I wrote this Sherlock Holmes story a year and a half ago for another website that is now no more. It was a fun attempt to emulate a very specific writing style. Of course, since it’s me there is an encoded humorous message. I won’t reveal what it is until after the end of the story – but I’ll give you a hint – “10 years ago”.
The Lament of Lord Stanley – A Sherlock Holmes Adventure
As I’ve alluded in the ‘The Five Orange Pips’, ’87 proved to be a remarkable year in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
But, while early Autumn brought a rapid series of cases, all solved with Holmes’ usual aplomb and precision, October found my friend strangely unencumbered by challenges.
As usual during these lulls, I was concerned that Holmes would fall back into using the seven-per-cent solution of cocaine he had often turned to when lacking in intellectual stimulation. I visited the old rooms at Baker Street as often as I could in order to prevent such a lapse but my wife and my bustling practice kept me quite busy and I could not be assured that my efforts would be successful.
Mindful of this, I encouraged Mary to once again visit to her aunt and left operation of my practice to Anstruther, as per usual. I gathered my personal effects and repaired to my old quarters at Baker Street.
I cannot say that Holmes was delighted to see me as he had slipped into the malaise that often gripped him in such times. Thanks to what I had learned in my association with the great detective, I noted two fresh bullet holes above the mantel and the disarray of nearly a week’s worth of newspapers strewn about the floor. I was prepared for Holmes’ argumentative mood as his disreputable clay pipe smouldered with the usual black shag from the Persian slipper atop the mantel. Indeed, the air in the sitting room was so thick with pipe smoke, I moved to open a window.
“I bid you to leave the window closed, Watson,” he said, “I am ruminating on a monograph I am preparing on the burn rates of all of the cigarettes available in England. I am certain that information could prove invaluable when determining the when a crime has occurred.”
“What harm,” said I, “would there be in fresh air? Surely it would clear your head and allow you to think!”
“An obtuse thought,” he answered, “as such an effect would be counteracted by the trap which has upended across the street and the noisesome bellowing of its driver.”
I ignored the insult and looked through the window to discover the exact scene that Holmes had described transpiring before my eyes.
“Just when I feel my powers of observation are increasing I am reminded I am a mere amateur!”
“Indeed,” rejoined Holmes, “but as you have already disturbed my thoughts, further interruption matters not. The completion of my monograph will have to wait for another day as you will notice the approaching carriage and its passenger’s haste to our door.”
Remarkably, as I gazed through the window, the series of events Holmes described played out with exacting detail.
“Fetch the brandy and a glass, Watson. Our guest will doubtless be grateful for it”
There was sound of rushed footsteps upon the stair, accompanied by the scolding voice of Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ long-suffering landlady. A disheveled gentleman burst through the door followed closely my the aforementioned Mrs. Hudson.
“Mr. Holmes,” she cried, “I tried to stop him rushing in, but seems determined to break the rules of hospitality!”
“I think the natural order of hospitality may be dismissed in this case, Mrs. Hudson. If you would be so kind as to prepare tea it may assist us in returning some decorum.”
Our guest was a middle-aged man of above average height. He appeared to have once been a physically powerful man but the bulk which had once been muscle had begun to soften, though any man would still be wary of an altercation with him. His dark hair had gone mostly over into a steel gray and he wore a brushy mustache and beard. Though rumpled, his clothing was not low and I marked him as some sort of messenger. He wore no overcoat yet I could not instantly determine whether his shivering was more caused by London’s October chill or his obvious heightened state of agitation.
“Sh-Sherlock H-Holmes?” he stammered, “I m-must speak w-with you on a m-matter of s-singular importance!”
“And indeed you shall my good man,” answered Holmes, “But first, I believe some brandy is in order -Watson?”
I handed the man the glass of brandy I had fetched and watched as he quickly drained it of its contents.
I then guided him to a chair into which he sunk as if he would pass out of consciousness. I moved to check his vital signs but he waved me off.
“Thank you, Doctor,” he began, “I think I shall be fine now that I am finally speaking to the renowned Sherlock Holmes! My errand is urgent and has bearing on the realm – thus my former state of heightened excitement!”
“And what, praytell, does Lord Stanley of Preston wish of me?” asked Holmes.
“You reputation proceeded you, Mr. Holmes,” spoke our guest with no small amount of wonder, “How comes it that you know who has sent me?”
“By the sound of your carriage I knew it to be of uncommon manufacture. An ordinary conveyance of the type is a cacophony of rattles and creaks. Yours is sturdy and well maintained – a carriage of a wealthy man or one of some importance. In the case of your employer – he is both. Your build and bearing is that of a former military man. Post-service you most-likely served Knowsley Hall as a footman until age and loyalty elevated you to your current position. Despite your haste in dressing, you are obviously arrayed in the garb of an official messenger to the Colonial Secretary, though Lord Stanley has recently vacated that post. The mud on your boots is of a kind uniquely found around the river Mersey as described in my monograph on the subject. And finally the envelope that protrudes from your waistcoat pocket bears the official seal of the Earl of Derby.”
Both our guest and I were momentarily struck dumb by Sherlock Holmes’ seeming miraculous display of observation.
“The only thing I have not deduced is your name, as the normal courtesy of a calling card has been subverted by your celerity. If you would be so kind?”
The man blinked and shook his head to regain his full senses.
“I am Shuttlesworth, and as you have mystically conjured, I am official messenger of Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby. I apologize for my earlier alacrity but my lord severely impressed upon me the urgency of which I was to speak with you, Mr. Holmes. He was in a more agitated state than I have ever seen him -he is normally a man of resolve. I took his meaning to heart and struck out in mere minutes. As it was early evening, there were no remaining trains between Liverpool and London so I took the lord’s best carriage and swiftest horses. I forsook stopping save for allowing the horses rest and refreshment to arrive here in the state you beheld me. As the matter is of highest import and secrecy, I am to present this letter to you personally and await your reply, at such time I will return to Knowsley Hall. My lord has advised me that you will be handsomely rewarded if you take the case – regardless of the outcome.”
“No magic at all, my good man – simply the power of observation. And if you will pass me the letter we shall see what necessitated such urgency and promise of healthy recompense.”
Shuttlesworth passed the letter to me and I waited as Holmes packed his pipe with a fresh amount of black shag from his Persian slipper. When his pipe was lit I handed him the document and he broke the seal. We all sat in silence as Holmes focused his attention of the words of Lord Stanley. When he had finished he re-folded the communication and placed it on the side table.
“Tell Lord Stanley I accept his case. Watson and I shall arrive at Knowsley Hall within two days time to begin my investigation. In the meantime I must conduct such research of the details of the case that can only be done in London.”
Buoyed by the acceptance of his lord’s case, Shuttlesworth thanked Holmes profusely and slumped out of our rooms at Baker Street and back into his carriage which clattered away with speed.
“Come now, Holmes,” I beseeched, “what is so important that the former Colonial Secretary felt such urgency to retain your services?”
Holmes puffed on his clay pipe, “It is an intriguing puzzle indeed, Watson. It seems that Lord Stanley is awaiting an appointment from Queen Victoria. He shall be the Governor General of Canada. However, this appointment is in jeopardy! A man in such an important position must be free of scandal if he is to be an effective servant to the Queen. If my memory serves, Lord Stanley’s reputation has been sterling but there is a new development which would surely tarnish that reputation permanently and leave her majesty no choice but to find another to be Governor.
Our client is being blackmailed by a shadowy figure for a rather large sum to be paid in cash in one fortnight. Failure to do so would result in the revelation that Lord Stanley has an illegitimate son and the identity of that son is the infamous Barris O’Bannon!”
“Barris O’Bannon? The man convicted of brutally murdering 12 young women? The man who is scheduled to be hung from the gallows next month? Surely it’s easily provable that there is no connection between O’Bannon and Stanley!”
“Aha! There you are wrong, Watson!” exclaimed Holmes, “O’Bannon’s mother was a servant at Knowsley at the time of his conception and left service when her son was born. Lord Stanley explains that he was single at the time and had often been seen in the company of the young woman. He swears that they were merely friends, despite their stations in life, and that there was never any romance between them. He admits the timing of the birth and mystery surrounding her leaving the service of Knowsley Hall places a lot of doubt as to his claim that he is not the father. He says that young Miss O’Bannon was embarrassed at becoming pregnant out of wedlock and never told anyone who the father of the child was. She left employ when her son was born and died soon thereafter of a fever. The child’s elderly grandmother cared for him, but was unable to steer him away from crime. At this time O’Bannon has no living relatives.”
“The evidence is circumstantial, Holmes!” I cried.
“That as my be, Watson, the public at large tends to see such evidence as fact and is always hungry for the next scandal. Whatever a court may decide, Stanley’s public reputation would be ruined as a family whose bloodline tends toward such unspeakable violence could not be trusted to hold a high public office as the Governor General of Canada! Pack your bag, Watson and bring your service revolver – I believe you shall need it. We will take the morning train to Liverpool. If it is within my power, I shall save Lord Stanley from losing his next office of employ!”
We arrived in Liverpool late in the afternoon. We found that a carriage had already been arranged and a porter took charge of our luggage and saw to our comfort as we set out for Knowsley.
As we rounded the lane in Merseyside we finally beheld stately Knowsley Hall. The Gothic style of the south wing stood in contrast to the east-wing loggia – an obvious later addition. Still the overall effect was pleasant if not a bit intimidating.
We were met at the gate by the butler – a man named Curruthers – who led us to our well-appointed rooms and told us that dinner would be a casual affair and there would be no need to dress for it. Holmes thanked the man and he and I repaired to our rooms to take comfort after a long journey.
We were summoned to the drawing room by Lord Stanley a short time later. He rose out of a large leather chair to greet us when we arrived. He was a stout fellow with a full beard that had gone to gray, though the hair on his head retained some of the dark brown of his youth. He eagerly shook our hands and asked us to sit. He bade Curruthers to pour us a drop of whiskey to take the edge off the chill of travel.
“I’m glad you were able to take up my case so quickly, Holmes,” said Stanley, “You obviously grasped the urgency and delicate nature of my situation!”
“Indeed I have, Lord Stanley,” said Holmes, “And as luck would have it, there are no other cases requiring my full attention at this time. The details you have provided me would alone be enough to make this a difficult case, but please, tell me exactly when the money you had gathered to pay off the blackmailer disappeared!”
“How could you have possibly known about that, Holmes?” cried Lord Stanley.
“As I entered the room I observed an open bank ledger on your desk, the open page containing nothing but withdrawals to be paid entirely in sovereigns. These had all been made prior to this week. I also observed several letters on the edge of your desk, all addressed to real estate management companies that I can only assume manage various properties and holdings of yours. The gap between the withdrawals and the penning of the letters leads me to believe that the original sum has gone missing and you are attempting to liquidate assets to make up for the loss. The money could only have gone missing within the past two days – the time when Shuttlesworth was dispatched and when we had arrived here. As well the fresh scratches on the floor indicate a large strongbox was dragged from this room very recently.”
Lord Stanley sighed. “You are correct, of course,” said he, “the money has indeed been stolen from this very room. It was a considerable sum – one-hundred-fifty thousand pounds. It represented very nearly all of my liquid assets and just enough to meet the blackguard’s demands should you prove unable to locate him and his confederates before time had expired. I am quite dismayed as well as cash-poor! And though I am making the effort, I do not believe I will be able to liquidate my real estate holdings in time. Unless you can help, all is lost!”
“Things are not so grim, Lord Stanley,” Holmes opined, “I have already begun building a case and believe that your money shall be returned and your reputation preserved!”
“That is a relief, Holmes, but how do you intend to do it?” asked Lord Stanley.
“My ways are not secret. Through deductive reasoning, science and facts we shall arrive at a solution. First, allow me to make a thorough investigation of the Hall. Should that prove as fruitful as I believe it will, I shall need to make my way into town to settle a few matters but I shan’t be long. I anticipate that I will return before dinner. After we have eaten, I ask permission to question your servants.”
“Of course, Mr. Holmes,” said Lord Stanley, “Any resource I can provide shall be yours. You may take my carriage into town if you would like.”
“That will not be necessary. Your carriage will draw too much attention to my maneuvering. I noted as we arrived that you have a simple trap parked outside the stables, no doubt used by the stable boy for making supply runs. If it would not inconvenience you, I will take it alone into town.”
“If it would help solve this case, Mr. Holmes, I would provide you with a hundred traps!” exclaimed Lord Stanley.
Holmes gave a terse smile, “The one will do, Lord Stanley. Watson will remain here on chance that anything further develops while I am away.”
Lord Stanley and I took our leave of the drawing room while Holmes lingered, taking note of seemingly innocuous minutiae as is his way. After a brief investigation of the hallway and surrounding rooms, Holmes donned his tweed cape and ear-flapped travelling cap and made his way into town.
In Holmes’ absence I discovered that Lord Stanley was as keen an angler as I and he regaled me with tales of his excursions around England and abroad. His favorite spot was a remote lake in Canada in which he assured me there dwelt leviathans of such strength there had not been a line invented they could not snap.
I was humbled as he invited me along on the next expedition there should the case be solved and his standing with the Crown be preserved.
Holmes returned to Knowsley Hall approximately two hours after leaving. As it was very nearly time for dinner we repaired to our rooms to wash and make ready.
“There are intriguing developments, Watson,” said Holmes, “As I was on the town I espied Shuttlesworth, bereft of his official uniform and wearing common attire entering a public house of seeming ill-repute!”
“Whatever could Shuttlesworth be doing there? Surely he is compensated for his services well enough that he may take refreshment in a more upscale establishment!”
“Good man, Watson!” Homes replied, “I had the same thought. Not wishing to give away my position, I hid the trap and made some inquires at a few of the shops near the pub and discovered that the “Drowning Dog” is indeed a place to patronize if you are seeking men of dubious character. I waited from a hidden position until Shuttlesworth emerged with two large men in tow. They entered his carriage and were off. As my trap was several streets away I was unable to follow.”
“Astounding, Holmes!” I ejaculated, “Shuttlesworth had seemed of true loyalty, so much so that he was shaking with high anxiety when he burst into our rooms at Baker Street! Do you think he is the blackmailer?”
“The evidence against him mounts, but I won’t make final judgement quite yet, Watson. And general anxiety can be faked! You’ll remember that he came out of his agitated state in a very short time.
After paying a visit to the telegraph office and having an elucidating conversation with the head porter at the train station, I made my way back here to Knowsley Hall. I questioned the young stable boy about Shuttlesworth upon my return and found that he is indeed a man of some means. He lives in a large home not 2 miles from here and employs a small staff of his own. The Stanleys have apparently been quite generous with him in his many years of service, Watson and he lives quite comfortably, but not exorbitantly. However, if he were indeed the blackmailer, and I am nearly certain that he is, a sum as large as was demanded would easily be noticed. Unless he has planned the most rapid of escapes from England, he would be implicated soon after receiving the funds. Even Inspector Lestrade would make quick work of such a crime.”
Holmes took a moment to light his pipe, “A fine puzzle this is, Watson. Fine indeed. I hazard to say my old rival, Moriarty has a hand in it in some fashion.”
“What makes you say that, Holmes?”
“The recklessness of Shuttlesworth for one. There is some motive beyond the obvious financial gain or our quarry would be more calculating. Emotion often clouds judgement, Watson. That the money has already disappeared is another reason. Moriarty is most clever in profiting from his schemes – even the so-called failures. Once he would have been informed that I was on the case he would make a play to collect the spoils as he’d be certain that I would get to the bottom of it. Shuttlesworth could easily have dispatched a communication to Moriarty while he was in London to deliver Lord Stanley’s message to me. Of course Moriarty’s hands would remain pristine in the matter as any connection to him would be impossible to prove in a court of law, so cunning is he. But I have little doubt that one of Moriarty’s agents has imposed the will of London’s most sinister criminal masterminds upon Shuttlesworth.”
“Elementary, Watson! But what leverage is Moriarty using upon Shuttlesworth? I have a hypothesis that I am sure will be confirmed very soon.”
He puffed away on the strong black shag for a few moments, “But it is good that we arrived when we did. The money is still somewhere in Knowsley Hall. I see by your expression that you wonder how I have divined this fact. In the drawing room I pointed out the marks made by the strongbox as it was dragged from the room. It was dragged because it would take several stout men to carry it more than a few feet – and then with much difficulty. The drag marks continue from the wooden floor of the drawing room to the carpet in the hallway, though some effort was made to hide them. They stop in the middle of the hallway between the drawing room and kitchen near a marble statue. This leads me to believe the strongbox was stashed very close by to be retrieved later as whoever had dragged the box would not be able to carry it far.
This means that the thief would have to be intimately acquainted with Knowsley Hall – yet another mark against Lord Stanley’s messenger! But come, Watson I believe the footsteps upon the hall are those of Curruthers summoning us to dinner and my little excursion has stimulated my appetite.”
Holmes was of course correct and we followed Curruthers to the opulent dining room of Knowsley Hall.
While were were informed that dinner would be a casual affair the silverware and service was of exceptional quality and a cheery fire blazed in the massive fireplace. I shudder to think of what qualified as a formal dinner there but I can only imagine that I would feel uncomfortable by fineries that exceeded what were enjoyed that night.
After a meal of winter fowl and a delicious pudding we were led to the master’s sitting room as arrangements were made for Holmes to interview the staff.
Since Holmes had determined that the perpetrator must be male, sturdy and possess detailed knowledge of Knowsley Hall, he dismissed the female members of the staff. The stable boy was young and slight and so was also summarily dismissed. This left just Curruthers, Shuttlesworth’s assistant – a lad named Bodkins – and Shuttlesworth himself. Though Shuttlesworth would have been away when the actual theft happened, giving him a reliable alibi, Holmes opined that he very easily could have directed his assistant to remove the strongbox.
Bodkins proved a very stout lad indeed, but not possessed of a wealth of intelligence. He stood over six feet in height with a powerful build from caring for a heavy carriage and pack horses.
“I don’t know nothing about no money gone missing, sir. Thank you, sir.” he opened before Holmes even spoke to him, “I don’t do nothing I don’t get told, sir!”
“Get told by Lord Stanley or Shuttlesworth, my boy?” asked Holmes.
“Oh no, sir,” he started, “My lord don’t talk to the likes of me, sir. It’s Shuttlesworth what tells me what I ought do, sir. And I does it, don’t I?”
“Ah, but did Shuttlesworth or Curruthers tell you to move a box from the drawing room last night?”
“I ain’t saying nothing, sir,” Bodkins exclaimed, “I ain’t ought to talk about my betters!”
Following that statement no further information could be extracted from young Bodkins. The lad crossed his arms and set his jaw and said nothing despite repeated cajoling from Holmes. My friend eventually released the lad but bade him remain on the grounds.
“He obviously moved the box, Holmes!” I cried, “Why did you let him go?”
“He is but a small fish, Watson, to use a metaphor from your ridiculous hobby,” said Holmes “I am angling for the big fish!”
As Shuttlesworth had not returned from his clandestine dealings, then next servant to be questioned was Curruthers, the butler. Curruthers was man in his late 60s with a nearly bald pate and no facial hair. Despite his advancing age, he did have a robust bearing and seemed far from retirement. He gave the appearance of fierce loyalty to the Earls of Derby throughout his nearly 50 years of employment at Knowsley Hall.
“I have some questions for you, Curruthers and I advise you to answer them to the best of your ability and without deception as you no doubt grasp the gravity of the situation your lord finds himself. You may find that some of the questions I ask seemingly have no bearing on this case, but I assure every one is crucial to my investigation.” Holmes said.
“Of course, sir. I would never do anything to harm Lord Stanley or his family in any way whatsoever!”
“I believe you, Curruthers. Firstly, did you order Bodkins to remove the strongbox from the drawing room?”
“I never did!” cried Curruthers, “The lad is of singular mind. Only Shuttlesworth seems able to get through to him. He is a lost cause to me.”
“Good. Good,” replied Holmes, “I had deduced as much but had to make certain. Now, you have been employed by the Stanley’s for almost 50 years so I feel confident that you will be able to enlighten me as to events that happened here nearly 30 years ago.”
“That I could, sir.” said Curruthers.
“Excellent. Please describe Lord Stanley’s relationship with Miss O’Bannon. And remember, I must have the facts. You may think deception would protect your master and before the current crisis you would have been correct. However, I again impress upon you the matter at hand and that absolute truth will save all!”
Curruthers appeared crestfallen. After a brief moment of inner turmoil, he spoke.
“They were young then, Mr. Holmes. Miss Hope O’Bannon was a scullery maid with no chance of a real life with the young lord, but you know how it is with young people. They don’t think about the future or station.
She was as fair as any maiden in Liverpool and they were in love they were – or at least the young lord was in love with her.
They was as secret as they could be but they were marked by townsfolk on occasion when they would walk the banks of the Mersey. I tried to tell him that it was a foolish endeavor but as I said, he had the stubbornness of youth. Again I say that the young lord was in love with her, but I never believed that she was as smitten. She was in her full bloom of womanhood, if you take my meaning Mr. Holmes, and I saw her walking with other gentlemen – even our Shuttlesworth – him being a returning soldier and all.
When I informed the young lord of this, he was quite distraught. He finally realized that his station forbade him being with a lass of low bearing and decided to end their relationship.
But before he had the chance it was discovered that Miss O’Bannon was with child!
Now Frederick – Lord Stanley – assured me that it was impossible for him to be the father of the babe because he and Miss Hope and not been intimate, if you take my meaning. Shuttlesworth also denied it!
Since the lass had been seen with other suitors we could not be sure who was the father and she refused to say.
Frederick was rejoined by his father and though we knew it was not his baby it was also known that all of Liverpool would believe that it was the Lord’s child as they had seen what they had seen as I told you.
So the young lord avoided the lass and his father arranged a quiet life for Miss O’Bannon and her baby once it had been born – far away from Knowsley Hall.
The lass was often heard sobbing in her quarters until the babe was born at which time they were bundled away. We never did hear from her or her child again until Barris was arrested and sentenced to be hung and pardon my language, that b____ blackmailer threatened to bring disgrace upon Lord Stanley!”
“You’ve been quite thorough, Curruthers,” spoke Holmes. “I thank you for your candor. You may leave.”
Curruthers left the sitting room. Holmes looked at me and said, “I think another conversation with Lord Stanley is order, wouldn’t you say, Watson?”
We joined Lord Stanley in his drawing room where he was again poring over his bank ledger searching for any assets he could easily liquidate.
“Lord Stanley,” began Holmes, “I wish no disrespect but I do not believe you have not been forthcoming with me as to your relationship with Miss O’Bannon. If I am to solve your case, I must have absolute honesty from you!”
Lord Stanley rubbed his eyes, “I understand, Mr. Holmes. I’ll tell you all.”
His story corroborated with what Curruthers has said. As he wistfully related the story it appeared to me that even through the years, Miss Hope O’Bannon still held a special place in the Lord’s heart.
“I did love her, Holmes,” he said, “Even though she broke my heart by bearing another man’s child, I loved her dearly. And were it not for my station in life I would have cared for her and her child, though it was not mine. Indeed, I wonder if I had done just that would the lad have turned out to be such an evil creature? But I was convinced by my father that such a course of action was impossible and she was taken from me and you know the rest. It was something I will always regret.”
He dropped his head into his hands and cried, “I have lost my Hope, my cash and without some way to speed the liquidation of my real estate it appears that I shall also lose the job to which the Queen herself will be appointing me!”
“You may have lost your Hope, Lord Stanley, but I assure you that you will not lose your cash or your job! But for some minor details I have solved your case. Scotland Yard will be arriving tomorrow to arrest the criminal responsible for your recent trouble and your appointment will go on as planned.”
Holmes held up a hand, “No I cannot reveal what I know yet. The trap has not yet been full sprung and there is much to attend before the dawn. I advise you to turn in early and remain in your quarters as there may be some doings in which you would not wish to involve yourself. Come, Watson, we must make haste.”
Upon Holmes’ suggestion, I returned to my temporary quarters to retrieve my service revolver and array myself in black clothing. When I returned to the hallway between the drawing room and kitchen I discovered Holmes tapping the walls with his knuckles. He was focusing his attention near a marble statue of a young woman in the classic Greek style.
“Watson, your timing is impeccable. Come, tell me what you hear when I tap this place on the wall,” he said as he rapped the wall next to the statue, “and here.” He tapped the wall behind the statue.
“Why, Homes,” I exclaimed, “there appears to be a hollow area behind this statue!”
“Indeed, Watson,” he answered, “And if you will observe the carpet you will see that the statue has been dragged away from the wall and replaced – but not exactly in the same position. See the difference in the wear patterns? The missing strongbox is undoubtedly secreted in the wall behind the statue.”
“Quite. And now I suggest we take some light refreshment before we conceal ourselves. I believe my presence has forced the thief’s hand and he will make his play to retrieve the money tonight.”
Holmes and I made a light repast of bread and strong coffee before making a show of retiring to our quarters. As soon as the coast was clear we made for our hiding places. I was to wait in the kitchen while Holmes took up in the drawing room.
I was glad of the coffee’s bracing effects as it would prove to be some time before our quarry made his move. By my pocket watch it was nearly six in the morning when I heard the heavy door of Knowsley Hall’s side entrance and the shuffling of several sets of booted feet in the hall. After a moment of muted commotion I heard the creaking of some sort of door and the jangling of coins shifting as the strongbox was jostled.
“Now, Watson!” exclaimed Holmes.
I leapt from the kitchen to discover Shuttlesworth and two men who could only have been the same blackguards Holmes had observed exiting the Drowning Dog. They had opened the hidey hole in the wall and were extracting the strongbox. I trained my service revolver on the men and noticed Holmes had also emerged himself from his hiding place and was similarly holding them in place with a firearm of his own.
“It appears the game is up, Shuttlesworth. I’d advise to to cease your activities.” Holmes said calmly.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Holmes.” replied Shuttlesworth.
“Is this the cove what you you told us about, gov?” remarked the larger of the two men, “He don’t look like much to me. Me and Dez gots a blunderbuss too, don’t we? I reckon we snuff these fellows no problem and abscond with the loot!”
“You may have been able to dispatch Watson and myself, but you’d have never made it beyond these walls.” said Holmes, “Lestrade, if you please?”
At that I heard the deliberate tramp of policemen’s boots as both ends of the hallway were filled with Scotland Yard’s finest, including Inspector Lestrade.
“I was hoping to make a collar this morning Holmes or I would have been more than a little perturbed at losing a night’s sleep.” said Lestrade, and then to the brutes with the strongbox, “I do believe you’re nicked, fellows!”
As the thieves were led out of the hallway I said to Holmes, “I still don’t understand why Shuttlesworth would get wrapped up in such a scheme, Holmes!”
“All will be revealed, Watson. I believe Shuttlesworth will have something to say on the matter. I’ve asked Lestrade to bring him into the sitting room and we will have not long to wait before Curruthers summons Lord Stanley.
Once all parties were assembled, Holmes began.
“Lestrade, I believe you will find a number of crimes have been committed by our Shuttlesworth,” Holmes said, “theft, blackmail and sheltering a known murderer!”
Lestrade narrowed his eyes, “I can see we have him on the first counts, Mr. Holmes, but what makes you think he has aided a killer?”
“As I remarked to Watson earlier in the day I had quite the enlightening chat with the head porter at the train station. As you know, porters are often possessed of great mnemonic skills and I was delighted to find that Liverpool Station’s head porter was no different.
We know that Barris O’Bannon was born in these very walls before being exiled with his mother to parts unknown. I had my suspicions that before his capture he may well have returned to Liverpool to seek his roots – perhaps to some devilish end. I could find no evidence of him coming to Knowsley Hall but the porter did mark him travelling here on more than one occasion!”
“But what ever for, Holmes?” I asked.
“As I said – he was seeking his roots and in turn paying several visits to his father, Shuttlesworth!”
At this Lord Stanley reddened in anger, “Shuttlesworth! You claimed the babe was not yours! You are my greatest friend – how could you be the architect of my greatest betrayal?”
Shuttlesworth stiffened, “I won’t apologize, Freddy. Yes I call you Freddy and not ‘my lord’. You were so blind with infatuation back then you could not see that Hope never felt for you as you did for she. She tolerated your advances because you were the young lord. Hope and I were truly in love! But I could not claim a child conceived out of wedlock as mine and still retain my station with your father – a man of unwavering principals. When he cast his final judgement it destroyed our relationship and Hope was lost to me forever – long before she was cast from Knowsley Hall!”
Lord Stanley looked stricken and he sunk deeper into his chair.
“But that was not the last you saw of your child, was it, Shuttlesworth,” said Holmes.
“No it wasn’t. I provided what financial help to Hope as I could but her broken spirit affected her health and she was soon taken by a fever, God rest her soul. The boy was sent to his grandmother and we all know the rest of that story. But last year, not long after the papers were splashed with the gruesome murders perpetrated Barris O’Bannon he arrived on my doorstep seeking asylum. I should have cast him out if not turn him in to the authorities but I was wracked with guilt.
Without my stern hand my child had become the hoodlum that stood before me. So in penance, I harbored him from time to time when Scotland Yard sniffed too close to his trail.”
“But why the blackmail of your lord?” said Lestrade.
“I could not be implicated in the crime of harboring a murderer, inspector! I am not a young man and I have my pride. I see now that it was a mistake, but my guilt at abandoning my boy and grief over the loss of Hope that had been rekindled by his arrival affected my judgement.
Shortly after O’Bannon was collared, a strange man visited me at my home.”
“A man with a white mark on his forehead and the pierced ears of a gypsy, no doubt.” interjected Holmes.
“That’s right!” exclaimed Shuttlesworth, “How could you have known?”
“The man is John Clay,” said Holmes, “and though I can not yet prove it I believe he is one of Professor Moriarty’s prime agents. Once again the Liverpool Station porter confirmed my suspicion of his involvement. He is a man of unique appearance and not easily mistaken. I take it Clay hatched the scheme to blackmail your employer. But when I was consulted on the case, the plot was in jeopardy.
After visiting our rooms at Baker Street, you no doubt met with John Clay in London before returning to Liverpool. Clay most assuredly advised you to make off with the money. Disguising yourself, you boarded the last train from London and sent the carriage back to Knowsley Hall without you. You arrived in the late evening, and in the dead of night you and your assistant hid the strongbox in a secret passageway that had passed out of knowledge from the residents of the Hall.”
“I found it early in my employ here at Knowsley. Once I determined that no one else was aware of the hidden chamber I used it to my own ends. My beloved Hope and I often sought our privacy there.” said Shuttlesworth.
Holmes nodded and continued, “And now that the scheme had taken a turn, I imagine the papers would learn of the scandal, however untrue, even after you had made off with Lord Stanley’s fortune.
Though the bulk of the cash would go to Moriarty, you not only would receive a share of the spoils, but by creating a scandal connecting O’Bannon and Lord Stanley you would also take revenge on the man who, if you’ll pardon the pun, made you lose your Hope. And in balance you’d obfuscate your own familial relationship with O’Bannon and your harboring of one of London’s most infamous murderers!”
“It’s all true, Holmes. I thought by causing Freddy to lose his cash and job he might feel a small part of the grief and pain I have carried with me these thirty years.” said Shuttlesworth.
There was not much more to be said of the affair. After what pleasantries remained to be expressed, Lestrade’s men marched Shuttlesworth away to await official judgement.
“I think that ties this affair up pretty enough, Holmes,” said Lestrade, “I never fail to be amazed whenever you involve me in your cases.”
“I’m happy to be of some value, inspector,” smiled Holmes, “I take it Shuttlesworth’s confession will aid in justice being done?”
“It certainly will, Holmes.” replied Lestrade, “Now I’m a bit peckish. One of the lads knows of a pastry shop in town that is about get a visit from Scotland Yard!”
Lestrade made his exit and Knowsley Hall was once again free of scandal.
“However can I thank you, Holmes?” exclaimed Lord Stanley, “You have preserved my reputation, my wealth and my future employment. If there’s anything I can do to compensate you beyond the considerable reward I have promised, name it!”
“I think that shall be all I require, Lord Stanley.” said Holmes. “I’m sorry I could not have recovered your Hope, but your cash and job are safe. Come, Watson, we may yet make the morning train to London!”
As planned, O’Bannon was hung from the gallows in mid-December. A grim affair as you’d imagine. He silently went to his grave, never mentioning Shuttlesworth by name.
Shuttlesworth himself was tried and convicted of blackmail, robbery and harboring a fugitive from the law. He was mercifully granted a short sentence and after serving his time he moved to a small village far to the north of Liverpool – away from the prying eyes of the press.
John Clay would feature in a number of Holmes’ adventures, but those are tales for another day.
Addendum: These pages must be sealed and locked away until such time that their publication could bring no harm upon the house of Derby or the reputation of the good Lord Stanley of Preston, the sixth Governor General of Canada.
Dr. John H. Watson
Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed it. It was a lot of work for a very silly payoff! So I guess you’re wondering what the message in the text is – or if you’ve figured it out, perhaps you’re wondering why…
A year and a half ago Twitter weirdos (including me) started riffing on the really dumb anti-Obama joke/trope, “10 years ago we had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash and Bob Hope, now we have no hope, no cash and no jobs!”
It’s a real corker.
That soon morphed into a challenge to lead an unsuspecting someone down the longest and windingest path possible before revealing that the entire journey had been about that dumb joke.
I’d been reading the Sherlock Holmes catalog and it occurred to me that I could write a very long “jobs/cash/hope” joke in the guise of a Holmes tale. And even if the reader never caught on I would try to write the very best Sherlock story I could.
And so we’ve arrived. The game is no longer afoot. It was never a game in the first place. It was a very, very dumb riff on an even dumber joke.