Though only an inch or two over five feet, here, in the presence of her own manor house, the Lady Beasley commanded the room like a queen. Being in her early fifties, her hair had begun to show some streaks of grey among the chestnut brown piled upon her head like a crown and she made no attempt to disguise it through artificial colors. I saw now that the brass handled oak walking stick she had borne to Baker Street was not just for fashion. It was apparent that it was an aid to an arthritic knee, though she still moved with the grace of her station.
Holmes and I remained standing until she sat on a red velvet loveseat near the fireplace and bid us to do likewise. Settling opposite her into a pair of mauve upholstered wingback chairs with walnut frames and brass buttons, we began our inquiries.
“I take it, Lady Beasley, that your son has still not returned. Has he communicated with you in any way ?” asked Holmes.
“Not so much as a note, Mr. Holmes,” she replied. “How do you propose to begin your investigation ?”
“I already have to some extent,” he replied. “However, I do need some assistance on your part.”
“Whatever it takes, Mr. Holmes, so long as you find my Arthur.”
Leaning forward, his long arms resting on his knees, Holmes began his list of requests. “First of all, you say the Earl stated that, even if he should die you would be safe. I would like to ask your solicitor if Sir Arthur has made any recent changes to safeguard the family holdings, or you in particular. I will need your written permission so that I, or Dr. Watson, may be given access to that information.”
“Of course, I will write out a letter before you leave.”
“Secondly, is anyone else in the household aware of Sir Arthur’s unusual behavior ?”
“I’ve not told a soul other than yourself and Dr. Watson.”
“Ah, then I must ask your permission to interview your staff, Lady Beasley.”
At that the aura of dignity surrounding her ladyship dimmed and she haltingly replied, “Is that really necessary, Mr. Holmes ? The staff knows nothing other than the fact that the Earl is gone. To reveal his embarrassing actions….”
Calmly Holmes interrupted, “I shall be discreet, madam. I’ll not mention the dancing in the library. But, if someone else has seen or heard something they may be holding back, not wishing to embarrass you.”
“My staff is very loyal,” she admitted.
“No doubt, but they may have witnessed something that could be significant without their realizing it.”
“Very well,” she relented. “I’ll have Sellers instruct the others to cooperate with you.”
“Thank you,” Holmes responded. “Dr. Watson and I will also need to search your son’s room and his office.”
"Yes, that much I expected. Arthur did all his work from this room, mostly at that desk.” She added, pointing to the very desk Holmes had perused before. “His room is upstairs at the end of the hall as you turn right. If it is locked Sellers can let you in.”
“Excellent ! Finally we shall need a list of your properties and any sort of itinerary your son had for visiting them.”
“There’s a ledger in the top left drawer of the desk, there.” She said, waving toward the aforementioned workspace. “That should answer all your needs. Anything else, Mr. Holmes ?”
“You are being most gracious Lady Beasley. With your permission we’ll get started here.”
“Very well, I’ll write out permission for you with our solicitor, Mr. T. James Salmon (see footnote), of Anderson, Erstad and Salmon in London.”
I replied, “I am well acquainted with Mr. Salmon, Lady Beasley. I worked with him on a previous case of ours and he was most cooperative.”
She looked at me and nodded, “Very good doctor. I shall return with it in a short while. If you need anything just ring for Sellers.”
At that point we all stood. As Lady Beasley made her way out, Holmes immediately returned to the large oak desk and sat down. Pulling the ledger from the drawer he studied it methodically, jotting down several notes. In the meantime he handed me a map he had also pulled from the drawer, which marked all the locations of the Beasley family holdings. I spread the map on a large work table near the bookshelves. The sun, streaming through the broken cloud cover, was just beginning to brighten the room beyond the need for artificial lighting.
“Holmes,” I asked, “are you planning to visit all of these properties ?”
“I hope that won’t be necessary, Watson,’ he answered. “However, if you could determine the most convenient route to those near the area of Pawkney it could be most advantageous.”
Taking a piece of paper and pencil from the desk I traced out a route from the map that would provide the shortest distance to the market village while going through all the Beasley holdings in the valley. It was then I noticed, that just off the corner of my tracing lay the town of Syndenham. The name triggered my memory of the famous physician, Thomas Syndenham, considered by many to be the Father of English Medicine.
“I wonder….” I thought out loud to myself.
“What’s that Watson ?” queried Holmes, glancing up from his study of the Earl’s ledger.
“Eh ? Oh nothing Holmes,” I replied. Then I grinned, “Just a possible clue, but I’d rather not discuss it until I research it and gather more data.”
Holmes gave me a look of indignation, “Doctor, I believe you enjoyed making that statement far too much.”
* * *
Finishing up in the library we summoned Sellers to escort us to the young man’s bedroom. As we ascended the stairs the butler queried, ”Lady Beasley said you wished to speak to the staff. Would you like to do that all together or individually, gentlemen ?”
Holmes replied, “Individually please, Sellers. How many staff members are there ?”
As he unlocked the Earl’s door he answered, “In addition to myself there are two maids, the cook and a groomsman. On occasion we hire extra help for large social functions but there have been none of late.”
“Very well,” answered my friend. “We should be ready to start in a few minutes. May we use the library in private ?”
“Very good, sir. I suggest you start with the cook as she will likely wish to begin lunch preparations within the hour.”
“Yes,” murmured Holmes distractedly as he entered the bedroom and began surveying with his hawk-like eyes. “That will be quite satisfactory, thank you.”
As Sellers left us I closed the door, knowing that Holmes worked best in such situations in privacy.
The room itself was quite large with a sitting and dressing area in addition to the sleeping portion. Unlike many older manor houses, this room had been fitted with expansive windows making it well lit. Heavy green drapes with gold ties framed the view out onto the meadows surrounding the estate. The plastered walls held few decorations. Most prominent were two paintings by Gerrit Dou, a Dutch Painter of the so-called Golden Age and a fascinating artist who somehow made his paintings shine from their light source. Here on the Earl’s walls were, what I assumed to be copies of, The Astronomer and The Physician. Having a copy of The Physician myself, an anniversary present from my sweet departed Mary, I recognized the work immediately. I then had moved on to peruse his bookshelves when Holmes, going through dresser drawers and the closet cried out. “Watson, look here. There are several clothes missing and the middle-sized suitcase is gone.”
“What does that tell you, Holmes ?” I responded.
“Lady Beasley said the Earl brushed by her and left the house. Yet this evidence would suggest that he either had planned to leave and had already packed and removed his suitcase, likely to the stable, or that he came back later that night and threw things together on the spur of the moment in an attempt to either correct the problem that assailed him or run from it.”
“Thank God for that.” I replied, “At least it’s not likely that he dashed off to commit suicide, in spite of his ‘death’ remark.”
“Yes, while I believe the young man to be desperate, I think it is in the manner of taking action to repair the situation if he can.”
“I quite agree, Holmes,” I replied. “From his taste in art and literature, I would characterize the young man as a scholar, but one who is seeking the deeper truths of life, more along the lines of philosophy and exploring the human body and how it relates to the world around him and the universe as a whole.”
“Oh, I quite agree Watson. Unfortunately that could mean anything from a religious fanatic to an exploratory drug user.”
He then bade me follow him back downstairs to interview the staff members. The cook and maids were of no help, not having observed anything out of the ordinary. The groomsman however, did manage to satisfy at least of bit of Holmes craving for data.
“He lit out of here like a lightning bolt, Mr. Holmes,” said Carter, the groomsman. A short stout fellow and, as it turned out, a former jockey in his younger days. “By the time I woke up and came down from my rooms above the stable he was mounted up and headed out the door on Blackjack, that’s his prize stallion you see, fastest horse in the county.”
“Which way was he headed ?” asked Holmes.
“When he hit the main road he turned right. That’d be northwest, back toward town.”
Holmes seemed satisfied with that, but then I decided to pursue my own line of questioning.
“Tell me, Mr. Carter,” I interjected, “Have you noticed anything unusual about the Earl’s hands recently ? Have they shook or has he favored them in any way ?”
“Now that you mention it, doctor, he has been shaking his right hand and rubbing it like it was asleep or something lately. He’s been doing a lot more with his left hand because of that.”
“And how long has this been going on ?”
“Oh, seems like off and on, maybe six months or so.”
“Thank you, Mr. Carter. You’ve been most illuminating.”
After the man left us, Holmes turned to me, “What do you have in mind, Watson ?”
“I’m building a case, Holmes, at least a medical one, that might explain his ‘dancing’.”
“Really ?” replied the great detective, “And what might that be, good doctor ?”
Slowly I pulled out a cigar, walked over toward the windows to enjoy the view, and lit it.
“It’s still only a working hypothesis, Holmes. A ‘theory’, if you will.”
“And you’re not willing to share, Watson ?”
I turned back to him, slowly blew out a puff of smoke and smiled, “I’ll tell you mine, if you’ll tell me yours.”
Timothy James Salmon appeared as the Solicitor in charge of the affairs of Lillian Fields in Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Poisoned Lilly by Roger Riccard - Publisher: The Irregular Special Press a Division of Baker Street Studios, Ltd.