I examined the cloth carefully, but however many secrets it may have yielded to Holmes’ eye, to mine it was only a bloodied cloth.
“And you say your sister kept this with her at all times?”
“She had never been parted with it from the day we found her. I fear, Doctor Watson, that Rose would not be parted from it by anything short of her death. And I fear that whoever did this will do the same to me.”
“The fiend!” I expostulated. “And you have no idea who it could be?”
“Sir, I can honestly say that neither Rose nor myself has an enemy in the world. We have led a solitary existence, and have few acquaintances and fewer opportunities for disagreement. Had this occured some years previously, I should perhaps have suspected one of father’s political opponents, but he has retired now, and surely not even a Tory would choose to attack a man through his children?”
I declined to comment. One does not discuss politics with ladies.
“It might be, though, someone opposed to father’s stance on Home Rule for the Irish. He is a Moderate, and received threats from both sides. Few things arouse men’s passions as much as a devotion to the land of their birth, whatever land that may be. But still…to go after poor Rose seems too brutish!”
“I should say so. To fully describe my feelings about such animals would require me to use language that a gentleman would never use in the presence of a lady.”
I pondered the situation for some moments, then walked over to the writing desk. I took out a telegraph pad and pencil, and quickly jotted down “FOUL BUSINESS STOP ONE PROBABLE MURDER ANOTHER YOUNG LADY THREATENED STOP POSSIBLE POLITICAL MOTIVES STOP PLEASE ADVISE ADDRESS TO WRITE WITH MORE DETAILS JHW” along with the false name and address Holmes had given me, and rang for Mrs. Hudson.
I gave the telegram to Mrs. Hudson and asked her to arrange its delivery as soon as possible, then turned my attention back to the young lady.
“I shall, of course, inform Holmes of all of this, but from time to time Holmes requests the assistance of specialists in other fields. Your tale has some points of interest that I thought one of his associates might be able to help with, hence the telegram.”
“What points of interest?”
I must confess I hadn’t expected such a question. When Holmes says such things his clients invariably accept it.
“Oh, nothing to concern yourself with. What we do have to concern ourselves with is your protection. While I devoutly hope that your suspicions as to your sister’s fate are unfounded, we do not want you to share that fate. Have you anywhere you can stay?”
“My father has a house in town.”
“No, that won’t do. If this is someone who wishes your family harm, he will surely know of the address.”
I pondered the matter for some moments, and then it came to me. I knew the perfect place. I had only recently moved back in with Holmes, and my old house was currently empty. I had been planning to let it, but as yet it had no tenant.
I explained the situation to Miss Travers, but she seemed concerned.
“Is it entirely proper? I am an unmarried woman, and you are, if you will forgive me for saying so, an older gentleman.”
“I’m not yet forty!”
“Even so. It would not appear right.”
“My dear lady, we do not wish it to appear like anything. We shall inform no-one of your presence there. In fact to do so would be to open you up to precisely the attack we are attempting to avoid.”
I hailed a cab, and escorted her to the house that had so recently been the centre of my life, and which held so many happy memories now turned bitter-sweet.
I quickly excused myself, once I was assured of Miss Travers’ safety, and left in something of a despondent mood. I consoled myself, however, with the thought that the old house was being used once more, and by a woman almost as beautiful as the one who had lived there so recently. My unhappiness would, at least, have some positive effect.
Having returned to the rooms I shared with Holmes – rooms whose memories were far more eventful but far less melancholy – I poured myself a brandy and began to consider the next course of action. Miss Travers was safe for the moment, but her story hinted at an almost diabolical intelligence, one who would stop at nothing to get what he thought was his.
It seemed to me an utterly insoluble conundrum. Letters arriving without being delivered, sent by the enemy of a girl who had no enemies, leading to that macabre bloodstained neckerchief. Rarely had such a ghastly case been brought to my attention, and rarely had one seemed so incapable of solution.
Nonetheless, I put my trust in Holmes. Some of my readers have mocked the way I marvel at his deductive skills, claiming that his feats of reasoning are mere parlour tricks, of which any normally observant man would be capable. If this is the impression I have given, I can only say that the fault is in my work, not in Holmes. I cannot imagine that a quicker, more lively mind exists in the world. He is, in the field of deduction, what Newton or Napoleon had been in their respective fields, and I daresay it will be many centuries before a fourth brain of that calibre arises to join that exalted trio.
So I was certain that were Holmes to be apprised of the facts of the situation, he would undoubtedly find a solution to the problem in a short time. Luckily, my questioning of Miss Travers had elicited so much detail that Holmes would surely have all the information he needed without having to cut short his European adventures.
I sat down at my desk and began composing a letter to Holmes, detailing the strange and marvellous occurences Miss Travers had related to me. But I had only got as far as her sister Rose’s mysterious arrival as a baby, when there came a knock on the door.
It was a telegram being delivered. And its twelve words were ones that made my heart stop.
“SH NO LONGER AT THIS ADDRESS STOP NO FORWARDING ADDRESS STOP APOLOGIES”