On Holmes’ return, I told him of the events that had occurred while he was away, and how I’d solved the mystery.
“The red hair was the clue, of course,” he said, “along with you finding the killer’s face familiar. It was, of course, a family resemblance to his half-sister, the woman he claimed was his fiancee.”
“So you guessed that, too?”
“It was the only plausible explanation. The resemblance between the two sisters was too close to be anything other than biological kinship. Their being actual sisters was, of course, out of the question – Lord Hernshire is known to be a man of the utmost propriety – so they must be cousins.”
“That she was left on the doorstep suggests that she was born of some improper liaison, so one must look to males of the family, and we have only one suspect – the mother’s elder brother, thought deceased. And when someone with similarly red hair appears, who spends much of his time in the African colonies – the same colonies where the elder brother disappeared, presumed dead – that would tend to confirm the supposition. Roger Courtenay and Rose Travers were half-siblings, with the same father but different mothers. The one piece that eludes me is why he did this. What kind of scoundrel could become engaged to his sister, let alone kill her?”
“Oh Holmes, and you’d done so well! He mentioned, did he not, that he had nearly been engaged to Cynthia?”
“Of course, I see now!”
“Yes. He came to England hoping to claim the fortune he should have inherited, only to find that his father had been presumed dead while away in Africa. He at first intended to propose to Cynthia Travers, hoping by marriage to her to reclaim his inheritance, but when he met Rose and heard how she had come to be part of the family, he decided she needed to share in her birthright too. They concocted a plot together, to fake a marriage and also murder the elder sister, and to return to Africa with their inheritance and go their separate ways. A most despicable plot!”
“And of course they first faked the disappearance of the younger sister. The plan was to have Rose pretend to be Cynthia and make it widely known that Rose had disappeared and was likely dead. Then when they killed Cynthia, Rose could turn up again saying she’d escaped from Cynthia’s killer.”
“The one thing I don’t understand, Holmes, is why come to ask you for help? Why risk exposure?”
“Ah, Watson, I am glad to see that your new application of my methods has not quite rendered me superfluous! They wished to make it as widely known as possible that Rose Travers had been kidnapped, so that their story would appear watertight. They also wished for Rose to be away from Hernshire temporarily, so had her travel to London. And of course, that was their downfall, and the cause of Rose’s death, for they had not reckoned on you, Watson.”
“On your good and chivalrous nature. Had I been present, I should undoubtedly have told her to return to Hernshire and wire me as events developed – this is my normal practice. They would then have been able to commit their murder with no-one the wiser. But you, Watson, have a better soul than I. You could not stand to see a woman suffering, so you took her to your house and then took it upon yourself to travel down there and investigate, arriving before the planned murder.”
“This of course made the deception plain, and Hemingford did the only thing he could think of in the situation – he staged his own kidnapping, murdered the only witness to his plot, and attempted to escape back to the colonies. And he very nearly succeeded.”
“You know, Holmes, I would not have been nearly so protective had it not been…”
“Yes. I know. But on to happier matters. My trip was successful, you shall be pleased to hear.”
“What was it you were doing over there, Holmes?”
“Ah, that I cannot tell even you, Watson. But the end result, I think I can. I think I may have prevented a rather large war. Or if not prevented, at least postponed by some twenty years.”
I felt chastened. Holmes had prevented a war, while I, applying his methods, had not even been able to prevent the death of one woman (although as I now realised she would have been a murderess without my intervention, my sorrow was much lessened).
But I had also proved, to myself at least, that I was not merely Holmes’ Sancho Panza. Maybe I should set up practice again, and maybe even find a new wife.
A knock came at the door, and a man entered. He had only one arm, and was clutching a pair of bagpipes to his chest.
“Mr. Holmes, I need your help,” he began.
I decided to stay with Holmes a little longer.