Mrs. Hudson had just cleared away the remains of an excellent breakfast and I was engaged in reading the Daily Chronicle. Sherlock Holmes put down the Daily Gazette where he had been perusing the agony column, his daily ritual, and retrieved a letter from his coat pocket.
"We should receive a visit at any moment from inspector Clifton Brent of the Cornwall police, Watson. I have a letter here from Sir Percy Derwent, Chief Inspector of that county, asking us to assist Brent in the apprehension of two criminals. It appears that the police in Cornwall have a somewhat strained relationship with Scotland Yard and they would appreciate our assistance in making the arrest. I hope that you will be available, Watson, for it may be a case that your readers of the Strand Magazine would find interesting.
As I nodded my consent, there were sounds of heavy footsteps on the stairs and the Inspector was shown into our room. He was in his late thirties and clean shaven with a ready smile. Obviously not in awe of my friend, Brent opened the discussion by asking Holmes if he had heard of the Fremont brothers.
Holmes chose Volume "F" in his encyclopaedia
of reference and read:
Fremont brothers, Andrew and Matthew:
Confidence tricksters but no arrests since their whereabouts are
unknown. Thought to be involved in the theft of gold bullion from
the Flying Scotsman train and the burglary of Lady Holderness'
diamond necklace from Carston Castle in Bangor, Wales. Andrew
has a strong penchant for trains and castles. He is the master
planner while the fearless Matthew directs the execution of their
Brent smiled. "We have the perfect opportunity to trap these two villains."
"Excellent, tell me more."
"Do I have your assurance of complete confidentiality?"
"Good. The Earl of Cornwall has the immediate need for a large sum of capital."
"Yes. His debts have forced him to offer one of his estates for sale in the Times and in several prestigious regional newspapers. The estate consists of a castle ruin, fifty acres of land with several buildings including a fairly modern house and a private train carriage that sits on a railway siding at the south east corner of the estate."
"The Earl has had three offers by post. Sir Percy, who is a close friend of the Earl, was investigating the integrity of the offers and determined that one of them is from the Fremont brothers. The Fremont bothers were attracted by the confidential cash terms, the attributes of the estate, and the very reasonable asking price. Sir Percy has asked the Earl to help catch them and he has agreed to do so during his present visit to London on business. In fact, he has an appointment with the brothers, purportedly to close the sale of the estate, at the Langham Hotel in three hours from now. I expect to arrest them then and I would feel far less apprehensive if you and Dr. Watson would agree to back me up."
I have always enjoyed visiting the Langham Hotel although I could never have afforded to stay there. Holmes and I met Brent in the opulent entrance hall and made our way to the reception desk. We were soon shown up to the suite of the Earl of Cornwall and met the man himself, a distinguished gentleman.
"I have suggested to Inspector Brent," he said, "that he introduce himself as my secretary and you two as my lawyer and banker. Also, that he should handle the matter as if this were a true conveyance of property. Sir Percy Derwent has requested me to require the brothers to bring currency in full payment. This is an unusual procedure but ensures that the Crown will recoup at least part of its loss in the bullion robbery. Inspector Brent will make certain that the currency is genuine."
A knock on the door of the suite announced the arrival of the two men. Their appearance exuded malevolence. One look at their evil bearded faces made me wish that I had had the foresight to bring my revolver. Brent performed the introductions and then asked to see the currency in the two cases that the brothers had brought with them. "Not so fast," growled the taller man. "We want to read the deeds of ownership and the conveyance papers before we go any farther."
"They are all waiting for signature," said Brent. After the two men had read the documents and several questions had been answered on both sides, the keys to the two cases were handed to the Earl. Brent opened the two cases and found old copies of Bradshaw but no currency!
I turned to Holmes and, to my surprise, found him
pointing his revolver at the Earl and Brent. The two visitors
pulled off their beards and were transformed into Inspectors Lestrade
and Wilson of Scotland Yard. They quickly took charge.
Back at our lodgings that evening, Holmes explained that the Earl and Brent were fakes and that they were, in fact, the elusive Fremont brothers. Andrew had forged the letter from Sir Percy Derwent and also the ownership papers. He had played the part of the Earl while Matthew was the fictitious Inspector Brent.
"They had full confidence in their plan and were willing to invest appreciable time and expense to set it up. Apart from the huge profit they expected to make, they relished the thought that they would humiliate me in revenge for my part in the capture of their mother, Karen, head of the notorious Wang Gang, two years ago."
"As soon as I received the forged letter from Sir Percy, I knew it was false. The real Chief Inspector is an incompetent fellow by the name of Quentin Page. I notified Lestrade immediately and we decided to go along with the deception as far as possible so as to build up a foolproof case which would stand up in court. I did not mention this to you, my dear friend, because I knew that you would act more naturally if you thought that Brent was genuine. While we were waiting to visit the Langham Hotel, I placed a call to Lestrade from the telephone in my room and suggested that he intercept the legitimate purchasers and take their place. By this time, I had determined that the brothers did not have a detailed physical description of the potential buyers."
"The true Earl of Cornwall has no intention of selling his estate. The brothers placed advertisements for an unnamed property for sale expressed in the most glowing terms and they disclosed the location only to selected potential buyers. They intended to hold at gunpoint and gag the legitimate purchasers and convince you and me that they had caught the Fremont brothers. You and I would then take the captives to Scotland Yard in a hansom. The Earl and Brent would follow with the money but would disappear on the way."
So ended the adventure of the Fremont Brothers. I did not, however, publish the above narrative in the Strand Magazine as Holmes had suggested. I had no wish to display my own gullibility and I also felt that it might damage Holmes' reputation. On the day following the arrests, Lestrade received a reply to his message that he had sent to Cornwall two days previously. The reply confirmed that the letter from Sir Percy Derwent was a forgery. However, it also mentioned that Sir Percy Derwent had replaced Quentin Page.
This episode confirms to mere mortals like myself
that it is sometimes better to be lucky in life than brilliant.
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