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The Adventure Of Woodman's Lea

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Introduction by Sir Sherrinford Holmes, Baronet

My brother Sherlock once said that it is infinitely easier to follow the path of evil than that of good, especially as the latter has far more restrictions on ones actions. One such which Sherlock and Watson encountered in this case was that whilst the Bible was very firm in stating 'thou shalt not kill', my brother's insistence on following justice first and the law second meant that in this case too a killer went free – although here once again the killing was fully justified. It was a strange matter indeed, involving the protection of the environment, a carefully-placed body – and a Red Indian from Essex!

Kean has just said he might wear the war-paint tonight – and nothing else! The anticipation might kill me before he does!

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Narration by Doctor John Hamish Watson, M.D.

I have often mentioned the continuing and relentless expansion of the Great Wen but like all things that advance had not been without the occasional check. When the Great Eastern Railway had been built to connect the town of Chingford to the railway network the station had been placed on a line heading past the town centre, and anyone capable of looking at a map could see that the company hoped to encourage development in the area and to at some future time cut across Epping Forest to the Epping branch line and bring in even more people to London. Those ambitions had been thwarted when Queen Victoria had visited the area in 'Eighty-Two and declared the formerly royal forest open to all, which had slammed the brake on development in the area as the government now designated it somewhere that should be for the relaxation of Londoners and so not to be built on.

It was the sequel some thirteen years later to these political machinations which led to a killing that was, like the case of the Fenland Assassin, quite understandable. And to our encountering a Red Indian in Essex of all places!

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I was not happy.

I fully understood and to a large extent supported those people who wished to preserve the green areas in and around our capital, which made it very different from other less favoured cities both here and abroad. I had not thought anything could make me think ill of such campaigners. But Madam (not Miss!) Sophia-Justina Warrier was seemingly determined to achieve just that. I could see from the growing line on his forehead that even Holmes' usually infinite patience was fast running out.

This ghastly harridan had arrived in a set of mechanic's overalls of all things, and whilst someone like Miss Day had once carried this look off with aplomb (and in court of all places; the poor judge had nearly had a conniption!), on Madam Warrier it just looked as if she was trying and failing to make a Statement. And her voice! It was the human equivalent of a nail against a blackboard! I looked longingly at the whisky decanter on the sideboard; perhaps I could trip and 'accidentally' hit her over the head with it..... no, that would be so wrong. It was a nice decanter.

“Madam Warrier!” Holmes said, in a far sharper tone than he normally used on our clients. “This is getting us nowhere. I am a busy man and so far you have been here twenty-six minutes,” - he pulled out his watch - “forty-one seconds and counting, and have yet to actually say precisely what you want.”

She tossed her head back and looked at us disdainfully. I reminded myself that despite the safety-catch, the large window might just open wide enough to push a body through. I had always wondered.

“I wish you to stop the railway!” she said, in the sort of voice that stated quite clearly that she thought we were the idiots, not her.

“You wish us to stop the railway from doing what?” Holmes asked. I could see the whites of his knuckles as he gripped his chair and winced. That was not a good sign.

“From building the Lea Extension Line, of course”, she said. “Really, Men these days! You are all totally useless!”

Holmes looked at her, growled, and rose slowly to his feet. Even on our visitor's self-satisfied face a look of anxiety belatedly began to appear.

“I am a gentleman”, Holmes growled, “and because of that fact I am going to refrain from bodily ejecting you from these premises. But I suggest, most strongly, that you take yourself somewhere far far away and preferably within the next sixty seconds before I throw you out of the door!”

“You would not dare!” she snapped, rising to her feet.

“Or the window!” Holmes all but yelled. “Go! Away!”

It finally seemed to dawn on her that rudeness and bad manners had, for some inexplicable reason, not served to win her Holmes' help. With a dismissive huff she flounced from the room. He strode across and locked the door after her.

“In the name of all that is holy how has someone not strangled that woman?” he asked. “She was rude, vulgar, opinionated, uninformative, arrogant....”

“You are upset”, I said calmingly. “Rightly so. She really was terrible.”

“I lost my temper, though”, he said ruefully, looking down at the floor and blushing. “I do not think that I have ever done that before.”

There was a pained silence. He looked up at me.

“Twice before”, I said. “Both times deserved, although neither was as bad as that harridan. How she got all the way here from Essex without someone dispatching her into the next world if only to get some peace and quiet, the Good Lord alone knows.”

I was to remember those fateful words quite soon. In less than twenty-four hours as it turned out.

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Holmes was out before me to breakfast the following morning, which was unusual though not unknown. He was frowning at the newspaper.

“What is wrong?” I asked. He looked at me strangely.

“There has been a murder overnight in Essex”, he said slowly. “A woman's body was found at a place called Woodman's Lea, in the Lea Valley.”

I immediately worried at his reaction. This was London after all. He looked at me and nodded.

“The dead woman has been identified as a Miss Sophia-Justina Warrier from the nearby town of Chingford”, he said. “But that is not the most remarkable thing about the whole affair. They are planning to question a local man about the attack.”

“That is good”, I said warily. “Does the paper name him?”

“No”, he said. “But they say that he is, and I quote, a 'local Red Indian'.”

I stared at him in amazement.

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I wondered if Holmes would want to take an interest in this bizarre case, but to my surprise the case came to us that very afternoon, in the shattered form of Sergeant Josiah Smith whom we had assisted on more than one previous case. He had looked bad enough when he had called round the week before, but now he looked even worse. Holmes asked him if he did not mind waiting whilst he sent a boy with an urgent telegram, which I thought was odd.

“I am worried about this Woodman's Lea murder”, he said, failing to suppress a yawn. “I may be wrong but I have a feeling that there may be a policeman or police worker behind it.”

“How so?” Holmes asked. “We have only seen the newspaper reports of the matter, and one appreciates how unreliable they can be.”

“I read them”, the sergeant said, yawning again. “They did not mention what is worrying me. You see sirs, the body was found on a small island in the River Lea in the middle of the wood. The river marks the border between the constabularies and the counties of Hertfordshire and Essex, and the body was found right across it.”

I did not see his point, but of course Holmes did.

“Ah”, he said. “You believe that this implies insider knowledge, as rivalry between the constabularies – and we know it is bad enough between the different 'patches' in just one of them – will impede the investigation.”

“I do”, the fellow yawned again, visibly slumping in his chair. “Sorry, sirs. I....”

He tried to sit up in his seat, but his body was apparently against him. Within moments the fellow was snoring gently.

“How come he in such a state?” I asked.

“He is putting in extra hours because he is up for promotion”, Holmes said. “And because of the colour of his skin – you do not have to tell me how wrong that is – the bar is considerably higher for him. Which is why I arranged for him to be aware of this matter and to bring it to me. Amongst other things.”

He was obviously not inclined to tell me what those 'other things' were, as he picked up his book and proceeded to read it. It was a little odd, us sat there with a very large London sergeant slumped in our famous fireside chair snoring gently, but I quietly fetched my writings and set to work.

I had only managed about two pages when there was a soft knock at the door – not a bell, I noted – and Mrs. Hudson appeared with a young man. He was evidently a doctor of some sort from his bag, though not one I recognized. Holmes smiled at the newcomer in greeting, put down his book and crossed to shake our huge friend awake. He looked around confusedly, then flushed bright red.

“Do not worry”, Holmes said gently. “This is Doctor Meredith, who runs a small and very private sanatorium in Essex.”

“But sir....”

“I took the liberty of arranging with the Metropolitan Police Service to borrow you for a Case of National Importance”, Holmes said. “You very clearly need a rest, and you can relax by the sea for a week whilst your superiors believe you are Saving The Nation.”

The look of gratitude and happiness on our friend's face was almost too much to bear. He stumbled to his feet and shook Holmes's hand.

“Thank you, sir”, he sniffed, clearly close to tears. “Just.... thank you!”

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“I think that we should investigate this murder at Woodman's Lea”, Holmes said, once the sergeant and the doctor had left. “I can then give our friend the credit by saying that we stumbled across the case during our investigations into the Case of National Importance – which of course national security will prohibit him from discussing – and solved it too.”

I thought to myself how lucky I was to have such a wonderful friend, who would do that for someone. Holmes would have had to call in several favours to arrange all this.

We travelled to Chingford where we met the local constable. Philip Lake was yet another depressingly young fellow, blond, athletic and.... young.

“It's my opinion”, he told us, “that this has something to do with those plans for reservoirs in the area.”

“The newspapers did not mention those”, Holmes said. The policeman scratched his short thatch.

“Officially the plans have been what they call 'suspended'”, he said. “But with London growing the way it is they are going to need water for all those people from somewhere, and I suppose here is as likely as anywhere else. You see sirs, if they build reservoirs on the low ground then that would almost cut us off completely. The only way through to Hertfordshire would be Woodman's Lea, which is on the ridge that's split by the river.”

“So if the Great Eastern Railway wishes to build through to their line in Hertfordshire, it has to be through the greenwood”, Holmes mused. “What do you know about the victim, Madam Warrier?”

Judging from the pained expression on the young man's face, he too had met the late Madam Warrier.

“My dear mother would clip my ear if she caught me speaking ill of the dead, sirs”, he said, looking around the room fearfully in case said parent should suddenly materialize. “But in the name of all that was holy, I have no idea why she was not done in years ago! When it comes to drawing up a list of suspects it will pretty much be everyone who ever met her!”

I suppressed a smile.

“Tell us about your 'Red Indian'”, Holmes said.

“You mean Mr. Arthur Smith”, he grinned. “He was the opposite. Lives in a wigwam thingy on the corner of Lord Holybourne's estate, right where it meets the corner of Woodman's Lea. He acts pretty much as custodian of the place, communing with the spirits and what-have-you.”

“Does Lord Holybourne not mind?” I wondered. The policeman shook his head.

“Not our Holy Harry”, he grinned. “I suppose that would be your next question, sirs, namely what is a Red Indian doing in this neck of the woods?”

“We had wondered”, Holmes smiled.

“Truth is, no-one is quite sure”, the policeman said. “But I checked the records one time and he seems to have shown up eight years ago.”

“Ah”, Holmes said knowingly.

I glared at him.

“Ah?” I said testily. He smirked but elaborated.

“That was 'Eighty-Seven, the year of the Golden Jubilee”, he reminded me. “One of the many events to mark it was 'Buffalo' Bill Cody's Wild West Show coming to London.”

He turned back to the policeman, who nodded.

“You're right sir”, he said. “Local gossip is was that one of the Red Indian women in the show stole away to Lord Harry's estate, and took her son with her. Mr. Smith is twenty-five, so he would have been about seventeen back then. She disappeared – no record of her anywhere.”

Holmes frowned at that for some reason.

“Does your Lord Harry have an heir?” he asked.

“No children of his own, sir, but he does have a relative he adopted as his heir”, the policeman said. “I'm not quite sure, but I think they're second cousins or such; he's about thirty, twenty years younger than His Lordship. His name's Mr. Dent, George Dent. He's not married; we don't see him around much.”

Holmes seemed to think about that for a moment.

“When did this Mr. George Dent arrive to the area?” he asked eventually.

“Only last year”, the policeman said. “Of course Lord Harry knew about him for ages but he was living abroad until then. No idea where.”

“I think that I can work that one out”, Holmes smiled. “Was Madam Warrier local or did she come to the area as well?”

“She lived in Highams Park, a mile or so south of the town”, he said. “She was mostly off campaigning for this, that and the other, but for the last year she was annoying everyone over 'saving Woodman's Lea' and claiming that she would 'do a Queen Victoria against the evil railway corporation'. It's funny; in my experience people normally support those like her but she got on the wrong side of almost everyone, especially with this Woodman's Lea business.”

“I myself am not overly enamoured of the Great Eastern Railway Company”, Holmes admitted, “although I have to say having encountered Madam Warrier that my opinion of them has since risen. The newspaper article said that she had been shot?”

“Yes, sir.”

I was sure that his answer was given straight and without any hesitation but Holmes' eyes narrowed. He stared at the young constable who visibly wilted.

“What is it?” my friend demanded.

How did he do that?

“It's just.... well, the doctor said that she was stabbed first and then shot”, the policeman said. “But why would anyone want to go and do that? I mean, she was dead already.”

Holmes nodded.

“We need to go and see Madam Warrier's house”, he said, “and then I think a call on your Lord Harry. This is a most curious case all told, but I think that I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Miss Warrier's house in Highams Park was most definitely not what I was expecting. For someone who spent all her time campaigning for this or that cause, the place was close to the palatial.

“Who inherits all this?” I wondered. I had considered that earlier but now I could see how wealthy the woman had been, it took on a whole new dimension.

“Various campaigns and charities”, Constable Lake said. “She came from a rich family – her late father had had her and two sisters but no sons so they got a third of the estate each. Both married with young families and both living in distant parts of the country, Wigtownshire and Merionethshire. If she had been my sister, I would have gone for distance too! She was estranged from the both of them and left them nothing. I thought that, doctor, but I doubt the people in charge of Epping Forest or saving the birds did her in.”

Unless they met her, I thought uncharitably.

“Do we know if anyone came here to see her?” Holmes asked.

“She was not popular”, the Constable said. “Most people hid when they saw her coming; I doubt anyone would willingly subject themselves to the ordeal. Even Bert the postie said he shot the letters through her box as quickly as he could and then scarpered.”

“And Mr. Smith never came here?” Holmes asked. The policeman looked confused.

“I don't think so, sir. I mean, I never asked him that, but why would he?”

Holmes nodded and prowled around the hallway before entering what turned out to be a fair-sized reception room. He seemed particularly fascinated by what I thought was only a medium-quality Turkish rug by the door, but did not say why.

“Did Madam Warrier have any jewellery?” he asked.

“She did not seem the sort”, the constable said. “Her lawyer – Mr. Acosta, a right smarmy git – checked and sealed everything once he was told of her death. He didn't tell anyone he was coming round even though it was still marked as a crime scene, and I nearly arrested him because one of the neighbours saw him and called me in.”

“Can you check her dressing-room table for me?” Holmes asked him. “I am looking for what is most probably a cheap jewellery box, the sort of gewgaw that has a ballerina dancing and excruciating music when you open it. It may be important in the case.”

I was a little miffed that Holmes asked the constable instead of me, but he nodded and left the room. We soon heard his heavy tread on the stairs.

“Watson!”

He was moving the table and chairs for some reason. I helped, and once they were all shifted he quickly turned over the horrible circular Turkish rug that had been under the table. There was a large red stain on the underside.

“I thought I saw something!” he said triumphantly. “Quick, let us go!”

He pulled the carpet back down quickly replaced the furniture, and was at the door in under a minute. As he walked out I could hear the constable crossing the landing to rejoin us. What on earth was going on?”

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Holmes told our police friend that he needed to do some research in the town library, but would be grateful if we could see the nobleman later that afternoon. We had a quick lunch and Holmes spent a long time looking at local newspapers from recent weeks.

“Do you really know who killed Madam Warrier?” I asked once he was done. He nodded.

“A strange case”, he said. “Not murder – or at least, not a crime for which any person could ever be successfully prosecuted. Most intriguing.”

“Who did it?” I asked.

“Three people were involved”, he said. “Good, we are at the station.”

We went inside to find Constable Lake looking decidedly put-upon. We were in one of the larger rooms at the back of the place, and the two gentlemen introduced to us were Lord Harold of Holybourne, who seemed mildly perplexed at our presence, and his cousin and heir Mr. George Dent, who looked at us suspiciously.

“Mr. Holmes!” the constable said. “You will not believe what has happened!”

“Well, let us see”, Holmes said. “Your local Red Indian Mr. Arthur Smith has suddenly and unexpectedly moved on to pastures new but not before leaving a note that confesses to his murder of Madam Warrier, and describes how he killed her with his throwing-knife before using a gun that he had stolen to try to hide the crime.”

I wondered if the constable was going to have a seizure. He certainly seemed to be having trouble breathing. It was Lord Holybourne who broke the silence.

“How much do you know?” he asked. Holmes smiled at him.

“Most, if not all”, he said. “Unpleasant though that woman was, precious few people actually deserve to be killed.” He paused before adding, “except given the actual circumstances of her death, she was amongst that few.”

I stared at him. He sat back and smiled.

“This was a very curious case”, he said. “I found the answer, or at least a key part to it, in the newspapers that I have been reading all afternoon. The ones from up to a year ago, when this to-do over Woodman's Lea began, were either sympathetic or ambivalent towards Madam Warrier. But when she crossed swords with the 'local Red Indian' – and there are three words I did not think ever to pass my lips – the papers turned against her. Indeed in the run-up to her death they had become positively hostile, investigating every aspect of her past life for whatever they could find.”

“Strange though it seems to say it, people like Madam Warrier are the children of this world. They crave attention, they crave praise, they desire above all else to be liked. It is the Good Lord's oft-cited sense of humour that such a thing is always unattainable, as their true personality sooner rather than later repels those around them. Madam Warrier found that, because she had crossed swords with the wrong opponent – and I am sure that she believed public opinion would be on her side in this contention – she lost what little popularity she had gained thus far. She blamed Mr. Smith, so she decided to kill him. A child's solution; remove the annoyance regardless of trifling things such as morality and the law.”

I swallowed. He sounded so calm, taking about a planned murder.

“As things turned out however she had fatally underestimated her opponent. She invited him to her house on some pretext, where she would do the deed.”

“How can you know that?” I asked.

“The house has been well tidied after the killing”, he said, “which detail I shall come to later, but on the table I found the unmistakeable scratches that can only be caused when a revolver or pistol is placed there. She sat there waiting for her victim to come through the door, when she would kill him. There were also some hairs on the curtain at the height of someone sat on a chair next to it, although the chair was subsequently moved slightly.”

“She forgets, however, that she is dealing with someone as physically adept as Mr. Smith. He suspects her intentions and, I believe, reconnoitres the house beforehand. He is able to enter the room, catch her off-guard and kill her with his throwing-knife before she has time to react. He then shoots her with her own gun, most likely through some sort of wrap to hide the noise. There is a little blood loss, and the men in charge of the cover-up do not notice that it has seeped through to the underside of the table rug. Nor do they notice what are undeniably skid marks under the rug by the entrance, where someone has made a sudden shift of position before throwing a knife.”

“You said they”, I asked. “They who?”

Holmes looked around at the other three men in the room, all of whom looked away.

“To understand that, we need to go back in time”, he said. “Much as I admire the English nobility as a rule I have to say that you, Lord Holybourne, lied when you told everyone that you were allowing a Red Indian onto your land. For one thing, Indian wigwams do not have the sort of markings that I noted in the pictures in the local newspapers. Mr. Arthur Smith was not the son of a squaw who decided to bring him here, then conveniently disappeared. The papers from that time state that you, my lord, were in the United States for many years before Mr. Cody graced these shores with his fine show. Many as in over twenty.”

He turned to Mr. Dent.

“Are you his natural son?” he asked.

“What?” I exclaimed.

“Your colleague is as sharp as your books portray him, doctor”, Mr. Dent said ruefully. “No sir, I am his nephew, the son of His Lordship's elder brother Horace who had just become lord of the manor at that time. He had an affair with my mother and immediately abandoned her. My uncle here stood by her, and when my father died some years later he timed his return to that of the show.”

“But why did you stay a Red Indian over here?” I asked, now totally bemused. He shrugged.

“It was a jape at first”, he said. “But I took to the wood – it is so beautiful considering how close we are to London – and a local journalist made me the guardian of the place, which seemed to make its preservation more likely. And I quite enjoyed playing two roles.”

“It was a harmless enough fiction”, Holmes said. “When the time was right, the Indian brave would melt into the woods and the heir and cousin would step forward. Except that the advent of the terrible Madam Warrier precipitated that moment. When her plans for your death ended in her own, your uncle rallied round by helping stage your disappearance. And he was not the only one. Was he constable?”

Constable Lake had turned bright red. He nodded, staring hard at the floor.

“Omitting a detail like two causes of death was suspicious enough”, Holmes said, “but the distance from Miss Warrier's home in Highams Park to where the body was found is several miles. I doubt that Lord Holybourne would have been up to helping his son dispose of a body over such a distance. You, having been apprised of the crime, not only assisted but came up with the excellent idea of placing the body on the border between two constabularies, knowing as you do that there would be the inevitable 'turf war'.”

The constable slowly nodded.

“What do you intend to do about it?” Lord Holybourne asked.

“I do not see that there is anything that I can do”, Holmes said. “This unpleasant woman very clearly planned to murder your nephew and met a deserved end when her plans backfired. There is no doubt in my mind that even if this matter did come to court, a jury would rightly conclude that he acted in self-defence. The cover-up of the crime disturbs me but given the way that the press responds in such cases these days I can see the necessity for it. However.....”

He wagged a finger at all three men.

“However, I have had a few cases like this before” he said, “where a crime has been committed and a conviction would, for various reasons, have been impossible. And in each case I have kept a weather eye on those involved. If any one of you ever ventures any further down the criminal path, then I may re-visit this case. In the meantime I shall wish you all a good day.”

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