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Case 35: Mr. S. Holmes' Romantic Reverse (1882)

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[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

I suppose that I should have foreseen this coming. Having reassured Mr. Aneurin Peters in our recent Welsh venture that my family would stand by him, we were now on our way to Wales to investigate someone who might well impair those finances. To wit one Mr. S. Holmes.

My father was born Karl Novak in Congress Poland, and had come to this country back in 1840 some three years into Queen Victoria's reign. He had achieved rapid success in business thanks primarily to his partnership with one Mr. Edward Holmes, who had the money but not the inspiration. Within just three years both he and my father had become wealthy men.

Mr. Edward Holmes had been unmarried and possessed of a sizeable estate. He had had one living sibling, a brother Edgar whom he apparently loathed for when he died in 1843 he left everything he stood possessed of to my father. Mr. Edgar Holmes did seek to contest the will but he died just two months after his sibling and before the challenge could be initiated. He had left two sons, Sheridan and George, neither of whom had evinced any interest in their uncle's estate so the matter had seemed settled. Mr. George Holmes had married but had not had any children and had died earlier this same year (1882). Mr. Sheridan Holmes' marriage had produced but one son back in 1827, a boy called William who had died the year before his uncle. Thus the original Holmes line had seemed to have died out.

Or so it had seemed until I had had a frantic visit from Bacchus last week to the effect that prior to his marriage and during his time abroad Mr. William Holmes had married a lady, an Englishwoman called Miss Agatha Sherrinford, and they had had a son called Mr. Sherrinford Holmes, the boy's mother dying in childbirth. He had been born in 1850 so was now some thirty-two years of age, and had been raised by his maternal grandparents before coming to England on his grandmother's death some five years back. Hence there was the possibility that he might himself raise a challenge to our inheriting his great-great-uncle's wealth. Such a thing would have been unlikely to succeed but the social mortification would be dreadful for both Father and Mother. Worse, she might even write a story about it!

“Very true”, Watson had said when I had explained it all to him later. “Your mother might even write a story about it!”

It was doubly annoying that his tendency to assume the worst had got him there before me. Sometimes I wondered why I still kept him around.

Oh yes. Because I.... liked him. And not solely because of the bacon.

Not solely because of the bacon. There was the coffee as well!

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Tracking down Mr. Sherrinford Holmes proved a little more difficult than expected even given the resources at Bacchus' command (he too had realized the horrible possibility of our mother writing about it and the resources of Her Majesty's Government were fully available to us). Mr. Sherrinford Holmes was living at a place called Mundesley-on-Sea on the east coast of Norfolk but just as I was about to travel up to see him I received a report that he had for some reason decamped to Carnarvonshire, right across the country. Hence Watson and I had taken a London and North Western Railway train to the ancient city of Chester from where we had faced another long journey all the way to the fortress city of Carnarvon.

Even with the wonders of the modern railway system this was a major trip, and Watson was not surprised when I suggested that we find somewhere in the town for the night before continuing our journey on the morrow. Besides, I knew how much he was into old buildings and I was sure I could get us into the castle once we were done. We could have got quite a bit nearer our destination by train but Watson did not need to know that, and if he did ask I would just say that the hotels here were better.

The next day we hired a carriage to take us the twenty or so miles to our destination. Watson told me that although the tiny hamlet of Porthduilleyn did not even feature on most maps things could have been so different as back at back at the start of the century it had been envisaged as the main departure port for Ireland. However the superior turnpike road to Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey had won the island port that accolade, and several plans since to like this not-metropolis and its generous natural harbour to the railway system had all come to naught. Time, it seemed, had passed it by.

“At least it should be easy to find this gentleman”, my friend said as our cart breasted the hill and looked down onto the wide and almost empty harbour ahead of us. It was a most attractive place, made even more so by the beautiful clear blue skies that day.

“Perhaps not”, I said. “I do not know the actual address he is staying at, or for that matter if he lives in either Porthduilleyn village or just somewhere on the harbour. There are two other villages along its broad beaches so we may have to work our way through them. But we shall try the obvious first.”

We drove through Nevin and Morva Nevin, taking a sharp right turn in the latter onto a surprisingly fair-quality road that led along a narrow peninsula. Eventually the road split again, the road straight on leading to the headland visible in the distance and the one right down into Porthduilleyn village whither we went.

There was a post office even in a place this small so we went in and asked if the lady knew of a Mr. Holmes living in the area. I pointedly did not smile when the postmistress, who would have got little if any change out of sixty, simpered at me in a way that had a certain doctor shuffling his feet for no good reason, but luckily she did know of the newly-arrived English gentleman who she said was pleasant enough. He lived at Telford Cottage on the seafront which we were told was the sole yellow house.

“How come that Bacchus only became aware of him now?” Watson wondered as we drove the short distance to the cottage.

“He came to England five years ago when his maternal grandmother, who had raised him, died”, I said. “She lived up in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Her husband died last year and her will had bequeathed her own property to the young fellow; it had to be sold and the funds transferred to a Mr. S. Holmes, which of course drew the attention of Bacchus.”

“And we still have no idea why he crossed the width of England and Wales”, Watson said. “He could hardly have gotten any further west without having crossed to Ireland!”

“That is one curious thing”, I admitted. “There seems no reason for his move; his inheritance left him comfortably off if not rich and he had no reason to quit Norfolk. I wonder what caused such a seismic shift?”

We had reached Telford Cottage which was one of a set of six identical cottages each painted a different pastel colour. We walked up the pathway through what I thought was an indifferently-maintained garden and knocked at the door. For a few moments I wondered if the owner was out but after a while we heard the sound of someone approaching. Then the door was pulled open to reveal Mr. Sherrinford Holmes.

My first impression of the man whose name I shared was, I have to say, that he looked broken. He was as I have said in his early thirties but looked older, his fair hair uncombed and his eyes dull as he looked curiously at us. I felt for some reason that this man had come here because he had nothing left to live for, and that thought made me shudder.

That thought was also to prove quite correct.

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Mr. Sherrinford Holmes looked at us curiously and I belatedly remembered that as the visitors here it was incumbent on us to introduce ourselves.

“My name is Mr. Sherlock Holmes”, I said, “and this is Doctor John Watson. My father worked with your great-great-uncle Mr. Edward Holmes for a time some decades back and adopted his name.”

He looked at me dully and I wondered for a moment if my words were actually registering with him. Then he nodded.

“My great-grandfather's legal thing”, he said. “Yes, I was told of it. Why have you come here?”

This was going to be difficult. I really should have thought this through beforehand.

“We did not know of your existence until recently”, I said. “Despite the trouble between our families in the past, my father still wished to assist any relatives of the man who helped him make his money. He asked me to come here and see if you are all right.”

The fellow laughed hollowly.

“I have just fled across the breadth of England having been rejected by the one I loved”, he said bitterly. “I am far from 'all right', sir.”

“How can we help?” I asked.

I silently thanked Watson at this point for not acting surprised, especially considering how I usually felt when the word 'family' was uttered. Our host looked at us both uncertainly then sighed unhappily.

“I suppose a trouble shared and all that”, he said. “You might as well know the whole sorry story.”

He ushered us in, poured us all drinks and we sat down in his main room.

“My father was not a good man”, he began. “He was cruel, sadistic and – I do not use the word lightly – evil. Although it brought me into the world I feel sorry that he chanced to meet and marry my poor mother while they were both in France. She died giving birth to me as I am sure you know, and I can only thank the Lord that she was spared any further time with the rogue.”

“It was perhaps my worst fortune to grow up looking fit and athletic, which my father palpably was not. When I came of age nine years ago I came to England and looked up my maternal grandmother who was pleased to welcome he into her family. She died five years back and left me everything subject to my taking care of her widower Albert who was a sickly fellow with no money of his own. He died last year.”

“My father had by this time come to England and, true to form, expected to be supported by me in the lifestyle to which he felt entitled. My grandmother had held estates in Yorkshire and Norfolk; I sold the former and went to live on the latter. My relations with my father got even worse when he I refused to buy him a larger and better house in London; it was a doubly stressful time for me because my grandmother's daughter Patricia belatedly decided to contest the will, although I was able to defeat her in court and was even awarded costs as the judge ruled her claims totally spurious.”

“Anyway, I settled into life in Norfolk well enough. If you have tracked me as far as this remote place you must know that I lived in Mundesley-on-Sea between Cromer and Great Yarmouth, about as far across the country as one can get from here. My father wanted to come and live with me but I refused; I could see that that would likely result in me being tried for justifiable homicide one day if not murder.”

“The largest estate around Mundesley was Lord Kelling's place, Kingsbourne, and I would often walk around the place. There was a public right of way across it and one day I was cutting across it when I got caught in a sudden downpour. I decided to risk the nobleman's ire and take shelter in a nearby wood which, I knew, had a small lake in it. And it was there that I saw the most beautiful man ever to grace Earth. You know those stylised drawings they do in the magazines of the idealized Victorian male gentleman; this was the real thing.”

“He was of course mortified by my arrival on the scene, but after the sort of awkwardness one might have expected in such a situation, we fell to talking. The muscle man's name was Mr. Victor Trevor; he was steward to Lord Kelling and he was as beautiful inside as out. It was with reluctance that I left him and went back to my house that day.”

“I had always known that I preferred gentlemen to women and, of course, that sooner of later this would bring me into conflict with my father. As it turned out, it happened sooner. I am sure it was my neighbour from two doors down, an unpleasant sallow-skinned fellow called Grieve, who must have found out about Victor and sent word to my father. He came rushing up to Norfolk in order to confront me. I am not a violent man, gentlemen, but the names he called me – mortal man can only take so much.”

He took a deep breath before continuing.

“The local doctor, Hawkinge, was brilliant. He helped cover up the whole thing; my bully of a father never fully recovered from someone standing up to him for the first time in his life. He died two months later and I was not surprised when he left everything he had to Uncle George who I knew lived over in Boston. He was nearly seventy and in poor health and he asked that I go and see him. A gentle fellow, he was aware that his own time in this world was coming to an end and knew full well what my father had been like. He said that he would leave everything he had to me on two conditions; that I look after him in his last few months and that I promise to continue supporting an elderly servant who had attended him when younger. She was in her seventies and very poor, so we arranged a generous settlement that would see her right.”

“Uncle George died in February and after the funeral I went back to Norfolk. Annoyingly I had just missed Victor because he had been sent to sort out some German properties that his master had acquired and needed to sell; he speaks the language as one of his many talents. But last month he came back, I told him how I felt and.... and....”

We both looked at him expectantly.

“Nothing!” he blurted out. “He just stood there. Even a no would have been better, damnation! I turned and ran, somehow managed to pack a few things and went to the railway station to catch a train. I thought that if I put as much of England – and Wales – between me and my misery it would make me feel better. My grandmother brought me here on holiday one time, you see.”

“Did it make you feel better?” I asked tentatively. He shook his head.

“Now half of me thinks I should go back and ask him again”, he said bitterly, “and half thinks that a second rejection would kill me!”

“To be fair to Mr. Trevor you did not really receive a first rejection”, I said. “But we can spare you some of that angst. We shall go to Mundesley-on-Sea and see the gentleman for you.”

Even Watson looked at me incredulously. For all that this was the Railway Age the network was very much centred on London, and not designed for someone trying to cut all the way across the county.

“That would be a horrendous journey”, our host said.

“Watson?” I asked.

He recovered quickly from the shock of my announcement.

“It would probably be best to go back to London and then up the Great Eastern Railway”, he said. “They run expresses to Cromer although I think they go later in the day; we would probably do better to take an early train, change at Norwich then alight at North Walsham.”

I turned back to our host.

“Promise us that you will wait for our return”, I said.

He knew what I was really asking but nodded. I only hoped that he was telling the truth.

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