[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]
Among the torrent of requests for stories hinted at when the original sixty tales of Sherlock's adventures were published, this was one of the two mist requested and, I think, narrowly more so than the Abernetty Affair (the adventure in which the parsley sank too far into the butter). This adventure was very different concerning death and murder on the high seas concerning the loss of the bark 'Sophy Anderson', and is of course known to my readers as the story of the politician, the light-house and the trained cormorant. It will doubtless seem strange that such a bizarre case which demonstrated Sherlock's powers so aptly was not initially released to the general public but I hope that on reading it in its entirety they will understand that a promise to a true lady is not one that any gentleman would break under any but the most extreme circumstances. Only now with the passing of that lady to a better place plus a further attempt by the criminal involved to prevent the story from being published have I felt able to tell the world of a murder most strange.
And to the new Lord Keady may I say that if revenge is truly a dish best served cold then I am enjoying this particular meal mightily!
Although the main sequence of events in this case occurred in the spring of 'Eighty-Seven, happenings some years earlier at the start of the Hiatus must first be related. As I am now re-writing matters from many decades after they occurred the political landscape in particular has changed considerably making the certainties of my youth (or at least my early- to mid-thirties) seem like another world. Which in a way it was, a world to which perhaps sadly we can never return.
In those far-off times the world of British politics was much more fluid that it is now let alone the fact that the Liberal Party was still one of the two major political powers in this country, not the fading force that it has since become. It was the same old story that I have mentioned before of legislation for one thing having unintended consequences for another. The Second Reform Act in 1867 had made the corruption of elections much more difficult due to the larger electorate, so in 1872 the government had passed the Secret Ballot Act in order to save MPs money – er, I meant to say, in order to stop corrupt practices (and the reader can stop with the smirking!). The unintended consequence this time came in Ireland where Protestant Irish landowners were no longer able to coerce their Catholic tenants to vote the 'right' way, so from the 1874 election onwards the sixty or so Irish members at Westminster had often held the balance of power, siding with whichever of the main parties gave their country (or as certain newspapers cynically put it, their wallets) the most. This would also bring in the poisonous topic of Home Rule for Ireland which, while I fully supported it, would be what all but destroyed the old Liberal Party.
In the eighties it was therefore possible for someone from the 'Irish bloc' to serve either party in government and one of the men who did that was an Irishman called Mr. Domnall Monaghan, a member of parliament who was a Liberal when elected at a by-election in late 'Eighty-Three. Quite what services he provided remain unclear but within two years he had been elevated to the peerage as Lord Keady sitting ostensibly as a cross-bencher (an unaligned member of the House of Lords) though more often than not siding with his former colleagues.
A year or so before the events described here Lord Keady had been involved in two scandals in quick succession either of which could and likely should have ended his political career. First had come a sordid affair involving the preferential issuing of government contracts in which he was almost certainly guilty, yet somehow the incriminating paperwork was 'lost' and he managed to escape with his reputation intact. Barely a week later had come the far more serious accusation that he had slept with an East End prostitute and had had a child by her. The evidence seemed conclusive but the lady in question retracted her allegations and another witness claimed that Lord Keady had been with him at the time of conception. It was widely thought at the time that he was guilty and had paid the woman off (as he almost certainly was and had) but there was insufficient proof and he survived once more, leading the 'Times' to dub him 'The Great Escapist'. I suppose at least that was better than his other nickname which referenced his large circumference, namely 'Dombo'!
Two months later the Grand Old Man (or as Disraeli had once snidely called his deadly rival, God's Only Mistake!) was defeated at the general election by the Conservatives under Lord (later the Marquess of) Salisbury, prime minister at the time of the events in this story. Lord Keady of course suddenly exhibited a tendency to support the Conservatives - indeed, who could have predicted that? - and less than a year after the election the man was being widely touted in the papers as possibly the next Lord Chancellor, leader of the Lords and one of the highest positions in the land. That for the son of a fruit-seller from Ulster was quite an achievement.
Until his son's actions threatened to bring down everything he had worked for and the two of them resorted to cold-blooded murder.
It was but one month before the Golden Jubilee celebrations were to finally begin. It was one of those exceedingly rare days on which I had chanced to be reading the society pages at the breakfast-table – there was nothing interesting on the front page and my first client was living quite nearby so there was no hurry – when Sherlock entered as morning-miserable as ever.
“Cof-fee!” he snarled. I chuckled and pushed his cup over to him, the sugar already being there. I had heard the thump from his falling out of his bed a minute ago; I swear he was actually getting worse in the mornings! He imbibed the sugary liquid and sighed contentedly before looking across at me.
“Society pages again, Watson?” he said teasingly.
If he could tease me then he was fully awake. I did not know whether to be glad or sorry.
“There is another speculative piece about Lord Keady”, I said.
“The 'Times' hates old Dombo”, Sherlock yawned, rolling his shoulders. “What has he done this time?”
“Not so much him but his son Ruaraidh”, I said, thinking it typical of the man that he had spelt his son's name the Irish rather than the English way). “A right little popinjay if ever there was one. He went to Brazil two years ago to pursue a number of family interests there and returned last autumn. The paper says that he is implicated in a scandal there and that it involved a lady, so that would be the second family scandal within barely a month. Their luck cannot hold out forever.”
Like me Sherlock was hardly ever interested in the society pages so I was surprised when he gestured me to read the article to him. I did so.
“'This columnist understands that a major scandal may be brewing over Mr. Rory Monaghan, the son and heir to the accident-prone cross-bencher Dombo, Lord Keady'”, I read. “'Our man in Rio de Janeiro states that a certain flame-haired lady known only as 'Maria' is coming to England to discuss certain matters with the young buck. With regards to precisely what these are we do not have that information to hand, but it must certainly be grave if a lady is to venture a Transatlantic crossing.”
“Probably true but definitely foolish”, was Sherlock's comment.
I looked at him in surprise. He finished his coffee before continuing.
“I have had my eye on 'The Great Escapist' for some time”, he said pouring himself a second cup. “The man has a sharp criminal mind but fortunately he is both lazy and blinkered. I am almost certain that he would not bestir himself unless, as in this case, either he or his family were threatened. Does your article say when the lady in question is to arrive in England?”
I scanned down the page.
“No”, I said. “You think that Lord Keady may try to stop her?”
“I very much fear so”, my friend said. “There are only so many ways that she could make the crossing especially at this time of year so it would be easy for him to work out which one she might use. I do hope that I am wrong.”
Sadly he was not.
A week later I breakfasted alone. Sherlock had had to go round to see his family the evening before and I had gone to bed before his return. I had known full well that this meant that he would arrive home in a Mood and would probably sleep little as a result. I took a coffee into his room where he was still dead to the world then returned to my morning paper and Mrs. Harvelle's delicious breakfast. And for once I would get to keep all my bacon!
'The bark 'Sophy Anderson' out of Liverpool has been lost with all hands off the Lizard in Cornwall', I read silently, not wishing to disturb the sleeping 'beauty' in the next room. 'It appears that she strayed too close to the coast while approaching the peninsula and was wrecked near Mullion Cove. Her cargo of Mediterranean glassware has, regrettably if predictably, been looted by locals. No survivors have been reported although the lifeboat is said to have been missing so it is possible that some of the passengers and crew made it to land. The ship left Lisbon, its third port of call, on the eighteenth and made good speed to its penultimate stop at Queenstown, Ireland on the twentieth. She departed that port around mid-day and was heading for London. It seemingly rounded Land's End but a misjudgement appears to have resulted in their attempting to turn before passing the great Lizard, with catastrophic consequences.'
“And that is why we are expecting a client, Watson.”
I let out a most unmanly squeak. Sherlock had appeared right behind me, clearly refreshed by his coffee and looking far too chipper for this time of a morning.
“How did you know?” I demanded feeling more than a little put-out.
He sat down opposite me and smiled when he saw that I had a second coffee ready for him.
“You always do a faint whistle through your teeth when you read something interesting”, he explained. “And I learned of the vessel's loss from Bacchus yesterday – the one fruitful thing from a frankly frightful home visit - so I knew that that article would be there today.”
He downed his second coffee at one go then stared mournfully at the empty cup.
“Well, you are not the only one with foresight”, I said a little waspishly. “Mrs. Harvelle has said that we should keep that portable kettle in our rooms what with your coffee fetish and she will buy herself another one.”
“Marry me!” he grinned almost running towards the table.
“Not before you've had more coffee!” I chuckled.
He poured and downed a third cup at once then set to work on a fourth. His poor arteries! Still at least I had my...
Damnation, he was staring mournfully at the pile of bacon on my plate. Sighing I forked half of it over to him, and the look of undying gratitude that I got in return made me feel all....
Ugh! Another Moment!
“Concerning the loss of the bark”, he smiled in between devouring his prize (seriously, there was actual drool!). “A Mrs. Evangeline Hurst wishes to consult with me on that very matter.”
“In what way is she linked to the sinking of the ship?” I asked.
“Doubtless we shall find out when she arrives”, he said. “Indeed from the tone of her telegram I fully expect her to be early. Perhaps you should send a boy to the surgery to tell them you have been delayed a little?”
I scowled. The only thing more annoying about his automatic assumption that I would fall in with his every wish was the fact that he was right damn him! Fortunately I had taken advantage of his distraction with his third coffee to devour my remaining bacon rashers, so at least I had had that.
He was also right about Mrs. Hurst. At ten minutes to nine Mrs. Harvelle informed us that our visitor had arrived and we were ready to receive her ahead of her time? Sherlock replied in the affirmative and we waited her arrival.
The first and most obvious thing about our visitor was the mourning clothes that she was wearing. Sherlock guided her to a seat and sat opposite her. I took my usual place at the table, notebook at the ready.
“It is a dark case I lay before you today”, Mr. Holmes”, she said, and I noted immediately that there was a faint foreign accent in her voice, possibly Hispanic. “Have you read in the newspapers about the loss of the 'Sophy Anderson'?”
“Doctor Watson has relayed that story to me”, Sherlock said. “May I assume that you have some links with both that and with the speculation surrounding Lord Keady?”
She lifted her veil and regarded him with dark eyes. I realized that she was younger than I had first thought, probably not more than thirty and very beautiful.
“My name is Evangeline Hurst”, she said. “I was born Evangelina Dalore in a small town not far from Rio de Janeiro, and when I was twenty-one I met and fell in love with my now-husband John who is a merchant trader. My younger sister was Maria Dalore who was set to expose Mr. Ruaraidh Monaghan, Lord Keady's son and heir, for the villain and blackguard that he truly is.”
“Early last year I received a letter from my sister stating that she was pregnant and that Mr. Monaghan was the father. When illness set in and it seemed that she would lose both the baby and her life he admitted his paternity and left her, presuming that she would die. However not only did she and her child both survive but the admission was overheard by two of her servants who later signed statements to that effect. She was ill for a long time but recently recovered sufficiently to come to England and confront the man who had mis-used her so.”
“Go on”, Sherlock said gravely.
“I feared for my sister and warned her about Lord Keady's reputation, so she tried to keep everything secret”, our guest said. “She took a ship heading to London but got off at Lisbon and boarded the 'Sophy Anderson' instead. Unfortunately someone must have talked for I read the speculation about her coming in the papers recently. She sent me a telegram from Queenstown to say that two of the crew had inexplicably been replaced and that one of the new men quite frightened her. He had a trained cormorant in a cage and she felt that in some way that that was unlucky. My dear sister was always superstitious.....”
She stopped and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.
“I feel it in my bones that Lord Keady is involved in some way with the wrecking of that ship”, she said firmly. “Of course I have no proof. I am certain that my sister has been murdered and that the man behind the murder has got away with it!”
Sherlock reached across to pat her hand reassuringly.
“Lord Keady will already know that you have consulted us”, he said gently. “I am sure he has taken the precaution of having you followed.”
She looked even more alarmed.
“Do not panic, madam”, he said firmly. “Fortunately tomorrow is Saturday, and as Watson is free he can accompany me to Cornwall to investigate this matter further.”
She looked a little surprised at his agreeing to her request so readily but smiled in gratitude.
“I am returning to my husband's house in Hertfordshire”, she said placing a small card on the table. “I would be deeply grateful to hear your findings.”
She hesitated before departing.
“John wishes us to adopt Maria's son, Ross”, she said so quietly that I barely heard her. “I know the Brazilian authorities may put up obstacles but... he is my nephew and he has no other family.”
“That is an honourable thing to do”, Sherlock smiled. “If you take my card from the box on the table, I have contacts who may be able to help if the authorities are at all 'difficult' as well all know they are sometimes wont to be. I promise that once I have definitive results from my investigations I shall telegraph them to you.
She smiled at us, took a card, bade farewell and left. Sherlock turned to where I was already at the bookshelf.
“The 8:40 from Paddington, changing at Truro and Gwinear Road”, I said promptly. “The Helston Railway opened only last month so we do not have the timetables, but if we miss the connection we can always take a cab all the way to Kynance, or the railway to Helston then a cab from there. Either way we would arrive around four o'clock; we could not realistically make it back here unless we left within half an hour of arriving so we shall have to find somewhere to stay the night.”
He smiled his small and honest smile.
“I am lucky to have you”, he said quietly before leaning over to pick up his violin.
I felt stupidly warm inside. In truth I was the lucky one.
Our journey westwards was, unusually for the Great Western Railway, subject to some delay due to a spring storm that had flooded the main line around Weston-super-Mare. Although the train was able to struggle through it this meant that we did not reach Helston until after five o'clock. Fortunately that still left us about two hours of daylight after we had checked into our hotel in Kynance.
“What exactly are we looking for?” I asked as I struggled up a steep path that was verging on the diagonal. I was not unfit because of all the walking I did in my job and it was patently unfair that a man who sat in his chair and solved crimes with the minimum of physical effort was moving effortlessly up the hill faster than I was. What with that and the zero effects of all those cakes and sweets on his teeth and all that coffee on his poor arteries, I sometimes wondered if he were secretly the angel whose name he bore.
“Fire”, he answered.
“Fire?” I asked, nonplussed.
He stopped so suddenly that I almost ran into him, then veered sharply left and headed across a barren patch of moorland. The sun was out but the strong wind was whipping up the salt from the sea and making it feel bitterly cold.
“Remember Watson that this is a wrecking coast”, he said gravely. “The government may be stronger these days but the locals still have the advantage of always being first at the scene of a disaster. Sometimes one that they have helped to cause!”
I tried to ignore my aching ankles and hastened to keep up with him. Then I stopped dead in my tracks. Directly in front of us was what looked like a set of gallows!
“You know your history, Watson”, he grinned. “Remember the Spanish Armada of 1588? Warnings were flashed to London by a system of beacons, the sixteenth century's own form of telegraph.”
I looked suspiciously at the beacon.
“It cannot be that old”, I argued. “Anything made of wood in this sort of environment would rot in weeks, months at most. It must be recent.”
“Excellent, doctor!” Sherlock was genuinely smiling. “Anything else?”
I looked at the beacon some little time before it clicked.
“There is ash in the main part”, I said. “It has been lit recently otherwise all the wind would blow it away. I suppose that the rain or damp must have got into it and made it heavy enough to stay there until it dries out.”
“Even better!” Sherlock smiled. “We will make a detective of you yet. Let us investigate further and I think we may yet entangle 'The Great Escapist' in a net that he cannot escape from.”
However it seemed there was nothing more to find apart from some rotten fish remains, which seemed to fascinate Sherlock for some strange reason. We returned to the hamlet of Kynance and our room. To my surprise he said that he wanted to spend some time in the local tavern but I was tired after both a long journey and our cliff-side walk so decided to turn in early. I slept like a log.
I was more than a little surprised, I have to confess, when it seemed that the whole hamlet had turned out to see us off the following morning. I knew that my friend was gradually achieving the recognition he so deserved – the 'Strand' magazine had just begun publishing my story about the Beryl Coronet – but in this remote part of the world such a reception was still surprising. Especially when it emerged that one of the locals, a sulky-looking wiry young fellow called Mr. Liam Dent, was coming with us. Not willingly judging from his expression; he did not speak and glared at me like it was somehow my fault that he was there. Which it was not.
We alighted from the main line train at Truro, and we headed to the offices of a local lawyer, a prosperous one judging from its size. Sherlock told me that his business there would take several hours and I might amuse myself by wandering around the town if I so wished. I of course went to the cathedral and did some window-shopping before going back to the lawyer's where I had a further half-hour wait. When Sherlock caught up with me he was alone.
“Our 'friend' is not coming to London?” I asked.
“He is not needed”, Sherlock said. “And it would not be safe for him so to do. I hope you enjoyed the cathedral. Did you manage to check the train times?”
“There is a train to Paddington in thirty-five minutes”, I said silently pleased that he had thought to allow me time for my own interests.
“Excellent!” he smiled. “This has been a most interesting adventure.”
Clearly I was not to be illuminated. I pouted but I had not Sammy's (or Sherlock's) power when it came to my face and it had no effect on my friend. I sighed. Life was unfair like that.
Our journey back was mercifully trouble-free and we arrived at Baker Street to a late dinner. Mrs. Harvelle bless her had thrown together a delicious stew which only needed to be reheated and we both devoured it eagerly.
“Are you going to tell me what happened in Truro?” I asked later.
“Our friend was providing a witness statement”, Sherlock said. “I wanted it recorded and officially copied then sent safely to a number of different locations by secure telegraph. I am sure that Lord Keady will make some attempt to prevent the truth from emerging and I wished to make it as difficult as possible for him.”
“I am surprised that he did not have us followed to Cornwall”, I said. He chuckled.
“He would have done”, he said, “except that I sent Henriksen a telegram asking that his men arrest the watcher just before we left yesterday morning. Doubtless his lordship will have guessed where we would have gone but as our friend obligingly held his man all day before letting him go to tell him the bad news, there was little he could have done except to grow wings and fly down there after us!”
“I have invited the two villains here tomorrow”, he said. “Then hopefully I shall then be able to deliver at least some good news to Mrs. Hurst. Not maybe the news that she wants or even deserves, but as so often we must make the best of a bad situation.”
“Lord Keady and Mr. Ruaraidh Monaghan.”
It was wonderful how Mrs. Harvelle could throw such complete scorn into the simple announcement of a pair of names. Both our guests looked after her in astonishment, clearly bemused at how someone so far beneath them on the social ladder would dare to talk about them in such a way.
Lord Keady was about fifty, as rotund as his nickname suggested and with badly-dyed hair. His son was a little over twenty, tall and supercilious-looking. He had a monocle which I guessed was more for effect that need. I disliked both of them on sight.
“You asked to see me, Mr. Holmes”, the peer said. “Pray keep it brief. I am due at the Lords in an hour.”
“I would be delighted so to do”, Sherlock said with what I knew by now to be a totally false smile. “It concerns your grandson.”
Even with his pale skin the peer turned a shade whiter.
“I have no grandson”, he said firmly. Sherlock sighed.
“The result of an affair between your son here and a Brazilian lady named Maria Dalore”, he said. “He confessed to it when he thought that she was dying in childbirth, shortly before he abandoned her.”
“And you have proof of this?” Lord Keady sneered. “Where, sirrah? I do not see it.”
Sherlock looked hard to him.
“Before I relate the sequence of events”, he said and his tone was cold now, “I wish you to understand something. I have a signed confession from one of the parties involved in the lady's murder, signed and delivered in front of a quality lawyer. That confession has been legally copied and now resides in three separate and safe locations. All three are under instruction that should they fail to receive a second telegram from me by nine o'clock tomorrow morning they are to supply said evidence free to all the principal London papers. I am sure that they would be fascinated by it, especially the 'Times' which as you know is hardly your most ardent supporter.”
The politician swallowed hard.
“He is bluffing, father”, the young man said scornfully.
“We shall see”, Sherlock said. “Even though your son thought that the lady he had so cruelly mis-used was all but dead, you kept a sharp watch on her. And when she and her baby survived you knew that one day there would be trouble. For you and your son.”
“The lady recovers enough to come to England, at the worst possible time as far as you are concerned. The current Lord Chancellor is set to step down before Christmas and you are tantalizingly close to a major office at last, one from which you could almost certainly lever your son into the political scene alongside you. You cannot risk this woman talking. She must be stopped - permanently.”
“Your plan revolves around two groups of people. The first I do not know but their job is to make sure that at a certain time the light-house at the Lizard is taken out of commission for a few hours. They are not told why but regretfully a large sum of money will buy the silence and co-operation of most men.”
“You know that Miss Dalore's ship the 'Sophy Anderson' is to put in at Queenstown before going on to London. Using your influence you buy off two of the crew and replace them with your own men, in particular a Cornishman named Nathan Dent. Though it is not he who will play a major role in the tragedy that is to befall the ship but his feathered friend – a trained cormorant.”
I gasped. Both our visitors now looked deathly pale.
“Before the ship leaves harbour”, Sherlock continued, “Nathan Dent sends a telegram to his brother Liam in the small hamlet of Kynance. That place lies a few miles west of the Lizard and its location is important. Nathan Dent is doubtless ready to sabotage the ship to some extent because it is vitally important to his – and your – scheme that the ship traverses the south Cornish coast in the dark. However judging from the time on the telegram that Miss Dalore herself sent from Queenstown and the subsequent wind conditions in the western approaches, I estimated it would be the small hours of the morning as the ship approached the Lizard. Even better a storm was brewing up and the clouds obscured the moon.”
“Shortly after the ship rounds Land's End, Nathan Dent dispatches the bird which as trained flies straight to the cottage of his brother not far from the beacon he maintains against the tempestuous Cornish weather. The bird is duly rewarded with a meal of fish the remains of which we found near the cottage. Liam Dent lights the beacon and with the Lizard light out the ship's captain steers around that light then turns east-north-east, on a course which should keep him clear of the coast most of the way to the Straits of Dover. Instead of course he steers his ship straight onto the treacherous Cornish rocks.”
He fixed the peer with a sharp glare.
“Knowing the way that you 'work' sir, I am all but sure that before he abandoned ship Nathan Dent made absolutely certain that poor Miss Dalore would not leave the vessel alive. Now however we have the signed confessions of one of the men involved – do not look at me like that; I am not going to say which one – and much as it pains me to say it I have to offer you a deal.”
“Sherlock!” I protested.
“Publicity will only harm Mrs. Hurst and her family, let alone the boy”, he said. “Lord Keady, the deal is this. You will not accept the Lord Chancellorship. Your son may one day inherit your title and position in the Lords but he will refuse any offer of high office. You and your agents will not harm Mrs. Hurst and her family, including your grandson, in any way, shape or form. She will bring the boy to England and raise him as her own and neither you nor your son will contact him. He will have to be told the terrible truth about his past when he is old enough and if he so wishes he may then choose to contact you. That is his prerogative. I must further tell you that if you break any of these conditions then Doctor Watson will publish a full and frank account of every foul thing that you have done.”
The peer drew himself up and for a moment I thought he was going to strike Sherlock. Then he seemed to slump and almost snarled before sweeping round and heading out of the door. His son followed, sparing us a last angry glance.
“I so wish that I could ruin that excuse for a man”, Sherlock said sinking into his chair. “Lord above, the pleasure it would give me so to do! But innocent people would get hurt and we owe it to that dear Hertfordshire lady to make sure that her sister did not die in vain and that a small boy in Brazil can have a good life. This way I can promise a safe life for her and her loved ones, including her nephew.”
I remembered how I had reacted after the Easington Case when I had considered him to be applying his own rules of justice, and I felt for the man. I came across and put my hand reassuringly on his shoulder.
“You acted for the best”, I said firmly. “I would have had to do the same.”
He reached back and placed a hand over mine.
“Thank you my friend”, he said quietly. “That.... it means a lot.”
We stood there for some time, sharing a Moment together. Sherlock was my friend so I did not mind.
Postscriptum: Young Ross Dalore arrived safely in England before the year was out and was subsequently raised by his aunt and uncle. They offered to adopt him formally once he came of age but he declined, although he said that he was deeply grateful for all they had done. He is a fine young man and currently works at a bank in the City. He chose to never contact his father or grandfather.
Mr. Hurst died in 1918 and Mrs. Hurst followed him into the hereafter in 1920. That may have lain the matter to rest, but when Mr. Ruaraidh Monaghan, (who had become the new Lord Keady upon his father's death in 1908) announced soon after that he was considering himself as a future prime minister, Sherlock contacted Mr. Ross Dallory-Hurst (as he had become) for permission to publish, something he was more than happy to grant. And just in time for my 1921 addition to the Sherlock canon!