters. There was unlike today an understanding that what went on behind closed doors was the matter of those it went on between, and that provided they were consenting adults and did not flaunt such goings-on in public then society knew well enough not to ask. I would draw comparisons with certain high society people of the thirties, especially our (now thankfully) departed King Edward the Eighth, who like his grandfather and namesake sees nothing wrong in openly sleeping with the wives of other men. I am sure that many in those far-off days knew or guessed that what Sherlock and I had was more than friendship even if then it had not yet developed into what it later became. But one just did not ask.

To clarify one small matter that I was later asked about, the De'Aths in this story were not related to Gereint Lord De'Ath whose murderous valet provided one of our cases during our 'Grand Tour'. Neither family's ancestors actually had any associations with the Grim Reaper; Lord De'Ath's came originally from the town of Ath, south-west of Brussels in Belgium ('de Ath' = of Ath) while those of the family in this story traced their line back to a Saxon fellow called Edmund Dethe whose name meant that he gathered kindling for a living.

Someone is going to roll those blue eyes right out of his pretty little head one of these days!


Our brief (and decidedly bloody) excursion into Drake's county had enabled me to put aside my emotions arising from the discovery that, barring a mathematical miracle, I had a son. Normally my way of dealing with anything that came anywhere near Feelings was of course to run as fast and as far as possible in the other direction. But my resident champion eye-roller had other ideas.

Two days after our return from Devonshire Sherlock told me that he had invited Mrs. Warburton to Baker Street that very afternoon. I was initially annoyed but I had to concede his point. Matters had to be resolved so that we could both get on with our lives and do what was right for our son. It was a short but productive meeting; I was able to allay any fears she might have entertained about my interfering in her son's upbringing and we agreed that I should be allowed to place some money in a bank account for Ben's birthday and Christmas each year, to be accessible by him after his twenty-first birthday. She promised that when she gave him that money she would (whatever her husband said on the matter) tell him the whole truth and let our son decide how to proceed from there. She left - as things turned out I never saw her again - but I felt infinitely happier that things were now cleared up between us even if I felt a tinge of regret for the 'loss' of my son.

If I had had anything approaching intelligence, I should have known that things would not be resolved that easily.


I was not sulking. I was not!

All right then, I was. But I had good reason.

There was a faint knock on my door and Sherlock’ voice called out my name. I could hear the caution in his voice even through the door. I sighed in a put-upon manner, collected myself and went to open it. He smiled a little nervously at me and ushered me over to my usual table.

The reason for my enforced internal exile sat in the famous fireside chair, still looking as if she would bolt at any minute. Miss Mortimeria De'Ath was about thirty years of age and wearing a horrible mauve dress that may have briefly been fashionable some aeons ago. Very, very briefly. She had been such a complete nervous wreck upon her arrival nearly an hour before that Sherlock had suggested that I put down my notebook and adjourn to my room to let him calm her down. Even his usual magic had taken its time although the lady now had a determined air about her, grimly resolved to say her piece despite the presence of two Men in the room.

“Doctor Watson’s notes are of great import in all my cases”, Sherlock said gravely, possibly stretching the truth just a little. “They allow me to review what has been told to me and sometimes see things that I might have missed during my questioning. Now Miss De'Ath, we have discussed your case and in light of all you have told me I think it important that I run through everything to make sure that I have all the facts. Is that acceptable?”

Good Lord, even she was simpering at him! Sat there trembling like a leaf in December and looking like the Good Lord had sent her the answer to her prayers! How I did not roll my eyes was a miracle of the first order!

“An important fact in this case appears to be your particular and quite fascinating ancestry”, Sherlock began (I did not even have to look at him to know that there was a knowing smirk in there somewhere!). “Your great-uncle Mr. Stephen Mortimer was immensely rich and, if I may be so bold, perhaps just a little eccentric. He was possessed of a great fondness for his family name and it worried him that he had neither children nor close kin alive to continue it. All he had was one niece, your late mother Mary.”

“Your uncle died shortly after your mother’s engagement and it was discovered that he had left a very peculiar will. A large sum of money was to be set aside for any children from your mother’s marriage who bore the name ‘Mortimer’. Quite understandably your father Mr. Edward Jones did not wish to forfeit the right of his children bearing his surname, but since Mortimer can most fortuitously be applied as a Christian as well as a last name they decided that that was what they would do. Your mother duly gave birth to three sons but sadly the latter two died in infancy, leaving only your elder brother Mortimer John.”

“Your uncle's will had provided large sums for the first three children, regardless of.... gender“ (I thought wryly that had he used the other word our guest may well have run screaming from the room, or even worse simpered some more!). “This was to prove important as your mother's next birth, which most sadly claimed her life, was of twins; a girl – your good self – and a boy. Your father very sagely took further legal advice, and hence you became Mortimeria Mary while your younger brother became Mortimer James, commonly Jamie.”

I wondered if the ‘large sum’ had been enough to account for being saddled with such God-awful names. Sherlock shot me a warning look and I narrowly avoided rolling my eyes. Sort of narrowly avoided.

“Since the money did not come to his children until they reached a set age, your father found the expense of raising three children on his own quite burdensome”, Sherlock said with what was definitely a Disapproving Look. “Hence when your paternal great-uncle Mr. Jacob Forrest offered to raise your brother Jamie, he accepted. It is an arrangement that has benefited both parties, although as Mr. Forrest lives on the Norfolk coast you rarely see your twin.”

She was clearly intent on putting something out at that point and we waited patiently for her to get there.

“Jamie is.....”

She stopped and stared at us, apparently appealing for one of us to finish her sentence. Unfortunately since Sherlock's mind-reading abilities usually extended only to myself, neither of us could. There was an awkward pause.

“Different!” she finished.

What was the fellow? A Martian?

“Neither you nor Jamie have married as yet”, Sherlock said, steering round whatever minefield was there. “His share of your uncle's estate is administered by Mr. Forrest while following the death of your father two years ago yours has been administered by your elder brother, whom you have hitherto trusted to do right by you. However certain actions that he has undertaken of late have given you cause for concern, which is why you have come to me.”

“That is it!” she burst out. “Morty has always been extremely careful with money yet recently he has made several trips to London, and always comes back looking exceptionally pleased with himself.”

Sherlock kindly forbore to point out that she herself had come to that same city.

“Have you discussed these concerns with your younger brother?” he inquired. She nodded.

“Jamie thinks that Morty is not always wise”, she said carefully. “And he.... well, as I am sure you can appreciate it is not at all the same for Men. Great-Uncle Stephen you see, he thought that the eldest son and heir was so much more important, which was why Morty got twice as much as either of us. He was allowed access to his funds on his twenty-first birthday which happened just before Father passed away, whereas Jamie and I both have to wait until we are full thirty years of age. That is over seven years away!”

She was clearly (and I thought rightly) annoyed at that.

“But your elder brother has always paid your allowance on time?” Sherlock asked.

“Always”, she said. “It is important for dear Jamie who values his independence, possibly a little too much, and he has acquired a new.... 'friend'.”

I began to have an inkling as to the direction in which this conversation was heading. Sherlock pressed his long fingers together and stared at our visitor.

“You see”, she said twisting her hands anxiously, “Jamie is living with.... a Man!”

And there we had it.