The Case of the Poisoned Lord
Chronicled by John Watson, M.D.
as told to D. Luke Allen and Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 D. Luke Allen and Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
Having finished my business in Bristol, a dingy locale of tract homes and factories, where there had been a serious outbreak of diphtheria, I had just called for a hansom cab to bring me to the rail station for the day's ride back home to Paddington. It was as I stopped at the lobby of my hotel to close my account that I received a missive from my wife Mary. As I had rushed from home to home providing life giving injections of Professor Von Behring's experimental antitoxin these last several weeks, I had sorely missed her cheerful smile and soothing voice and I worried that the mild cough she had contracted just prior to my departure had not become worse.
Quickly tearing open the envelope, I inhaled the dainty perfume with which she is wont to lightly sprinkle her letters. The message enclosed both heartened and disappointed me. The flowing script described in occasionally earthy terms her love for me, the pain she felt at my absence, and an assurance that she was well. It also advised me, in her capacity as head nurse of the clinic we operated from the front parlor of our home, of the pleasant news that there was a remarkable lack of illness in our town.
I was joyously anticipating the prospect of several days spent in the presence of my wife of just three years without other demands upon our time when her words continued on to describe how her mother had volunteered her for several committees involved in the organization of the annual Victoria Day celebration. As Paddington took great pride in outdoing all other communities in the realm with the grandeur of this event, it was clear that we would be unlikely to have any of the personal time together I had been envisioning. Her next words confirmed my fears and then suggested that while the pain of my absence would be great, it would be more painful to have me home and not be able to be by my side. It was thus that I found myself, at my wife's suggestion, climbing the worn slate steps of 221 B Baker Street to visit my long time friend, Sherlock Holmes.
I eschewed waiting for Mrs. Hudson to let me in, as this was the one week each year when the housekeeper vacationed. My feet fairly flew up the stair to our second floor flat in anticipation of whatever curious events from his more recent investigations Holmes would have to recount.
The sitting room was substantially unchanged from when I had resided there with Holmes. The Great Detective's workbench was to my right by the windows, books were strewn haphazardly about the many floor to ceiling bookcases, and the two high backed, stuffed leather chairs faced the coal burning fireplace to the left. The cuff of an enrobed arm could be seen resting upon the nearer arm of the chair Holmes usually preferred saying it allowed him to evaluate the findings of his other senses before seeing whomever was approaching him. I was about to stride to his side and greet him when a lilting feminine voice startled me.
"How good to see you Watson."
As I approached the front of the occupied chair, I saw the shape of a slight young woman with flowing dark hair reaching to below the waist. Primly seated in Holmes' chair, she was attired in an overlong pair of gentleman's trousers and the lounging robe Holmes favored when at his leisure.
I was considering how to respond while trying to cover my surprise at the presence of this comely lass in the home of my friend and inveterate bachelor when she continued in an unexpectedly familiar tone. "Welcome Watson. I was not expecting your call, but I recognized your tread upon the stair steps. I appear to be having the most peculiar hallucination at the moment. It is extremely vivid and realistic, yet I know it must be an illusion.
"As is my wont when there are no cases to occupy my intellect, I obtained a new supply of ingredients with which to prepare that seven percent solution you so often disparage. When I injected the solution, I felt as if I was shrinking. My body seemed to change proportions, and I assumed the form you see before you. My clothes are ill designed for this form and my voice is just over one octave higher. When I view myself in the mirror, I see a member of the gentler sex." At that, she stood up revealing a smaller and markedly different form than that to which I was accustomed to seeing, although quite reminiscent of the daguerreotype of Holmes' mother.
If I disregarded the obvious fact of her gender I could almost imagine this was my friend. Years of listening to the Great Investigator chide me for ignoring the obvious had taught me to be more careful in my observations and, while not as astute as he, I had learned to accept the improbable once it was clear the probable had been eliminated. Moving beyond the obvious, I doubted that even Holmes had the thespian and costuming skills to present the rather pleasing form before me. Similarly, while I did not doubt that it was within the realm of Holmes' peculiar sense of humor to attempt it, I doubted that any actress except the greatest actress of our time, Irene Adler, could become sufficiently acquainted with his tone of voice, choice of words, and mannerisms to carry off a charade of such magnitude; especially with one such as I, who had known the man for the many years we had been together. Yet the tone and mannerisms mimicked Holmes to a tee.
"Ah, it is good to know that even in my hallucinations you are a constant, Watson." She sat and carefully positioned the robe to assure her modesty while muttering about the need to carefully interrogate the apothecary from whom he had obtained this last batch of cocaine once he had recovered.
"I am not an hallucination and surely you cannot be my friend Sherlock Holmes." I surprised myself with the forwardness of my next actions, but in retrospect I suspect I had already determined the outcome. Striding purposefully up to the seated figure I reached out and, none to gently, pinched her upper arm.
"Ow! That hurt." Her words faded off as her expression took on that piercing glare I had grown to recognize meant that Holmes was thinking furiously. "Then it is not a drug induced dream. This is real."
Again springing from her seat, she strode to the door and called back to me. "Come Watson. With your medical and marital experience you can assist me."
"Where are we going Holmes?" I cannot say that I was at that moment convinced but, if this was one of Holmes' jokes, I was resolved to allow it to play out to the finish.
"Why to Mrs. Hudson's flat of course. I appear to have measurements similar to those of her niece Sally and I need your assistance to dress myself. Then I will need your further assistance to analyze the materials in that damnable solution."
Holmes was now attired in a manner appropriate for a proper woman of English society. We had completed the analysis of the solution he had injected and which presumably was the cause of his transmogrification and had settled in by the fireplace to discuss how to proceed. I had hypothesized that it would be necessary to attempt another injection. Unfortunately, and to Holmes' great chagrin, once the analysis was completed there was an insufficient quantity remaining to provide said injection.
"The apothecary will not be open again until Monday thus I am confined to this form for the next two days." He appeared about to say more when there was a loud knocking from downstairs. As I had previously noted, Mrs. Hudson was away so I opened the door to see Inspector Lestrade standing upon those same slate steps I had so recently climbed. In his usual brusk manner the Inspector tipped his bowler without even glancing to see who had permitted his admittance and before I could even gather a breath to greet him he had bounded up the stairs and into Holmes' flat several seconds before me, despite my efforts to catch him.
"Holmes! I say Holmes!" Lestrade swept the room until his eyes fell upon Holmes entering the sitting room from the bedroom.
I arrived at the door to the flat just in time to see his jaw drop in shock at finding a member of the gentle persuasion so obviously at ease in the flat.
"Inspector Lestrade," I gasped out from behind him. "How good to see you. To what do we owe the honor of this visit?"
"I... I... I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was intruding."
"Nonsense my good man. Let me introduce you to... Miss Violet... ah... Penderfluff. She's a student of Holmes' deductive reasoning, from America I believe."
"A female detective?" he snorted before remembering she was standing before him. "Oh, sorry mum. Pleased to meet you."
"Quite all right Inspector," Holmes responded smoothly. "I recognize that detecting is quite the unusual profession for one such as I."
"I should say so." Lestrade agreed wholeheartedly.
"I understand your misgivings Inspector. After all, you've just returned from a murder investigation. The murder of a gentleman of some repute at a Gentleman's Club on Savoy Street, I should say."
Lestrade's jaw dropped as he stammered, "How... how did you know that?"
"Elementary my dear Lestrade," Holmes smiled smugly. "There is the faint odor of an rather unusual and expensive blend of Turkish tobacco favored by many of the officers of the Queen's India Brigade. Additionally, you have the corner of a rather finely woven linen napkin in your breast pocket, probably taken accidentally and placed there when you attempted to remove the stain on your trousers. I presume you obtained that when a hansom cab splashed you just outside the entrance after this morning's rain. Finally, I heard you arrive at this flat by cab so it is likely that you did not arrive from one of the closer clubs. The only clubs catering to gentlemen soldiers from India far enough away to require a cab while still within the city are on Savoy Street."
"Bravo Miss Penderfluff," I effused. Lestrade was less impressed, frowning as he self-consciously tucked the napkin further down into his pocket.
"Nicely done Miss," he stressed the 'Miss'. "I just came from the Brightwater Club at 114 Savoy Street and it was on official business, but how did you know it was a murder?"
"But Inspector, even in America we have heard of your skill. I would expect nothing less than a murder to have you on the job," Holmes smiled winningly and batted her eye lashes at him coyly.
"Um, yes, well, very impressive," Lestrade begrudged as he stood uncomfortably shifting from leg to leg before turning back to me. "Dr. Watson, is Mr. Holmes about? I have a bit of news that might interest him."
"No. Sorry Inspector, Holmes is otherwise occupied at the moment."
"Very well. I have another appointment and must be on my way. I merely dropped by to advise Holmes of the death of Lord Collings by poison at the hands of an American upstart by the name of Franklin Farnsworth. Farnsworth is already in custody at the Yard." With that he bid us Godspeed and left.
"I say, Holmes," I turned back from the Inspector's departing form, "Lord Collings' wife went to school with my wife Mary. They've been friends for ages. I must advise Mary and pay my respects.
I gathered up my coat and hat and prepared to leave when I realized I was forgetting my good friend. "Oh, sorry Holmes. Will you be alright alone like this?"
"I... I'd like to come." There was an uncertainty to the Great Detective's voice, something so unusual I stopped short. I examined his face carefully and saw... confusion?
"Holmes. You seem ill at ease. Is anything amiss?"
I watched as his brow furrowed in thought for several seconds. I had long ago learned to permit him to complete his deliberations if I wanted an answer and finally he responded, speaking slowly and carefully as if searching for unfamiliar words to explain himself. "I... perceive... no... I feel... yes, I feel that I should accompany you." I was a bit taken aback by my friend's reference to feelings rather than facts. For whatever reason, he was clearly not himself, so to speak, and as a physician and a friend I felt the need to assure his well being. Without a moment's thought I agreed and without further ado we were off, only stopping to gather a wrap to protect Holmes against the early evening damp.
Observing Holmes as we rode in a hansom cab towards the in town residence of the Collings family, he was clearly morose and I feared he would seek another apothecary so that he could utilize yet another variation of that accursed seven percent solution of which he was so fond. Given the rather startling effects of the last injection, I was fearful that the use of yet another such concoction would have totally unforeseeable results, possibly making a return to masculinity an impossibility so I prattled on about any topic of which I could dredge from the bowels of my brain.
"I say Holmes..."
"Call me Miss Penderfluff, Watson. The cabbie is beginning to wonder at your sanity. By the by, I can guess the source of the first appellation you've given me, I do greatly resemble my mother at the moment," he paused for a breath, "but from what dark and musty corner of your brain did you pull that surname?"
"Very well, Miss Penderfluff," I responded grinning at our little conspiracy. "I can truthfully say that I have not the foggiest idea from whence it came. I must have created it from whole cloth on the spur of the moment."
Holmes nodded knowingly and I continued in hopes of piquing his interest. "As I was saying Miss Penderfluff, the physiological changes you have undergone bring to mind a tale I read several years ago by -- what was his name -- oh yes, Stevenson. I believe it was Robert Lewis Stevenson."
"You know I have little patience with the pablum the masses consume for entertainment Watson." The words were vintage Holmes, but they lacked the fire with which they were usually spoken. It was clear I needed to find some subject that would focus his prodigious intellect.
"Surely you can reconsider in this instance. This Stevenson fellow penned a tale entitled The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which the mild mannered Jekyll created a potion that transformed his physiognomy and his psyche, his 'ego' as that fellow Freud would call it. I thought the tale was rather entertaining. Seems there is a corollary with your current condition."
"Very well, Watson. I shall accept your judgement in this matter and obtain a copy once I'm recovered from this malady."
"An excellent idea Ho -- Miss Penderfluff." He had given in so easily I could not resist yet another attempt to convince Holmes to discontinue the use of cocaine injections. "I should point out that Jekyll repeatedly utilized his formula until he eventually found himself being transmogrified into the amoral Mr. Hyde against his will and in the absence of his potion."
"Watson, will you ever desist in your concern for my health? I must say that I find your continuing concern flattering, but on to other matters. Tell me about the Collings family."
"As I said, Mary and Lady Virginia Collings have been best friends since finishing school and they correspond regularly. Mary was maid of honor at her wedding to Lord Jameson. I believe she is his second wife. The first died in a fall down the stairs at the family's country estate. Charming lady, Virginia, although quite a bit younger than the Lord." I paused, thinking of what I could add to help my friend. "Mary would tell me of some of the more outrageous stunts they pulled in college, although in these last years she's seemed quieter and more reserved for some reason."
"What of the Lord?"
"I don't know him well, although we have had discourse on several occasions at the club to which he belongs, the Brightwater as the Inspector previously noted. Seemed personable enough, if a bit on the gruff side and always looking for investments. He is... I mean was, President of Covington and Collings Banking Limited and I remember one occasion, not too long ago, when he was being courted by some American chap who wanted to purchase some land from the Collings' country estate for an 'amusement park', whatever that might be."
"Quite interesting Watson." Holmes seemed to be coming alive as his interest in the case grew. "What else can you tell me?"
"Well, ah, let me see. Oh yes, his mother, Dame Collings, survives him. Wonderful woman, salt of the earth. Well into her sixties and still involved in all sorts of community projects. And did you know that she's an expert horticulturist? Prattles on about it to anyone who will listen. She once graced Mary and I with a tour of the greenhouse she had constructed at the family's country estate. She has a huge variety of rare species from all over the world." I paused to consider the future for Dame Collings. "Sad to think of a mother living to bury her husband and her son."
"We're here govs." The cabbie interrupted any further conversation. I gallantly assisted Holmes to the sidewalk and paid the cabbie who tipped his hat and drove off.
The house was in the brownstone style. Servants were scurrying about as we watched draping black bunting along the cast iron fence. The curtains had already been replaced with black.
"Excuse me, my good man."
A meticulously dressed man in the uniform of a head butler with a handlebar mustache, and a globular and rather ornate ring with a bluish colored stone turned from his attention to the maids hanging the dark cloth. "Oh, good afternoon Dr. Watson."
Oh, Roberts. Good afternoon. Would you be so kind as to inform Lady Collings that Dr. Watson and a friend are here to pay their condolences?"
"Certainly sir. Would you care to wait in the library? I'll inform Dame Collings immediately."
"Of course, my good man." I took Holmes' hand and led him towards the house.
The library was well appointed with high backed red leather chairs and a white and red stripped love seat in some satiny material arranged about the fireplace with a small but well kept spinet to one side and a huge desk on the other side. Above the fireplace was a large portrait of the recently departed Lord Collings, a nondescript, clean shaven man with a nose a bit too large for his face, and to each side the family crest containing just two diagonally crossed swords surrounded by fleurs-de-lis on a solid blue field. Holmes appeared quite nervous and kept pacing about the room from desk to spinet and back examining this and touching that. It was interesting to note that his movements were not that of the caged beast I was accustomed to watching, but of some smaller, tamer, more graceful feline surveying his domain. Regardless, the coming conversation was going to be difficult enough without his incessant movement in the background to distract me.
"Holmes," I whispered tensely. "Surely you can be seated and act like a proper lady."
I was quite pleased to see her immediately move to the love seat and carefully seat herself at my instruction. It was quite the pleasant occurrence to have him following my guidance for a change. "Yes, Dr. Watson."
"Dr. Watson?" We stood and turned in unison to see Dame Collings walk slowly into the room leaning heavily on her cane. As usual she was immaculately attired, but she seemed somehow smaller and older than I remembered her.
"Dr. Watson. It's so good to see you. How is your beautiful wife Mary?" she turned and saw Holmes. "And who is this enchanting young lady?"
"Dame Charlotte Collings, may I introduce you to Miss Violet Penderfluff. She's from America, a student of the deductive reasoning techniques of Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"How wonderful," she carefully seated herself on the love seat beside Holmes and smiled engagingly. "I must admit to a thrill of excitement at seeing a young woman entering into a profession thus far the domain of men. What made you become interested in detecting work."
Holmes cleared his throat and smiled at Watson. "It was Dr. Watson here. I read his accounts of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and knew I had to learn as much as I could about the science of criminal investigation."
"Very nice, my dear," Dame Collings nodded dismissively and turned to me. "And what of you and Mary?"
"Mary is fine and still in Paddington." Was that a glare Dame Collings gave Holmes? "Her mother has committed her to several committees for the village's upcoming Victoria Day celebrations and she suggested I stop in on Mr. Holmes."
"And where is the amazing Mr. Holmes?" It was a glare. She was angry at my companion for some reason. As for Holmes, he seemed oblivious as he sat primly with his hands folded on his lap and his limbs tucked under the bottom of the love seat.
"Mr. Holmes is involved in an investigation, but he promised to be available at a moment's notice. In the mean time, I'm escorting Miss Penderfluff about pending his return. We came here to offer our condolences regarding the death of your son, Lord Jameson."
"Yes. Thank you. I am sure there will be many who miss him."
"But you won't be one of them. Will you Dame Collings?"
"Holmes!" My shock at his callous remarks were left stillborn as our host responded in outrage, but then I attempted to cover for my lapse. "Surely you know that is rude and unbecoming of a protege of Sherlock Holmes."
"Of all the impertinence, young lady." Dame Collings bridled. "You are a guest in my house at the bequest of Dr. Watson. You will be respectful or you may wait for the good doctor in the front vestibule."
"Certainly Dame Collings." Holmes stood and curtsied. "I apologize for any injury my words might have caused. I'll wait elsewhere."
I watched silently as Holmes strode from the room before profusely apologizing for the lack of manners of my "American" charge. Dame Collings graciously accepted my apology and we continued our discourse.
"I say Holmes..."
"Call me Miss Penderfluff." We were returning to Holmes' flat at 211 B Baker Street and Holmes did not wish to perturb the driver who kept leaning forward to overhear our conversation, probably in hopes of some interesting tidbit of gossip to sell to one of the less reputable tabloids.
"Miss Penderfluff," I grudgingly huffed. "I would appreciate it if you would explain your outrageous behavior back there."
"Certainly sir, but can you wait a moment. We have arrived and I would appreciate your assistance disembarking from this cab." He had the audacity to offer me his hand.
Rather than end our charade in such a public setting, I swallowed my anger and helped him down. Holmes paced to the door and patiently waited there for me to open the door for him and guide him inside. As soon as the door to the flat had shut behind me I turned upon him and railed at him for his uncivilized behavior, especially at the home of a family long time friends with mine.
"Very well Holmes. Your bloody charade is intact. Surely now you can explain your bloody abominable behavior," I demanded.
"Certainly, my dear doctor, but first, would you kindly assist me to undo the laces on this waistband? The stays are most uncomfortable."
"Holmes!" I fear my voice was of sufficient volume to carry to the fish market several blocks away.
"Very well," he sighed. "To business first." He sat in his favorite chair, taking several moments to assure that he was seated decorously. My patience, was already strained and we were close to the start of the first major altercation of our long friendship.
"Please be seated Watson. I assure you I meant no disrespect. My statement was a direct observation of the absence of redness or puffiness about Dame Collings' eyes indicative of tears and the absence of any of the nervous gestures such as hand wringing or distracted attention one would expect of someone suffering from shock and grief at the death of her son."
"Dame Collings is a brave woman with tremendous inner strength."
"Who kept glancing out the window as she nervously awaited the return of her husband's widow, who would have joined us were she at home," he continued for me. "I watched from just without the library. Did you not eventually notice her demeanor calm and her attention to you and your words become more consistent?"
"Why yes. I assumed that was because of her appreciation for my words of comfort at a time of such sorrow."
"I greeted Lady Collings solicitously in the vestibule and she was most courteous. We spoke for several minutes. She has the most beautiful raven hair, does she not?" Holmes sounded a touch covetous as he spoke.
"I could not help but notice the brown hairs on the collar of her dress and the monogrammed man's handkerchief clutched tightly in her hand. The initials were G. A."
"But who would G. A. be?"
"An excellent question, yet to be answered." Holmes sat back in his chair with that self-satisfied expression I had learned to recognize to mean he was happily embroiled in another case.
"I must admit, that I am still unsure of the reason for my interest in this case..." Holmes mused.
"Feminine intuition?" I must admit to some surprise that such an astute and capable observer as he would permit the assumption that his deductions were anything but the product of factual observation. Instead, he continued his musings.
"It would appear we have at least four possible suspects and we have not yet been to the scene of the crime."
"Poppycock," I was shocked at the implications of his words. "Surely you cannot think that Dame Collings or Lady Collings would be involved in a murder."
"Lestrade was quite insistent that Lord Collings was poisoned, and poison is more commonly a woman's choice for a murder weapon. Clearly Dame Collings' remorse is suspect and Lady Collings would appear to be involved in an affair with a man other than her husband. One could speculate that this is sufficient reason for either Lady Collings or her lover to wish the Lord deceased."
"That would be three, although I have known Dame Collings and Lady Collings far too long to believe such horrid thoughts about them. I assume the third is whomever Lady Collings had been visiting, but who is the fourth?"
"Why whomever Lestrade has arrested at the club," Holmes laughed.
"Good evening sir. Whom do you wish to see?" The red liveried doorman at the Brightwater Club for Gentlemen greeted them at the entrance.
"I don't remember his name. American chap, friends with Lord Collings, may he rest in peace."
"Lord Collings was a man of few friends. If there is no one here you wish to see, I will kindly ask you to leave."
I admit that I was a bit put off by the man's abruptness, but then Holmes interjected, "Farnsworth. His name was Franklin Farnsworth."
"Yes, that's it. Franklin Farnsworth. We wish to speak to Mr. Franklin Farnsworth."
"I must offer regrets that you have traveled here for nothing. Mr. Farnsworth is not at the club at this time."
"Is there a time we can expect him to return?" I repeated the question when the doorman failed to respond to Holmes' query.
"No sir, I cannot say when he will return. You are welcome to wait for him in lounge, but the young lady is not permitted to enter."
"Very well. Thank you for your time, my good man." I turned to leave, but Holmes stopped me with a gentle hand on my arm.
"Allow me a moment to speak privately with this man, please Dr. Watson," she entreated me.
"Of course... my dear." I was unsure of Holmes' plan, but I was resolved not to hinder him. "I shall hail a cab."
I walked out onto the gaslight evening street and moments later I had a cab. It was but a moment later that Holmes joined me, but instead of offering me her hand so that I could assist her into the cab she took my hand and looked up at me.
"Please excuse me, but I shall be remaining here."
"But surely you heard the doorman. This club does not permit ladies to enter."
"True, Watson. Very true. But it does hire maids."
The flat seemed empty without Holmes to animate it and I felt at loose ends, so to fill the time until Holmes' return I posted a letter to my darling Mary. That done and still no Holmes, I considered my options and decided to visit Lestrade and see if he would permit me to speak to Farnsworth. Perhaps such a discussion would yield some clue that would resolve the matter of Lord Collings' death. After all, many were the times I had provided the missing clue to facilitate Holmes' deductive skills and I still harbored some hopes of one day beating him to a solution.
Lestrade was at his desk and quite happy to explain how the case had been solved. Over a cup of tea he explained that Farnsworth had given the Lord a box of poisoned cigars. He was more than willing to permit me to speak to Farnsworth. I think he found the idea of Holmes involved in what was clearly an "open and shut case" humorous.
A constable brought me to Farnsworth's cell in the tombs of Scotland Yard. He would not open the cell to permit me in, but did provide a comfortable chair so that we could converse through the bars. Farnsworth watched the constable and I, but declined to speak. Rather than wait for his curiosity to prompt his speech, I began.
"Good evening Mr. Farnsworth. I am Dr. Watson, a companion of Sherlock Holmes." There was no response from the mustachioed man with the bulbous nose in the dark brown suit before me so I admit to less than full veracity in my next words. "Holmes is interested in your case and asked me to discuss it with you."
"Whadda ya wanna know? I didn't do it."
"I think you have me confused with the Yard. I haven't accused you of doing anything."
"Are ya a lawyer?"
"No. I am a physician. As I noted previously, I am an associate of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Surely you must have heard of Sherlock Holmes."
"Sure. Everyone's heard o' Sherlock Holmes, but I wuz hopin' for a lawyer. What's he want wid me?"
"I was hoping you would tell me what brought you to be accused of Lord Jameson Collings' death."
"Well, it's a air tight frame so I got nothin' ta loose. Get comfortable an' I'll tell ya everything I know.
"I wuz at da Brightwata' Club wit Lord Collings. We wuz discussing a deal I wuz trying ta get him to help finance it. Dat wuz the only place he'd ever meet wid me."
"An amusement center?"
"Ya. Dat's what it wuz. How did ya know about dat?"
"I was a the club several weeks ago and overheard a brief portion of your discussion that day."
"I don't like havin' people listen in on my conversations bud. Don't do it again."
"I assure you it was completely unintentional Mr. Farnsworth. Would you be so kind as to continue your narrative?"
"Ya. I guess so." He reached for his pocket watch, but stopped as he remembered it had been taken from him. "What time is it anyways?"
"Twenty minutes after the hour of nine, my good man. Why do you wish to know?"
"I wuz supposed ta meet my brodder twenty minutes ago to let him know how da negotiations had gone. Guess I'm not gonna make it," he answered ruefully.
"Would you like me to get a message to him?"
"Naw. If your newspapers are anythin' like da ones in America, he knows exactly where I am."
"Well, I fear some of our tabloids are a bit on the unsavory side. Your assumption is probably correct, so why not finish your chronicle."
"My wha... oh, yea. Where wuz I?" He stood up and began pacing about the small room as if it would assist his memory. "Da Lord would never talk business until after he'd had a brandy and a good cigar. Knowing dat, I brought him a box of expensive ones. He took one, turned blue and keeled over. The cops said da cigars were what killed him, so here I am." He stopped pacing and faced me with his hand son the bars. I couldn't help noticing the white band where a ring had been.
"The constables took your ring also?"
"How'd ya know I had a ring?" He glanced at his ring finger and saw the band. "Oh. Hey, pretty good. Maybe youse guys can help."
"Mr. Holmes and I shall endeavor to uncover the true cause of Lord Collings death. Can you tell me where you got the box of cigars."
"Ya. My brother gave dem ta me. Say you don't think he had something ta do wid it, do ya?"
"That was an interesting excursion you must have had Watson. I must say that mine was quite eye-opening as well. Working as a maid is something I hope never to find need to perform as a permanent form of employment. If the bending and lifting were not sufficient reason, there is the boiling water, harsh soap, and bleach. If the difficulty of the work conditions were not enough there are the people for whom you provide service like Colonel Robert Addison, and if that were still not enough it must all be done in a uniform requiring voluminous layers of heavy clothing, clothing with stays." Holmes had been struggling unsuccessfully to remove the stays binding his waist as he spoke. "I pride myself on my ability to live in a factual world, yet I now understand why some describe these as devices of torture developed in hell." He finally discontinued his struggles and turned to me beseechingly, "Be a good chap and help me remove these bloody things, would you please Watson?"
With my assistance the corset was finally undone and Holmes gave a great sigh before adjourning to the bedroom to change into his lounging robe. From the bedroom he called back to me, "What did Lestrade say the poison was?"
"A concentrated, powdered form of Rhus Toxiodendron. It comes from the..."
"Yes, yes. The sumac family. The trees grow in India and South America. A most peculiar modus operandi for a murder."
"Watson, this case has too many suspects. Everywhere we turn there is a new one. So far we have Dame Collings who was clearly less than upset at the death of her only son, Lady Collings and her mysterious friend, Farnsworth and his brother, and even Colonel Addison."
"I say Holmes, how does the Addison chap fit in?"
"His brother served in India at the same time as Collings. The brother was cashiered by Collings for theft of the unit's petty cash fund on rather flimsy evidence and committed suicide as a result. Addison blames Collings for his brother's death."
"Holmes, that's amazing. You found all that out while working as a maid?"
"Well, no. I wired my brother Mycroft and he reviewed the ministry files," Holmes responded sheepishly, but then that glare that signified deep thought on the part of my friend appeared. After a moment he continued, albeit not in the decisive manner to which I was accustomed.
"I... I feel," he stopped to evaluate his words and confirm their veracity, "that we must... bring together all of the suspects and trace the movements of the poison laced cigars."
"Are you sure Holmes?"
"Very well, I'll contact Lestrade. He is unlikely to take your request seriously with your current appearance." Holmes merely frowned and nodded his agreement.
They sat or stood uncomfortably about the library of the Collings' town home. Dame Collings and her daughter-in-law Mary sat on the love seat assiduously avoiding either verbal or physical contact. Farnsworth sat handcuffed in one of the leather bound chairs with Lestrade standing behind him. Colonel Addison had appropriated the other one, the one closest to the fireplace, and was smoking a pipe full of some noxious concoction; probably just another reason for the scowl on Dame Collings' face. From his position, carefully chosen to obscure his visage from as many of the others it was possible to do so for, Mary's secret suitor, George Archibald, stood nervously shifting from foot to foot. His presence too was compliments of Inspector Lestrade and Scotland Yard. Finally, standing uncomfortably by the huge oak doors to the library.
"Thank you for coming everyone," I began as they were all under the impression that I was the one to have called them together in stead of Holmes. "As Holmes has noted, there are too many likely suspects in this case."
"The Yard is satisfied that it has the murderer," Lestrade interjected. "We are here only at the request of Mr. Mycroft Holmes."
"As I was saying, Holmes has noted that there are too many suspects and asked me to assist him by arranging this gathering. Mr. Holmes is unable to be present at this time..."
"Then what in bloody blazes," Colonel Addison exclaimed in a voice that was a combination of a wheeze and a growl, but when he saw the look of distaste on Dame Collings' face and quickly continued. "Umm, sorry Madam, I merely wanted to know why we were all here at the bequest of someone who is not?"
"As I was saying," I continued in a somewhat louder tone of voice in order to regain everyone's attention. "Mr. Holmes is unable to be present, but he has asked me to introduce you to Miss Violet Penderfluff who is an accomplished student of Holmes' methods and will speak for him."
"Thank you Dr. Watson," Holmes chimed in and raised a hand for attention before anyone could interrupt, except the Colonel interrupted anyway.
"I have no interest in the blatherings of some maid." He growled and rose to leave, but Lestrade cleared his throat.
"As I said, I believe that Scotland Yard has its man and see little value to this discourse, but if Mr. Mycroft Holmes wishes us to listen to this young lady, we shall listen. May I suggest you return to your seat or must I ask a constable to assist you?"
We all waited as the Colonel blustered but then seated himself. Holmes gave Lestrade a grateful nod of thanks which Lestrade acknowledged, but it was clear that his intervention was not at Holmes' behest so much as his older brother's.
"Thank you all, I'll be brief." As expected, Holmes spoke in a perfect American accent as I remembered from my travels to the city of San Francisco back in eighty four. The thought of America reminded me of my beloved first wife, Constance, since dead in eighty seven, and I missed Holmes' initial words.
"... many suspects. Each person in this room except, of course, Dr. Watson, Inspector Lestrade, and myself, have excellent reason to have wished Lord Collings dead."
"How dare you, you spiteful creature," Dame Collings raged at Holmes who actually blanched for the first time I could remember. However, that did not stop him from continuing gamely.
He turned to face Dame Collings. "Your outrage is understandable Madam. You of all people here care about their good name and believe in living a virtuous life."
"Then how could you say I would wish my own son dead?" She was mollified only slightly, as evidenced by the quieter tone of voice, but the glare of anger was still in her eye.
"Why for exactly that reason. Lord Collings was anything but an honorable man. As will be demonstrated this day."
The elderly woman bit back another retort and sat, but declined to look at Holmes again. Holmes paced leisurely about the room from person to person.
"Lord Collings was responsible for your brother being cashiered, wasn't he?" A grudging nod.
"He committed suicide in shame." Another nod.
"But not before sending you a letter telling you of his innocence and advising you of his conviction that he had been framed by Collings. You've been seeking proof for years and just recently confronted Collings with your proof."
"Bloody right I did. The blighter laughed at me and told me his friends in the Office of the Military would never let me process a complaint." Holmes nodded grimly and moved on to the next person.
"Lady Collings." She jerked as if struck, but kept her eyes downcast. "We've already established that Lord Collings was not a nice man. In fact, he used to beat you. When we first met, you were still limping from a bruise from him, weren't you?"
Lady Collings said nothing, but a tear began a slow journey down her cheek. I was even more amazed to see a matching tear on Holmes' cheek as she hastily moved past the love seat to face the man hiding behind the grand piano.
"You, Mr. Archibald, are in love with Lady Collings. The two of you have been meeting for quite awhile now. Both of you wish to make your relationship legitimate, but Lord Collings would not grant his wife a divorce. In fact, he threatened to destroy you and your family financially if you persisted."
Holmes circled about the room nodding to Roberts, the butler, as he passed. Always the epitome of gentility, Roberts nodded politely, but that he was nervous was obvious from his continual hand wringing.
"How long have you worked for the Collings family, Roberts?"
"Twenty three years mum, seven as butler to the Lord Collings."
"How do you like your job?"
"It is quite satisfactory mum."
"Do you find your employers easy to work for?"
"Excuse me mum," he harrumphed at the obviously embarrassing question. "The Collings family has been extremely good to me."
"All of them?"
"Madam, I consider that an impertinent and inappropriate question."
"Answer the question, Roberts," Dame Collings rumbled.
Roberts' finger went to his collar as he adjusted it as if it were suddenly uncomfortable. "Lord Jameson could be quite difficult at times... the pressures of business, no doubt."
"Of course, of course." Holmes paused for effect. "And is that why he had threatened to fire you?"
Roberts opened his mouth to angrily deny Holmes' allegation, but then sighed. His whole body seemed to deflate and he staggered a bit until his back was slumped against the oak doors. "He accused me of allowing some of the kitchen staff to steal from the household. But Gretchen had been thrown out onto the street with her four children by her husband. She was living in the stable until she could find more appropriate quarters. Some of the other kitchen staff felt pity on her and brought food from their homes to help her out. The Lord insisted that once the food was brought onto the estate, it was the property of the Collings family."
As he continued his narrative, I glanced at Dame Collings and observed her fists to be balled in anger. I couldn't be sure, but I suspected that the anger was not directed at Roberts as he had not yet been summarily cashiered. Roberts' next words helped confirm my opinion.
"Lord Jameson was prepared to have me arrested but Dame Collings intervened, insisting that the food had been given to poor Gretchen at her instructions. Ever since then, the Lord had been even more critical of the work of the understairs staff, waiting for a chance to terminate every one of us in a manner to which Dame Collings could not object."
"Thank you Roberts, we'll come back to you in a moment." Completing his grand circle of the room Holmes continued on to the handcuffed man seated before Lestrade.
"On the face of it, you actually have the weakest motive of anyone here Mr. Farnsworth. You're just an American businessman seeking to close a deal with Lord Collings."
"Dat's right. Dat's what I been tryin' ta tell everyone." He turned to glare back at Lestrade. "Now will youse release me?"
"I think not," Lestrade sneered. "Scotland Yard does not act on the mere words of a slip of a girl."
"Nor is that all there is, correct Mr. Farnsworth?"
"Let's wait on the answer to that for moment, shall we?" Holmes' abrupt change of subject surprised me. His next words were addressed to everyone in the room.
"Clearly, everyone in this room had motive. Means is even easier. Lestrade?"
The Inspector nodded.
"Dr. Watson has advised me that the cause of death was poison, Rhus Toxiodendron to be exact."
Dame Collings hissed as she drew in a sudden breath of air.
"Dame Collings, would you explain?"
"Rhus Toxiodendron is one of the rarer forms of the sumac family. This particular species is common to India and is a strong irritant producing skin eruptions and nearly unbearable itching on contact with the skin. In powder form, if it is ingested, it is deadly in small doses. I have been told that it has a bitter taste. I have one in our greenhouse."
"Well said. It was a popular poison for the followers of Kali as anyone who was well informed about India would know." Holmes' gaze briefly met the eyes of each suspect.
All but Farnsworth averted their eyes. Farnsworth smiled back and wasted no time pointing out the obvious. "Dat's nowheres I've ever been. You can rule me out again."
"Not quite Mr. Farnsworth," Holmes pounced. "You told Dr. Watson that you'd gotten the box of cigars used to poison Lord Collings from your brother. I believe you even suggested that maybe he was the one who poisoned the Lord."
There was a gasp from the other side of the room and Roberts excused himself. "I beg your pardons. I bumped into the door knob. Surprised myself."
"Of course Roberts... or is it that you are the one who gave the cigars to Mr. Farnsworth here?"
"Madam? I'm afraid I fail to understand." He voice was bland, but Holmes had coached me and I was already standing beside him, prepared to block any attempts at egress.
"Dr. Watson commented on Mr. Farnsworth's ring, a ring identical to yours, Roberts."
"Please uncover your hands Roberts," I spoke gently but the revolver in my hand served to provide all the emphasis necessary. It took just one glance to convince the butler to extend his hand for all to see that they were identical. The Collings matriarch gasped and then Lady Collings added a gasp of her own.
"Yes, they are fraternal twins, given up for adoption at birth by an unwed mother." Lady Collings was staring at her mother-in-law, but Dame Collings blushed and refused to return her gaze. Holmes, always the gentleman, even as a lady, declined to note the obvious facial resemblance to Dame Collings.
"So Roberts, you are the brother who gave Mr. Farnsworth here the box of cigars, are you not?"
"Yes Miss. It is true. We were given up for adoption at birth. Through good luck we remained at the orphanage long enough to learn of our kinship before being adopted by different families. We only recently were able to find and reunite with each other."
Holmes smiled at the confirmation of his speculations. When we had spoken in preparation for this meeting he had expressed his concern that several of his hunches, as he called them, would be able to be confirmed and it was now evident that at least one was so verified. Of course, as was his wont, Holmes was not prepared to now rest on his laurels.
"You received the box of cigars from Roberts. Is that correct?"
When Farnsworth declined to answer, Lestrade nudged him. "This is not the colonies young man. I suggest you answer."
"Ya." The man grudgingly answered while assiduously avoiding looking at his brother.
"But I assure you I was unaware that they were poisoned," Roberts pleaded, eyes locked on Dame Collings as if begging her to believe. There were tears in her eyes as she whispered, "I believe you."
"So tell us Roberts, where did you get them?"
"From... from Mr. Archibald." He pointed to Lady Collings' lover who jerked as if stabbed and his arm accidentally struck the piano's keyboard producing an ugly cacophony. All eyes were instantly on the young man as he tried to silence the discord, instead striking more keys.
"Yes Colonel Addison? Is there something you'd like to add to the conversation?"
"My son did not poison Collings. I lost a brother to that blighter, I'll not lose my son also." There was a gun in his hand.
"Colonel, I suggest you lower your weapon and allow me to continue. Your concern is premature."
"What does that mean?" The gun did not waver as he rasped out his question.
"It means that it was not I who poisoned Lord Collings although I share your joy at his demise." He was standing beside Lady Collings now, who gazed lovingly up at him from her seat.
"Please elaborate for everyone's benefit Mister... it is Addison, correct?"
"Yes. It is Addison, George Addison. Father, you are a man of honor and I would like to think you have taught me to be honorable also. I assure you I did not poison Lord Collings, but I hope you will understand that I must decline to explain where I obtained the cigars." His hand rested lightly on Lady Collings shoulder and she reached up to place her hand over it. As he spoke I could see Colonel Addison's weapon slowly lower to his side.
"That's quite all right Mr. Addison. The box of cigars was given to you by Lady Collings. Is that not correct my Lady?"
"No. I purchased them from an Indian mystic. He... he claimed to be a follower of Kali."
"Even a man of honor learns that sometimes the honorable thing to do is lie as you have just done Mr. Addison. Lady Collings gave you the cigars as a gift for your father, the Colonel. But rather than hurt your beloved's feelings, you gave them to Roberts as your father had just sworn off cigars due to continuing irritation to his throat and difficulty breathing."
With all eyes now on Lady Collings, Holmes continued, "And where did you get the cigars my Lady?"
"I took them from my father's study. He has... had so many I was certain it would never be missed, and I wished to have George present it to his father in an attempt to begin to heal the wounds between our families."
"What's this Penderfluff?" Lestrade interrupted. "Are you going to now claim that Lord Collings was going to commit suicide by smoking his own poison cigars? What poppycock."
"That is correct Inspector." Holmes smiled back at the Inspector unperturbed. "He did not plan to commit suicide. His plan was to kill Colonel Addison to prevent the reopening of the case of the Colonel's brother."
The look on Lestrade's face was priceless and given his unbecoming arrogance and rudeness to Miss Violet Penderfluff, I could well understand Holmes' temptation to drag his explanation out further, but I was even more proud of him for refraining from that petty pleasure.
"Lord Collings married into the Collings family. He was the offspring of a poor but noble family and made a small fortune before marrying Lady Collings through a series of, shall we say unsavory, financial dealings. If Colonel Addison succeeded in getting his brother's case reopened, it would be discovered that Collings, not the Colonel's brother, had been the cause of the discrepancies in the unit's petty cash accounts. The embarrassment would have been unbearable and ruinous. After all, who wants to do business with a crooked banker?
"Rather than permitting himself to be ruined, he planned to murder the Colonel and thus assure that the case would never be reopened. It was pure happenstance that Lady Collings took the cigars and at first he must have been frantic." Holmes turned to the butler, "Did Lord Collings also accuse you of the theft of a box of cigars?"
"Why yes. It was at the same time that we were accused of the food theft. I assumed one of the backstairs staff had taken it and questioned them mercilessly."
"We'll never know for sure, but my guess is that he was going to bring it to the club and have it swapped for one of the Colonel's regular boxes when no one was paying attention. They were your favorite brand, were they not Colonel?" Both Colonel Addison and his son nodded their assent.
Holmes curtseyed and stood patiently as the Inspector put the pieces together in his mind. "So Lord Collings died by misadventure, at his own hand?"
"Exactly my dear Lestrade, exactly."
I had spent the night at the Collings estate preparing my notes so that Holmes' most recent exploits could be chronicled. Holmes, of course, returned to the flat. His excuse was that he had nothing appropriate for overnight wear, but I suspect he was finding it draining to maintain the facade of genteel femininity he had been affecting. However, if my surmises were correct, Holmes did nothing to convince me as he sat waiting impatiently on the stoop of 221 B Baker Street for my arrival the next morning. She was in the cab and giving directions before I had completed providing remuneration for my own trip.
"Where are we going now Miss Penderfluff?" We were once again in a hansom cab and so I took the agreed upon precautions to avoid confusing our driver.
"Why to the apothecary, my dear Watson." He withdrew a dispatch from its place of safekeeping in the bosom of his dress and handed it to me. "This came for you."
A glance showed me it was from my beloved Mary. I smiled in anticipation as I inhaled the muted aroma of her perfume and quickly ripped open the missive, totally forgetting that Holmes had not yet responded to my query about our destination. Adjusting my spectacles I began to read.
|My Beloved John,
I write this to remind you that I love more completely than I would ever have thought it possible for one human being to love another, and that I shall continue love you always. It is my fervent hope that you never see this letter, however, if you have it may help to explain certain recent events and serve to assure you that there is nothing that you could have done to prevent it.
I paused in complete confusion, only aware that something was dreadfully wrong. Holmes, no doubt seeing the blood drain from my face, gently placed his gloved hand upon my arm in support. I absently nodded my thanks and continued reading.
|If you are reading this, the cough I had upon your departure has
worsened. I did not tell you of this previously as I knew you
would immediately return to my side leaving hundreds in Bristol
ill and dying. I could not permit myself to be the cause of such
agony for others, and as a trained nurse, I was quite sure I could
that in your absence I could provide for my own treatment, unlike
those other poor souls.
Approximately one week after your departure, I diagnosed myself as suffering from diphtheria and immediately treated myself with an injection of Professor Von Behring's antitoxin...
I stopped reading because my eyes were blurring with tears. Holmes gently daubed at my eyes as I stared blankly at nothing. Seeing that I could not continue, my friend gently took the letter from my hands and read for me.
"The letter continues in a different hand. Shall I read it for you my friend?" I nodded numbly.
|My dear John,
It is with great sorrow that I write to advise you that your wife, my beloved daughter, has died from diphtheria. It has not been easy holding the news of her illness from you as I know you care for her as deeply as I do, but I'm sure you know how insistent she can could be.
We could not wait for your return to complete funeral arrangements due to the risk of epidemic, but we will be here and will welcome you with open arms whenever you are able to return.
Holmes stopped reading and gently embraced me, pulling my head into his bosom and holding me while I cried to myself. With great effort I pulled myself together. After all, such behavior was unbecoming of a physician and a man. Holmes said nothing as he wiped the last of my tears away and waited for me to break the silence.
"She knew of the antitoxin, but... I had not yet written her to advise her of the need for additional treatment with penicillin. I must return to Paddington immediately. Will you please advise Lady Collings of the circumstances of Mary's death."
"Of course Watson. Of course."
"We're here govs." The cab had stopped. Glancing about I realized we were in Covington Square. We had stopped in front of Crabtree and Jacobs Apothecaries, Ltd. Even in my addled state the reason for our stop here was obvious.
"I shall assist you to complete your transformation and then I must return home."
"Certainly Watson. I understand and thank you... and you will always be welcome at 221 B Baker Street." With that, he disembarked from the cab without even waiting for me to hand him down.
The store was unremarkable, just like every apothecary I had ever been in; ill lit, with dusty rows of bottle filled shelves and a counter at the back with a worn little man grinding something into a white powder.
"May I help you sir." Holmes stood demurely beside and slightly behind me.
"Why yes my good man. I believe you provided a small quantity of cocaine for a friend of mine, a Mister Sherlock Holmes." At mention of the Great Detective's name, the man bolted from about the counter and out a side door. We gave chase immediately, but while I was able to keep the man within eye contact, Holmes, with his multiple petticoats was quickly left behind as we raced down winding, garbage filled alley after alley. I was quickly becoming winded and feared the little man would soon outrun me when Holmes suddenly appeared in front of us as he stepped daintily from a side alley, carefully lifting his skirts above the garbage.
Upon seeing Holmes, the man stopped short. There were no side alleys for him to bolt down and we happened to be in a section devoid of back doors or ground level windows. He glanced back at me, then again at Holmes. The choice must have seemed clear; he ran full steam at Holmes. I had just enough time to call out a warning to my friend and begin running towards them before they were upon each other.
Between my winded efforts to run and the speed of action before me, it was impossible to tell exactly what happened, but suddenly there was a clatter, as if a knife had fallen to the cobblestoned ground. Then there was a dull thud and a sudden exhalation combined with a groan of pain. Holmes was standing above the man who was now gasping for breath as he lay supine amid the refuse.
While he was still gasping for air, I pulled out a pair of handcuffs from my breast pocket. I had it there still from our adventure at the Collings estate. Holmes had asked me to bring them in anticipation of the possibility that Lestrade might have need of them in the event that more than one offender was uncovered and had not yet had the opportunity to return them to their assigned resting place beside the fireplace mantle in the flat. Holmes nudged the man with a dainty booted foot to obtain his attention.
"What was the substance you gave to Mister Holmes? We know it was not cocaine as he requested."
The man was mute, although his breathing was no longer ragged. Another jab of Holmes' foot did nothing to encourage his speech so I tried. "You do understand that it would not be difficult to have you arrested, but that would be unnecessary if you simply answered Mist... Miss Penderfluff's questions."
While I was speaking Holmes had located the knife. She fiddled with it in her hands for several moments, then she seemed to come to some internal decision. Bending stiffly, I assume because of her corset, she brought the knife to the man's throat while I watched in horror, wondering if my good friend had finally gone mad.
"You have lied and caused Mr. Holmes, great inconvenience," the word seemed like it described all the evil of the world. "You will answer some questions or you will die, slowly and in great pain. What was in the philter you gave Holmes?"
The man did not answer and Holmes caused a trickle of blood to run from the man's neck. "Holmes!" I called out. "Surely you don't want to do this. Let Lestrade and the Yard handle it, and for God's sake keep away from the bloody carotid artery."
"Well put Watson. Bloody artery." Holmes glanced up at me so positioned so that the lying man could not see his face, but I could see him grin and wink at me to assure me all was under control before turning back to the man on the ground with a snarl.
"Well. I'm waiting."
"Y... You're Holmes? But... Then... it worked?"
"I suggest you stop babbling and answer."
"Yes, yes sir... madam, Mister... Miss..."
"Call me your worst nightmare, now answer. What was in the philter you gave me."
"I'm not sure. It was a combination of rare herbs from the far parts of the world supplied to me several years ago by an associate of a Mr. Moriarty. I was told that if I did not hear from Mr. Moriarty or one of his associates every two years I was to give the philter to you mixed with your cocaine."
"Do you have more?"
"A bit. I kept some back to analyze. I did not wish to be the cause of anyone's death." He glanced pointedly down at the knife against his neck.
"Is it enough?"
"I think so."
"Where is it?"
"At the shop."
"Show me." With that, Holmes began to struggle to assist the man to a standing position and seeing her difficulty I gruffly pushed her aside and lifted him to his feet. Holding tightly to his arm we escorted him back to the apothecary shop. Inside he guided us behind the counter to a back office with a locked safe. With Holmes holding a knife to his neck, he instructed Holmes as to how to open the combination, and then find the key to yet another locked box within the safe.
Holmes carefully took the smaller box to the counter and opened it. Inside was a small stoppered flask containing a nondescript white powder.
Still under the instructions of the apothecarist, Holmes mixed two tenths of an ounce of cocaine with a one twentieth of an ounce of the strange powder and then a bit of flour to make a full ounce. This was mixed well using the mortar and pestle and then carefully heated over a burner until it liquefied. The liquid was allowed to cool while Holmes located a hypodermic needle set. Seven hundredths of an ounce was placed in the a graduate and water added to make Holmes' seven percent solution. We both watched in awe as the now cool liquid was drawn up into the hypodermic and carefully injected in Holmes' arm.
The changes were excruciatingly slow, so slow that I quickly found that the only way to see them was to close my eyes for a minute or two and then carefully examine my friend, but change he did. After about ten minutes it was necessary for him to remove his female attire. Rather than stand unclothed before us, he wrapped himself in a robe, making it even more difficult to see changes anywhere but his face, which became firmer and more distinguished as we watched.
It was a fortnight later that I again found myself bounding up the slate stairs to the entrance of 221 B Baker Street, this time to be greeted by Mrs. Hudson, who offered her condolences on the death of my wife and informed me that Holmes was in, but that his behavior had been even stranger than usual.
"He's had a lady caller," she whispered conspiratorially as she escorted me up the stairs.
Opening the door to the his flat, the flat we would again share staring today, I saw the cuff of an enrobed arm resting upon the nearer arm of the chair Holmes usually preferred. "Holmes? I say, is that you Holmes?" The arm disappeared and the a shape stood turning to face me. It was Holmes.
"Watson. So good to see you old man."
"It will be a pleasure to have you back again." He gave me a comradely pat on the back.
"Yes, well, my practice in Paddington has been closed. There is just too much pain associated with the memories of Mary that abound there. It was very kind of you to permit me to return to these quarters."
"Stuff and nonsense, Watson. You are a dear and cherished friend. You do much to help me with my cases and more to help me between them. Come. Sit and talk to me. Have you completed your chronicles of this last case?"
"Yes, and I am pleased to report that George Addison and Lady Collings will soon be married. I also understand that Farnsworth has returned to America with Roberts. They have become partners in Farnsworth's business."
"And I," Holmes concluded, "am please to note that my note to Mycroft has resulted in a quiet reopening of the case of Colonel Addison's brother. I expect to hear that the Colonel's worthy brother is completely absolved of all charges of wrong-doing. When are you planning to publish this latest adventure, my good man?"
I swallowed and sighed before answering. "As I said, the chronicle is completed, but I am a bit uncomfortable releasing it to Strand Magazine or, for that matter, any other publication. I find some of the subject matter to be a bit too personal. Maybe in the years to come, I shall change my mind, but not now, not so close to Mary's death."
"I am quite thrilled to hear you say that, my dear friend. I too found the experience uncomfortable at times. If you do decide to publish, there are a number of French publications that might accept such narratives."
"But surely you were not disturbed by your transformation. You seemed so well composed."
"It was not the transformation that disturbed me, Watson. There was no pain, or even discomfort, related to the change. My concern is for the difficulties inherent in being a female."
"Surely they could not have been great old friend. As I noted, you appeared to handle it quite well." I was confused.
"That was my stage training. My concern is not for the gender per se, or even for the clothes, although they are a ghastly nuisance. My concern was for the tendency to cloud my deductive skills with... What did you once call it? Oh yes, feminine intuition."
"It was my impression that that 'feminine intuition' as you called it actually assisted you to solve the mystery. Surely it could not have been too difficult on you."
"No Watson. You are correct. The change was not so onerous that I would decline to do it again."
"You mean you still have some of that damnable formula? Surely I thought you would have destroyed it by now."
"Your assumptions are correct, dear friend. I still have a supply of the philter, and I would be willing to use it again should the circumstances be appropriate. I do, however, have one request should I use it again."
"And what would that be Holmes?"
"Well, in the future, when you introduce me when I am in a female form, I would greatly appreciate it if you plan the name in advance."
"Surely Holmes, but why?"
"Because a well laid plan is better than none," he paused and then grinned, "and don't call me Shirley."
About the Authors
Luke Allen learned to read at age three. It kept him marginally sane until he discovered a clue to the nature of the universe, the number 134. His twin sisters, usually found at Girl Scout Camp, have tortured him incessantly. Unlike many people of his generation, his parents are still married, and he lives at home with them to avoid dorm and cafeteria costs. He plays Quake, MUCKS, and the occasional keyboard. His writing skills are best when applied to short stories or story outlines, as he thinks visually.
Jeff Mahr is the happily married father of three plus one very furry cat, a parakeet, and a constantly varying number of hamsters. He has been reading science fiction since eight years of age and first became interested in transformations reading Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil. He has several others stories in the archives of TSA-Talk.