Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
For Jim LeMonds
and his Five Easy Pieces
DUST AND SHADOW
At first it seemed the Ripper affair had scarred my friend Sherlock Holmes as badly as it had the city of London itself. I would encounter him at the end of his nightlong vigils, lying upon the sofa with his violin at his feet and his hypodermic syringe fallen from long, listless fingers, neither anodyne having banished the specter of the man we had pursued for over two months. I fought as best I could for his health, but as a fellow sufferer I could do but little to dispel his horror at what had occurred, his petrifying fear that somehow, in some inhuman feat of genius, he could have done more than he did.
At length, though never for publication, I determined that in the interests of my own peace of mind I should write the matter down. I think only in my struggle to record the Reichenbach Falls business have I borne so heavy a weight as I laid pen against paper. They were evil days for me, and Holmes more than once, up and about as the cases flooded in with more force than he could practically avoid, leaned against my desk and remarked, “Come see about the Tarlington matter with me. You needn’t write this, my dear fellow. The world has already forgotten him, you know. One day we shall too.”
However, as was very seldom the case, Sherlock Holmes was mistaken. The world did not forget him. It has not forgotten him to this very day, and it is a brave lad indeed who does not experience a chilling of the blood when an elder sibling invokes the frightful phantom of Jack the Ripper.
I finished the chronicle, as much as possible in that measured biographical tone which had become my habit. I did so many years ago, when Holmes’s part in the matter was still questioned. But our role in the Ripper murders soon ceased to be a topic of any interest save to a select few. Only the cases visibly solved by my friend drew the accolades of a grateful public, for a story without an end is no story at all, and for London’s sake, as well as for our own, the solution to the Ripper affair had to remain absolutely secret.
Though I may act against my own best interests, I cannot now bring myself to burn any records of the cases Holmes and I shared. I intend to leave my papers in my solicitor’s capable hands, with this particular missive resting upon the very top of my dispatch box. No matter how vehemently I may insist upon it, however, I cannot be certain that my desire to leave this account unpublished will be obeyed. This tale throws into stark relief the most distant margins of man’s malevolent capacities, and I will not stand accused of embellishment or of sensationalism. Indeed, by the time anyone lays eyes on these pages, I pray that Jack the Ripper will have faded into a mere memory of a less equitable, more violent time.
My sole intent in setting the story down at all was to applaud those indefatigable talents and high-minded purposes which I hope will ever single out my friend of more than fifty years. And yet, I am gratified to note, even as I write—beset with tidings of new war and of new grief—posterity in her kindness has already singled out a place in history for the great Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
Dr. John H. Watson, July 1939
CHAPTER ONE Two Crimes
CHAPTER TWO The Evidence
CHAPTER THREE Miss Mary Ann Monk
CHAPTER FOUR The Horror of Hanbury Street
CHAPTER FIVE We Procure an Ally
CHAPTER SIX A Letter to the Boss
CHAPTER SEVEN A Whitechapel Rendezvous
CHAPTER EIGHT In Pursuit of the Killer
CHAPTER NINE The Double Event
CHAPTER TEN The Destruction of the Clue
CHAPTER ELEVEN Mitre Square
CHAPTER TWELVE Dark Writings
CHAPTER THIRTEEN Miss Monk Investigates
CHAPTER FOURTEEN Lestrade Questions a Suspect
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The London Monster
CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Problem of Whitechapel
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN A Man in a Uniform
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Trophies
CHAPTER NINETEEN What Stephen Dunlevy Had to Tell
CHAPTER TWENTY The Thread
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE A Narrow Escape
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO The Disappearance of Sherlock Holmes
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE The Fleet Street Enterprise
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR The East-end Division
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Bonfire Night
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX The Lie
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN The Killer
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT A Hunting Party
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE The Case and the Heart
CHAPTER THIRTY The Gift
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE With the Respects of the Yard
“My dear Doctor, I fear that I shall require your services this evening.”
I looked up quizzically from an article on the local elections in the Colwall Gazette. “With pleasure, Holmes.”
“Dress warmly—the barometer is safe enough, but the wind is chill. And if you don’t mind dropping your revolver in your pocket, I should be obliged. One can never be too careful, after all, and your revolver is a particularly businesslike argument.”
“Did I not hear you say at dinner that we would return to London by the morning train?”
Sherlock Holmes smiled enigmatically through the gauzy veil of pipe smoke which had gradually enveloped his armchair. “You refer to my remarking that you and I would be far more productive in the city than here in Herefordshire. So we shall be. There are three cases of variable interest awaiting us in London.”
“But the missing diamond?”
“I have solved it.”
“My dear Holmes!” I exclaimed. “I congratulate you. But where is it, then? Have you advised Lord Ramsden of its whereabouts? And have you sent word to Inspector Gregson at the inn?”
“I said I had solved it, not resolved it, my dear fellow.” Holmes laughed, rising from the damask chair in our elegant guest sitting room to knock his pipe against the grate. “That work lies ahead of us. As for the case, it was never a very mysterious business, for all that our friend from the Yard appears to remain bewildered.”
“I find it just as inexplicable,” I admitted. “The ring stolen from a private vault, the absurd missing patch of lawn from the southern part of the grounds, the Baron’s own tragic past…”
“You have a talent of a sort, my dear Watson, though you make shockingly little use of it. You’ve just identified the most telling points in the whole affair.”
“Nevertheless, I confess myself all in the dark. Do you intend this evening to confront the criminal?”
“As it happens, no actual lawbreaking has yet been committed. However, you and I shall tonight don as much wool as we can lay our fingers on in order to witness a crime in action.”
“In action! Holmes, what crime can you mean?”
“Grave robbing, if I have not lost all my senses. Meet me upon the grounds at close upon one o’clock, if convenient—the staff will be largely abed by that time. I would not be seen exiting the house, if I were you. Needless delay could prove very unfortunate indeed.”
And with that, he disappeared into his bedroom.
At ten to one I quit the manor warmly bundled, for the night was bitter indeed, and the stars were mirrored by frozen moisture upon the grass. I spotted my friend with ease as he wandered down a stately path groomed with an almost Continental exactitude, apparently engrossed by the prospect of Nature’s constellations strewn across the sky with perfect clarity. I cleared my throat, and Holmes, with a nod, advanced in my direction.
“My dear Watson!” he said quietly. “So you too would prefer to risk a chill than to miss the Malvern Hills by night? Or so the housekeeper must assume?”
“I do not believe Mrs. Jeavons is awake to assume anything of the kind.”
“Marvelous. Let us see, then, what a brisk walk can do to combat this frigid weather.”
We followed a path which at first pointed toward the gardens but soon banked to trace the curvature of the nearby bluffs. It was not long before Holmes led us through a hinged gate of moss-covered wood, and we left the grounds of Blackheath House behind us. Feeling at a severe disadvantage regarding our intentions, I could not help but inquire, “You have somehow connected grave robbery with a recently stolen heirloom?”
“Why recently? Remember, we have very little evidence as to when it disappeared.”
I considered this, my breath forming ghostly miasmas before my eyes. “Granted. But if there is any question of grave robbery, should we not prevent rather than discover it?”
“I hardly think so.”
Though I was entirely inured to Holmes’s adoration of secrecy at the closing moments of a case, on occasion his dictatorial glibness grated upon my nerves. “No doubt you will soon make clear what a bizarre act of groundskeeping vandalism has to do with the defilement of a sacred resting place.”
Holmes glanced at me. “How long do you suppose it would take you to dig a grave?”
“Alone? I could not say. Given few other constraints upon my time, a day perhaps.”
“And if you required utter secrecy?”
“Several more, I should think,” I replied slowly.
“I imagine it would take you nearly as long to undig a grave, were the need to arise. And if it were imperative that no one discover your project, I presume your native cunning would suggest a way of hiding it from public view.”
“Holmes,” I gasped, the answer suddenly clear to me, “do you mean to tell me that the missing patch of sod—”
“Hsst!” he whispered. “There. You see?” We had crested the top of a wooded ridge perhaps half a mile from the estate and now peered down into the rough depression forming one of the boundaries of the nearby town. Holmes pointed a slender finger. “Observe the church.”
In the vibrant moonlight, I could just make out through the trees of the cemetery the stooped figure of a man laying the final clods of dirt upon a grave graced with a diminutive white headstone. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and started directly for us.
“It is Lord Ramsden himself,” I murmured.
“Back below the crest of the ridge,” said Holmes, and we retreated into the copse.
“He is nearly finished,” my companion observed. “I confess, Watson, that my sympathies in this matter lie squarely upon the side of the criminal, but you shall remain behind this outcropping and judge for yourself. I intend to confront the Baron alone, and if he proves reasonable, so much the better. If he does not—but quick, now! Duck down, and be as silent as you can.”
Settling onto a stone, I lightly grasped my revolver within the pocket of my greatcoat. I had just registered the hiss of a vesta being struck and caught a whiff of Holmes’s cigarette when muffled footsteps all at once thudded against the incline. I found that Holmes had chosen my hiding place with great care, for though I was concealed in the lee of the rock, a crack between it and the adjacent boulder afforded me a contracted view of the scene.
The Baron came into sight as he crested the ridge, perspiring visibly even in the frosty air, drawing his breath in great gasps. Glancing up into the woods before him, he stopped in horror and drew a pistol from his fur-lined cloak.
“Who goes there?” he demanded in a rasping voice.
“It is Sherlock Holmes, Lord Ramsden. It is imperative that I speak with you.”
“Sherlock Holmes!” he cried. “What are you doing about at this hour?”
“I might say the same to you, my lord.”
“It is hardly any business of yours,” the Baron retorted, but his words were brittle with panic. “I have paid a visit. A friend—”
Holmes sighed. “My lord, I cannot allow you to perjure yourself in this manner, for I know your errand tonight dealt not with the living but with the dead.”
“How could you know that?” asked the Baron.
“All is known to me, my lord.”
“So you have discovered her gravesite, then!” His hand wildly trembling, he waved his pistol at the ground in small circles as if unsure of its purpose.
“I paid it a brief visit this morning,” Holmes acknowledged gently. “I knew you, upon your own confession, to have loved Elenora Rowley. There you thought yourself wise, for you reasoned that too many trysts and too much correspondence had occurred between you for utter secrecy to be maintained after her death.”
“I did—and so I told you all!”
“From the instant your family realized the ring was missing, you have played the game masterfully,” Holmes continued, never moving his hypnotic grey eyes from the Baron’s face, though I knew his attention as well as my own was firmly fixed upon the pistol. “You summoned Dr. Watson and myself to aid the police; you even insisted we remain at Blackheath House until all was settled. I extend my compliments to your very workmanlike effort.”
The Baron’s eyes narrowed in fury. “I was forthright with you. I showed you and your friend every imaginable courtesy. So why, then, did you do it? Why would you ever have visited her grave?”
“For the very simple reason that you claimed not to know where it was.”
“Why should I have?” he demanded. “She was the entire world to me, yes, but—” He took a moment to master himself. “Our love was a jealously guarded secret, Mr. Holmes, and I abased myself once already by mentioning it to a hired detective.”
“Men of your station do not venture upon painful and intimate subjects with strangers except out of dire necessity,” Holmes insisted. “You gambled that employing complete sincerity at our initial conference in London would terminate my interest. Your candour would indeed have bought you time enough to complete the affair had you been dealing with a lesser investigator. Even your tale of rebellious village boys vandalizing the grounds by night was a plausible fabrication. Much was revealed to me, however, by the condition of your clothes last Sunday evening.”
“I’ve told you already—my dog went after a pheasant and was caught in one of the villagers’ snares.”
“So I would have thought if your trousers alone had been muddied,” Holmes replied patiently. “But the soil was heaviest on the back of your forearms, just where a man rests his elbows to pull himself out of a hole in the ground nearly as high as he is himself.”
With a crazed look, Baron Ramsden leveled the pistol at Holmes, but my friend merely continued quietly.
“You loved Elenora Rowley with such a passion that you removed your grandmother’s wedding ring from the family vault, which you knew to be secure enough that it is scarcely ever inventoried. You then bestowed the gift on Miss Rowley, fully intending to marry a local merchant’s daughter whose beauty, or so I have been told, was matched only by her generosity of spirit.”
Here the Baron’s eyes dimmed and his head lowered imperceptibly, though the pistol remained trained on Holmes. “And so I would have done had she not been taken from me.”
“I had a long conversation with Miss Rowley’s former maidservant this morning. When Elenora Rowley fell ill, she sent you word she had departed with her parents to seek a cure on the Continent.”
“The specialists could do nothing,” the Baron acknowledged, his free fist clenched in his misery. “When she returned, the strain of travel had only hastened the course of her illness. She sent a note through the channels we’d created, telling me she loved me as she ever had—since we were both children and she the daughter of the dry-goods supplier to our household. Within three days she—” A spasm seemed to shake him and he passed a hand over his brow. “Any fate would have been better. Even my own death.”
“Be that as it may, the lady died,” my friend replied compassionately, “and before it could occur to you in your grief that she had kept your token sewn into the lining of her garments, it had been buried with her. When you regained your senses, you realized, no doubt, that the heirloom had passed beyond your reach.”
“I was ill myself then. I was mad. For the better part of a month I was the merest shadow of the man I had been. I cared for nothing and no one,” the Baron stated numbly. “Yet my brother’s many follies follow each other like days upon a calendar, and our family is not as wealthy as my mother would have us suppose.”
“A matter of accounting, then, brought the missing jewel into the public eye.”
“I would never have taken it back from her else—in life or death. God help me! All the woes my brother has brought upon our heads are as nothing compared to my own. What will the appellation ‘grave robber’ do to the name of Ramsden?” he cried. Then, calming himself with all the reserve he could muster, Lord Ramsden drew himself up to his full height, his blue eyes glimmering eerily. “Perhaps nothing,” he continued, with a new and chilling precision to his speech. “Perhaps the only other person who knows of the matter will perish this very night.”
“It is not a very likely circumstance, is it, my lord?” my friend remarked evenly.
“So you may think,” his client snarled, “but you have underestimated my—”
“I am not so foolish as to have arranged this meeting in total solitude,” stated the detective. “My friend Dr. Watson has been good enough to accompany me.”
I emerged cautiously from behind the stony outcropping.
“So you have brought your spies!” cried the Baron. “You mean to ruin me!”
“You must believe, Lord Ramsden, that I have no intention of causing you the slightest harm,” Holmes protested. “My friend and I are prepared to swear that no word shall be breathed of this business to any living person, provided the ring is returned.”
“It is here.” The Baron placed his hand over his breast pocket. “But do you speak in earnest? It is incredible.”
“My little career would soon enough suffer shipwreck if I neglected my clients’ best interests,” my friend averred.
“Not the police, nor my family, nor any other person will ever hear of the matter now I have retrieved the ring? It is far more than I deserve.”
“They shall not on my account. I give you my word,” Holmes declared gravely.
“As do I,” I added.
“Then that is enough.” The Baron’s head fell forward as if in a daze, exhausted by his grief.
“It is not the first felony I have commuted, and I fear it is unlikely to be the last,” confessed my friend in the same calming tones.
“I shall be eternally grateful for your silence. Indeed, your discretion has been unimpeachable throughout this affair, which is far higher praise than I can apply to my own.”
“There I cannot agree with you,” Holmes began, but the Baron continued bitterly.
“Ellie died alone rather than betray my trust. What have I offered her in return?”
“Come, my lord. It is hardly practical to dwell on such matters. You acted in the interests of your family, and your secret is safe, after all.”
“No doubt you are right,” he whispered. “You may proceed to the house, gentlemen. It is over. I shall be more silent hereafter, you may trust.”
I had turned to go, but suddenly an inarticulate cry from Holmes swung me round again. The pistol fired just as Holmes, in a desperate leap, reached the Baron. My friend caught him round the torso and laid him on the frozen ground. I was beside them in an instant.
“Quick, man! He breathes—can you not—”
But Lord Ramsden had already passed beyond the aid of any man. As I loosened his collar, he emitted a low, shuddering sigh and was still.
“He is dead.” My friend passed a hand over the Baron’s eyes, his suavity of movement dulled in the shock of the tragedy. “If only I had—but Lord Ramsden would surely have revealed himself otherwise! No, no, Gregson is an ass, but he can see a brick wall when it is in front of him. Only I could have returned it in safety.” He descended quickly and removed a glittering band from the upper waistcoat pocket of the dead man.
“What he must have seen to retrieve it,” I muttered in horror.
“God help us, Watson.” My friend, though outwardly serene, was as shaken as I had ever before seen him. “I would not wish his history on any man.”
We knelt in silence under the black shadows of the trees, slowly growing cognizant once more of the piercing cold.
“What are we to tell them?”
“There, at least, our course seems clear,” Holmes considered. “You and I heard a shot from just beyond the grounds and, considering the hour, went to investigate. We found the Baron already beyond assistance. That is all.”
I nodded. “I suppose the pressures of financial ruin could account for suicide in a man of sensitive nature, but what of the ring?”
“As for the ring, I am prepared to go rather further,” Holmes replied softly. “The Baron thought his life a threat to his secret, and I have no intention of allowing his death to be one likewise.”
The grief which seized the household when we returned with our sad burden and raised the alarm was pitiable to behold. The lady of the house, in the loss of her eldest son, seemed to forget her mother’s ring had ever existed. Finding ourselves quite useless amid the chaos, we arose early the next morning to stop at the inn and bid farewell to Inspector Gregson and the constable he had brought from London to aid in the investigation; they had taken over a suite of rooms, using the simple parlour as an office. The inspector, in his own unique way, expressed considerable distress at our sudden departure.
“Well, well, you’re quite right, I suppose. Once you know a thing is over your head, you may as well act the man and own up to it. I intend to play the game to the end, though, Mr. Holmes. Simply not capable of leaving a case half finished with so much to go on.”
“You’ve unearthed fresh leads, then?” my friend responded coolly.
“Well, there’s that brother of the late Baron’s—a gambler and a rake, if you listen to my sources.”
“I hardly think it likely that—”
“And now this suicide!” Inspector Gregson proclaimed. “Under the circumstances, very black indeed.”
“Why, guilt! What does a man have to kill himself over if not guilt? Really, with all these developments, Mr. Holmes, if you remained, you might yet get a hint of what’s going on.”
“I have word of the gem in London.” Holmes shrugged one shoulder dismissively. “A stonecutter friend of mine has given me reason to return to the city, and I find the evidence meager enough here in Colwall to justify following this fresh lead.”
“Excuse me, sir,” interjected a voice from the side of the room. “Surely there is a great deal of evidence.”
Holmes swung his head to regard the young constable who had ventured this remark. “Do you think so?” he queried dryly. “I call solving a crime a near impossibility when one cannot even fix the date of occurrence within a twelvemonth.”
This retort elicited a chuckle from Gregson, who added, “Now, now, my boy, I brought you down so that you could watch a true professional in action. And Mr. Holmes here may have the odd tip as well. But you’d do better to listen, I think, and keep your opinions mum.”
The officer appeared unperturbed. “But what of the vandalized grass plot?”
“The grass plot?” Gregson laughed. “What can you see in that? As if gardening had anything to do with the matter!”
“I thought it rather queer myself, before I met the boys responsible,” Holmes said swiftly. “Yesterday a brief walk through your inn’s stable yard brought me into personal contact with young Fergus MacArthur and his several associates. They were busy rubbing the guests’ saddles with tallow while the groomsman lay snoring. If creativity alone ensured success in this world, that young gang would soon enough rule the Commonwealth.”
My friend rose gracefully and retrieved his hat from a small bench by the door. “I shan’t hesitate to forward you any news I may manage to unearth in London.”
“Ah, well. I have no doubt but that we’ll have solved the whole matter by the time we hear from you again, but despite that—my thanks.”
“Farewell, Inspector Gregson, and farewell to your staff. They are more promising than you realize.” Holmes gave a final nod and shut the door firmly behind us.
“Back to London,” I mused.
“Yes, Herefordshire has no further use for the two of us,” my friend replied. “However, I have every confidence of locating the ring through its mysterious buyer.” He patted his own breast pocket and the ghost of a smile appeared on his somber face.
We had not been long in London before Holmes telegraphed Lady Ramsden with the news that her mother’s ring had been found. Not only was the household’s joy at the ring’s return buried under their misfortune, but to my friend’s evident satisfaction, so was their curiosity at its initial disappearance. Gregson’s case thus remained regrettably inconclusive, but once the ring had safely arrived via Scotland Yard escort from London at Blackheath House, the good inspector’s spirits had risen enough to compliment the private detective on his “extraordinary luck.”
Stretched upon the settee two weeks later, I was engaged in a medical journal when I heard Holmes’s familiar step bounding up the stairs and into the sitting room. He held a letter to the lamp bemusedly, then with a motion of indifference tossed it onto a formidable stack of documents near the bookshelf.
“Holmes, I do believe you’ve Irregulars* who are shorter than that monstrous pile,” I observed.
“Mmm?” he queried distractedly. “Oh, I hardly think so. Little Graves has had an extraordinary bout of growth since you saw him last.”
I smiled. “What was it, then?”
“The letter?” Holmes stretched his sinewy arm to retrieve it, paused over it for a moment longer, and passed it to me. It was written in vivid red ink in an oddly erratic script, and it read:
You are a clever one. Arent you? No matter that you may be devillish clever you may be the very devil, but not so clever that Mr. Nobody doesn’t see you. Yes, I see you clear enough, and I may also
See you in Hell
Sooner than you think, Mr. Holmes.
I looked up in chagrin. “Holmes, this letter is an outright threat!”
“The tone is rather unfriendly,” he conceded, digging for tobacco in the depths of his Persian slipper.
“What do you intend to do?”
“Do? Nothing. Your correspondence is not, perhaps, quite as vivid as is my own. When I inspect the mail, desperate for a case worthy of my time and my talent, I all too often find instead the ramblings of the fanciful spinster or the lyricism of the bored newlywed. I’d a priceless example from Brighton last week which I must show you—”
“You have not the slightest interest in this bizarre missive?”
“To my deep discredit, I’ve known far too many criminals not to expect this sort of thing occasionally,” Holmes countered irritably. “It is written on cheap foolscap, posted in the East-end of London, no marks of fingers or other identifying features. What am I to do with it? Queer enough hand, though. I’ve hardly seen one like it.” He scrutinized the page.
“What steps can you take?” I asked once more.
“The best of all steps, my dear Watson—to throw it in the dustbin.” He tossed the paper in the general direction of his desk and forcefully steered the conversation to Richard Owen’s work in the realm of philosophical anatomy.
It was only the next afternoon, when I noticed Holmes’s commonplace book open on his desk, that I realized the letter had not been discarded but pasted carefully under “Miscellaneous Posts.” I meant to inquire of Holmes whether he had discovered any clue to the matter, but my fellow lodger’s abrupt arrival with an urgent appeal from Camberwell drove the matter from my mind entirely.
CHAPTER ONE Two Crimes
It has been argued by those who have so far flattered my attempts to chronicle the life and career of Mr. Sherlock Holmes as to approach them in a scholarly manner that I have often been remiss in the arena of precise chronology. While nodding to kindly meant excuses made for me in regards to hasty handwriting or careless literary agents, I must begin by confessing that my errors, however egregious, were entirely intentional. Holmes’s insistence, not to mention my own natural discretion, often prevented me from maintaining that exactitude so highly prized in a biographer; I have been forced to change the dates of marginal cases to disguise great ones, alter names and circumstances, all the while diligently preserving the core truth of the events, without which there would have been no object in writing anything at all. In this instance, however, any obfuscation would be absurd, as the facts are known not only to the people of London but to the world. I shall therefore set down the entire truth, as it happened to Holmes and to myself, omitting nothing that pertains to the most harrowing series of crimes my illustrious friend and I were ever called upon to solve.
The year of 1888 had already proven significant for Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for it was in that twelvemonth that he performed valuable services for one of the reigning houses of Europe and continued forestalling the activities of Professor James Moriarty, whose hold over London’s underworld grew ever more apparent to my friend. Several highly publicized investigations that year displayed Holmes’s remarkable skills to the public, including the appalling affair of the faulty oil lamp, and the matter of Mrs. Victoria Mendosa’s mysteriously vanishing thimble and its consequences. My friend’s talents, which had once languished in obscure specialism, in that year flamed into the most gratifying notoriety.
Despite the busyness that accompanied Holmes’s ever-increasing reputation for omniscience, we found ourselves at home on that evening in early August, the day after Bank Holiday, Holmes performing chemical analyses of an American snake venom which had recently proven itself a nearly untraceable poison, and I engaged in a perusal of the day’s papers. To my delight, the skies above the buildings burned with that most elusive of all elements, the London sun, and a brisk breeze fluttered about the windows (one of which I’d opened as a safeguard against Holmes’s chemical efforts), when an item in the late edition of the Star caught my eye.
“I cannot begin to understand,” I said to no one in particular, “what could drive a murderer to such total desecration of the human body.”
Holmes, without looking up from his work, remarked, “An argument could be made that the ultimate desecration of the human body is to end its earthly usefulness, which would imply that all murderers share equally that specific charge.”
“This is rather beyond the pale. It states here that some poor woman, as yet unidentified, was found stabbed to death in Whitechapel.”
“A deplorable, though hardly baffling occurrence. I imagine that she worked the area for food, drink, and daily shelter. Such pitiable unfortunates are particularly likely to inspire crimes of passion in the men with whom they associate.”
“She was stabbed twenty times, Holmes.”
“And your unassailable medical assessment is that once would have been enough.”
“Well, yes,” I faltered. “Apparently the villain continued to slash at her long after she was dead, or so the pattern of blood indicates.”
The detective smiled. “You are a gentleman of the most sympathetic character, my dear Watson. While you would possibly—for I have seen you do it—condone a crime of passion committed in the throes of despair or of vengeance, you can see nothing permissible about such morbid abuse.”
“I suppose that expresses it.”
“I confess I cannot imagine myself in such a rage as to batter my victim beyond all sense either,” he admitted. “Is there anything further?”
“The police know nothing yet.”
Holmes sighed and pushed aside his scientific materials. “Would you and I had the power to make all of London safe, my good man, but for the moment, let us leave our musings upon the depths to which our fellow citizens can sink and instead explore whether or not we have time to make a seven-thirty curtain for Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E Minor at the Royal Albert Hall. My attention was directed to the second-chair cellist by my brother Mycroft, and I should be grateful for your company while I observe the gentleman in his natural habitat.”
It took Sherlock Holmes exactly five days to complete the affair of the second cellist, and once concluded, my friend had the thanks of the premier branches of the British government, of which his brother Mycroft was a pivotal member. My own knowledge of Mycroft Holmes’s exalted occupation was at that time a closely kept secret, for he occasionally engaged his brother upon nationally vital inquiries about which neither Sherlock Holmes nor I ought to have had the slightest inkling. I regret to say, however, that when nothing but the most pedestrian of wrongdoing took place in the following weeks, my friend lapsed into that melancholy torpor which made my own life, not to mention that of our landlady, Mrs. Hudson, taxing in the extreme. Holmes ever maintained the opinion that we should abandon him entirely when such a fit was upon him, but as a medical man, I dreaded the sight of his tiny, impeccably kept hypodermic syringe and that momentous stop at the chemist’s which promised that my friend would commence to ruin himself for a matter of days or weeks if I did not take any steps to circumvent him. In vain I scanned the papers, and in vain I attempted to convince Holmes that a woman ought not to be stabbed so very many times, Whitechapel or no. At length I found myself longing, fleetingly and against the dictates of my conscience, for the advent of some sensational misfortune.
I rose early that fateful Saturday, the morning of September the first, and as I sat smoking a pipe after breakfast, Holmes strode into the sitting room, fully dressed and in the process of reading the Daily News. The warmth of his pale complexion announced he had been out, and I noted with relief that his keen gaze betrayed no glimmer of the drug I had come to despise. His chiseled brow furrowed in concentration, he laid the open paper on our dining table and within moments had opened seven or eight other editions to which we subscribed, quickly locating the same story in each and then draping the paper over an article of furniture.
“Good morning, Holmes,” I remarked, just as our sitting room seemed in danger of disappearing under the crackling storm of newsprint.
“I’ve been out,” he replied.
“Yes,” I returned dryly.
“I hope you have already broken your fast this morning, Watson.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“It appears that the defilement of corpses is a growing industry in Whitechapel. They’ve found another one, my dear fellow. Abdomen apparently slashed after she was murdered.”
“What was the cause of death, then?”
“Her neck was nearly severed.”
“Good heavens. Where was she found?”
“In Buck’s Row, it seems, which arrested my interest immediately. I imagined the other matter a bizarre aberration, but here is another on its heels.”
“The first was bad enough.”
“That girl’s name was Martha Tabram, and the early report had it wrong: she was stabbed a grand total of thirty-nine times,” he stated dispassionately. “Yesterday morning’s victim, whose name was apparently Mary Ann Nichols, by all accounts was partially eviscerated.”
“Dare I hope you shall look into the matter?” I asked.
“It is hardly within my purview to do so when no one has consul—”
At that moment, Mrs. Hudson entered and surveyed our newly adorned furnishings with silent cynicism. Our landlady was not in the best of spirits, for Holmes in his devil-may-care humour had used the berry spoon to dissolve chemical elements over his burner, and the disagreement this activity had caused had not yet resolved itself to her satisfaction.
“Gentlemen to see you,” she said from the doorway. “Inspector Lestrade and one other. Will you be requiring aught from my cupboards, Mr. Holmes, or have you everything you need?”
“Ha!” Holmes exclaimed. “Lestrade occasionally evinces the most impeccable timing. Indeed no, Mrs. Hudson, I’ve sufficient cutlery for my purposes. I shall ring if I want anything in the way of a pickle fork. Do show up the inspector, if you will.”
With studied dignity, Mrs. Hudson exited. A few moments later Inspector Lestrade and an associate entered the room. Holmes often had occasion to bemoan the intellect of our hatchet-visaged friend, the lean and dapper little inspector, but Lestrade’s diligence commanded our respect even when his utter lack of imagination strained the independent investigator’s nerves. On this occasion, Lestrade looked as rumpled and anxious as I had ever seen him. His companion was dressed in dark tweeds, his beard modestly trimmed beneath a more impressive moustache; he had a pale, retiring aspect, and his eyes darted shyly between Holmes and myself.
My friend took them in at a glance. “How are you, Lestrade? We should be delighted to offer you both coffee, or something stronger if required. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Doctor…?”
“Llewellyn. At your service, sir,” our visitor replied with evident disquiet.
“Dr. Llewellyn, I assure you I am at yours. You will excuse my use of your prefix—you have recently sustained some slight injury to your right hand, and the way in which the dressing is fastened leads me to believe it was secured entirely by the aid of your own left appendage. And yet, the cloth is not of a variety to be found outside a medical facility. I should be shocked to learn our local surgeons have grown so slovenly as to require a gentleman to secure his own bandages.”
“You are correct on all counts, sir—how very extraordinary.”
Holmes nodded briefly. “This is my friend and colleague Dr. Watson.”
“I am glad to meet you. I am glad to meet anyone willing to get to the bottom of this horrid affair.”
Holmes waved Lestrade and our nervous new acquaintance to their seats, the backs of the furnishings still entirely wreathed with newsprint. My friend then threw himself into his own armchair.
“You are here about Buck’s Row, I imagine,” he remarked. “You were knocked up yesterday, Dr. Llewellyn?”
“My surgery is at one fifty-two Whitechapel Road, some few minutes’ distance,” he acknowledged. “I was summoned at slightly before four yesterday morning. I completed a postmortem examination just now.”
“One moment, if you please. Lestrade, while I am delighted to see you, as ever, why in God’s name have you waited an entire day to consult me?”
“I’ve only just been reassigned two hours ago!” Lestrade protested. “Inspector Spratling began it, then Helson. I wasted no time in bringing Dr. Llewellyn round.”
“My abject apologies, Inspector.” Holmes smiled. “Your haste was not lax; it was unprecedented.”
“No more unprecedented than the corpse. If you had seen what I did at the morgue this morning, what Dr. Llewellyn here saw yesterday…” Lestrade shook his head. “Your methods may be unconventional, but we need an end to this case as quick as is possible. There’s something about it that’s very queer, Mr. Holmes, and correct me if I’ve the wrong end of the stick, but that’s where you tend to come in.”
Holmes settled back in his chair, half closing his eyes. “Very well, then. The story, as it happened to you, Dr. Llewellyn.”
“Well, Mr. Holmes,” Dr. Llewellyn began hesitantly, “as I have said, I hold a medical practice in Whitechapel Road which I obtained after I finished my studies at the University of London. That main thoroughfare is quite respectable, and to a great extent, the same ailments parade across my consulting room from day to day—influenza, rheumatism, agues—the most peaceful of maladies. However, living in London’s East-end as I do, I occasionally find my work to be of a more unsettling nature. A regular patient of mine once burst into my offices with a nasty knife wound, as he’d forgotten himself and wandered into a corner where some roughs thought his pocketbook worth trying for. I suppose that the immediate proximity of the slums would be all too obvious if I ever had cause to treat any of my poorest neighbours, but I fear they haven’t the means. In the case of disease, they consult quack street doctors for penny compendia of gin or of laudanum. And in the case of injury, as their wounds were often got through misadventure, many deem it safer to suffer in anonymity than to risk dealing with police.
“That terrible murder in George Yard Buildings three weeks ago left a strong impression on my mind. We all were shocked by the ferocity of it. I cannot convey to you my horror at what I was called upon to witness yesterday.”
Holmes held up a cautionary hand. “Please,” said he, “everything just as you saw it.”
“Buck’s Row is one of those sordid pitch-black byways of which Whitechapel boasts so many once the main road is abandoned. The body was situated at the entrance to a stable yard beneath a decrepit gateway. I saw nothing out of the ordinary save the body, but the inspector may have more to say on that subject.”
“I wish I did,” sighed Lestrade. “As you say, the body was the only thing out of the ordinary, as it were.”
“And the body?” prompted Holmes.
“Something over thirty years of age,” said Dr. Llewellyn, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. “She had brown hair and was missing several of her front teeth, but that characteristic did not seem to be a recent development. Nearly all of her was still warm, save her extremities. Her throat was savagely slashed two times. She may as well have been decapitated. Apart from her throat, I found her upper body to be completely intact, but the lower—she was ripped apart, Mr. Holmes. Her skirts were raised up to reveal the torso, and savage cuts penetrated her lower abdomen, exposing the internal organs.”
I regarded the doctor with dismay, but for Holmes, shock remained secondary to professional absorption. “Her chest was unharmed, you say? Surely her garments, at least, were soiled with blood?”
“She was wearing a brown frock, and I assure you it was entirely free of stain.”
“If that is the case, she was prostrate before the wound to her neck was administered. Where is she now, Lestrade?”
“At the morgue. Name of Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols, identified by a friend from Lambeth Workhouse who calls herself Mary Ann Monk. Mark of the workhouse was on the petticoats, which led us to seek identification there. Shabby clothing, black bonnet, and she had on her person a comb, pocket handkerchief, and a piece of mirror. More than likely it’s all she had to her name.”
“What do you imagine the time of death to have been, Dr. Llewellyn?”
“I arrived at three fifty a.m. She could not have been dead more than ten minutes.”
“And the gruesome discovery was made by whom?”
“One Charles Cross, a carman on his way to work,” said Lestrade as he consulted his notes. “In my opinion, he’s merely a passerby. Poor chap was terrified. Constable Neil arrived on the scene shortly after and sent for Dr. Llewellyn here, hoping to save her. It was too late by that time, of course.”
We sat silent as the wind picked up. I wondered briefly whether Polly Nichols’s family knew of her hideous fate, and then whether she had any family to tell.
“Lestrade,” Holmes said finally, “has the force had any luck in clearing up the murder of Martha Tabram early this month?”
Lestrade shook his head perplexedly. “The inquest has just been reopened. I was not myself working on the case, but we’re all of the mind it was a tryst gone terribly wrong. Good Lord, Mr. Holmes, you don’t think these events could have been connected in any way?”
“No, certainly not. I’ve merely the professional certainty that two such outrageous crimes committed ten minutes’ walk apart from each other is remarkable enough to note.”
Dr. Llewellyn rose and reached for his hat. “I am very sorry I have not more to tell you gentlemen. I’m afraid I must return to my practice, as my patients will be wondering what has become of me.”
“Be so good as to leave your card, Dr. Llewellyn,” said Holmes, shaking his hand absently.
“Of course. The best of luck to all of you. Do let me know if I can be of any further assistance.”
After Dr. Llewellyn’s departure, Lestrade turned a grave face to Holmes.
“I don’t like your harping on Martha Tabram one bit, Mr. Holmes. Surely the same man couldn’t have fallen out with both these women? More likely Polly Nichols was killed by a jealous lover, or a gang, or one of her clients who’d fallen into a drunken rage.”
“You are probably right. However, I beg that you will humour me far enough to fill me in on the details of both crimes.”
Lestrade shrugged. “If Tabram is of interest to you, of course I’ve no objection. It shouldn’t be difficult for me to gather up the papers. I can have them for you this afternoon.”
“I shall cast an eye over the evidence immediately.”
“You have full access, Mr. Holmes—just mention my name at the morgue or at the crime scene. I shall see you both at the Yard.” The inspector nodded and made his way out.
My friend crossed to the mantelpiece, shook a cigar out of an empty bud vase, and commenced smoking with the deepest absorption. “This Tabram murder is a very curious affair,” he commented.
“You mean the Nichols murder?”
“I mean precisely what I say.”
“You thought little enough of it before, Holmes.”
“I expected every morning to read that they’d solved it. Men do not often stab helpless females thirty-nine times and then disappear into the ether. The motive behind such an outrageous act would necessarily be sensational.”
“And such women necessarily have a great many associates, most of them untraceable,” I pointed out.
“That is obvious,” he retorted. “It is also obvious that the district of Whitechapel offers a great many natural advantages to the predator. Once the sun has fallen, you can hardly see your hand before your face, and the slaughterhouses allow blood-spattered men to pass without remark. What is less obvious is whether we have anything to fear from the proximity, in place and in time, of the two deaths.”
“It is certainly a distressing coincidence.”
Holmes shook his head and reached for his walking stick.
“One viciously maimed corpse is distressing. Two is something else entirely. I fear we have not a moment to lose.”
CHAPTER TWO The Evidence
The body of Polly Nichols clearly demanded our immediate attention, so we at once made our way by cab to the mortuary shed at Old Montague Street Workhouse Infirmary. As we clattered roughly toward the East-end of London, the buildings grew steadily smaller, their façades coated with decades of sooty atmosphere. When we reached Whitechapel Road, however, I was struck as always by the headlong commotion of the place. A preacher stood shouting at a knot of jeering locals, fighting to wrest their attention from a gin palace on the one side and an equally vociferous peddler of men’s work shirts on the other. Light and dust sparkled from the backs of loaded hay-wains, and dead cattle swung from hooks above carts filled with fresh hides. But despite the thriving dynamism of its widest thoroughfares, I never failed to be shaken by the misery evident as we turned off the main road into narrow, shop-lined byways and passed snarling youngsters fighting over a street corner from which to sell matches, and staggering drunks of both sexes propped against doorframes in the early afternoon.
The mortuary shed was by its very nature a dismal place, frequented only by those whose sole recourse was to indenture themselves to the parish disposing of human remains, and characterized by its utter unsuitability as a medical facility. Lestrade had sent warning of our imminent arrival, so immediately upon locating the hodgepodge of wooden slats, we witnessed firsthand the sight that had so upset Dr. Llewellyn.
Across the crude wooden slab of an examining table lay a woman slightly more than five feet tall. Though her face was small-featured with high, merry cheekbones and a sensitive brow, it was etched deeply with the coarseness of care and toil. Her neck was indeed nearly severed and her abdomen opened in bestial, purposeless lacerations.
I began to inquire whether anything stood out to Holmes’s sharper eye, but suddenly he dived toward the corpse with a cry of impatience.
“We have arrived too late after all! It has been washed, Watson,” he exclaimed. “Most obtusely and effectively washed.”
I nodded. “It is a common enough practice, as you know. Some even argue one cannot see the wounds effectively otherwise.”
Holmes practically snorted. “I tell you, Watson, if Scotland Yard were to reimburse my time for retrieving every clue lost due to negligence or hysterical hygiene, I could no doubt retire this afternoon. As it is, I am forced to glean the leavings. Do you observe anything Dr. Llewellyn may have missed, being less intimately acquainted with the criminal element than you yourself?”
His eyes glinted wickedly over my shoulder. “Come now, my dear fellow. Expertise is none the less admirable for being of an unsavoury variety.”
I looked her over. The poor wretch had come to a sorry end; a blessing indeed if her killer saw fit to cut her throat first, leaving the remainder of his rage for a lifeless shell.
“Her neck has been slashed nearly to the vertebrae, lacerating the two major arteries, and there are seven senseless cuts through her abdominal tissue. She does not appear to have been victim of any other indecencies, for I see no sign of recent connection, and the cuts are smooth-edged and deliberate. What do you make of it, Holmes?”
The detective hovered over her pensively. “Notice the discolouration near the jaw; he robbed her of consciousness, then slit her throat upon the ground, for she exhibits no bruising on the arms consistent with fending off her attacker, and it would explain the lack of blood upon the upper torso that Dr. Llewellyn mentioned. From the cleanliness of the other cuts, which you noted so astutely, we may also deduce that she was dead, drugged, or in some other way incapable of struggle when they were performed, else they would be jagged or torn. I believe all these injuries were made with the same weapon, that is to say, a six-or eight-inch knife kept well sharpened, possibly with a double blade. He killed her, cut her apart in near total darkness—at a serious threat to his own safety, if we consider the surplus time required—and then made his escape.”
“But why? What could possibly have occurred between Polly Nichols and her killer to enrage him so?”
“Why, indeed. Come, Watson—off to Buck’s Row. If we are miraculously lucky, we may find something the police have not already either trampled on or swept into the rubbish bin.”
When we arrived at the scene of the murder, the bustling cacophony of Whitechapel Road faded, replaced by the headlong rushing of the Northern Railway Line. Mean two-story houses, hastily constructed and poorly maintained, crept along one side of Buck’s Row, while the blank faces of austere warehouses stood like sentinels on the other. Holmes leapt down from the hansom and approached a knot of reporters and policemen while I paid the driver and elicited a promise to await our return.
“Certainly, Mr. Holmes,” a young constable replied as I approached, tipping his rounded hat. “We were about to scrub down the whole area, but we can give you ten minutes if you like. We’ve found nothing out of the ordinary.”
Holmes, every sinew of his slight frame alive with that nervous energy only apparent within the boundaries of a crime scene, set to work. The detective was as avid in his pursuit of a case as he was lethargic at the lack of one, and no patch of the surrounding roads or stable yard escaped his steely scrutiny. After nearly twenty minutes, he struck his stick impatiently against the stable yard fence and returned to where I stood.
Holmes set his thin lips and shook his head. “From the blood upon the ground, I believe she was not moved from another site, which is a point worth knowing. The quarrel ended here. Apart from that, I can only tell you that the apothecary over there was recently the victim of a robbery, that two gentlemen of leisure came to blows over a bet near that patch of mud, and that the police constable immediately to your left is a bachelor who owns a terrier. And thus, friend Watson, we finish no better off than we began.” He waved to the constables to proceed about their business.
“I suppose the points you’ve mentioned can have nothing to do with the crime itself, but how did you deduce them?”
“What?” His grey eyes were busily scanning the upper stories of the surrounding buildings. “Oh, yes…Old door with new lock near broken window, a costly variety of the jack of spades torn in half near obvious signs of a struggle between square-toed male boots, and Constable Anderson’s truly appalling trouser legs. No, they are not related to our investigation. And yet, we may still find ourselves employment. The angle of that window is ideally positioned for our purposes.”
I looked up in curiosity. Behind us stood the Brown and Eagle Wool Warehouse and Schneider’s Cap Factory, both constructed with that wholehearted devotion to industry that sullies the word architecture. The window Holmes indicated, belonging to a tenement, was almost immediately above us. My friend lost no time but strode forward and rapped upon the door.
At first I thought his mysterious intentions would be denied, for there was no answer. Then the detective smiled in his ironic fashion. “Slow footsteps…a woman, I think. Yes, and slightly lame in one foot. Naturally, I cannot yet tell you which foot. My apologies. Ah, here is the lady herself.”
The door flew open, revealing a wrinkled, forward-thrusting face wreathed with a nimbus of wispy white hair, a face resembling nothing so much as a mole emerging from its burrow. Her spectacles were so dirty that I could hardly see the use of them. She peered at us as if at two scabrous street dogs and tightened her grasp on her cane.
“What do you want? I don’t let rooms, and if you’ve business with my sons or my husband, they work for a living.”
“What miserable luck,” Holmes exclaimed. “I was informed that your fellow knew a man with access to a cart.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, her eyes narrowing still further, “but my youngest won’t be back until seven.”
“By Jove! No rest for us today, Miles,” said Holmes with a wry face. “I was prepared to meet nearly any price, the goods being what they are, but we’ll simply have to inquire elsewhere.”
“Now, wait. You’ve need of a cart today?”
Holmes bent his aquiline face toward the old woman and replied, “I’ve certain…materials which need transporting. I’m afraid it’s rather a man’s business, Mrs….?”
“Of course, you’re his mother. And you’re sure Mr. Green will be out for some time? Well, it is a pity. I don’t imagine you’ve any experience with such matters?”
She pursed her wrinkled mouth and, reaching some private conclusion, beckoned us inside. We were led into a small, dimly lit parlour, which featured not one iota of furnishings more than was necessary, and sat down.
“I must admit,” Holmes began, “I’ve been set on my guard by recent events.”
Mrs. Green’s eyes lit like tapers. “Oh, you mean the murder, do you? Begging your pardon, what was your name?”
“I am Mr. Worthington, and this is my associate Mr. Miles.”
She nodded sagely, replying, “A nasty business.”
“But how terrifying! You must have heard something, living so near at hand.”
“Not I, sir. Though I am, I may tell you, a very light sleeper. I was once awoken by nothing more than my cat leaping onto the downstairs balustrade.”
“Dear me. But you sleep downstairs, surely, to have heard such a thing?”
She shook her head proudly. “No, indeed. My daughter and I sleep on the first floor. I am very sensitive, nocturnally speaking, sir.”
“Then you must certainly have been disturbed! Your window overlooks the very spot.”
“Would that I had seen something, or heard it, but I slept peacefully through till morning. It’s eerie, that’s what. But what time shall you be needing the cart?”
“In all honesty, Mrs. Green, I should not like to discuss my goods with anyone other than your son. I cannot convey to you my absolute trust in his discretion except to offer my warmest compliments regarding his upbringing. We shall return at a later time.” Holmes bade a cordial farewell to the woman, who limped appreciably on her right foot as she showed us to the door.
“You were quite effective at gaining an entrance,” I noted as we returned to the cab.
Holmes smiled, but his gaze was distant. “It goes without saying in this community that, given even a single male member of the household, any resident will be acquainted with a man who has access to a cart. You can hardly fail, provided your pronouns are vague enough.”
“It is a pity she could tell us nothing.”
“On the contrary,” my friend replied softly, “she told us a great deal.”
“How do you mean?”
“I had hoped, despite its cool execution, that this was some monstrous crime of passion. Mrs. Green’s room overlooks the scene of the assault, and I know for a fact that Nichols was not moved. If Mrs. Green is a light sleeper, and if Nichols was not moved, and Mrs. Green heard nothing, then there was no quarrel. If there was no quarrel…”
“Then the murder was premeditated,” I continued. “And if the murder was premeditated—”
“Then it is worse than I thought,” Holmes concluded grimly. “Whitehall, please, driver! Scotland Yard.”
We entered the Yard’s headquarters through the rear of the building and hastened up the familiar staircase to locate Inspector Lestrade. Our associate’s office was hardly a shrine to organization at the best of times, but that afternoon we found the windowless room could hardly be glimpsed beneath its litter of notes, maps, and memoranda. He looked up from his chair with a decided smirk.
The inspector appeared to have recovered a deal of composure within the haven of the Yard, along with the officious manners which were wont so often to chafe the considerable vanity of my companion. I had watched the pair collaborate over crimes both trivial and momentous over the years, and despite their mutual love of justice and regard for each other’s talents—tenacity on Lestrade’s part and innate brilliance on the part of Sherlock Holmes—I had never yet witnessed a meeting when the two friends failed to pique one another’s temper, either deliberately or incidentally. The fact that both would end up nettled and self-important was a foregone conclusion, even if Holmes religiously delivered full credit to Lestrade in all their mutual cases, and Holmes was Lestrade’s first and last defense against the incomprehensible.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, the notion we’d a homicidal maniac on our hands was a bit rich, don’t you think? I’ve put together the evidence regarding the Tabram case for you, and I think you’ll see it’s hardly the work of the same man.”
“I do not recall stating that the crimes were perpetrated by the same individual, only that they are both singular and similar.”
Lestrade proceeded to rummage through his papers primly.
“Very well, Mr. Holmes. Lecture as you like. I will confine myself to the facts. Deceased, one Martha Tabram, an unfortunate, found in George Yard Buildings on August the seventh stabbed thirty-nine times. Took us a full week to identify the body, finally confirmed by Henry Samuel Tabram, her former husband. They had two sons, but she seems to have been more interested in gin than in children, so she deserted him. He cut off her maintenance money when he discovered how she was supplementing her income. One can hardly blame him.” Here the inspector coughed discreetly before continuing his report. “She was last seen in the company of a drunken sergeant, and whoever he may be, the case is black against him. Tabram ducked into an alleyway with the chap and that’s the last we know.”
“To whom are we grateful for this information?”
“Constable Bennett, whose beat includes George Yard Buildings, and a Miss ‘Pearly Poll.’ Miss Poll and Mrs. Tabram fell in with a pair of guardsmen at the Two Brewers public house sometime before midnight. When they had finished at the pub, they parted ways into dark corridors in pairs. I’m sure you can deduce why that might be.”
“Thank you, the matter is indeed within my powers. What says this Constable Bennett?”
“That he approached a young grenadier guardsman at two o’clock in the morning just north of George Yard Buildings. Fellow told Bennett he was waiting for a friend who had gone off with a girl. Almost three hours later, one John Reeves came running up to Bennett with the news that he’d found a body. Bennett said that the corpse was placed in a disheveled and provocative position, and the time of death was estimated at close upon two a.m. So you see by now, it can have nothing to do with the other business.”
“Lestrade, you really must lead me through the steps which brought you to that conclusion, as they are dark to me,” Holmes murmured.
The inspector puffed up noticeably. “I am disappointed you don’t see it. Martha Tabram ducked into the shadows of George Yard with this sergeant, intending to ply her trade. The young grenadier waited for his comrade to return. He did not return, however, as he was engaged with Tabram, fought with her, and killed her, leaving her body on the landing of George Yard Buildings.”
“It is becoming more clear,” Holmes laughed. “In fact, I have very few questions to pose. First, have you any notion of what they quarreled about?”
“Certainly, Mr. Holmes. He was a young soldier on holiday but very likely to have been a rogue. She had no money on her person when she was discovered, therefore it is clear to me that they fought over a question of payment.”
“Dear me. He could not pay?”
“They had been frequenting public houses, and he had probably run through what scant coin he had. When Martha Tabram demanded recompense, and he could not deliver, she would have grown very insistent.”
“I understand she was jabbed nearly forty times with a common pocketknife.”
“Yes, so we think. But one wound, the cause of death, was inflicted to the sternum with a bayonetlike blade, which implicates the soldier yet again,” declared Lestrade triumphantly. “Finally, her death occurred at very close to two in the morning, which shows that Tabram had not the time to make any new acquaintance before she was killed.”
Holmes steepled his two index fingers before his lips. “Lestrade, I must congratulate you, for your hypothesis does not directly oppose any known facts. Unfortunately, it abysmally fails at covering all of them, but you have done worse, my good Inspector, and this theory shows some salient points.”
“And what, if you don’t mind telling me, is wrong with it?” demanded Lestrade.
“I will do you the courtesy of elucidating the benefits straight off. For one, it is indeed extremely suspicious that Tabram was found in the alley she entered with the soldier; very likely she was occupied there until the time of her death.”
Lestrade looked as though he was about to say something self-congratulatory but was prevented by my friend.
“I have not quite finished. It is also of the greatest interest to me that Tabram was mutilated with a different variety of knife than that used to end her life. I suppose a bayonet would not allow a very effective range of motion for such a free-form exercise, but I have not yet made up my mind on that point. And now, inevitably, to your theory’s flaw. Murders motivated by money are immensely practical crimes, of the most transparent motivation and prosaic execution. You suggest that this guardsman killed Martha Tabram in order to silence her demands for money, and rather than flee the scene, he put away his bayonet, pulled out his pocketknife, and proceeded to stab her chest, groin, and abdomen, presumably because he wasn’t sure he’d finished the job.”
“I challenge you to show me another explanation that so closely covers the facts,” cried Lestrade. “We know nothing of this soldier, after all. For all we know, he may be an extremely perverse individual.”
“Ha! You are right. He may indeed be. Can you tell me the whereabouts of the other witnesses, this so-called Pearly Poll and the second guardsman?”
Sulkily, Lestrade shuffled through his file. “As far as Pearly Poll is concerned, not only is her address hardly permanent, but we’ve put her through two police lineups and she’s proven an utter waste of our time. As for the private—well, he has disappeared into thin air.”
“One more question, if I may.”
“Yes?” Lestrade replied, looking as though his good nature had been sorely tried indeed.
“The constable did not happen to note the colour of stripe on the soldier’s cap, did he?”
“It was white,” he snapped, “so of course he was a member of the Coldstream Guards. And now you’ll have no difficulty whatsoever in identifying the suspect that the entire force has had their eye out for. Just wire me when he’s found the culprit, will you, Doctor? Good day to you, Mr. Holmes.”
When the door had slammed testily behind us, Holmes set off down the hallway which led to the front exit of the Great Scotland Yard building. Though few policemen were present with the leisure to stop and speak to each other, those who could spare the time were muttering in hushed tones as they attempted to make sense of the events. I little knew what my friend was thinking, but Lestrade’s explanation seemed to me to fall far short of the mark.
“Holmes, surely Martha Tabram’s murder was an act too brutal for a brawl over a few pence?”
“Agreed,” replied Holmes as we regained the street, surrounded comfortingly by leafy trees and solid red brick. “I haven’t the slightest doubt that whoever is responsible was in the grip of a powerful emotional force.”
There was a brisk wind flowing through the Yard’s open spaces, and I welcomed its invigourating influence as Holmes hailed a cab and we made our weary way back to Baker Street.
“I cannot make it out yet, Watson,” my friend mused, drumming his long fingers against the side of the hansom, “but I would not have missed it. It is a far queerer matter than it appeared on the surface. As Lestrade has been at pains to remind us, these murders are in no way linked. But consider that in the case of Nichols, we have a killer who is exceedingly eager to cut women apart after they are dead, and in the case of Tabram, a killer so dedicated to the idea that he puts away his murder weapon to begin coolly stabbing his victim.”
“What can we do?”
“I must consider the options at hand. After all, we do not yet know these women. Speaking with their friends and loved ones may prove very profitable indeed.”
“We will at least learn more than we did this morning.”
Holmes nodded. “It was most peculiar. We unearthed no immediate alleys which demand investigation. I suppose I shall have to invent my own.”
CHAPTER THREE Miss Mary Ann Monk
The next morning I completed my ablutions quickly, as I could just make out voices emanating from downstairs. When I entered the sitting room, I found Holmes leaning against the sideboard with his hands in his pockets as he conversed with a man whose general appearance spoke of neither good hygiene nor good spirits.
“Ah, Watson,” cried my friend. “I was about to fetch you, as we have an important caller. May I present to you Mr. William Nichols of Old Kent Road, a repairman of printer’s machinery, if his fingertips had not already declared as much to you.”
Our guest was a weathered fellow of middle height with sly blue eyes and bushy grey side-whiskers. A tremor in his strong, ink-stained hands informed me he was quite disturbed by recent events.
“Do be seated, Mr. Nichols, and accept our condolences regarding your wife’s death. I have no doubt but that, despite the earliness of the hour, Dr. Watson would be happy to prescribe you something fortifying. You have had a most trying ordeal.”
I poured Mr. Nichols a brandy and led him to the settee. He drank slowly from it, then turned back to Holmes.
“I’ve not tasted a drop in years,” he confessed, “for I knew the ill of it. Polly Walker was a sweet girl in her youth, and no one knows it better than I do. But as for her drinking, and her other vices…Polly Nichols turned into a bad sort, gentlemen, make no mistake about that.”
Holmes shot me a look and I located my notebook. “Mr. Nichols, if it would not be too terribly painful for you, I should like you to tell me all you can about your late wife.”
He shrugged. “There’s nothing I can say as will do any good. I hadn’t seen the woman in over three years.”
“Indeed? You were utterly estranged?”
Mr. Nichols pursed his lips, considering his words. “I’m no angel, Mr. Holmes, and I’ve my own mistakes to pay for…There was another woman, and Polly took on about it to the point of packing up her things and running off. I’ll say as much only because you’re said to know things you oughtn’t. But it was good riddance, so far as I was concerned. Polly more often than not had a drop in, and when she did, the children and I suffered for it. We had five, Mr. Holmes, and I think sometimes it was a strain on her. She wasn’t the mothering kind. When she left for good, I supported her for a year, but I cut off her allowance when I learned what she’d become.”
“I see. But what of the children?”
“Oh, I’ve care of the little ones, Mr. Holmes. I’d not let her lay one filthy hand on them once she’d set her course in that direction.”
“So you dissolved all contact with her, being yourself a man of unimpeachable moral character?”
I worried lest Holmes’s dig might offend Nichols, but our visitor merely answered gruffly, “She contacted me, all right, Mr. Holmes. She tried to cozen the authorities into forcing her maintenance money out of me. But they saw I didn’t deserve the keeping of her, common baggage that she was. She went from man to man and workhouse to workhouse. None of them kept her long. I’m sorry to say it, Mr. Holmes, but her death was less of a shock than it should have been.”
Holmes raised a single eyebrow coldly as he lifted the tongs and lit his pipe with an ember from the fire. “I should at least have thought the manner of her death would give pause to her kith and kin.”
At this, Nichols paled slightly. “Yes, of course. I’ve seen her. I would not wish that end on anyone.”
“I am very gratified to hear it.”
“It’s a hard push for me, though. I daresay it will cost me for the funeral, her dad not being well off and she without a penny to her name.”
“Yes, yes, I am sure it is a very trying time for you. You know of no enemies, nor of any further information which might aid us in our inquiries?”
“Polly’s only enemy so far as I could see was gin, Mr. Holmes,” replied Nichols with a knowing look.
“However, as I am sure you will agree, gin unfortunately was not responsible for her death,” returned Holmes with some asperity. “And now, Mr. Nichols, I must devote my entire energies toward my thoughts and my pipe, so you will forgive me if I bid you good morning.”
After I had shut the door upon Mr. Nichols, my friend exclaimed, “A nice spouse, Watson. He has at least absolved himself as a suspect. Crimes of jealousy require a measure of regard for the victim.”
“He seemed more shaken by the cost than by the death of his wife.”
Holmes shook his head philosophically. “It is not difficult for me to envision Polly Nichols’s flight from his establishment. If she was everything he says she was, they must have made a charming pair.” He set his lit pipe on the mantel and made for his bedroom.
“And what is the agenda for today?” I called out, helping myself to the egg and tomato Mrs. Hudson had sent up on the silver breakfast tray.
Holmes emerged donning his frock coat and adjusted his collar in the mirror above the fireplace. “I shall devote myself to Lambeth, my boy, and the pursuit of those who were actually acquainted with the deceased at the time of her death. Miss Mary Ann Monk identified Nichols, and so to her we must appeal. Have you any appointments?”
“I have canceled them.”
“Then finish your eggs while I call for a cab. The undiscovered country of Lambeth Workhouse awaits.”
As we rattled up to the front gates of Lambeth Workhouse, I had the distinct impression our destination was a prison, not a charitable facility to aid the plight of London’s poor. The autocratic structure, with its grey façade and absence of any grounds whatever, silently proclaimed its total devotion to severity and order. We were shown in by the angular Miss Shackelton, who informed us that Miss Monk was indeed availing herself of the shelter afforded by the workhouse, that she was far too given to drink, that she gave herself airs, that she was clever enough when she wished to be, that she would come to a bad end if not careful, and that she was to be found picking oakum in the common room down the hall.
As we walked down the featureless corridor, I caught glimpses of row upon row of cots suspended from poles in the common sleeping areas. We eventually reached a wide room filled with women young and old dressed in cheap workhouse-issue uniforms who were pulling apart old ropes to reuse what hemp fibers could be salvaged. Holmes made inquiries, and an overseer soon delivered to us Mary Ann Monk, with instructions we were to take her into the front parlour for questioning.
“Here, then. What do you toffs want me for?” demanded Miss Monk, upon our arrival in a cramped but well-furnished sitting area. “If it’s to do with Polly, I ain’t seen nothing more than what I said already.”
Far from the downtrodden creature I had expected to encounter in those hateful surroundings, we were confronted by a diminutive young woman whose radiant eye and smooth neck led me to think she could not be above five and twenty. She was very slim, though she appeared even thinner in the ill-fitting clothing issued her, her hair escaping its bounds in thick black spirals and her hands raw from the chafing of the rough rope she’d been picking apart. Her skin was greatly freckled with the effects of our brief London summer, and she had such an air of readiness about her, of good humour in her green eyes mixed with open challenge in her set shoulders, that I could not help but think that her friend’s killer was lucky not to have chosen Miss Monk as his victim.
Holmes smiled sympathetically. “Do sit down, Miss Monk. My name is Sherlock Holmes, and this is my friend and partner, Dr. Watson. We are aware of our imposition, but we would very much appreciate your recounting the details of your relationship with Mrs. Nichols.” The detective offered her his hand to help her into a chair.
Miss Monk laughed outright at this display of courtesy. “Well, if you don’t mind sitting down with a girl of my character, I’ve no objection. You’re no cops…I can tell by your shoes. All right, then, lads. What are you on to, and what the devil have I to do with it? I chummed about with Polly for a year or more, but that don’t mean I can tell you who done her in.”
Miss Monk’s careless manner did not shield from me her obvious regard for her friend, for as she finished, her eyes meandered over the worn Persian carpet beneath our feet.
“When was the last time you saw Mrs. Nichols before her death, Miss Monk?”
“I was out of the workhouse last week for four days and saw her at the Frying Pan. We had a drop or two, she met a gent, and I went on my way.”
“Do you know where she was living at that time?”
“She’d used to live in Thrawl Street, but two of the judies she shared digs with couldn’t cough up ha’pence between ’em for three nights running, so of course they were chucked out. Polly had slept rough before, but she knew if the law caught her in a park, she’d wind up back here straightaway, so she took a berth at the White House on Flower and Dean. They don’t take exception if a woman brings a friend home with her, if necessary.”
“What sort of woman was Mrs. Nichols? Did she have enemies you are aware of?”
Miss Monk sighed and tapped her severely abused man’s work boot against the chair leg. “Not a one. Polly weren’t the sort to have enemies. She swept her doss room and she kept herself tidy and she always had a kind word when she was about. She was a real good sort, Mr. Holmes, but you may as well know she was in the drink as often as she was out of it. Couldn’t bear the workhouse for more than a week at a time before the lack of gin and lack of food got to be too much for her. I don’t suppose you know it, but Polly took up as a maid in Wandsworth not long ago. She had her room and board all settled like and thought she’d get on well enough. But they were religious types, Mr. Holmes, and by the time she’d been without a drop for two months, she finally cut clear of the place.”
“You learned this from Mrs. Nichols?”
“It was plain enough to see,” she answered. “She’d a new frock, but no doss money. I soon had it out of her. She vamped the togs the next day.”
“When she had run through the money from pawning the dress, she then returned to the workhouse?”
“The workhouse,” Miss Monk returned amusedly, “as well as other means of employment what every woman has at her disposal.”
“Quite so. And, to your knowledge, there is no reason why anyone would have wished her death?”
At this our companion flushed vividly and replied, “Wish her death? That ain’t the way of it, Mr. Holmes. We all of us takes our risks to keep aboveground in the Chapel. ’Twon’t be long before I’ve had enough of Lambeth and shoved off myself. We’re not allowed so much as a match, gents, nor a scrap of cloth or mirror, nor even our own water for washing, begging your pardon. I’ll take to the streets again soon, same as Polly did. And when I does, I’ll take the same chances. There’s blokes in these parts would kill you soon as kiss your hand.”
Holmes replied gently, “Should you ever in the future encounter such a man and wish to be rid of his company, I hope you will contact me. I only meant to inquire whether Mrs. Nichols was ever molested by a particular person, or if there was anyone of whom she was afraid.”
My friend’s words and the sincerity with which he spoke them soon had the desired effect upon his subject. Releasing a laboured breath and twisting her hands in her lap, Miss Monk replied, “I don’t know nothing about it, Mr. Holmes, but Lord knows I wish I did. Killing Polly wouldn’t serve no one. Only the devil would do such a thing.”
I found myself inexplicably moved by Miss Monk’s words, even jagged and rough as they were. There was something in the line of her jaw which demanded respect even as it defied judgment.
“Here is my card, Miss Monk,” said Holmes as he rose to leave.
“What use is it to the likes of me?”
“Tut, tut, you can read as well as I can, Miss Monk. When you entered the room, your eyes skimmed that deeply inspirational quote so delicately embroidered and mounted upon the wall. Verse three of the Beatitudes, if I am not mistaken. The eyes of an illiterate are never drawn to text.”
“Very well,” she acknowledged, smiling, “and what shall I do with it?”
“If any detail returns to your memory, or if you find yourself worried over anything to do with the matter, please let me know.”
She laughed, following us as we moved out into the hall. “Shall I send my man round with the message? Or come myself in the carriage and four?”
Sherlock Holmes put a finger to his lips and tranquilly handed her a crown. “If you manage to hide this from the matron,” said he, opening the heavy outer door and descending the steps into the open air, “and fail to spend it upon any other diversions, you’ll have the ability to wire me whenever you feel it necessary. Good afternoon, Miss Monk.” So saying, he extended his hand.
“You’re a strange one, you are,” she declared as she shook the detective’s hand. “You’re a private ’tec, ain’t you? I’ve seen your name in the papers. Well, as you’ve naught else to go on, I’ll leastways tell you who we spend our days avoiding. Goes by the name of Leather Apron. I’d not be caught in a dark alley in his company, make no mistake.”
When we had passed beyond the forbidding ironwork dividing the workhouse from the road, I could not help observing, “She seems a very intelligent young woman.”
I had expected Holmes, who regarded females solely as unpredictable and vexing factors in his criminal equations, to dismiss my remark entirely. Instead he replied with an amused look, “You are the connoisseur of femininity, my dear fellow. Still, she has an eye for trivia and a memory to repeat it. In addition, she has an intimate knowledge of the neighbourhood, and associations which could aid us if she decides to make use of them.”
“Is that the reason you enabled her to contact you?”
“Her natural talent for observation could prove very useful. I would rather have ten of her than fifty of Scotland Yard.”
“I should not like Lestrade to hear you say that.” I laughed.
“My dear fellow, I assure you I meant no offense.” Holmes chuckled in return. “The good inspector has many fine qualities to recommend him, as does Miss Monk, it seems clear. However, I would venture to say that it is unlikely that any of them overlap.”
The funeral of Polly Nichols took place at Little Ilford Cemetery, on the afternoon of September sixth. The day was a fittingly inclement one, the skies mourning the dead with a profusion of rain. I learned that Mrs. Nichols’s father, children, and estranged spouse attended, though few other people presented themselves: as many mourners who had known the deceased as members of the public who had come solely to remark upon the lurid manner of her death.
Minor business matters required my presence at my bank that day, though it was only with the greatest reluctance that I left the comforts of our sitting room. I returned to Baker Street thoroughly soaked to find Holmes at our table, a newspaper at his fingertips and a cup of tea in his hand.
“There is an air about you which positively cries out for refreshment, my dear Watson,” he hailed me. “Allow me to pour you a cup. There are developments upon the Leather Apron front. Miss Monk was by no means wrong in her expectation that suspicion would fall upon this rascal.”
“Yes, I spied a description of him in yesterday’s Star.”
“I have it here. Hum! Short, thickset, late thirties, black hair and moustache, thick neck. The remainder hardly rests upon a firm bed of fact: silent, sinister, and repulsive. You can see that the press are already indulging in gleeful and inventive adjectives. Half the article is unmitigated conjecture.”
“Do you lend any credence to the matter?”
“Well, even given the natural hysteria of the journalistic world, it bears investigating. I may as well own, Watson, that my other lines of inquiry have proven quite barren. Polly Nichols was turned away from her doss house upon the night in question but seemed confident of earning her pennies, as she had a new black bonnet. She went from pub to pub and was last seen, very drunk, at two thirty in the morning. An hour later, she was discovered.”
“And Martha Tabram’s case?”
Holmes threw up his hands in resignation. “Pearly Poll, the lady’s intimate companion, has gone underground. The soldiers have likewise disappeared. It will be a job to find them, but I have initiated inquiries.”
“What are your plans?”
“I shall just cast my eye over him of the menacing leather apron, as Miss Monk appears to consider him dangerous. I’ve worked out his identity, though the force are still mulling over it—he is a bootmaker by the name of John Pizer. I fear he is not the most sophisticated of criminals, Watson. He has mastered the rather crude technique of accosting helpless women and demanding their pennies if they wish to avoid bodily harm. The scoundrel was convicted last year to six months’ hard labour for stabbing the hand of a fellow boot finisher who dared to operate in the same neighbourhood.”
“You think him capable, then, of Mrs. Nichols’s murder?”
“I require more reliable data. I intend to pay him a call this afternoon.”
“Are you likely to need assistance?”
“No, no, my dear fellow, finish your tea and I shall regale you with the story upon my return—it is hardly an errand worthy of both our energies.”
My friend returned that evening spattered with sleet but nevertheless laughed silently as he stretched his long legs before the fire. I passed him the cigar box with an inquisitive glance.
“You have enjoyed your afternoon?”
“It was in many ways remarkably refreshing. A lower species of the thug genus I’ve never before encountered. I called upon Mr. Pizer and expressed my condolences that he was shortly to be named the first definite suspect in the Nichols case. I believe I may have startled him, but he has apparently been holed up in his house since the crime occurred, so he must have had some inkling that the local tide was against him. We had a very absorbing conversation about his boot-making income and the ways in which he supplements it. I think one or two remarks of mine may have offended him, for he took a swing at me, and I was forced to consign him to his wooden floor. He protested an alibi, and I expressed doubts as to its veracity. I then quit his establishment and wired Lestrade immediately his full name and address.”
“Then you think him guilty?”
“No, my dear Watson, I’m afraid I believe him innocent. Consider: John Pizer is a coward whose notion of commerce is to rob destitute women. Is he likely to commit an audacious murder? Further, if John Pizer makes a living threatening those with considerably smaller musculature than his own, would he endanger that living by endowing them with a mortal terror of dark alleys and sinister strangers? Pizer had only his own income to lose.”
“Then why did you wire Lestrade?”
“Because I can hardly recall the last time I disliked a man quite so vigourously. If we are lucky, he will be arrested for some few days, which will at the very least prevent him from roaming the streets. I am not sorry to have seen him, though,” Holmes continued thoughtfully. “He clarified a valuable opinion of which I was hardly aware before.”
“Pizer and his ilk demand attention wherever they go. I would venture to suggest that any man who performs such acts as we have observed upon Polly Nichols’s corpse, and then walks off into densely populated streets without exciting remark, is of a far more colourless mien. Merely an indication, but entirely against the tack Scotland Yard and our beloved press have set themselves upon. And now, with thanks to Miss Monk for an engrossing afternoon, let us devote our entire attention to the cut of beef upon the sideboard. Cold weather, when mixed with thuggery, does try a man’s resources so.”
CHAPTER FOUR The Horror of Hanbury Street
Two days after my friend’s encounter with Leather Apron, at half past six in the morning, my sleep was disturbed by a whimpering cry, far off yet terrible in its intensity. The next instant snapped me into wakefulness and I left my room with a hastily lit taper in my hand, anxious to determine the source of such pitiable sounds.
Nearing the bottom of the stairs, I heard, with all the drowsy confusion of the startled sleeper, the sound of Holmes’s voice intermixed with that of the unnerving siren. I threw open the door to our sitting room, and there sat Holmes, likewise hastily clad in shirtsleeves and dressing gown, holding both the hands of a ragged child who appeared to be six or seven years of age.
“I knew you to be blessed with great strength of character,” Holmes was saying to the boy. “You behaved splendidly and I am very proud of you. Ah! Just the thing. Here is Dr. Watson. You remember Dr. Watson, do you not, Hawkins?”
The ill-fed vagabond swiveled his head in alarm at the introduction of another’s presence, and I at once recognized the pale features and dark Irish curls of Sean Hawkins, one of the youngest members of Holmes’s band of street urchins, the Baker Street Irregulars.
“Hawkins,” said Holmes softly, “it is extremely important that you tell me what has happened. You wish me to help, do you not? There, now. I thought so. And I must have all the information at your disposal, yes? I know it is very difficult, but I only ask you to try. Sit next to me upon this chair—no, no, strong back, like your father, the prizefighter. Now, tell me all about it.”
“I found a woman who was killed,” said little Hawkins, his lips trembling all the while.
“I see. That is just the sort of thing I am able to solve, is it not? Where did you find her?”
“In the yard of the building next to my own.”
“Yes, you live in the East-end. Twenty-seven Hanbury Street, is it not?” said Holmes, his grey eyes meeting mine with grave urgency. “So you saw a woman who had been killed. I know you are frightened, Hawkins, but you must pretend that you have come back from enemy territory to give intelligence.”
The lad drew a deep breath. “I quit our room this morning to see if there were any leavings on the shore. When you’ve no cases to hand, I tries my luck as a mudlark. I keep a sharp stick hidden in the back yard on a hook, and I climbed up to get at it. When I looked over the fence to the next yard, I saw her. She was all in pieces,” cried the child. “Everything meant to be inside was outside.” Hawkins then burst into a fresh assault of tears.
“There now, you are perfectly safe here,” said Sherlock Holmes, sending a hand through the boy’s hair. “You were very brave to come all the way to Westminster on the back of a gentleman’s hansom, and very clever not to be caught. I am at your service. Shall I go to Hanbury Street?”
The youth nodded feverishly.
“Then Dr. Watson and I shall leave at once. On my way down, I’ll speak to Mrs. Hudson about your breakfast, and I shall tell your mother you are sleeping upon my sofa. Oh, come now. Mrs. Hudson will be only too glad to see you as soon as I inform her she is playing host to the hero of Hanbury Street. Well done indeed, Hawkins.” Holmes shot me a significant glance and ducked into his bedroom. I was dressed not half a minute after my friend, and away we rushed in the first cab we could find, after informing Mrs. Hudson that our tiny houseguest was to be treated in every way as if he had just returned from near-fatal conflicts abroad.
Our cabman delivered us to Hanbury Street, with all the haste our equine allies could muster, by the streaks of dawn’s skeletal fingers. We strode without hesitation toward a cluster of police constables, distraught residents, and ardent reporters, who veiled their enthusiastic questions under a thin veneer of shock. Their eyes lit up when they glimpsed my friend’s singular profile, but he brushed through them as if they were so many chickens.
A clean-shaven young constable guarded the greying wooden entrance to the building’s yard. “Sorry, gentlemen, but I can’t allow you through. There’s been a murder done.”
“My name is Sherlock Holmes, and this is my associate Dr. Watson. It is the event you speak of which brings us here.”
The constable’s relief was palpable. “Right you are, Mr. Holmes. Step through this doorway and down to the yard. Inspector Lestrade will see you’re shown the…the remains, sir.”
We hastened along the dark route through the building to the yard beyond. Holmes pushed open the swinging door at the end of the musty passage, and we proceeded down a few uneven steps into an open space paved with large flat stones, grasses pushing up through every fissure. At our feet, her body lying parallel with the short fence young Hawkins had described, was the head of the murdered woman. I saw at a glance that the lad’s mortal terror had been more than justified.
“Dear God, what has he done,” Holmes muttered. “Good morning, Inspector Lestrade.”
“Good morning!” cried the wiry inspector. “Good morning, he says! What in the name of God and the devil brings you here? Murphy! Blast it all, where are you going? Never mind about that telegram. Mr. Holmes here is some kind of clairvoyant.”
“My methods are worldly enough, I assure you. As it happens, we’ve a colleague in the neighbourhood.”
“Of all the confounded—all right, then, Murphy, you can leave us to it. See that Baxter has everything under control.”
When the constable had gone, Lestrade shook his head incredulously. “Mr. Holmes, there’s something about you that isn’t entirely natural, if you’ll pardon my saying it. But for the love of heaven! Thank God you’re here. Dr. Watson, see what you can make of her, if you’ve the stomach for it. The surgeon hasn’t arrived yet, and I am at my wits’ end.”
Steeling myself with the reminder that I had never been a victim of dissecting room nerves, I advanced toward the poor wretch lying supine upon the cracked flagstones and tried to make some sense out of what had been done to her. She appeared the victim rather of the slaughterhouse than of murder.
“Her head has been nearly detached. There are bruises on her face, which is swollen and may indicate she was choked before her throat was slashed. Rigor mortis has just begun; I should say she was killed at approximately half past five this morning. Her abdomen has been opened entirely, and her small and large intestines detached from their membranes. You see he has lifted them out of the abdominal cavity and placed them over here upon her shoulder. Her other wounds…” Here I believe I must have trailed off at the revolting realization which struck me. As I peered more closely down at the body, an icy stab of alarm shot through my spine. I stumbled to my feet to gaze numbly about the yard.
“What’s the matter, Watson?” I heard Holmes’s precise, forceful tenor as if from across a great chasm.
“It isn’t possible…”
“What isn’t possible, Watson? What has he done?”
“Her womb, Holmes.” I am afraid I could not quite keep my voice from catching at the words. “Someone has taken it. It’s gone.”
All was silence save for the rumble of carts upon the road outside and the twitter of a sparrow perched high in the tree in Sean Hawkins’s adjacent yard. Then Holmes, passing a pale, distracted hand over his high forehead, advanced to see for himself. After a moment’s scrutiny, he straightened, as stoic as ever, but his deep-set eyes betraying—perhaps only to me—his revulsion at my discovery. Handing me both his hat and his stick, Holmes began his systematic examination of the scene.
Lestrade emitted a slight choking sound and sank down upon a rotting crate, his slender profile stricken. “Gone?” he repeated. “It can’t be gone, for heaven’s sake. He’s completely gutted her, Dr. Watson. Surely you overlooked it?”
I shook my head. “The entire uterus, as well as a good portion of the bladder, have been taken.”
“Taken! Taken where? It is preposterous. Surely it is here somewhere? Under that bit of scrap lumber, perhaps?”
“I believe not,” called Holmes from across the yard. “I see no trace of it.”
Lestrade’s shoulders collapsed still further at this dire revelation.
It was not long before my friend had finished his intent perusal, but to Lestrade and to me it seemed an age had passed since we had first set foot into that terrible pen, open to the sky but closed off from every vestige of the human decency we had been raised to cherish. Finally, Holmes approached us.
“The body is that of an as yet unidentified unfortunate of approximately fifty years of age. She entered the yard voluntarily in the company of her killer, who approached her from behind and took a moment to grapple with her before slitting her throat. After he had delivered the fatal wound, he looked over the fence between the yards to ascertain that there was no one nearby. Before he began mutilating the remains, he removed the contents of the deceased’s pockets: one piece of muslin and two combs. Then he proceeded to dissect his victim with a very sharp, narrow knife. When he had finished, he somehow managed to escape the way he had come without leaving the slightest drip or mark from his…trophy.”
“It is horrible,” Lestrade murmured. “It is positively inhuman.”
“Lestrade, my dear fellow, don’t look so cowed. We have progressed significantly since the Nichols case.”
“The Nichols case? Then you think it the same man?”
“We would be deeply foolish to suppose it were otherwise,” Holmes replied impatiently.
The inspector groaned in despair. “The Yard has not the slightest lead even in those murders, let alone—” He stopped abruptly. “By George! But we do! That terrible bootmaker with the leather apron! Mr. Holmes, you yourself gave me his address.”
“Lestrade, it would be very ill-advised to—”
“Here’s the surgeon! Good morning to you, Dr. Phillips. I’m afraid I must be off upon official business.”
“Stop a moment and I shall save you a deal of trouble,” Holmes cried heatedly.
“Inspector Chandler is outside, should you need anything. Right, then. I must take immediate action. Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson—good day to you.” The inspector, looking for all the world as if he had stared evil in the face directly, scurried away to pursue his new lead.
“Come, Watson,” said Holmes. “It’s quite hopeless. We must see if we can make any progress with the neighbours. Good morning, Dr. Phillips. We have left all as it was, I am afraid.”
We exited to the sound of a muffled oath uttered by the surgeon and hurried back down the passage. “Holmes,” I hissed, “please tell me you can see some light in all this. Who would be capable of such an act? A vicious gang? A new incarnation of Burke and Hare?* I begin to think that the act of murder has grown secondary to the defilement of the corpse.”
Holmes stopped to light a cigarette as we emerged from the other side. “Let us see whether the residents of twenty-nine and twenty-seven have anything relevant to convey.”
It proved a punishing task to interview all the frightened inhabitants of Hanbury Street without dwelling upon the particulars of the crime, which were so enormously sensational, and so scintillating to the pressmen, that the details had already spread like a plague. Holmes and I were forced to field almost as many questions as we posed. My friend’s granite gaze brightened subtly only twice: first, when he learned there was a cat’s-meat seller upon the ground floor of number twenty-nine; and second, when a young man named Cadoche related that he had heard a cry of “No!” and a thud against the dividing fence at approximately five thirty, which corresponded to my estimated time of death. Our last business was to relate, briefly but gratefully, news of Hawkins’s actions and whereabouts to his anxious, quivering mother.
Finally, in early afternoon, we set foot once more on the pavement, my friend making off in a direction both unambiguous and inexplicable. Holmes displayed all the energy of his uniquely unflagging will, but I felt shattered and weak, and scarcely able to stomach much more uncertainty than I had endured already.
“Holmes, if I may, where are we going?”
“I have seen enough penniless women hacked apart in a month’s time. We require assistance.”
“A renovator of music halls by the name of George Lusk.”
“Is he an acquaintance of yours?”
“He is a businessman who resides in Mile End. I was once of some use to him. He is about to return the favour.”
Mile End, so named for its position precisely one mile east of the ancient City’s boundary, had grown up considerably in the latter half of the nineteenth century. New roads, buildings, and courts gave birth to one another continually in London, but Sherlock Holmes was master of every street and byway. There was one occasion in particular, the incident involving Fenchurch the weaver and his now-infamous needle, when Holmes’s knowledge of a secret alleyway undoubtedly saved both our lives. I was not surprised, therefore, when Holmes led me down a series of labyrinthine corridors eastward out of Whitechapel only to emerge on a tree-lined thoroughfare in front of a respectable white-columned house.
My companion strode up the stone steps and knocked at the polished door, cocking an eye back at me and beckoning me to join him. “You must help me keep the conversation on topic,” he whispered. “Mr. Lusk is an articulate gentleman, whose opinions are wont to flow as freely as the Thames.” With that, a young servant girl admitted us, ushering us into a well-appointed, palm-dotted sitting room, occupied only by a regal orange cat. We sat down to await our host.
He was not long in coming. Mr. George Lusk threw wide the doors and exclaimed, “Why, if it isn’t Mr. Sherlock Holmes. By Jove, but it’s good to see you! I don’t mind telling you, sir, had you not been on hand to discover what those lumbermen were really about, I should be a poor man today. And you must be Dr. Watson. It gratifies me tremendously that someone has undertaken to record Mr. Holmes’s exploits for the world at large. A pleasure to meet you.”
Mr. Lusk was a man of open, expressive features, and perceptive brown eyes, though the bags beneath them taken in conjunction with his coat’s somber cut and sable colour led me to believe he had recently lost someone dear to him. He wore a plentiful moustache, which descended nearly to the jawline, and held himself with the confidence of an established entrepreneur. His hair was slicked back upon his head, revealing a sensitive brow, and I was impressed immediately by his alert manner and his general air of ready assurance.
“It was a very simple problem,” said Holmes, shaking the hand of our host. “I was delighted to be of assistance.”
“Simple! It was nothing of the kind. In any event, it did me a world of good, Mr. Holmes. But do sit down, gentlemen, and tell me to what business I owe this pleasure.”
“Mr. Lusk,” my friend ventured kindly, once we had seated ourselves, “I fear our condolences are in order. You must feel the loss of your wife keenly after so short a time.”
Our host exhibited no surprise that Holmes had deduced the sad event, though he indicated with the sudden contraction of his brow that he wished not to speak of it. “Susannah was a wonderful woman, Mr. Holmes, and a finer mother I’ve never yet seen. But we shall overcome, the children and I. Now, Mr. Holmes, do tell me what brings you here.”
“You are aware of the recent string of murders in the neighbouring streets of Whitechapel?”
“Why, of course, Mr. Holmes. And may I profess myself heartily ashamed of the values this nation continues to countenance. The poor must be seen to, or they will fall upon each other in the streets, as they have always done. If the greatest empire on earth cannot be trusted to meet the needs of its lowest classes, Mr. Holmes, I do not know what the world will come to in the end. Why, if one considers the wealth—”
“I have no doubt but that, given free rein, you would do much to solve the problems of humanity at large, Mr. Lusk,” Holmes interjected smoothly. “However, I appear before you in regards to specifics. Another tragedy occurred this morning, near Spitalfields Market.”
Mr. Lusk appeared genuinely distressed. “You cannot mean there has been another murder?”
“Early this morning, in fact, at twenty-nine Hanbury Street. The circumstances surrounding the killings are worsening.”
“You shock me, Mr. Holmes. I am afraid almost to pose the question, but how can that be possible?”
Holmes briefly recounted the particulars of our morning’s investigation. Mr. Lusk’s eyes grew ever more large, but when my friend had concluded the deplorable tale, he quickly absorbed the facts laid before him.
“So,” he stated firmly, “what are we to do about it? I am not a man to stand idly by with such a ruthless fiend at large. It is against the very fabric of the social contract. You shall direct me, Mr. Holmes. What is to be done?”
Holmes’s pale countenance gained a touch of colour at this remark, and he shot me a look of triumph. “I knew you could be counted upon, Mr. Lusk. I require men of action, and you have not disappointed me. Mr. Lusk, you must without any hesitation whatsoever form a committee.”
“A committee?” queried the startled businessman.
“I require you to pluralize yourself, Mr. Lusk. Find others like you, who are horrified by these crimes and wish to put an end to them. In addition to our intrepid constables, I need a band of plainclothesmen to patrol the streets and report their findings directly to me.”
“I see, I see,” our host replied eagerly. “We shall man Whitechapel with organized citizens whose only thought is to extend the arm of British law to the slums. By Jove, but Susannah would have supported this! That ruffian Sir Charles Warren* has trodden upon the poor with the approbation of the middle class for long enough. This committee will balance the scales of justice. It will serve the women whose only crime has been to suffer—”
“Those are precisely our thoughts, Mr. Lusk,” I interrupted him. Holmes nudged my arm in silent gratitude.
George Lusk, who was nodding vigourously, an action which caused him rather to resemble an active sea lion, began to pace the carpet with the decisive step of the self-made man. “I shall call upon Federov, that is clear,” he said, ticking candidates off on his left hand. “Harris and Minsk will be great assets, as will Jacobson, Abrams, and Stone.”
Holmes laughed, that staccato exclamation which only emerged when he was both amused and gratified. “Mr. Lusk, the Doctor and I shall leave you to devise a list as you best see fit. I propose you assemble your candidates, present the plan, and in due course find yourself their natural and apposite leader.”
“I shall call upon them at once! It may take me a matter of days to fully sort out our committee, Mr. Holmes, but once formed, you may be absolutely certain of our devotion to your cause.”
We took our leave, and Mr. Lusk bade us farewell, clasping our hands and assuring Holmes in fine terms of his enthusiasm. We found ourselves out of doors once more on the quiet, sun-dappled street, with nothing to distract us from the unholy spectacle we had witnessed early that morning. I could tell from his measured tread that Holmes’s mood was withdrawn as we descended the steps, and the set of his shoulders said more than words how very much our experience had affected him.
“Your plan seems to imply you fear more killings.”
“Let us hope that my fears are outstripping the facts.”
“They never have, in my experience,” I pointed out.
“Then I should be most gratified if this were the first time.”
“Engaging Mr. Lusk was an inspired notion. You could hardly justify use of the Irregulars in such a case.”
“Indeed. They would discover much, perhaps, but to what ill effects? Even as lucky and profitable as it was, having been informed so quickly by little Hawkins comes at a high cost. All too high. I would have preferred we’d learned of it by telegram and he had never laid eyes on such a miserable sight.”
“I could not agree more.”
“I only hope,” said he, as we suddenly turned down a wide avenue, “that we ourselves are up to the challenge. It is a fundamental principle of my methods that there is nothing new under the sun, yet I confess I cannot fathom what in the world could possibly give rise to such hysterical monstrosities.”
I ventured no reply to this half-posed question, for no more could I. We made our way back to Baker Street with the deaths of three women revolving silently through our minds.
CHAPTER FIVE We Procure an Ally
We arrived home in time to witness young Hawkins’s final victory over the most abundant cold luncheon I had ever seen the good-hearted Mrs. Hudson produce. After entrusting him to a hesitant but financially approachable cabbie, we sat down to a comparable feast ourselves, which Holmes picked at for perhaps three minutes before allowing his fork to dangle momentarily between his slender fingers and then tossing it in disdain upon the china.
“It is like trying to build a pyramid out of sand,” he stated contemptuously. “The dashed bits won’t hold together. I cannot believe that London has suddenly generated three separate and equally brutal killers, all roaming about Whitechapel having their way. No more is it possible that a gang of roughs could perform their perverse acts secretly within such a densely populated terrain, not to mention fit within the confines of the Hanbury Street yard. The odds against such notions are simply astronomical.” He rose abruptly. “I am going out, Watson. If these crimes are linked, then the women are linked. We do not even know the identity of our latest victim. It is ludicrous to theorize in such an abyss.”
“When shall you return?” I called as he disappeared into his bedroom.
“The answer to that conundrum, friend Watson, I could not even begin to guess,” came his reply.
“If you should need me—”
“Never fear. I’ll scale a tree and raise the flag. England expects that every man will do his duty.” With a nod and a wave, the unofficial investigator departed; I did not see him again that day.
The events in question left me in such a state of unease that I spent much of the night staring at my ceiling. When morning at long last lifted her golden head above the brickwork of the neighbouring houses, I was seized with an irresistible urge to get out of doors. Thankfully, I had given my word to a young medical friend that I would look in on an invalid patient of his, as he had left London for the weekend and would not return until Monday. I am quite certain that old Mrs. Thistlecroft was taken aback by my strenuous advice on no account to allow castor oil through her bedroom window, nor to forsake her daily dose of cold draughts. Mercifully, I did her no harm, as she brooked no traffic with the foolish or distracted, and I very narrowly avoided being thrown out on my ear with the ringing declaration that my friend Anstruther should soon hear of her treatment at my hands.
Making my way back up Oxford Street, I stopped for a copy of the Times, to see what progress Holmes had made. I swiftly found the column, as the papers were concerned with little else:
Annie Chapman, alias “Sivvey”—a name she had received in consequence of living with a sieve maker—was the widow of a man who had been a soldier, and from whom, until about 12 months ago, when he died, she had been receiving 10s. a week. She was one of the same class as Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, residing also in the common lodging houses of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, and is described as a stout, well-proportioned woman, as quiet, and as one who had “seen better days.” Inspector Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, who has been engaged in special inquiries surrounding the murder of Nichols, at once took up the latest investigation, the two crimes being obviously the work of the same hands. A conference with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the well-known private consulting detective, resulted in the experts’ agreement that the crimes were connected, and that, notwithstanding many misleading statements and rumours, the murders were committed where the bodies had been found, and that no gang were the perpetrators. It is feared in many quarters that unless the culprit can speedily be captured, more outrages of a similar class will follow.
Suppressing a smile at Lestrade’s new views, I tucked the paper under my arm and dashed upstairs to see whether my friend was at home. He was not, but affixed to the mantelpiece with my letter opener was a note he had left for me:
My dear Watson,
Investigating the fascinating inner workings of the cat’s-meat trade. Might I suggest that you await the arrival of Miss Monk.
I must admit to some surprise at Holmes’s afternoon appointment, and no less intrigue. I spent an hour organizing the notes I had made at Hanbury Street into some coherence, and just as I laid down my pen to stretch my legs, Mrs. Hudson peeped into the room.
“A young person to see Mr. Holmes, sir. Are you expecting her? She gives her name as Miss Monk.”
“Send her straight up, Mrs. Hudson. She is an associate of ours.”
Lifting her brows delicately, Mrs. Hudson departed. A minute later, the door burst open to reveal the petite frame of Miss Mary Ann Monk, clad this time in her own attire: a dark green cotton bodice fastened with seven or eight varieties of carefully salvaged buttons, a skillfully altered man’s vest, and a midnight blue figured coat which hung to the knee, revealing a profusion of skirts, the outermost an ancient green wool so much abused that it had deepened nearly to black. Her riot of hair was pinned and then tied back over the crown of her head with a narrow strip of cotton fabric, but it nevertheless showed signs of impending escape. She approached me and extended her hand.
“Very pleased to see you again, Miss Monk. Do sit down.”
She did so, with a poise implying that she had not always been in her present circumstances. However, she was soon up again, perusing the assortment of curiosities above the fireplace and tossing an ancient spearhead nervously from hand to hand before speaking.
“I can’t say as I know why Mr. Holmes asked me to tea, nor how he come to know I was lodged at Miller’s Court. Though,” she added, smiling, “I think Mr. Holmes does what he likes and knows a great many things he oughtn’t.”
“What you say is very true. I am afraid I cannot answer any of your questions just yet, though it is certainly within my purview to ring for tea.”
At the mention of this precious article, a gleam appeared in her eye, which she quickly buried beneath studied nonchalance. “Well, if Mr. Holmes won’t be offended. He did say four o’clock in the telegram, and I’m before my time. First wire in British history to be delivered to Miller’s Court, like enough, and I’d still his money in my boot for paying the shoful. Don’t know the last time I’ve ridden inside a cab. You could have knocked my pals down with a feather. I waved out the window as I left.” Miss Monk laughed at the thought, and I could not help but join her.
“As Mr. Holmes has charged me with keeping you comfortable until he arrives, I think immediate refreshment is in order, don’t you?” I inquired, ringing the bell.
“Tea,” she said languorously. “Served in good china, I’d wager. Maybe even with cream. Oh, I am sorry, Dr. Watson,” she exclaimed, embarrassed. “Here, then, I’ve some tea in my pocket—just enough for three, I’d say. I had a run of luck last night. Should you like some?” Miss Monk produced a small leather pouch stuffed with dusty brown tea leaves, obviously an item of immense value to its owner.
“I am sure Holmes would prefer not to accept such a courtesy when you are a guest in our home, Miss Monk. Here is Mrs. Hudson now.”
Our landlady had indeed arrived, hefting a tray loaded with far more than the usual sandwiches required by Holmes’s erratic appetite and my discretion.
“It’s just as it was when I was a girl! I remember trays like these—tiered, ain’t that the word? Shall I pour, Dr. Watson?”
“By all means.” I smiled. “But do tell me, if you are not offended by the question, where were you born, Miss Monk?”
“Here in England,” she replied readily, making surprisingly elegant work of pouring the tea. “Mum was Italian, and Dad convinced her to throw her own family over and put her hand in with him. We had land once, but there was a disputed will…I was seven, if I remember rightly. Lord knows but it’s been ages since they both died. Cholera struck ’em down, one right after t’other. So here I am. Staggered at the sight of a decent tea.”
Though she smiled, I could not help but feel I had awkwardly broached a painful subject, and I had just opened my mouth in hopes an appropriate reply would emerge when Sherlock Holmes entered our sitting room.
“Halloa, halloa, what have we here?” he cried. “Miss Monk, you are most welcome. I have spent my time—well, perhaps I had better just splash some water on my face and be with you directly. I have been in a most pernicious environment.” He disappeared for a brief period but returned looking quite his orderly self again and plunged a lean hand into the slipper which held his tobacco.
“You will excuse me, I am sure, if I light my pipe. Did this spearhead interest you? It is a very ancient object, recently the instrument of death in a very modern crime.”
All of Miss Monk’s nerves, which I flatter myself had been largely dispelled, returned at the sight of my friend. “Thank you kindly for the tea, Mr. Holmes, but I’ve already answered all the questions I could, honest I have.”
“Undoubtedly. However, I did not invite you here to interrogate you. I brought you here to ask you plainly, Miss Monk, do you feel as if you could play a part in bringing the Whitechapel killer to justice?”
“Me?” she exclaimed. “How do you expect me to help? Polly’s cold in her grave, and the other lass had her innards mucked all over the parish.”
“And I fear I must inform you, Miss Monk, that I suspect this man may continue killing until the very day that he is caught,” replied the detective. “Though it is undoubtedly in all our interests to find him quickly, I imagined your feelings for Polly Nichols might encourage you to take a more active role.”
“Really, Holmes, I cannot imagine what sort of role you mean,” I countered.
Holmes drew upon his pipe languidly, always a sign of concentration rather than of relaxation. “I propose that you enter my employment, Miss Monk. I could spend the lion’s share of my days building connections in the East-end, keeping the pulse of fresh rumour ever at my fingertips, but I am afraid I cannot afford to stretch myself so thinly. You, however, are placed in an ideal position to go unnoticed, hearing and seeing everything.”
“You’d pay me to nose? Nose on what?” Miss Monk asked incredulously.
“On the neighbourhood itself. There’s no more lucrative cover for flushing a bird than the local alehouses at which you are already known and trusted.”
Miss Monk’s emerald eyes widened considerably at Holmes’s remarkable suggestion. “But why ask a ladybird like me to spy on the Chapel? Why not use some jack or other, what’s trained to sniff about?”
“I do not think I need employ other detectives. You, Miss Monk, see more than those fellows do already. As for terms, here is an advance of five pounds for expenses, and I imagine you would do well enough on a pound a week, is that not so?”
“Would I!” cried Miss Monk, her pointed chin descending at the generous figure. “But if I’m to pitch over my daily work, how am I to explain the chink?”
Holmes considered the question. “I imagine you could tell your companions that you have arrested the attentions of a poetic and passionate West-end client who has determined to engage your services under more exclusive terms.”
This suggestion elicited a ringing peal of laughter from Miss Monk. “You’re mad, you know. I’ll be rubbish—who am I to help hunt down the Knife?”
“Is that what they’re calling him?” My friend smiled. “Miss Monk, I can think of no one better suited to assist me.”
“Well,” she said stoutly, “I’m all for it if you are. If I can help lay a hand on Polly’s killer, it’s a job well done. No more smatter hauling for me this month, gents.”
“Income garnered through theft of handkerchiefs,” Holmes murmured under his breath.
“Ah, yes,” said I. “Quite so.”
We settled that Miss Monk would confine her investigations to the neighbourhoods of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, taking note of all local speculation. She would then report to Holmes twice weekly at Baker Street, under the pretext of paying calls upon her gentleman suitor. It was a determined Miss Monk, I noted, who descended our stairs to the cab waiting at the street corner.
Holmes threw himself upon the settee as I cast about for a means to light my pipe.
“She’ll prove useful, Watson, mark my words,” he declared, tossing me a matchbox. “Alis volat propriis,* if I am not very much mistaken.”
“She’ll come to no harm, Holmes?”
“I should hope not. Alehouses are safe as churches by comparison with the murky alleys of her usual vocation. By the way, I came by a spot of success this morning.”
“I meant to inquire. What the deuce has cat’s meat to do with the matter?”
“Although I have not yet ascertained whether Annie Chapman, for so I have discovered she was called, was tied in any way to Polly Nichols or Martha Tabram, she was nevertheless ill-starred enough to fall victim to the Whitechapel killer, who made off with possibly the most repellent token I have ever heard spoken of.”
“I recall as much.”
“Well, then. What does that aforementioned token suggest to you?” Holmes’s eyes shone and the twitch of his brow gave me every hope that he was onto something.
“Do you mean to tell me you have found a clue?”
“My dear Watson, flex your mental musculature and see if you can make note of the remarkable fact which Lestrade, in his horror at the proceedings, has seemingly not yet grasped.”
“Every one of these vile facts is remarkable enough to me.”
“Oh, come, Watson, do make an effort. You are the killer. You dispatch your victim. You open her up, and remove her womb.”
“Well, of course!” I exclaimed. “What the devil did he do with it?”
“Bravo, Watson. The blackguard certainly did not amble down the lane with it in his trouser pocket.”
“But the cat’s meat?”
“This morning I found, because I was looking for it, a quantity of cat’s meat hidden beneath one of the stones in the yard of number twenty-seven, which must make all clear for you. You recall my interest in whether Mrs. Hardyman of twenty-nine Hanbury Street, ground floor, front room, had done a brisk business that morning?”
“I see! He purchased a package of cat’s meat.”
“Excellent, my dear Watson. You make me feel as if I were there.”
“He then hid the cat’s meat, placing the organ in the bloody package and making off down the street, free of suspicion.”
“You shall master the deductive arts yet, my boy.”
“But who is he?”
“Mrs. Hardyman’s riveting description was as follows: ‘A sort of regular-looking chap, middle-sized, very polite in his ways.’ She thought she had seen him before but could not recall where or whether she had ever previously sold him cat’s meat. You see our earlier inference is confirmed; he is apparently not a man who imposes himself upon the senses. And this cat’s-meat business indicates premeditation yet again, which is more than a little disturbing to my mind.”
“What the devil could he have wanted with such a gruesome prize?”
“I cannot begin to tell you. Well, at any rate, it is certainly the best lead we’ve dug up, and while Miss Monk pans the silt, we shall see if we cannot add some fresh particulars to this shabbily dressed fellow, whose taste in souvenirs is as indecent as it is incomprehensible.”
CHAPTER SIX A Letter to the Boss
The next morning, I was interrupted whilst stoking the fading morning fire in our sitting room by a resounding exclamation of disgust from Sherlock Holmes, who sat transfixed with a newspaper upon the breakfast table in front of him and an arrested coffeepot in his hand.
“Confound the man! Well, if the fool wishes to waste his labour on squaring the circle, as it is said, we can do nothing about it.”
“What has happened?”
“Lestrade has arrested John Pizer, against all tattered remains of rational thought.”
“At your suggestion, surely,” I reminded him.
“I wired him there was nothing in it!” Holmes protested. “Even the Evening Standard cannot credit his having anything to do with the matter.”
“And what more have the gutter press to say on the subject?”
Snapping the paper emphatically, he read, “‘It would seem that there is, haunting the slums and purlieus of Whitechapel, some obscene creature in human guise, whose hands are stained with the “gory witness” of a whole series of butcheries’…ha!…‘shocking perversion of Nature…bestial wretch…unquenchable as the taste of a man-eating tiger for human flesh.’”
“For heaven’s sake, my dear fellow.”
“I didn’t write it,” he said mischievously.
A brief knock at the door heralded the approach of our pageboy. “You’ve a telegram, Holmes.” I could not help but smile as my eyes scanned the correspondence. “Mr. Lusk is now the acting president of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. He sends his allegiance and his warm regards.”
“Capital! Well, I am gratified to see that some of these active fellows are actually applying their energies in a beneficial direction. We shall follow their example, my good man—we must learn more about this purchaser of cat’s meat, and with all possible haste.”
But throughout the week that followed, Holmes met with only the most limited success. Despite all our efforts, as the killer had left no physical trace, we could not identify the man who had vanished that morning into the cold September air. The Vigilance Committee, a truly robust organization from the start, swiftly organized neighbourhood watches and nightly patrols, but they encountered few hazards beyond the outbreaks of vicious antiforeign mobs, who took it upon themselves to beat any hapless immigrant whose “sly looks” or “crooked demeanour” proved his degenerate nature. Every citizen of Whitechapel from the most devout charity worker to the lowest cracksman cried out in chorus that no native Englishman could ever have killed a poor woman so.
Annie Chapman was buried secretly on Friday the fourteenth of September, at the same paupers’ cemetery where Polly Nichols had been given back to the infinite little over a week before. “Pulvis et umbra sumus,” Holmes remarked that night, staring into the fire with his long arms cast thoughtfully about his drawn-up knees. “You and I, Watson, Annie Chapman, even the revered Horace himself—dust and the shadow cast by it, merely that and nothing more.”
Though Holmes lamented during the weeks following Annie Chapman’s death that the trails grew colder with every nervous twitch of the clock, I knew he was gratified that at least his investment in Miss Mary Ann Monk had proven fruitful. As Holmes followed slender leads to their barren conclusions, we anticipated eagerly our meetings with Miss Monk, who appeared to relish her new occupation. My friend, whose casual charm all too often masked cold, incisive professionalism, seemed genuinely pleased to see her, while I looked forward warmly to the boisterous air of enthusiasm with which she infused our discouraged sitting room.
On the twenty-third of September, the Polly Nichols inquest ended in resounding ignorance. Upon the following Wednesday, the selfsame coroner concluded the Annie Chapman inquest with the novel suggestion that a rapacious medical student had killed her and stolen the organ, intending it for sale to an unscrupulous American doctor. This news, reported earnestly in the Times the next day, resulted in Holmes’s raving silently at the ceiling before locating his hair trigger, falling despairingly into his chair, and tattooing a small crown in bullets above the previously rendered intertwined VR to the left of our fireplace.
“My dear fellow, might I suggest that any further adornment of Her Majesty’s initials would be disrespectfully garish?” Carefully orienting myself behind Holmes, I opened the windows in anticipation of Miss Monk’s imminent arrival.
“You question my loyalty to the Crown?”
“I question your employment of firearms.”
Holmes sighed ruefully and replaced the gun in his desk. “Miss Monk is due any moment. Perhaps she brings further evidence against the diabolical American purveyor of female reproductive organs.”
The detective smiled briefly by way of apology and then, catching the unmistakable tread of a slightly built woman ascending a staircase in heavy work boots, crossed our sitting room and threw open the door.
“Lor’, what’s this, then? A fire?” Miss Monk demanded, coughing. She had indulged part of her weekly pound in a bit of silvery ribbon to line the bottom of her coat, I observed. I also noted, not without some satisfaction, that her tiny frame had taken on a decidedly less skeletal appearance.
“Holmes occasionally mistakes our sitting room for a firing range,” I replied wryly. “Do sit down, Miss Monk.”
“Had a drop of the lush, have you?” Miss Monk nodded. “I’d a friend once was known to shoot at naught when he’d made himself good and comfortable with a bottle of gin. You’ve something better, haven’t you—whiskey, I suppose?”
I hid my own smile by clearing some newspapers off the settee, but Holmes laughed outright and strode to the sideboard for glasses.
“Your remark seems to me absolutely inspired. Whiskey and soda for all concerned is, I think, very much in order.”
“Bollocks to this cold,” Miss Monk said contentedly when she had been seated by the fire clutching her glass of spirits. “Could freeze the eyes out of your head. At any rate, gents, I’ve earned my billet this week.”
“How so?” queried Holmes, leaning back and closing his eyes.
“I’ve traced the soldier, that’s what.”
Holmes sat up again, the picture of zeal. “Which soldier do you mean?”
“The pal. The cove what lost his mate, like enough to have stabbed that first judy, Martha Tabram.”
“Excellent! Tell me everything. You may well have wired me over a discovery of this magnitude, you know.”
“Happened this morning,” she replied with pride. “Dropped by the Knight’s Standard for a cup of max* to open me eyes as I do every morning, earning my keep all the while as you know. It’s a right thick, smoky place, and near empty at that time, but there’s a soldier I could barely make out, off in the corner. I begin to think I’ll wander over and chat him up a bit, but before I can shift, he’s spied me, seemingly, and gets up to join me at the bar. He’s a well-built chap, strong jaw, dark moustache turned up at the ends, with blue eyes and sandy brown hair.
“‘Hullo there,’ says he.
“‘Hullo yourself,’ says I. ‘Share a glass of gin with a lonesome girl?’
“‘I can’t imagine you’re ever lonesome for long,’ says he, smiling.
“I think to myself, if that’s all he’s after, he can move straight along, for I’ve no need of his business. But he must have seen I weren’t pleased and says quick and eager, ‘It was only meant for a compliment, Miss.’
“‘That’s all right, then. I’ll let you sit here till you’ve thought of a better one.’
“‘A very generous offer,’ says he, and sits.
“The conversation starts out slow, but seeing as we’re drinking max and he’s a proper flat, soon enough he’s chattering his nob off. ‘Got discharged just last week and came straight back to London. The whole lot of us were in town last near two months ago,’ says he. ‘There’s a pal of mine I’m keen to find.’
“‘Your mate owes you something?’ I ask.
“‘Nothing like that. But I have to lay my hands on him all the same.’
“‘He’s committed murder, you see.’
“Well, you can bet your last tanner I wasn’t letting him out of my sight now until I’d heard the whole tale. I look as shocked as I can, which is no hard lay seeing as I’m fairly staggered.
“‘Murder! What’d he do it for, then? Lost his head during a caper? Or was it a fight?’
“‘I’m afraid it’s far worse. My friend is a very dangerous fellow.’
“‘What, one of a gang?’
“He shakes his head and peers down his nose thoughtfully and says, ‘He acted alone, so far as I know.’
“I sit and wait for him to go on, and when he sees I’m hanging on his every word, he says, ‘You see, when we were last here, a woman was killed. My friend did it, or so I believe. And I’m very sorry to say that he got away.’
“‘You gave me a turn!’ I gasp, for I can’t help but think he’s talking of Martha Tabram, and suddenly I feel cold all over at the sight of him. ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself, telling such stories when every judy in the Chapel’s fair sick over rumours of the Knife.’
“‘You don’t believe me, but every word of it’s true,’ says he. ‘I had a friend in my regiment. Never knew a better mate than him. He was a fine chap all round but had a temper like you’ve never seen. He met a girl here when last we were in town. It all began harmlessly enough. We went from pub to pub—but then he took her into an alleyway with him. I waited. I knew something was wrong when they weren’t back in a few minutes, but I waited all the same. I’ve already told you the end of it, anyway. Since that terrible night, I’ve not laid eyes on Johnny Blackstone, but I am going to find him if it’s the last thing I ever do.’
“Then he’s quiet for a spell. Soon enough he comes back to himself and notices me sitting there. ‘I haven’t frightened you, have I? I’ve no wish to burden you, but it’s heavy on my mind. My duty’s clear enough: he has to be found, and found quickly.’”
“One moment,” Holmes interrupted. “This guardsman—he believes his missing comrade to be responsible for the other murders as well?”
“Seemed troubled enough by the question,” replied Miss Monk calmly. “So I tries to draw him out, but I must have looked so rattled that he thinks he’s said enough and shuts it. Keeps telling me he’s sorry to have upset me. Had the devil of a time after that to even get his name. I says to him, looking a mite faint, ‘I must go home…,’ and he takes my arm and leads me out. I stagger on the doorstep and clutch at his jacket, and he helps me up like a proper gentleman, but by then I’d tooled the reader straight from out his gropus.”
“You lifted his wallet?” Holmes repeated incredulously. I must confess that I was grateful for the interjection.
“I beg your pardon,” she blushed. “Been at it so long, it’s a job not to voker Romeny.* That’s right—I pinched it. His name is Stephen Dunlevy,” she finished.
Holmes and I looked at each other in amazement. “Miss Monk,” said my friend, “you have done splendidly.”
She smiled, a little shyly. “It was a ream job right enough, and I’m proud of it.”
“However, I fear that you may have burned a significant bridge by stealing this fellow’s wallet.”
“Oh, never fear for that, Mr. Holmes,” she replied, laughing. “I put it back.”
At that moment we detected the sound of a muffled argument on the ground floor. Before we could guess as to its source, the singular sound of two feet accompanied by two crutches approached our sitting room at an alarming speed, and seconds later one of Holmes’s most peculiar acquaintances tore into the room like a winter’s gale.
Mr. Rowland K. Vandervent of the Central News Agency was approximately thirty years of age and exceptionally tall, nearly on par with Holmes himself, but he appeared much less so as he was bent at the waist from a crippling bout with polio when he was a child. He had an unruly mop of shockingly blond, virtually white hair, and I fear that this combined with his frail legs and crutch-assisted gait gave me the perpetual impression that he had just fallen victim to electric shock. He had once watched Holmes spar, I believe, when a spectator at an amateur boxing match, and Mr. Vandervent, who held my friend in the highest regard, occasionally sent wires to inform Holmes of stories which had just been broken to the agency. Nevertheless, I was startled at the sight of the man himself, wheezing after his rapid ascent of the stairs. His right arm, clad as always in a shabby pinstriped frock coat, held aloft a small piece of paper.
“Mr. Holmes, I’ve a matter to discuss with you which can brook no delay. However, I encountered serious impediments downstairs. You’ve a most uncouth and tenacious landlady. By the Lord Harry! Here she is again. Madam, I have explained that it is a matter of profound indifference to me whether he is engaged or no.”
“It is all right, Mrs. Hudson,” cried Holmes. “Mr. Vandervent has had scant exposure to polite society. Do excuse us, if you will.”
Mrs. Hudson wiped her hands upon the tea towel she was holding, regarded Mr. Vandervent as she would a venomous insect, and returned downstairs to her cooking.
“Mr. Vandervent, you never call upon me but you upset the fragile balance of our household. Dr. Watson you know, of course. May I introduce our new associate, Miss Mary Ann Monk. Now, whatever it is you’ve got there, let us have a look at it.”
We all crowded around the table and examined the curious missive Mr. Vandervent had brought with him. I read the letter aloud, which was penned with vivid red ink and went in this manner:
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldnt you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good luck.
Jack the Ripper
Don’t mind me giving the trade name
Wasn’t good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it. No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now—ha ha
“It is hardly the natural correspondence of our readership, as you can see,” stated Mr. Vandervent, collapsing unceremoniously into a chair. “A bit more about repealing the corn laws and a bit less about clipping off ladies’ ears, and I should not have troubled you.”
Holmes lifted the object by its edges and took it to his desk, where he commenced a meticulous study through his lens.
“Thought you’d say that. Here it is.”
“Postmarked September twenty-seventh, eighteen eighty-eight, receipt same day, mailed from the eastern side of the metropolis. Address straggling and unbalanced—you see, he has no regard for uniformity of line.”
“What’s got me concerned,” continued Mr. Vandervent, “is not the compelling style of the note itself. It’s that the mad bastard—my apologies, Miss Monk, to your delicacies—should ask us to hold it back until he ‘does a bit more work.’ I am in the position, for quite the first time in my life, of not knowing what to do.”
“You amaze me, Mr. Vandervent.”
“Indeed! Yes. It is a very disquieting sensation. But as I understand it, rum notes and dark plots are quite your arena, Mr. Holmes. You’ve traced his whereabouts by now, no doubt.”
“I think I would do well to exchange my actual powers for Mr. Vandervent’s imagined ones,” the detective replied. “In fact, I cannot make out his game at all.”
“His game is clear enough. States it right there—fourth sentence, I believe: ‘down on whores.’”
“No, no, the note itself. You’ve called attention to the key oddity already: why should this man, if he is not the killer, ask that the letter be held back until after he has killed again? The casual prankster would wish the letter to be published immediately, seeking only to frighten the public and see his handiwork in print.”
“Is there anything that could help us to trace the author?” I asked.
Holmes shrugged. “The man is moderately educated. The irregularity of the baseline, as well as the downward-slanting script, indicate he is moody and unpredictable. His ts are determined, his rs intelligent, and the confidence in his capitals is troubling. The envelope reveals nothing aside from origin, and the Moncton’s Superfine watermark is clear but certainly not a clue by which we could trace a man.”
“Moncton’s Superfine watermark. You don’t say. But let us address the real problem, Mr. Holmes,” drawled Mr. Vandervent. “What am I to do with it? I’ve done my civic duty in bringing it here, but I fear the citizenry might be nonplussed at reading it over breakfast.”
“May I keep this document for further study?”
“So you advise me to hold it back for the time being? A very roundabout way you have of putting it too. Very well, Mr. Holmes, I shall leave the thing in your hands, to be retrieved the day after tomorrow, at which time I shall forward it to the Yard. Make good use of it. I have no doubt but that it would prove excellent kindling.” Mr. Vandervent, with a supreme effort, raised himself from his chair and descended the stairs.
Holmes drained his glass thoughtfully. “Miss Monk, would it be at all possible for you to see this Dunlevy fellow a second time?”
“We’ve fixed Saturday evening to meet at the Queen’s Head. Nine o’clock sharp,” Miss Monk replied innocently.
“Brava! Miss Monk, you are of inestimable help. Dr. Watson and I will be on hand in Whitechapel to provide support. Meanwhile, I intend to study this letter until it can house no secrets from me. The author may not be our man, but this ‘Jack the Ripper,’ whoever he is, certainly bears investigating.”
CHAPTER SEVEN A Whitechapel Rendezvous
Holmes was absent for much of the next day, revealing when he returned only that we were to meet Miss Monk in the East-end on the following evening. No more would he say regarding either the case or the mysterious letter, and when, against my better judgment, I pressed the subject, he embarked upon a discussion of architecture as a reflection of national ideals, steadfastly refusing to be led astray from that intriguing though irrelevant subject.
The following afternoon proved an arena for the wind to strew showers against windowpanes and blow gusts of cold, wet air through timidly cracked doorways. My friend arrived for supper in high spirits, and we sat down over a bottle of Bordeaux before embarking upon our journey east.
“I have been returning Mr. Vandervent’s property,” said Holmes as he poured me a glass. “I was not thanked for my trouble. That poor misanthrope has no patience for his own kind, but he’s a decent enough sort, and as you have seen, occasionally invaluable.”
“What do we intend to accomplish this evening?”
“We shall stay a reasonable distance behind Miss Monk and see whether this mysterious soldier has had any luck in tracing his friend Johnny Blackstone. I have not yet had a look at the fellow, after all, and he has piqued my interest enormously.”
“In what way?”
“Surely it is apparent that Dunlevy is not all that he seems.”
“Is it?” I inquired. “We have never laid eyes on him.”
“Yes, but she has, and if what she says is accurate, he is a slippery fish, this Mr. Dunlevy. Consider: a woman has been brutally murdered. You were present at the scene. You know who has done it, or you think you know. You never say a word about it to anyone and you fail to inform either the police or your superiors what has happened.”
“He claimed they were fast friends.”
“Even more baffling. Rather than request a leave of absence to seek out your fallen brother, or even go so far as to place an ad in the agony columns, you leave the city and only upon your return develop a burning desire to find him. He cannot be both fiercely loyal and glaringly negligent. Now, look here, Watson, we haven’t much time. It is nearly seven. We shall finish this excellent vintage, and then into evening dress.”
“Evening dress? In Whitechapel?”
“We’ll be far less visible that way, and we shall incorporate, beneath our coats, your revolver and my bull’s-eye lantern. I assure you that evening dress is the best possible measure to avoid undue attention. Better for us to appear swells of dubious morals than gentlemen of mysterious purposes. Besides, Watson,” he added, with a glint of humour in his grey eyes, “you, after all, are a man of the world. We must put your skills to use, for there is no greater tragedy on God’s green earth than that of untapped talent.”
Thus, attired as elegantly as if our destination were the opera and not the East-end, we set forth into the glittering streets as the evening deepened into night. The freshly lit gas lamps flung yellowed light across the rain-streaked windowpanes but grew ever more scarce as we drove east. At length, when we had left the vast tracts of brick dwellings behind us, our cab turned onto Whitechapel High Street. Light poured from the doorways of the gin palaces, illuminating the fruit peddlers who laboured at the end of the day to sell their remaining wares. An organ-grinder with his chattering simian companion stood before a music hall upon a crumbling street corner. Everywhere men leaned in doorways puffing at cigars, and everywhere women strolled about, some housewives with hair in loose buns gossiping with their neighbours, some ladies of more mercurial design who kept in constant motion to avoid the attention of the local constabulary. Gentlemen of leisure too, weary of concerts and of dinner parties, lounged from temptation to temptation with cynical aplomb. The place was a veritable hornet’s nest of whirring activity, illicit and otherwise, and the rawness of it reminded me less of London than it did the heaving markets of Calcutta and of Delhi I had encountered during my time in service.
At length we turned north onto Commercial Street, where pools of water stood in front of the narrow shops illuminated from within by greasy tallow candles. Rats scurried from under our clattering wheels, and doors leading to derelict stairwells stood yawning in the rain. I peered into them, but to no avail; the glow and bustle of Whitechapel High Street had been replaced by pervasive darkness. It was a black so heavy that its weight appeared only to be deepened by the efforts of the meager lamps, and I wondered aloud to Holmes what deeds might with impunity be committed in such a realm.
“To live in these houses, one cannot survive without either condoning or incorporating the criminal element,” my friend replied. “See here—this street we are passing, Flower and Dean—it is one of the most dangerous places in the known world, and it is not in the wilds of Africa but mere miles from the place where you and I so peaceably hang our hats.”
One glance down the road he had indicated sufficed to prove his point. The air was heavy despite the recent rain, and there was hardly a window which had not been smashed in, then vainly patched over with paper or scraps of cheap cloth.
“Here is our destination. I thought it best to establish our connection early in the evening. Follow me, and please try not to draw attention to yourself.”
Holmes has, as I have remarked elsewhere, an air of self-importance about him which occasionally tries the patience of his few friends. However, upon entering the establishment called the Queen’s Head, on the corner of Commercial and Fashion Streets, I at once took his meaning. The place was populated by gentlemen—if one could stretch the word to its outer limits—of the roughest character; by rouged women awkwardly holding babies in their arms, pausing for a glass of gin before returning home; and by Miss Mary Ann Monk, who sat at the bar near the doorway and shot an eye at us as we entered.
“How about that one, Middleton?” Holmes said brightly after surveying the room. “She looks likely enough, and that glorious hair. You won’t do better than that, my friend, not in these parts.”
My look of dismay must have registered with many of the patrons, who chuckled quietly at Holmes’s words.
“Oh, come off it, man, we haven’t got all week. See here,” he said to Miss Monk in a lower tone. “My friend is about to leave London for the Australian colonies, and—well, it would be pleasant to remember England as a welcoming land, if you understand me. You are not engaged at the moment?”
Miss Monk regarded us appraisingly and made no reply.
“Well, well, it is no matter,” said Holmes suavely, passing her a half-sovereign. “Now, I expect this is more than you make in a month, and I further expect you to earn it. We shall stay here for a drink, then continue on to the Bricklayer’s Arms down the road apiece. A thicker* when all’s said and done ought to persuade you to meet us there, I think? Many thanks, my dear girl.”
After purchasing two glasses of beer and two glasses of gin from the proprietor, we sat down on a bench near the back of the room. We sipped the beer, leaving the gin untouched.
“I suppose that we intend to grant Miss Monk an ironclad justification for giving Dunlevy the slip when she feels it necessary,” I remarked dryly.
“Precisely so. My apologies, my dear Middleton, but apart from an assignation, I could not devise any excuse that would so effectively ensure her safety.”
“Your vaunted imagination fell so short?”
“Come now, my dear fellow! It is a dark enough investigation without a touch of sport to lighten it. But I say, what have we here—no, do not look toward the door, I beg of you,” he stopped me softly. “The reflection in that excellently placed mirror should serve you every bit as well.”
Stephen Dunlevy, his face slightly distorted by the ageing of the mirror, was casting an affable blue eye about the crowded room. He was a genial fellow with a modest, upward-tilting moustache set over a pleasant mouth and a square jaw. Holmes looked him over in his careless, languid fashion, but I knew that he was recording every salient detail as the ex-guardsman strode further into the room and hailed our diminutive friend. On their way to sit down, Miss Monk nodded once in our direction, which immediately prompted her companion to question her.
Holmes smiled. “Now that Dunlevy has seen us, let us take our leave.” We exited the bar and the air hit our faces in damp gusts as he continued. “You see, my dear fellow, the only way I could feel absolutely sure of Miss Monk’s security was if she had an appointment—not a fabricated one, mind you, but an established fact—that her companion discovered as if by accident. Should she not appear, she will be missed, and Dunlevy knows it.”
We walked slowly down Commercial Street as the skies began to clear. “I have no doubt but that you are aware of every possible eventuality,” said I, recovering my equanimity outside the close confines of the Queen’s Head. Falling into a more comfortable silence, we drifted in the direction of our meeting place with Miss Monk.
By the time we had reached Whitechapel High Street once more, all the revelry and apathy of a hedonistic Carnevale permeated the smoky atmosphere. Had Holmes or I wished to lose any of the money in our pockets, every corner boasted either a cardsharp, skittle sharp, or some other variety of bold-faced cheat. As we passed the intersection into the morass of Commercial Road, I confess that I should have doubted the safety of our route had Holmes not so clearly known precisely where he was going. Indeed, I believe that only my friend’s air of total self-assurance prevented us from harm as we strolled down the jaggedly cobbled street.
While I cannot vouch for the history of the Bricklayer’s Arms, it had likely once served as a local guildhall, for it boasted the banner of its trade name above the low-linteled door. It was perhaps eleven o’clock by the time Holmes and I arrived, as we had more than once been forced to extricate ourselves from the attentions of inquiring ladies of the evening. I will be pardoned, therefore, for having expressed a degree of relief when we at last entered the crowded tavern.
A stranger to all, my companion was within half an hour the intimate confidant of every unhappy sot within the premises. Though seeped through with tallow smoke and careless splashes of gin, the atmosphere grew less unpleasant as I realized that Holmes was as at ease in our present environs as he was in our own rooms, and thus I settled back in my chair and tried my own hand at observation. Close upon my right was an elderly fellow, clearly a sailor, I thought, from his tattoos, who declaimed to a curly-headed boy that he had more women at his beck and call in Asian ports than any other seafarer he had either seen or heard tell of. Directly in front of us sat a woman who I imagined to be in mourning owing to her dark garments, then remembered that the denizens of that neighbourhood possessed at the most one entire set of clothing.
When over an hour had passed without a sign of our comrade, I began to shoot Holmes worried glances, only one of which he responded to by pressing my arm reassuringly. My friend was lifting his glass once more in the direction of the barkeep’s daughter when Miss Monk at last appeared at the doorway. Upon spying us, she rushed over, leaping into the nearest chair.
“I’d bet my life that bloke’s onto summat,” she declared delightedly, drawing Holmes’s half-sovereign out of her garments and tossing it back to him. He placed it in his waistcoat pocket and then quite inexplicably glanced down at her shoes.
“Well, then,” he prompted, raising his eyes, “pray report. What did he tell you?”
“Wouldn’t talk about that soldier friend of his for nigh on an hour. Just asks what I’ve been about and who you lads are, and I tells him some stories so everything’s warm and comfortable. Finally he lets on that he thinks he’s found a way to trace Johnny Blackstone.”
“This gentleman grows ever more enthralling,” Holmes remarked. “Did you discover anything further?”
“Only where he lives!” she whispered.
“How on earth did you accomplish that?” I exclaimed.
“Well, when I left him to meet my swells, I’m off with a peck and a nod, but I ducks into an alley to see which way he goes. When he comes out, he walks straight down Commercial Street and ends up on Ellen Street, down a passage or two and into a doss house. I spies a woman at the front entrance, and I offer her a shilling to let on what sort of callers he has. ‘No one,’ says she, ‘but he’s out all hours, and only the devil knows what he’s about. He’s true enough to you, so far as I know.’ Well, I weren’t about to wait around for him to come out again. But I’ll show you his digs, and the woman what keeps the entrance will tell me for a few pence if he’s there, like as not.”
“It is a sterling idea, Miss Monk. I may have a mind to follow him myself tomorrow. Quietly now, and so as not to cause any curiosity over our departure, do take my friend Middleton’s arm and lead us out of the bar.”
CHAPTER EIGHT In Pursuit of the Killer
Heading in a southwesterly direction, we were soon avoiding heaps of debris and rivulets of sewage on our way to Dunlevy’s abode. Miss Monk, freed from the gaze of our fellow bar patrons, let go of my forearm with a comradely squeeze and we traveled three abreast. We had passed a board school, and were nearing a two-story barn housing what sounded like a gentleman’s club in the midst of a celebration, when a pony-driven cart blocked our path as it approached an open gate. The workman sitting upon the small seat of his costermonger’s barrow, a stooped man with spectacles and fingerless gloves, called out impatiently to his animal. To his surprise, his pony shied backward with a nervous neighing sigh. Another attempt to enter met with the same resistance, and as a result, our party trod into the street to cross to the other side.
We had continued for several more paces when Holmes cried, “Wait! The reins, Watson! The reins in that man’s hand, they were slack, were they not?” Without awaiting a reply, he turned on his heel and flew back toward the gate and the fretfully pawing pony, whose owner had temporarily abandoned the project and gone inside the club.
Miss Monk turned a quizzical eye toward me. “They were slack, right enough. But what could that mean?”
I intended to reply, but some instinct instead caused me to run with all my speed after Holmes into the long space between the two buildings. The walls rose at an impossible angle for any light to penetrate from the street beyond, and I could barely make out my friend’s tall form against the opposite mouth of the corridor.
“Holmes!” I called, proceeding forward with one guiding hand on the cold wall. “What is it, Holmes?”
The spark of a lit vesta flared out, revealing my friend’s thin hand and a patch of stone wall. “It is murder, Watson.”
When Holmes lit the bull’s-eye, the sight which had been invisible to my duller senses caused me to gasp in alarm. There lay the very gaunt, sable-clad woman I had noted in the Bricklayer’s Arms not two hours previous. Her eyes were now open and staring, seemingly in disbelief at the rivulets of blood which ran from the gaping gash through her neck onto the ground.
I immediately knelt to see what could be done, but she had breathed her last mere seconds before our arrival. At this observation, a new thought struck me, and I looked urgently up at Holmes as I drew my service revolver, indicating the enclosed yard beyond. He nodded once. Lantern in hand, the detective cautiously advanced the remaining fifteen feet down the end of the corridor until he reached the edge of the threshold and stepped into the shadowy yard.
The attack happened so quickly that it was difficult for me to know exactly what occurred. A dark figure, who had clearly been waiting flat against the wall beyond, focusing all his senses upon our movements, darted behind Holmes and dealt me a powerful blow near the left eye, momentarily stunning me as he tumbled out the street side of the passageway. My next memory, which could only have been a split second later, was of Holmes shouting, “Remain here!” as he left the lantern and took flight after the murderer of the unidentified female, whose eyes, though my own were still painfully blurred, I gently closed as I leaned against the wall.
After bitterly regretting my own stupidity in allowing myself to be assaulted in such a manner, I reflected that the terrain had been far from in our favour—to walk from a narrow entrance into unknown landscape is to invite ambush—and I soon left off cursing my ill luck to ponder what use I could be where I was.
Upon approaching the gate, I nearly collided with the workman from the pony cart, which remained where we had left it, the animal still tossing its head in indignation at the proceedings. The driver had evidently gone inside and brought back with him a few lit candles and several of his comrades, many of foreign appearance, all respectably dressed and glaring at me suspiciously.
“My pony was afraid, and I stop to see why,” he began in slightly accented but perfectly comprehensible English. “He is not usually this way, and I saw a dark shape. You—you were hiding? In the yard?”
“No,” I replied, “but a terrible event has occurred there. We must summon the police at once.”
The knot of men exchanged worried glances. “I am Mr. Louis Diemschutz,” declared the cart driver. “We are members of the International Workingmen’s Educational Club, through that door. My house, my wife—they live off this yard. I must see what has been done.”
I nodded and stood aside. Mr. Diemschutz approached the body and gave a small exclamation at the pool of blood surrounding the victim’s head.
“This is not my wife,” he cried, “but another woman has been killed! This man is right. We must find help.”
Fortunately, that task required negligible effort, for before we had traversed ten yards of the street, Miss Monk rounded the corner in a visible rage with an exceedingly recalcitrant police constable in tow.
“You’ll leg it sharp, or I’ll begin screaming and I won’t stop till you’ve done what’s right. Bloody hell, do you think I spend my time chatting up every crusher I see trudging along his little circle?” She stopped short at the sight of me. “Oh, Dr. Watson,” she cried, leaving the policeman and flying to my side. “Your eye is bleeding. I knew summat was wrong. What’s in that alley? What’s happened to Mr. Holmes, then?”
“There has been another murder, and Holmes has gone after the killer,” I replied, half for the benefit of Miss Monk and half for that of the bewildered constable. As I uttered those words, I wondered with a sudden stab of fear whether it was remotely possible for Sherlock Holmes to be outmatched, and I lamented even more keenly that I was not with him.
“You saw the man what’s done it?” Miss Monk questioned. I nodded. “And there’s—there’s another woman in there? She’s dead, you’ve said as much, but is she—?”
“We interrupted her killer. Nothing of the sort that was done to Annie Chapman has happened here.”
“That’s a blessing, then.” Miss Monk exhaled. “Right. You want me to see her? The poor soul. I may know her, after all.”
I considered this suggestion and, knowing that time was of the essence, reluctantly gave my assent. The startled policeman likewise had no objection. I had left the lantern by the corpse, so together we approached the harsh halo of illumination delineating the arm and head of the body. Miss Monk bit her lip in distress at the sight of the victim but slowly shook her head. I took her arm and led her away.
“Are you all right, Miss Monk?”
“I’m like to be fine in a moment, Doctor.”
“Perhaps one of the men associated with the Educational Club will escort you inside.”
I had expected words of protestation either from Miss Monk, who looked stalwart but very pale, or from the club members, each of whom appeared to be attempting to work out my exact relationship with the shabbily clad young woman. No dispute was forthcoming, however, and a thin fellow with a pince-nez offered Miss Monk his arm and led her into the light and noise of the club.
“You’re Dr. Watson?” demanded the policeman. He was a ruddy-faced youth with a blond moustache and weak chin. “I am Police Constable Lamb. The area must be secured, and no one is to leave the club until we’ve settled this matter. Pray God Mr. Holmes has caught the fiend by this time.”
His words echoed my fervent hopes. I informed Constable Lamb I’d seen the dead woman two hours previous at the Bricklayer’s Arms, and Mr. Diemschutz, who was much distressed, then described his pony’s fright and his subsequent foray into the men’s club for assistance. By this time many of the neighbours had been roused, and word of the fresh crime spread rapidly from house to house as other policemen arrived on the scene.
After twenty minutes had elapsed, I was anxious; twenty minutes beyond that saw me fretfully pacing the pavement, wondering whether it would be possible for one man, in the dead of night in an unfamiliar and tortuous setting, to find another man when his initial trajectory had not even been observed. At nearly a quarter to two by my watch, feeling vaguely ill, I made up my mind simply to cast about the adjacent streets and had just set off when an unyielding hand on my shoulder stopped me.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Watson, that Mr. Holmes has not returned,” said Constable Lamb firmly, “but it is in direct violation of police procedure to allow you to exit the scene of a crime you…well, discovered, sir.”
“Sherlock Holmes is at this very moment attempting to bring in the man responsible for these vile acts, and I mean to help him in whatever way I can.”
“With respect, sir, you can’t find Mr. Holmes without even a notion of where to look.”
“He may be in desperate need of our assistance!”
“We can hardly provide him that without any idea where he is.”
“I can at least determine he is not nearby.”
“Not without violating the Yard’s procedure, sir.”
“I do not think that, even at this dark eleventh hour, we need entertain any notion of violating the procedure of the Yard,” said a familiar sardonic voice.
“Holmes!” I cried, whirling around in relief. There he stood, not five yards away, holding himself in a peculiarly stiff manner as he slowly advanced. “The killer—did you encounter him? Did he disappear?”
“I am afraid the answer to both questions is yes,” my friend replied, and then, taking another step, he seemed to suffer a loss of balance and staggered slightly.
“Dear God, Holmes, what has happened?” I rushed to his side and grasped his arm, and was all the more troubled when he did not protest but leaned on me heavily.
“Help me get him inside,” I ordered the constable.
“Thank you, Watson, I believe you and I can manage it. Although, perhaps, the ‘inside’ to which you refer ought to be somewhat private.”
One glance through the windows of the boisterous men’s club, confined to their quarters for questioning and gesticulating wildly, was enough to convince me Holmes was right, and I led my friend instead to the building on the south side of the enclosure, which I had come to understand was called Dutfield’s Yard. In the hallway between two families’ living quarters, Holmes lowered himself onto a filthy stoop, and in the better light I finally caught sight of the massive bloodstain seeping across his right shoulder.
“For the love of God, Holmes, if I had seen this, I should not have allowed you to walk under your own power more than two paces,” I cried, carefully pulling off his overcoat and his evening jacket, both of which were saturated with blood.
“I’d anticipated as much,” he murmured, wincing only occasionally as I furthered my attempts to expose the actual wound. “I am relieved to see you well, by the way. You were dealt a considerable blow.”
I threw off my greatcoat and began tearing apart my own dinner jacket, which I knew to be relatively sanitary, with Holmes’s pocketknife. “It was nothing. My own carelessness. Drink this,” I directed, handing him my flask.
Holmes took it from me with an unsteady hand. “I have seldom myself encountered so fleet or agile an opponent.”
“I wish to hear no explanations, nor do I wish you, in strict point of fact, to speak at all.” I marveled at the forceful injunctions I was laying upon my friend, whose total authority, outside of a medical emergency, I would never have challenged.
“No doubt you are right, Doctor. But allow me to enlighten the constable here, whose testimony may be called upon by the Yard in our own absence.”
“Briefly, then,” I growled. “What happened?”
“This fellow couldn’t hold a candle to the devil when in a tight corner. He ran off in the direction of some deserted warehouse byways, I imagine to prevent my shouting to any passersby to help me stop him. He knows these streets like the back of his hand, and I admit he had the advantage of me, for it has been months since I had a case here and one or two new gates and boarded-up alleys caught me by surprise. We had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile when he darted into a maze of passages. I made every effort to keep him in sight, for we both knew that once he had shaken me off, I would never regain the trail. Finally I did lose the culprit, or thought I did.”
“Brace yourself a moment,” I directed, pressing a hastily constructed compress to Holmes’s shoulder. He turned even a shade paler but made no sound.
“I came to a very narrow crossroads of dripping stone corridors,” Holmes continued. “He appeared to have turned a corner, and as both the east and the westerly branches turned yet again within a few yards, my only option seemed to be mere guesswork.”
“You never guess.”
“No,” he acknowledged, with the hint of a smile, “nor did I in this case. I listened. I could no longer hear him running. Soon I realized that the creature could have made his escape through a door and out the back entrance, which would explain the lack of audible footsteps. In any event, I could not wait indefinitely, so after a brief perusal of the area, I grudgingly turned back the way I had come.
“It was as I passed the lintel of a deep doorway that the glint of a knife caught my eye, and the unfortunate incident occurred which you are working to correct. He’d stopped just before the crossroads, not after, and I curse my own stupidity for not having noted the absence of footfalls a moment before. I am possessed of quite rapid defensive reflexes, however, and diverted the blow effectively.”
“You are very seriously injured, Holmes!”
“As the knife was aimed at my throat, you will concede I could have done worse. In any event, before I could rally, he was off again. I followed him, then began to feel I was not at my best and made my way back here.”
“Indeed, you are hardly at the top of your form,” I agreed, finishing the final knot of a makeshift brace and thanking my stars that in Afghanistan I had frequently done without proper medical supplies. “That is all I can construct for the moment. Slip your arm into this sling and we are off to hospital.”
“Yes to the former and no, I think, to the latter. There is work still to be done. Have you any cigarettes about you? I’ve lost my case.”
I opened my mouth to protest and closed it again, knowing I could no more drag Sherlock Holmes away from a murder investigation than command the world to spin in the opposite direction. Constable Lamb, who had been taking notes, rose to his feet as I passed my friend a cigarette and struck him a match.
“By the way, Mr. Holmes, how came you to suspect something was amiss?”
“Watson did not tell you? A pony on the street reared up and refused to approach the passage.”
“Many ponies are skittish and dislike entering new territory if it is dark.”
“Yes, but this pony was going home. Its master’s reins lay slack in his lap; therefore, the pony stopped upon seeing something unusual which it did not like.”
“I see,” said the constable, somewhat dubiously, I thought with irritation. “And the murderer—would you describe him?”
Holmes closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. “The damnable luck is that I never once caught a glimpse of his face. He had wrapped himself about the neck and mouth and ran with his head down. He wore an overcoat, British cut, dark material, heavy shoes, and a worn cloth hat. He was clutching a parcel wrapped in newspaper, not heavy, under his left arm. Did you see him clearly, Watson?”
I somberly indicated I had not.
“So, Mr. Holmes, you and your friend here maintain that, although you confronted this fellow on two separate occasions this very night, you would be unable to identify him? I mean to say, it seems very unlikely, does it not?”
“Well, Officer,” my friend replied, crushing the remainder of his cigarette underfoot, “I suppose I must ask whether you find it likely that a man would take up tearing apart street women as a hobby. We appear to have quit the realm of likelihood, have we not? Come, we are losing time. Where strength has failed us, let us see what we can accomplish through reason alone.”
CHAPTER NINE The Double Event
It must have been well past two by the time we approached the grimy passageway where the body remained. Holmes looked ghastly but frenziedly determined. The constable frequently attempted to catch my eye, I suspected with the idea of removing Holmes from the scene, but he met with a stony and unflinching profile.
“Has anything been touched?”
“We have searched the surroundings for accomplices. The scene remains as it was when the Yard took possession.”
It is perhaps irrelevant, however pressing it seemed to me at the time, to say I had developed a headache the likes of which I had never before experienced. In my dazed state, I failed to observe my companion’s machinations with any exactitude until he approached the constable with fiery resolve in his slate grey eyes.
“The deceased is between forty and forty-five years old, though hard living has made her age more difficult to ascertain. She is a smoker, she went with her killer willingly into this byway, she makes occasional use of a padlock, she is not an absolute drunkard, she had experienced more than her share of violence before this event, and she consumed a bunch of grapes with the man who killed her. He, by the by, is right-handed, five foot seven, intimately acquainted with the district, and an Englishman.”
Constable Lamb blinked once and then narrowed his eyes. “In the absence of my superiors, I must record the evidence behind your…assertions, sir.” He rested his case, seemingly pleased by his own propriety.
“Must you indeed?” Holmes said lightly. “She is a smoker, because she retains in her hand a packet of cachous.* She went with her killer willingly because she would have dropped them had she fled. In addition, I happen to have seen this woman some little time ago at a pub, and she was not then wearing a red rose with white maidenhair fern pinned to her jacket. The killer courted her briefly—you may observe the grape stalk yourself just beside the body—and led her into this alleyway. She or someone she knows must own a padlock, for what other lock could possibly fit the key I have discovered upon her? She once before was the victim of a violent individual who tore an earring from her lobe, and were she an utter drunk, she would doubtless by now have pawned one of her two combs.”
“I don’t see what’s so dashed clever about any of that,” muttered Constable Lamb, jotting down notes as quickly as he was able.
“Yes, I would be very much surprised to learn you could see anything at all.”
“Er…,” faltered the constable. “Yes, Mr. Holmes. If you would just wait for my superiors—”
“I should be all too gratified if you had any, but I fear—”
“They are approaching, I think, sir.”
Constable Lamb was correct. A very distraught Inspector Lestrade bore down upon us, nearly at a run. Behind him stood a hansom cab as well as a police carriage emitting further reinforcements from the Yard.
“Sherlock Holmes himself!” the trim inspector snarled, clearly delighted at the opportunity to vent his fury. “I have no reason to question why you are here. I am grateful—indeed, deeply grateful. For if you were not here, how would I go about explaining two murders in one night? Two murders, all within the space of a half mile!
Who could explain such a thing if not Sherlock Holmes, the crack private theorist?”
“Two murders certainly demands an explanation,” my friend replied, but I would be guilty of perjury were I not to report that he started visibly at the news, while I inhaled an unabashed gasp of amazement.
“What the devil has happened to your arm?”
“Return, if you will, Lestrade, to the scintillating topic of double murder,” Holmes shot back bitingly, his deeply rooted nonchalance shattering beneath the force of his alarm.
“Oh, it is of considerable interest, without a doubt,” sneered Lestrade. “Two murders certainly, to the minds of the official force, grow in consideration if they are committed within an hour of each other, not to mention a bloody twenty minutes’ walk!”
“Oh, yes?” was all my friend managed to stake upon a reply.
“You may ‘oh, yes’ all you like, Mr. Holmes, but you must know perfectly well that the murder you are presently investigating is neither the more revolting nor the more pressing of the two.”
Doubting my companion’s capacity for speech, I interjected, “We discovered this crime in progress. What has the killer done since we interrupted him?”
Lestrade looked as if he were about to swallow his own head, such was his confidence in Sherlock Holmes’s omniscience. “Don’t set yourselves against my nerves,” he snapped. “You mean to tell me you’ve heard nothing of the second victim this evening? Nothing of the evisceration, nor the cutting of her face, not to mention the intestines smeared all over her,” he continued, with ominous calm, “nor the other atrocities visited upon her person, which so help me God I will wrest from you the truth of if it is the last thing I do!”
“Lestrade,” my friend protested, “I promise you I know nothing of which you speak, but I will immediately place myself in a cab in the hopes of assisting you. Where did this second event take place?”
“Holmes, I cannot allow—” I began, but at that very instant, as my friend set off toward the vehicle, his iron strength at last failed him and he clutched at the window of the cab for support.
“We are taking you to hospital, and I will not hear another word on the subject,” I swore.
“Hospital! Confound it all, what has happened to him?” begged Lestrade.
“He pursued the killer and was the victim of a murderous attack. I do not like to think what will happen if he exerts himself an instant longer. Driver, you are to proceed to London Hospital!”
“I believe that Baker Street would be preferable, driver,” Holmes called out, as I half lifted him into Lestrade’s hansom. I made as if to join him.
“You are forbidden to accompany me.”
“Why on earth should I be?” I demanded, wounded to the quick.
“You are going to the site of the second killing. You are taking Miss Monk, whose eyes are invaluable. The two of you will record everything you see, and you will tell me of it when we meet again. See that Miss Monk comes to no harm.” During these instructions, he paused intermittently to gather the fortitude to speak, which did nothing to calm my fears.
“I am to safeguard Miss Monk while you may be—”
“Of course not. You are to lead a murder investigation whilst I am recovering. All caution, Watson. Drive on!” he cried, and I stood there as the hansom cantered off into the darkness, leaving only myself, a hysterical inspector, various constables, and the intrepid Miss Monk, who had just emerged from the men’s club composed and resolute.
“Is that Mr. Holmes?” she asked as his cab pulled away.
“Yes,” I said shortly. “He is not well. There has been another murder.”
Her hand flew to her mouth, but she immediately recovered her self-possession. “Then you and I had best leg it over or there’ll be hell to pay.”
As distraught as I was, I had no doubt that Miss Monk was in the right. “Lestrade, where is the other crime scene?”
“Just west of here in Mitre Square,” Lestrade replied, still gazing with an expression of ill-disguised panic at the point where Holmes’s hansom had disappeared. “Inspector Thomas has arrived, so I can take you there myself. I must warn you, however, the Yard has no jurisdiction. The murder was committed within the City of London.”
The central pivot of the eastern metropolis, mirrored by the City of Westminster in the West-end, the City of London was limited to a single square mile of ground, safeguarded not by Scotland Yard but by their own small company of police under the authority of the Corporation of the City of London. However many individuals within that force Holmes had dealings with, I knew not a soul, and I gratefully accepted Lestrade’s offered escort.
“Let us be off,” said I, with the roughness that is born of deep apprehension. “We cannot lose any more time.”
“One moment,” replied Lestrade with a wondering glance toward Miss Monk. “Who the devil is this young person? Do you live in these buildings?”
“My name is Mary Ann Monk, sir,” she stated. “I am in the employ of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
The inspector raised his eyes heavenward and shook his head, but to his credit he did no more. “No doubt you are, miss. No doubt you are. But I warn you, Doctor—this young lady is to be presented as an associate of Mr. Holmes, not of Scotland Yard, if she’s presented at all. My head would be in a basket by morning. Very well, into the carriage all, and back to Mitre Square. I hope you’ve the stomach for it, Doctor: there’s a level of hell made especially for this bastard, or there’s no justice in Creation. Of that, at least, I’m sure.”
We drove westward along Commercial Road and then down Whitechapel High Street to the ancient core of Her Majesty’s wide realm. No one spoke a word, for Holmes’s absence had cast a greater pall even than the news of the second murder. Setting aside my severe anxiety for my friend, the Whitechapel killer had proven himself to be the most fearsome menace ever to strike terror into the hearts of the populace. What powers could we expect to set against him without Holmes? I had never in my life been placed in such a false position, but I set my teeth and determined to do my utmost, whatever was required.
We none of us had long to worry, for it was a mere five minutes’ journey. Stopping the carriage on Duke Street, we descended and passed the Great Synagogue, ducking into a small, covered opening. When we emerged in the wide square, we found a somber group of City Police surrounding the body, obscuring it from our immediate view. She lay in front of a row of empty cottages, with blank gaping windows and the creeping tendrils of weeds hastening their decay.
A tall, actively built man with sharp eyes and a military bearing, dressed in fashionably cut plain clothes, turned at the sound of our footsteps.
“This is a murder investigation,” he proclaimed. “You must step outside the square to avoid disturbing evidence.”
“I am Inspector Lestrade of the Metropolitan force.” Lestrade proffered his hand rather uncertainly. “Major Henry Smith, is it not? To tell the truth, sir, we are investigating another murder committed on Berner Street, with all signs of it having been the work of the same party.”
Major Smith emitted a low whistle. “By George, Inspector, you astonish me. And you are?” he asked, turning to me.
“Dr. John Watson. I was there when the event occurred.”
“Your name is known to me, Dr. Watson. You say you were there—you interrupted the murderer at his work?”
“That is correct.”
“Then the man is in custody?”
“We believe he escaped to commit the second atrocity you discovered in this square.”
“Your tale is quite fantastical, sir. Forgive me, but considering your own presence here, Dr. Watson—where, in this extraordinary array of characters, is Mr. Sherlock Holmes?”
I hesitated. “He met with the killer and suffered an attack on his own person. He has been taken to seek aid.” Gesturing to Miss Monk, I added, “This is an associate of Mr. Holmes and myself who has been helping with the investigation.”
“Mary Ann Monk, sir. Pleased to meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine. Well, then, now that we are acquainted,” Major Smith continued, evidently not wishing to dwell upon the propriety of Miss Monk’s presence, “Police Constable Watkins discovered the deceased while on his beat. His full circuit takes him approximately thirteen minutes to traverse, and he assures me the body was not in the square when he looked in at one thirty. Constable Watkins immediately engaged the aid of the night watchman from yonder warehouse to send for reinforcements and has not left the body since. You are welcome to make your own observations, Dr. Watson, before this poor creature is taken to the morgue.”
“Miss Monk, if you would be so good as to look about the square for anything out of the ordinary,” I suggested with a significant glance.
As she did so, Lestrade and I advanced through the cluster of officials. The inspector, one hand poised to take notes, clapped the other to my shoulder and nodded his head. I knelt beside the victim.
“Her throat has been cut from ear to ear. There is serious damage from a knife to both eyelids, both cheeks, and the tip of the nose. Abdomen has been laid entirely open and her intestines drawn out of the body and draped over the right shoulder. Severe injury to the pancreas, the lining of the uterus, the colon…” I stopped to draw a deep breath. “We must wait for the postmortem to determine the full extent of it. I can tell you that the pattern of her blood suggests the mutilations occurred after the poor woman’s death.”
A short silence punctuated my speech. Lestrade tucked his notebook in his coat with a sigh. “It seems clear that after he met Mr. Holmes, the beast inflicted his filthy urges on the first candidate. I know the last murders were ugly, Doctor, but this—the monster was in a blind frenzy.”
I was pulled out of my dark reverie by a delicate hand on my shoulder.
“Her ear, Doctor.”
There was Miss Monk, peering down at the desecrated remains. Her high tone of voice gave the only clue as to the strain she was under. “You see her ear?”
“Yes. A small part of the right ear has been cut off.”
“You remember the letter?”
Miss Monk’s words brought it flooding back to me as if it were before my very eyes. “Of course!” I cried. “Just such a mutilation was mentioned. Do you recall the exact wording, Miss Monk?”
“‘The next job I do I shall clip the lady’s ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you,’” she replied rapidly, under her breath.
“I think I should be most gratified to learn who received this letter,” said Major Smith evenly.
“It was sent to the Central News Agency last Thursday,” I replied. “The letter references clipping off the next victim’s ears, if possible, and sending them to the police, as Miss Monk has said.”
“Does it indeed! The missive has not been published, as I understand you?”
I shook my head. “Holmes returned it to the Central News. The letter was signed with the name ‘Jack the Ripper.’”
“It’s true,” Lestrade said through his teeth, “but we supposed it a hoax. Now it seems this lunatic is not merely running about ripping whores to shreds, he’s appointed himself a pen name and mailed his agenda to the national press.”
“It would on the surface appear so.”
Lestrade struck his head gently with the flat of his hand. “I cannot be expected to endure much more of this. We’ve been torn to pieces in the papers for weeks, and now he gets away with two murders in one night? The whole country will be in an uproar!”
“Calm yourself, Inspector,” Major Smith reproved. “Both these deeds have been freshly committed. It is impossible that a man could perform such acts without leaving a trace of his own identity. We may well have this ‘Jack the Ripper’ in our hands this very night.”
Miss Monk, I realized, had wandered off of her own accord. She now arrived at my elbow again wearing a look of puzzlement. “I can’t seem to find it here.”
“Find what, Miss Monk?”
“Her apron,” she replied, pointing. “She couldn’t rightly have worn it so. I’d not a’ been half surprised if it had a ruddy hole in it, but the ties have been cut clean through where the piece is missing. She’d have mended it, surely, or used the cloth for scrap.”
Major Smith advanced to see for himself. “You are entirely correct, Miss Monk. Constable Watkins,” he called out, “spread the word that a piece of apron has been taken from the body, most likely by the killer.” He then turned and engaged in a quiet, businesslike conversation with Inspector Lestrade.
It was by now past three a.m. I had neither the implements nor the right to begin the postmortem, and surely Holmes realized that I was no more capable of crawling about on my hands and knees scrutinizing cigar ash and footprints than I was of returning the stiffening corpse before me to life. The City Police had no doubt already completed their investigation, it seemed with scant enough results, and a crushing feeling of inferiority swept over me as I wondered whether they had missed the key to the entire matter, and if it were now my responsibility to find the piece of twig, scrap of paper, or smear of mud that would make all clear to Holmes.
Just as Miss Monk and I had resigned ourselves to the conclusion of a long and unspeakable night, we heard the heavy, thudding boots of a running policeman.
“There’s been a discovery, Major Smith!” he managed, his chest heaving. “That missing apron piece—a Metropolitan constable encountered it on his beat and told the Leman Street station, who wired Sir Charles Warren. Our man Daniel Halse is on the scene, sir, but the message is on Metropolitan ground. Goulston Street. Sir Charles wants it rubbed out!”
“What message, my good man? Pull yourself together.”
“Left by the murderer, sir. He used that scrap of apron to clean his knife. It was found on the ground beneath a note he’d scrawled on the wall.”
“By George—we must have a look at it at once.”
“Our men in Dorset Street have also found a clue, Major. There is a bloody basin where the killer may well have washed his hands.”
“Then I shall accompany you immediately to Dorset Street,” replied Major Henry Smith promptly. “Inspector Lestrade, we enter your territory as regards Goulston Street. If you would be so good as to take your companions and see what may be found there, communicating any fresh finds to our man Halse, I should be obliged to you. Dr. Watson, please convey my regards to Mr. Holmes,” he added as he turned abruptly and exited the square.
Lestrade’s close-set, ferretlike eyes glinted with the light of hope. “I’ll be damned if Sir Charles, Commissioner or no, destroys any evidence before I’ve had a look at it. And you, Doctor, shall take note as well. When he recovers, Sherlock Holmes will want to know of it, whatever it may be.”
CHAPTER TEN The Destruction of the Clue
I experienced a thin thrill of anticipation on our journey as I realized we were now taking the very path used by the killer in his flight. A walk of ten minutes was reduced to a drive of three, and before we knew it we had pulled up to the aptly titled Goulston Street. The culprit had evidently fled up Stoney Lane, crossed Middlesex Street, and proceeded a block up Wentworth Street before ducking into the more secluded Goulston Street.
When we reached the doorway where Detective Daniel Halse stood guard in the starless darkness like a gargoyle over a turret, we met with a curious sight. There stood a Scotland Yard inspector smiling indomitably, holding a large piece of sponge, and there also stood a quantity of both Metropolitan and City constables, saying nothing but clearly awaiting the arrival of a superior to judge a hostile dispute.
“I still say, Inspector Fry,” declared Detective Halse, as if repeating the crux of his earlier argument for our fresh ears, “that the idea of destroying evidence against this fiend is contrary to every notion of scientific inquiry.”
“And I maintain, Detective Halse,” said Inspector Fry doggedly, “that the civil unrest which allowing this message to remain in view would foment is against the principles of conscience and of British decency. Are you against the principles of British decency, Detective?”
The two appeared as if they were about to come to blows when Inspector Lestrade interposed his lean frame between the antagonists. “For the moment, I shall decide what course we will take in this matter. If you would be so kind as to step aside.”
Lestrade lifted the lantern in his hand and directed its beam at the black bricks. The remarkable riddle, chalked upon the wall in an oddly sloping hand, went in this way:
The Juwes are
the men that
“You see the trouble, Inspector Lestrade—it is Lestrade, is it not?” inquired Inspector Fry placidly. “Riots on our hands, that’s what we’ll have. I’ll not be the one caught in the middle of them. Besides, there is no evidence the killer wrote these words. More likely the hand of an unbalanced youth.”
“Where is the piece of apron?” Lestrade questioned a constable.
“It has been taken to the Commercial Street police station, sir. The dark smears upon it followed exactly the pattern produced by wiping a soiled knife blade.”
“Then surely he left it deliberately,” I remarked to Lestrade. “As in the past he has left no traces, there is every likelihood he dropped that bloody cloth in order to draw attention to this disquieting epigram.”
“I’m of your mind, Dr. Watson,” Lestrade replied in low tones. “We must prevent them destroying it, if we can.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” demanded Inspector Fry.
“It must be photographed!” Detective Halse shouted. “And the City Police given an opportunity to examine it.”
“I have my orders from Sir Charles, sir,” said the infuriatingly dignified Inspector Fry.
“Instead, the message might be covered over with a piece of dark cloth,” remarked a constable.
“An excellent notion”—Lestrade nodded—“permitting us to preserve a clue.”
“Respectfully, I do not think that would be in accordance with Sir Charles’s wishes.”
“You could take a sponge to the top line only, with no one the wiser for it,” said Miss Monk.
“What if,” I suggested, “the oddly spelled word ‘Juwes’ only be erased, and the rest remain?”
“By Jove, the very thing!” cried Lestrade. “Better and better—no danger, then, of the sense of it being glimpsed.”
“What if,” replied Inspector Fry in the same maddeningly courteous tone, “we were all to construct daisy chains and drape them so as to shield the words from public view?”
“With all respect, sir,” snarled Detective Halse, “in another hour it will be light enough to photograph. The sun will begin to rise at any moment. We can cover the bloody thing with whatever you like until then, but I beg of you not to throw such a clue as this away.”
“This difficult decision is not mine to make.”
“No indeed, it is mine,” called a forceful, ringing baritone, and there to my astonishment stood Sir Charles Warren himself, the decorated war veteran of the Royal Engineers and the Colonial Office, who had once attempted to relieve a hero of mine, the matchless General Gordon, when he had been hopelessly outnumbered at Khartoum. He was as methodically dressed as if he had not been awoken in the middle of the night with bitter news, and the determined curve of his high, rounded forehead, the authority of his impeccably combed walrus moustache, and the obdurate resolve behind his monocle led me to believe we were in for trouble.
“I have come from Leman Street police station,” he declared, “and I am displeased with the news I have had from that quarter. You are under orders to destroy this monstrous blot of anti-Semitism before the traffic to Petticoat Lane Market is disturbed by it.”
“If you’ll pardon my saying so, sir,” interjected Inspector Lestrade, whose presence I was beginning to welcome with enthusiastic gratitude, “there are, perhaps, less radical possibilities open to us.”
“Less radical possibilities? The only radical sentiments being expressed here are written upon that wall and are about to be permanently expunged.”
“This detective, sir, has sent for a photographer—”
“To what purpose?”
“That the message might be made available also to the City force, sir.”
“I do not care two figs for the photographers of the City of London Police. They do not answer to the Home Office over riots, as I undoubtedly will should that absurd phrase remain.”
“Perhaps if we were to cover it, Sir Charles, only for half an hour—”
“I will not be coddled, nor will I be bargained with,” the former military commander averred. “What is your name?”
“Detective Inspector Lestrade, Sir Charles.”
“Well, Inspector Lestrade, you show an admirable passion for police work. You seem to me to have the very best interests of the populace at heart. You will therefore now take this sponge from your colleague and erase that vile scribbling so that we may return to real detective work.”
Inspector Lestrade’s lips set into a forbidding line while Detective Halse, rage twisting his knotted brows, slammed his palm against the wall and stepped aside. Lestrade took the damp sponge from Inspector Fry and approached the writing, stopping to shoot me a significant glance.
“No fear, Doctor,” Miss Monk whispered, “I’ve copied it down during all that racket.”
I nodded to Lestrade, who then proceeded to erase the curious clue. When finished, he shoved the damp sponge against Inspector Fry’s chest and turned to his Commissioner.
“It has been done, as you ordered, Sir Charles.”
“You have averted what could have been a powerful spark to the kindling of social unrest. I’ve business elsewhere. My thanks, gentlemen. As you were.” With that, Sir Charles Warren strode off in the direction of the station and the men began to disperse.
Lestrade regarded the blank wall with pained disquiet. “Dr. Watson, Detective Halse, a word with you please.”
The three of us strolled toward the waiting cab, Miss Monk trailing three or four feet behind.
“I’m not ashamed to say that was a bad business,” began Lestrade, with a dignity I had never before observed in the quick-tempered, rat-like investigator. “Dr. Watson, I expect you to forward copies of that message to both the Metropolitan and the City of London Police.”
“It shall be done immediately.”
“I had never met Sir Charles, you know,” he reflected. “I’m not anxious to repeat the experience—though he is right in that little good it would do us to plunge the entire district into chaos.”
“Surely that is not the point,” I began angrily, but Lestrade held up a hand.
“I’m no spinner of fanciful theories, Dr. Watson, and there are times when, sharp as he is, I think Mr. Holmes would be as well off in Bedlam as in Baker Street. But I am a believer in facts, and that chalked writing was as sound a fact as I’ve ever seen. Good night to you, Detective Halse. You’ll tell your superiors, no doubt, that we were given no choice.”
The City detective, still visibly suppressing his fury, bowed to us and left.
“Lestrade,” I ventured, “I cannot tell you how glad I have been of your presence, but I’m afraid we must leave at once. We have a great deal to report to Holmes, and I fear very much for the condition in which we are likely to find him.”
“Believe me, Dr. Watson, it has been heavy on my mind. I must return to Dutfield’s Yard, but I’ll leave you the cab. This night would have gone a sight differently had Mr. Holmes been here to the end. Next time our police commissioner takes it into his head to expunge a clue, I’d give fifty pounds to have Sherlock Holmes in my corner. I should be grateful if you would tell him so.” Lestrade tipped his hat to us both and strode off into the first brightening light of dawn.
It was then I noted that Miss Monk had grown singularly pale and drawn. I took her arm.
“Miss Monk, are you quite well?”
“It ain’t nothing to speak of, Doctor,” she replied. “Queer stroke of luck that led us to be so in the thick of it, but oh, Dr. Watson—did you ever in all your life even think on a deed so horrible as what he’s done?” She quickly hid her face in her hands.
“No, I have not,” I said quietly. “I feel just as you do, my dear. Get into the cab with me and I shall return you to your lodgings at once. You’ve found better ones, is that not so?”
“If you could drop me at Great Garden Street, Doctor, I’d be grateful. I’ve taken rooms there. Mr. Holmes will want to know everything, and make no mistake we’ll tell him plain what we saw, but not now. I couldn’t rightly bear it now.”
I shook my head as I helped her into the four-wheeler, searching for words of comfort, which rose to my lips and died there in mute sympathy. Miss Monk had been out all night in the cold, pursuing a creature whose great impulse was to brutally slay women exactly like her. She buried her head in the lapel of my greatcoat and we spent the short journey in silence. We soon reached her street, and I saw her to the door.
“You require complete rest for the remainder of the day. Come to Baker Street when you are able. I haven’t words to express my admiration for your courage, Miss Monk, and I know Holmes would say the same.” I left her, returning to the hansom heartsick and defeated as the first true rays of sunlight stole along the cracks of the paving stones.
I had hardly crossed the three shallow steps leading to our front door, nor breathlessly turned my key in the lock, when the door flew open to reveal Mrs. Hudson’s kind, familiar face, spectacles perched upon her head, and oddly done buttons upon her left sleeve.
“Oh, Dr. Watson!” she cried, grasping me by the shoulders. “When I think of what you must have been through! And Mr. Holmes! Seeing him as he was a few hours ago when he arrived here—oh, Dr. Watson, who has done this to him? He wouldn’t speak a word on the subject. I’ve only just finished scrubbing the blood from the kitchen.” The brave woman then dissolved into a brief sob of long-suppressed tears.
“Mrs. Hudson, you shall know all about it,” I returned swiftly, taking her hand. “But first, tell me, is Holmes in any danger?”
“I can’t say, Doctor. I was awoken in the night by a terrible banging. When I saw Mr. Holmes, I thought he had lost his key, but he leaned on the doorframe in such a peculiar way, his arm tied up in black rags, that I knew something was terribly wrong. I let him in at once, but he had hardly walked two steps before he fell against the balustrade and looked up the stairs to your rooms as if they were the side of a mountain. He said, ‘Kitchen, Mrs. Hudson, with your permission,’ and once inside, he fell straight into a chair. ‘Go at once and fetch a doctor,’ he said, in that masterful way of his. ‘Watson cannot be the only one in the neighbourhood. There is that chap at two twenty-seven—mass of dark hair, boots thrice mended, coming in and out and leaving a trail of iodoform—knock him up, if you will be so kind.’ Then he leaned his head back in a kind of faint. I was in such a panic at leaving him that I sent the pageboy instead, and Billy soon enough came back with the fellow. His name is Moore Agar, and he is indeed a doctor. Between them they took Mr. Holmes to his room. Billy has been up and down the stairs four times to fetch the water I heated. But that was hours ago, and Dr. Agar has not come down at all.”
I took the seventeen steps up to our sitting room two at a time and found a tall, handsome, round-featured young man with a determined jaw, a generous shock of wavy brown hair, and deeply set, thoughtful brown eyes checking our mantelpiece clock against his watch. He was dressed as a perfect gentleman in dark tweeds, and I noted an elegantly styled bowler hat thrown carelessly upon the settee, but the elbows and knees of his garments had worn nearly through, and the edges of the hat were beginning to fray. He looked up at my hurried entrance.
“Dr. Moore Agar at your service,” he said earnestly. “I had the honour of stitching up your friend in the next room. He has lost a considerable amount of blood, I am afraid, but I believe he will come out of it all right.”
“Thank God for that.” I exhaled in relief, collapsing into the nearest chair. “That is the very first piece of good news I have had this night. Forgive my exhaustion, Dr. Agar, but I have been taxed in every way possible. Mrs. Hudson tells me we are neighbours.”
“And so we are! I am quartered a mere two doors down. I am just beginning in practice, which is a black mark against me, but you will corroborate my findings, no doubt, and ensure that all will be well with your friend. You are the celebrated Mr. Holmes’s physician, Dr. Watson, no doubt?”
“Merely his biographer. Sherlock Holmes is elaborately uninterested in the state of his own health,” I replied, warmly grasping the hand before me.
Dr. Agar laughed. “It is of no surprise to me,” he replied. “Men of genius are often cavalier about physical trifles. This injury could hardly be termed trifling, however. No fear of muscular impairment, but the tissue damage is quite extensive and the blood loss, as you know, severe.”
“My friend will be very grateful.”
“Mr. Holmes has no reason to be. Perhaps when you have both recovered, you can relate to me more of these extraordinary circumstances, but for now I will leave you in peace. I have injected morphine, but if it is convenient to you, Doctor, I’ll not leave any of my own supplies behind. I imagine you have access to fresh bandaging and so forth; poverty compels me to be rude. Or practicality has trounced my manners. Whichever it may be, I apologize. A better morning to you, Dr. Watson,” the young physician said as he saw himself out and down the stairs.
I made my way quietly into Holmes’s bedroom, where I was peered at malevolently from every angle by the images of infamous criminals carelessly tacked to the walls. My friend, though deathly pale, was breathing regularly and at last, blessedly, unconscious. I swung the door to but did not shut it and returned downstairs for a soothing word with Mrs. Hudson. Then finally, retrieving a quilt from my bed and a generous glass of brandy from the sideboard, I made my home on the sofa within easy call and fell asleep just as the sunlight poured over the windowsills and struggled to flood the room in defiance of the closely drawn curtains.
CHAPTER ELEVEN Mitre Square
When I awoke, I was startled to discover that it was nearly night once more. I sat up groggily and beheld at my feet a tray, laden with a few meats and a cup of cold broth, which did wonders for my state of mind. Supposing my own exhaustion had prompted me to sleep through the day, I at once chastised myself for failing to look in on Holmes. Peering into his chamber, I was comforted by the presence of a candle and another tea tray, partially used, and evidently provided by the conscientious Mrs. Hudson. I made my way upstairs in hopes a wash and change of clothes would restore my energy, but upon my finishing, the dizzy ache in my head revisited me with a vengeance. I tended to Holmes’s bandages and then collapsed once more upon the sofa in hopes that we both would be capable of more upon the morrow.
The birds were still singing, but the quality of light told me it was midmorning when my eyes fluttered open for the second time. For a moment I was harrowed by the disoriented dread one experiences when too much has occurred to be immediately recalled, but a minute’s further repose brought it all back to the forefront of my mind, and I hastened to Holmes’s bedroom.
The sight which greeted me upon my throwing open his door brought a smile of relief to my face. There sat Sherlock Holmes, his hair all awry, telegrams scattered over his lap, the bed literally covered with newsprint, a cigarette held awkwardly in his left hand as he attempted to sift through his considerable correspondence.
“Ah, Watson,” he saluted me. “Don’t bother to knock. Do come in, my dear fellow.”
“My apologies,” I laughed. “I had heard rumour you were an invalid.”
“Nonsense. I am a pillar of strength. I am, in strict point of fact, quite disgusted with myself,” he added more quietly—with a tweak of one eyebrow that told me more than his words of his profound dissatisfaction, “but no matter. Up until this moment, Mrs. Hudson and Billy brought me everything I required. Now you must sit in that armchair, my boy, and tell me the whole ghastly mess.”
I did so, omitting nothing from our universal dismay at his misfortune, to the state of the second girl’s ears and the dispute between our good Lestrade and his own Commissioner. A solid hour must have passed, Holmes’s eyes closed in concentration and my mind straining for each and every detail, when I arrived at Dr. Moore Agar and my own homecoming.
“It is unforgivable that we have lost Sunday! The police no doubt have swept both crime scenes of any useful evidence in my absence, and this business of the chalked message is altogether tragic. I cannot remember anything at all,” Holmes confessed bitterly, “from the time I alighted the hansom until this morning at around nine o’clock. Of course I deduced the profession of two twenty-seven Baker Street months ago, but the business of the summons Mrs. Hudson related to me is merely a painful blur.”
“I was at a continual loss whether to come after you or remain in the East-end.”
“Your sentiments do you credit, as ever, Doctor, but were you not present, how would you explain to me the seven urgent messages I have received so far this morning?”
“Seven! I am all attention.”
“Let me relate them to you in the order I read them. First, a note from the doughty Inspector Lestrade, with well-wishes, requesting a facsimile of the curious inscription you fought fruitlessly to preserve.”
“Miss Monk has given it to me. I shall send copies immediately.”
“Next, President George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, with compliments, informs me he has written the Queen demanding a reward be offered.”
“Good heavens! London will be a madhouse.”
“My sentiments echo your own. Here we have a very considerate note from Major Henry Smith, who has enclosed the results from the postmortem of the City victim. We shall return to that in a moment. If you would be so kind as to pour me another cup of coffee, my dear fellow, as my usual motility has been greatly hampered by our neighbour two doors down. Much obliged. Fourth, a telegram from brother Mycroft: ‘Will visit at earliest possible convenience—great uproar in Whitehall. Mend quickly; your death would be most inconvenient at this time.’”
“I heartily agree.”
“Fifth, Miss Monk asks that we wire her a convenient time to meet.”
“She has proven herself to be a woman of extraordinary fortitude.”
“For which I am exceedingly grateful. Item the sixth, calling card of Mr. Rowland K. Vandervent, who likewise begs an audience. Finally, there is a preposterous missive from a reporter who claims to know more than he should demanding an interview in the interests of public awareness.”
“Hardly worthy of your immediate attention.”
“I am inclined to be as dismissive, although there is an ominous tone to his wording. See for yourself.”
The paper was typewritten on a single sheet of cheap off-white paper, with some dark smudges near the margins.
Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
In the interests of the public and of your own reputation, I strongly suggest you meet me at Simpson’s in order to address some serious questions. I shall await you at ten o’clock this evening, alone.
Mr. Leslie Tavistock
I turned the inexplicable summons over in my hands. “Holmes, the author mentions nothing of being a pressman.”
“He needn’t, for it is all too obvious to any specialist in typewriters. Observe the characteristics of this particular machine. Mr. Tavistock ought to be deeply ashamed, if for nothing else, of the nearly nonexistent tail of the ys, the ramshackle upstroke of the ds, and fully nine other points indicating nearly continuous wear.”
“Surely other professions than journalism are hard on typewriters?”
“None that brings one’s fingertips into such intimate congress with cheap newsprint ink. There are several other points I might make, but I fear we must return to the bloody business of Saturday night and leave our mysterious reporter to his own devices. Here is the autopsy report writ brief by Major Smith. Read it aloud, would you, Watson, so that I may be sure of my facts.”
“‘Upon arrival at Golden Lane, a piece of the deceased’s ear fell from her clothing. There were three incisions in the liver of varying size, a stab to the groin, and deep cuts on the womb, colon, lining membrane above the uterus, the pancreas, and the left renal artery. I regret to say that the left kidney was taken entirely out of the body and retained by the killer.’ But this is despicable, Holmes!” I exclaimed in disgust. “He has taken another grisly memento.”
“I had anticipated as much.”
“But Holmes, the kidney is lodged behind several other significant organs, not to mention shielded by a membrane. He must not have feared interruption to have absconded with the kidney of all objects.”
“Hum! That is indeed remarkable. Pray continue.”
“‘The lack of clotting from the abdominal region indicates that she was entirely dead when these acts occurred. Enclosed is a complete list of the deceased’s belongings and attire at the time of her death.’ It is signed with respects from Major Henry Smith, and with regrets that you could not yourself have been in attendance.”
“I can assure the major his regrets are entirely dwarfed by my own.” Holmes sighed. “I’ve made an unspeakable hash of it, I don’t mind telling you.”
“Are we really no further along?”
“Well, I would hardly say that. We know that this ‘Jack the Ripper’ letter may well be the work of the killer, for a detail like notched ears is very unlikely to turn up in both jest and in fact. We know that he has an iron nerve to locate and remove a kidney. We know that one effective method of carrying off organs is to cart about an empty parcel, for I have no doubt but that the package I observed under his arm was later used to transport a very sinister object indeed. And I have my reasons for suspecting that this ‘Jack the Ripper’ has taken a very strong dislike to your humble servant.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“Watson, do you recall the letter I received in March of last year just after we returned from Colwall?”
“After the affair of the Ramsden heirloom? I seem to remember something of the kind.”
“I have been looking over the handwriting. Though disguised, I am certain that it was the work of the same man; the hooked end-strokes are indicative, but the pressure on his descending lines concludes the matter. Which means he wrote to me—”
“Before a single murder had been committed!”
“Precisely.” Holmes looked pensively at me for a moment. “If you would go so far against your conscience as to prepare a dose of morphine, Doctor, I shouldn’t refuse it. I’ll do it myself if you prefer, but…”
I located his bottle on the mantel amongst a litter of pipe cleaners and reflected, as I was readying my friend’s pristine little syringe, upon the oddity of the situation. When I turned back to Holmes, I saw with dismay that he was attempting to extricate himself from the bedclothes with no very great degree of success.
“Holmes, what the devil do you think you are doing?”
“Readying myself to go out,” he replied, using the nearest post of the bed to steady himself as he rose.
“Holmes, have you completely taken leave of your senses? You cannot possibly expect—”
“That any evidence will remain to be found?” he lashed out in vexation. “That is one damnable fact, Watson, of which I am all too well aware.”
“Your condition is—”
“Of the utmost irrelevance! In any event, I do myself the honour of assuming I shall be accompanied by a skilled physician.”
“If you imagine that I have any intention of allowing you to leave these rooms, you are delirious as well as badly injured.”
“Watson,” he said in another voice entirely. To my immense surprise, it was not a tone I had ever heard from him before. It was far quieter than his usual measured voice, and far more grieved. “I have maneuvered myself into an intolerable position. Five women are dead. Five. Your intentions are commendable, but take a moment to imagine what it would be like for me to receive news of the sixth.”
I stared at him, weighing considerations both medical and personal. “Give me your arm,” I said at length. The sight of innumerable tiny scars scattered like miniature constellations pained me as it always did, but I made a sincere effort not to show it as I administered the injection.
“Thank you,” said he, starting haltingly for his wardrobe. “I will see you downstairs. I advise you to wear your old army coat if you do not wish to look hopelessly out of place.”
Hesitantly, I donned an old astrakhan and the heavy coat I had needed so seldom in actual service, and dashed down the stairs to procure a four-wheeler. If Holmes was determined to visit the crime scene, best it be done immediately, for the sake of his health more than of any evidence remaining.
Cabs were plentiful, and Holmes himself was seated on the front steps of 221 when I returned. He wore the loose-fitting attire of a disengaged naval officer, complete with seafaring cap, heavy trousers, a rough work shirt, cravat, and a pea jacket through which he had managed to pass his left arm, the other side draped over his sling.
“You wish to remain anonymous?” I remarked as I helped him into the hansom.
“If there are any neighbours willing to communicate useful gossip, they’ll do so far more readily to two half-pay patriots.” He added ruefully, “In any event, the garb of the British gentleman is well-nigh impossible to achieve with one arm.”
On our route to the East-end, as Holmes appeared to doze and I gazed out the window in uneasy contemplation, I saw that London had changed since I had last set foot out of doors; a veritable snowstorm of papers printed in bold block capitals was pasted to every ready surface. I soon discerned the leaflets were all identical appeals from the Yard to the citizenry, urging the public to come forward with any helpful information.
We had turned north on Duke Street and approached one of the entrances to Mitre Square when the cabbie stopped abruptly and began to grumble sotto voce about “thrill seekers” who evinced “all the human decency of vultures.” When he saw the denomination of coin I offered him, he grew more acquiescent, however, and agreed to wait until we had finished in the square.
Sherlock Holmes leaned heavily on his stick as we traversed the long passage, but he scanned the floor and walls of the alley as a hawk seeks prey from on high. Mitre Square, far from being the sordid cul-de-sac my memory had painted it, was an open space, well kept by the City but surrounded by featureless buildings, few of which proved to be tenanted. Those warehouses which were occupied were also guarded, for a small knot of men chatted earnestly where we had viewed the body two nights previous.
“I take it the poor woman was found in that southwest corner?” queried Holmes.
“Yes, the City constable discovered her there. I don’t like to think of the condition she was in.”
“Very well. I shall search the rest of the square and surrounding passageways first, for it doesn’t seem likely we can peruse that area without inciting unwelcome conversation.”
I followed the detective as he made an exhaustive study, exiting the square by means of the constrictive Church Passage, which led to Mitre Street, and returning through the one corridor left to be explored, which passed by St. James Place and the Orange Market. Though Holmes had been at work for only perhaps half an hour, the strain of simply remaining upright had already begun to take a visible toll upon his haggard countenance.
“As far as I can make out by memory,” said he, “the path I followed after leaving you at Berner Street took me north via Greenfield Street, Fieldgate Street, then Great Garden Street and thus to the small maze surrounding Chicksand Street, which is where I encountered our quarry. I then made my way back to Berner Street, whilst he, inexplicably, proceeded here to a largely emptied commercial district. I imagine he traveled down Old Montague Street, which becomes Wentworth Street, then narrows again into Stoney Lane, which finally led him straight to where we stand. Then, and here we are blessed, for the extraordinary is always of use to the investigator, he did something positively absurd. He killed a woman, then disemboweled her in an open square with three separate entrances and any number of guards within—but we have visitors, Watson. It was only a matter of time. Let me do the talking, if you don’t mind.”
A middle-aged man with greying muttonchop whiskers, a shabby bowler hat, and the physique of a dray horse approached us, a tentative smile fighting for supremacy with his suspicious and hooded eyes.
“Excuse me, sirs, but I can’t help but notice that you’ve been in this square and out again more times than is natural. I wonder if you might be good enough to say what your business is here.”
“Tell me who’s asking,” my friend replied with a surly glare and, I noted with amusement, a perceptibly Welsh turn of phrase.
The man crossed his powerful arms expectantly. “That’s no more than your right, I suppose, though I’m under no obligation to tell you with the Ripper still at large. My name is Samuel Levison, and I’m part of a group organized to keep the peace in these parts. The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee we go by, and if you’re reasonable, you’ll tell me your business before I call a policeman to do my work for me.”
Holmes’s eyes lit up eagerly. “I’ve heard of your men,” he cried, “and you’re just the help I’ve been wanting. Yesterday, it was—I’d been to a few more pubs than I should, I don’t mind telling you, and close toward morning someone told me I was but a quarter mile from the spot where another poor creature was killed. Sounds absurd in the light of day, but I’d a terrible urge to see the place. I’d hardly entered the square when I heard someone behind me. A rogue and a rascal if I ever saw one, and he flashed a blade, saying he’d have my money or my blood. Well, I’ve never been one to back down from a fight, so I pulled out my knife, but drink had the better of me and the bloody scoundrel cut me straightaway—here, in the shoulder. By the time I’d dragged myself home, I never realized I’d dropped my pipe in the scuffle. It’s been with me for many a voyage, and I wasn’t easy in my mind until I’d had a look round. Stem was burnished wood, with designs I’d carved—birds and such.”
“Lads?” Mr. Levison called to his companions. “Seen anything on the ground that might belong to this fellow? I am sorry, sir, but like as not someone’s pawned it by now.”
“Ah, more’s the pity. I’d little enough hope as it was.” Holmes squinted at the murder site. “You’ve more important things on your minds than my pipe. The body was in front of those houses?”
“Yes, opposite Church Passage.”
“And what did the neighbours hear?”
“Unfortunately, the buildings are unoccupied.”
“Ah, that’s a shame, it is. Seems an empty enough place, to be sure.”
“Kearly and Tonge’s Warehouse yonder is guarded by night, and a police constable lives just there, but no one heard a thing.”
“Police just on the other side of the square?” Holmes whistled softly. “I might never ha’ lost my pipe if I’d known that.”
“Don’t see how you could have known—not unless you were Sherlock Holmes, that balmy cove.”
The men laughed heartily at this incomprehensible jest, and Holmes flashed a ready smile in return. “What, that unofficial ’tec? Don’t tell me you know him.”
His question provoked another bout of merriment. “Know him!” chuckled Mr. Levison. “That’s rich. I think Lusk, our president, knows him, but if he’s a careful man, he’ll steer clear of Sherlock Holmes. I know I would, if I were him.”
Torn between burning curiosity and the sight of a colourless Holmes leaning ever more urgently upon his stick, I ventured, “Hadn’t we best return home?”
“Yes indeed, see your friend home, my good man,” agreed Mr. Levison genially. “I’m right sorry about your pipe, sir, but you’re a good deal too peaked to be out of doors.”
“There’s days I’ve felt better, and that’s certain,” Holmes replied. “My thanks for your help, such as it was.”
We slowly, for my friend grew steadily more faint, passed back through the narrowest of the entrances. Holmes made no protestation when I took him firmly by the arm.
“What in the world could that fellow have meant?”
My companion shook his head. “I haven’t the first idea,” he answered, “but I fear that we shall soon enough find out.”
CHAPTER TWELVE Dark Writings
By the time I got Holmes up the stairs, he was so drained of all energy that I lost no time in administering a fresh injection of morphine before consigning him to his bed. Afterward I felt compelled to clear my thoughts and, with no immediate object in mind, ambled toward Regent’s Park where a hailstorm of brown leaves lay strewn over the spacious grounds.
Our visit to Mitre Square appeared only to have raised still more mystifying obstacles. Why should our quarry have killed again when he knew the alarm had been raised? Why should he have done so where at any moment he may have been interrupted from one of three directions? Above all, I dwelt upon the bizarre remarks the committee man had made about my friend. For all the Yard’s reticence to consult a self-labeled amateur, there was scarcely a more respected figure in the layman’s eye, and with each successive case Sherlock Holmes solved—in the rare instances he received full credit—he was compelled by his natural Bohemian reticence to turn down countless congratulatory invitations proffered by rich and poor alike. What extraordinary rumour could possibly have run him afoul of public opinion?
I must have wandered for an hour, lost in pointless speculation. I had just turned the corner, my steps leading back down Baker Street, when I observed from half a block’s distance an angry altercation taking place upon our doorstep.
“It is undoubtedly a sad circumstance which brings harm to the faultless health of the great Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” growled Mr. Rowland K. Vandervent, “but I will be damned, my good lady—and I use the word damned only in the presence of those it will affect—I will be damned if his condition prevents me from saving his character!”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Vandervent,” I said sternly. “I should like to have a word with you in private. Your gross disregard for both courtesy and Holmes’s frail state of health has been well noted, I warn you. Mrs. Hudson, I will deal with this person.”
Thanked with surreptitious glances of gratitude from both parties (neither of whom, providentially, observed the other), I proceeded with Mr. Vandervent up the stairs. I roused the coals into a blaze as he finished the few laboured steps required to propel him into our sitting room.
“I say, she isn’t a distant extraction of any of the Borgias, is she? I’ve never had such adjectives trowled in heaping mounds upon my person. What I mean to say is, Doctor,” continued Vandervent, suddenly lowering his raspy voice and glancing toward Holmes’s door, “the gawky fellow isn’t about to die on us, is he?”
“By no means!” called the detective’s piercing tenor from his bedroom.
“It is common enough knowledge,” declared Holmes when we had entered the room and Mr. Vandervent had cast himself into the armchair, “that spoken low tones, provided that the s consonant is disguised, are far more easily masked than a whisper.”
“So it’s true, then?” returned Vandervent, running his hand through his frenzied hair. “You were knocked about by Jack the Ripper?”
“I am at death’s door,” my friend replied acidly. “Therefore, I beg of you to come to the point.”
“I only mean to tell you that I am sorry about the late edition of the London Chronicle. I had nothing whatever to say about it.”
“How fascinating. I have barely finished the early morning editions. Look it up, would you, Watson?”
I cast about the chaotic room for some moments in search of the periodical in question, finally extracting it from the vortex of newsprint. The article was titled, in the usual gaudy capitals, “A MURDEROUS STRUGGLE,” and read as follows:
It has been brought to the attention of this publication that further circumstances pertaining to the infamous double event, which may enhance our knowledge of the killer whose savage acts have brought terror to our streets, have recently come to light. It was not well known before today that Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the eccentric and reclusive consulting detective, was in the area upon the night of the double murder. We have learned that his time was spent in dalliance with a number of ladies of questionable vocation, consorting in the dens of vice so prevalent in those dark streets. It is also evident that it was Mr. Holmes who “discovered” the murder in Dutfield’s Yard during its very execution, and that in pursuit of an unknown suspect, he then disappeared during the time the second victim met her own hideous demise. Whether those lost minutes point the finger of suspicion at one of London’s most cloistered characters remains to be seen, but it is an established fact that Mr. Holmes returned to the site of the first murder in a state of bloody disarray. In addition, Mr. Holmes arrived without prior summons by the police at the scene of Annie Chapman’s brutal slaying three weeks ago, and the peculiar gentleman offered no satisfactory explanation of his being there. To suggest that Mr. Holmes’s self-imposed mandate to combat crime in all its forms has taken a turn against the destitute would be the lowest form of conjecture; however, we can state with greater positivity that the unconventional vigilante must be questioned to the closest degree regarding his activities and his strange foreknowledge upon the nights in question.
To my immense surprise, at the conclusion of this trash, Sherlock Holmes threw his head back and laughed heartily in his inner, noiseless fashion until he had entirely exhausted himself.
“I fail to see the humour you have, in your greater wisdom perhaps, detected,” remarked Mr. Vandervent.
“As do I, Holmes.”
“Oh, come, Watson! Really! It is quite too preposterous.”
“It is libelous!”
“It is superb. It clears up a small mystery, for this piece was written by the enigmatic Leslie Tavistock. However, it presents a fresh one, for the article is factually irreproachable. Where could Tavistock have obtained these particulars? Before the press even learned of the first murder, I had been carted off like a sack of oranges and you had left the scene. Do you imagine Miss Monk was interviewed about the events of the evening?”
“It seems very unlikely.”
“Or perhaps the regular Yarders spread the word that their peculiar amateur reinforcements frequent pubs of ill repute?”
“Even less probable.”
“I don’t imagine you’ve forgone your usual custom of appallingly florid biography and gone straight to the gutter press?”
“You may put the thought from your mind.”
“There is something about this article I do not understand,” Holmes confessed. “It is peculiarly malignant.”
“I don’t see anything so peculiar about that. Journalists rarely worry about malignancy,” Mr. Vandervent corrected him. “They are far too concerned with selling papers, you see.”
“I cannot help but think that the business of journalists is to report the news, and not to sell newspapers,” Holmes returned dourly. “Be that as it may, I cannot imagine any newsman would take it upon himself to write such rubbish without cause.”
“You have more faith in my industry than do I, perhaps because you have suffered from less prolonged exposure. Nevertheless, you are right in thinking he has a clever source. Apart from your friends and the Yard, who are diligently shutting as many open mouths as they can, it is difficult to know who could have dogged your movements that night. Speaking of your allies, I don’t suppose any of them are false?”
“I don’t suppose they are,” my friend stated flatly.
“Quite right. In that case, I believe we have exhausted the subject of your delightfully rendered portrait in the local press. Consider, then, a postcard we received the morning after. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but I am clearly no judge as to what will amuse you.”
Holmes’s face changed swiftly when he viewed the card, betraying his eager interest. After scrutinizing it, front and back, he tossed it to me.
I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, youll hear about saucy Jacky s work tomorrow double event this time number one squealed a bit couldnt finish straight off. had not time to get ears for police thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again.
Jack the Ripper
“Curiouser and curiouser,” mused Holmes. “The hand at first appears to differ, but on closer examination, it is merely very hastily and agitatedly written. What do you intend to do with this beauty?”
“The papers will be falling over each other to publish it. That previous letter has already been printed in facsimile by the Daily News. Every man, woman, and child is referring to the mad devil as Jack the Ripper.”
“So I observed. What do you hope to accomplish?”
“We shall sell newspapers, no doubt. In addition, I have not despaired that the handwriting may be recognized.”
“You have been of immense help.”
“Well, it was my duty to warn you and warn you I did. I was also determined to absolve myself of blame, and I congratulate myself on both counts. I shall see myself out, thank you. It would be a waste of ten minutes to accompany me, Dr. Watson. Good day to you both.”
Holmes lit a cigarette at the candle by his bedside. He then glanced at me with a shrewd smile. “You see the significance of these taunting missives?”
“Do they furnish any tangible clue?”
“No, but they indicate a trend. In the first case, they are localized; both are postmarked from the East-end, which is further confirmation that our man knows Whitechapel intimately, perhaps lives there. But more interestingly, these letters will accomplish a very specific purpose upon their publication.”
“What purpose, Holmes?”
“Terror, my dear fellow. Abject terror. I will be very much mistaken if the colour of this investigation, black as it was before, will not have darkened by this evening.”
CHAPTER THIRTEEN Miss Monk Investigates
I knew better than to think Holmes had been exaggerating for the purpose of effect, and soon word arrived from George Lusk that riots had flamed up in various East-end neighbourhoods, none of them fatal yet each an outpouring of impotent rage. A creeping fear now gripped half of London, and geographically speaking, the hysteria was spreading. Proposed solutions flooded into the Yard from all quarters and included, as I recall, dressing up male constables as female unfortunates, and spreading alarm wires throughout Whitechapel to serve as electric warning buttons.
On the following morning, at Holmes’s request, I set out for the East-end to retrieve Miss Monk, whose presence was required in order to lay out our plans. What these plans included the detective omitted to tell me, but I was easier in my mind merely knowing such existed.
When I knocked at the ground-floor room Miss Monk had taken for herself upon her improvement in fortunes, I half expected to find her still the victim of a morose nervous reaction. Instead, when the door opened, I discovered her neatly dressed, with a pot of tea on the stove and the gleam of fresh intelligence in her green eyes. She bid me sit with her usual blend of imitative elegance and habitual coquetry, then threw herself into the other of the two chairs flanking her roughly sanded table.
“And wouldn’t you love to hazard at what I’ve been about.” She grinned, pouring me a cup of tea. I assented with an encouraging smile.
“I’ve been out on the town with the likes of Stephen Dunlevy, that’s what.”
I started forward in some disquiet. “Miss Monk, surely you know how dangerous his company may be. We were in pursuit of Mr. Dunlevy when last we encountered…”
“Jack the Ripper?”
“Indeed, for want of a better name. Miss Monk, I don’t like to think what could happen.”
“Aye, I know,” she assented gravely. “It’s a funny thing, Doctor—I thought I’d be too terrified to set foot out of doors again. Spent half of Sunday starting at every creak and whisper. But now even when I am frightened, the devilish thing is that I’m too angry to notice.”
She looked me square in the face, and in that moment, Miss Monk and I understood each other. I had traveled through lands that she had never dreamed of in her most elaborate imaginings; she had lived a life whose sufferings I could not begin to guess at. Still, we understood each other, and I knew that whatever was asked of her in our increasingly desperate venture, she would perform to her utmost ability.
“Very well. You saw Stephen Dunlevy. You are far too pleased for the errand to have been fruitless.”
“You recall how his landlady let on he goes out more than he should, but never with any woman in mind?”
“Yes, she reassured you of his total devotion.”
Miss Monk laughed. “He don’t care ha’penny for me, Dr. Watson. But this tale he has, about his mate Johnny Blackstone killing that girl while he stood by—it’s true as gospel so far as I can tell, for after we’d had an afternoon pint yesterday, I doubles back and follows him again, and he walks straight over to—”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Monk, but how did you come to meet with him in the first place?”
“We’d arranged it when I left him to find you and Mr. Holmes. How is Mr. Holmes, then, Doctor?” she added apprehensively. I assured her that he would soon mend and requested she go on with her story.
“We’d set on two o’clock to have a glass of beer just round the corner, and after what happened I was fair sick over whether he’d show up at all, for there’s something in this business he knows more about than he tells. But at two there he is, sure enough, and when he sees me he smiles right out and calls my name. The Knight’s Standard is a right den of fighting cocks now, the ladies all huddled together, whispering over what’s to be done—the hop picking’s good as spent, so even the judies what prefer to leave the city won’t have any means to buy bread and tea. So there they are, wondering just as everyone is what’s best to do, though with a sharper interest than most.
“Well, we’d stowed ourselves in a corner when he says, with an odd look, ‘I’m glad you’re all right, for you must have seen by now what has happened.’
“‘The whole Chapel’s well-nigh set on fire over it,’ I says back.
“He looks at me right close and then asks if I’ve been putting myself in any sort of careless danger. Of course I says no, though I can’t think why he should ask, and we’re back to the question of finding Blackstone before the worst happens again. He allows as he’s sure he’s on the trail. ‘But,’ he says, ‘I’ll not hear of you running around in dark alleys and corridors.’
“Now I’m wondering what cause he could have to warn me special when every ladybird this side of the City is shivering at the thought of a knife ’cross her neck, so I asks him whether I’ve any choice but to take a plunge into the dark every now and then.
“He grabs my hand and then he says, ‘Rely on your income from this West-end benefactor. I have high hopes of success, but I beg that you will keep low until I can manage to set things right.’
“Well, that couldn’t help but strike me as queer, and when he’d left the pub with a promise to meet again, I duck out of sight into a tobacconist’s and wait until he’s a fair ways off afore I follow him. He goes into the same crib he’d done before, comes out in fresh togs—not the uniform he sometimes wears, but dressed like a toff—and then sets off again. I follows at a safe distance until he turns into a passage what leads to a few rookeries. I waits a good piece before dogging him down the corridor, and when I does I’ve a story to tell him about knowing he’s after another woman if my luck runs out and he spies me. When I reach the end of it, I watch as he goes into a set of digs there on the ground floor.
“I figure the chances a window or a door is open enough for me to hear are long odds considering the London particulars* we’ve had of late, but I creeps up to the house to be certain. And when I does, I hear something, so I duck around the side. Would you believe it—the window’s clear cracked and all broken at one edge, as half of them are thereabouts, not covered by anything more’n a scrap of paper, and if I sets my ear to the broken part careful enough, I can hear every blooming word.
“‘You are certain he stayed here for the duration of his leave?’ Dunlevy asks.
“‘Oh, yes,’ says a woman’s voice. ‘It was but a few days shy of the Bank Holiday and both my daughters away with their aunt in Yorkshire. Naturally I hadn’t the heart to leave the attic room empty when I knew there’d be visitors to the city, and soldiers on leave.’
“‘Indeed not. But the day after the holiday, he disappeared without warning?’
“‘It was the strangest thing,’ says she. ‘My Joseph is naught but ten, and that Blackstone swore he would show him the right way around a pistol the next morning. Then we come to find he was clean gone. Though he did leave his money all laid out on the table there. It’s a shame he left no trace of himself, for as you know he’s a charming fellow and was very well spoken to the children.’
“‘Quite so, ma’am. If I should discover his whereabouts soon, I shall be glad to give him your regards.’
“And on they go, but I’ve heard a fair piece and’ve always had rum enough luck without tempting it, so I legs it back here. I thought best to leave all to Mr. Holmes.”
“Undoubtedly, Miss Monk!” I affirmed. “Back to Baker Street and Holmes will sort this out. Stephen Dunlevy was right about one thing—we must exercise all necessary caution.”
Holmes was awake when we arrived but still ashen of countenance, leaning heavily against the sitting room mantelpiece in his shirtsleeves and mouse-coloured dressing gown. He had swept all objects from the ledge and replaced them with a hastily sketched map of Whitechapel covered in scrawled markings and obscure street references. Its legibility was not aided by the fact that my friend was right-handed, and unable to make use of that particular limb. Disheveled as he was, staring fixedly at a jumble of erratically scribbled byways, he could as easily have been an escapee from an asylum as the final court of appeal in criminal detection.
“Miss Monk, where does Stephen Dunlevy keep his pocket handkerchief?”
“In the lining of his coat, if I recall.”
“Hum. I thought as much.”
She was staring at my friend despondently. “Lor’, Mr. Holmes, I knew you was bad off that night from the doctor’s dinner jacket, but to see you like this—”
“You have been considering going into business, I see.”
“How do you know that?” she gasped.
“The same process which informs me you got very drunk recently and have a young female acquaintance, possibly a neighbour, whose happiness is of some import to you.”
“Of all the rotten cheek,” cried Miss Monk, her chin up and her eyes blazing. “You’ll talk that way to the carpet if you like, for I’ll be damned if I stay to hear it.”
As she made her way to the door, Holmes, employing perhaps the last of his resources, leapt after her, catching her gently and easily by the wrist. “My sincerest apologies, Miss Monk. Dr. Watson will tell you that my powers have not the charm of tact to recommend them. Pray sit down.”
Miss Monk peered suspiciously at Holmes, but her temper waned as quickly as it had sparked. “Well, then. I’ll not say you were wrong, just a mite…forward. I’m that glad to see you alive, at any rate. There, I oughtn’t to have flared out so, but I thought the whole thing a slum.”
“My dear Miss Monk, I would never dream of using trickery to gain special knowledge,” sighed Holmes as he made his laborious way toward the settee, lying down and passing his operative hand through his hair. “Though you are not the first to think so, and if I am lucky you shall not be the last.”
“How d’ye do it, then?”
He leaned his head back, shutting his eyes. “That you are thinking of going into business is obvious from the four separate varieties of rag doll peeping at various angles from your pockets. Impoverished mothers make them, leaving it to their young offspring to hawk the wares. If you can provide materials with your new capital, you may well manage to ease the lives of all your acquaintances, at least those with rudimentary sewing skills.”
“What of the girl?”
“You’ve already examined and formed an opinion of each design. They are now well within your income, have no actual value, and yet you carry them about with you. They are a gift. What sort of person would be likely to enjoy such a gesture?”
“They are for Emily. She’s not yet four, poor little mite. And?” Miss Monk prompted, not willing to employ any further syllables.
Holmes winced gallantly and replied, “Your shoes.”
“The right shoe.”
She looked down quickly and glanced up again at Holmes.
“You recently replaced your worn boots with new ones, and thus when I last saw you, they were relatively unmarked. There is now a significant marring of the leather, in more than one place, on the right boot: you have been kicking something heavy, and quite violently.” The clinical tone in an instant gave way to easy charm. “I congratulate you that, while it is the nature of drink to compel one to lash out physically, it is the nature of a thinking person to confine her rage to one foot.”
“I’ll own up to it. Saturday night gave me a turn, and I was finding a bit of ease at the bottom of a glass.”
“My dear Miss Monk, I cannot tell you how—”
“Oh, bollocks to you both! I’ve had my fit, don’t you see, and all that’s left is a scuffed boot, and what’s a scuffed boot to the likes of us?” she cried, and sat quite naturally on our sitting room floor, Indian-style, next to Holmes’s head. “So what are we to do?”
“Wait a moment.” He laughed. “I have not all my data about me. You continue to meet with Private Dunlevy, do you not?”
“How the devil did you—”
“You do, then.”
“Then if you would be so kind as to make me aware of any recent developments.”
Miss Monk did so, omitting nothing she had told me, although her narrative had smoothed through repetition.
“There it is, Mr. Holmes,” she concluded at length. “What am I to do with the blighter?”
Holmes considered briefly. “Have you any objection to continuing in his company?”
“No objection, save that I know what I’m in for.”
My friend rose with an effort and crossed the room. “Nothing perilous, I assure you, provided you keep to public areas and take no risks once the sun has set. Carry this somewhere about your person—disguised, mind.” He produced from a drawer in his desk a small collapsible blade and tossed it to Miss Monk.
“Bloody hell,” she muttered, then remembered herself and replied, “Right then. I’m to gad about with Dunlevy looking for staring, mad soldiers, eyes glazed over and trousers covered with dried blood, and report back to you, shall I?”
“If you would be so kind. Dr. Watson and I can cover most lines of inquiry, but it is essential that someone remain in the field.”
“Seems best, with Blackstone on the lam,” she returned lightly. “Hope we find him soon, at any rate. Wouldn’t want to wander the Chapel with Dunlevy wi’out a specific agenda. Poor lad might get the wrong idea.”
“By the way, Miss Monk, do any of your companions, in your experience, carry pieces of chalk about with them?”
“Chalk? Like what that batty message about Jews was written with?” She reflected. “The girls I know might carry a stub of pencil, but it’s long odds. Half of them wouldn’t know the use of it. Chalk would be used to mark lengths, I suppose—a bolt of cloth, maybe, or a piece of lumber?”
“One more thing, Miss Monk,” Holmes added as she made her way to the door. “I discovered a stalk of grapes near the dead woman. If you would be so good as to look further into the matter, I should be grateful.”
“What sort were they?”
“The stem was consistent with black grapes.”
“There ain’t but a few merchants in that area who’d be selling black grapes. I’ll ferret ’em out, never fear.”
“Thank you, Miss Monk. Please be careful.”
“That I’ll be, make no mistake,” she called over her shoulder, already halfway down the stairs. “I may work for you, Mr. Holmes, but I’m not entirely daft just yet.”
I closed the door and turned on Holmes as he lit a cigarette. “Are you quite certain you know what you’re doing, old man?”
“You mean to ask whether I am certain I know what Miss Monk is doing,” he shot back, and I was once more made aware of just how excruciating it must have been for a man of his active nature to find himself restrained by his own body. “For the moment, I am rendered physically inert. Do you imagine it possible for you to saunter into Dunlevy’s digs and demand Blackstone’s whereabouts? She’ll play the game nearly as well as I could, and one mystery, at any rate, will be solved.”
“The whereabouts of Johnny Blackstone?”
“The intentions of Stephen Dunlevy.”
“Did we not venture into Whitechapel in the first place to safeguard Miss Monk from him?” I queried bluntly.
“I know far more now than I did then.”
“That is very gratifying. But in any event, there are key discrepancies surrounding the Tabram murder. What if the thread leads us nowhere?”
“You regard the matter from the wrong angle entirely, which hardly surprises me,” Holmes replied caustically. “This thread cannot lead us nowhere, for wherever it leads, it exposes more of Stephen Dunlevy, who interests me in no small degree. And now, Watson, you are going out.”
“You are to meet with one Leslie Tavistock, in the offices of the London Chronicle, that shining beacon of ethical journalism. You’ve an appointment at half past three. And on your way back from Fleet Street, do stop by our tobacconist’s for a fresh supply of cigars,” he finished, nudging their receptacle with his foot. “The coal scuttle, I am afraid, has run entirely dry.”
CHAPTER FOURTEEN Lestrade Questions a Suspect
I was made to wait for a quarter of an hour after my designated time in the bustling antechamber of the London Chronicle’s headquarters, rife with shabbily appointed journalists and far too short on both light and coal. From the moment I stepped into the office of Mr. Leslie Tavistock, I knew that the experience would not be a pleasant one. The man himself sat in his desk chair with a mixture of calm insouciance and deliberate irony on his clean-shaven, calculating features. I introduced myself, and before I could utter another word, he had half raised his hand in a gesture of amiable protest.
“Now, Dr. Watson,” he began, “I have no intention of insulting either your natural loyalties or your good sense by asking what brought you here. That story is already the talk of London, and I’ve followed up with my original source in order to furnish the public with a few more salient details regarding the unconventional Mr. Sherlock Holmes. But in the meanwhile, I am delighted you are here. I should like to pose a few questions, if you don’t mind.”
“I most certainly do. Mr. Holmes has already been shamefully abused at your hands, and my sole mission this afternoon is to determine whether you would prefer to reveal your source or defend yourself against charges of libel.”
If Tavistock was surprised at my words, I had hardly expected myself to engage in a frontal attack so suddenly and so soon. He arched his brows as if greatly disappointed.
“I have my doubts as to whether that course of action would be open to you, Dr. Watson. Mr. Holmes must resign himself to the glare of public scrutiny if he wishes to continue his extraordinary exploits. The facts behind my article are entirely true; if the particulars are couched in terms you dislike, perhaps you would care to clarify Mr. Holmes’s uncanny prescience.”
“Sherlock Holmes has always been the scourge of the criminal element. His motives in this case should be abundantly clear,” I seethed.
“Does he hold himself responsible for apprehending the culprit?” Tavistock asked casually.
“He intends to do everything in his power to—”
“How does Mr. Holmes feel about having failed to capture the Ripper that night, possibly enabling further killings?”
“Come, sir! This is really intolerable.”
“My apologies. Dr. Watson, considering the terrible mutilations that have become the overriding feature of these crimes, is it possible that a doctor could be responsible for them?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I mean to say, speaking theoretically, as a medical man, you would no doubt be aided in such work by your own skills and training?”
“The Ripper’s ‘skills’ are the merest butchery. As for my own medical abilities, I have so far confined their use to healing the sick, both practically and theoretically,” I replied coldly.
“No doubt, no doubt. Now, Mr. Holmes, though not a doctor, possesses a very workable knowledge of anatomy. I believe I may have read so in your own account of his work—that very engaging piece in Beeton’s Christmas Annual from last year. In your opinion—”
“In my opinion, you are guilty of the most outrageous perversion of the truth I have been witness to in the public print,” I exclaimed, rising from my chair. “Rest assured that you will hear from us again.”
“I have no doubt of it, Dr. Watson,” Leslie Tavistock smiled. “May I offer you and Mr. Holmes the same assurances? A very pleasant day to you, I am sure.”
The sun had etched long shadows across the brick walls of Baker Street before I arrived home once more. Though the crimes of Jack the Ripper had sickened me beyond words, this lesser grievance infuriated me in a much more personal fashion. My arrival in our sitting room must have been more violent than I intended, for Holmes, who appeared to have appointed the sofa as his base of operations, awoke immediately upon my entering.
“I see you’ve exchanged pleasantries with Mr. Tavistock,” he commented wryly.
“I am sorry, Holmes. You ought to be resting. How do you feel?”
“A bit like the misaligned pistons of an unbalanced steam engine.”
“I shall prepare some morphia if you like.”
“Dear me. Best have it out at once, Watson.” He smiled. “It can’t be as bad as all that.”
I related, with a deal of disgust, the conversation which had passed between me and Mr. Tavistock. When I concluded, Holmes’s piercing gaze settled into an unfocused reverie as he reached for a cigarette. It was near ten minutes before he spoke again.
“It is the most confounded nuisance to be unable to light one’s pipe effectively.”
I could not help but smile at this non sequitur. “It is always trying to lose the use of an appendage, however temporary. I ought to know.”
“I have my pick of annoyances today, to be sure. Tavistock mentioned nothing that would give away a clue as to his source?”
“And he does not appear to you to be approaching a state of penitence.”
“That would be understating the matter.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the distant ringing of the bell. “That will be Lestrade.” Holmes sighed. “He purports to inform us of the new victims’ identities and habits. His call, however, was preceded by a reply-paid telegram asking after my degree of fragility, a kindly meant sentiment that you will agree does not bode well.”
Lestrade’s dogged, inquisitive features had sagged into an expression of resigned determination to see a bad business through no matter the cost. His persistence was an admirable distinction but, I now realized, a trying one as well, for he seemed not to have slept more than six hours since I had left him in Whitechapel.
“Mr. Holmes,” he said, a smile briefly quickening his features, “I’ve brought respects from your friends at the Yard.”
“Convey them my thanks, if you would. Have a seat, and regale the infirmatory with tales of the latest victims.”
“Well,” Lestrade declared, drawing out his official notebook, “we do at least know who they are. Though that does us no positive good at all. First victim of the evening was one Elizabeth Stride, a widow who may or may not have had children.”
I nodded. “The unhappy woman dressed all in black. By chance, we caught a glimpse of her in the neighbourhood just before she was killed.”
“Did you?” Lestrade responded eagerly. “Who was she with?”
I had already shrugged my shoulders in apology for my imperfect memory when Holmes replied, “A brewer who resides in Norwood with his domineering mother and has absolutely no bearing upon the matter at hand.”
“Ah. In any case, her habitual mourning was supposedly for her husband and children, all of whom she claims died in the Princess Alice steamship collision, but we have records stating her husband, John Thomas Stride, died from heart disease in the Poplar Union Workhouse; she must have meant to elicit more charity by it. She was born in Sweden, according to her local Swedish Church clergy, who tell us she was a wreck of a woman and lucky to have lived so long. We’ve also interviewed her live-in man, Michael Kidney. He apparently used to padlock her indoors.”
“Charming. Well, it explains the duplicate key.”
“As for the other poor creature,” continued Lestrade with a shudder, “her name was Catherine Eddowes, and she had three children by a man named Thomas Conway of the Eighteenth Royal Irish. No suggestion they were ever married. Just wandered from place to place hawking gallows ballads. She lost touch with him and the children after she took to drink, and had recently returned from hop picking with her man when she was killed. Name of John Kelly—took us a mite longer to find him than we would have liked, but they were sleeping separate on the night of the murder. Hadn’t the money for a double bed.”
“Lestrade, does any evidence lead you to believe that Eddowes and Stride, or Nichols and Chapman, or any combination of the victims accrued thus far were known to each other?”
The inspector shook his head. “Seemed an idea worth having to me as well, Mr. Holmes—they all may have been members of some heathen cult, killed for betraying the society, that sort of trash. Better still, that they’d all an old flame in common. Nothing of the sort has turned up. They may have spoken to each other, but they were none of them friends.”
“Then I am very much afraid I may be right,” Holmes murmured.
“Right about what, Mr. Holmes?”
“I must iron out my theory a bit more, Lestrade, and then you can be sure to learn of it. Have you any leads in your own investigation?”
“Well, Mr. Holmes, the truth is, there are some at the Yard who think we do have a lead,” Lestrade admitted.
“You’re of the opinion they are mistaken, then?” my friend suggested knowingly.
“Well, I am. Mind you, it’s not many of the inspectors, but they’re a damn sight louder than they ought to be.”
“You have my full attention.”
“Bearing in mind, Mr. Holmes, in my opinion, this line of questioning is the worst sort of wild goose chase.”
“So this fruitless lead is emphatically not one that you espouse?” the detective prodded with uncharacteristic good humour. “Perhaps your firsthand experience of the case sets you against it. Or perhaps even your own special knowledge of the suspect.”
“Well, I don’t intend to waste my time on it, that I’ll swear to. So have Gregson, Jones, Wickliff, Lanner, Hawes…”
“I should be delighted to look into the matter in your stead,” my friend offered.
“I don’t intend to squander your energies, Mr. Holmes.”
“Nonsense,” he scoffed. “I suspect I could confine my inquiries to this very room.”
Lestrade looked as if our carpet had been pulled out from under him, but he soon rallied and clenched his fists in frustration. “Confound it all, I’m that ashamed to tell you, but you’ve brought it on yourself, haven’t you?” cried the exhausted inspector. “All this ‘you will find the gun in the third stable on the left,’ and ‘the letter was posted by a man in a wideawake hat.’ Knowing things you shouldn’t, appearing magically at crime scenes! Bennett was in my office this morning and said it’s a miracle this hasn’t happened before.”
“Ha! You do suspect me, then! This really is most gratifying.”
“Mr. Holmes, I assure you—”
“No, please, I shall just sketch the outline of this little theory for the sake of argument,” announced Holmes with an air of exaggerated deliberation. “So, to retrace my own steps, the night of Bank Holiday, I stabbed Martha Tabram thirty-nine times in a mad frenzy. Dr. Watson may assert that I passed a quiet evening restringing the bow for my fiddle, but—”
“I never said—”
“When you knocked me up the morning after the Nichols killing, did I betray myself with any suspicious behaviour?”
“I am just working out how I managed to kill Elizabeth Stride moments before I discovered her body,” he continued ruthlessly. “But if the Doctor lied about my activities the night of Bank Holiday, why should he not do so again? I really must apologize to you, my dear Watson, for ever having asked you to maintain this vile charade. After killing Stride, I dashed off to the City to slay Eddowes, then returned to the scene of my earlier crime covered in her blood. What could be simpler?”
“Now, see here,” cried the red-faced inspector. “I’ve not come here in person to present you with all the evidence we’ve gathered because I think you’ve anything to do with the matter! Your character was never even questioned before that wretched article turned everything on end yesterday. We’ve been hung out to dry in the press, and there’s one or two who had a dark laugh that you’d been put to it as well. Soon enough, some of our number started asking awkward questions about the article’s contents, and there you are.”
“Men have been hanged for less, that I’ll grant you.”
Lestrade calmed somewhat when he saw that Holmes was more amused than outraged. “Very good, then, if I could just take your statement back with me to the Yard, we’ll avert some unpleasantness. Just the bit before I arrived, if you please.”
“Dr. Watson and I happened upon a woman who appeared only very recently to have died. We commenced a search for the culprit and all too quickly found him.”
“I see,” said the inspector, jotting down notes. “Time?”
“Close upon one in the morning.”
“There was a constable we encountered who was privy to the whole story,” I interjected. “Constable Lamb, I believe.”
“Yes, well,” replied Lestrade sheepishly, “we have his report. But as he arrived after Mr. Holmes disappeared, I’ve volunteered to get the story from your own lips. I turned up soon after you came back, Mr. Holmes, and saw you enter the cab. You proceeded directly to London Hospital?”
“No, I returned here.”
The inspector looked crestfallen. “Did you?”
“What difference can it make?”
“Oh, none, none. Save that…well, a particularly idiotic suggestion was made that once you departed in the cab, Mr. Holmes, you wrote the chalked lines in Goulston Street.”
Holmes and I must have looked as stunned as we felt, for the inspector hastened to assure us, “The timing of such a caper would be extremely difficult, but you see how I am obliged to set the record straight.”
“The handwriting was as unlike Holmes’s as I can possibly imagine,” said I, growing angry in spite of myself.
“I know that, don’t I? I saw it. But as you’ll recall, Doctor, there’s nothing left for a comparative sample. And taken in conjunction with the equally wild idea that the blood was not his own…”
“If my own word is not good enough for the Yard, you need only apply to a Dr. Moore Agar of two twenty-seven Baker Street to confirm whose blood it was!”
“Or have a look for yourself,” Holmes added merrily. “Watson?
Have you any medical objection?” Throwing his tie to the ground, he undid the first two buttons of his shirtfront.
“Heavens no, no, thank you, I have quite enough material,” said the inspector in an agony of professional embarrassment.
“Good evening, then, Lestrade. A pleasure to see you,” tossed Holmes over his shoulder as he strode toward his room.
“There is just one more thing, Mr. Holmes! Gregson and Lanner wanted me to tell you that it may be best not to be seen in Whitechapel for some short time—until after all this ugliness is cleared up.”
“They are far more likely to encounter me in Whitechapel with greater and greater frequency, until such time as one or all of us put a stop to this Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror,” replied my fellow lodger, leaning defiantly against his doorframe.
I imagined our colleague would take umbrage with my companion’s declaration. However, once more I had underestimated Inspector Lestrade, and to my regret, for I realized suddenly that Holmes had no better friend in all Scotland Yard. Far from appearing surprised, he only smiled with wearied satisfaction.
“Oh, I’ve no doubt of that, Mr. Holmes. Not a doubt in the world. But I was bound to tell you, wasn’t I? Mend well. Good day to you, Dr. Watson.”
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The London Monster
Holmes remained in his room for some time after Lestrade had made his way out. The sun had set entirely when he emerged, asking, “Care to pay a call guaranteed to be more civil than your earlier endeavour?”
“I am at your service, Holmes.”
“Then help me into my coat and we shall settle a problem that has been plaguing my mind.”
“Certainly. Where are we going?”
“To consult a specialist.”
“A specialist?” I repeated in surprise. “But you are the world’s foremost specialist in crime detection.”
“I do not dispute it,” he replied smoothly. “We shall consult a specialist in another field entirely.”
“But are you strong enough for a journey tonight?”
Holmes tucked one of his commonplace books under his good arm with a slightly puckish smile. “I appreciate your solicitude, Doctor. However, in this instance, I fear it is misplaced.”
Once out of doors in the bracing cold, Holmes turned and proceeded down Baker Street. He had passed two houses when he stopped abruptly. “If you wouldn’t mind ringing the bell, Watson. You are better acquainted with the fellow than I, I’m afraid.”
Suppressing a smile, I did as he asked. We had not long to wait before the door flew open to reveal Dr. Moore Agar with a pair of not unbecoming spectacles perched on his nose.
“Oh, I say!” he exclaimed delightedly. “I thought you a client, but this is even more gratifying.”
He escorted us into a cheerful, well-appointed chamber with a striped Venetian carpet on the floor, an economical fire in the grate, and more bookshelves than there were bare walls. Dr. Agar insisted that Holmes take the entire settee, deposited me graciously in an armchair, then stood before the fireplace in unabashed pleasure.
“Your uncle is a kind gentleman to have set you up in practice,” said Holmes.
“Is he, now!” Our host laughed, clapping his hands silently in approval. “I had hardly ventured to hope for a demonstration. If I were a less thoughtful man, I might have guessed that I mentioned my Uncle Augustus to you on Saturday night—or was it Sunday morning? But I did no such thing, and you must trot out your reasoning before a devoted admirer.”
Holmes smiled ruefully. “You may be amused to learn that I cannot recall the smallest detail of your visit.”
“My apologies, Mr. Holmes. Dr. Moore Agar, at your service,” he replied, extending his left hand to shake my friend’s unharmed limb. “Now, how did you deduce that Uncle Augustus financed this operation?”
“Certain indications suggest that you are forced to employ economy in your practice. However, your library is extensive, a few of your books quite rare, and your rooms well appointed. You have a benefactor, but not one from whom you receive regular sustenance. A single endowment, then, from a party whose fortunes do not permit more frequent aid. In my experience, the only folk in this world who donate large sums without fortunes to back them are close relatives. The box photograph on the mantel clearly depicts your own parents, who are dressed very simply. An unlikely source, then, for setting a young doctor up in practice. However, I observe a framed document behind your desk certifying one Dr. Augustus Agar a licensed physician. Your uncle, upon his retirement from practice, made you a gift of monies and, I daresay, a significant portion of his library. His medical license you retain as a keepsake.”
“It is marvelous! But how did you know Augustus Agar was my uncle and not my grandfather?”
“The date on the certificate, not to mention the typeface and the colour of the paper, rather precludes that notion.”
Dr. Agar shot me an appreciative glance. “I admit that I wondered whether your account of Mr. Holmes had embellished his powers, but I am now prepared to believe Mr. Holmes a genius, and yourself a man of unimpeachable honesty.”
“It is merely a matter of drawing inferences based on the visible data,” Holmes demurred with his usual withdrawn composure, but I could see he was flattered by the young doctor’s approval.
“Tush! There is nothing ‘mere’ about it. You are a pioneer in your field, a characteristic I wholeheartedly admire. I am also guilty of a unique course of study, which you have noted has not yet made my fortune.”
“You are engaged in an unusual branch of medicine, then?” I queried.
“And not a very popular one, I am afraid,” he smiled. “We tend to run the gamut from pathological anatomy to mesmerism, with all manner of phrenology, craniometry, and neurology thrown in. I am a psychologist.”
“Are you indeed?” I exclaimed.
“I studied in Paris for a year under Charcot at the Salpêtrière Hospital.* If Uncle Augustus had possessed the funds, he would certainly have set me up in Cavendish Square, and my expertise would thus be certified geographically. I am afraid Baker Street is the revered locus of criminal detection, not of the cure of mental disease. At present I subsist on referrals: the nervous, the hypochondriacal, and the merely sick. And of course, the occasional stabbing comes my way.”
“Yes, well,” coughed Holmes, “as it happens that is just the matter in which I require your assistance.”
“That is wonderful news!” Dr. Agar grinned. “I was burning with curiosity, but as a gentleman, I could hardly ask. What sort of assistance may I render?”
“Dr. Watson’s Medical Directory informed me you were a specialist in nervous disorders, and a glance at your shelves tells me you may be just the expert I require. Textbook of Brain Disorders, Mental Pathology and Therapeutics, Psychopathia Sexualis*—if you are the doctor your library proclaims, you could be of the greatest use.”
Holmes related briefly the circumstances which led to his grisly introduction to Dr. Agar. When he finished, the doctor nodded with an expression of deepest interest.
“I have, of course, followed the Ripper’s crimes very closely. I had an inkling from the press reports that it was his work I stitched up the other night. But let me understand you, sir—do you seek aid that is in some way psychological?”
“I do,” confirmed Holmes. “I am a consulting detective, Dr. Agar, and as such many branches of study come within my sphere, the majority of which deal with gathering and interpreting hard evidence. However, I believe the Ripper may be a variety of criminal I have never before pursued, and one against whom hard evidence is of alarmingly little use. My practice is based upon the fact that, although a given crime may appear unique, to the connoisseur of criminal history, it nearly always follows an established pattern. In this case, the template was so very rare that it took me some time to identify it. But since the events of the thirtieth, I begin to know this fellow better. The double murder eroded his mask in a profound fashion. It appears we must understand that slaying these women is a pleasure second only to afterwards ripping them to pieces.”
I felt a growing revulsion at the conversation, but Dr. Agar appeared profoundly intrigued. “He seeks out women who have wronged him and enacts these terrible crimes out of sheer hatred?” I questioned.
Holmes shook his head. “I do not believe he knows them. It is my working hypothesis that this man kills perfect strangers. In fact, I have been led to believe that we are on the trail of a complete madman who is for all appearances an ordinary person.”
I stared at him aghast. “I could well believe that the fiend is mad,” I protested, “but what you suggest is impossible. There must be another motive behind the deaths of these women. The mad do not walk among the sane unremarked.”
“Do they not?” he queried, one brow tilted toward the ceiling.
“No,” I insisted irritably. “The merely eccentric are as sane as you or I, but as for a man who butchers the most pitiable of our populace without reason or foreknowledge—can you seriously believe such malice could go about the business of day-to-day life without exciting alarm?”
“Do not ask me. That is what I wish to inquire of Dr. Agar,” Holmes replied, turning the force of his steely gaze upon the psychologist standing before the dwindling fire. “Is it possible, in your professional opinion, for a madman to enact a faultless pretense of rational humanity?”
Dr. Agar moved to his bookshelf and selected a slim volume. “I begin to guess at your meaning, Mr. Holmes. You refer to the London Monster.”
Holmes swiftly indicated a passage from his commonplace book. “I refer not only to the London Monster, although he plays a telling role. Nearly a century ago—April seventeen eighty-eight, London: first appearance of the London ‘Monster.’ Approximately fifty women knifed on the streets between the years of eighty-eight and ninety. Suspect never caught. Mark that, Watson. Moving to the Continent; Innsbruck, eighteen twenty-eight: multiple women approached and stabbed with a common pocketknife. Case never closed. Bremen, eighteen eighty: a hairdresser slashed the breasts of no fewer than thirty-five women in broad daylight before he was apprehended. All are examples of what I believe could be termed a deeply morbid erotic mania.”
“Your chain of reasoning is rather terrifying, sir,” said Dr. Agar.
“What chain of reasoning, Holmes?” I questioned apprehensively.
“If I can discover a link connecting the victims—shared knowledge of a secret is an excellent example—the hypothesis will, blessedly, shatter,” he returned. “But I have repeated to myself Cui bono? until I can feel the words burned upon my brain, and the only answer is No one. For now, it is clear that any man committing so many motiveless crimes must necessarily be mad. And yet, in order to continue freely committing them…”
“The culprit cannot have appeared to be mad,” finished Dr. Agar.
“So I put it to you, Dr. Agar,” Holmes concluded grimly. “Is such a thing possible?”
“It is a very difficult question to answer with any degree of assurance,” he replied carefully. “After all, is mental illness a sickness of the soul, degeneracy of stock, or a defect of the brain? What you propose is an entirely new form of madness—a monomania lurking beneath a rational mind, aiding itself and disguising itself. Your idea comes closer to the classical definition of pure malevolence than any maniac who lashes out with a frenzied knife. You speak of a complete moral degeneracy, assisted by an affable exterior and a shrewd intelligence.”
“Precisely,” said Sherlock Holmes.
“I’m afraid I think it entirely possible,” Dr. Agar replied.
“Then there is nothing for it,” said my friend. “My thanks for your assistance. If you will excuse me, I have a deal of work ahead of me. Payment for your past services is there, on the table.”
Dr. Agar quickly attempted to return the notes. “Mr. Holmes, as your neighbour, I would not dream of exacting payment over an emergency.”
“Then consider it a consulting fee,” my friend smiled. “This way, Watson. We’ll not intrude further upon Dr. Agar’s time.”
“Thank you, Mr. Holmes,” said the affable young fellow at the door. “If you should feel the need to intrude again, I beg that you will not hesitate! I treated three patients this afternoon—two for insomnia, and one for an ill-disguised preoccupation with opiates. Your visit has quite redeemed the day.”*
We waved to Dr. Agar and strolled the few steps back to our own door.
“You appear disturbed, Dr. Watson,” Holmes remarked.
“I cannot readily believe such men exist outside the realm of fiction designed to horrify the reader,” I admitted, casting about for my key.
“It is difficult to fathom, I know, for I required weeks to even consider such a nightmare possible.”
“And you are sure our man is of a kind?” I persisted as we made our way up the stairs.
“I have no doubt of it.”
“I cannot begin to think what steps you will take. It is a monster you describe, Holmes.”
“He is neither a monster nor a beast, but something far more dangerous. I fear that men, when possessed of both utter depravity and absolute conviction, are far more deadly than either. And I begin to fear that such men are nearly impossible to find. But I’ll do it, Watson. I shall have him. I swear to you it shall be done.” Holmes nodded a good night and then, without another word, vanished into the confines of his room.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Problem of Whitechapel
The following morning, I descended from my bedroom to discover Holmes had already finished his breakfast. He had then, I gathered, occupied himself by amassing all our cushions, piling them beneath the settee, supplying himself with an unholy reserve of cigarettes, and then draping himself on the floor with all the incense-shrouded dignity of a heathen god. My greeting went unanswered, so between the hours of eight and nine I devoured an egg and several rashers of bacon over a slow perusal of the Times and Pall Mall.
“A word with you, Watson, if you can spare the time,” Holmes called out as he discarded the stub of a cigarette in a teacup situated within easy reach.
“Certainly, Holmes.” I quit the breakfast table and, selecting a cigar from the coal scuttle, settled myself in my armchair.
“I shan’t tax your patience for longer than is necessary, but it is the curse of the solo investigator that he has no confederate to bend an ear when a problem grows too unwieldy for private conjecture. You have surely realized that our case proceeds upon three lines. The primary—and may I say least fruitful—investigation is that surrounding the Ripper’s actual crimes, which have afforded us shockingly little physical evidence. Although our conference with Dr. Agar last night aids us in a general sense, our quarry still has allowed us no details which could possibly lead to a residence, name, or arrest. The next line of inquiry concerns the proposition that Jack the Ripper, whoever he may be, takes a deal of pleasure in tormenting us. This idea is based on the letter I had in February of last year. It seems he takes nearly as much pleasure in penning taunting notes as he does in committing horrific murders; however, this thirst for correspondence may well prove very dangerous for him, for the slightest physical clue could point to a place of origin and thus prove his ultimate undoing. Am I clear thus far?”
“Finally there is the matter of the Martha Tabram murder.”
“You still believe it to have been the work of the Ripper.”
“I do indeed, but there is another puzzle tied to Tabram’s stabbing, and that is this abstruse tale of Stephen Dunlevy and Johnny Blackstone. Miss Monk had barely been in our employ a week when a strange man approached her claiming to know all about Tabram’s death. Granted, Whitechapel is not a large district, although it is densely populated, and thus it is perfectly possible that she should have instantly met a man connected to the Ripper. But is it probable?”
“How do you mean?”
“Is it not odd that within a few days of our forging an association, Miss Monk should discover a colossal lead quite by accident? The circumstance grows even more inexplicable when one takes into account the source, Mr. Dunlevy himself. I must confess to you that our glimpse of him in the pub that terrible night was not the first time I laid eyes on the man, but it has taken me days to place where I’d seen him before. I saw him the very day we met Miss Monk, as we exited Lambeth Workhouse.”
My mouth fell open at this revelation. “You are certain?”
“Entirely. Yet another reason, you see, for Miss Monk to keep a close watch on the fellow.”
Though I had often noted the peculiarly scientific way in which Holmes at times directed people like pieces on a chessboard, custom had not inured me to it. I shrugged coldly, exasperated by his glibness. “Perhaps Dunlevy and Miss Monk are engaged in a conspiracy against you.”
My friend only smiled. “You imagine I had not considered that alternative. Rest assured, Miss Monk is not in his employ, or she was not when I engaged her assistance.”
“Barring any personal bias from the question, how can you be sure?”
“Because of the scuffed new boots which caused such a fracas last night.”
“I do not understand.”
“Her old men’s boots had two small symmetrical holes just in the instep where the foot breaks the arch, an almost unbearable condition at this time of year when the wet and the cold are conjoined against one. And yet she did not, for two weeks after I had been paying her, purchase new boots. No, she presumed I was joking when I took her on as a colleague, and she clearly had no competing source of income from Dunlevy. She imagined if I came to my senses and cut off her payments, she would still be ahead by a pound or two, which is enough to keep out of the workhouse.”
At that moment we detected a slow, lumbering tread upon the staircase. The door swung open to admit the enormous personage of Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother of the great detective, whose high position in government office was as unknown to the public as it was vital to the realm. While his formidable acumen could hardly be exaggerated, neither could his martial adherence to habit, which made sightings of him outside the vicinity of Whitehall, his own lodgings in Pall Mall, or the Diogenes Club exceptional indeed. I at once offered him a chair, but he stood peering down at his brother upon the floor from his own formidable height with profound concern and displeasure mixed in his cutting grey eyes.
“I was most unpleasantly alarmed about you Sunday when a circulatory from the highest levels was posted directly to my home,” Mycroft Holmes announced. “I trust he will come to no lasting harm?” The latter query was addressed to me, and I shook my head. “Well then, Sherlock, what the devil have you been playing at? You have been pursuing the Whitechapel killer in an egregiously foolhardy manner.”
“Do sit down, brother Mycroft, you’ll exhaust yourself. You are already exhausting me,” my friend replied, both amused and annoyed by his sibling. “As it happens, we came upon the murder scene entirely by accident.”
Mycroft Holmes accepted the chair grudgingly, his eyes focused as always upon some vacant middle ground, a gaze which in both men looked like distraction and was in fact the most powerful concentration of thought. “I had wondered. Clever of you to pursue him unarmed, in the dark. I suppose you continued the chase even after the first time you collapsed.”
I must have looked confused at this remark, for Holmes, with a satirical flourish, pushed up his cuff and further exposed the opposite wrist, which, I had not even noticed, had been more than once bruised and scraped in a fall. “I thought to limit his future activities, but as you can see, rather the opposite has occurred,” he said to his brother.
“My dear boy, you must take this matter more seriously, really you must.”
Holmes’s mouth twitched impatiently. “Mycroft, if you imply that I consider the gruesome murders of five helpless women a frivolous concern—”
“You deliberately misunderstand me.” Mycroft’s expression was as fond as his tone was dry. “It is of immense practical interest, not to mention of course immense sentimental interest to your only sibling, that you leave off rushing single-handedly after dangerous madmen. More is at stake here than has been made clear to you. Whitechapel is a very minor fraction of a vast metropolis, but the effect these crimes are having on the entire nation…Sherlock, surely you see the consequences of failure?”
“An ever-increasing number of ritually disemboweled prostitutes.”
“Your morbidity is misplaced,” the elder Holmes sniffed. “Did you see the report on the double murder in the Star?”
“I looked over it. They are calling for the dismissal of Sir Charles Warren.”
“Occasionally those zealots hit near to the mark of public opinion. Whitechapel will smash the Empire, they say—a hyperbolic slander, but one which worries us exceedingly. Though I know it doesn’t interest you in the slightest, my boy, the problem of Whitechapel is being amplified to symbolize the problems of an entire nation. Even as we pray for progress, we are beset by anarchists and agitators.”
“Surely a dilemma more worthy of your attentions than of mine,” my friend observed. “I do not pretend to be the incarnate central clearinghouse of the British government.”
Mycroft Holmes merely pursed his lips sternly. “You would be shocked, perhaps, to learn of the woes currently assailing Her Majesty from all sides. I am not at liberty to discuss such matters with you, but perhaps you will do me the honour of trusting me. It all looks very bad, Sherlock, and getting worse all the time. The question of Irish autonomy alone has so splintered Parliament that this madman at large among the destitute could plausibly fuel incendiary actions rather than incendiary words. And now I hear rumours that a provocative message was scrawled upon a wall directly implicating the Jews.”
“I heard the same rumour,” Holmes drawled. “Your Sir Charles erased it, you see.”
Mycroft sighed with an expression of sorely tried patience. “Can you imagine I do not appreciate your frustration? Perhaps you will be more disposed to consider the political side of this affair when I say that though I have been most anxious to call upon you, I was also asked to do so by an individual whose importance can hardly be exaggerated.”
Holmes’s eyes softened, but his brow lifted quizzically. “My dear brother, what do you wish me to say? I can offer you nothing but assurances.”
“On the contrary, you can answer key questions. Mr. George Lusk has sent a petition to Her Highness directly, asking that a reward be offered.”
“Yes, he has an excellent grasp of the concept of chain of command.”
“I should like to hear your thoughts.”
My friend shook his head decisively. “No. The game would hardly be worth the candle: to say nothing of the official force, who are already in it to their necks, I should be required to sift through great masses of useless detritus.”
“We are in agreement, then. No reward. What other forms of assistance would prove functional?”
Holmes drew a deep breath. “I need unquestioned access to the evidence held by the City Police and the Yard, no matter what the London Chronicle is inclined to print about me.”
“I shall ensure the fact.”
“I need an increase in Whitechapel patrols and a guarantee that they will be manned by competent men.”
“I’d already anticipated that requirement. The new men were diverted from other districts yesterday. You’ve glanced into the history of the London Monster, I imagine?”
“My dear Mycroft, what a very novel idea.”
“Have you any further needs?”
Holmes looked suddenly very weary. “I need time. If that is all, Mycroft, I wish you good afternoon. I must resume my threads of inquiry.”
My friend’s elder brother heaved his considerable frame out of our chair. “Sherlock, I know very well that our respective fortes are at cross-purposes. You revel in the minutiae, and I, the macrocosm. You reason backward from the smallest details, while I predict the great events which arise from the soil of the trivial. I rely now entirely upon your own specialty; be active, Sherlock. Come to me immediately if you find yourself in need of aid.”
“You may report back to that gracious personage that I will shirk at nothing to stop this man.”
“Indeed, Sherlock, well said. And nor will I. Once you have a case, I shall see to the rest. Mend quickly; I am pleased beyond words you aren’t lying dead in a ditch somewhere.”
“My thanks. I quite share your view on that point.”
I saw Mycroft Holmes out. As he stepped from our dwelling onto the street, he turned and grasped my arm with one of his sizeable hands. “Look out for him, Doctor,” he said. “I am dismayed to see my younger brother embroiled in this wretched business, but he can leave no stone unturned. He must act, and act quickly! We all of us depend upon it.”
As his portly yet erect frame lumbered its slow way down Baker Street toward the neighbouring Dorset Street cab stand, I stood for a moment to breathe in the crisp draughts of the autumn afternoon. Mycroft’s exhortation had lifted my spirits more than any false assurances could have done. My friend possessed remarkable powers of recovery when his mind was set upon it; the same man who had lain ill with nervous prostration for over a month following an arduous case would stop at nothing whilst in the midst of one. I silently vowed that when Sherlock Holmes set himself once more in the path of Jack the Ripper, I would be there beside him.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN A Man in a Uniform
Close upon four o’clock the following afternoon Mrs. Hudson appeared at the door.
“Miss Monk is here to see you, Mr. Holmes. She’s brought a man with her as well.”
“Capital, Mrs. Hudson. Send them up!” With a display of energy that surprised me, Holmes leapt to his feet. “We progress, Watson, despite the odds. Miss Monk, how are you?”
She must have taken the stairs at a run, for we heard the slower steps of her companion still plodding upward. “I’ve brought him!” she whispered excitedly. “I’ve followed the grape trail ever since you put me onto it, and strike me dead if I haven’t found him. Took a shilling’s worth of persuading to do it, but he came round in the end.”
The man who walked through our doorway was grey and wizened with a prominent nose, deeply furrowed jowls, and an expression of permanent chagrin which we soon learned could shift toward resigned disappointment or deep disdain depending upon immediate circumstance. Just then, his watery blue eyes and obstinate chin seemed to indicate he was even more displeased than was usual.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes,” said my friend cordially, “and this is my associate, Dr. Watson.”
“I know who you are,” he snapped, “and I know what you do. What I don’t know is why I’ve been dragged across London to assure you of it.”
“This is Mr. Matthew Packer,” Miss Monk put in hastily. “He lives across town, right enough, on Berner Street as it happens. Mr. Packer’s digs have a very nice front window to ’em and he uses it to sell fruit out of. Don’t you, Mr. Packer?”
“Never said I didn’t.”
“Mr. Packer, I am very gratified to meet you,” said Sherlock Holmes enthusiastically. “Would you care to sit here, by the fire? I find the cold troubling at this time of year, and your rheumatism must render it well-nigh intolerable.”
“Never said I had rheumatism. But I don’t care how you know it, so don’t bother to tell me,” said Mr. Packer as he made his way to the basket chair.
“Dr. Watson,” said Holmes, hiding his amusement beneath a mask of perfect innocence, “have I not heard you remark that there is nothing better for rheumatism than a glass of good brandy?”
“Many times, Holmes. Might I pour you a glass, Mr. Packer?”
“You might, and then this young woman can start explaining why an old man can’t be left in peace to tend his shop of a morning.”
“You see, Mr. Holmes,” obliged Miss Monk, “there I was walking down Berner Street when I sees that Mr. Packer has a mess of fresh black grapes in his window. Then it comes to me—that poor woman what was killed near the club! She’d a stalk of grapes in her hand. The same kind you sell, Mr. Packer,” she added with a radiant smile. “Black ones, if you please.”
“I suppose you mean to say I killed her,” sneered the old scoundrel, “and you have brought me to these gentlemen for interrogation.”
“Nothing of the kind, Mr. Packer,” said Holmes sadly. “In fact, I’m afraid it’s nearly an impossibility that you may have seen anything of use.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling this young madwoman.”
“Our only hope of success would hinge upon your having seen a woman with a flower pinned to her jacket on that evening. Red, backed by white fern. But as I’ve said, the situation is quite hopeless. This Jack the Ripper seems far too clever for any of us.”
Mr. Packer’s face shifted slowly from contempt to condescension as he sipped his brandy. “You say a red flower pinned to her jacket?”
“Yes,” sighed the detective. “Futile, is it not?”
“Funny thing is, I do seem to recall having sold grapes to a woman with a red flower; the man paid for them, of course, but she was standing there the whole time.”
“Really? That is a strange coincidence. I don’t suppose you recall anything else about her face or figure?”
“She was a sad sort,” Mr. Packer replied, “fair-complected, dark curls, and dressed all in black—black skirt, black bonnet, dark bodice—with fur trim on her jacket.”
“Indeed?” Holmes replied coolly.
“She had what I might call a strong face—square-jawed, high cheekbones, if you understand me.”
“And her companion?” Holmes appeared as nonchalant as ever, but I could see he was entirely engrossed.
“He was a plain fellow—not thin, of healthy build, I suppose, average height. Simply dressed, like a clerk or a shopkeeper. And he wore no gloves. A frock coat and hat but no gloves.”
“You interest me exceedingly, Mr. Packer.” My friend’s zeal was beginning to infuse his tone. “And his face? Can you describe the fellow?”
“He had regular features, clean shaven, wearing a cloth hat. I’d seen him before, to be sure.”
At this Holmes could not help but start forward. “Oh, indeed?”
“Must live in the neighbourhood, for he seemed that familiar.”
“Can you recall where you had seen this man before?”
“Somewhere about. Could have been in a pub or a market.”
“But you have no clue as to his occupation or place of residence?”
“Said I’d seen him before. Didn’t say I knew him, did I?”
Holmes clenched his fist in frustration, but his voice remained even. “What time do you imagine you sold them the grapes, Mr. Packer?”
He shrugged. “Close to twelve, I should think.”
“And have you spoken to the police?”
“The police!” he snorted. “Why should I speak to the police, I wonder. They spoke to me right enough—knocking on my door, demanding to know what I’d seen. Well, of course I told them what I’d seen when I closed shop at twelve thirty. Nothing.”
“You failed to tell the police you had seen anything suspicious?”
“I saw nothing suspicious. What in God’s name is suspicious about folk buying a bunch of grapes?”
“Quite so. Well, Mr. Packer, is there anything further you can recall about that night or the man you saw?”
“Well, for the sake of the brandy I’ll say one more word on the matter,” Mr. Packer deigned to reply. “This gloveless fellow, then—they may not have been friends, but the woman had seen him before, sure as I had.”
“Why do you say that, Mr. Packer?” asked Sherlock Holmes.
“He’s buying the grapes when the woman says, ‘They won’t be missing you tonight, then?’ ‘Who won’t be?’ he says, irritated. ‘Oh, I see the game,’ she says. ‘Right enough, no offense meant. But you do look splendid in those clothes.’”
“She mentioned his attire specifically?”
“That she did,” Mr. Packer assented, downing what remained in his prodigious snifter. “Can’t think why, for it was nothing to speak of. Shame she seemed so taken with the bloke, if what you say is true. An hour later she was dead.”
Holmes made no reply, for his mind was elsewhere. Our guest made a studied harrumphing sound and arose. “In any event…that’s all the time I’m willing to give you gents, for I don’t see what good any of you have done so far.”
“I beg your pardon, sir!” I exclaimed.
“Five women dead and not a suspect to show for it. I don’t call that a good average, do you? Well, let me know if anything comes of it, which doesn’t seem likely. I’m off to my shop.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Packer, but I do not believe you can deny us your company just yet,” said Holmes casually.
“Is that so? And why in hell not, might I ask?”
Holmes advanced toward the elderly man and stopped at a distance of no more than two inches. My friend towered over the irascible fellow, and even pallid of complexion with one arm in a sling, his physical presence was daunting in the extreme.
“While I am grateful for your call, you may well have heard that Scotland Yard is also pursuing Jack the Ripper. And while you may not have realized you possessed valuable evidence before, I believe we have now made your position abundantly clear to you. You and I will take the cab downstairs directly to Scotland Yard, where you will tell a friend of mine named Lestrade precisely what you told me. Do not for one instant make me suspect, Mr. Packer, that you have the Ripper’s best interests at heart.”
Mr. Packer struggled in vain for a reply.
“Very well, then. Watson, my coat, if you would be so kind. Miss Monk, I have greater respect for your time than to suggest you accompany us. You have my warmest congratulations for having managed to get him here in the first place. After you, Mr. Packer.”
So began a day that proved enjoyable for us only insofar as it was inconvenient for Mr. Packer. Lestrade eagerly took his statement, then required him to visit the morgue, where he was shown the face not of Elizabeth Stride but of Catherine Eddowes. At his adamant refusal that he had ever laid eyes on her, he was shown Stride, whom he confidently proclaimed to be the girl with the grapes. Evening drew near when, as a reward for his correct identification, he was taken to see Sir Charles Warren and deliver his statement a third time, at which point we gratefully took our leave of him.
“I must say,” I remarked to Holmes in the cab, “your tip to Miss Monk bore fruit swiftly enough.”
“It narrows our search exceedingly,” drawled my friend, as he leaned his head against the side of the hansom. “Rather than exert ourselves looking for a five-foot-seven Englishman, we shall set our caps for a five-foot-seven Englishman who is ‘clean shaven,’ with ‘regular features.’”
“Then what have we gained by Packer’s account of the man?”
“Well, two features of interest present themselves.”
“The lack of gloves?”
“Excellent, Watson. The glove detail narrows the social sphere, for I do not believe the lowest denizens of Whitechapel would balk at eating with gloves on. And the other feature?”
“That Packer recognized him from the neighbourhood?”
“My dear chap, surely we have not so soon forgotten that this man’s intimate knowledge of Whitechapel hints at his having been there before.”
“The odd remark about his clothing, then, if Packer heard aright?”
“Watson, you really do improve all the time. Yes, that remark interests me exceedingly. The fellow seemed to think that by wearing the apparel of any innocuous Britisher, he would be less recognizable.”
“I cannot imagine why.”
“Can you not?” he smiled. “You surprise me, my boy. Let us take you as an example. Now, I could, if pressed, deliver a very detailed description of you indeed. However, if you were a stranger to me and I had not made it part of my vocation to recognize traits of human physiognomy, I might describe you as having ‘regular features,’ for what does the term mean if not symmetrical and evenly spaced?”
“I fail to see what I have to do with Stride’s recognition of the man who would be the death of her.”
Holmes laughed suddenly. “Very well—your friends in London, they are astute enough to recognize you when they see you. If you were dressed to the nines as a common seaman, would they still recognize you?”
“I imagine so.”
“Do you? Dressed as you are now, if you were suddenly transported to India, would your acquaintances there know you?”
“Some would. Possibly some would not,” I granted.
“My appearance has changed significantly. And I was always in uniform.”
“And there I rest my case,” said Holmes with his habitual far-off expression. “If your colleagues might not know you in a crowd when out of uniform, why should a stranger be expected to do so? There are people in this world with an eye for faces, and Elizabeth Stride was one of them. While most would not have recognized an unexceptional face without its context, she did so. Sadly, she would not live to tell of it.”
“You are right, Holmes,” I reflected, my friend’s idea now perfectly clear to me. “The garb of a civilian would significantly alter a man’s appearance if he were perpetually in uniform.”
“I am currently devoting all my resources to locating this Johnny Blackstone,” Holmes replied. “Whenever we do so, it will be not a moment too soon.”
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Trophies
The morning of October sixth dawned misty and chill, with tendrils of fog making concerted, sinuous efforts to penetrate chimneys and windowsills. It must have been nearing eight o’clock when a brief knock at my door presaged the appearance of Sherlock Holmes with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“What is it, old man?”
“Elizabeth Stride is to be buried today,” said he. “I wondered if you might wish to accompany me to the East London Cemetery, for I gather she’ll be interred there.”
“I can be ready in ten minutes.”
“Good. The cab will be here at half past the hour.”
I finished dressing quickly and after a brief repast mounted a four-wheeler with Holmes. “What do you expect to happen?” I inquired.
“I haven’t the slightest notion, my dear Watson, which I might add is why we are going.”
“But you suspect something?”
“Look—there is the new vegetarian restaurant on the corner of Marylebone Road. I have heard it said that the spread of such establishments is due in large part to the influence of our Indian colonies, but the practice has a long British history as well. Sir Isaac Newton harboured an absolute horror of black pudding.”
I stifled my curiosity, for nothing on earth would induce Sherlock Holmes to proffer information against his will. We huddled into our overcoats, Holmes deep in his own thoughts and I cursing the thin walls of cabs, which were never adequate proof against the weather. As I watched the streets fade into one another, the damp frost soon set my leg to aching.
An iron fence separated the East London Cemetery from the road, and beyond the gate an expanse of grass edged with alder, field maple, and young wych elm trees shimmered in the mist. The fog hung in the air like a spectral presence, and I drew my muffler tighter about my throat.
“Holmes, where is the chapel?”
“There is none. This cemetery is hardly more than fifteen years old. It was built by professionals of the district to provide a resting place for locals. One of the overlooked consequences of a city doubling in size to four million in fifty years’ time, Watson—what to do with the dead?”
A group of ten or so men and women waited near a low shack, clustered around a cart holding a long bundle wrapped in torn burlap. A police constable stood a few yards away observing the Dr. Moore Agar proceedings.
“Good morning, Officer,” Holmes greeted him. “What brings you here?”
“Good morning, sir. Inspector Lestrade thought it best that there be a representative of the force at the victims’ ceremonies, sir.”
“Very thorough of him too.”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, though whether it’s to keep the peace or simply be visible to the public I can’t say.”
Holmes laughed. “I suppose even the appearance of work is of some use to the Yard.”
“Well, I didn’t say that, sir,” the constable replied judiciously, adjusting his collar. “But there are expectations of us, if you take my meaning.”
“Assuredly. The chaplain has arrived. Shall we join the procession?”
An employee of the parish, with the white collar of a clergyman just discernible beneath his overcoat, came puffing up the path toward the cart, slick-faced and scowling darkly. We followed the body at some little distance, far enough to avoid comment but close enough that I could catch some of the mutterings of the other mourners. I doubted not that Holmes, with his keener senses, heard still more.
“Not much of a showing, eh?” said a blond fellow who even from yards away smelled sharply of fish.
“You know well enough Liz had no kin,” replied a young female in a black straw hat and shawl.
“Never had much of anything. She always was unlucky.”
“At least she weren’t slit up like the other girl. I call that lucky enough.”
“If I could take my mind off who’ll it be next for half a moment, I might sleep again,” came a gentler voice, heavy with tears. “A rat jumped out of an alley last night and set me screaming.”
“Not I. You won’t catch me in a dark corner with the Knife on the loose.”
“Aye, true enough for today, but tomorrow you’ll be wanting a drop of gin, and then where’ll I find you?”
“Back of White’s Row with her skirts over her head.”
“Leave off Molly, Michael.”
“He’s right enough. Molly no more than any of us can keep off the streets for long.”
We arrived at an area which more closely resembled the efforts of enormous moles than of any gravediggers. Much of the earth was overturned, the freshest of it piled next to a hole in the ground six feet long and six feet deep. I could see no monuments of any kind, and the scene reminded me piteously of the hasty burials I had witnessed all too often in the war.
“This is it, then, Hawkes?” asked the chaplain.
“Here she’ll stay,” growled the undertaker. “Number one-five-five-oh-nine.”
The chaplain lost no time in beginning a rapid recitation of the prayer for the dead while Hawkes and one of the male attendants lifted the shrouded body from the cart and dropped it in the grave.
“Elizabeth Stride was penniless,” my friend remarked quietly, “and the cost of her burial thus deferred to the parish. Still, it is heartless to think that a fellow creature who had already suffered so cruelly should end like this.”
Shortly thereafter the mourners, such as they were, began to disperse. Soon the only one remaining was a rust-haired, dark-eyed man of middle age, who had all along appeared more enraged than grieved by the proceedings. At length he picked up a stone and hurled it in the direction of Hawkes the undertaker, crying out, “That woman was like a queen to me, and here you’re shoveling dirt as if she weren’t of no more consequence than a dead dog to throw in the river!”
“Move along, you,” Hawkes barked in return. “I’m doing my duty, for I’m paid for naught else. Bury her yourself if you’ve a mind to.”
Passing the three of us, the wild-eyed fellow caught sight of the constable’s rounded helmet and striped armlet* and slowed ominously, cursing under his breath, “If I’d been a bluebottle patrolling the Chapel that night, I’d lose no time killing myself for the shame.”
“You’d best shove off, mister,” answered the officer. “We all of us do what we can.”
“Take a knife to your own worthless throat, and lose no time about it!”
“I’ll have you for public drunkenness, if you insist.”
“Better still, find him as killed Liz or you can go to the devil,” the man sneered.
“And who might you be, sir?” queried Sherlock Holmes.
“Michael Kidney,” said he, drawing himself up with an effort, for balance seemed to be largely eluding him. “I was her man, and I mean to find her killer while you pigs sniff about in the mud.”
“Ah, he of the padlock,” Holmes commented. “Tell me, did she come to love you after you imprisoned her, or before?”
“You sly devil!” Kidney snarled. “It was only when she drank she ever thought to leave me. Who are you, then, and how do you come to know aught of it?”
“My name is Sherlock Holmes.”
“Oh, Sherlock Holmes, are you?” This information incensed Kidney all the more. “From what I hear of you, you’re as likely as anyone to be the Ripper yourself.”
“So I have been given to understand.”
“What in blazes do you think you’re doing at her funeral, then?”
“Nothing which need trouble you. Take my advice, Kidney, and keep out of it.”
“Come to see what you’ve accomplished, have you?” he screamed. “Gloating over her funeral, before God and all who loved her!”
Kidney, disheveled and frantic, swung a fist at Holmes, but the blow was easily avoided by my friend, who sidestepped deftly. I dived to restrain Kidney’s arms, and the officer stepped in close with his truncheon under the ruffian’s nose.
“If you make so much as another sound,” he said, “I will see to it your own mother won’t recognize you. Now come with us, and remember—one more word gives me license to do as I please with you.”
Between us we dragged the struggling brute down to the street, where good fortune blessed us with a second constable patrolling his beat. I left Kidney in their capable hands and returned to where Holmes remained on the grass, adjusting his sling thoughtfully, rotating his arm in tiny circles.
“That constable appears to have a temper,” I remarked.
“No more than Kidney,” Holmes returned wryly. “I am grateful that he made no serious effort to fight me. He would have gotten hurt.”
“You are a formidable match even when injured, and I am very pleased to point out that you are looking less injured every hour. But Holmes, I must know—did you find what you expected?”
“I suppose dragging you out in this wretched damp demands some degree of explanation,” he conceded as we walked back to the open road. “Strange as it may sound, I had the same idea as Michael Kidney. These murders—their glory in excess, their delight in the press—have been conducted in the most public manner conceivable. And what could possibly be more public than the victim’s funeral?”
“Surely the Ripper would be very obtuse to show himself.”
“I did not imagine that he would, but there is a streak of vanity about his correspondence which had invested me with hope. He is growing ever more sure of himself and will soon enough bluff his way into a corner,” my friend predicted. “I only hope he will do so before anyone else is killed.”
The following Monday, I returned from a game of billiards at my club to a curious spectacle in our sitting room: Holmes was stretched out upon the settee, feet propped on its arm and head supported by pillows, with the neck of his violin wedged into the cloth of his sling and his left hand scraping the eerie, vagrant chords which I associated with his most melancholic levels of meditation. I made for my bedroom, for his more abstract musical efforts were keenly disquieting to my nerves and I did not relish hearing them played left-handed, but he stopped me with a question.
“And how is your friend Thurston?”
I turned to regard Holmes with an expression of utter bewilderment. “How did you know I was with Thurston?”
He set his violin on the side table and sat up. “You are returning from your club. You declared in some distress eight months ago that you did not intend to play billiards at your club anymore because your opponents were no match for your prowess. You and I have only played once, but I found you to be a daunting challenger indeed. A month later, you returned from your club only to confess that you had been bested at billiards by a new member named Thurston. Since that happy occurrence, you have neither given up billiards nor bemoaned your proficiency.”
“But how did you know I was playing billiards?”
“You lunched at home, and there was no rugby match yesterday to discuss with your fellow sportsmen.”
“Am I so transparent?”
“Only to the trained observer.”
“You have been devoting the afternoon to music, I see.”
“So it may appear, but in fact I attended Catherine Eddowes’s funeral. It was a study in opposites, my dear fellow; there were close to five hundred people in attendance if my calculations were correct. Polished elm coffin, open glass conveyance, mourners lining the streets—immigrant, native, rich, poor, East-enders, West-enders, both the City and the Metropolitan police forces, and one independent consulting detective. You see what a little money can get you.”
I had hardly begun to reply when a brusque knock at the door interrupted me and Mrs. Hudson entered with a small package.
“This was left for you downstairs by the last post, Mr. Holmes. I thought to bring it up with your tea, but the cat won’t leave off the thing, as it’s been smeared with Lord only knows what.”
Holmes, with all the galvanized energy of a hound on the scent, leapt to his feet and hurried to his chemical table, where a powerful lamp provided better light for study. He had regained most of the strength in his right appendage and could make use of the hand while keeping the arm motionless. Slitting the paper with a jackknife, he commenced to peruse the wooden box itself with his lens. Uttering a few murmured exclamations of satisfaction, and twice removing with tweezers small indications and placing them carefully on a piece of blotting paper, he worked until I was beside myself with curiosity over what the box actually contained.
At long last, he cautiously lifted the lid. Revealing only straw, he grasped a slender letter opener and with it disturbed the hay until he finally revealed a glint of silver.
Holmes frowned, covered his hand with a cloth, and reaching in, pulled out a small cigarette case. Turning it over under the light, he looked for traces on the surface of the metal, but the case appeared to be brand new. He tossed it on the table and drew out a short note, which read:
Sorry you’ve lost your case I didn’t have time to monnogram this one but you could always have it done of corse if you wish it. I have a deal of work to do sharpening knifes (they have been so much used of late) but never to busy to wish you and your frend the Doctor my compliments. Back to it then, I hope you don’t think I’ve finished, for there’s much work still to be done.
PS—Had no time to clean my knife between you and the last girl what a jolly red mix that was.
I stared in disbelief. “You lost your cigarette case when you encountered the killer! I distinctly remember your asking for mine.”
He did not answer.
“My dear Holmes, this is nonsensical. Why should he return you a cigarette case which is not your own?”
“Page torn from a notebook, standard pocket size, black ink, and with any luck…” He fetched a piece of graphite and ran it lightly over the surface of the note. He gave a cry of delight when a pattern revealed itself.
“What have you found?”
He passed me the scrap of notepaper with evident satisfaction and I squinted at the writing he had revealed:
“Holmes, what could this possibly mean?”
“It is an impression from the previous page. I confess I make nothing of it at the moment, but that surely does not mean it is beyond human imagining. No finger marks on either the paper or the case, which is very odd indeed and means he either wore gloves from its moment of purchase or else wiped it carefully. He is a collector of trophies, fair-haired, meticulous, and I doubt not that there is a stable very close to where he lives, for this hay has recently been in the immediate vicinity of a horse. He was in attendance at Catherine Eddowes’s interment today. And when he packed this box,” Holmes concluded triumphantly, “he was smoking a cigarette. The ash has fallen in the hay.” Scraping a flake of fluffy white ash onto another piece of blotting paper with the jackknife, the detective held up his lens.
“I can see the hair follicle you discovered between the paper and the box, and the postmark no doubt revealed he was in the vicinity of the funeral. What of the ash? Will it help us to trace him?”
My friend dropped his lens in deepest disdain, crushed the paper in his fist, and drew a very deep, very slow breath before replying, “Afraid not, my boy.”
“But why not?” I inquired hesitantly.
“Because he was smoking my cigarettes.”
I could think of no reply to this repulsive piece of information and thus attempted none.
“As for the trophies,” Holmes continued more evenly, lifting a glass test tube from its holder and switching on his blue-flamed burner, “he has amassed, so far as we know, a womb and a kidney. And now my cigarette case is certainly in his possession, for how else would he know it was monogrammed?”
“Holmes, what are you doing?”
My friend fixed me with a sly glance as he set a container of water on the burner and drew a vial of snow white crystals out of a small leather case. Reaching for the soiled paper and cutting the dark stain free of the rest, he tossed it into the steaming water. “What do you imagine this stain to be, Watson? Ink? Mud? Dye?”
“I hardly like to think of what it—oh, but Holmes—of course!” I cried, as he drew drops of various liquids from their jars and carefully combined them in a test tube. “How could I forget? At the very moment I met you, you were quite incoherent over your discovery.”
“That is because the Sherlock Holmes test for hemoglobin represented an incalculable breakthrough in criminal science, and may I add it took me nearly four months to perfect,” he returned airily.* He unstopped the vial and shook a few pale crystals into the water in which the dark paper was beginning to break down, switching off the burner as he did so. “It was an historic day, friend Watson, in more ways than one, in celebration of which I invite you to do the honours.”
I took the clear liquid he had prepared and hesitantly tipped a few drops into the water. Before our very eyes, it turned from transparent to a menacing maroon.
“Blood it is,” he said evenly. “I thought as much. Well, share and share alike. I’m off to the Yard. It would be pretty miserly of me to keep this to myself after all Lestrade’s tribulations on our behalf. Do me the favour, my dear fellow, of waiting up for me? It is just remotely possible that I may require a friend to post bail.”
CHAPTER NINETEEN What Stephen Dunlevy Had to Tell
Sherlock Holmes was not detained at the Yard, although he remarked that night that more than one officer of the law had eyed him in barely suppressed suspicion. “The joke of it is,” he mused, “that if I were indeed engaged in any sort of nefarious activity, there’s not a man among them who’d work it out. I am under no delusions regarding my chances of success should I ever shrug off the constraints of civilization, my dear fellow. I fear I would prove entirely unstoppable.”
My notes indicate that the eleventh of October saw the completion of the inquest into the murder of Catherine Eddowes, which I attended in hopes of extracting any relevant medical knowledge which may have come to light. However, apart from assuring the coroner that removing a kidney required at least a rudimentary anatomical education, and that such a kidney could have no value whatever on the open market, little was said about the Ripper’s second “trophy.” The verdict returned, as all the others had been, was that of “willful murder against some person or persons unknown.”
I returned to Baker Street in the evening disheartened by the proceedings and was donning my slippers when I heard the violent ringing of our front door bell. Hastening to the bow window, I drew the curtain and peered down, but our caller had either disappeared or already entered. I had just turned back toward the sitting room door when Miss Monk flew through it and slammed it shut behind her.
“Where is he, then?” she demanded furiously.
“Holmes? I could not say. My dear Miss Monk, whatever is the matter?”
“If he’s played me the crooked cross, he’ll answer for it! He’ll not charm himself out of it either, the slang cove. I’ll do him down, mark my words. I’ll not spy for him and be kept in the dark, not for a pound a week, not for a pound a day, nor yet a pound a minute!”
“Miss Monk, I beg of you, sit down and tell me in plain English what has happened.”
“I am being followed!” she cried.
“Good heavens! Have you any idea by whom?”
The door opened and Holmes entered, a brooding look upon his face, which cleared to pleased surprise upon seeing our guest.
“By Stephen Dunlevy!” she nearly screamed.
“You were followed,” said Holmes.
“Christ,” she snarled, “I thought as much. You can go straight to the devil, the pair of you.” She attempted to shove past him through the door, but he took a quick step back and forced it closed while deftly pulling a scrap of paper from one of Miss Monk’s pockets.
“This is an underground ticket from the Metropolitan District Railway. You have never once used the underground in your visits to Baker Street. Cabs are highly visible conveyances, particularly in Whitechapel; therefore, you wished to appear less conspicuous and to lose yourself in a crowd. Why would you take such a step if you were not being followed?”
She opened her mouth to reply, but Holmes stepped around her and strode to the window. “Were you successful?”
She closed her mouth and nodded.
“Tell me from the beginning. When did you realize you had been followed?”
Miss Monk walked numbly to a chair and collapsed into it. “I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes,” she whispered. “I didn’t know what to think.” To my great shock, her eyes filled with tears and she emitted an overwrought sigh before burying her face in her hands.
“My dear young lady,” Holmes exclaimed, placing a hand on her shoulder, “I had not the slightest idea you were so distressed.”
She looked up a moment later and dashed the water from her cheeks with a scowl. “The sooner you tell me what it all means, the better.”
“You mentioned Stephen Dunlevy as I entered. Was it he who followed you?”
Miss Monk nodded. “I saw as it was growing late and I left the cottage to buy some tea and see what had become of a few of the girls I’d used to pal around with.”
“I’ve taken lodgings in Great Garden Street, Mr. Holmes, and I’d thought to look in on a girl what lives over Mount Street way. The evening was clear enough and I was in no hurry, so I thought I’d head t’other direction first off and redeem a book I’d pawned when I’d nary two ha’pence to rub together. I walks down Old Montague Street toward the pawnshop, but before I’ve passed two streets, I realize I’d clean forgot the ticket and turn around.
“There’s a chap passes me on the street dressed all in rags, hat pulled down close and a muffler over his face, and over the top of the muffler you can just see two eyes looking out from a great tract of dirt. He was walking the way I’d been before I remembered my ticket. I don’t think twice of him but leg it quick to the lodging house and find the ticket in a tobacco pouch I’d stuffed under a floorboard.
“Now I’m off again down Old Montague Street to the jerryshop, and I picks up the book, and I’m back outside quick as anything. The dirty muffled chap’s still there, but people’s always thick as fleas in the Chapel, and I turns back toward the hospital without thinking much of it.
“I’d got a few more paces along when I’d a queer feeling that the dirty fellow hadn’t just been there begging, or waiting, or standing, or sleeping, or anything he’s a perfect right to do. I might have left off stewing over it if there hadn’t been something familiar about the blighter, but I makes up my mind to duck into a doorframe when I’m a bit further ahead. For by now I’m walking back, and as I’ve passed my own street going the opposite way, if he’s still behind me, I’ll know he’s on my tail.
“I sees a likely deep entrance, there’s a pack of the Salvation Army behind me, and I cuts away into the shade of the door. Soon enough the muffled chap passes, but he’s looking around like he’s lost sight of summat, and when he turns his head just as he passes me, I see that it’s Dunlevy, sure as I’m sitting here.
“Lor’, but it gave me a turn, Mr. Holmes. If I hadn’t turned back, I might never have seen him, and who knows but that he’s been following me ever since I’ve met him? It ain’t right for a cove you’ve been following to follow you that way. I dived out of that doorway with my heart pounding in my ears and the chiv you gave me in my hand, and I cut across Great Garden Street to Whitechapel Road, and I didn’t stop running till I’d reached that great mob riot of a station across from the hospital.”
My friend pulled a telegraph form out of a drawer. “Miss Monk, does Stephen Dunlevy know where you reside?”
“He’s seen me go in often enough.”
“Has he ever caught sight of you tailing him, to your knowledge?”
“I’d have sworn he hadn’t this morning, but I’d sound a proper flat, saying such a thing now.”
“Miss Monk, I give you my word that I never expected Dunlevy to do anything so precipitate as to dog your movements, but I admit that I have long suspected him of being more than meets the eye.”
“Well, that’s clear enough!” I scowled. “What business would a common soldier have trailing Miss Monk?”
“He’s no soldier,” said Holmes and Miss Monk, very nearly at the same time.
“What?” I cried. My companions eyed each other warily.
“Well, one or the other of you is going to have to make clear to me why he is not a soldier,” I declared in exasperation.
The replies, “His stride” and “His pocket handkerchief,” once more vied for my attention.
Holmes cleared his throat. “Every serviceman who’s been in more than a fortnight’s time carries his pocket handkerchief in his sleeve, not in his coat pocket,” he explained. “You do so yourself, my dear fellow. You were saying, Miss Monk?”
“Oh, I—that is to say, I noticed where he kept his billy when you asked after it, Mr. Holmes—but in any case soldiers don’t walk that way. Least none I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not even orderlies.”
“Very well, then,” I said testily. “Leaving aside what Stephen Dunlevy is not, may I inquire what he, in fact, is?”
“You will both know as much as I do tomorrow,” Holmes stated firmly. “This telegram will settle the matter for good or ill. I am happy to say that few shadows remain to confound us, but if you would both agree to meet here at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon, all will be made clear to you then. Miss Monk, have you any objection to continuing your use of the underground just for the day?”
“I may have a pound a week, but I’m not such a lady as all that.”
“And would it trouble you to sleep away from your rooms tonight? I’ve an address where you will be well looked after.” Holmes handed her a card. “It is entirely a matter of precaution, but I would prefer if you weren’t left to fend for yourself. My friend has an amiable housekeeper and an extra room.”
“‘Mr. George Lusk, One Tollet Street, Alderney Road…,’” she read. “It’s all one to me. Nearly everything I need’s in my pockets. But what happens tomorrow?”
Holmes smiled as he led her to the door. “I look forward to tomorrow with the greatest interest. In the meanwhile, Miss Monk, you’ll be in safe hands. I’m terribly sorry you were startled, but I’ve the greatest respect for your fortitude throughout this inquiry, you must know.”
Miss Monk flushed slightly pink at his words. “If I’m to suffer no more than a few trips on the underground, it’s worth my time. Until tomorrow, then, gents. I suppose this Mr. Lusk will be surprised to see me? Well, no matter. I’ll make him used to the idea soon enough.”
The following afternoon at half past two, I sat alone smoking a cigar with an issue of the Lancet on my knee, attempting with negligible success to follow the thread of reasoning in an article concerning parasitic ailments. At ten to the hour, I stoked the fire and peered out the bow window for signs of life. Finally I heard Holmes’s catlike tread upon the stairs, and my friend entered, laughing silently to himself.
“It is quite too perfect,” said he. “I could never have imagined it falling into place so—mind you, I’d no notion he was dogging her before yesterday, but it plays into our hand beautifully. Halloa—there’s the bell! Miss Monk has arrived.”
Miss Monk appeared in far better spirits than she had the day before. She greeted us cheerfully and, catching sight of her hair in the reflection of the sideboard, feigned a scowl and attempted to wrest it into submission.
“Them small ones Mr. Lusk is left with are a sight too much for one girl to take on,” she remarked contentedly, pulling a pin out of one of her pockets. “Though the older four don’t plague you half as much as the younger three. I’ve been a princess, a maharaja’s slave girl, a genie, and a pack horse since I arrived last night, so if I can stay awake long enough to—” She interrupted herself at the ringing of the downstairs bell.
“Miss Monk, if you would take the basket chair,” Holmes suggested. “Dr. Watson, in your usual place, and we’ll leave the whole expanse of the sofa for our guest’s comfort.”
I do not know what I had expected when the door swung open, but the tall, fair, broad-shouldered young fellow, dressed in quiet check trousers and a coat of dark grey, appeared in the worst state of contained agitation. His pleasant features, clean shaven save for an upturned moustache, were marred by a terrible apprehension. In the gleaming light of afternoon, for an instant I was unable to place him, but in a flash I recognized the young man Miss Monk had met for drinks at the Queen’s Head on that night of abominable memory.
“Mr. Stephen Dunlevy, I presume,” the detective declared. “My name is Sherlock Holmes, although I flatter myself you are already aware of it. Dr. Watson you will likewise recall, and I know you have had the pleasure of Miss Monk’s company on numerous occasions.”
Stephen Dunlevy, who had appeared not in the least surprised to see Sherlock Holmes awaiting him, gave an unabashed cry of relief at the sight of Miss Monk, whose expressive brows were aloft in surprise.
“What ho, Dunlevy,” she said at length. “You’ve had a wash since last I saw you, at any rate.”
Our guest appeared deeply taken aback by this remark, but Holmes, as ever, was in control of the room.
“Pray sit down, Mr. Dunlevy,” my friend requested. “I am pleased to say your presence here confirms the opinion I had formed of you. Perhaps you would be so good as to answer any little questions we may care to pose.”
“Certainly, sir. Since your summons, I hardly know what has happened.”
Sherlock Holmes smiled enigmatically. “I fancy I can describe the chain of events to you. There are, of course, one or two trifling details I require you to supply.”
“I am at your service, so glad am I to see Miss Monk here at Baker Street.”
Miss Monk and I exchanged puzzled looks at this, but Holmes continued unperturbed.
“I am glad to hear it. At the outset I was unsure whether you were a City plainclothesman or a private detective, but I am now pleased to introduce you to Miss Monk and Dr. Watson as one Stephen Dunlevy, journalist at the Star, that seething hotbed of liberal disaffection.”
I drew a sharp breath in surprise. “A journalist! Then what of this tale of the lost cohort and the murdered girl?”
“Ah, there’s the crux of the matter,” said Holmes, lighting a cigarette complacently. “I shall begin at the beginning, and just interrupt me if there are any points which are not clear.
“Stephen Dunlevy, for he has been using his real name, earns his bread and cheese by writing those incendiary social articles that my brother recently had reason to bemoan in these very rooms. There is a living to be made by exposing the shambles of British civilization known as Whitechapel, and for the more audacious members of the press, it is not unheard of to investigate in disguise if a better story is to be gained.
“The day before Martha Tabram’s murder was a Bank Holiday, and an already tumultuous metropolis was thus flooded with the idle, the curious, and the hedonistic. The promise of street markets and fireworks rendered the day a special one for the working classes, and any keen journalist would have been wise to attend. You, Mr. Dunlevy, rented the attire of a grenadier private for a few shillings, hid a notebook somewhere on your person, and sallied forth in hopes of garnering a compelling story.
“As they are a sociable set and inclusive of their own, it was not long before you fell in with a group of soldiers recently granted leave. Their failure to see through your ruse can be explained only by your being very cautious or their being very drunk, and I believe a combination of both factors enabled you to succeed. Together you stumbled from public house to public house, and as the evening drew on, you found yourself nearly as intoxicated and venturous as they.
“By all accounts, the most gregarious fellow of the regiment was one Sergeant Johnny Blackstone, known to all his fellows as a good sort when on duty but an absolute hellion when drunk. Not knowing anything of his character, you continued in his company long after his closer comrades thought it best to quit him, for he was notorious for starting brawls at the slightest provocation.
“At the Two Brewers public house, you made the acquaintance of Martha Tabram and an associate of hers, Pearly Poll. Pearly Poll has disappeared into the netherworld of London, but Martha Tabram has the distinction of having been the first woman Johnny Blackstone ever killed in a violent rage. Or at least, the first we know of. I’ve a good approximation of what led up to his bloody deed, but perhaps you could provide more precise, firsthand information.”
Stephen Dunlevy had grown more and more agitated during this narrative. At Holmes’s suggestion, he mopped his brow with his pocket handkerchief and nodded resolutely. “You astonish me, Mr. Holmes, for everything you’ve said is perfectly true. Knowing what you do already, I can hardly fail to oblige you; by the time we arrived at the Two Brewers, we were both in the drink, and we fell to chatting with a few of the girls. Blackstone was everything you’ve said—a very dashing, dark-haired fellow, who’d fought at Tel-el-Kebir in ’eighty-two with the Coldstream Guards. He was near to thirty, so far as I could tell, and very popular with all around him.
“I saw past the fog in my head that we’d stayed too long when a brawl broke out at the next table and Blackstone smashed a bottle against a man’s hand. We left the pub in a disgraceful state, at perhaps ten minutes to two, walking down the road with the girls for a short distance. Blackstone soon enough excused himself so he could duck into a dark crevice with Martha, and I made as if to do the same, but I’d recovered a fraction of my senses by then and sent Miss Poll on her way with a shilling for her trouble. I thought to stake out the entrance of the alley and wait for Blackstone to reappear.
“Five minutes passed, then ten. I returned to the pub to see if he’d changed his mind as I had, for the men we’d fought had gone, but as there was no sign of him, I retraced my steps. It must have been a quarter after two o’clock when a police constable coming out of the dark alleyway nearly walked right into me. I was so startled, I couldn’t think of a thing to do but maintain my charade, knowing that any admission I was not a soldier would lead to awkward questioning. I said my friend, a fellow guardsman, had gone off with a girl and that I was awaiting their return. The constable said he’d keep an eye out for any other soldiers and told me to be on my way.”
“And you took his advice, I believe. It was not until the next day, as you nursed your head and perused the papers, that you learned a woman had been stabbed thirty-nine times.”
Stephen Dunlevy nodded gravely, darting an occasional glance at Miss Monk. “It was as you say, Mr. Holmes.”
“Now we come to the more raveled thread. You determined that, no matter how important your evidence might prove to the Yard, not only were you uncertain about the role Blackstone may have played in Tabram’s death, but your own masquerade put you in such a false position as to make it impossible to consult the police. Not a very manly decision, Mr. Dunlevy, if I may say so.”
“I have these two months been working to redress my mistake,” cried Dunlevy.
“Indeed you have, for when Polly Nichols was killed nearby in a similarly violent manner, you took it upon yourself to discover Blackstone’s whereabouts.”
“He returned to the company barracks the night Tabram was killed—early in August, the seventh, I believe. But he complained of a number of ailments, behaving most irrationally, and soon fell into a low fever. He was relieved of his duties within the week and found himself free of all obligation.”
“And you very astutely decided that he may well have had something to do with the second murder, so you mounted your own investigation. By doing so, you could not only appease your conscience but further your career, for if you managed to discover Jack the Ripper, you would have made a journalistic coup never before equaled.
“It took time to contact Blackstone’s regiment. It took time to locate his friends. Indeed, you went so far as to seek out Pearly Poll to determine if she had any prior acquaintance with Blackstone. This inquiry took you to Lambeth Workhouse, Miss Poll’s occasional address, and there, through a very odd twist of fate, you observed us with Miss Monk. I must deduce that you recognized me and questioned why I was shaking hands with this young lady on the workhouse steps, for I can supply no other reason for your approaching her in a public house with a tale of murder most foul.”
“Mother of God!” exclaimed Miss Monk.
“I did recognize her,” Dunlevy conceded, flushing with colour, “and I had heard of your practice of employing…East-end associates, Mr. Holmes. Dr. Watson has written of such things. I freely admit I hoped she was an ally of yours and that I might learn something from her. But I wasn’t certain of your collaboration until after I realized she’d taken the extraordinary measure of stealing my wallet and then returning it.”
“You never did!” she gasped.
“It is no reflection on you, Miss Monk; it was expertly done. I always make certain I’ve my valuables about me when I leave a pub. I was about to demand its return when you very kindly replaced it.”
“And is that when you took to tailing me?”
“No, no!” he protested. “It was only after the night of the double murder! There you all were, in the thick of it—I thought you must have known something I did not. It was a far simpler proposition, Miss Monk, for me to follow you through the throngs of Whitechapel than to tail Mr. Holmes in the West-end. And when I learned that your only habitual destination was Baker Street, I stopped altogether, unless—that is to say, excepting certain circumstances.”
“When you’d read all the papers, or when you’d naught to do after tea,” she fumed.
“In any event,” Holmes continued, “Miss Monk was adroit enough to discern your pursuit yesterday, and I wrote you a telegram that I fancied would assure your presence here this afternoon.”
“And the contents of the telegram?” I prompted.
Stephen Dunlevy pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me with a wry countenance.
“‘Miss Monk has disappeared under dark circumstances; meet me at Baker Street at precisely three p.m.—Sherlock Holmes,’” I read aloud.
The lady in question stared in disbelief, at a total loss for words for the first time since I had known her.
“I am sure you will forgive me for having played a small trick on you. Your concern for Miss Monk’s well-being does you credit, Mr. Dunlevy, for all your shortcomings,” Holmes said, swinging his calculating gaze back to Dunlevy. “However, I must be satisfied on one point. You have been in correspondence with your employer throughout your stay in the East-end. Did you inform any members of the press of my own movements?”
“You refer to the article by that dreadful bounder Tavistock. I did mention your involvement to several colleagues, to my lasting regret,” Dunlevy owned with a pained expression, “but only insofar as to say your genius had anticipated the fiend’s attack.”
“And to my lasting regret, your assumption was utterly vacuous,” Holmes retorted coldly.
“Holmes, he could not possibly have—”
“Of course not, Watson. Mr. Dunlevy, excuse me for saying that I asked you here to determine whether you intend to be a help or a hindrance to this investigation henceforth.”
“I am your man, Mr. Holmes,” Dunlevy declared earnestly. “I fear my only real discovery was of his original lodgings, but immediately following the night in question, he abandoned them entirely. I should be overjoyed to offer you any assistance it is within my power to provide.”
“Splendid! Then I bid you good afternoon,” my friend said curtly, throwing open the door. “You may expect to hear from me within the week.”
Mr. Dunlevy shook my hand and bowed to Miss Monk. “I heartily apologize for the deception I’ve practiced,” he said, turning to Holmes. “I will think more carefully before engaging again in any undercover work. Good day to you all.”
When the door had shut, I ventured, “I do hope you intend to tell us how you worked it out, my dear fellow, for the sake of our mental health if nothing more.”
Holmes was tossing newspapers about to make room for other newspapers he prized more highly. “It is a simple enough chain, once one observes the incongruities. As I have said before, why should an army friend only mount a search a month after a traumatic event has passed? And why should a confidant take two months’ time merely to pinpoint his comrade’s lodgings on the night in question? On the other hand, why should a man harp upon the least sensational murder in a series of such crimes unless he truly was involved somehow? The rest was mere painstaking research. He had no acquaintance at Lambeth Workhouse, yet he questioned its inmates; he had no acquaintance with me, and yet he approached Miss Monk with a scintillating account of Tabram’s death. However, nothing proved so fruitful as my habitual scouring of the papers. I draw your attention to the Star, morning edition of September fifth, and again the fifth of October: they are pasted in my commonplace book, there on the desk.”
The volume lay open, weighted with a box of hair-trigger cartridges. I rose and examined the articles in question. “‘The City of Night; A Continuing Journal of the East End,’” I read. “‘By S. Leudvyn.’”
“A most informative diary of an undercover reporter. I’ve unearthed several others. The anagram was simple enough, but I consulted the offices to be sure I had my man.”
“You are certain that journalism was his only consideration?”
My friend dropped the editions he had gathered with an angry flourish. “I grow weary of the accusation that I have arranged a series of rendezvous between Miss Monk and London’s vilest criminal dregs, Doctor,” he exclaimed severely. “I can assure you that—”
“Begging both your pardons, but I slept poor enough with one little one’s hand in my hair and another’s foot in my gut. It were a right well-populated guest room, and I’m clean done. Oh, no,” Miss Monk assured us, rapidly making her way to the door, “the bed was intended for one, but the natives are that clever. I’m off home. I’ll see you at the usual time, gents. Keep to it, Mr. Holmes.”
When the door had shut, I turned back to my friend. “My dear chap, if I implied you held Miss Monk’s safety lightly, please believe that I am sorry for it,” said I.
Though my apology fell upon stony ground, I determined to carry on in spite of the rigidly set shoulders and deliberate complacency of London’s finest sleuth. “Is it not odd that Blackstone, if he is a cunning murderer, should enact a crime while still in Dunlevy’s company?”
“Hardly odd when one considers that Dunlevy had been plied with drinks the entire evening, perhaps purposefully, then packed off into the loving arms of Miss Pearly Poll. Blackstone would have imagined him entirely out of the way.”
“I see,” I acknowledged. “He did not know Dunlevy is a journalist, after all. Yes, that is very plausible. But Holmes—”
“What is it, Watson?” he demanded, snapping shut the edition he held.
“Dunlevy said he only continues to tail Miss Monk during special circumstances.”
“Of course he does.” Holmes pulled out a notebook and began to jot down cross-references. “He no longer tails her on the usual days, when she hails a cab and makes for Baker Street. He only tails her when she wanders, on foot and unescorted, through the labyrinthine darkness of Whitechapel.” My friend cocked an ironic eye at me and added, “Why he would do such a thing I leave to your unparalleled imagination.”
CHAPTER TWENTY The Thread
As Holmes’s investigations continued, I grew ever more certain that I knew next to nothing of what he was investigating. However, to my intense private satisfaction, every day he grew more visibly active, until, on Monday the fifteenth, he threw his sling into the fire in a fit of impatience and declared, “If Dr. Agar’s work and yours combined, my dear Watson, have not had their effect by now, then God help the British public, who are plagued with new ailments every day.”
The following morning, soon after I had dressed, I heard Holmes’s footsteps approaching my bedroom, and a brief knock preceded the man himself.
“How soon can you be in a cab?”
“Instantly. What is the matter?”
“George Lusk requests our aid in the most urgent language. Make haste, my dear fellow, for he is not a man to trifle with our time!”
When we arrived at Tollet Street, Holmes was out of the cab in a moment, bounding up the stairs and leaning against the bell. Immediately we were shown in to the same pleasant sitting room, occupied by the same palm fronds and self-important feline.
“I am very glad you both have come,” George Lusk declared, shaking our hands firmly. His lively brow was clouded with anxiety and the downward sweep of his moustache emphasized his unease. “The thing is a repulsive hoax, of course; I have no doubt it is merely a boon for those vultures of the popular press, but I thought it best to call you in.” He gestured to the rolltop desk.
Holmes reached it in an instant and lifted the slats. A strong smell, which I realized had faintly infused the room all along, permeated the atmosphere. I recognized it at once as spirits of wine, which was everywhere employed as a medical preservative and which I had often used myself during my years at university.
My friend seated himself at the desk, surveying a small box of plain cardboard, resting on the brown paper in which it had arrived. Mr. Lusk and I crowded round either shoulder to witness him open the receptacle. Inside sat a mound of glistening flesh.
“Well, Doctor?” said Holmes, glancing up at me. He pulled a pocketknife from his frock coat, opened it, and passed it to me along with the sinister box. I probed the object carefully.
“It is a portion of a kidney.”
“Nearly half, I would say from the angle of the cut and the arc of this side. Human?”
“I could not tell you. If it is half, as you say, then the kidney is adult, but beyond that, further identification is impossible.”
“It does not appear to be injected with the formalin* used for dissection organs. Tissue preserved only in spirits of wine would inevitably deteriorate without a fixative and grow quickly useless in the classroom, so we can rule out a prank by an undergraduate. However, the ethyl alcohol it has been resting in is easily obtained.”
“This letter accompanied the organ,” Mr. Lusk indicated.
My friend first inspected the container itself, followed by the paper wrapping, before reaching for the document which explained, in the most vile terms and debased calligraphy I had ever laid eyes on, the contents of that horrid box.
I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer.
Signed Catch me when
“Black ink, cheapest foolscap, no finger marks or other traces,” Holmes said softly. “‘From hell,’ indeed! What sort of frenzied imagination could be capable of constructing such trash?”
“It is a hoax, surely,” Mr. Lusk insisted. “Everyone knows Catherine Eddowes’s kidney was taken, after all, Mr. Holmes. It is the organ of a dog. Oh, I do beg your pardon, Dr. Watson—if human, as you say, perhaps it is a prank enacted by a roguish medical examiner.”
“It is possible,” said Holmes. “I do not think it likely. Look at this script: I detect key similarities to other samples from our quarry, but what a state he was in to pen this dark epistle! I have made a special study of handwriting, or graphology,* as it is now called by the French, but I have never seen anything so debauched as this specimen.”
“The script alone leads you to think this her kidney?”
“This scrap of flesh came from no school or university, and neither did it come from the nearby London Hospital.”
“How can you be sure?”
“When necessary, they preserve organic materials in glycerine.”
“Well, then, but it need not have come from the East-end. Surely in the West-end, many establishments—”
“The postmark, if one regards it with a lens, reveals the barest smudge of a ‘London E.’ It originated in Whitechapel.”
“Still, any mortuary could have supplied the thing.”
“Whitechapel possesses no mortuary!” Holmes snapped, his patience failing him. “It possesses a shed.”
Mr. Lusk’s features were suffused with complete astonishment. “But the crime rate in Whitechapel! The sickness, the disease…Only half the children ever grow up, Mr. Holmes. No district has greater need of a mortuary!”
“God in heaven, if the world knew the troubles of this district…” Mr. Lusk calmed himself through a visible effort of will and regarded us with a touching sadness.
“Watson, we have work ahead of us,” the detective declared shortly. “Mr. Lusk, may I entrust to you the task of reporting this matter to the Yard?”
“Of course, Mr. Holmes. Oh, and please do give my regards to Miss Monk!” Mr. Lusk exclaimed as we turned to leave. “I fear she may have been tormented to some degree by my offspring, but I trust she came to no lasting harm.”
Holmes was already halfway down the street before I reached him, the length of his stride more than making up for any residual weakness of constitution. Knowing him as I did, I had not expected him to proffer a single word, but to my surprise, speech fairly exploded from his gaunt frame.
“I will not be toyed with in this manner! As if we’d not already suffered intolerable lows, the sending of a preserved organ through the London Royal Mail quite strikes the final quivering nail into the coffin of this investigation.”
“My dear fellow, whatever can you mean?”
“Here we are furnished with clue after clue, missive after blood-soaked missive, and the villain has no further revealed his identity than he did when he plunged a knife in my chest,” he spat out in disgust. “Apart, of course, from its being a six-inch double-bladed dissection knife.”
“Holmes,” I protested, alarmed, “you have done all that could be expected of—”
“Of Gregson, or of Lestrade, or any of the other farcical simpletons who joined the Yard because they weren’t strong enough for hard labour or rich enough to buy a decent army commission.”
Shocked at his vehemence, I could only manage, “Surely we have made progress.”
“We are surrounded by quicksand! No footmarks, no signal traits, no traceable characteristics, merely the assurance he is enjoying his purloined organs and my cigarettes!”
“Holmes, where are we going?”
“To settle a debt,” he snarled, and not one word more did he say for the twenty minutes it took us to walk from Mile End to the throbbing artery of Whitechapel Road and then down a series of streets to a green door in a begrimed brick wall. Holmes rapped brusquely and then fell to tapping the head of his stick against his high forehead.
“Who resides here, Holmes?”
“Does he indeed? You have been here before?”
His answering glare was so exquisitely pained that I resolved to postpone further queries for better days.
A slatternly creature of advancing years in a meticulously preened bonnet opened the door and regarded us with the primness of the long-ruined. “How may I help you gentlemen?”
“We are here to see your lodger, Mr. Stephen Dunlevy.”
“And who are you, sir?”
“We are friends.”
“Now, this is a private establishment, gents. I can’t just allow any man from the street to harass my lodgers, if you understand me, sir.”
“Perfectly. In that case, we are here to bring charges against you for brothel keeping under Section Thirteen of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. That is, of course, unless you manage to remember we are friends of Mr. Dunlevy.”
“Why, of course!” she exclaimed. “The light must have dazzled my eyes. This way, if you please.”
We ascended a staircase draped in layers of cobweb and silt and crossed the hallway to an unmarked door. The landlady knocked.
“Come along, now, for there’s men to see you. Friends of yours, or so I’m told.” She favoured us with a sparingly toothed smile before descending out of sight beyond the staircase.
Without waiting for a response, Holmes gripped the knob and plunged inside and had seated himself in a nearby chair before our startled host, standing next to his open door, could venture to greet us.
“Though slowed by the thankless task of ascertaining your identity, Mr. Dunlevy, I have traced Johnny Blackstone back to his birthplace, his parents’ country farm, his primary school, his initial regiment, his transfer, his Egyptian service, and his disappearance. What I want to know is where he is. His regiment, his parents, and his dear sister are quite as eager to find him as I am. You are about to tell me every detail of your first encounter with Blackstone, omitting no microscopic facet no matter how trivial. I invite you, in fact, to glory in the trivial.” Holmes lit a cigarette and exhaled slowly. “This agency runs on minutiae, Mr. Dunlevy, and you must furnish me with fuel.”
So began an interrogation which lasted the better part of four hours; however, it seemed to me (and, I have no doubt, to Stephen Dunlevy) to have gone on for days. Over and over again Holmes demanded he recount his story. Dunlevy somehow managed to retain his good humour, but I watched him grow increasingly angry at himself that his indiscretions that night had so far impaired his observation.
I was leaning against the door smoking, Dunlevy sunk in an armchair with his chin in his hand, and Holmes draped across another chair with his feet propped on the low mantelpiece, when my friend resumed a line of questioning I thought had been exhausted long before.
“From the time Blackstone met Martha Tabram to the time you left the Two Brewers, how much of their conversation were you able to catch?”
“Only what I have told you, Mr. Holmes. Everyone was shouting and no one taking heed of a word.”
“It is not good enough! Cast your mind back. You really must try, Mr. Dunlevy.”
Dunlevy screwed his eyes shut in concentration, rubbing a weary hand along the bridge of his nose. “Blackstone complimented her bonnet. He called it very becoming. He insisted on paying for drinks for her, and she knew they would be fast friends. They fell to tormenting one of the other fellows—an edgy private who’d had his eye on a girl for an hour and still hadn’t spoken to her.”
“He talked of the Egyptian campaign.”
“The words he used?”
“I cannot recall exactly. He used exotic language, vivid pictures…There was a tale about three cobras that seemed to amuse her very much. I could barely manage to—”
Holmes sat up in his chair with an expression of burning interest. “Three cobras, you say?”
“That’s what it sounded like.”
“You are sure of the number?”
“I would be prepared to swear it was three. Remarkable he should have encountered so many at once, but I confess I know nothing of Egyptian terrain.”
Holmes leapt to his feet and steepled his fingers before his lips, his countenance frozen but his entire posture vibrating with barely contained energy. “Mr. Dunlevy, the question I am about to pose is of paramount importance. Describe to me, as precisely as possible, Blackstone’s eyes.”
“They were blue, very pale in colour,” Dunlevy faltered, attempting to rearrange his features so that they did not imply my friend was out of his senses.
“Did he seem troubled at all by the light?”
“There was little enough light in the lairs we visited. One bright lamp in the White Swan, I believe. I remember he sat with his back to it, but they never lost their colour. Even in the darkest of the gin shops you could see his pale eyes shining out at you.”
Holmes let out an exclamation of unparalleled delight. Rushing forward, he began to wring Dunlevy’s hand. “I knew you could not have been thrown in our path merely to torment us!” He retrieved his hat and stick and made a theatrical bow. “Dr. Watson, our presence is required elsewhere. Good day to you, Mr. Dunlevy!”
I raced after my friend and caught him up at the corner.
“Nihil obstat.* It is a great stroke of luck. Stephen Dunlevy has just told us everything we need.”
“I am heartily glad of it.”
Holmes laughed. “I’ll own I was in a bit of a fit this morning, but surely you’ll overlook it if I tell you where we shall find word of Johnny Blackstone.”
“I confess that I cannot imagine any link between a man’s eyesight and his Egyptian exploits.”
“You, like Dunlevy, think the reference to three cobras a relic of foreign wars, then?”
“What else could it possibly mean?”
“As a medical man, the constriction of his pupils even during levels of very low illumination ought to suggest something to you.”
“On the contrary—cobra venom is a neurotoxin working on the muscles of the diaphragm and could have nothing to do with photosensitivity, or indeed any ocular symptom.”
“As usual, my dear fellow, you are both correct and misled.” He whistled stridently for a fortuitous hansom which had just rolled into view. “It will all be clear to you in a few minutes’ time, when I have introduced you to the Three Cobras, possibly the least savoury opium den in the whole of Limehouse.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE A Narrow Escape
It was not a long journey down Commercial Road from Whitechapel to the tiny dockside realm of Limehouse, but the latter’s total dependence upon all things nautical made it a vastly different topography. Here the carmen were replaced by sailors, the market porters became dockside labourers, and the races as we approached the river grew ever more diverse. As the sun began to set over the lumbering Thames, I glimpsed from the window Welsh dockworkers, African stevedores, and Indian porters, all drifting in the general direction of hearth and home with a stop at the pub and two or three glasses of gin to sustain them on their way.
We turned abruptly onto a street, and all around us Chinese men and women, dressed immaculately in the British style, ducked in and out of shops marked only with the delicate slashes which served as writing in their native land. One young fellow, his pigtail tucked under a neat cloth cap and his fingerless gloves affording slight protection in the chill wind, pushed a child about in a tea leaf box which had been fitted with two front wheels, a back prop, and sanded handles.
Holmes rapped the ceiling of the cab with his stick, and the driver halted before a storefront identifying itself only by a crude picture of a steaming bowl. My friend leapt down with agile enthusiasm, tilting his head to our left toward the dampest, most soot-encrusted archway I’d ever laid eyes on. The businesses on either side, whose commerce I could not even hazard a guess at, boasted broken windowpanes patched with greasy brown paper.
“It’s just this way. Thank you, driver. And now, Watson, we would do best to keep our wits about us.”
Under the arch, we came upon a flight of mossy stone steps which led steeply down, under wooden slats and walls of grim brick, to a grotesque courtyard some three stories below the street at the level of the river. Seven houses sat in a semicircle, all constructed of rotting grey timber. My friend approached the sagging doorframe belonging to one of these and rapped three times.
When the door opened, a stoop-shouldered Chinese man with tufted silver brows and a peculiarly detached expression made a polite bow.
“I wonder, is this the establishment known as the Three Cobras?” Holmes ventured deferentially.
The proprietor, or so I assumed him to be, nodded his head. “There are several berths if you wish to smoke, sirs,” he said in near-perfect English.
“What a stroke of luck,” Holmes smiled.
“I am Mr. Li. Please step this way.”
The outer door opened into a hallway, which after a flight of three steep steps became a narrow passage with beds built into the walls like berths on a ship, six pallets arranged in a rectangular formation on each side of the corridor. One old woman, with eyes set deep as wells and a long braid of lead-grey hair, looked to have just enough life in her to continue smoking the vile substance.
“Holmes, how on earth did you come to know of this pit?” I murmured.
“I make it my business to acquaint myself with a great many particulars,” he whispered.
Mr. Li waved us onward, for the corridor ballooned at its far end into a larger common room with a bed pushed against the wall and grass mats lining the floors. Gauzy hanging strips of tattered cloth, which had no doubt once contributed to an air of mysticism, now hung slick with smoke like the mud-soaked sails of a shipwrecked vessel. I could see other Englishmen in this chamber—two soldiers, lounging with elongated pipes dangling from their limp fingers, and a slack-jawed naval officer, whose hand traced lazy patterns in the thick air above him.
Mr. Li waved us over to a pair of grass pallets cloaked by the decrepit drapery. Holmes indicated we had time only for a four-penny smoke, and Mr. Li retreated to the stove, where a great mound of shredded opium simmered in a sieve set over a pot of shallow water.
“My dear Holmes, assure me that we have no intention of actually smoking this dross,” I mouthed as softly as I could.
“Never fear, Watson,” he returned equally quietly but with a mischievous grin. “You know my taste in self-poisoning to run quite in another direction.”
When Mr. Li had toasted two tiny portions of resinlike amber material and loaded it into pipes, he handed them to us and vanished. Holmes, to my dismay, placed the pipe between his teeth, but I soon saw he merely sought to free his hands and unfasten his watch chain. A gold sovereign dangled from the end of it, a relic of an earlier adventure,* and in a trice he had scooped the smouldering lump out of his pipe, dropped it to the floor, returned the stem to his mouth, and held a hand out for my own. This process he repeated with my pipe, and then he pulled out his pocket handkerchief and methodically restored the Queen’s golden visage to her former spotlessness. Finally, he picked up the cooled pieces with his handkerchief and deposited them in his pocket.
“I fancy that will do the trick. Care for another pipe, Doctor, or shall we call an end to this reconnaissance?”
“The latter, if you have seen all you need.”
“Then let us be on our way. Ah, here is the man I want. May I have a brief word with you?” Holmes asked Mr. Li, heavy-lidded and reserved.
Our host nodded, and we followed him to a side room off the entrance chamber where books and ledgers scribbled with cryptic characters covered the single small table.
“You see, sir,” Holmes began languidly, “our friend can hardly stop praising your business, and his words were more than justified. You do quite a commerce with soldiers, do you not, Mr. Li?”
“As you saw.”
Holmes placed a five-pound note on a yellowed ledger page. “In fact, while we settle up with you, I wished expressly to mention that our friend is being pursued by some very unsavoury characters—moneylenders, you understand—and is in hiding. I would like very much to help him if only I knew where he was. I wonder if, when he next drops in, you might find a moment to notify me? You would be rewarded, of course, for your time and trouble.”
“Your name, sir?”
“Basil. I was once a shipping captain, but I now own a small fleet,” Holmes said as he jotted down his address on a scrap of paper.
“And who is your friend?”
Holmes described Blackstone in detail, failing to mention any name.
Mr. Li scratched more notes upon his sheet, then straightened with a sigh. “Your friend does come here from time to time. Always alone. Always very popular once he arrives. Captain Basil, I make a great effort to help my customers. I make one request only, and that is truth. This business with your soldier friend—there is a possibility of violence?”
“That possibility exists,” Holmes assented, smiling briefly.
“I see.” He made another note. “In that case, Captain Basil, I must warn you that any violence occurring upon my property makes you liable to me.” He smiled at my friend in return. “I do not think you wish to be liable to me.”
I had not gone many paces up the dripping stairs to the street when Holmes remarked, “You dislike our new associate.”
“If you must know, I think the whole business proved him to be cunning and mercenary.”
“Oh, to the uninitiated, of course. However, I know that whole discussion of violence to have been entirely genuine. He is quite an eccentric character, Mr. Li. I have had dealings with him, though never in person, several times. He is a philanthropist, an opium purveyor, a Buddhist, and a tenacious enemy. The man was a renowned scholar in Peking. There was a little girl killed in this area not four years ago; Mr. Li found the culprit, a member of the Limehouse Forty Thieves gang, and I don’t like to tell you what became of him. He has done more in five years to relieve the area of gangs than Scotland Yard could do in twenty.”
“He is an ally, then? Why the absurd rigmarole with the pipes?”
“Business, my dear Watson, business! I’d never met the fellow in the flesh. There is a great deal of brotherly feeling amongst followers of that particular vice. If I am a client, I am on even footing with Blackstone. Otherwise, I am merely a swell or a plainclothesman. In any event, I wished a glimpse of the patrons.”
We reached the street just as the lamps were being lit, though I noted distressingly few in that locale.
“We had better trudge back to that portion of London populated by hansoms,” Holmes said. “I ought to have paid that fellow to wait. Your leg can manage it?”
“Then quick march, my dear fellow, spurred on by home, hearth, and the taste of future victory.”
The detective’s infallible sense of direction soon led into territory which, though unfamiliar, boasted English characters upon the sides of buildings. Holmes, deep in thought, strode forward with his aquiline profile straying neither to the left nor to the right, but I, as a man will do when he is in unknown terrain, looked about with curiosity at the deserted warehouses, which soon gave way to ramshackle tenements and the smells of a hundred suppers being prepared behind boarded windows.
I must have been so preoccupied with the scene that the first weary news vendor, hawking the last of his wares in a hoarse shout, failed to impress himself upon my consciousness. However, the second fellow, a taciturn youth with the face of a bulldog, held the front page up so determinedly that I glanced at the headline. With a cry of astonishment, I halted and fumbled through my pockets for a coin as Holmes broke from his reverie and returned to see what had startled me.
SHERLOCK HOLMES AT LARGE
While the police force in the district of Whitechapel has more than doubled since the discovery of Jack the Ripper’s grisly “double event,” it is regrettably still possible to fault the Metropolitan Police on one glaring miscarriage of public safety. As shocking as the citizenry will no doubt find it, the foremost suspect (and indeed, the only likely perpetrator identified thus far), the self-professed “consulting detective” Mr. Sherlock Holmes, is still at large and all too frequently to be found in the East-end. The reader ought not to feel guilty of a suspicious nature when he considers that Mr. Holmes attended the funerals of both the deceased, and is the subject of an active Scotland Yard investigation into his whereabouts on the night in question. These circumstantial matters appear black indeed when taken in conjunction with the discovery of a seemingly unrelated knife a few streets away from the depraved Eddowes murder. It is well known that Mr. Holmes was wounded in some manner on that night, and the discarded knife—clearly not the killer’s own, as it could not have inflicted her gruesome injuries—gives rise to the suspicion that Eddowes may well have concealed a weapon on her own person and was able to strike a blow to her assailant before finally succumbing to his evil designs. While no doubt the police are handling the inquiry around Mr. Holmes with due diligence, one cannot help but feel that the streets would be safer if his freedoms were more stringently curtailed.
“Curse the scoundrel!” Holmes exclaimed, folding the poisonous print out of sight. “What a tortuous argument, to be sure! A delusive pressman gives rise to a police investigation, then cites a police investigation as a further cause for alarm.”
“But how could he know that you attended the funerals?”
“If Stephen Dunlevy had a hand in this, so help me, I will wring the truth out of his miserable neck.”
He set off again down the street, his pace redoubled.
“What are we to do, Holmes?”
“We are going to get inside as quickly as possible.”
I realized with a quick stab of apprehension what he meant; every day we read news of mob activity in the East-end, directed with barren fury against any handy immigrant or meandering pedestrian. There had been multiple reports of near lynchings. If any suspicious-minded citizenry identified Holmes abroad by night in Whitechapel, I dared not imagine the consequences.
“This is Tavistock’s doing, I trust?”
“Oh, if I had him here!” I cried. “I would make him regret he’d ever set foot in a news office!”
“The wretch prints what is true in such an inverted fashion that every fact stands on its head,” Holmes growled. Suddenly he stopped. “Look here, my boy, odd as it may sound, the danger at the moment is in crowds.”
He turned into a pathway which must officially have been termed an alley and I would have better characterized as a crevice. The only beings we encountered at first were vermin and half-crazed dogs who stared at us with baleful hunger in their yellow eyes.
“Holmes, what do you intend to do?”
“Your idea of expressing ourselves with our fists was attractive but sadly untenable. We must determine where the insolent wretch is getting his information.”
We had gone halfway down a block marred everywhere with eroding stone when I realized that the clatter of trains to our left had mingled with another sound; footsteps now echoed our own. I knew better than to look behind me, but a glance at Holmes told me that he too had heard our shadowy companion.
My friend ducked into a side street, changing our direction, but still the curious trudge followed us in the gloom.
“We are walking north on Mansel Street, and any second should pass the railway depot,” he murmured. “We have to take Aldgate High Street, and in a moment we’ll be in the City.”
“I’d prefer Westminster.”
“Baker Street is but a cab fare away from us.”
As we emerged onto Aldgate High Street very near the place where it became Whitechapel High Street, it seemed for a moment as if our troubles were over. Then the man behind us began to make his presence more keenly felt.
“Is that Mr. Sherlock Holmes?” he cried out.
The better-lit, better-populated expanse of road seemed at once a hostile landscape, for every head within hearing distance swiveled round to confront my friend’s justly famous countenance.
“Here now!” the man yelled. “That’s Sherlock Holmes, it is! Strolling down dark alleys wi’out a care in the world!”
A few bystanders, men with surly faces and no better occupation, joined our unwelcome associate and marched along behind.
“Hey! You! You’ve a great deal to answer for in these parts!”
An inauspicious grumble of assent erupted from the gathering crowd.
“Turn around and tell us all what the devil you think you’re doing in the Chapel, you bleeding pig!”
Holmes rolled his eyes at this equation of him with a Scotland Yard detective but otherwise made no sign.
“You think,” screamed the fellow, whose voice I was beginning heartily to loathe, “that you’ll get away with it? Knifing all those beauties, you think there’s no one of us with a knife for you?”
“Watson, if you happen to lay eyes on an officer before I do, just signal him, will you?” Holmes remarked, his right hand in his pocket and the other tightening its grip on his weighted stick.
“So help us, we protect our own, don’t we, lads?” cried our antagonist.
“How is your arm?”
“Good for a blow or two at best. I would welcome your revolver.”
“You’ll have to make do with my fists.” Though my eyes searched the streets for police, by a great stroke of misfortune I could see none.
“We are close enough to the Aldgate underground stop,” Holmes noted.
“What are our chances at running?”
“Poor, with your leg to consider. We’ve already walked—”
“Holmes, they don’t want me.”
“If I knew that to be true, I might take to my heels. As matters stand, you’ll have to endure my company a while longer.”
Just when we reached a crossroads, several of the gang behind us burst forward and encircled us from the front. I turned slowly round. To my dismay, nearly thirty men had joined the preposterous procession, and ten more lined up to prevent our progress.
“I don’t suppose we could have a word with them?” I asked in as easy a tone as I could manage.
“We’ll serve them as they served Catherine Eddowes!” shouted the odious little devil.
Holmes at last turned with a look of deadly resolve in his iron-grey eyes. “It is not a scheme which is likely to work, you realize.”
“Still, for lack of a better one…” I hissed.
“Gentlemen,” Holmes announced, “I have no notion of what you are pursuing, but as it appears to mean a great deal to you, I am prepared to offer my wholehearted assistance!”
This remark did not soothe the mob, but it had the distinct virtue of puzzling it. One or two people chuckled morbidly, and others raised their fists.
“You know what we’re after right enough, or you’d ha’ been walking a good deal slower, you bloody ’tec.”
“It appears that you are pursuing me,” Holmes replied pleasantly. “But I can think of no reason for doing so unless you meant to procure my help. I am known for my skills in the art of detection. I will say this once, and once only: I have been seen in the vicinity of the Ripper because I have been striving with all my might to rid your neighbourhood of him.”
Several members of the crowd regarded Holmes with fresh interest at this defiant declaration, but their sympathy proved to be short-lived.
“You were seen!” mocked a club-wielding ruffian, starting forward. “What good is the word of a cold-blooded killer?”
“You, sir, are from West Yorkshire, I observe.”
The brute stopped in his tracks. “Here now! How in hell d’ye know that?”
“You have hunted rabbits in your time, I suppose?”
“So what if I have done,” he scowled.
“You were very near them when you did so. Have you ever been mistaken for one?”
The metaphor, apt as it was, drew laughter from several patches of the assembly while others, sensing an oblique insult, tightened their grips on their makeshift weapons and advanced spitting curses at the pair of us.
“Perhaps something a shade more conciliatory,” I suggested.
“You truly imagined I could argue our way out of this?” Holmes demanded, sidestepping so that we were back to back.
“No,” I replied quietly, turning my head, “but they have now allowed a slight gap. I am going to tackle that pockmarked lad with the shovel. When I’ve knocked him down, I fully expect you to run like the devil.”
We pivoted slowly, our eyes fixed on the hostile circle. “You are mad,” Holmes hissed, “if you think I am—” Then all at once, arresting both his speech and his movement suddenly, he caught me by the sleeve and inexplicably smiled in delight.
“Man Jack!” he cried. “What possessed you to join this misguided lot?”
I stared in astonishment. A man with an enormous frame and a livid scar running straight from his temple down across his nose and deep into his cheek stepped forward through the crowd.
“Now, I know for a fact,” he said in rumbling baritone, “that this is no night for Sherlock Holmes to be abroad in the Chapel.”
“Man Jack, I am overjoyed to see you.”
“I can’t say as I feel the same, Mr. Holmes.”
“The papers say he’s the Knife!” bellowed a surly youth.
“We’ll send him to hell this very night!”
“And what say you, Man Jack?” my friend asked. “It’s quite a little work of fiction.”
“You know as well as I do it’s the boy as can read,” he growled dismissively. “Now, be off. Or I won’t spend so long talking the next time.”
“There he is safe as a lamb,” called the villain who had started it all. “We’ve jawed long enough. I’ve a knife here, will serve him!”
“And I!” cried another.
“You’re none of you fit for proper policing,” Man Jack said calmly, but his voice reverberated through buildings. “You there! Let these fellows pass. Be off, now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. They obey me when they’ve a mind, but when they don’t, God help the man they take a grudge against.”
“My thanks. This way, Watson.”
Though their faces were scowling, and a few, including the burly Yorkshireman, ventured to spit in our direction, our opponents parted as if a curtain had been drawn.
“Who in God’s name was that fellow?” I asked in amazement.
“Man Jack? He is a prizefighter.”
“You know him from the ring, then, I suppose?”
“No indeed, my dear fellow. You’re sporting man enough to know my weight class and his ought not to intermingle.”
“He saved us from a terrible brawl for no reason I can see.”
“That is because you do not know his full name. Man Jack Hawkins has a family member in my immediate employ. I must confess, my dear fellow, when I amassed the Irregular force all those years ago, I never imagined that any of their parents would be called upon to vouch for my good name. Though God knows few enough of them have any parents.” Holmes sighed, as a wave of exhaustion seemed to pass over him. “Little Hawkins has just earned another sizeable bonus. There is a cab, my dear fellow, and if we make a dash at him, I think he shall just see us.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO The Disappearance of Sherlock Holmes
I saw nothing of my friend the next day until nearly eight o’clock, when an exceedingly disheveled character wearing the filthy oilskins and the high boots of the men who risk their lives raking the sewers for coins saluted me and disappeared into Holmes’s bedroom. In half an hour he emerged again in grey tweeds, collected his pipe, and sat down at the table with the look of a man who relishes the work ahead of him.
“And what has that scavenger been doing today?”
“He has set foot in realms where Sherlock Holmes, temporarily at least, dares not tread. What is for supper?”
“Mrs. Hudson spoke of lamb.”
“Admirable woman. Just ring the bell, my dear fellow. I haven’t thought of food since early this morning, for there was a great deal of work to be done.”
“You have been in the East-end?”
“Well, for part of the day. I had other errands. I’ve stopped by the Yard, for instance.”
“In that getup?” I laughed.
“I demanded to see Inspector Lestrade. I revealed I had pressing information to relate, which would profit him immensely. His colleagues hesitated. Then I was forced to admonish them that if I went with my information to the papers instead, they would look rather foolish. This suggestion altered their mood, and I was in Lestrade’s office a moment later. I revealed my identity, much to the good inspector’s irritation, and I asked him some key questions.”
“In the first place, the force are very put out by this Tavistock mongrel’s theorizing but are also anxious to avoid accusations of favouritism. Some of the more active fellows have suggested arresting me in the interests of thoroughness and public opinion.”
“On what evidence, in God’s name?”
“Incredibly, there really was a bloody knife found discarded a few streets away from Catherine Eddowes, but Lestrade never bothered to mention it to us because it was so unlike the double-sided blade which the Ripper used. Its discovery was a complete coincidence, but the villainous mind of either Leslie Tavistock or his foul source hit upon the happy notion that Eddowes could have wielded it in defense. In such a state of panic, it counts for nothing that any British jury would dismiss the whole tale in the blink of an eye. I can’t even bring charges of libel, for he hasn’t penned an untrue word.”
“Surely he has gone too far!” I protested.
“Watson, if the newspapers could be punished for speculation, every publication in England would soon enough be bankrupted. After I quit the Yard, I made my way to Whitechapel and looked in on Stephen Dunlevy. He proclaims his innocence in the strongest terms.”
“No doubt that is to be expected,” I said tightly, while privately thinking that if Dunlevy continued to operate under false pretenses with us, all the while endeavouring to enter the good graces of Miss Monk, I would have scant choice but to throw him in the Thames.
“I am inclined to believe him,” Holmes mused. “Indeed, I feel ever more certain that there is a malevolent force at work determined to impede my progress. Perhaps my mind detects conspiracy where none exists, but these small persecutions play directly into the Ripper’s hands by tying mine.”
“I should hardly call them small persecutions.”
My friend waved his pipe dismissively. “I’ve nothing further to report on the subject, for we can hardly know more until we have seen Tavistock.”
“We intend to see Tavistock?”
“We are to meet him at Simpson’s for cigars at ten.”
“You will then be able to claim acquaintance with the lowest form of life in London other than Jack the Ripper,” I stated dourly.
Holmes laughed. “Well, well, we go into it with the comfort of a good day’s labour behind us.”
“But what else have you been doing, Holmes? You left early this morning.”
“My time has not been wasted, I assure you. Ah! Here is Mrs. Hudson, and I beg your permission to confine my attentions to the tray she carries with her.”
That night, as many others had been that October, was shrouded in pungent fog, and we wrapped our mufflers tight about our faces and ducked our heads as if we walked against a strong wind. Despite the company which awaited us there, I was heartily glad to finally discern, nearly five yards in front of us, the façade of Simpson’s glimmer through the murk of the atmosphere.
The polished mahogany and gentle clink of crystal and silver improved my spirits, at least until we found ourselves in a private salon with a fire in the grate and stately palms in the corners, for it was then I laid eyes once more on Leslie Tavistock. In his office I had hardly taken notice of his physique, but now I saw he stood rather below average in height, with sharp, alert brown eyes which bespoke cunning rather than intellect. His light brown, slicked-back hair and expressive hands enhanced the impression of a man who had ascended to his current position by whatever means he had thought necessary.
“It is an honour to meet you in person, Mr. Holmes,” he cried, approaching my friend with a hand outstretched, which my friend studiously ignored. “Ah, well,” he continued, turning the failed greeting into a flourish of understanding with a flick of the wrist, “I can hardly blame you. Public figures grow so accustomed to hearing their praises sung by the adoring masses that any censure can be most disconcerting.”
“Particularly when said masses take it into their heads to kill you,” Holmes replied dryly.
“By Jove!” Tavistock exclaimed. “You didn’t venture into the East-end again, did you? It isn’t a safe neighbourhood, you know. But how you interest me, Mr. Holmes. Would you care to elaborate on what you were doing there?”
My friend smiled the slow, frigid smile of a bird of prey. “Mr. Tavistock, beyond the facts that you are a bachelor, a snuff user, a union advocate, and a gambler, I know nothing whatever about you. However, I do know that if you refuse to reveal to me your source for these damning articles, you will very soon come to regret it.”
While I was familiar enough with Holmes’s methods to note the disheveled attire, the fine dust on his shirt cuff, the discreet pin, and the two open racing periodicals upon the table, the journalist was not. A twinge of fear crossed Tavistock’s features, though he attempted to hide his chagrin with a laugh while he poured three glasses of brandy.
“So you can make clever guesses about people. I thought that an invention of Dr. Watson’s admirable style.”
“The guesses, as you term them, are in fact the very least stylistic aspect of the good doctor’s literary efforts.”
Tavistock handed us two snifters of brandy, which we accepted, though I have never been less inclined to share a drink with anyone in my life. “Mr. Holmes, you seem to have got it into your head that I have done something terribly wrong. I assure you, though my humble pieces may have afforded you some temporary inconvenience—which, believe me, I heartily regret—my responsibility is to inform the public.”
“Do you really wish to act in the public interest?” Holmes asked.
“Without question, Mr. Holmes.”
“Then tell me who approached you.”
“You must understand that is impossible,” the insufferable man replied smugly, “for his interests are also those of defending the populace, even if it means defending them from you.”
“If you dare to imply to our faces again that my friend is capable of such barbarities, you will answer for it to me,” I could not help but interject in fury.
“We are going,” Holmes said quietly, setting his glass down untouched.
“Wait!” Tavistock called out, anxiety clouding his clever features. “Mr. Holmes, I am a fair man. If you were to grant me an interview, I assure you our next publication would present you in a very different light indeed.”
“Mr. Tavistock, it should not shock you to hear that you are the very last person in London to whom I would entrust any words on that subject,” my friend replied icily.
“Forgive me, Mr. Holmes, but that is absurd. You have the opportunity to emerge from the mud a figure of the purest intentions.”
“You are dreaming.”
“It is the most compelling story in decades!” he cried. “Sherlock Holmes, noble sentinel of justice or perverse scourge of carnality? All you have to do is provide me with a few salient details.”
“If you will not reveal your source, you are not of the slightest use to me.”
Tavistock’s eyes narrowed slyly. “Do you really think your investigation stands any chance of success if the residents of Whitechapel consider you the killer?”
Holmes shrugged, but I could see from the tightening of his jaw that the same thought had crossed his mind.
“Come, now.” The reporter pulled a notebook out of his coat pocket. “Just a few statements, and we’ll make the most stirring headline you’ve ever set eyes on.”
“Good night, Mr. Tavistock.”
“But your career!” Tavistock protested desperately. “Can’t you see, it doesn’t matter to me, so long as the story is mine!”
Holmes shook his head, disgust at the pressman’s admission clouding his brow. “I think the air is cleaner out of doors, Watson.”
Outside, the acrid atmosphere remained viscous and faintly sickening. Cabs could not operate in such weather, so we walked toward Regent Street in silence, each lost in uneasy reflections. I could not help but agree with Tavistock’s taunting declaration: if feelings against Holmes continued to run as high as they had the night before, not merely his investigation but his very life was in danger.
We had nearly reached Baker Street when Holmes broke the silence. “You are entirely correct, my dear fellow. I cannot hope to act with impunity in Whitechapel while Tavistock’s slanders still retain their power. In the last five minutes, you have glanced at my profile four times; you are right in observing that the London Chronicle’s illustration was disturbingly accurate, and we both suffered the results last night.”
I smiled in spite of myself, and Holmes sighed ruefully. “It’s a lucky thing I have only one confidant. Explaining myself only knocks little holes in the masonry of my reputation.”
“Has greater problems just now, to be sure. I am glad I have laid eyes on Tavistock, in any event. I was willing to take your word he was a scoundrel, but there is nothing like exposure to the genuine article. He let one curious phrase drop.”
“He said his source wished to protect the populace. If he thinks the populace will be any better off without me, he is either a lunatic himself or a—” I waited hopefully, but soon Holmes shook his head and continued. “We can discard one hypothesis—that this Tavistock cur has some reason to persecute me. He made it nauseatingly clear I could be inducted as prime minister or be drawn and quartered with my head on a pike just so long as he is allowed to write it up.”
“Is there anything I can do, Holmes?”
We had reached our own door, though it was barely discernible through the gloom. “No, no, my dear fellow. I fear that it is I who must act. And act I shall.”
That night Holmes folded himself into his armchair with one knee drawn up to his chin, staring fixedly at the numbers on the torn page from the Ripper’s gift of a cigarette case. For more than an hour he remained in the same position with his eyes nearly closed, as still and solitary as an oracle, smoking endless bowls of shag, until I retired to bed and my own ruminations about the trials before us.
The next morning I found a note in my friend’s clear, fastidious script wedged under the butter dish.
My dear Watson,
It is just possible that my investigations will not allow me to return to Baker Street for some brief while. You will appreciate that time is of the essence, and my inquiries in the East-end are of such a nature they can be conducted far more effectively alone. Do not worry, I beg, and do not stray too far afield, however sordid London has grown, for I hope very soon to have need of your assistance. Letters will reach me if directed to the Whitechapel Post Office branch, to be left until called for by Jack Escott.
P.S.—As my new researches have taken a more dangerous turn, you will be delighted to learn I have directed Miss Monk to take a paid hiatus.
I need hardly state that the postscript rather worked against Holmes’s prior instruction not to fear for his own safety. While acknowledging to myself that he could indeed work more efficiently alone, and had done so during many of our shared cases, unbidden thoughts also flew into my mind of occasions when the danger had proven too great for one man, even if that one man was Sherlock Holmes.
Mrs. Hudson poked her head round the edge of the door. “It’s Miss Monk to see you, Dr. Watson.”
Our colleague’s expressive features were weighted with concern. She pulled off a new pair of gloves and concealed them in a pocket.
“Good afternoon, Miss Monk.”
“Mrs. Hudson’s just offered tea, though it ain’t my usual time. She is a dear one, isn’t she?”
“Please sit down. I am delighted to see you, considering—”
“Considering I’ve been sacked?” she asked with the trace of a smile.
“Good heavens, no!”
I handed the note to her, and her eyes flew back to mine in alarm. “What’s he up to all alone, then?”
“I am afraid that Sherlock Holmes is the most solitary man I have ever encountered in my travels on three separate continents. I have no more idea what he is doing than you do.”
Biting her lip, she approached the fire I’d allowed to die down and stabbed it combatively with the fire iron. “I’ve had a telegram from him this morning before breakfast. I ain’t getting paid for sitting in pubs chatting up drunken judies,” she declared, straightening. “What can we do?”
“Your sitting in pubs certainly led us to some intriguing results last time.”
“It’s a gift, I’ll own. But the well’s run a mite dry. Thought I’d hit a good line t’other day, but her idea the Knife can transport himself by electricity sort of threw a wet blanket on the rest of her story. Poor Miss Lacey. It’s the laudanum, I promise you. What else?”
“Miss Monk, as much as may be dark to us, I’ve learned that most of it is generally clear to Holmes,” I pointed out. “It may be foolish to take any precipitate steps.”
“I’ll be damned if there isn’t something we could do, even if it’s to patrol the streets with little striped wristbands.”
“Well,” I replied slowly, “it would certainly profit Holmes to have Leslie Tavistock discredited.”
“The journalist? I’d give a good deal to see his face in the mud.” My companion shot up again and took a turn around the carpet, her freckled brow tense with concentration.
“It may not wash. But if it worked…”
“My dear Miss Monk, what is it?”
“Doctor, it would do Mr. Holmes a world of good if we could discover where Tavistock digs up his trash, wouldn’t it?”
“I should think so indeed.”
“I know I can do it.”
“What precisely do you have in mind?”
“I don’t rightly like to tell you, as it may come to naught. But if it works, it might be a ream flash pull. It’ll take a bit of conniving on my part, perhaps, but if he can get it…” She came to a breathless halt. “Tell you what, I’ll bring it here to you and you can decide.” She retrieved her black gloves and waved them at me from the door.
“My dear Miss Monk, I absolutely forbid you to take any risks in this matter!” I called out.
It was to no avail. A moment later she was halfway down the stairs. I could just hear her good-natured apologies to Mrs. Hudson over the tea things as she lilted out the front door into the fog like a melody on the breeze.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE The Fleet Street Enterprise
As it happened, I did not see Miss Monk again until Tuesday, the thirtieth of October, during which heart-wrenching period I heard not a single word from Sherlock Holmes. According to Lestrade, the men of the Yard were greatly discouraged. Rumours of mad kosher slaughtermen and deranged doctors ran so wild in the district that it was all they could do to keep the peace. And as if it were not enough that they suffered defamation from every quarter for their failure to locate the Ripper, they now faced the burden of diverting a significant portion of their force to police the Lord Mayor’s resplendent annual procession on Friday, the ninth of November.
It may be imagined that, with the weight of the Whitechapel problem bearing down upon me, not to mention the disturbing absence of Holmes, I spent my days endeavouring to relieve my tumultuous state of mind without straying too far from Baker Street should matters come to a head. Novels were intolerable, and the atmosphere of my club stale and wearisome. On that sleepless Tuesday night, while attempting to defy all my friend’s injunctions against recording a case I had filed under “The Adventure of the Third Candle,” I had just determined that a glass of claret would do me more good than harm when I heard the avid ringing of the downstairs bell.
Knowing Mrs. Hudson to be long abed, I hurried down the stairs, fully dressed, for I had not yet entertained any thought of sleep. When I unlatched the door, I discovered, to my great surprise, Miss Monk and Stephen Dunlevy.
“Forgive the lateness of the hour, Dr. Watson,” Dunlevy began, “but Miss Monk was determined not to let the matter wait.”
“You are most welcome. I have been expecting Miss Monk, in any event.”
Once upstairs, I opened the claret and located two more glasses. Dunlevy sat in the basket chair, while Miss Monk stood proudly before the fire with the air of an orator who has been asked to make a statement. When I had seated myself, she set her glass upon the mantel and drew a small object out of her garments.
“It’s a present for you, Doctor.” She grinned broadly as she tossed a piece of metal through the air and I caught it, turning it over in my hand.
It was a key. “All right,” I said, laughing, “I’m game. What does it open?”
“Leslie Tavistock’s office.”
“My dear Miss Monk!”
“I’d a mind to see whether Dunlevy here was good for anything apart from shadowing decent folk,” she said happily, settling herself upon the arm of the sofa. “But I know you was worried about taking any steps wi’out Mr. Holmes, for good reason too, so once we’d got it, we legged it straight here to turn it over.”
“Mr. Dunlevy, would you care to elaborate how this came into your possession?”
The young man cleared his throat. “Well, Miss Monk did me the honour of appearing at my door the Thursday before last, and explained to me her belief that, as I am a journalist and journalists are a clubbish sort of folk, always rubbing shoulders to be apprised of the latest developments, it was inconceivable to her that I would not have an acquaintance at the London Chronicle. Miss Monk’s conjecture was not entirely correct, but it may as well have been, for I’ve a friend at the Star who has a very close connection with a chap by the name of Harding, who is employed there.”
“I see. And then?”
“The young lady’s idea, and a very clever one if I may say so, was to coerce Harding into taking an impression of Tavistock’s key. As it happens, no coercion proved necessary.”
“Tavistock’s a complete rotter,” Miss Monk interrupted. “We might have known as much, the way he went after Mr. Holmes.”
Dunlevy quickly suppressed what appeared to be the beginnings of a fond smile and went on. “As Miss Monk says, there is no one so universally reviled at the London Chronicle as Leslie Tavistock. It took a couple of days’ management, but I met with Harding in the company of our mutual friend for a glass of beer, made the suggestion, and was instantly heaped with praise for my idea of playing a prank on the most friendless man in journalism.”
“A prank,” I repeated, beginning to see the inspired simplicity of their plan. “What sort of prank do you intend?”
“Oh, I daresay we could accomplish something nice with paint, and there’s always dead rats to consider,” Miss Monk remarked with an air of delighted nonchalance. “There’s a horse slaughterer not far from Dunlevy’s East-end digs. And of course, once we were in the office—”
“This little pleasantry may take us considerably more time than one would think,” I finished.
“With all his papers just lying about, it would be a shame not to glance through them, eh, Doctor?”
“Wait a moment. We know nothing of Tavistock’s hours, or indeed, those of the building itself.”
“Harding has proffered very eager cooperation,” Dunlevy explained. “It seems he was once investigating a story which Tavistock got wind of, and had it stolen right out from under him. He took an impression of Tavistock’s office key, and this duplicate was in my hands a day later. There is no getting into the building undetected during the week, for as you must know the press keeps all hours. Saturday night is the only clear time, for as they have no Sunday publication, Harding says that the lot of them scatter to pubs in the area or go home to their families.”
“What of security when the building is locked?”
“Harding is prepared to lend us his own outer door key in light of the nobility of our mission. As for security, the offices have not seen fit to employ a night guard. There will no doubt be a beat officer of some kind nearby, but that is easily ascertained.”
“It will put us in a monstrous position to rifle through his office in such a manner,” I cautioned.
“That may be, but the cause is righteous and the quarrel just. Mr. Holmes has a right to know who has invented these aspersions, and though he seemed to accept my protestations of innocence, I would be very glad to see it proven.”
“It is alarming to consider what steps Tavistock could take if we are caught.”
“I know, Doctor,” said Miss Monk sympathetically, “but if you’ll just reread those two articles what weren’t fit for dead fish to be wrapped in, it’ll shore up your nerve right quick.”
I may say without undue pride or fear of contradiction that I have never been a man to back away from danger where a comrade’s interests are concerned. “Saturday,” I mused. “It gives us three clear days to perfect our plans.”
“And who knows but that Mr. Holmes may be back by then!” Miss Monk exclaimed. “But if we’ve still seen no sign of him, we can at least try to clear up one dark spot in this bloody mess.”
“Miss Monk, Mr. Dunlevy,” said I, rising from my chair, “I congratulate you. Here’s to the health of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
In such a depth of numbing uncertainty, it was impossible not to feel uplifted at the mere idea of a mission. Still later that night, when I at last blew out my bedside candle, I began to wonder if—for a mind as incandescent as that of my friend—perhaps inaction could truly be so torturous that a syringe and a bottle of seven-percent solution seemed the only tolerable recourse.
Our schemes developed quickly. Miss Monk was kind enough to hawk some handkerchiefs in the vicinity of the building until she was warned off by a policeman, after which she quietly pursued him and found that his route took him directly past the entrance: a cause for anxiety, perhaps, for a callow housebreaker, but hardly of any concern for one possessed of a set of keys. Moreover, the enthusiastic Harding informed us that Tavistock’s office did not look out upon the street, so that a lamp could be lit there and never be noticed in the darkness of the surrounding building.
There was initially some discussion regarding who would attempt the endeavour itself, but Miss Monk would not hear of being left behind, and as Dunlevy’s presence was deemed likewise necessary, I faced breaking into Leslie Tavistock’s place of employment as part of a courageous band of three. We met on Friday to work out a story in case of emergency, the following evening at eleven fixed as the start of our nocturnal enterprise.
At a quarter after ten that Saturday night, I walked as far south as Oxford Street, then hailed a cab, for the air had cleared considerably and the last traces of fog swirled about the windows as playfully as a child’s toy ribbon, tempting faceless passersby further into the night. We approached the Strand by way of Haymarket, and I alighted from the hansom with ten minutes to spare. Turning onto a side street, I descended the steps of a tiny public house and hailed Miss Monk and Mr. Dunlevy, who had engaged a small corner table lit by an oil lamp which I do not think had ever been cleaned.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” declared Stephen Dunlevy, a smile tugging at the corner of his moustache as we raised our glasses, “I give you Mr. Alistair Harding, a man who holds a grudge with vigour and enthusiasm.”
“Miss Monk, have you the bag?” I inquired.
She tapped a small burlap sack with the toe of her boot.
“In that case, let us be on our way. Miss Monk, we will see you in ten minutes.”
Leaving Miss Monk in the pool of light at the table, Dunlevy and I strolled past the last stately buildings of the Strand, through the demarcation of the Temple Bar where the great stone archway had once stood, and thus entered Fleet Street, that strident nucleus of British journalism. The area was calm so late on a Saturday, and the general impetus of the pedestrians seemed that of departure rather than arrival.
Dunlevy approached the front door of 174 Fleet Street, stolid block lettering declaring it to be the home of the London Chronicle, and inserted Mr. Harding’s key in the lock. Seconds later, we were within the vestibule, Dunlevy pulling a dark lantern from within his voluminous coat.
“I see no sign of occupation,” he mouthed cautiously.
“We will know for certain once we have reached the upper floor.”
With painstakingly silent tread, we advanced up the stairs to the first floor, where no more light met our eyes than the beam of our own lantern. I knew my way, and passing through the common room, we proceeded directly to the second office, secured with one simple lock. I withdrew the key from my pocket and opened the door.
Dunlevy fully unshuttered the eye of the dark lantern and the room flooded instantly with light. Papers lay strewn across the desk, and files sat upon bookcases and lay open over reference volumes. We began shuffling through the scattered texts, careful to keep them in order lest the true reason for our nocturnal visit be revealed. We had been reading every scrap of paper we could lay our hands on for several minutes when a low whistle from Dunlevy arrested my attention.
“Hullo! Here is something.”
I abandoned the disjointed jottings of my own chosen page and focused instead upon Dunlevy’s, which read:
There have been no murders since Holmes was wounded, which is very likely not a coincidence.
Has expressed contempt for police in past cases.
Continues to frequent the East-end.
Then, scrawled at the bottom of the page:
Holmes has disappeared. An admission of guilt?
“Good lord, Dr. Watson, I never anticipated there may be more of this garbage in the works.”
“I confess I feared as much, but this is uglier than the others combined.”
“But see—this page could not have been written by Tavistock. The handwriting is different.” From down the stairs, I heard the creak of the outer door.
“What sort of papers are those?” I asked.
“This is the beginnings of an article, and here is a letter, signed by Tavistock, not yet sent. These are in the same hand as most of the documents on the desk. The note about Mr. Holmes must be suggestions from the rascal’s source.”
Miss Monk entered and shut the door behind her. “What’s up, then?”
“This note seems to have been penned by the cause of all this trouble,” said I.
She looked over my shoulder. “A man’s writing. Mr. Holmes would make something of it.”
“I would take it to him, but there cannot appear to be anything missing,” I considered, copying the noisome text into my pocketbook.
“Is there an envelope?” Miss Monk asked. We cast about for one in the basket full of crumpled scribblings. Soon she emerged from under the desk with a flush of triumph.
“Dated Saturday the twentieth. Paper matches the envelope, addressed to Leslie Tavistock, London Chronicle. It’s in the same hand! We can take the envelope, for it won’t be missed.”
Our search brought to light more documents but no new information. The same man had written three other letters to Tavistock, once to arrange an appointment and twice to forward fresh news of Holmes, but as they had already resulted in calamity, they told us nothing. At length, as the hour approached one o’clock in the morning, I suggested we depart.
As Dunlevy and I cast a final glance over the room to ensure we had not left any identifying traces, Miss Monk picked up the burlap sack she had propped against the wall, and, with an air of courtly ceremony, deposited its contents upon the desk, dropping the bag in the dustbin with a final toss of her head.
We made our way downstairs. As I reached my hand toward the door handle and the outside world beyond it, I started at the sound of approaching footsteps. I signaled my companions to step back. Scarcely breathing, I prayed silently to hear the same tread depart, but to my dismay, the handle of the door was tested and then pushed carefully open.
In an instant, Stephen Dunlevy opened the shutter of the dark lantern and sprang before the door, his hand raised as if to open it when a grey-whiskered police constable entered with his truncheon in hand.
“Oh, I say! How you startled me, Officer,” Dunlevy exclaimed.
The stout fellow returned his truncheon to his belt but regarded us with suspicion.
“Do you mind telling me what the three of you are doing here? There’s never a soul in the building at this time on a Saturday.”
“To be sure, my good man. I admit, though, you gave us a fright.”
“No doubt,” he replied tersely. “You have a set of keys, do you?”
“Indeed, yes. I must say, sir, I admire your thoroughness in policing, if you always check locked doors while on your beat.”
“I string the locked doors, as most of us do. The string was broken.”
“Aha! Very workmanlike, Constable…?”
“Well, then, Constable Brierley, my colleague and I required absolute secrecy in order to interview this young woman.”
“And why might that be?”
“She claimed to hold very valuable information about the Ripper murders.”
Miss Monk nodded shyly, half hidden behind my shoulder.
“And why was it necessary to meet in the dead of night in a deserted press building?”
“It’s very dangerous information, Officer,” she whispered.
“Well, if you’ve information about the Ripper murders, miss, you must tell me what it is that you know.”
“Please, sir,” she said, shuddering, “they’ll come after me, I know it.”
“Who will come after you?”
“His friends—they’ll murder me in my sleep.”
“Come now, my dear,” the constable said serenely. “If you are in any danger, we will provide you with protection.”
“You don’t know them! It’s as much as my life is worth to gab to the Yard.”
“Nevertheless, I must insist upon it.”
“Very well,” Miss Monk replied in an agony of distress. “I know who the killer is.”
“And who might that be?” the patient constable demanded.
“Prince Albert Victor.”
I did my best to regard Miss Monk with the air of an abundantly disappointed and exceedingly irritable newsman. It was difficult to achieve.
Constable Brierley sighed heavily. “Is he indeed? I will pass that startling piece of news on to my superiors. And now, the three of you had best go on about your business. I strongly suggest that your business take you home without delay.”
Our return journey to the Strand was a silent one for some three blocks, until we had left all trace of Constable Brierley behind us and Stephen Dunlevy threw his head back with a peal of relieved laughter.
“Prince Albert Victor?”
“I’m sure he would be glad to know his name came in handy,” Miss Monk remarked.
“Miss Monk, you are absolutely unparalleled. Well, Dr. Watson, I dearly hope that the envelope will be of some use to Mr. Holmes.”
“You may be sure I will keep you apprised.”
“In any event, the evening has been most enormously satisfying. Miss Monk, I beg you will do me the honour of sharing a cab with me back to the East-end.”
“The honour is granted. Oh, Dr. Watson, I do hope we’ve helped Mr. Holmes.”
“We have helped Alistair Harding, in any event,” Dunlevy proclaimed gaily. “I’m to return his keys in the morning. I have not a doubt but that when he hears the news, he will be the happiest man in London.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR The East-end Division
As I sat at the breakfast table next morning, feeling not a little self-satisfied, I turned the envelope over in my hands pondering the best way to get it to Holmes. No doubt he had made excellent arrangements, for he was continually darting off to the country or to the Continent and never had I seen him without prompt postal service. However, perhaps from a sense of innate pride in our accomplishment and perhaps from a certain leery caution, I found myself in midafternoon with the hard-won object still resting in an inner pocket and realized that I had grown irrationally determined to deliver it to my friend in person. How I could go about that task I had barely begun to surmise, but circumstances soon occurred which lifted the burden of ingenuity from my shoulders entirely.
The frail light had begun to fade and the combative autumn winds come to blows with the last of the dry leaves when the pageboy arrived with a hand-delivered note from Holmes. The message was addressed to Dr. John Watson and read:
Am on our quarry’s scent. Meet me at the corner of Commercial Street and Brick Lane at once, on foot, and bring your medical bag, as I fear we may have need of it.
I need hardly say that not only my black bag but my cleaned, loaded revolver were at hand in an instant, and I bounded into the street to hail a cab. It was just past seven o’clock in the evening as I set off, and the stolid, pastel houses passed by me in a darkening blur. Descending from the hansom just as night officially triumphed over day, I cast about for the correct orientation.
To my complete dismay, almost instantly, my direction grew twisted and confused due to the bizarre fact that the streets Holmes had indicated ran parallel to each other. After some deliberation, I determined to follow Brick Lane to see whether it intersected any roads of a similar name to Commercial Street, for often the names of London thoroughfares repeated themselves, and after turning off Stoney Street, one would hardly be surprised to find oneself in Stoney Lane. It was not a mistake typical of Sherlock Holmes’s exhaustive memory, but I could account for it in no other way and so determined to find the true cross street even if it took me all night.
I fell victim to nothing more than a few haphazard jeers for the first half hour, but as I retraced my steps down Brick Lane past Hebraic fellowship halls and the smell of frying sausages, sick at the thought I might have failed Holmes at the culmination of his labour through a simple misdirection, I became aware that the shouts of the locals were increasing in frequency as they narrowed in scope.
“Oy, you doctor! Out to sew up a whore?”
“Looking for a fresh one to patch together, are you, or will you do it yourself?”
These gibes soon became so antagonistic that I ducked down a quiet alley to think of a way to contact Holmes, if that were even possible. I had not been there two minutes, however, leaning against a barrel and straining to recall every detail of Whitechapel’s topography, when a group of five men approached me from the left, their mean figures silhouetted by the single jaundiced lamp. Even had I not been accustomed to the advent of sudden danger, my instincts would have alerted me to their postures and the cudgels they carried in slack, cavalier grips.
Initially I hoped they had some other object in mind and would pass me by, but the leader of the gang, a heavyset man with bristling hair and weighty jowls, nodded to the others to stay back and advanced toward me, tapping his stick against a meaty palm.
“Good evening,” I began. “Is there a problem?”
“Well, lads? What say you? I believe Underhill thought there might be a problem, is that not so?”
His four footpads laughed, slapping a thin, evil-eyed man with a wicked gash for a mouth upon the back. “That’s it! Underhill! He’s not easy in his mind, he isn’t,” one of them chuckled.
“Look here, sir,” I attempted, “I am—”
“Wait just a tick, guv. These is dangerous times we find ourselves in. So let’s say it comes to our attention that there has been sighted a bloke, a medical type of bloke, what’s pacing the area as if he’s…well, he has a prowling manner about him, if you understand me.”
“Now, see here, my good man—”
“And let’s further suppose that I, Ezekiel Hammersmith, being a chap of upstanding character, let’s say I calls me lads from the pub so as to get a better look at this medical bloke what’s lying in wait in a dark alley ten yards from me sister’s lodging house.” The brute smiled evilly and glanced up at a dingy hellhole of red brick.
“No, no, guv’nor,” he continued sadly. “Folk of your type need a powerful reason to be in these parts after dark.” He dropped his voice to a gravelly undertone. “By God, you’ll wish you’d never seen a whore before we’re done wi’ you.”
I reached for my revolver in an effort to deter them from five-on-one hand combat, but a swarthy fellow missing the majority of his left ear leapt forward and hacked my arm away with a cane. He had attempted two more solid blows, one narrowly missing my forearm and a second aimed at the neck that I managed to take on the shoulder, when his proximity afforded me the opportunity of delivering the left-handed hook which had many years previous granted me total freedom of movement at my rough-and-tumble grammar school.
Just then a very slender man entered the alley behind me, whistling softly to himself and carrying a long-handled brush over his left shoulder. His face and all his dark clothing were obscured by soot, and I saw at once that he was a chimney sweep returning home from an engagement. In a far-off corner of my mind, I noted in confusion that the tune he whistled was from Wagner’s Parsifal, but all my thoughts were suspended when the fellow stopped short at seeing so many rough characters wedged into the narrow corridor.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked.
“Be on your way, if you don’t want a piece of it for yourself,” Hammersmith replied, stepping aside to let him pass. “This gentleman here is down on whores, and we are helping to make his peace with them.”
Fate, as I have often had cause to reflect, is a fickle entity. At one moment, five armed brutes bore down upon two guiltless men harbouring no wish to fight. The next moment, two of the five lay on the ground howling in pain, their ribs victimized by the long-handled tool of the chimney sweep. Hammersmith, who had narrowly escaped the assault, roared with rage, threw his club to the ground, reached under his trouser leg, and charged me and my new ally with a vicious short-handled knife.
Though I at last drew my revolver, I was ultimately spared its use. The sweep dealt him a crushing jab to the solar plexus, then hissed, “Down the passage and keep at my heels.” Sherlock Holmes then took my arm and we flew through the alleyway into a series of mews, over a low fence, and into the windswept autumn night.
Though we ran for perhaps ten minutes, I had the impression we did not get very far. Holmes executed a few simple dodges and once stopped to listen intently for our pursuers, then led me through a series of interconnected alleys littered with wood and broken shipping crates before finally, to my great surprise, he ducked into a low doorway and ushered me inside.
Hastening up the dark stairway with more regard for speed than for caution, I would likely have plummeted through to the floor below had not Holmes pulled me back just in time to prevent my falling down a rotting gap. At last, after two positively archaeological flights of stairs, we reached a door at the end of a brief hallway. My friend flung it open with a flourish, so far as such a rude assemblage of slats can be said to be flung.
“May I present, with all attendant welcome and ceremony, the Baker Street Private Consulting Detective Agency, East-end Division, the pulsing nucleus of the Ripper investigation.”
Sherlock Holmes maintained, so far as his fortunes permitted, no fewer than five and more probably seven secret lairs throughout London. Some boasted no more comforts than a basin and a trunk of clothes, but he often employed these nooks when a disguise or pursuit necessitated immediate private rooms. In all my many years of partnership with Holmes, I was introduced personally to a total of three such dwellings, as my friend’s native passion for secrecy prevented me from ever so much as laying eyes on the others.
This startling Whitechapel refuge consisted of a rectangular room, slightly longer than it was wide, with no windows, walls entirely papered with maps and news clippings, and two new, stout inner bolts of differing builds which Holmes proceeded efficiently to lock, finally fastening me with a look of inquiring concern.
“I should have liked to introduce you to our secondary branch under more relaxed circumstances, my dear fellow, but in any event you have immediately seen its usefulness. We are now on Scarborough Street, just south of Whitechapel Road. You will note that we have as much relevant information as possible at our fingertips, that we are fully equipped to maintain every requirement of hygiene and civility, and that a rather fine brandy rests upon the corner table. Pray help yourself to any amenities you see fit.”
The “corner table” referred to an upended water barrel adjacent to a straw mattress and a pile of clean, if worn, grey wool blankets. The room had no other rugs or furnishings save a dangerous-looking stove next to the fireplace, a battered desk, and two chairs, one of which appeared in a former life to have been an orange crate.
“Holmes, what exactly have you been doing in this cave?” I asked, advancing without hesitation toward the spirits on the makeshift side table and shaking my head at my friend’s considerable eccentricities. Holmes sat down upon the orange crate, removing his coat and vigorously applying a damp cloth to his blackened visage.
“I have been making the acquaintance of a great many members of Her Majesty’s army who have fallen under the spell of Papaver somniferum.* In fact, I’ve every hope of discovering Blackstone’s lodgings tomorrow.” Though jubilant, freed from its mask of soot, my friend’s face showed clear signs that he skirted the edge of complete exhaustion.
“But that is marvelous, Holmes!” I exclaimed. “By the by, I suppose I mistook the instructions, but however did you happen to find me?”
Holmes’s expression of perplexity, so rarely in evidence, only increased. “Finding myself without occupation for the evening, I was patrolling the streets, and I flatter myself with more discernment than your acquaintances of the alley. My dear Watson, I believe that there is not a soul in the world I should be happier to see just now, but may I ask what on earth you were doing wandering about Whitechapel with a medical bag and a sinister expression?”
“You summoned me here. Is this not your message?”
After casting an eye over the brief letter, Holmes looked at me in dismay.
“I corresponded with no one this afternoon.”
“Then you did not send for me?”
“Not I. When did you receive this?”
“Half past five in the afternoon.”
“It did not come through the post.”
“No, it was delivered.”
“Did you ask Billy what sort of man he got it from?”
“I thought it immaterial once I had seen your signature.”
“You know nothing of this note’s origin, then?”
At length he cried out, “I cannot imagine what object you had in mind to follow these instructions, but this epistle is certainly penned by an adversary.”
“What object I had in mind?” I retorted readily. “You required my help!”
“No, no, Watson, it is all wrong. These certainly are my ts, ys, and ms, and the capital A is very good, but what on earth induced you to obey a note with such a manifestly inaccurate q?”
“My training as a doctor of medicine, I regret to say, was deficient in handwriting analysis,” I returned with greater asperity. “I supposed it written under some duress.”
“A thousand small clues should have given this away! For example, you and I have known each other for over seven years, yet in this brief note, I somehow see fit to include your prefix, given, and family names.”
“Surely not surprising if the conveyor of the message did not know me.”
“The paper, then! My stationery—”
“Is irrelevant as you were not at home,” I shot back heatedly. “However, if you wish, in the future I shall treat all your emergency summonses with suspicion and disbelief.”
Holmes softened with a visible effort. “It is only your safety which worries me, after all. I regret that little business back in the alley, but now that we have it, this note…this note is of immense interest. Its author has done a very workmanlike job of my signature; however, the remainder of the lettering was formed very slowly, which is a sure indication of forgery. Still, it is quite obvious that whoever penned this message to plague us has had access to a genuine sample of my handwriting.”
“Where on earth could he have obtained such a thing?”
“Ah, but we may draw still more conclusions: the document he has in his possession, while featuring a signature at the end, evinces fewer examples of my other characters. A short note, then, and I would wager fifty pounds one lacking the letter q entirely.”
“Some villain has access to your correspondence?”
“I hardly see how.”
“The Capital and Counties is renowned for its trustworthiness.”
“Well, then, you may have dashed off a note to your solicitor or penned a response to a client. It is impossible to know where the sample was obtained.”
“I will not say that you are wrong,” my friend replied abstractedly, “but surely the balance of probability is enormously against an agent of evil happening upon my handwriting by chance. It is far more probable that he stole a missive from some party who could be assumed to possess a sample of my script. At once the field is narrowed considerably. There is yourself to consider, my brother, several inspectors of the Yard, and those agencies to which you have already so shrewdly alluded, such as my bank or solicitor.”
“But stop a moment, Holmes—forgive me, but it was for good reason that I was particularly eager to meet with you this evening.”
My friend indicated his interest with a tilt of his head, and I proceeded to tell him all that we three had accomplished in his absence. I am still delighted to recall that, when I had concluded my narrative, Sherlock Holmes himself appeared astonished in no small measure.
“And your tracks are entirely covered?”
“It will be thought a childish pleasantry enacted upon a particularly rank example of British journalism.”
Holmes’s eyes narrowed impishly. “What pleasantry?”
“An inspired whim of Miss Monk’s devising. Rest assured it was entirely anonymous and that he will come to no lasting harm by it. The only thing of any interest was the note. It came in this envelope.”
To my great shock, my friend’s wan face paled still further.
“Holmes, whatever is the matter?”
He rushed to the wall, where notes were tacked in jagged rows, and pulled down perfect facsimiles of the last two letters we had received purportedly from Jack the Ripper.
“I knew he had motive, but it seemed too fantastic to contemplate. Surely I was within the bounds of reason to think it a paid mercenary or a political opportunist…”
“My dear fellow, what is it?”
“Look at it!” he cried, holding up a letter next to the envelope. “They are disguised, yes, but there cannot be a doubt in the world that these are penned by the same hand!”
“Do you mean to tell me that the man who has been tracing your movements, the blackguard who has set this journalist against you, is none other than Jack the Ripper himself?”
“Identical unmarked stationery to the kidney package,” my friend murmured. “Dated only two days after I quit Baker Street. Postal district E one—Whitechapel, Spitalfields, and Mile End.”
“Holmes, what can this possibly mean?”
My friend’s eyes met mine with a hunted expression I had never seen there before. “It means that the Whitechapel killer is determined to see me blamed for his crimes. It also means that my movements, in any event those before I left Baker Street, were as open to him as the pages of a book. It is not a pretty thing to contemplate, Watson, but I very much fear the author of these murders has taken it upon himself to ruin me.”
I stared at him aghast. “I am heartily sorry not to have furnished you with better news.”
“My dear fellow, I am eternally grateful.”
“Then what can we do?”
“We can do nothing yet. I must think,” said he, sitting on the edge of the bed and drawing his knees into his wiry frame.
I nodded. “In that case, I shan’t dream of interrupting you.”
Holmes eyed me suspiciously. “You are not staying.”
“Nonsense,” said I. “I am assisting you in your work.”
My friend leapt to his feet. “That is entirely out of the question,” he cried. “Whatever nightmare it was before, this has developed into an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking.”
“Precisely so,” I agreed, helping myself to a woolen blanket.
“I categorically forbid it! You could fall prey to the gravest possible consequences if I am discovered.”
“Then we must do our best to remain incognito.” It was near impossible to ignore Holmes at his most imperious, but I had never been so set on a course of action in my life.
“Watson, you are the very least apt dissimulator it has been my privilege to know: in fact, I have hardly met anyone in my life whose mind is on more open display.”
I felt my colour rise at these remarks, but then I thought of Holmes undergoing the same threats I had faced in that dark corridor, but every day and without an ally.
“Holmes, give me your word as a gentleman I could not possibly be of use to you here in Whitechapel.”
“That is not the point!”
“Given your reputation for superior mental faculties, I should have thought you’d have grasped that it was.”
After a glare of considerable acrimony, Holmes smiled in resignation.
“Well, well, if I cannot dissuade you, I suppose I must thank you.”
“It will be my pleasure.”
He returned to the pallet, spread himself across it, and crossed his feet upon the water barrel. “I daresay you’ll find the surroundings a difficult adjustment.”
“I served in the second Afghan war, Holmes. I imagine I shall be comfortable enough.”
At this my friend sat bolt upright again with an exclamation of glee. “You have hit upon the very thing! And doubtless without any knowledge you have done so. The Afghan war…well done indeed.”
“I am gratified to be of service.”
“Good night, Watson,” he called out, turning down the oil lamp and stuffing his pipe with shag. “I must beg you not to avail yourself of my razor come morning. Unshaven will do far better, I think. And Watson?” he added. I could hear from his tone he had largely recovered his good humour.
“I shouldn’t venture into the near right-hand corner. I am afraid it leaves something to be desired in the structural sense. Sleep well.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Bonfire Night
I awoke the next morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing over me in his pea jacket and rough red scarf, tossing a heap of worn clothing in the corner. He was distressingly energized, and I knew from the deep arcs under his eyes that his night had been a sleepless one.
“What is the time?”
“Close upon eight.”
“You have been out?”
“I have been rambling about town and took the liberty of making a few purchases on your behalf.”
“Indeed? Have you eaten?”
“A cup of coffee. Now, Watson, I trust you won’t mind exercising a small precaution I’ve been forced to employ when traveling in these circles. I would appreciate your donning the exceedingly shabby attire to your immediate left, topped with that old coat. Forgive me for having torn it in a few places. Just at the moment, you appear far too affluent to be associated with Jack Escott, but that hearty fellow will meet you downstairs in ten minutes’ time, and we will take our morning wet at the Ten Bells public house, preceded by a good brisk walk.”
In less than the time specified, I met Holmes (or rather, Holmes in the guise of the seafaring type I took to be called Jack Escott) downstairs, and we struck off in the coarse beige light of morning. Twenty minutes had passed before the tavern appeared on the corner of Church Street, its doorway flanked by simple columns and its sign, black with “The Ten Bells” marked out in white lettering, swaying gently in the breeze. The single room inside was littered with chairs and knife-scarred tables, while the walls boasted pictorial tiling degraded nearly to ruins by a tenacious layer of grit.
“You are wondering what our intent may be,” Holmes responded softly, though I had said nothing. “Never fear—just be sure to agree with me at every turn, and we’ll soon come out all right.”
The bar was far busier than I would ever have guessed at that hour, the locals industriously draining their cups before setting off to accomplish the labours or leisures of their respective days. A knot of bedraggled half-pay soldiers soon spied Holmes and waved us lazily over to their table.
“Where’d you pick up this one, then, Escott?” hailed a short fellow of middle years, with regulation side-whiskers and the peering red gaze of a man who is seldom if ever free from the influence of strong drink.
“This is Middleton, an old mate of mine just back in town. Murphy! A round of porter for the table.”
“How are you, Middleton?” asked the soldier as more brews were poured. I was formulating a reply when my friend interjected.
“Oh, never mind him, Kettle. He was in Afghanistan, you know. Saw more of life than any of us should, or so I’ve gathered. Only talks when he’s had a drop too many, and even then it’s of Ghazis, bless him.”
“What was it, then? Kandahar?”
Holmes laughed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Nothing so pleasant as that. Maiwand.* You’d best leave him be.”
The former guardsmen squinted sympathetically. “Well, then, what about you, Escott? Back to the Three Cobras tonight?”
Holmes’s eyes narrowed dreamily. “It had crossed my mind. Middleton here’s a ruddy connoisseur of the stuff. We’ve been rambling about all night. Stumbled onto that fellow Blackstone, what was in Egypt a few years back.”
“Johnny Blackstone? Haven’t run into him for over a week now. Your friend here may keep mum more than is usual, but it’s a sight more peaceful than that Blackstone’s balmy talk.”
“That’ll be the black drop. He means no harm.”
“I daresay you’re right. But he was in a dark mood last I laid eyes on him.”
“I meant to stop by his digs last week—he allowed as he’d be the better for company, but damned if there weren’t a pipe in my hand when I said it. It was as much as I could do to recall it were in Spitalfields, let alone the address.”
“He lives in Sandy’s Row, over Widegate Street area. Keeps himself to himself for the most part, but I dropped in for a nightcap, last month it must have been, though I’ve not been back since. There he is up at the back of the building, windows all stopped up with scraps. Small wonder he’s so few folk looking in.”
“Maybe he likes it that way. At any rate, I’ve Middleton to share a morning pipe if Blackstone’s too deep in the dumps to crawl out of ’em.” My friend shrugged, finishing the last of his beer.
“You don’t mean to stop by now, do you?” Kettle asked. “Lord knows what den he’s holed up in. He’s that cracked—sets off at one or two in the morning on his rambles and never thinks of his rooms till late the next day. If you want to find him there, look in tonight before midnight.”
We said our good-byes and ambled outdoors. I could see the bustling eastern side of Spitalfields Market across the road from us, and the smell of livestock and freshly unearthed onions wafted along the street. My friend was a taut whipcord of suppressed vitality as we set off aimlessly down the road.
“That’s done it,” Holmes said quietly, but with the thrill of the chase in his clipped tenor. “I had the house number yesterday from a fellow called Wicks over three cups of gin.”
“Have you all this while been seeking out Blackstone’s lodgings?”
“Indeed yes. It is no joke to infiltrate a network of people and, through expert maneuvering, convey the impression that you have existed on the periphery for far longer than anyone can recall.”
“I was astonished at their manner toward you. You might have known them for years.”
“For the first five days, I divided no less than eighteen hours a day amongst the most popular dens between Whitechapel and Limehouse, my brain nothing more than a massive sponge. I flatter myself I had the lay of the land fairly quickly, deducing as much as I observed. Patterns began to emerge. When I felt confident enough, and these fellows had grown used to the sight of me, I began dropping names—a brother who’d reenlisted, a friend who’d died, a girl who hadn’t been seen in years. I established undisputed, unprovable connections. At last my own story came out. Where had I been? At sea, these four years. Soon I was so universally trusted that I could elicit information with very little fear of being caught.
“When Mr. Li conveyed the message that Blackstone was at the Three Cobras, I arrived mere minutes too late, but his departure easily occasioned talk of him amongst his associates. Slowly, as if I were piecing together a smashed Abyssinian urn, an image emerged. He has not lived long in the area, and no one knew him before August. He resides alone, more often than not going about in a uniform in spite of his discharge. He is a mass of contradictions: despite his rugged good looks and cynical charm, he shuns the company of women. Though his mood is nearly always black and his temper violent, he is well liked by the other lads for his clever speech and free purse.
“I desired nothing more than to find out his lodgings, but it soon became clear that the slippery devil hardly ever receives guests. It could not have been more taxing, Watson—it was a more delicate combination of deductive reasoning and guarded conversation than I ever anticipated, but the final link you witnessed yourself, and the end of the search lies before us. I confess that I feared when you arrived, your presence would disrupt my little fiction. Thankfully, I had nearly reached my goal, and a trusty comrade will now be of inestimable use.”
“No one else could have accomplished so much, and without arousing the slightest suspicion,” I declared warmly.
Holmes waved away my compliment, but the gesture was a gentle one. “Your envelope is cause for the greatest concern. It was postmarked Saturday, the twentieth of October. Tavistock has had more damning information in his hands for over two weeks now. At any moment, he may publish another stylishly phrased defamation. Then there is the Ripper himself to consider; since he set out to terrorize the unfortunates of Whitechapel, he has never paused this long in his ungodly work. If the pattern of dates continues, he will strike again no later than the eighth of November.”
“May we run the villain down tonight, for their sakes.”
“For all of London, my dear fellow,” he replied grimly. “But above all, for their sakes.”
We passed the day easily in the ramshackle room, Holmes chatting desultorily of violins and their origins in sixteenth-century Italy until the sun had fallen. After a bowl of stew and tumbler of whiskey in a nearby tavern, we set off under the clearest night sky we had seen in some time. My friend steered us immediately north, and I quickly recognized our path as we passed the railway depot and crossed Aldgate High Street. A group of street urchins were setting off a riot of firecrackers in an old cistern, and I recalled as a shower of golden sparks fell upon the roofs of the warehouses that it was Guy Fawkes Day, the fifth of November.
“I cannot express how galling it was to have the house number from a semidelirious sot moments before he lost any pretense at consciousness,” Holmes remarked as the crack and hiss of gunpowder faded into the distance. “However, despite the delay, it was as well we learned of the street from Kettle, for he knows more of Blackstone’s habits than anyone.”
“What do you imagine will happen, Holmes?”
“Suffice it to say we had best prepare for anything. In any event, I don’t suppose either of us will ever again fail to remember the fifth of November.”
We strode down a slick side street littered with whimsical configurations of rubbish gathered into heaps, which I gradually perceived were actually for sale. Broken pipes, cracked cookware, split boots, rusted keys, and twisted cutlery spilled onto the cobbles, and all the smells of the thrice-mended clothing permeated the air. Through this purgatory of lost objects Holmes picked his way easily, until we emerged onto an open byway, edged with warehouses whose smokestacks churned black exhalations into the night. Here numerous bonfires blazed, with crude Guy Fawkes effigies roasting above them, and the locals turned spitted potatoes over the coals as they cheered the roar of distant detonations.
My friend stopped at a corner and pointed without hesitation to a rickety structure which leaned against its neighbour for succour in its extreme old age. Though the street was unmarked at that juncture, I had no doubt but that Holmes’s encyclopedic knowledge had led us directly to Blackstone’s dwelling place.
“You have your weapon about you, I trust?”
“My service revolver is in my pocket.”
“Very good.” He plunged off the pavement, such as it was, and we approached the sagging grey door. The detective’s knock produced nothing more than a hollow thumping which died away the instant it was produced.
“There seems to be no one on the ground floor,” he whispered, cracking the lens of his dark lantern. “Let us see if there is any sign of life on the upper levels.”
We tried the door and found it latched, but with the aid of his pocketknife, Holmes had it open in a few seconds. A mouse squeaked in the corner and then fled through shafts of lunar illumination to its sanctuary under the stair. My friend crept toward the staircase and ascended, I at his heels, each of us straining our ears for any indication that the floor we approached was occupied.
Two doors, each slightly ajar, presented themselves upon the next landing. The further one sat in shadow, the nearer lashed with bars of silver light from the cracked roof high above us. Without a sound, Holmes moved through the closer door and into the room.
Inside stood a perfect representation of a family’s living quarters, with a pot on the stove, a pile of clothing half folded on the floor, even a string of carefully collected, brightly coloured bits of broken glass hung over a tiny basket draped with blankets in the corner. A thin film of dust lay over the entire room. I caught Holmes by the wrist.
“Out. Quickly,” I ordered, and in a few steps we were back in the hallway. Holmes’s searching expression swiftly cleared when he had deduced the cause behind the uncanny scene that I, as a doctor, had once encountered before.
“Cholera or smallpox?”
“It seems to be no longer worth finding out.”
My friend nodded and immediately diverted his attention to the other door, which he opened with a gentle push before poking his head inside.
“This one is uninhabitable, at least in the winter. A fire seems to have eaten away the outer wall some years ago. Our man resides upstairs on the second floor.”
Grasping the butt of my revolver firmly, I advanced up the final set of stairs behind Holmes. Though dustier and fallen into further disrepair, I did not need his finely honed senses to inform me that someone was in the habit of passing this way.
A single unmarked door appeared at the end of the second-floor corridor. My friend strode forward without a backward glance and threw open the final unlatched portal.
I saw at once, despite the poverty of light caused by strips of cloth hanging over the two tiny windows, that no one was there. Holmes opened the full flood of the lantern’s brilliance and handed it to me. Remaining just outside lest I trample some fragment vital to his investigation, I replaced my revolver in my pocket and examined the room from the hallway. Filth encrusted every surface and a sickly sweet smell, like burnt sugar that had been allowed to decay, permeated the very walls of the place.
Holmes set instantly to exploring every inch of the chamber with an expression of the utmost gravity, and I very soon determined why. Apart from a blanket and a broken chair, not a single object remained in the room. And despite the noxious atmosphere, I failed to spy either pipe or bag which might have contained any opium.
“There has been some deviltry at work here,” Holmes said in his coldest, most impassive tone. “Come in—there’s nothing to be learned from the floor.”
“Our bird appears to have flown,” I commented.
“But in heaven’s name, why? I was meticulous. I am prepared to swear that no one has the least idea I am even searching for him.” Holmes gestured dispiritedly with a wide sweep of his lean arm. “A blanket, and a chair. They tell us nothing. And yet…in a sense, it is very peculiar. He has clearly taken all he possessed. Why should the blanket remain? No holes, no mice…Everything else is gone. Why leave this behind?”
“Perhaps he was determined to lighten his load.”
“That is possible. But there is something about it I do not like. Let us leave this wretched place.”
My friend’s expression was set and neutral as we retraced our steps, yet somehow it was as dejected as I had ever seen. But our time in that house would not end so quickly as we had imagined, for as we descended the last set of stairs, the outer door swung forward to reveal a hollow-eyed woman, thin and spindly but with fiery red hair, accompanied by two children whose paper-thin complexions loudly declared their ill health.
Holmes, to his credit, held the lamp so that she could clearly see us and relapsed immediately into the charming seafarer whose identity he had laboured so long to establish.
“Oh, dear God!” the woman cried at seeing two strangers in what were, presumably, her rooms.
“Now, don’t take on so,” Holmes began in his most hypnotic tones. “We’ve come to see a friend, but we mean you no harm. He ain’t here, so we’re making our way back out again.”
“What on earth do y’ mean skulking about in here at night?”
“We made a poor job of it—please accept our apologies, ma’am. My name is Escott, and this here is Middleton.”
“Timothy, Rebecca, go along to the room, now,” she breathed in the lilting tones of the northern Irish native. “Take yer bundle, and eat yer share.” When the children had run off clutching a small rag, she returned her gaze to my friend. “What’s yer business, then?”
“We only wished to see your lodger.”
“He owes you money, does he?”
“Nothing of the sort, ma’am.”
She crossed her arms. “You truly are friends o’ his, then? Or are you kin?”
My friend smiled. “I promise you we neither of us would dream of breaking into your house meaning any harm. We wanted a word with him, and that’s the end of it.”
“Well, you won’t be having a word with him now.”
“So it seemed to us upstairs,” Holmes acknowledged, his eyes as sharp as knife points in the moonlight. “And why not?”
“Because,” she said flatly, “if your friend is Johnny Blackstone, there’s not a soul as can speak to him this side of the grave. Johnny Blackstone is dead.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX The Lie
It was a great blessing for Holmes and me that we appeared in the character of Blackstone’s friends, for the stunned expression that flitted across both our faces thus required no explanation.
The woman’s thin lips parted sympathetically. “My name is Mrs. Quinn. I’ve naught to offer you for refreshment, as we’ve fallen lately upon some hard times. But if you’ve no objection to sitting a moment, I’ll make it all as clear to ye as I can.”
We thus found ourselves seated upon a pew in the well-kept but achingly bare room the Quinns shared. Similar pews lined the other three walls, scorched in places as if rescued from a fire, and a statue of the Virgin Mary whose cloak had half burned away sat majestically in a corner.
“Yer wondering at my furnishings,” Mrs. Quinn observed. “There was a great fire at one of the chapels hereabouts some years ago, when Mr. Quinn was still alive. Much of it was piled up for burning, but my Colin, he said the Lord would be grieved to see us wi’out so much as a stone to sit on, and here He’s provided us wi’ benches that would remind us of His goodness every day.
“Wi’out Mr. Quinn these five years, times has gotten steadily worse, and I’d taken the notion of bringing in extra lodgers. God forgive me for saying since his death this house has seemed as cursed as any I’ve ever heard tell of back home. The first family lived happily enough upstairs before their eldest daughter took sick. The Connellys they were called, the six of ’em. Wasn’t long before Katie’d spread the pox to the others, and it was all I could do to keep ’em supplied with hot water and linens wi’out exposing our family to the sickness. After four of ’em had died, the other two just disappeared into the night. I’ve been wanting to rent the room again, for it’s months since they’ve gone, but the notion of cleaning it is a hard one, for I’ve more knowledge of how these things are passed than most, and I’ve a mortal terror of taking sick with Tim and Rebecca to think of.
“The other chamber was near enough destroyed when a kerosene lamp fell from a table, but I still had the attic room, and last August I rented it to yer friend, Johnny Blackstone, just after the Connellys all vanished. I think he liked this house, for it was so easy for him to be alone, and I hardly ever saw him from one day to the next. Whenever we did meet, often as not I’d have the little ones in tow, and he’d laugh at the sight of ’em. He’d leave treats for ’em at the foot of the stairs—harmless things, boats he’d made, and paper dolls and the like. But he always seemed in a hurry to be quit of us and would strike off for one of his dens, or run upstairs to smoke that foul pipe of his, and so it was that when he died last week, I never noticed for well-nigh three days’ time. God forgive me for it.”
“How did he die, Mrs. Quinn?”
“He hanged himself, Mr. Escott,” she replied, her round hazel eyes brimming with tears.
Holmes and I regarded her with unfeigned horror, but she swiftly recovered her self-possession.
“The parish men took his body and performed a pauper’s burial. I cast about a bit for any as knew him, but when none did, I came to think how he’d been behind in his rent, and the washing I take in hasn’t been near enough, and winter just beginning. I pawned the lot of his things today when I’d done delivering my washing, Mr. Escott. All but the blanket, for we need another one.”
“Mrs. Quinn, though I don’t like asking you to think on such things, was there any sign of why a young fellow like Blackstone might have taken his own life? Something in the lot you pawned, for instance?”
“There was nothing like that save for a letter. I believe it’s for his sister. I’d have mailed it sooner, but I’ve only just gotten the postage from the goods I pawned.”
She brought the letter and placed it upon the table. Holmes did not so much as glance at it but regarded Mrs. Quinn with an admirable display of buried grief.
“Forgive me—Blackstone’s death has come as a powerful blow to us, you must understand. That he had fallen upon evil days I knew, but that he ever entertained the notion of taking his own life…well, my mate may be beyond help, Mrs. Quinn, but I can at least set his affairs in order. What did he owe you beyond what you took in from pawning his goods?”
“Three and sixpence, Mr. Escott.”
“Here is a crown, then, for his rent and the interest. As for his goods, you’ve saved us from dealing with them.” As we arose and shook hands with Mrs. Quinn, Holmes’s eyes at last fell upon the letter. “Might I have the honour of posting this, Mrs. Quinn? Surely all the proceeds from his kit ought to be your own.”
“I should be glad if you would do so. Thank you both for yer kindness. I am sure Mr. Blackstone sees it and is grateful.”
We took our leave of Mrs. Quinn’s ruinous house, the outside air tinged with spent powder and woodsmoke. My friend tucked the letter in his inner pocket, and we marched without a word exchanged between us back to Scarborough Street and up the precarious stairs to Holmes’s room.
Though I could see from the detective’s first glance at the address that something deeply troubled him, he proceeded with mechanical aplomb, carefully slitting it open only after he had exhausted the envelope. He glanced at the handwriting within, then promptly passed it to me and sat upon the orange crate with the tips of his fingers pressed before his nearly closed eyes.
The message, written in a great, driving script on four one-sided sheets, went as follows:
My dearest Lily,
You must be very angry with me for having hidden myself away all this time, but I fear once I have told you the reason for it, you’ll be glad enough never to lay eyes on your brother again. How I’ve missed you, and Peter, and the little ones. Whatever you do, please don’t tell the children of this letter. Say I had to go back to war. Say anything. I couldn’t bear it if they were afraid of their uncle, even after the evil I’ve done. The thought that they will remember me as the man I wished to be always—but you won’t tell them, Lily. That’s a comfort to me. Maybe it’s the only one I have left.
You remember, when we were young ourselves, once in a great while I lost my wits a little. I even struck you, my darling sister, as hard as ever I could, and you only six at the time. Can you remember it still? Your lip bled and you hid from me, and after father dealt with me, I spent every spare hour in the barn for a week making you dolls out of straw so that you would forgive me. I swore I’d never fall into such a rage again.
There was a fellow in Egypt—never mind him, he came out of it all right, but we had been mates and it was never the same afterwards. And another chap after we’d come back to Plymouth who tried to cheat me at cards. I thought the opium helped make me quieter, but soon enough I saw it wasn’t any real good.
I’ve come to the part I would rather cut off my arm than tell you, but if you’re ever to forgive me and still think of me with kindness when I’m gone, you have to know the whole truth of it, for I can’t bear any more of this sham. There was a girl. We’d walked down an alley together and had hardly been there ten minutes before it happened. She said something wicked to me—no woman ought to say such a thing to a man. I was drunk, and all I could feel was that black rage burning a hole in my chest, and by the work of some devil, my bayonet was in my hand. It was over in a moment. She looked almost sad at what I’d done. I heard the sound of footsteps coming toward us, and I didn’t stop running until I fell in a ditch, where I lay until morning, and a ditch is where I’ve lived, body and soul, ever since.
I don’t deserve to see you again, and I can’t be trusted with the girls. Maybe I’ve spent time enough in a deep enough Hell since it happened that God will forgive me—or maybe there’ll be nothing anymore, just quiet, and maybe I want that most of all.
We sat in silence for some time. I knew nothing of what Holmes was thinking, but my own mind was in a whirl. It was a terrible admission, a nightmare of guilt and self-recrimination, but knowing as much as Holmes and I did, also grossly inaccurate. Could Blackstone have fallen into such a murderous trance that he had forgotten stabbing Martha Tabram beyond all bounds of sanity? I reminded myself that his sister’s opinion was paramount to him, but it beggared belief that he would admit to a murder and then promptly obscure the manner of it.
And where, if his deranged mind even knew of them, was mention of the other killings? My friend had hinted at every opportunity that he thought this man Blackstone to be none other than Jack the Ripper. His insistence that the Tabram case was our starting point, his preoccupation with uniforms, his tolerance of Dunlevy’s spying, the very weeks he had spent in the East-end: all pointed irrevocably to Blackstone’s assumed guilt. But if he had been the culprit, were our troubles now at an end? If all five grisly murders were upon his shoulders, the confession I still held listlessly in my hand was nothing more than a monstrous lie, or else the ravings of a man so delusional that he had forgotten the bulk of his wrongdoing. So much was clear to me and yet allowed room for still one more intolerable scenario to present itself. Suppose that Sherlock Holmes had been wrong?
I stirred myself to regard my friend, who remained in the exact posture he had assumed when I began the letter. Relaxed and immobile, he could have remained perfectly still, perhaps for hours, outwardly catatonic while his mind grappled rarefied data into hard fact. Instead, he spoke.
“You know what it means, don’t you?” he asked, his tone still reflecting the distant, incisive diction of the pure reasoner.
“I can hardly make head or tail of it. It complicates things immensely.”
“On the contrary, it simplifies them a thousand times over.”
“But my dear Holmes, how can that be possible?”
“Because now we know,” he said softly, “that someone is lying.”
I could think of nothing to say. Holmes fell back into thought, drumming his long fingers against one another until a startled expression darted across his features.
“A killing stab with a bayonet, and thirty-eight more wounds with a common pocketknife. Dear God, it is as clear as day. Where is Miss Monk?”
“I do not know. Dunlevy escorted her home yesterday. He is more taken with her than ever.”
“Is she likely to be with Dunlevy still?”
“I could not tell you. Her loathing of the fellow certainly seems to have lessened somewhat. But Holmes—”
Holmes, already in his coat, his muffler a whirl of red as he made for the door, made no reply. His haste sent a sharp sliver of unease shooting down my spine as I scrambled after him.
We set off at a rapid pace down the street, dappled everywhere with the orange light of exultant bonfires, but whether we made for Stephen Dunlevy’s abode or Miss Monk’s rooms I could not say. As we walked, Holmes stared unseeingly with his head sunk upon his chest whilst I fought to prevent myself picturing Miss Monk lying cold and open-eyed in an alleyway. Within a few minutes, we passed the now familiar sight of the Leman Street police station, its stoic lights casting icy blue shafts through their casements of marine-coloured glass. Excepting the Bow Street station, which Her Majesty considered too close to the opera house to broadcast its existence so palpably, each Metropolitan outpost proclaimed itself a haven by its shimmering cobalt lamps.
“When one considers the police presence in the East-end, it is positively unthinkable that so many lives have been lost to this madman.”
To my utmost surprise, for I had hardly noted my muttered remark had been made aloud, Holmes stopped dead in his tracks.
“What do you mean, Watson?”
“Well,” I faltered, “the security in Whitechapel must be at its most stringent in history. Every available man has been diverted to guard the area. There ought to be dozens of them at any given time—though of course I’ve no notion of how they organize their beats.”
“Beats are between one and one-and-one-half miles long, generally requiring a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifteen minutes to traverse, barring any time-consuming incident. They do not overlap, though their routes do bring them into contact at their perimeters with other constables. Stopping for any reason other than suspicion a crime has been committed is expressly forbidden, though many officers keep a flask of tea warming at a gas lamp somewhere along their path.”
He began to pace slowly beside the police station, one hand lightly beating against the adjacent brick wall. “Watson, a deranged man kills five separate women, all in the same small area of London. Instead of fleeing the scene, he remains with the corpses in a state of perfect calm and goes about the business of cutting them open. Once finished with his task, he makes his way to safety as invisibly as a ghost…No, no, no. As I have stated it, it is impossible. Fool that I am!” he cried. “Why did I not see at once that it is impossible? The alleys, the byways, the holes in the fences, the cat’s meat and the blood-strewn butcheries and the wretched light, all these factors seemed to have allowed this madman to work with impunity. And yet the acts he has committed cannot have been enabled simply by his environment. Once or twice, perhaps, luck may have been on his side, but his success at this late date beggars belief. He is cunning and ruthless. Why would he risk everything to chance?”
He was off again, at a run this time. Boarded shop windows blurred into one another as we rushed headlong up tapering corridors, finally emerging into the pulsating spectacle of Whitechapel Road on the night of the fifth of November.
Dodging past hawkers waving crude effigies labeled with the names of Guy Fawkes and Jack the Ripper, we plunged into traffic, narrowly skirting the drays, hansoms, and carts which choked the thoroughfare. Just when I began to despair of maintaining the breakneck pace my friend had set, he turned sharply left and I recognized the wooden door of the chambers Miss Monk had taken. Holmes strode to the entrance, his brow etched with disquiet.
“We face two possibilities. One is very nearly proven, and the other almost untenable. However, as it should be exorbitantly clear now even to you, my dear Watson, I have been wrong before.”
He knocked twice, then swiftly entered. Though the door was unlocked, we saw by the low firelight in the grate that the tidy room was empty.
“She could be anywhere, Holmes,” said I, more to myself than to my friend. “After all, it is—”
“The fifth of November.” He touched the top of the wide candle sitting on her table. “The wax is still soft. She left within thirty minutes.”
“What is the time?”
“Nearly two, by my watch.”
“Is she in danger, Holmes?”
“If my hypothesis is correct, she is in no more danger than you or I. However, I have not a shred of hard evidence to back me, and the only logical alternative is not a pleasant one.”
I tried with all my might to recall the name of the tavern Miss Monk had mentioned as being the first stop on many of her reconnaissance forays. “There is a pub, Holmes, around the corner from her house.”
“The Knight’s Standard, on Old Montague Street. An excellent notion, Doctor.”
The pub in question was a cheery enough watering hole with two fireplaces, one at either end of an elongated rectangle of a room with an impossibly low beamed ceiling. Through the haze of tobacco fumes, I spied a couple seated in shabby armchairs on either side of a simple table, and the female appeared to be blessed with a halo of black curls.
“There she is! She is all right,” I exclaimed.
“Thank God for that.”
“I believe that is Dunlevy,” I added forcefully, unable to forget Holmes’s interest in his proximity to Miss Monk and chafing at the fact that I could not see what was inside my friend’s mind.
“Everything is as I thought, then,” said Holmes, but the jubilation I had expected was entirely missing from his toneless voice. I had no time to question him, for Miss Monk had spied us and was peering our way as if unsure whether to hail or ignore us.
“Shall we speak to them?”
“It can hardly matter now,” he replied with the same chillingly blank inflection.
When we had started toward them, Miss Monk’s pleasure could no longer contain itself as she rushed up to us and threw her arms around Holmes.
“Oh, Mr. Holmes, I was that worried! Where the devil have you been hiding yourself? But you look awfully pale, Mr. Holmes. Don’t tell me there’s been another murder done—”
My friend stepped back with surprised civility and cleared his throat. “Nothing of that nature, Miss Monk.” He had dropped, I noted, all pretense of an assumed dialect.
“We are very relieved to see you in one piece, Mr. Holmes. You’ve found Blackstone, haven’t you?” asked Dunlevy, his clear blue eyes searching our faces with concern. “What has happened?”
My friend resumed staring into the fire while I related, briefly and hesitantly, what had occurred. Miss Monk’s face slowly grew more hopeful.
“Then…then, do you mean…if he really is dead, is it the end of this horrid business?”
“I suppose it is the end,” I answered, my eyes fixed on Holmes. “After all, he may not have known what he was doing. And the guilt must have been unspeakable; perhaps the trauma simply unhinged his mind.”
“But that isn’t what Mr. Holmes thinks, is it?” asked Dunlevy, offering us two cigarettes.
The detective accepted the stimulant mechanically and drew a pocketbook from the lining of his pea jacket, handing it to Dunlevy with a stub of lead pencil. “Write something.”
Stephen Dunlevy took the items without protest, but eyed Holmes questioningly. “What shall I write?”
“Anything. ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and plot.’”
When Dunlevy had finished, he tore out the page and passed it to my friend. “Is this of any use to you?”
After glancing at it, Holmes balled it up and threw it in the fire. “It is conclusive. If you will excuse me, I must see what can be done.”
“But Mr. Holmes—”
“I’ve a task for you and Miss Monk, if you would be so kind. Go at once to George Lusk’s residence in Mile End. Tell him to meet with his men. They are already arranged into beats, and equipped with police whistles and truncheons, but convey my assertion that they must be flawlessly organized and on the most stringent alert. Afterwards, Miss Monk, do please stay indoors.”
Once outside, Holmes made for Whitechapel Road. I touched my friend on the shoulder predicting resistance, but he paused at once and regarded me expectantly.
“You anticipate another murder.”
“I am in hopes of preventing it. It will require an extraordinary effort. I need Lestrade’s assistance, but…I must think of a way. Perhaps my brother can—I do not know. Perhaps it is impossible.”
I stared at Holmes in astonishment, for never had I seen him look so completely cowed by his own knowledge.
“You feared it could be Dunlevy.”
“He was one possibility. We are left with the other.”
“Then you do know who the killer is.”
“I do. It is perfectly clear now. But pray God that I am wrong.”
As he passed a hand over his eyes, I recalled that he could not have slept more than twenty hours in the last seven days. For the first time since I had known him, Sherlock Holmes appeared to be exhausted by work rather than by inaction.
“Because if I am right,” he murmured, “I haven’t the first idea what to do.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN The Killer
I have always been struck by my friend Sherlock Holmes’s temerity in the face of adversity. In all our long years of association, I have never once known his courage to fail him, and his actions later that night, or rather early the next morning, reflected the dauntless tenacity I had come to expect of him. It is a brave man who awakens Mycroft Holmes at four o’clock in the morning.
We stopped at Baker Street for a wash and a change of clothes, but Holmes, on the instant he emerged from his bedroom, announced his intention of going out again.
“You will hardly find it a reflection on you, friend Watson, when I suggest that the fewer individuals storming my dear brother’s rooms at this hour, the better for Queen and country. In any event, I trust he will know better than I what steps should be taken.”
“Can I do anything in your absence?”
“Read all my correspondence the instant it arrives; I shall stop by the post office when it opens to redirect my mail. And get some rest, my dear fellow. You’ll need it, if I have not completely lost my mind.”
The notion of resting initially struck me as ludicrous, yet a hot bath and the reflection that I would be as good as useless that night without some respite soon convinced me to follow Holmes’s advice. I awoke near nine o’clock that morning and rang for breakfast, little expecting Mrs. Hudson to appear in my doorway in a far more severe fit of temper than I would ever have given the kindly woman credit for. I was told that the mysterious disappearance of two lodgers, during a time when they are known to be in danger, is unspeakably vexing to an affectionate landlady. I soon forged the appropriate truces.
Knowing Holmes’s obsession with presenting a complete case, I was not in the least surprised that I remained in the dark. It was as unlike him to explain a problem before its conclusion as it was for him to leave unfinished threads at the end of one. Something of the detachment of my days in combat entered my bones; there was a war on, and Holmes was the general leading the assault. Even if I could not propose a strategy, now that my friend had returned, I could at least follow orders.
The first telegram for Holmes arrived at half past one in the afternoon and stated, “The officers in question patrol an area bordering Whitechapel and Spitalfields north of Wentworth Street and south of Spital Square. Map follows by post. Abberline.”* The second was from Mr. Vandervent of the News Agency, demanding an immediate interview at his offices, with me alone if Holmes still could not be found.
Vandervent’s caveat proved unnecessary, as my friend arrived home at slightly after three in the afternoon in an exceedingly bad temper.
“I believe it is the sole business of government to invent elaborate impediments to swift action,” he snapped, flinging his hat on the settee emphatically.
“Your brother has been taking you round, I see.”
“To hell and back. It is no wonder they depend upon him so. He at once set about notifying the proper channels, which I need hardly tell you took three hours longer than it ought to have done. Mr. Matthews was not without a certain grasp of the problem, however.”
“The Home Secretary!” I exclaimed. “Is it truly as bad as that?”
“I am afraid so. Are there any messages?”
Holmes read his telegrams gravely, then jotted down another. I caught a glimpse of George Lusk’s address on the form.
“Holmes, you really must eat something.”
“No doubt I must. But we must also find a cab, for you do not wish to entertain the notion of inciting Mr. Vandervent’s wrath. I have seen it before.”
“I should like to know what good you think you’ll be to anyone lying helpless in hospital.”
He ignored me. “Come along now, my dear Watson, for in light of the notes you discovered, we’ve every reason to believe Vandervent’s news is no trifling affair.”
The Central News Agency’s offices were located in New Bridge Street in the City, and though I had never seen them, I had been prepared by the air of barely harnessed chaos in the offices of the London Chronicle for the thunderous atmosphere within. Pressmen, tweed jackets rumpled and collar ends loosened, flew to and fro throughout the large chamber, comparing papers and smoking endless cigarettes. Few amid the general hubbub glanced our way initially, but those who did so arrested conversations in midsentence as they paused to stare.
“I say, Mr. Holmes—” one began, but he was interrupted by the advent of a whirling dervish wielding a crutch as if it were a pikestaff.
“If you so much as form the thought that this is an opportunity to pose questions to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I shall explore the potential of the typewriter as a deadly weapon,” Mr. Vandervent declared. With a jerk of his white-crowned head, he led us to a private office and elbowed the door shut.
“Thank heaven you’ve returned, Mr. Holmes,” he remarked, relocating stacks of news clippings from the chairs to the floor. “I had determined to meet with Dr. Watson, but it is far better that you both are here. Sit down, gentlemen.”
“Mr. Vandervent, I am afraid we haven’t much time. There have been some recent developments—”
“I wish to inform you of a development, as you call them, which has not yet come to pass. And despite my best efforts to smash it, including the employment of favours, pleas, threats, and my own considerable personal charm, it will nevertheless come to pass early tomorrow morning.”
Mr. Vandervent located what appeared to be the final draft of an article. Seating himself on the edge of his desk with a deft hop, he read it to us.
In a most distressing turn of events, it has become clear that, directly after suspicions lobbied against him by the official police came to light through this publication, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the aberrant private detective, has fled from his Baker Street dwelling. He had been observed to be spending a great deal of time in the East-end just prior to his unannounced departure, allegedly seeking out Jack the Ripper and further constructing his case. It has been noted by specialists that, in the interim since Mr. Holmes met with highly debilitating injuries on the night of the horrifying double murder, no further crimes have taken place, although such strong negative evidence can hardly be considered conclusive proof against so public a figure as Mr. Holmes. Nevertheless, it seems the clear duty of the Yard to ascertain the unorthodox vigilante’s whereabouts as quickly as possible, for the timing of his desertion appears from certain viewpoints to be an admission of the most damning variety.
Holmes whistled appreciatively. I recall a mad desire to use the paper as kindling to burn down its author’s residence.
“I’ve arranged to be kept well apprised of the cur’s pet projects, you see,” Vandervent continued. “This gem has no doubt already gone to the printer’s. I thought to be forewarned is better than nothing.”
“I shall have to take care not to end up in the dock at this rate.”
“The nerve of the scoundrel!” I fumed. “It is no worse than I expected, but it is hardly less vexing for that.”
Vandervent’s brows shot up in surprise. “You have been expecting another attack from this bounder?”
“Dr. Watson and I thought it highly improbable that Tavistock would cease his efforts once he had discovered so very fertile a ground for self-expression,” Holmes explained.
“Ha,” said Vandervent, skeptically. “Well, I have no doubt but that the pure venom of this beauty is due in large part to that caper pulled in his office Saturday night.”
“How extraordinary. And what caper might that be?” the detective asked serenely.
“Surely you’ve heard by now. Chaps ought to be given a knighthood, for my money. Broke untraceably into Tavistock’s office under cover of darkness and left a hailstorm of snowy white chicken feathers. The source of the feathers, a scrawny plucked little fellow, was found sitting in Tavistock’s desk chair presiding over his foul projects.”
A peal of laughter from Holmes caused me very quickly to examine the state of my shoes as he clapped me upon the shoulder. “So he has been shown the white feather. I shall make a point of thanking the culprit. That is, of course, if his identity is ever discovered.”
“Well, as we’re all plagued with troubles, I shan’t take any more of your time,” Vandervent dismissed us. “If you require any special assistance escaping the building, do let me know. There’s nothing those jackals outside would like better than to sink their teeth into Sherlock Holmes an hour or two before his incarceration. Just mention the word chicken on your way out if you’d care for a round of applause.”
Tavistock’s article blazed forth from the front page of our London Chronicle the next day. However phlegmatically Holmes had taken the news in Vandervent’s office, the sight of such personal vituperation in our morning mail was enough to make him fling the entire periodical into our fireplace.
“I must leave you for a time, Watson, but I beg that you will be here this evening,” he said after coffee, toast, and his morning pipe. “I’d planned we should visit Lestrade at the Yard tonight, but upon further reflection it seems best to avoid tempting them with my actual presence upon their threshold. The inspector will be here by eight, and we shall see what can be done.”
“I am very glad of it. We have been bullied by a shadow for far too long.”
“He is flesh and blood enough. I assure you, Watson, I don’t mean to hold you in suspense, but I’ve had to be very sure of my facts. Tonight I shall make everything as clear as I can.”
“I will be here.”
“You’ve been both constant and fearless over this wretched business, my dear Watson. It makes you quite invaluable, you know.” I raised my eyes to attempt a response to this unprecedented display of esteem, but he had already risen abruptly and secured his hat. “Tell Mrs. Hudson there will be five for supper. If I am not back by eight, I will have no doubt been arrested. In that case, of course, there will be four.”
As I glanced at my watch for the second time to assure myself it was only a quarter to eight, I heard the clatter of four hooves below our window. Energized by the tension of long-stifled curiosity, I threw open the sitting room door long before our bell rang, and I smiled at the sight of Miss Monk and Stephen Dunlevy climbing the stairs.
When I had ushered them in, I noted that Miss Monk, under her usual dark blue fitted coat, wore a simply tailored linsey* dress of deep beige, narrowly striped with a vivid emerald green the shade of her wide-set eyes.
“Miss Monk, you look lovely.”
“Oh. It’s warmer, over the old skirt. I mean—thank you.”
“He’s right, you know,” Dunlevy observed innocently.
“I believe as I recall your saying so. In the growler. Or was it outside my lodgings? Both, I think.”
“The point bore repeating.” He shrugged cheerily.
“Where’s Mr. Holmes?” Miss Monk inquired.
“He’s due to return at any moment. Ah, Lestrade! Come in, Inspector.”
The doughty Lestrade stood in our doorway as if he had all that week been pursued by rabid dogs and had only just taken the time to change his collar. He shook my hand and nodded to our guests.
“Miss Monk, was it? I’m not likely to forget a single moment of that night. And you are, sir?”
“Mr. Dunlevy is a journalist,” I explained.
“Is he indeed?” Lestrade questioned, with a cold eye.
“He has been assisting us. He was in Whitechapel the night of Martha Tabram’s murder in August.”
“Martha Tabram! It’s a wonder Mr. Holmes doesn’t start investigating the Drebber* case again, for all it has to do with Jack the Ripper. I suppose he’ll be here soon?”
“I certainly hope so,” I replied.
As if by magic Sherlock Holmes flung open the door and hung his hat on the peg. “Good evening to you all! I see that Mrs. Hudson has outdone herself. Please do sit down.”
“Here’s the author of this charming note: ‘Whatever you are doing, cease by seven thirty so as to be at Baker Street by eight,’” the inspector pronounced.
“Lestrade, you look very much in need of a drink.”
“Mr. Holmes,” said Inspector Lestrade impatiently, “I’ve no doubt that whatever you have to say to us is of great importance, but I’ve enough work at the Yard to keep me there all night through as it is. Apart from the heightened patrols, we have the honour of keeping the peace at the Lord Mayor’s Show on Friday. From Guildhall to the Courts of Justice and back again, we are expected to maintain order, prevent demonstration, and repress rioting, all while policing a meat tea for three thousand destitute in the heart of Whitechapel. Suffice it to say that neither of us should be here. We ought by rights to be at the Yard, with me outside the bars and you behind them.”
“Shall we have a bite of supper, then, or shall I begin at once?”
“At once, if you would.” Lestrade seated himself with an expectant air and we all followed suit excepting Holmes, who procured his pipe from the mantelpiece and then leaned against the sideboard as he lit it.
“Very well, then. In the first place, Lestrade, you are going to have to redraw the beats in the northwest corner of Whitechapel abutting Spitalfields, to be implemented tomorrow.”
“Do not toy with me.”
“I am deadly serious.”
“Because the man who calls himself Jack the Ripper is intimately acquainted with them—their exact layout, the constables posted, and the time required for each circuit.”
“That is the most preposterous statement I have ever heard you pronounce.”
“How many other preposterous statements have you known me to make?”
“A great many.”
“And how many of them were true?”
“I’ve no intention of redrawing the beats simply because you imagine someone has stolen the duty roster.”
“He had no need of stealing the duty roster. The person of whom I speak is a Metropolitan police officer.”
A terrible silence settled over the room. Holmes sighed heavily. “Will you pour the inspector a drink, Watson? I think you will agree he is in need of one.
“What I intend to say to you all must go no further than this room. I am telling you what I know because I require your help. When I have said my piece, you are welcome to pose any questions you wish, but I had better lay our cards on the table in my own fashion so that you will be able to see the matter as I do.
“It really all began with Stephen Dunlevy here. Not long after Miss Monk consented to serve as our contact in Whitechapel, she met Mr. Dunlevy, who confessed to her that he was the soldier who had awaited his friend’s return on the night of Tabram’s murder. Because the circumstances cast a great deal of suspicion upon this other guardsman, and no less owing to my own doubts regarding Mr. Dunlevy’s chosen career, his story arrested my immediate interest, especially as other women began meeting equally inexplicable and violent ends. I endeavoured to learn more by venturing myself into Whitechapel, which is why Dr. Watson and I happened, through purest coincidence, to catch the Ripper at his foul work. A deduction based on the pony’s behaviour led me into Dutfield’s Yard; the Ripper escaped, as you know, to kill again after he failed in his attempt to dispatch me.
“After this fifth murder, it became obvious to me that we were dealing with no ordinary criminal. He was not a raving lunatic, for if he were, who would ever agree to accompany him with so many unfortunates already dead? Neither was he a thief, nor did he seek calculated revenge, for try as I might to link the poor souls, his victims followed no pattern other than that they were all, as I have said, unfortunates. Thankfully, because I have records of two or three earlier cases matching these particulars—bizarrely motiveless slaughter of anonymous victims—I was able to conclude that the man calling himself Jack the Ripper is a severely diseased monomaniac whose habitual demeanour remains nonetheless perfectly genial.”
“That’s the most atrocious notion I’ve ever heard,” Lestrade muttered, but Holmes took no notice.
“My mention of the name Jack the Ripper brings me to the letters. When he described in exact detail my own cigarette case, and Mr. Lusk received half a human kidney, I had final proof that the man who had murdered five women was writing these letters to bait us. I have no doubt that another note sent to Dr. Watson purporting to be from me was also the Ripper’s work. At first these letters helped us in no way. But finally, I discovered a curious series of numbers which had made an impression on the page beneath. These proved far from negotiable without any context, and so I filed them at the back of my mind until such time as their meaning could be determined.
“After I ascertained his true vocation, Mr. Dunlevy confessed that, while he may have been dressed as a private on the night of Bank Holiday, he was in actuality a journalist whose candid stories were often aided by disguise. He informed me that he had observed Johnny Blackstone, for that was the other soldier’s name, lead Martha Tabram into an alley a mere half hour before the time the medical examiners assured us she met her death. Mr. Dunlevy revisited the pub, but he returned to await his acquaintance and while doing so met with Constable Bennett. Finally giving up on Blackstone, Mr. Dunlevy returned to his home and only later discovered that any foul play had taken place.
“I had the strongest intuition that this terrible series of murders had begun the night of Martha Tabram’s death, and thus locating the elusive Johnny Blackstone became of the utmost importance. He disappeared following his relief from service for erratic and disturbing behaviour, and he was reportedly hiding in Whitechapel, all of which made me very eager to lay my hands on him. After all, any man who would stab a woman thirty-nine times and then coolly walk away was no doubt a very dangerous individual.”
“Dangerous enough,” Miss Monk put in darkly.
“Then another, rather oblique clue fell into my lap. Matthew Packer had heard Elizabeth Stride remark that the man she was with, the man who all evidence suggests was her killer, was not clad in his habitual attire. Now, the notion that Blackstone considered himself in a sort of negative disguise when he was not in uniform was a very attractive one. Most people identify casual acquaintances through dress and bearing as much as their faces, and if Blackstone could shed his uniform, changing one or two other significant details about his person, he would be well on his way to traveling invisibly through his neighbourhood.”
Holmes’s eyes darted to the charred remains of Tavistock’s latest attack in our fireplace. “By this time, the now notorious Mr. Leslie Tavistock had begun his deeply disquieting press campaign. While I worried that his information was far too close to the mark, much of his accuracy could be blamed upon Mr. Dunlevy here sharing what he knew of my movements to friends within the London press. I had very nearly convinced myself that any other hypothesis would be irrational when, as a result of an expedition masterminded by my associates, Dr. Watson informed me that not only did Tavistock’s source possess information about me that no one but my allies could know without tailing me (and I observed no such person), but that he also had access to my handwriting, and that he and the letter writer, and by extrapolation the Ripper, were one and the same person.”
“Dear God,” Stephen Dunlevy exclaimed softly. “So the same individual who proclaims himself down on whores has endeavoured to lay the blame for his crimes at your doorstep.”
“You see that it is small wonder such an outlandish theory did not attract me before,” Holmes stated grimly. “However, in retrospect, it was damnably clever of this fiend to ferret out an unscrupulous journalist, dangle the temptation of a career-making scandal before him, and thus so oppress my movements that I have at times been in danger of my very life.
“Soon after I made the connection between the Ripper, the letter writer, and Tavistock’s source, Dr. Watson and I discovered what had become of Johnny Blackstone. He was dead by his own hand, unable to live with the weight of his guilt bearing down upon him.”
“Then surely he was the culprit, and our troubles are over!” cried Lestrade. “If I were capable of such acts, I should lose no time in ending my life.”
“Therein lies an inherent logical fallacy, my good Lestrade,” Holmes said kindly. “You are not capable of committing such acts. Neither, in fact, was Johnny Blackstone. In a letter to his sister, which I have since posted, he admitted stabbing Mrs. Tabram with his bayonet in a convulsion of rage, then confessed himself wholly wracked by the crime.”
“But monomania is a very poorly understood malady; there is no reason for us to assume he remembers aught of his disgusting actions.”
“At first, I thought as you do,” my friend continued, packing more shag tobacco into his pipe. “But it is the maximal error, the unpardonable sin, if you will, to twist facts to suit theories rather than twisting theories to suit facts. I asked myself what it would mean if Blackstone’s letter were entirely true. The moment I did so, everything was as clear to me as if I had seen it with my own eyes.
“Consider the accounts. Blackstone states that some few minutes after he entered the alley with Tabram, he stabbed her with his bayonet—a fact corroborated by the coroner—and then, hearing footsteps approach, he ran. Mr. Dunlevy told me he stepped back into the bar for a few minutes, and Constable Bennett told you, Lestrade, that he saw nothing in the alley; a man approached him some hours later with news of the body. Surely Mrs. Tabram was not dead instantaneously from a single, hastily delivered stab wound, and just as surely, she would have been in a panicked and highly vocal state. No one saw anything. And yet Blackstone ran because he heard footsteps. Someone was lying, and I knew immediately that the key was to discover who, if not Blackstone, that could be. I am afraid, Mr. Dunlevy, though you were a very long shot indeed, I could not count you out. I made haste to see that Miss Monk was safe, for if you had been the one plaguing me with accusations of murder as you wreaked havoc in Whitechapel, I would not be overpersonalizing the matter to say your next victim ought to have been Miss Monk.”
He continued steadily, his eyes fixed on the journalist. “To my great relief, Miss Monk was in impeccable health, but I put you to a further test by obtaining a sample of your handwriting. I found you had not written any of the letters, which meant that, despite your initial false pretenses, you could not be the Ripper. I knew, therefore, that Bennett was lying when he said he had seen nothing in the alley, for however much like a pile of rags a slain body may appear in the dead of night in Whitechapel, just before Constable Bennett approached you, Mr. Dunlevy, Martha Tabram was still very much alive.”
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT A Hunting Party
Holmes paused to draw upon his pipe reflectively. It was a mark of his severely analytical nature that the whole harrowing case was laid before us in the abstracted tone of a chemist expounding upon a breakthrough in alkaloids.
“Why would Constable Bennett lie about his experience in the alley?” Holmes asked with perfect composure. “He had emerged from the shadows in which a terribly wounded woman must have been seeking help. I do not pretend to know what happened between them, whether they were once lovers, or what triggered the demon that had lain dormant heretofore. All I can say for certain is that when Bennett happened upon Martha Tabram, she had been stabbed once with a bayonet, and when he left her, only to walk into the arms of Stephen Dunlevy, she had been stabbed thirty-eight times with another weapon entirely—a pocketknife, such as any constable, or indeed any Londoner, might carry about his person.
“What other indications could inform me I was on the right path? The writing in Goulston Street, for one. I expressed surprise at the time that the killer should happen to have chalk in his pockets. Chalk is used by Scotland Yard officers to brighten the white stripes on their sleeves throughout the course of a shift, to avoid the wrath of their superior officers.”
“Of course!” Miss Monk exclaimed. “He carried some in his trousers.”
“Then there was the matter of the uniform. I had imagined the apparel Stride missed seeing upon her killer to be military in nature. What if, instead, she had been used to seeing him in a police uniform and customary high helmet? He would look vastly different in street clothes, and her curious remark would thus make perfect sense.
“I attended the funeral of Elizabeth Stride, for the crimes had been so vile and so public that I reasoned her killer might well wish to gauge the effect of his deeds. I saw no one I did not expect to be there, save for a lone police constable who informed me that you, Lestrade, assigned him to keep the peace at Stride’s ceremony, such as it was.”
Lestrade’s distraught features drew together in puzzlement. “I gave no such order.”
“I know that now. Your department confirmed as much.”
The inspector closed his eyes. “I suppose we must hear the rest of it.”
“I had already wasted many hours pondering how the devil any reporter could know what befell me on the night of the double event, not to mention that I attended the funerals of the deceased, or that an irrelevant, discarded knife was found near Eddowes’s body, or that I had quit Baker Street to conduct researches in the East-end. The Yard knew every one of these facts.”
“And so he held abundant material,” I remarked.
“Precisely—he used Tavistock as a conduit to spread his calumnies. Add the fact that I often jot down short missives to you, Lestrade, as well as to a dozen or more other detective inspectors, and the mystery of my forged handwriting was solved in an instant. He could easily have stolen such a note from any one of many offices. But the final, most conclusive inference still eluded me until a profound remark made by you, Watson, at last sparked the long-dormant flames of deductive reasoning.”
“I can scarcely recall what I said,” I admitted.
“You simply observed, as I should have done in the first place if I were the perfectly honed logical mechanism you present in your tales, that it was astonishing that the Ripper could operate so seamlessly in a district swarming with constables. The perfectly obvious reason for his success was that he knew when they would pass, and on what streets. But when I asked myself what had happened on the night of the extraordinary double murder, yet another seemingly irrelevant fact fell neatly into place,” Holmes expounded, his already rapid speech increasing to match his enthusiasm.
“The Ripper killed Elizabeth Stride without a thought of interruption, for he knew Constable Lamb’s beat would not take him into Dutfield’s Yard. When we disturbed him, he took flight in the direction of the City, and in order to halt my pursuit made an attempt on my life. Then, quite unfathomably, and at enormous risk, he proceeded to slit the throat of yet another girl, presumably because the mutilation, the unholy impetus behind all his thoughts and deeds, had been thwarted by our intervention. He could not be so prescient as to know at all times, on any street, whether or not he would encounter a fellow officer of the law. But members of Lusk’s Vigilance Committee mentioned in passing that Eddowes had been killed, senselessly, across the square from the very residence of a Metropolitan police officer. Bennett lives in those buildings. He knew the routes around his own home, of course. How could he not know them?”
Lestrade shook his head with the heavy calm of a man who knows the worst. “He was in such a rage at you that encountering Eddowes must have seemed like a gift from above.”
“But what are we to do?” cried Miss Monk in great distress. “You’re right, Mr. Holmes. It all fits, every bit of it. But what’s the use of talking about it when at any moment, he could—”
“I desire nothing more than to have the villain at our mercy, Miss Monk,” he assured her gravely. “However, Constable Edward Bennett resigned from his service, citing overwork and fatigue, and disappeared on Monday, the fifth of November.”
“Did he?” I exclaimed bitterly. “The very day Tavistock discovered that his office had been compromised.”
“Well done indeed, Watson. I have reached the same conclusion. Whether Tavistock merely bewailed his misfortune to his friend the police constable, or urged Bennett to identify those who had humiliated him, the results were the same: Bennett was warned off. He could not take the chance that his relation to the London Chronicle had been discovered.”
“But Mr. Holmes,” ventured Miss Monk, “if Bennett hadn’t run off, what would have happened?”
My friend crossed to the window and looked down into the street. “In all likelihood, complete disaster. In my responsibility to lay hands on him immediately, I would have unleashed all the fury of hell upon the good men of Scotland Yard. Imagine it—the killer in their midst all the while, slaughtering five women in two short months without exciting the least suspicion. Worse still, I have not a scrap of hard proof against the man. It’s ten thousand to one we could have convicted him. As much data points to me as it does Bennett, which well illustrates the value of circumstantial evidence. Name the calamity and it would no doubt have befallen us—riots against the force, chaos in the streets. Even now, Sir Charles Warren has already tendered his resignation; Mr. Matthews will accept it at any moment. The case has ruined him. Bennett has ruined him.”
Holmes turned to face Lestrade. “I shall not permit him to ruin the Yard itself.”
Some moments passed in silence. “Well, then,” said the little inspector simply, “what are we to do?”
Unexpectedly, Holmes laughed. “I’d nearly convinced myself that you would not believe a word of it.”
“Now, Mr. Holmes,” chided Lestrade, “I’ve always known you to take an odd line, but you do occasionally stumble upon the truth.”
“Quite so.” My friend smiled. “As to our plans, we have one, and I am afraid only one, advantage at the moment. The paper I mentioned to you, as I have said, revealed an impression. I’ve the original here, marked over with lead pencil.” He passed it to Lestrade and we both examined it.
“What the deuce are these meant to indicate?”
“They are nearly as good as a map, my dear Inspector. These are the collar numbers of three police constables, followed by the time it takes them to complete their beats.”
“Wonderful!” cried Lestrade. “You’ve worked out who they are, I hope? There are nearly five hundred constables in Whitechapel’s division alone, not including those who have been reassigned.”
“My dear Lestrade, of course I have. They are Sample, Leather, and Wilding, and their beats proscribe quite a small area, half in Spitalfields and half in Whitechapel. After I found out their names, I wired Inspector Abberline, who was kind enough to send me a map.”
“Did you tell him why?”
Holmes shook his head emphatically. “With the exception of my brother, and the high officials he has chosen to consult, we five are the only ones who know the identity of this madman. Whitehall has every wish to avoid a monumental scandal, and they are aware of my discretion in such cases. I want to impress upon you all that aside from the weeks following the double murder, which must have rattled his nerve, the Ripper has followed a pattern of dates in his crimes. I cannot promise you that he will attack again tomorrow, in time for the Lord Mayor’s Show, exposed and on the run as he is. But nevertheless I believe that he will. He has shown a contempt for the Yard and a hatred for me that will not cease simply because he has abandoned his former persona. You and I, Lestrade, are the last line of defense. With any luck, if we keep our hand close, Bennett will never know the alarm has been raised against him.”
“When do those Yard fellows begin work?” Miss Monk asked.
“All three have the night shift, from ten until six. I wired George Lusk the moment Abberline related their territory to me. Lusk has shifted half his Vigilance Committee to assist the official force this evening and the next. Anonymously, of course, Inspector.”
“Mr. Holmes, I am beyond the capacity to protest anything you may do.”
“That is an appalling admission, Lestrade,” my friend noted amusedly. “I very much hope that you may recover swiftly from all the shocks to which I’ve subjected you.”
“As do I.” Lestrade smiled. “Have you anything further to tell us?”
Holmes shook his head. “You know all that I do.”
“Then I will set myself back to work,” he said, rising. “I’ve beats to redraft now, on top of everything.”
“If you will not dine with us, I wish you luck back at the Yard. I shall see you in Whitechapel at ten tomorrow, no doubt, Lestrade?” Holmes asked, shaking his colleague’s hand.
“It is an honour to go hunting with you, Mr. Holmes,” the inspector returned. “I would not miss it. Good night to you all.”
The four of us sat down to supper, although Holmes refused to say another word about the case until after the dishes had been cleared, brandies had been savoured, and Miss Monk had sleepily allowed Dunlevy to drape a wrap over her. We had already said our farewells when Dunlevy squared his shoulders and approached my friend.
“Mr. Holmes, I am very grateful to have been told the truth about these terrible crimes, and I thank you for it. But I am still curious—why did you ask me here this evening? Miss Monk is an ally, no doubt, and I hope you know you may rely on me, but all the same…You don’t seem one for idle confidences.”
“Nor am I, I promise you.”
“Then I cannot understand it.”
“No? Well, I do hope you will accompany us to Whitechapel tomorrow, where we intend to defend its inhabitants tooth and nail, if necessary.”
“Of course, but—”
“You wish me to be clearer. Very well,” said he, assuming an air of command. “I require you, Miss Monk, without unduly alarming the district, to warn as many of your acquaintances as you can that there is likely to be trouble tomorrow night. No dark alleys. No lonely rendezvous. I know you cannot reach everyone, as they are great in number and are already saturated with wild conjecture, but do your best.”
“I’ll start in tonight, Mr. Holmes.”
“Thank you. As for you, Mr. Dunlevy, you are a rather rare commodity, you know. Tomorrow night we shall attempt to prevent a murder with the aid of a vast force, not one of whom can be allowed to know the identity of the man we are seeking. Watson and I saw him at Elizabeth Stride’s funeral. That leaves Inspector Lestrade, and finally you, Mr. Dunlevy, who have ever seen the face of our quarry. Call it a whim on my part, but I rather think having three people who are fully apprised of the facts on my side will not be excessively cautious.”
The next evening was wet and cold, with dark spears of rain striking our windows, and feeling chilled from within as well as without, I piled more coal upon our innocent fire than was necessary or reasonable. Peering out the bow window into the street below, my vision obscured by the glasslike curtain before me, I thought with apprehension that the odds of being able to see faces with any clarity in the gloom of Whitechapel were astronomically against us.
My friend entered near eight o’clock, dripping wet and deeply fatigued, but his entire hawklike visage fired with zealous determination. When he had emerged from his bedroom, he was clad once more in the shabby garb of Jack Escott. Recognizing the wisdom of this precaution, I wordlessly made my way upstairs to follow suit. From my bedroom, I could hear the strains of Holmes’s violin as they rose and fell, a hauntingly austere melody in a minor key, which I knew to be one of his own compositions from its quavering heights and deceptively simple twists of phrase. When I came down again, Holmes had replaced the Stradivarius in its case and was slipping his revolver in his rough woolen coat pocket.
“That was beautiful, Holmes.”
“Do you like it? I am not satisfied with the middle cadence, but the portamento in the final phrase is rather effective. If you are ready, we can set off for the East-end. I’ve arranged for a cab.”
“Yes, Middleton,” he replied with a twinkle of amusement.
“If we should identify the former police constable Bennett tonight, I am at a loss to know what we should do with him.”
“We shall arrest him and give him to Lestrade, who this morning met with Mr. Matthews himself.”
“And if we cannot find him?” I pressed him.
“Then I shall run him down.”
“I have no intention of allowing that to happen. Come, Watson. We must bear all. Hard condition is twin-born with greatness. You’ve your revolver?”
“And a clasp knife in my pocket.”
Holmes threw his head back with laughter, wrapping a thick cravat about his neck. “Then my mind is entirely at ease.”
We met by arrangement with Lestrade at the Ten Bells, near the center of the region delineated on Abberline’s map. The staunch fellow looked quite as haggard and absorbed in his draught of ale as any of the labourers filling the surrounding tables.
“Has it all been arranged?” asked Holmes rather feverishly, pitching his voice low beneath the rumble of conversation.
Lestrade looked up from his pint with the greatest reluctance. “Fifty men in plain clothes from F Division, Paddington District, none of whom Bennett is likely to know, in addition to the expanded complement. I’ve redrawn the routes. If you are mistaken about this wild tale, Mr. Holmes, I promise to arrest you myself.”
“If I am mistaken, you are welcome to do so.”
“You say these Vigilance chaps have police whistles?”
“It’s just as well that these amateurs are here,” the inspector sighed. “I lose half my force at four this morning, for they’re needed again at the Lord Mayor’s procession at eight.”
Holmes’s fist came down upon the table in an outraged display of disbelief. “Am I to understand that preventing rotten vegetation from striking that hideous gilded monstrosity in which the Lord Mayor will be nestled tomorrow is of greater import than preventing Jack the Ripper from adding any further organs to his collection?” he hissed.
“I shouted myself hoarse this morning. It can’t be helped. There’s that Dunlevy fellow at the door,” Lestrade added doubtfully. “Bit thick to trust a journalist so far, isn’t it, Mr. Holmes?”
“I see your usual healthful skepticism has returned in full measure,” my friend returned archly. “I was concerned I’d deeply unsettled your mind.”
“On with it, then,” the inspector grunted. “I’ve a man stationed here all night through as a touchstone, if you will. The constables have been instructed to whistle like mad if they spy anything suspicious, for I didn’t like the look of you, Mr. Holmes, the last time you went hand to hand with him.” Holmes bristled visibly at this but for-bore reply. “I’m with the journalist up Brick Lane, and the two of you over Bishopsgate. We meet every hour at this pub. I’ve two lanterns here without which we should scarcely see our own feet in front of us. Best of luck, gentlemen all.”
The inspector and I took up the lanterns. Nodding to Dunlevy as we passed, we made our way out into the pouring rain.
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE The Case and the Heart
Within half an hour we were soaked and chilled, and my leg ached dully as we made our way down rain-washed alleyways, the sound of our footsteps obscured by the storm. Fewer locals were about in that night’s elements than was usual, though people did continue to hurry past, shawls and scarves wrapped tight about their heads, sloshing the eddying mud beneath their feet.
“Curse this weather,” Holmes muttered fiercely after our first rendezvous with Lestrade and Dunlevy had ended, propelling us back into the rain. “It is hardly possible to identify a man at three yards in this wet, let alone that the garb necessitated by such conditions lends itself perfectly to concealment.”
“There are plainclothesmen enough to cover every passage. He can do nothing without being seen, if he ventures out on such a night at all.”
“He will be here.”
“But taking into account this gale—”
“I said he will be here,” Holmes repeated fervently. “No more words. We must have all our wits about us.”
Four o’clock came and went, marked by a lessening of loiterers as the weary plainclothesmen made their way home for a bath and an hour or two of sleep before the Lord Mayor’s Show recalled them to duty. The streets began to fill with scattered workmen and unfortunates, ducking into gin shops before the break of day.
Holmes and I met with Lestrade and Dunlevy at the Ten Bells for the final time at six o’clock that morning. We each allowed ourselves a glass of whiskey, clutched in fingers stiff from the cold. No one spoke for a time. Then my friend rose from the table.
“We must search every alley and courtyard.”
“We have missed nothing, Mr. Holmes,” moaned Lestrade. “If anything, we have stopped him entirely.”
“Nevertheless, I will satisfy myself that it is so. The shifts he indicated are over; we may as well go together. If anything has happened, it is too late to prevent it.”
We stepped out of the Ten Bells into Church Street and made our way down the road. Holmes strode avidly into passages, but Dunlevy, Lestrade, and I were by then so disheartened that we made scant effort to follow his every darting movement. Dawn’s cold grey light had just begun to soften the edges of the gleaming brick buildings when we passed a whitewashed entrance to yet another anonymous courtyard. My friend plunged into its depths while we waited on the street.
“I shall need a warm breakfast and a cup of tea if I’m ever to make it through this day,” Lestrade lamented.
“You’re to be in attendance at the Lord Mayor’s Show?” I commiserated.
“I am indeed.”
“My sympathies, Inspector.”
“It’s not the first sleepless night I’ve had on account of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
“Quite probably we have foiled an evil design by it. I can at least remind you that Holmes is the last man to mire himself in chimera.”
“That may be so, Dr. Watson,” Lestrade muttered sourly, “but he mires himself deep enough in theory that it’s a wonder he finds his way out again.”
“What’s keeping him, I wonder,” Dunlevy yawned.
“Holmes!” I called out. There was no reply. I passed through the shabby arch leading to the court, where entrances to tenements lined the constrictive corridor. The second door on the right stood open, and when I saw no sign of the detective at the end of the passage, I entered it.
In all my ensuing years of friendship with Sherlock Holmes, excepting that particular morning, we have never once spoken to each other of that room. On the rare occasions since that day I have pictured hell, I have seen that chamber. Cracks in the masonry showed through the dank walls. There was a candle resting on a broken wineglass, a fire dying in the grate, and a plain wooden bedstead standing in the corner. The metallic smell of blood and offal saturated the air, for on that bed lay a body. More accurately, on the bed and on the table lay various pieces of what had once been a body.
Holmes was leaning with his back against the wall, his countenance deathly white. “The door was open,” he said incongruously. “I was passing by, and the door was open.”
“Holmes,” I whispered in horror.
“The door was open,” he said once more, and then buried his face in his hands.
I registered footsteps behind me. “What the devil are you two—” Lestrade began, and then a choked cry escaped his throat when he saw what had been done.
“He could not work out of doors,” I stated. “And so, he took her to her room.” I forced myself to stare at what had once been her face, but very little apart from the eyes had been left intact.
The inspector gripped the wood of the doorframe unsteadily, all the blood draining from his features.
Dunlevy entered slowly, like a man sleepwalking. “Dear God in heaven,” he whispered in a breaking voice. “He has torn her apart.”
“You must go,” said my friend without moving, his face still covered by his hands.
“You must send a telegram to my brother. His name is Mycroft Holmes. Tell him what has happened. He lives at one eighty-seven Pall Mall. Tell him what you see.”
“Go quickly, for God’s sake! The stakes are incalculable!”
Dunlevy ran off into the rain.
My friend forcibly pushed himself away from the wall and commenced examining the contents of that abominable bedchamber. I stood stupidly by the door for several moments longer before making my way to the body and staring at the various piles of flesh which had been removed and rearranged.
Lestrade joined me. “What do you make of it, Dr. Watson?”
“It is impossible to know where to begin,” I replied dully. “I saw something like it once, in a gas explosion.”
“The door was open, you say, Mr. Holmes?”
“Yes. It has been open for perhaps twenty minutes.”
“The amount of rain which has saturated the floorboards.”
“Ah. Anything of interest in the fireplace?”
Holmes turned from his work with an expression of furious impatience, but a second sharp cry from Lestrade arrested whatever rebuke hovered upon his lips.
The inspector had unthinkingly plucked a gleaming silver object out of the tissue heaped on the table. The thickened blood dripped from his hand as he stared at it.
“What is it, Lestrade?”
Lestrade merely shook his head and continued peering at the thing.
“I believe it is your cigarette case, Mr. Holmes,” he said in a very small voice.
Holmes released a short breath as if he had been struck in the chest. The inspector began absently polishing the blood off with his pocket handkerchief. “Initials S. S. H., I see. Yes, it is undoubtedly yours. You lost it the night of the double murder, is that not so?” He offered it to Holmes on his right palm. “Take it.” Wiping his hands mechanically, Lestrade furrowed his brow in thought. My friend turned the case over in his delicate fingers as if he had never seen it before.
At length, Lestrade spoke more forcefully. “Have you nearly finished in here, Mr. Holmes?”
My friend shook himself. “I require a few minutes more.”
The inspector nodded. “Very good. Then, Mr. Holmes, I think you had better leave. Yes, I must ask you to leave very quickly. That is most important. And you as well, of course, Doctor. Then I will just lock this outer door if I can manage to, or shut it at any rate, and make my way to the procession route. I’ve duties to attend to there. And then, soon enough we shall hear of this matter.”
“You cannot be serious!” I cried in wonderment. “Do you honestly suggest that we leave this poor wretch here, as she is, and wait for someone else to discover her?”
“I do. If she is not found by this afternoon, I shall arrange something, but Mr. Holmes must have time to—” My friend glanced up sharply at the inspector. “That is to say, who’s to know what else may have been planted in this room. We can’t very well look under every piece of remains, disturbing the evidence as we do so. Dr. Watson, I know it is difficult, but when do you imagine this…butchery…took place?”
“The usual rigor mortis would have been wholly altered by the damage to her body. I would hazard a guess at four in the morning. If the door has been open for only twenty minutes, then he was with her for approximately two hours.”
Lestrade nodded, fidgeting with his watch. “Nearly through, Mr. Holmes?”