Not only was I being accused of murder, the betrayal of everything that as a medical man I hold sacred, but the murder of Cynthia Travers, the very young woman I had sworn to protect. And Miss Travers had, to the best of my knowledge, still been alive when I had left Hernshire Hall earlier that morning.
“Miss Travers… Cynthia… is dead?” I asked.
“We responded to reports of screaming and cries of ‘murder’ coming from this house at about noon today. Upon entering, we found the body of a young woman, carrying about her person a handkerchief monogrammed with the letters C.T., and near her a handbag containing letters addressed to Cynthia Travers. We visited your lodgings, and your landlady informed us that you had not been seen since yesterday, and that when she had last seen you you had been in the company of a woman named Travers who matched the description of the deceased.”
I was horrified. The day before, I had sworn upon my honour to protect the life of this young lady, and now she was dead.
But more, I was confused. Cynthia Travers had been in Hernshire the previous evening. Only one passenger, a man, had boarded the earlier train back to London in the morning, and nobody had boarded the one on which I had travelled. Surely she could not have travelled by coach overnight, only to be murdered upon her arrival?
But this thought of trains made me aware of something.
“Inspector, I couldn’t possibly be the murderer.”
“You said the murder took place at noon?”
“Well, at noon I was in the middle of a train journey, and thankfully I still have the ticket to prove it.”
Having only had a chance to change my shirt and waistcoat before the door-knocking had commenced, I was still wearing the trousers in which I had been travelling. I pulled the ticket out and showed Lestrade.
“Well… I did think it most unlikely that you would kill someone, Doctor, but in barbarous times like these you can never tell. But do you have any idea why this young lady would have been in your house in the first place?”
So I explained the whole story to Lestrade, how Cynthia Travers had come to me for help after her sister’s disappearance, how I had allowed her to stay in my own house in order to help protect her, and how she had later appeared in Hernshire, disavowing any knowledge of me.
“A ghastly business indeed!” said Lestrade. “What does Mister Holmes think of it?”
“Holmes is unfortunately indisposed at present, with a very bad case of the influenza. We shall have to solve this problem without him, I fear.”
“A pity. Mister Holmes’ flashiness will never replace real police-work, of course, but for an amateur he’s quite good. I always think it a shame he never joined the force – we might have made a real detective of him.”
I nodded politely. My own opinion of Holmes is a great deal higher than that professed by Lestrade, but then I hold Lestrade in a rather higher esteem than does Holmes. I also suspect both men to have higher opinions of each other than they claim.
“Well, Doctor”, Lestrade continued, “since you’re here anyway, and the police surgeon hasn’t yet arrived, why don’t you examine the body?”
As we proceeded toward the bedroom, I thought back to the last time I had entered that room, several months before. That time, too, it had been to see the corpse of a young, beautiful woman who I had sworn to protect. I had been unable to save my wife, and now I had also been unable to save Miss Travers.
But while my wife’s killer had been consumption, against which all of us in the medical profession can only battle in vain, Miss Travers’ killer was a human being (loath though I am to apply the term to such an infernal wretch), and he could be arrested, tried and hanged. I determined that I should not rest until this consummation had been achieved.
I shall spare you any description of the horror I saw upon entering that room, but it remains engraved on my mind’s eye to this day. I am no stranger, of course, to violent death – as a battlefield surgeon it is a constant companion. But death on a battlefield, in honourable combat, in service of one’s country is, if not always glorious, always understood and expected. The soldier knows when he takes the Queen’s shilling that he is not taking a wage but a loan, and that the debt may be called in at any time in his own flesh and blood.
But the young girl lying there, in an indescribable state, had made no contracts and taken no money. She was the victim of a vicious, callous brute, of a ferocity I find unimaginable.
I bent down to examine the poor girl, who I noted was again wearing the apparel in which she had been clothed when she had visited my lodgings the previous day (even though I had seen her since, clad in different garb). That one who had so recently been so full of life was now an empty shell, her soul having departed, I still found hard to believe.
I loosened her clothing, looking for marks that might be of some use in identifying the killer. In order to look more closely at her neck, I loosened the veiled bonnet she was wearing, which was tied around her chin. The bonnet fell back, onto the floor.
And along with the bonnet fell a long black wig, revealing underneath, tied up to keep it out of sight, the young woman’s real hair.
It was tied into a tight bun, but they were plainly the tresses of a different woman from the one I had seen the previous evening. For they were a bright, shining, red.
I stood there with the card in my hand for many minutes, stunned at the latest turn in this grotesque business. There was now a second kidnapping – and, I feared, a second murder – alongside the first.
I still had no means of alerting Holmes to this terrible series of events, and I was horribly afraid that the worst was already upon us. Even had Holmes been alerted, a young couple on the eve of their marriage had been snatched away to their doom already. He would undoubtedly be able to identify the miscreant responsible, but nobody could now protect Courtenay or Rose Travers from whatever grisly fate had awaited them.
I trudged back to Hernshire Hall with a heavy heart. No doubt they would be as unwelcoming as they had been the previous evening, yet I had to inform them of this latest dreadful turn of events.
My presentiments proved correct. After several entreaties, I could not persuade the butler even to grant me entrance to the hall, and so eventually told the man the barest facts of the matter, presented him with the card, singed round the edges from the fire, and departed to the railway station.
In keeping with the recent course of events, I arrived at the railway station just in time to see, from behind, a single passenger boarding the train to London and the train departing. I had to wait another three hours for the next train, with no-one for company, and nothing to do but to think over my failure.
I determined that upon my arrival I should seek out Lestrade and, no matter what the consequences, inform him of the terrible events that had been taking place in Hernshire. While Lestrade might not be of the same intellectual calibre as Holmes, it was becoming increasingly clear that nor was I.
There were mysteries within mysteries here; the elder Miss Travers’ refusal to admit to having met me, in particular, beggared comprehension. Why should someone so desperate for help be so quick to disavow all knowledge of the man to whom she had so recently turned for assistance?
These thoughts and others went through my head during that long train journey back to London, and in my short cab ride thereafter to Baker Street. I wanted to collect my thoughts and make myself presentable, as my clothing was somewhat damaged by the smoke from the previous night’s fire, before bringing the dreadful news to Inspector Lestrade.
But by a curious coincidence, or so it seemed at the time, I was not the only one desirous of such a meeting. I had barely had time to button my waistcoat when there came a banging on the door. I opened it to see a young street-urchin there, one of the lads occasionally employed by Holmes. This time, though, he was in the employ of Lestrade.
“Inspector Lestrade sent me. ‘E says ‘e wants to see yer. Yer to meet ‘im at your ‘ouse in ‘alf an ‘our.”
“How extraordinary! I was just on my way to visit Lestrade at Scotland Yard, but I shall make my way to my house instead. Was there any other message?”
“Yer. ‘E said you was to give me a shillin’ for my trouble.”
“Oh, he did, did he? More likely he said to give you tuppence – if he didn’t give it to you himself. Am I correct?”
The young lad had the grace to look sheepish at this deduction, which had hardly taken my whole intellect to produce, and so I gave him sixpence, because he had after all been of some assistance to me.
I made my way again to my former abode, musing on the strange twists of fate that had driven me twice in two days to the home of my all-too-short-lived happiness, after I had spent so many months studiously avoiding it. First I had come here to give Cynthia Travers a safe haven in which to avoid her fate (and why had she returned to Hernshire? And why had she feigned ignorance of me? And why had Roger Courtenay, not Cynthia Travers, been the next victim? Was Cynthia still in danger?). Now I was going to inform Lestrade about what was possibly the most macabre series of events I could recall. (And why was Lestrade at my house? And why did he wish to meet with me and not Holmes?)
Even more astonishingly, when I arrived at my house, I noticed the door was already open, and a bearded police constable was standing outside! Had I been burgled? I bounded up the steps and asked the constable what was going on.
“I can’t help you, I’m afraid, sir,” the constable replied, “my duty is merely to prevent entry by members of the public.”
“Then would you mind letting me in, so I could speak to someone who can help me?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir. As I explained, my duty is to prevent entry.”
“But dash it, man, this is my house! I’m John Watson!”
At this point, a voice from inside intruded on our discussion. “Doctor Watson! I’ve been waiting for you. Let him in, Watkins.”
I entered to see, in the drawing room, Inspector Lestrade waiting with several of his colleagues.
“Lestrade! My dear sir, it is a pleasure to see you. I apologise for my delay in arriving, but I was changing my clothing when your boy arrived.”
At this, Lestrade looked significantly at one of the other policemen, who raised an eyebrow. I continued, regardless.
“I actually have some business with you myself, but perhaps you’d like to say why you sent for me, first of all?”
Lestrade looked at me, his face devoid of that human sympathy with which he was normally so endowed, and said, in a colder voice than I had ever heard from him, words which chilled me.
“Doctor John Watson, you are under arrest for the murder of Cynthia Travers.”
While I’m staying in the US, I’ve visited this site using a Windows machine for the first time ever, which means I’m seeing the site without NoScript or AdBlock Plus or being logged in for the first time since I’ve started it.
It appears that WordPress’ definition of ‘discreet ad’ is not the same as mine – I understood it to mean the occasional text-only ad placed off to the side. Apparently it means whacking great autoplaying Flash things between the body of the blog post and the comments. So I’ve paid the small upgrade fee to have them removed (though I hope most of my readers know better than to use browsers and OSes which would subject them to such annoyances).
As much as anything else, this is a business decision. As a greater portion of my income comes from writing now (still nowhere near enough to live off, but almost approaching the 10% mark if this month’s increases represent a trend rather than a blip) I can’t afford to have this site put people off. But also, it’s just unpleasant to make people see that kind of thing. I find advertising quite loathsome.
I’m hoping to have two more Doctor Watson chapters up today and another two tomorrow, then I’ll ebookify it next week (it won’t be long enough to make a paper book worthwhile).
Hope those of you who celebrate it had a good Christmas, and those who don’t aren’t too annoyed by all the people going on about it.