[Editor's Note: What if Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson had become involved the crime that has been on everyone's mind for the last three years?]
This evening's Times carried the notice: Obit Leonard Sir Clevenger, Bart., LLD, Oxon. æt. 73. Chief Magistrate, Marylebone, London. Burial at Kensal Green. I wondered if it had passed unnoticed by my famous and dear friend, now a beekeeper of the Sussex Downs, living in what one would hope would be complete retirement from la vie d'un criminologiste which captivated his mind for more than forty years I could not believe the name We of Sir Clevenger Leonard would go without gaining a flicker of attention from my friend Sherlock Holmes as he perused the death notices before he donned his apiarian's garb for the day. After all, His Honor had presided at the most notorious trial that Holmes had ever been a party to, had ever given testimony in, had ever -- but I am trespassing on your prerogative, the reader, to decide for yourself.
The trial was the culmination of the most notorious murder case that occurred in England during the reign of our late Queen, or, one might even argue, the most famous murder case in the annals of English Law. The first news I heard of it came in the summer of 1884, a morning in June when the cold winds off the German Ocean belied the fact that summer was just a week away. I had stopped to take breakfast with Holmes on my way to St. Pancras Station to board the Edinburgh Express so as to pin my lady wife (my second one, that is), who was beginning her holiday in a Fifeshire hideaway inn that she was much fonder of than I was. A brisk cup of Mrs Hudson's best darjeeling would fortify me for the trip to even chillier Scotland. I was enjoying that very refection and devouring a raisin-laden scone (Holmes himself was examining a shard from an archaeological excavation in the Levant for traces of osmiridium in its glaze), when a shriek emanated from the foyer.
"Good Lord, Holmes, was that Mrs. H.?"
We rushed to the foyer and saw my erstwhile landlady holding the morning Times at arm's length, as if it were a viper that she was terrified of either holding or letting drop. Holmes snatched it from her, and no more than an instant's glance revealed to him and me what had startled the poor woman. Holmes and I repaired to his rooms again, where Holmes read to me in that inimitable voice of his, with but a trace of his Yorkshire origins, the details of what would come to be known as the Sampson Trial for months to come.
Under headlines the size of which would not be matched till the sinking of the Lusitania three decades hence, the story began:
Officers of the borough of Windsor have begun an international search for cricket luminary Otway Jaddagore Sampson in connection with the brutal murder of his wife Nicolette and a man identified as Reginald Goldthwaite. Their bodies were found yesterday morning slashed with a knife on the grounds of the palatial estate Bretonwood facing the Thames. Sampson was found almost incoherent at the scene with bloody garments and a knife in his pocket. When the police asked him to come with them for questioning, he asked to be allowed to go inside and change into other garments, promising to allow the authorities to retain the soiled ones. Once inside, he seems to have made his egress through a tradesman delivery door off the kitchen. The livery reports that he claimed his brougham at half past 7. The police suspect he is fleeing justice, most likely via a Channel packet.
"What an ugly spin Fortune's wheel has made this time, eh, Holmes?" I pontificated. "One minute the chap is honored as the first Hindu to be allowed to dine at the table of the Prince of Wales. Now he's a fugitive from the Crown's justice. Was it Pliny the Elder who said, 'See how the mighty have fallen'"?
"I did not suffer from the draconian indoctrination that passes as a boy's education in this country," Holmes retorted half-jokingly. "Whether it was Pliny the Elder or the bootblack at Charing Cross Station, it is nonetheless true. And this particular fall from grace will be enough to satisfy the mobile vulgus -- I can spout Latin, too, Watson -- for months to come."
As you all well know, Holmes was right in that respect. Newsboys worked their lungs to full capacity for the ensuing weeks selling papers that carried little else -- the history of the sportsman's abusiveness toward his wife that before had been mere gossip but came to light at the trial; the chase that Sampson gave the authorities as he raced down the London to Dover highway in the now infamous brougham emblazoned with the logo of the Parisian coachmakers Les Freres Vronceaux, who, if my memory of schoolboy history can be trusted, over a century earlier made the coach that Marie Antoinette and her ill-fated husband had ridden in to their fatal rendezvous at Varennes; his return to London in manacles; his incarceration in Horsemonger Lane Gaol; Sampson's protestation of his complete innocence (which as feeble as it was sufficed for millions of his admirers in the sporting world); the lame alibi of having been in his old bachelor quarters at the Albany until he received an anonymous summons to return home; the feeble explanation of a broken whisky tumbler to justify the cut on his hand, and the battery of barristers that his well filled coffers allowed him to retain. The ladies who followed the trial (I must admit even Mrs. Watson herself) had been especially captivated by the testimony of a young long-haired, enigmatic, some would even say Byronic, ne'er-do-well, Pluto Carmain, who lived as Sampson's guest on the estate and garnered universal sympathy when he wept and pled, "Forgive me, dear friend! I am under oath!" when he testified that he had heard quarrelsome words coming from the main house the night of murders.
I was particularly busy that summer, the unseasonably cold weather having occasioned a wide outbreak of catarrh among my patients, and I learned most of what I knew about the Sampson case from their incessant prating about their theories, some averring his guilt in the strongest terms, other claiming to know how his enemies had orchestrated his apparent involvement, none wining as I thought myself to be, to let Justice and her minions unravel the case. I had no idea that Holmes had been brought into the case till I saw him in Leicester Square, in July, a day or so after a jury for the Sampson trial had been empaneled. Wearing his habitual deerstalker hat and carrying the black portmanteau I had seen accompany him on so many investigations, Holmes was seeking refuge on a bench under a chestnut tree from a sudden shower. I joined him, and he told me that the day before the trial began, Sampson had bidden him to come to his dismal cell at Horsemonger Lane Gaol, to ask Holmes to lend his aid in discovering the real perpetrator of the grisly crime.
"So you believe him, Holmes?"
"I am not the judge, Watson. But the vigor of his contention is such that I am led to suspect that this case entails more than what Scotland Yard has brought to light."
"But that folderol about receiving a telephonic message from some strange woman that led him from his rooms at the Albany where he was spending the night telling him to return to Bretonwood; the claim about having been waylaid and then regaining consciousness in his carriage with no recollection of what happened to cause his coat to be splashed with blood, one pocket containing a still-bloody knife -- surely you must find that a highly improbable fable."
"Stranger things have happened. Before I had had the inestimable acquaintance, I provided evidence that exculpated a poor vendor in the Brixton Road only twenty-seven minutes before his appointment with the gallows. Had you been my chronicler at the time, no doubt you would have called it ' The Case of the Cross-Eyed Costermonger' or some such drollery. I trust that you are not en route to some poor soul's bed of death, Watson."
Having assured him that the remainder of my after his request for my counsel as he went to Scotland Yard and inspected the photographs of the murdered corpses, rough sketches of which had already appeared in every newspaper from here to the banks of the Brahmaputra, where Sampson's father had immigrated from. We looked at their grim contents for nigh on three quarters of an hour, Holmes' features never displaying any sign of revulsion at the sight of two bodies hideously disfigured with slashes that all but severed the heads from the torsos. As he peered at them, using sometimes a small magnifying glass, Holmes asked me several physiological questions about the names of various arteries and muscles and their primary functions and made a few notes He asked to be allowed to examine the clothing of the victims, which was being retained as exhibits for the prosecution, and in deference to assistance he had given the Yard over the years, he was so allowed.
Leaving the constabulary, he took me to the underground station, and with little explanation I found myself going with him to Bretonwood, the scene of the murders.
"If my theory is right, then some very important pieces of evidence lie yet undiscovered," he said. "The men of the Yard are conscientious and worthy of the public's respect, but they often find, if I may paraphrase the Prayer Book without sounding irreligious, that which they should not have been looking for and do not find that which they should have been looking for." He opened the portmanteau that he had carried with him. "Of course, the premises will be guarded. but surely there are a few things in my valise that will allow me to conceal myself behind a hedge and change my appearance slightly to detract the guards." He bade me wait for him.
It had been almost an hour, and Holmes did not return. I was contemplating leaving without him when I saw a toothless old crone of eighty, wearing a paisley shawl and a dress of the meanest sort of cheap percale, hobbling down the street. She approached me and in the worst sort of Billingsgate tones asked for a pittance to secure for her a bowl of stewed eels for her supper. I was about to oblige her, when her cackle caused me to examine her more closely and to see in the glitter of her eye that she was none other than yet one more of Holmes' ingenious disguises that would have assured him of a brilliant career on the boards had he not chosen to lead the life of a detective.
An hour or so later, I sat devouring an indulgent supper in a chophouse on the Edgeware Road while Holmes, now in his usual habiliments, nibbled on a sour apple.
"Those ghastly photographs did nothing to stem your appetite, I see, Watson," he observed as my near-gargantuan portion of pig's knuckles and cabbage disappeared. I explained that my stint in Afghanistan had long ago made me immune to the sight of carnage. He then asked if I agreed with the conclusion that the duo were the victims of lacerations.
"What do you mean, man?" I said, even louder than I intended, not understanding why Holmes would ask such an inane question. I lowered my voice. "Those wounds were more than enough to rob anyone of fife. They were so hideous that were I not a physician and an amateur sleuth, thanks to you, I would have averted my eyes but I gave those wounds a thorough examination, and I will stake my professional reputation on the fact that they were made with the same Sheffield butcher's blade, the number 17, that Scotland Yard found on Sampson." I then asked the inevitable question that has led so many times to my feeling like a shameless dunderhead -- to the delight of you the reading public: "What did you see, Holmes?"
"The same images that you saw. As you say, the knife-wounds were so lurid as to either repel or compel the attention of anyone looking at them -- causing the viewer, even the most learned viewer like yourself, to overlook a small detail. Young Goldthwaite was not killed by the wounds of any mad slasher, Sampson or otherwise."
"What? But you saw that his neck was virtually..."
"I am not arguing that the wounds were not severe. They would have killed him, had he still been alive."
Holmes refused to divulge more than that astounding observation in such a public forum. We returned to 221 Baker Street, and Holmes immediately did some assaying of several small pieces of fiber and a metallic object he produced from his pocket, utilizing the various beakers and burners which he kept at the ready. He lifted several thumb-worn volumes from his shelf and thumbed through them expertly. He refused to respond to any of my preliminary questions, and I knew better to pursue any line of inquiry before he was ready to divulge. About midnight, over a glass of claret, the chemical tests completed and his library of reference books consulted, he explained that as he looked carefully at the photograph of Goldthwaite's body, on the victim's left pectoral he detected a small wound that others may have thought of as a puncture. But next to it was the tell-tale half-moon shaped sign that accompanies close-range pistol shots, the heat of the bullet searing the clothing and making the small burn. The obverse view of his back, Holmes said, showed the exit wound of the projectile, though to one not looking for it, it would have seemed like one more gash caused by the knife.
"So you are saying that someone killed Goldthwaite before the slashing. But why would anyone, no matter how demented, mutilate an already dead body? And why was Nicolette Sampson not shot as well?"
"Because she was already dead. At the hands of Reginald Goldthwaite, I'm absolutely sure, wielding a Sheffield number 17. I detected a slight irregularity in one of the bloody thumb prints on the dead woman's left forearm, caused by a nick or a knife or razor perhaps, and matched on Goldthwaite's right thumb. It was after this foul deed was effected that someone with a pistol dispatched Goldthwaite, then retrieved the blade and preceded to do to the unfortunate young man's corpse much what he had done to the hapless Nicolette, as a way of concealing the actual means of his murder. My next question you, reader, may surely extrapolate. Holmes did not yet know for certain who shot Goldthwaite.
"But I can tell you this. He owns a pair of herringbone trousers made from cloth woven by Riverstoke Mills of Leeds, he possesses or has access to a small pistol of Bohemian manufacture sometime between 1889 and 1891, and, most importantly, was a frequenter of one of three opium houses operated by Shin Shiu in the most wretched bailiwick of the East End Docks, in the southern neighborhoods of the Isle of Dogs. As was Goldthwaite, I might add. And, I suspect, Sampson. The first deduction I made based on the analysis of a fragment of cloth I found on the rear garden-gatepost as I prowled the grounds in the guise of a beggar-woman. Likewise, nearby I found a spent bullet casing lodged in the rear-garden wooden fence, and the provenance of the weapon was elementary to trace, with the use of Hartmann and Wells' Guide to European and American Small Arms Ballistics, one of the most indispensable volumes in my library. Goldthwaite's killing took place a good sixty yards from the site of Mrs. Sampson's. No doubt the killer was trying to vacate the estate when he happened on the unfortunate lady's corpse. The police did not find the shell because they had not detected a reason to seek any murder weapon other than the blade in Sampson's pocket. As for the third clue, the narcotic, I am not proud to admit to you, Watson, that personal experience leads me to this conclusion, coupled with some tests I conducted on a small swatch of fabric I surreptitiously filched from Goldthwaite's weskit. The ever-so-slight presence of some particles of the opiate matched that I found on the herringbone."
"But, Holmes, you must know that as logical as the syllogisms you have delineated for me might be, the police are going to be very skeptical, as they always are. I need not remind you of the residual resentment among many from the time of his marriage. The Bishop of Lincoln banned the marriage on the grounds that Hindus were but a step away from blackamoors, a fact which Sampson's boorish mistreatment of his wife substantiated. And the evidence that has come out so far in the trial so compelling and the crime itself so nauseating that the Crown is demanding the gallows for the poor fellow. I have heard that no less a personage than Her Majesty herself told Princess Beatrice that she would not sleep easily until she was sure that Sampson had been hanged, and that the Prince of Wales was overheard saying at Ascot Downs, perhaps only half in jest, that once Sir Clevenger has pronounced the sentence, he would do all within his princely prerogative to postpone the execution till after Sampson had played in the match with the Australians in September."
Holmes was just as aware of the far-fetched tenor of his conclusions as he was of their essential truth. "I will not come forth with my evidence until I have more verifiable data. And I think that the next step is to consult the mysterious Mr. Pluto Carmain."
"But will he be open to confiding in you?"
"To Sherlock Holmes and his Boswell Dr. Watson, of course not. But he cannot help but succumb to his desire for fame and fortune, the twin goddesses of our time. Once his palm has been crossed with some American-coined gold eagles, he will be delighted to speak to" -- here he ruffled through a file of business cards he had in his files -- "Mr. Cosmo Cadwallader, reporter for a syndicate of Texas newspapers. And of course, his incomparable photographic expert and assistant, Mr. Cletis Turner."
It was dressed in the costume of, and carrying the appurtenances thereof, these two fictitious men of the press that the following afternoon Holmes and I gained entrance to Carmain's flat on the second floor of the Lindsey House, exclusive lodgings behind Admiralty Arch, where he had moved after the murders A note delivered by the footman, accompanied by a titillating sampling of the coin of the realm (if America is indeed a realm), paved the way.
"You must assure me that nothing I say to will be in the English papers," the young man said, still attired in a dressing gown despite the fact that it was the afternoon, looking far less handsome than the rotogravure likenesses of him which had caused many an English miss (and married lady, I lament to confess) to suffer cardiac palpitations of an amorous nature. His mane of blond hair was tied back, in an oddly baroque fashion, but he loosened it for the photographs that I as the factotum Turner would take, not knowing that the camera I utilized was devoid of film. "You'll remember that early in the trial I said on oath that I would not sell my testimony to the press."
"Why, Mr. Carmain," Holmes as the Texas reporter said with a rasping frontier burr that would have been convincing to the most rustic dweller on the banks of the Brazos, "nary a soul on God's green earth would fault you for what little compensation you might earn from sharing your story with my readers. Nary a soul. A man's gotta make what he can out of the vicissitudes of life."
"You and I know that," Carmain added, "but we Britishers are sticklers about loyalty and all that rot. I have staked my personal reputation on my loyalty to Sampson. You must swear to me that none of what I might tell you would ever appear in the pages of a British newspaper. Or any European one, for that matter, Such could very well jeopardize some delicate negotiations I am currently involved with some book publishers."
"On the bones of my dead grandpa, I swear," Cadwallader proclaimed, putting his hand on a copy of a magazine on a lamp table as if it were Holy Writ. Such testimony being given and a lucrative stipend agreed upon, Carmain lounged on a chesterfield while Holmes, in the persona of the reporter, asked a series of uninspired questions that could have been answered by anyone reading the transcripts of the trial that most London newspapers had carried, including the matter of Carmain's fortuitous rise from the Midland slum in which he claimed to have been born (such was far from the case), through his adolescent apprenticeshp as a stable swipe, to the lucky day when the late Duke of Buchleigh chose him as his Derby-winning horse Chantilly; and to his eventual peripheral membership in the much-gossiped-about horsy set that included the likes of O.J. Sampson and the heir to the throne of England.
After a half hour of questioning, the reporter interrupted Carmain's musings on his life with what must have struck any Britisher as an impertinent request. "Say there, Pluto, my friend, me and my chum here ain't had a morsel to gnaw on since breakfast. You hoity-toity types can get by on what a bird eats, I reckon, but us Texans gotta have a little something along about this time of day."
"I should have offered you tea. How beastly of me. I have been here only a few weeks and have not yet secured a maid."
"Don't bother with making us no tea, but you don't reckon you could find Turner and me a little bit of cheese and crackers to eat, could your? That'll tide us over till supper -- excuse me, I mean dinner. I'm partial to cheese, you might say, always have been, and you fellers have some mighty good ones, like that there Stilton and. . ."
"No. I have no cheese."
"Kinda swinish of you to eat it all, Pluto," the reporter said with a wink.
"I meant I never keep cheese. No taste for it. Never had. Butter, neither, for that matter. But I suppose I could find you a biscuit -- excuse me, cracker -- or two and some fruit," he said with condescension and an edge of irritation.
"We'd look on that kindly," he said as Carmain turned to leave the room.
As Carmain busied himself with obtaining the edibles, I stood sentinel as Holmes busied himself quietly searching the sitting room, making sure to leave everything as he found it, Holmes going so far as to look through the books on Carmain's shelf. One caught his eye, but after reading the flyleaf, he snapped the covers shut and made on of those sounds that I knew intimated success. But his efforts to find the revolver were fruitless.
We tried to consume the almost inedible biscuits which Carmain offered -- no doubt I had supplied the like to my guests in my bachelorhood. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve with American gaucherie, Holmes as Cadwallader said, 'Thank you kindly, son. Now, let's see about some pictures." I busied myself with my filmless camera.
"Where shall I stand?" Carmain asked, straightening his jacket and tossing his head so that the loosened flaxen locks would fall down over his shoulders.
"Tell you what, son," the reporter said. "This picture just ain't gonna look right unless you dress yourself up right. I think this dressing gown is quite adequate, elegant, I daresay."
"The jacket's fine. But trousers like those never look good in pictures, do they, Turner." I nodded my head only, not being a master of dialects as Holmes was. "What you need is some of those spiffy checkered britches like that Wales feller you all are so crazy about wears. I said to Turner, now those look like the britches a real British swell would wear. you have any of them? I think they call them fishbone."
"Herringbone," Carmain sneered. "Yes, I have one pair. I suppose I could don them for the photograph. I'll be but a moment changing." He turned to go, but the reporter stopped him.
"And another thing. Remember that your picture is going across the waters to Texas. They expect a man to look like a man. You got a gun?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You know, a pistol. Make you look more manly, just holding it. Most of our subscribers wouldn't think of having their portrait taken without a firearm of some kind."
Carmain protested that he refused to be captured for all eternity armed like a common brigand, but the reporter insisted; and the fact that the remuneration had not been transferred gave the reporter more than a modicum of leverage. Carmain went to his bed chamber, changed his trousers, and returned carrying a small black pistol.
"Well, I reckon it'll have to do," Cadwallader said, "if that's what passes for a gun over here. But the pants look dandy," he said, walking around the man as if he were apprising a horse. Though no one else might, I could tell from a slight smile that the false bead could not completely conceal that Holmes had seen the rent in the trouser-leg. He then placed Carmain in several outrageous poses and my flashpan (though I had no film, I did have adequate powder to sustain the illusion) flashed. In assisting Carmain in striking one such pose, in which he was to peer over his shoulder into the camera lens, Holmes pulled down the back of the man's collar, and for an instant, a green and yellow tattoo about the size of a man's thumb appeared. Carmain grabbed the collar and pulled it back up, looking at both of us to see if our faces registered our detection of the marking. Holmes had long before taught me the importance of a stony visage.
The photographic setting concluded our business with the dissolute young Mr. Carmain. Holmes presented him with a draft on a Dallas bank for five hundred American dollars, a cheque which I rightly suspected was the product of Holmes' expertise in calligraphic forgery. When we had bidden him good-day and were about to descend the stairs, Holmes turned to Carmain and said, with a chilling aggressiveness that I had never heard before, uttered what I correctly assumed was the Chinese word tongxinlianaide! I watched Carmain's face and saw his visage turn from the condescending mien that had graced the pages of newspapers from John o' Groats to Lands End to that of a fox that has just realized that the merciless hounds have him cornered.
"What was all that about, Holmes?" I asked as I hailed a cab that I assumed we would take to Baker Street.
"No time to explain now, Watson," he said, tossing off the rustic vest he had donned to pretend to be a Texan and removing the false whiskers. "You return to your home, where I shall contact you as soon as circumstances allow. I must hurry to the Isle of Dogs."
"Not there, Holmes!," I said, chiding him, as was my wont, for his occasional use of opiates. "Surely you can restrain yourself this time, when a man's life lies in the balance "
"You may rest assured that I am not going there to indulge in the pleasures of the poppy, Watson, though I have indeed spent more hours than I wish to recall in those dens of iniquitous pleasure. This time I seek information, or rather confirmation. Tempus fugit, my dear fellow." And with that, Holmes was gone.
The next day being the Sabbath, I was at home in the afternoon, listening to my lady wife read to me from the Lake Poets, when Polly our maid announced that "a Master Holmes" wished to speak to me in private. My wife shrugged, long ago having learned that only the direst of circumstances and certainly not a verse from Wordsworth would keep me from an appointment with Holmes.
"I have all the information I need now, Watson. I have sent a courier round to Judge Leonard's home in Great Portland Square, advising him that I have certain intelligences that bear great weight in the trial he now presides over, and requesting a meeting with him in his chambers at eight o'clock on the morrow. I assume that you will wish to accompany me."
"Yes, of course, but tell me. . ."
"Tomorrow all shall be made clear. And by tomorrow evening Master Sampson will walk out of Horsemonger Lane Gaol, a free man, though perhaps none the less disconsolate. I will call for you at seven."
I slept fitfully that night, turning over in my head all the pieces of the intricate conundrum that was the Sampson case, awaking even more fatigued than when I retired, yet none the wiser. At seven, Holmes arrived in a hired landau, an extravagance he seldom indulged in. As we made our way across London from my home in Shepherd's Bush to the magistrate's hall, he revealed to me the skein that was the Sampson case as he had unraveled it.
"I was right about my conclusion that Goldthwaite had murdered Nicolette Sampson. Goldthwaite was a supplier of narcotics to her husband. Disturbed, nay, even battered by the bestial nature that such concoctions wrought in her once loving husband, Nicolette summoned young Goldthwaite to Bretonwood, my conjecture is, to demand that he cease his function as supplier. No doubt he told her that he was far too dependent on the money that such transactions brought him. she probably parried then with a threat to tell the story to the police. It was at that point that he killed her."
"How did Carmain. . .?"
"Ah, yes, Carmain. He and Goldthwaite were fellow traffickers in the narcotics trade. You saw the yellow and green dragon perforated onto his shoulder when I yanked his collar back, did you not? That is the emblem of the notorious Dragon Tong the most vicious of the San Francisco gangs of opium smugglers, whose influence stretches even to the dockyards of London. I knew he was a member. I went last evening to one of Shin Shiu's establishments and began gathering information on Mr. Carmain and Mr. Goldthwaite I ascertained what I suspected. The two were partners in the illicit commerce, Goldthwaite using his connections with society to recruit initiates into their psychotropic clientele -- Sampson being one of them -- and Carmain using his near-native knowledge of Chinese to maintain felicitous connections with the Tong"
"Knowledge of Chinese?"
"Yes I suspected so when my tests of the piece of herringbone trouser revealed minute traces of sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid, commonly used as a flavor enhancer in foods throughout the Orient. I knew that the wearer was a frequent consumer of the cuisine to be found in Cantonese restaurants near the Docks. Moreover, the revelation that he partook of neither cheese nor butter was further confirmation. I knew that though he seemed as English as you or me, he had been reared in a Chinese household. Though the Chinese love such delicacies as duck's feet and a broth distilled from birds' nests, they eschew all lactic products. One can traverse the Chinese Empire and never find a wheel of cheese or a pat of butter. In fact, the Chinese say that we Occidentals have a peculiar and unpleasant bovine odor accountable to our consumption of so much dairy produce. I was closer to a solution. Among the books I saw on his shelf was a Mandarin translation of the Methodist Book of Discipline, the dissenter's version of the Book of Common Prayer. It was inscribed 'To young Pluto, from your loving parents, Shanghai, Christmas, 1885.' I suspected that he had been reared in the mission fields of China by English parents, before coming back to England and joining the demimonde as a narcotics trafficker and crony of the rich and illustrious."
"Merciful heavens, Holmes. The facts of the case are revealing themselves to be a continent apart from the explanations that most people have for the killing. Another death, nay, two deaths, due to the heinous drug. I myself suspected adultery. Old Mrs. FitzWilliams whom I treat for quinsy, is a member of the Shakespeare Society, and she said Sampson was playing Othello to Nicolette's Desdemona, with Goldthwaite as Michael Cassio. I had to reread the play to know what she was referring to. No rearing of the head of the green-eyed monster here. But your divinations only explain why Goldthwaite may have had motive to slay Mrs Sampson, but they do not explain why Carmain killed Goldthwaite. Surely he would have applauded his cohort's efforts to keep the Sampson goose laying those golden eggs."
"Old Mrs. FitzWilliams was closer to the truth than you might imagine. Jealousy and an odd sort of fear of cuckoldry was the major factor in one of the deaths, but it had nothing to do with the Sampson union."
"What? I'm afraid you've lost me again, Holmes."
;"My sources in the East End reinforced the belief that which my own act of polyglottal trickery had all but confirmed at Lindsay House. When you were at Carmain's rooms yesterday, did you take note of me periodical on the table, the one I rested my hand on as I took an oath on the skeleton of Mr. Cadwallader's grandfather?"
"It was the latest issue of a magazine called The Yellow Book, published by a young artist named Beardsley, Aubrey Beardsley, who has gained a certain infamy in respectable circles for his drawings to texts by the author Oscar Wilde. Do you know his work?"
"Who in London doesn't?"
"Then you must know the nature of the rumor-mongering that goes with Wilde's name."
"Indeed! You don't mean that-- !"
"So as our alter egos Cadwallader and Turner were leaving Lindsay House, I took the opportunity to utilize a dyadic ploy -- or, in more common parlance, to kill two birds with one stone. I doffed my Western patois, and, though it is not my usual modus operandi to pass judgment on people's private lives, in the best Mandarin I could muster, I uttered the malevolent phrase tongxinlianaide which denotes sodomite. Carmain's look of surprise and terror told me I had used the one Chinese dialect out of the hundreds of languages in that country that was the poor devil's native tongue; and, also, that he and Reginald Goldthwaite were practitioners in those erotic options which our society still brands unnatural though they are as time-honored as any other syndrome of human behaviour. My sleuthing last evening validated both assumptions. Carmain was the only son of missionary parents in China and did not see the coasts of England until he was six, not the product of Manchester slum-dwellers. Moreover, I learned that Carmain and Goldthwaite were often seen in Shin Shiu's haunts on the Isle of Dogs, though they never were seen at Madame DePlasir's bordello or any of the others that men of that neighborhood often sought a different sort of pleasure in. So it was no challenge to discern that the fatal evening Carmain had heard the emotionally charged exchange between Goldthwaite and Nicolette Sampson -- after all, Carmain had since Martinmas last occupied the groomsman's quarters above the stable at Bretonwood, no doubt to make the conveyance of the morphia more convenient. Consumed with jealous fear that the beautiful Mrs Sampson might tempt his friend from the paths of androgyny, he followed, taking the Palavek revolver from Prague with him (which I had predicted he would have, please note). Instead of finding Goldthwaite and Sampson flagrante delicto, as it were, or, to prolong our Shakespearean motif, making the beast with two backs, he confronted his special friend by the garden gate. His passions aroused to a level far beyond reason, Carmain shot him -- out of jealousy, out of fear, out of self-defense, only the omniscient gods can say.
"He then went toward the house, found Mrs Sampson's body by the rose trellis, and the seeds of a scheme began to germinate. He went back to the rear, dragged Goldthwaite's body to a point near Mrs. Sampson's -- though he erased signs of the dragging in the drive, I could detect in the lawn in the rear signs of heel-marks of someone being dragged. (Again, the police did not look in the rear garden because they had no reason to.) Now our Chinese born lago had to hatch a more complex plan to cover up both murders. He then lacerated the dead form of his erstwhile paramour, if that word applies in the realm of the catamites, to make it seem that Goldthwaite and Mrs. Sampson owed their demises to the same agent of thuggery. Fearful that if Scotland Yard were left to ferret out a solution to the double murder, their trail might lead to his doorstep, he concocted what he surmised to be a perfect perversion of justice, an assigning of guilt to her Hindu husband, an individual whom nearly all England suspected of being a near-barbarian, like the Moor of Venice, even though they delighted in his prowess as a batsman."
"But Sampson's bloody clothes, and the message?"
"Easily accomplished. Carmain entered Bretonwood, used the telephone to call Sampson at his rooms at the Albany. It was no great challenge for the young man, accustomed as he was to traversing the boundaries of gender, to feign a woman's voice to goad the cricketer into returning home as soon as possible. As Sampson navigated his Vronceaux brougham across town, Carmain, putting his earlier training as an equestrian trainer, returned to the stable and searched for a vial of chloroform, a common constituent medicaments in a stable, used to mollify skittish steeds and foaling mares. He saturated a cloth with the soporific. When Sampson arrived, Carmain crept from behind and put the cloth over the man's face, rendering him insensate. (Though he may have assiduously tried, Carmain could not rid his hands of all traces of the soporific. To quote the murderous queen in the Bard's Scottish play, all the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten his hand. I could still detect a hint of it when I stood near him at Lindsay House.) He then dragged Sampson to the locale of the two corpses, and in what must have been a ghoulish scene to behold, juxtaposed Sampson's body with both still hemorrhaging cadavers so that their blood saturated his outer clothing. The Sheffield number 17 was placed in the drugged man's pocket. Carmain then conveyed Sampson's bloodied body back to the position beside the brougham in which he roused from his stupor at dawn or thereabouts. The rest you and everyone else in Christendom knows."
"A remarkable scenario, Holmes. But were you not afraid yesterday, when you tipped your hand, to use a gaming term from my younger and more dissipated days in the barracks, with the Chinese epithet, you would frighten Carmain into absconding?"
"It was a risk I had to take. I knew that I had to convey to the magistrate evidence beyond the shadow of doubt, if Sampson were to escape the noose, and I have always been of the opinion that it is better that a guilty man go free than for an innocent man to wear the hempen collar."
Of course, my friend Holmes' reputation had preceded him to the magistrate's chambers. With logical precision unmatched in the annals of history ancient and modern, Holmes calmly narrated the minutiae of his solution to Sir Clevenger Leonard, with Yours Truly supplying corroboration when it was sought. The judge was duly persuaded. By dinner that evening, Otway Jaddagore Sampson had left the confines of Horsemonger Lane Gaol and had gone into seclusion in Wales with several of his teammates.
The denouement of this true-life tragedy was, of course, played out by Fleet Street hacks over the next week, its peremptoriness even pushing the Prince of Wales' dedication of the Tower Bridge to the inside page -- how a squad policemen were sent to Lindsay House, only to find that Pluto Carmain had fled; how Sampson himself offered the unheard sum of £1000 for his nemesis's capture; and how the pitiable malfeasant's body, a victim of felo de se, was found two days later in Bromley Marsh, not far from the East India docks.
It was midwinter before the ultimate chapter in this episode occurred. I happend to be at Baker Street, advising Holmes on some physiological facets of the mystery that would come to be known as "The Pongee Parasol" when a flabbergasted Mrs. Hudson tried to announce the name of the person who had rung the bell and asked to see the famous detective.
"It's. . . it's . . .it's him!" she said, before scurrying back to her scullery with the charming giddiness of a schoolgirl. And it was. Sampson himself stood in the doorway. Holmes welcomed him in, introduced us, and offered him a glass of port, and offered him a seat by the convivial fireside.
"I cannot stay, Mr. Holmes," Sampson said in a voice that still carried with it the indelible trace of his Hundustani forefathers "I sail this afternoon on the Italian ship Parlante bound for Calcutta. But I could not go without offering you my heartfelt thanks for your services I return as my father arrived -- with virtually no earthly possessions" (Indeed, a year or so later the story circulated that Sampson had been sighted as a lowly mendicant begging alms from the visitors to Shah Jehan's monument to his consort, the Taj Mahal.) "But I thought that perhaps you might wish a remembrance of our ill-fated association." He brought from under his overcoat a small sign, upon which in calligraphy was painted the word Vronceaux. "When I disposed of the carriage," he continued, '1 removed the sign I had once had placed there, lest some souvenir-vendor might obtain it and parlay this token of my sad life into ill-gotten gains. But its presence continues to unnerve me. Then I thought that perhaps you, sir, collected memorabilia of your successes Perhaps you would like to add this memento to it."
With that, the case was closed. Sampson bade us farewell and left. Holmes handed the wooden sign to me to examine, which I did, although I saw nothing distinguished about it. When I told my wife this, she scolded me for not recognizing its value on the crime memorabilia market here in England and abroad.
"You may set me down, my dear colleague, in your chronicles as a man who cared little for what may be gained from domestic tidiness, but you cannot in truth brand me a pack-rat." And with that, he tossed the sign into the fire, and we watched the flames lick at the fiddle-head ornamentation emanating from the majuscule V.
-- John H. Watson, M.D. (ret.) Weston-super-Mare, Somersetshire, June 12, 1917
Dr. Gerald McDaniel is a professor of English at North Central Texas College. You can email Dr. Gerald McDaniel with your comments or questions, or visit him at his Website at Dr. Mac's Study. This work is copyrighted © 1997-1999 by Dr. Gerald McDaniel. My deep thanks to Dr. McDaniel for allowing me to post this work on Yoxley Old Place.
Note: This work first appeared on the web on North Central Texas College's site
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