I stared at the telegram in horror. I had no means of contacting Holmes other than by telegram, and without him I was lost. There was a young girl in desperate fear for her life, and I had pledged on my honour to help her, but my one means of doing so was unavailable to me.
What could be done? Had these events taken place a few years later, I should undoubtedly have enlisted the help of Holmes’ brother Mycroft, who possessed something of his brother’s deductive powers (Holmes sometimes claimed his brother was even more intelligent than he, but I believe that to be the normal hero-worship a younger brother always has for the older). However, at this time I had not yet been introduced to the elder Holmes, or to the strange club in which he spends the majority of his days, and so I was at a loss.
I did not consider turning to the police. Not only would this have meant betraying Holmes’ confidence by admitting that he was out of the country, I valued Holmes’ opinion of me too much. I could imagine all too well Holmes’ reaction when, upon his arrival, I confessed to him that I had been unable to assist Miss Travers without calling upon the assistance of Inspector Lestrade. Given Holmes’ low opinion of Lestrade’s skills, how much lower would he consider me, were I to turn to that “infernal bungler” (to use one of Holmes’ most frequent terms for the Inspector)?
No, I would have to solve Miss Travers’ problem alone.
If I wanted any success in this matter, I should have to apply Holmes’ methods. But Holmes would see so much more than I in Miss Travers’ story. I thought back over every detail – the sister left on the doorstep, the abduction on the wedding day, the bloodied neckerchief – but where Holmes would have been able to see a pattern instantly, any greater understanding eluded me.
I can honestly say that in all the years of my association with Holmes, nothing connected to that association had caused me greater pain than knowing that Cynthia Travers’ life was in my hands. Even later, when I believed Holmes dead, I had at least the consolation that he had died (as I thought) ridding the world of a great evil, and that I had had no part in that death. If Miss Travers were to fall victim to the fiend that had taken her sister, though, that would be my fault and mine alone. If I did not manage to match my friend’s unmatchable reasoning, Cynthia Travers would soon be dead.
But I could not allow myself to think of this as my problem. I had to be as clear-headed about this as Holmes would be, for only then would I stand a chance of emulating his methods.
As I had been unable to find anything in Miss Travers’ story which would allow me to begin understanding this most macabre of problems, there was only one possibility open to me. I would have to visit Hernshire Hall and speak to Miss Travers’ father, and to her poor sister’s fiance, and hope that one or other of them had some vital clue that as yet eluded me.
I comforted myself with the thought that at least Miss Travers was safe for the present, though I knew it would be only a matter of time before her presence in my old home was discovered by her pursuer, and headed towards Hernshire.
Arriving at Hernshire Hall, I was annoyed to see a carriage leaving as I arrived, containing a young man who I presumed to be Roger Courtenay, the fiance of the missing Rose Travers, and I cursed myself for my earlier inaction. Had I come here as soon as I had ensured Cynthia Travers’ safety, rather than brooding in my rooms, I would have been able to speak to him alongside Earl Hernshire. As it was, I would have to seek him out later.
I knocked on the door, presented my card, and was escorted in to what appeared to be a small but well-furnished library, to await Earl Hernshire. I spent a few idle moments looking at the books, most of which appeared to be on the subjects of history and philosophy, before the Earl’s presence was announced.
“I don’t recall sending for a Doctor, sir, and as far as I am aware we have no need of one,” the Earl said after initial pleasantries, “has there been some misunderstanding?”
“I am not here on medical business, Lord Hernshire, but to assist in this upsetting business regarding your daughter.”
“Then I thank you for your offer, sir, but would request that you take any information you may have to the police.”
“I fear I have not made myself clear, my Lord. I am here on behalf of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. He sends his apologies, but he is indisposed at present, and has requested me to make inquiries on his behalf.”
“Holmes? Good God, how extraordinary! I’d heard tell that the man had almost preternatural powers, but we only decided to send for him not ten minutes ago. Roger only just left to send the telegram. Tell me, sir, how did Mr Holmes know his assistance would be needed?”
“I beg your pardon, my Lord, but did your daughter Cynthia not inform you she was coming to London to ask for Holmes’ aid?”
“What are you talking about, man?”
“Your eldest daughter, Cynthia, came to visit Holmes and myself this morning, and gave us all the details of your terrible experience.”
“Sir, my youngest daughter has been kidnapped and may be dead. This is no time for practical jokes. Cynthia has been in the house the whole time!””
“I assure you, my Lord, she has not. She is in London at the moment, in fact, where I have found her a place of safety for the time being.”
“I dislike being called a liar by a guest in my own home, sir. I shall prove to you that your claims are so much fanciful nonsense, and then I shall have you thrown out.” He rang a bell and a footman entered. “Chalmers, please request Miss Cynthia’s presence.”
Moments later, through the door walked Miss Travers! She was clothed differently, wearing lighter clothes than the deep mourning she had been affecting on her visit to Baker Street, but more than her change of clothing what amazed me was that she was there at all, having had no way to get back from London before my arrival.
“Cynthia, would you mind telling this blackguard how you’ve spent the day?”
“Why, I’ve been here all day, father. I helped search the grounds for clues about poor Rose, but was quite overcome with grief and had to retire to my room an hour ago.”
“You see, you scoundrel? Now who really sent you?”
“I don’t understand… Miss Travers, how did you get here? Tell your father – his Lordship – about our meeting!”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but I don’t quite understand. Have we met?”