I stared, dumbstruck, at the hair for a length of time that felt like an eternity but must only have been a few seconds. This was the woman who had visited me the previous morning (was it merely a day hence? It felt like many months), but she was now red-haired, when she had been dark-haired when I had seen her later that day.
And then I remembered. Rose Travers, the missing woman, had looked just like her sister. Cynthia had even told me when she visited me “Were it not for the flaming red hair for which she was named, one could almost have thought her my twin.”
I had been visited not by Cynthia at all, but by her sister Rose.
But why should Rose have visited me with a story about her own disappearance? A story, what is more, that both Cynthia Travers and Earl Hernshire seemed to believe to be correct, as well as Rose’s unfortunate fiance Roger. This was becoming a most perplexing and bizarre mystery indeed.
I related the events of the last day to Lestrade, along with the story that Rose had told me. How much of that tale was fictitious I, of course, did not know, but those few events which I had been able to verify had proved trustworthy, so I believed that in its broad outlines it was true.
And in telling Lestrade the story – of the dead mother who had inherited a fortune after her brother’s disappearance, of the appearance of the baby, of the fiance who travelled a lot, of the adopted sisters who nonetheless looked like twins, and of the woman who had come to me to report her own disappearance – I had a horrifying realisation, one that I should have had much earlier.
I knew who the murderer was, and what his motive had been. The final proof came when I examined the body, and found the neckerchief which she had shown me yesterday nowhere to be seen.
“Lestrade! Quickly, we must get to the docks! And pray God we are not too late!”
I do not exaggerate when I say that that six-mile journey seemed one of the longest of my life. The cab journey to Wapping could surely have taken no more than three-quarters of an hour by the clock, but it felt like an eternity to one who knew that justice would be served or forever denied by our speed. Rose Travers had, it now appeared, been a liar and a party to terrible crimes, but her death still needed to be avenged by the law.
Upon finally arriving at the docks, we found them bustling with all the many species of humanity from all parts of the Empire, loading and unloading crates, boxes and barrels of every imaginable exotic item. After some confusion, we finally found someone who spoke something recognisably akin to English.
“Is there a boat going to Africa from here any time soon?” I asked.
“No boats here, mate.”
“A ship, then. Is there a ship going to Africa from these docks today?”
“Yep. That’un over there. Leaves in a hour.”
We raced to the ship, ran up the gangplank despite protestations from some of the sailors, and Lestrade and his two constables began their search, looking for the man whose description I had given them on the journey. However, as they were looking, I saw a figure approaching from the docks.
It was the killer! We had managed to arrive before him, and looking at him it was clear to see why. He had obviously changed his clothes, from the respectable outfit I had seen him in to the drab workman’s clothes he now wore. He had also affected a stoop, in order to fit in better with the mass of humanity around him. I, however, would have recognised him anywhere.
In retrospect, it would have been the intelligent thing to hide, allow him to board the ship, and then arrest him. In my enthusiasm and anger, though, I shouted “Hoy!” as soon as I saw him, and he turned, dropped his bag, and fled.
I sprinted down the gangplank, closely followed by Lestrade and his constables. Had the dock been less crowded I should have pulled out my service revolver and shot at the miscreant, for he was younger than I and unencumbered by a war wound. Fortunately, the policemen were faster than I, and they caught him before he could make good his escape.
They dragged him, still protesting, in front of me.
“Is this the man?” asked Lestrade.
It was. The man in front of me, bedraggled though he was, was undoubtedly the same man I had met the day before, and who without realising I had glimpsed catching the earlier train that morning.
“That’s the man. He calls himself Roger Courtenay, but I doubt it’s his real name.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” protested the villain, “I’ve never heard of any Roger Courtenay.”
“Search his pockets.”
His pockets were searched, and in one was found the same blood-encrusted red neckerchief that Rose had shown me the day before.
“That should be enough to see him hanged,” said Lestrade.
“Indeed. But it should be under his real name. Would I be right in thinking that your real name is not Courtenay but Hemingford?”
The shock on the villain’s face told me I was correct.
“How in God’s name did you know that?”
“Oh, it was obvious. Why else would you kill your sister?”
(Tomorrow – the return of Holmes and the final explanation)