a Sherlock Holmes story
by Stuart M. Kaminsky
It was raining. It was not
the usual slow, cold gray London rain that spattered on umbrellas and broad
brimmed hats but the heavy relentless downpour that came several times
a year jungle drumming on the rooftops of cabs reminding me of the more
mild monsoons I had witnessed in my years in India.
Time in India always moved slowly. Time in the apartment I shared with Sherlock Holmes had moved at the pace of a torpid Bombay cat during the past two weeks.
I kept myself busy trying to write an article for The Lancet based on Holmes findings about the differences he had discovered between blood from people native to varying climates. At first Holmes had entered into the endeavor with vigor and interest, pacing, smoking his pipe, pausing to remind me of subtle differences and the implications of his discovery both for criminology and medicine.
Several days into the enterprise, however, Holmes had taken to standing at the window for hours at a time, staring into the rain swept street, thinking thoughts he chose not to share with me.
Twice he picked up the violin. The first time he woke me at five in the morning with something that may have been Liszt. The second time was at one in the afternoon when he repeatedly played a particularly mournful tune I did not recognize.
On this particular morning, Holmes was sitting in his armchair, pipe in hand, looking at the coal scuttle.
"Rather interesting item in this morning's Times," I ventured as I sat at the table in our sitting room with the last of my morning tea and toast before me.
Holmes made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a sigh.
"A Mr. Morgan Fitchmore of Leeds," he said. "Found in a cemetary on his back with a railroad spike plunged into his heart. He was gripping the spike, apparently in an attempt to remove it. The night had been damp and the police found no footprints in the mud other than those of the deceased. About twenty feet from the body a hammer was found. The police are baffled."
Holmes grunted again and looked toward the window where the rain beat heavily on the glass.
"Yes," I said. "That is the story. I thought it might interest you."
"Minimally," said Holmes. "Read the rest of the story, Watson as I have. Fitchmore was a petty thief. He was found lying on his back. The dead man appears to have left no signs that he attempted to defend himself."
"Yes, I see," I said reading further.
"What was a petty thief doing in a graveyard on a rainy night?" Holmes said drawing on his pipe. "Why would someone attack him with a railroad spike? Why were there no other footprints? Why did he not struggle?"
"I couldn't say," I said.
"Railroad spikes make passable chisels Watson. A thief might well go into a graveyard at night with a spike and hammer to chisel away some cameo or small crucifix or other item he might sell for a slight sum. Such assaults on the resting place of the dead are not uncommon. A rainy night would insure a lack of intrusion."
"I fail to see..."
"It is not a matter of seeing, Watson. It is a matter of putting together what has been seen with simple logic.
Fitchmore went to the graveyard to rob the dead. He slipped in the mud flinging his hammer away as he fell forward on the spike he held in his hand. He rolled over on his back, probably in great agony, and attempted to pull the spike from his chest, but he was already dying. There is no mystery, Watson. It was an accidental if, perhaps, ironically apropos end for a man who would steal from the dead."
"Perhaps we should inform the police in Leeds," I said.
"If you wish," said Holmes indifferently.
"May I pour you a cup of tea? You haven't touched your breakfast."
"I am not hungry," he said his eyes now turned to the fireplace where flames crackled and formed kaleidoscope patterns which seemed to mesmerize Holmes who had not bothered to fully dress. He wore his gray trousers, a shirt with no tie and a purple silk smoking jacket that had been given to him by a grateful client several years earlier.
In the past month, Holmes had been offered three cases. One involved a purloined pearl necklace. The second focused on an apparent attempt to defraud a dealer in Russian furs and the third a leopard missing from the London zoo. Holmes had abruptly refused all three entreaties for his help and had directed the potential clients to the police.
"If the imagination is not engaged," he had said when the zoo director had left, "and there is no worthy adversary, I see no point in expending energy and spending time on work that could be done by a reasonably trained Scotland Yard junior inspector."
Holmes suddenly looked up at me.
"Do you have that letter readily at hand?"
I knew the letter of which he spoke and in the hope of engaging his interest I retrieved it from the portmanteaus
near the fireplace which crackled with flames which cast unsettling morning shadows across the sitting room.
The letter had arrived several weeks ago and aside from the fact that it bore a Capetown postmark, it struck me as in no way singular or more interesting than any of a dozen missives that Holmes had done no more than glance at in the past several weeks.
"Would you read it aloud once more Watson, if you please?"
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes," it read:
I have a matter of the greatest importance to set before you. I have some business to attend to here Capetown. It should take no more than a few days. I will then set forth for England in the hope of seeing you immediately upon my arrival. I must hurry now to get this letter on the next ship bound for Portsmith. This is a matter money, love and a palpable threat to my life. I beg you to give me a consultation. Cost is no object."
The letter was signed, Alfred
I folded the letter and looked at Holmes wondering why this particular correspondence, among the many so much like it he had received over the years, should draw his interest and why he had chosen this moment to return to it.
As he had done so many times before, Holmes answered my unspoken questions.
"Note the order in which our Mr. Donaberry lists his concerns," said Holmes looking in my direction and pointing his pipe at the missive in my hand. "Money, love and life. Mr. Donaberry lists the threat to his life last. Curious. As to why I am now interested in the letter, I ask a question. Did you hear a carriage stop in the street a moment ago?"
I had and I said so.
"If you check the arrival of ships in the paper from which you have just read you will note that the Principia, a cargo ship, arrived in Portsmouth from Capetown yesterday. If our Mr. Donaberry is as concerned as his letter indicates, he may well have been on that ship and braved the foul weather to make his way to us."
"It could be anyone," I said.
"The rig, judging from the sound of its wheels on the cobblestone, is a large one, not a common street cab and it is drawn by not one but two horses. I hear no other activity on the street save for this vehicle. The timing is right and, I must confess to a certain curiosity about a man who would venture from as far as Capetown to pay us a visit. No Watson, if this man is as anxious to meet me as his letter indicates, he will have been off of the boat and on his way catching the seven o'clock morning train."
A knock at the door and a small smile from Holmes accompanied a raised eyebrow in satisfaction were aimed my way.
"Enter Mrs. Hudson," Holmes called.
Our landlady entered, looked at the plate of untouched food in front of Holmes and shook her head.
"A lady to see you," she said.
"A lady?" Holmes asked.
"Most definitely," Mrs. Hudson said.
"Please tell the lady that I am expecting a visitor and that she will have to make and appointment and return at a future time."
Mrs. Hudson was at the door with tray in hand. Over her shoulder she said,
"The lady said to tell you that she knows you are expecting a visitor from South Africa. That is why she must see you immediately."
Holmes looked at me with arched eyebrows. I shrugged.
"Please show her in Mrs. Hudson and, if you would be so kind, please brew us a fresh pot of tea," Holmes said.
"You've eaten nothing Mr. Holmes," she said. "Perhaps I can bring you some fresh biscuits and jam?"
"Tea and biscuits will be perfect," Holmes said as she closed the door behind her, the tray balanced carefully in one hand.
"So our Mr. Donaberry is not the only who would willingly venture out in a storm like this," I said pretending to return to the newspaper.
"So it would seem, Watson."
The knock at the door was gentle. A single knock. Holmes called out, "Come in" and Mrs. Hudson ushered in an exquisite dark creature with clear white skin and raven hair brushed back in a tight bun. She wore a prim black dress buttoned to the neck. The woman stepped in, looked from me to Holmes and stood silently for a moment till Mrs. Hudson had closed the door.
"Mr. Holmes," she said in a soft voice suggesting just the touch of an accent.
"I am he," said Holmes.
"My name is Elspeth Belknapp, Mrs. Elspeth Belknapp," she said. "May I sit?"
"By all means Mrs. Belknapp," Holmes said pointing to a chair near the one in which I was sitting.
"I have come...this is most delicate and embarrassing," she said as she sat. "I have come to..."
"First a few questions," said Holmes folding his hands in his lap. "How did you know Donaberry was coming to see me?"
"I...a friend in Capetown sent me a letter, the wife of a clerk in Alfred's office," she said. "May I have some water?"
I rose quickly and moved to the decanter Mrs. Hudson had left on the table. I poured a glass of water and handed it to her. She drank as I sat down and looked over at Holmes who seemed to be studying her carefully.
"Mr. Holmes," she said. "I was, until five months ago, Mrs. Alfred Donaberry. Alfred is a decent man. He took me in when my own parents died in a fire in Johannesburg. Alfred is considerably older than I. I was most grateful to him and he was most generous to me. And then, less than a year ago John Belknapp came to South Africa to conduct business with my then husband."
"And what business is that?" Holmes asked.
"The diamond trade," she said. "Alfred has amassed a fortune dealing in diamonds. Though I tried not to do so, I fell in love with John Belknapp and he with me. I behaved like a coward Mr. Holmes. John wanted to confront Alfred but I wanted no scene. I persuaded John that we should simply run away and that I would seek a divorce citing Alfred's abuse and infidelity."
"And was he abusive and unfaithful?" asked Holmes.
She shook her head.
"I am not proud of what I did. Alfred was neither abusive nor unfaithful. He loved me but I thought of him less as a husband than as a beloved uncle."
"And so," said Holmes, "you obtained a divorce."
"Yes, I came to London with John and obtained a divorce. John and I married the day after the divorce was approved by the Court. I thought that Alfred would read the note I had left for him when I fled with John and that Alfred would resign himself to the reality. But now I find..."
"I see," said Holmes. "And what would you have me do?"
"Persuade Alfred not to cause trouble, to leave England, to return to South Africa, to go on with his life. Should he confront John...John is a fine man, but he is somewhat on occasion and when provoked given to unconsidered reaction."
The woman removed a kerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes.
"He can be violent?" asked Holmes.
"Only when provoked, Mr. Holmes. Alfred Donaberry is a decent man, but were he to confront John..."
At this point Mrs. Hudson knocked and entered before she was bidden to do so. She placed biscuits and goose berry jam upon the table with three plates, knives and a fresh pot of tea. She looked at the tearful Elspeth Belknapp with sympathy and departed.
"Next question," Holmes said taking up a knife and using it to generously coat a biscuit with what appeared to be goose berry jam. "You say your former husband is a man of considerable wealth?"
"Considerable," she said accepting a cup of tea from me.
"Alfred? He is fifty-five years of age, pleasant enough looking though I have heard people describe him as homely. He is large, a bit, how shall I say this...Alfred is an uneducated, a self-made man, perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but a good, gentle man."
"I see," said Holmes, a large piece of biscuit and jam in his mouth. "And he has relatives, a mother, sister, brother, children?"
"None," she said.
"So, if he were to die, who would receive his inheritance?"
"In his letter to me, he mentions that his visit is in part a matter of money."
I suppose I might unless he has removed me from his will."
"And your new husband? He is a man of substance?"
"John is a dealer in fine gems. He has a secure and financially comfortable position with London Pembroke Gems Limited. If you are implying that John married me in the hope of getting Alfred's estate, I assure you you are quite wrong Mr. Holmes."
"I am merely trying to anticipate what direction Mr. Donaberry's concerns will take him when we meet. May I ask what you are willing to pay for my services in dissuading Mr. Donaberry from further pursuit of the issue?"
"I thought...Pay you? John and I are not wealthy," she said, "but I'll pay what you wish should you be successful in persuading Alfred to return to South Africa. I do not want to see him humiliated or hurt."
"Hurt?" asked Holmes.
"Emotionally," she said quickly.
"I see," said Holmes. "I'll take your case under advisement. Should I decide to take it, how shall I reach you?"
Elspeth Belknapp rose and removed a card from her small purse. She handed the card to Holmes.
"Your husband's business card," Holmes said.
"My home address is on the back."
She held out her hand to me. I took it. She was trembling.
"Holmes failed to introduce me," I said glancing reproachfully at my friend.
"You are Doctor Watson," she said. "I've read your accounts of Mr. Holmes exploits and have remarked on your own humility and loyalty."
It was my turn to smile. She turned to Holmes who had risen from his chair. He took her hand and held it, his eyes on her wedding ring.
"A lovely diamond and setting," he said.
"Yes," she said looking at the ring. "It is far too valuable to be worn constantly. A simple band would please me as much but John insists and when John makes up his mind...Please Mr. Holmes, help us, John, me and Alfred."
The rain was still beating and the wind blowing even harder as she departed closing the door softly as she left.
"Charming woman," I said.
"Yes," said Holmes.
"Love is not always kind or reasonable," I observed.
"You are a hopeless romantic Watson," he said moving to the window and parting the curtains.
"Not much of a challenge in this one," I observed.
"We shall see, Watson. We shall see. Ah, she wears a cape and carries an umbrella. Sensible."
I could hear the carriage door close and listened as it pulled away, horses clomping slowly into the distance.
Holmes remained at the window without speaking. He checked his watch from time to time but did not waver from his vigil till the sound of another carriage echoed down Baker Street.
"And this shall be our forlorn former husband," said Holmes looking back at me. "Ah yes, the carriage has stopped. He has gotten out. No umbrella. A big man. Let us move a chair near the fire. He will be drenched."
And indeed, when Mrs. Hudson announced and ushered Alfred Donaberry into the room, he was wet, thin hair matted against his scalp. His former wife had been kind in describing him as homely. He had sun darkened skin and a brooding countenance and bore a close resemblance to a bull terrier. In his left hand he carried a large and rather battered piece of luggage. His clothing, trousers,
shirt and jacket were of good quality though decidedly rumpled and the man himself was quite disheveled and in need of a shave. His wrinkled suit was dark, a bit loose.
"Please forgive my appearance. I came here straightaway from the railway station," he said setting down his suitcase and holding out his hand. "Donaberry. Alfred Donaberry."
Holmes shook it. I did the same. Firm grip. Trouble face.
"I am Sherlock Holmes and this is my friend and colleague Dr. Watson. Won't you sit by the fire."
"I thank you sir," Donaberry said moving to the chair I had moved next to the warmth of the hearth.
"I may as well get right to it," the man said holding his hands toward the fire.
"You wife has left you," Holmes said. "Some three months ago. You recently discovered that she is in London and you've come in pursuit of her."
"How did you...?"
"You missed her by but a few minutes," Holmes said.
"How did she know I...?" Donaberry said perplexed.
"Let us lay that aside for the moment," said Holmes and, if you will, get to the heart of your problem."
"Heart of the problem. Ironical choice of words Mr. Holmes," he said. "No, I am not pursuing Elspeth. If she wants no more of an old man, I can understand though I am broken of heart. The minute I read the note she had left me those months ago I accepted reality and removed my wedding ring."
He held up his left hand to show a distinct white band of skin where a ring had been.
"You do not want to find her or her new husband?" Holmes asked.
"No sir," he said. "I want nothing to do with him, the jackanapes who stole her from me and polluted her mind. I want you to find them and stop them before they succeed in murdering me within the next month."
I looked at Holmes with a sense of shock but Holmes simply popped yet another piece of biscuit and jam into his mouth.
"Why should they want to murder you Mr. Donaberry?" I asked.
He looked at me.
"I have entered my will for change in the courts," he said. "In one month time, Elspeth will be my heir no longer."
"Why a month?" I asked.
Donaberry shifted uncomfortably in his chair and looked down before speaking.
"When we married, because of my age and sometimes fragile health, I feared for Elspeth's future should I die. Though by law she would inherit, I have distant relatives in Cornwall who might well make claim on my estate or some part of it. Therefore, I entered specifically into my will that Elspeth should inherit everything and that there should be no revocation or challenge to my will and my desire. My solicitor now informs me, and Elspeth well knows and has certainly informed her new husband, that it will take a month longer to execute the changing of the will, so carefully has it been worded. For you see, the word 'wife' never appears in the will, only the name Elspeth Donaberry."
"But what," I asked, "makes you think they plan to kill you?"
"The two attempts which have already been made upon my life in South Africa," he answered with a deep sigh. "Once when I was in field a fortnight past. I spend much of my time when weather permits and the beating sun is tolerable, in the flats and mountains searching for gem deposits. It was a particularly blistering day when I was fired upon. Three shots from the cover of trees. One shot struck a rock only inches from my head. I was fortunate enough to escape with my life. In the second instance, an attempt was made to push me off a pier onto a trio of sharpened pilings. Only the grace of God did I fall between the pilings."
"You have other enemies besides Belknapp and your wife.?"
"None, and Mr. Holmes I don't blame Elspeth necessarily, but that John Belknapp is a piece of work with friends of an unsavory bent and though he might have persuaded her otherwise, I know from my most reliable sources that John Belknapp is in serious financial trouble. He is a profligate, a speculator and a gambler. I think he wants not just my wife but my fortune."
"And you want me to protect you?" asked Holmes.
"I want you to do whatever it takes to keep Belknapp from killing me or having me killed. He's more than half a devil."
It sounded to me like the kind of case Holmes would have sent straightaway to Lestrade and the Yard.
"The price will be two hundred pounds payment in advance," said Holmes.
Donaberry did not hesitate. He stood up, took out his wallet and began placing bills on the table counting aloud as he did so.
"Thank you," said Holmes. "Dr. Watson and I will do our utmost to see to it that murder does not take place. Where will you be staying in London?"
"I have a room reserved at The Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street," he said.
The Cadogan was a small hotel known to be the London residence of Lilly Langtree and rumored to be an occasional hideaway for the notorious playwright Oscar Wilde.
"You've told no one," said Holmes.
"Only you and Doctor Watson," he said.
"Very good," said Holmes. "Remain in your room. Eat in the hotel. We will contact you when we have news. And Mr. Donaberry do not go out the front door and do not take the cab that is waiting for you. You may be watched. Dr. Watson will show you how to get out the back entrance. There is a low fence. I suggest you climb it and work you way out to the street beyond. Mrs. Hudson will provide you with an umbrella."
"My suitcase," he said.
"Dr. Watson or I will return it to you the moment it is safe to do so. I cannot see a man of your size and age climbing fences with the burden of this luggage."
Donaberry looked as if he were thinking deeply before deciding to nod his head in reluctant agreement.
"Then be off," Holmes said. "Remember, stay in the hotel. In your room as much as possible with the door locked. Take all your meals in the hotel dining room. The food is not the best but it is tolerable."
Donaberry nodded and I led him out the door and down to the back entrance after he had retrieved his coat and Mrs. Hudson had provided an umbrella.
Holmes was pacing the floor, hands behind his back when I returned to our rooms and said,
"Holmes, while I sympathize with Mr. Donaberry's situation, I see nothing in it to capture your attention or make use of your skills."
"I'm sorry, Watson, what did you say? I was lost in a thought about this curious situation. There are so many questions."
"I see nothing curious about it," I said.
"We are dealing with potential murder here and a criminal mind that is worth confronting," he responded. "And we have no time to lose. Let us take Mr. Donaberry's waiting cab and pay a visit."
"To whom?" I asked.
In response, Holmes held up the card Elspeth Belknapp had handed him.
"To John Belknapp," he said. "Of course."
In the carriage, to the beating of the rain on the carriage roof and the jostling of the wheels along the cobblestones, Holmes said that he had examined the contents of Alfred Donaberry's luggage when I had ushered Donaberry to the rear entrance to Mrs. Hudson's.
"The suitcase was neatly packed, shirts and trousers, toiletries, underclothing and stockings plus a pair of serviceable shoes."
"And what did you discover from that?" I asked as lightning cracked in the West.
"That Alfred Donaberry packs neatly and keeps his clothing and shoes clean," said Holmes.
"Most significant," I said trying to show no hint of sarcasm at this discovery.
"Perhaps," said Holmes looking out the window.
We arrived on a side street off of Portobello Road within twenty minutes. The rain had let up considerably and I negotiated with the cabby to await our return.
Considering that we were now going to pay for Donaberry's trip plus our own, the slicker shrouded driver readily agreed. Holmes and I moved quickly toward the entrance to the four-story office building which bore a bronze plate inscribed Pembroke Gems, Ltd., by Appointment of His Majesty, 1721.
Despite its history, the building was less than nondescript. It was decidedly shabby. We knocked at the heavy wooden door which dearly needed painting and were ushered inside by a very old man in a suit that seemed much too tight even for his frail frame.
"We are here to see Mr. John Belknapp," said Holmes.
"Mr. Belknapp is in," the frail old man said, "but...do you have an appointment?"
"Tell him it is Mr. Sherlock Holmes and that I have come about a matter concerning Alfred Donaberry."
"Sherlock Holmes, about Alfred Donaberry," the old man repeated. "Please wait here."
The man moved slowly up the dark wooden stairway in the small damp hallway.
"Why the urgency, Holmes?"
"Perhaps there is none, Watson, but I prefer to err on the side of caution in a situation such as this."
The frail old man reappeared in but a few minutes and turned to lead us up the stairs after saying, "Mr. Belknapp can see you now."
On the narrow second floor landing with creaking floor boards, we were ushered to a door with John Belknapp written in peeling black paint.
The frail man knocked and a voice called,
We entered and the old man closed the door behind us as he left.
Our first look at Belknapp immediately provoked in me a sense of caution. He was, as we had been told, a handsome man of no more than forty, reasonably well dressed in a dark suit and vest. His hair, just beginning to show signs of distinguished gray at the temples, was brushed back. He was standing behind his desk in an office that showed no great distinction or style. Plain dark wooded furniture, several chairs, cabinets and a picture of the queen upon the wall. The view through his windows was really no view at all, simply a brick wall no more than half a dozen feet away. Prosperity did not leap from the surroundings.
Sensing my reaction perhaps, Belknapp in an impatient response said, "My office is modest. It is designed for work and not for entertaining clients. For that there is a conference space on the ground floor."
"I hope this will be brief," he said.
"Dr. Watson and I will take but a few minutes of your time," Holmes said. "We have no need to sit."
"Good," said Belknapp, "I have a client to meet if I can find a cab in this confounded rain. You said this is about Alfred Donaberry."
"Yes," said Holmes. "Perhaps you know why we have come."
"Alfred Donaberry is a fool so I assume you are on a fool's errand. He could not hold onto a beautiful wife, did not appreciate her. I rescued her from a life of potential waste in a barely civilized country torn by potential war. If he is in England or has commissioned you in some way to persuade or threaten me and my wife, I..."
"Mr. Donaberry is, indeed, in England."
"Money," said Belknapp as if coming to a sudden understanding. "It's about the money."
"In part," said Holmes. "If you answer but one question, we shall leave you to attend to your client."
"Ask," said Belknapp with distinct irritation.
"What would you say your business is worth?"
"That is of no concern to you," Belknapp responded angrily.
"Incorrect," said Holmes. "It is precisely my concern. You wish us to depart so that you can get on with your client, simply answer the question."
"My business is worth far less than I would like. The inevitable war with the Boers has already affected mining and my sources are threatened. My personal savings and holdings have dwindled. What has this to do with...?"
"We shall leave now," said Holmes. "I have one suggestion before we do so."
"And what might that be?" asked Belknapp with a sneer that made it clear he was unlikely to take any suggestion made by a representative of Alfred Donaberry.
"Stay away from Mr. Donaberry," said Holmes. "Stay far away."
"A threat? You issue me a threat?" asked Belknapp beginning to come around his desk, fists clenched.
"Let us say it is a warning," said Holmes standing his ground.
Belknapp was now in front of Holmes, his face pink with anger. I took a step forward to my friend's side.
Holmes held up a hand to keep me back.
"You should learn to control your temper," said Holmes. "In fact I would say it is imperative that you do so."
I thought Belknapp was certainly about to strike Holmes but before he could do so, Holmes held his right hand up in front of the gem dealer's face.
"Were you to lose control," Holmes said. "It is likely that you would be the one injured. Would you like to explain a swollen eye or lip and a disheveled countenance to your expected client?"
Belknapp's fists were still tight but he hesitated.
"Good morning to you," said Holmes turning toward the door, "and remember my warning. Stay away from Alfred Donaberry."
I followed Holmes out the door and down the stairs. The rain had stopped and the streets were wet under a cloudy sky that showed no promise of sun.
When we were on the move again, I looked at Holmes who sat frowning.
"I don't see how your warning will stop Belknapp from his plan to do away with Donaberry. While your reputation proceeds you, he did not seem the kind who would be concerned about the consequences of any violence that might come to Donaberry."
"I'm afraid you are right Watson," Holmes said with a sigh. "I'm afraid you are right."
We were no more than five minutes from Baker Street when Holmes suddenly said, "We must stop the carriage."
"Why?" I asked.
"No time to explain," he said rapping at the hatchway in the roof. "We must get to Alfred Donaberry at once. It is a matter of life or death."
The driver opened the flap. Though the rain had now stopped a spray from the roof hit me through the open portal. Holmes rose and spoke to the driver. I did not clearly hear what he said beyond Holmes' order and statement that there was a full pound extra in it if he rode like the wind.
He did. Holmes and I were jostled back and forth holding tightly to the carriage straps. The noise of the panting horse and the wheels against the uneven cobblestone made it difficult to understand Holmes who seemed angry with himself. I thought I heard him say,
"The audacity Watson. Not even to wait a day. To use me for a fool."
"You think Belknapp is on his way to The Cadogan Hotel?" I asked.
"I'm convinced of it," Holmes said. "Pray we are not too late."
We arrived in, I am certain, record time. Holmes leapt out of the carriage before the horse had come to a complete halt.
"Wait," I called to the driver following Holmes past the doorman and into the hotel lobby.
As it turned out, we were too late.
The lobby was alive with people and two uniformed constables trying to keep them calm. Holmes moved through the crowd not worrying about who he might be elbowing out of the way.
"What has happened here?" Holmes demanded of a bushy mustached constable.
"Nothing you need concern yourself with sir," the constable said paying no attention to us.
"This," I said, "is Sherlock Holmes."
The constable turned toward us and said, "Yes, so it is. How did you get here so fast? I know you have a reputation for...but this happened no more than five minutes ago."
"This?" asked Holmes. "What is 'this'?"
"Man been shot dead in room upstairs, Room 116 I think. We have a man up there with the shooter and we're waiting for someone to show up from the yard. So..."
Holmes waited for no more. He moved past the constable who was guarding the steps with me in close pursuit. Holmes moved more rapidly up the stairs than did I. My old war wound allowed for limited speed, but I was right behind him when he made a turn at the first landing and headed for a young constable standing in front of a door, a pistol in his hand. The sight of a London constable holding a gun was something quite new to me.
"Where is he?" Holmes demanded.
The constable looked bewildered.
"Are you from the Yard?" the young man asked hopefully.
"We are well known at the Yard," I said. "I'm a doctor. I expect an Inspector will be right behind us."
"Is that the murder weapon?" Holmes asked.
"It is sir," the young man handing it over to me. "He gave it up without a word. He's just sitting in there now as you can see."
I looked through the door. There was a man on his back in the middle of the floor, eyes open, a splay of blood on his white shirt. Another man sat at the edge of a sturdy armchair, head in hands.
The dead man was John Belknapp. The man in the chair was Alfred Donaberry.
"We are," said Holmes. "Too late."
At the sound of Holmes voice, Donaberry looked up. His eyes were red and teary. His mouth was open. A look of pale confusion covered his face.
"Mr. Holmes," he said. "He came here just minutes ago.
He had a gun. I don't...He gave no warning. He fired."
Donaberry pointed toward the window. I could see that it was shattered.
"I grabbed at him and managed to partially wrest the gun away," Donaberry went on. "We struggled. I thought he had shot me, but he backed away and...and fell as you see him now. My God Mr. Holmes, I have killed a man."
Holmes said nothing as I moved to Donaberry and called for the constable at the door to bring a glass of water. Had I my medical bag there were several sedatives I could have administered but barring that, I could only minister to his grief, horror and confusion which I did to the best of my limited ability.
Holmes had now moved to and sat on a wooden chair near a small table on which rested a washing bowl and pitcher. He had made a bridge of his fingers and placed the edge of their roof against his pursed lips.
I know not how many minutes passed with me trying to calm Donaberry but it could not have been many before Elspeth Belknapp came rushing into the room. Her eyes took in the horror of the scene and she collapsed weeping at the side of her dead husband.
"I...Elspeth, believe me it was an accident," Donaberry said. "He came to..."
"We know why he came," Inspector Lestrade's voice came from the open door.
Lestrade looked around the room. I retrieved the gun from my pocket and handed it to him.
"Mrs. Belknapp came to Scotland Yard," said Lestrade looking at Holmes who showed no interest in his arrival or the distraught widow. "It seems Mr. Belknapp left a note which Mrs. Belknapp found no more than an hour ago. He told he he was going to see Alfred Donaberry and end his intrusion forever. Constable Owens has filled me in on what took place. We'll need a statement from Mr. Donaberry."
"May I see the note Inspector?" Holmes said.
Lestrade retrieved the missive from his pocket and handed it to Holmes who read it slowly and handed it back to the Inspector.
"Lady says her husband had quite a temper," Lestrade said. "He owned several weapons, protection from gem thieves."
"Yes," said the kneeling widow. "I asked him repeatedly to keep the weapons out of our house, but he insisted that they were essential."
"Temper, weapon, note, struggle," said Lestrade. "I'd say Mr. Donaberry is fortunate to be alive."
"Indeed," said Holmes. "But that danger has not yet passed."
Elspeth Belknapp turned to Holmes.
"I harbor no wishes of death for Alfred," she said. "I have had enough loss Mr. Holmes."
"Well," said Lestrade with a sigh. "That pretty much
takes care of this unfortunate situation. We'll need a detailed statement from you Mr. Donaberry when you're able."
"A very detailed statement," said Holmes. "Mr. Donaberry, would you agree that my part of our agreement has been fulfilled albeit not as we discussed it?"
"What?" asked the bewildered man.
"You paid me two hundred pounds to keep John Belknapp from killing you. You are not dead. He is."
"The money is yours," said Donaberry with a wave of his hand.
"Thank you," said Holmes. "Now, with that settled, we shall deal with the murder of John Belknapp, a murder which I foresaw but failed to act upon with sufficient
haste to save his life. The audacity of the murderer took me, I admit, by surprise. I'll not let such a thing to again transpire."
"What the devil are you talking about Holmes?" Lestrade said.
Holmes rose from his chair and looking from Elspeth
Belknapp to Alfred Donaberry said, "These two have conspired to commit murder which is bad enough, but what I find singularly outrageous is that they sought to use me to succeed in their enterprise."
"Use you?" asked Donaberry. "Mr. Holmes, have you gone mad? I went to you for help. Belknapp tried to kill me."
Holmes was shaking his head 'no' even before Alfred Donaberry had finished.
"Can you prove this Holmes?" Lestrade asked.
"Have I ever failed to do so in the past to your satisfaction?"
"Not that I recall," said Lestrade.
"Good, then hear me," said Holmes pacing the floor.
"First, I thought it oddly coincidental that Mrs. Belknapp should visit me only minutes before her former husband. Ships are notoriously late and occasionally early. Yet the two visits were proximate."
"Which proves?" asked Lestrade.
"Nothing," said Holmes. "I accepted it as mere coincidence. As I accepted Mrs. Belknapp's statements about the basic goodness of her former spouse. She said she wanted to protect her husband. I now believe she came for the sole purpose of describing her former husband as a kind and decent man who would hurt no one and her now dead husband as man of potentially uncontrollable passion."
"But that..." Lestrade began.
Holmes held up his hand and continued.
"And then Mr. Donaberry here arrived, rumpled, suitcase in hand showing us the finger from which he had supposedly removed his wedding ring three months earlier."
"Supposedly?" asked Lestrade.
"Mr. Donaberry told Watson and me that he worked almost daily with his hands in subtropical heat and sun. His skin is, indeed, deeply tanned. In three months, one would expect that the mark of the removed ring, though it might linger somewhat, would be covered by the effects of the sun. The band of skin where the ring had been is completely white. The band has been removed for no more than a few days."
"That's true," I said looking down at Donaberry's left hand.
"So, why lie? I asked myself," Holmes went on, "and so allowed my prospective client to continue as I observed that his clothes were badly rumpled and that he was in a disheveled state."
"I had hurried from the train, hadn't changed clothes since arriving in port yesterday," Donaberry said.
"Yet," said Holmes, "when I examined the contents of your suitcase when Dr. Watson led you out the rear of Mrs. Hudson's, I found everything neatly pressed and quite clean. You could have at least changed shirts and put on clean trousers in your travel to an appointment that meant life and death to do."
"I was distraught," said Donaberry.
"No doubt," said Holmes. "But I think you wanted to give that impression that you had not yet had time to check into this hotel."
"I had not," Donaberry said looking at me for support.
"I know," said Holmes, "but neither had you rushed to see me from the train station. I asked the cabby where he had picked you up. You had hailed him from the front of the Strathmore Hotel which is at least three miles from the railway station."
"I took a cab there and quarreled with the cabby who was taking advantage of my lack of familiarity with London," said Donaberry. "I got out at the Strathmore and hailed another cab."
"Possible," said Holmes, "not plausible. My guess is that you were staying at the Strathmore, probably under an assumed name."
"But why on earth would I want to kill Belknapp?" said Donaberry. "I was not jealous."
"On that I agree," said Holmes. "You were not. It was not jealousy that led you to murder. It was simple greed."
"Greed?" asked Elspeth Belknapp rising.
"Yes," said Holmes. "While John Belknapp's offices may seem shabby, the firm is an old and respected one and he supplied to my satisfaction that he was not only solvent but had an estate of some value. It will not be difficult to determine how valuable that estate might be."
"Not difficult at all," said Lestrade.
"And Mr. Donaberry, it should not be difficult to determine your financial status," Holmes went on. "You tell us you have a small fortune which Belknapp coveted.
I doubt if that is the case."
"We can check that too," said Lestrade.
"Then, you counted on something that on the surface seemed to remove suspicion from you and your former wife.
Mrs. Belknapp, even with tearful eyes, is a lovely young woman while you are, let us say, a man of less that handsome countenance. Belknapp, on the other hand, was decidedly younger than you and even as he lies there in death, he makes a handsome corpse."
"This is absurd," said Elspeth Belknapp.
"Indeed it is," said Holmes, "but easy for Inspector Lestrade to check. A final point, how did John Belknapp know that you were staying at The Cadogan?"
"He must have followed me from your apartment," said Donaberry.
"But you went out the rear," said Holmes. "However, even if we give you the benefit of the doubt, Watson and I went immediately to Belknapp's office after you departed. We were probably on our way before you found a cab in the rain. And he was in his office when we arrived."
"He could have had someone...," Elspeth Belknapp said and then stopped realizing that she was now actively trying to protect the man who had shot her husband.
"No," said Holmes. "Mr. Donaberry made an appointment with your deceased husband, probably not giving his real name. John Belknapp went on the assumption that he was going to see a potential client. When he entered this room, he was murdered. We have only Mrs. Belknapp's word that her husband had many weapons and even if he did, we have no evidence that he brought a weapon with him. And then there is the note."
Holmes held up the note.
"I had a moment or two to glance at Belknapp's papers on his desk. There is definitely a similarity. However, I think careful scrutiny will show that it is at best a decent forgery. I suspect that Mrs. Belknapp wrote the note herself. Is that sufficient Inspector?"
"I think so Mr. Holmes. Easy enough to check it all through."
"But Holmes," I interjected looking at the mismatched accused, "are you telling us that Donaberry and Mrs. Belknapp are lovers still, that he allowed his wife to not only marry but to enter into marital relations with another man?"
"I would suggest Watson that the white band on Mr. Donaberry's ring finger resulted from removing the wedding band from his marriage to Elspeth Belknapp's mother. I would suggest that she was not his wife but was and continues be his daughter."
With that the woman ran into the arms of her father who took her in clear admission of their defeat.
"They made too many mistakes," Lestrade said motioning for the constable to take the pair into custody.
"Yes," said Holmes. "But the biggest of them was thinking they could make a dupe of Sherlock Holmes. I can sometimes forgive murder. It is their hubris which I find intolerable."