The mistress of the house at last asked us to sit down and we took our places opposite to her. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, no longer bothering to try and hide the rubbing of her hand to relieve the symptoms of her physical suffering.
“Gentlemen, since you know so much allow me to explain the entire situation in which I find myself.”
Holmes interrupted and asked, “Please Lady Forecastle, start at the beginning and do leave out even the slightest detail.”
Finally interlacing her fingers and holding her hands together in her lap she began the tale that brought her to this verge of demise.
“You are aware that Arthur’s father, the ninth Earl of Beasley, suffered ill health for many years before his death ?”
“Lady Beasley has informed us so,” I answered.
She nodded, “Then you will understand how the suffering of his father affected Arthur deeply. He often remained in the room during the doctor’s visits, learning all he could as to how he might assist in the relief of his father’s pain.
“It was during the final year of the elder Lord’s life that the doctor began using more substantial pain killers to ease his patient’s burden. Now, you must understand that there are not many medical men close at hand here in our valley and the doctor, though sympathetic, could not be at the beck and call of just the Beasley clan. Therefore, he taught Arthur when and how to administer the injections of the drugs the doctor had prescribed for his patient. Because he had given this responsibility to Arthur, only to be used during extreme agitation when the doctor was not available, he had left a supply of the drugs at Beasley Manor.
“Arthur, kind and sensitive soul that he is, could not bear his father’s sufferings and desired to administer the drugs, probably more often than the doctor would have recommended. In order to hide this overuse Arthur used the information on the drug containers to track down the supplier and somehow, I hesitate to say whether by forgery or bribery, he established a supply line of his own.”
As a medical man I started to object to this obviously unethical behavior but Holmes laid his hand on my arm to stifle my interruption.
“A risky undertaking, no doubt,” he stated, somewhat placating my own feelings, “Please continue your narrative, madam.”
“I know not the risk from a legal standpoint, Mr. Holmes,” she went on, “but the ensuing turn of events has created an unbearable situation that threatens all our happiness.”
Finally I could listen no longer without expressing my opinion. “Lady Forecastle, there is more at stake than your happiness. It is obvious that both you and the Earl have engaged in using this drug yourselves. Your very lives are in danger!”
She broke down and began sobbing at my revelation. Holmes dug his hand into my shoulder in admonition as he pushed off the sofa to go to her side. Kneeling before her he took her hands into his own and wrapped his long fingers around them.
“Lady Forecastle you must be brave. It is not too late to save all of you, if you will put yourselves in our hands. Please, tell us how this addiction came about.”
She gained control of her sobs and nodded. Pulling a handkerchief from her sleeve she wiped her eyes and continued her story as Holmes returned to his seat giving me a hard look of warning not to interrupt her again.
“Thank you, Mr. Holmes. You are correct Doctor. Naturally after the Earl’s death the drugs were put away. But back in January of this year, Arthur took a fall down some steps and severely sprained his ankle. Normally I’m sure he would have allowed natural healing to take its course, but he was scheduled to race Blackjack in the county sweepstakes that same week. Remembering the pain relievers still in storage he injected himself the day before the race and was able to compete and win.
“I was not aware of his action, of course. Not even my husband, his closest friend, had an inkling of what Arthur had done. But as time passed, circumstances brought about his revelation of the truth to me. Just a month after his incident, I myself took a fall from my own horse while riding one day and severely contorted my knee. My husband was away working on his latest business venture but somehow Arthur became aware of my injury. He came by for a visit and told me of the relieving powers of the drugs he had and offered to administer some for my pain.
“What he failed to tell me, was that in spite of his injury being a month old, he was still taking the drugs himself. Using his leg without feeling pain had continued to worsen the injury and led to a vicious cycle of drug use. Later he told me that he did not think my situation would have the same results in that my less strenuous lifestyle would not exacerbate my injury to the extent of continual need for pain relief.
“How wrong he was, Mr. Holmes! It came to be a weekly need for me. We always arranged for his visits to be at times when my husband was out of town or away from the house as I did not wish to reveal this weakness to him. But then one day, my husband unexpectedly burst into the room while my dress was pulled above my knee, having just received an injection from Arthur who was on his knees in front of me.
“The scene was horrid, Mr. Holmes. My husband, Ronald, was livid and roared out at poor Arthur, screaming obscenities. Arthur had managed to hide the syringe from his view, so he assumed the worst. He actually rushed to the wall, grabbed his grandfather’s sword and started after him. Both Arthur and I attempted to explain but he was hearing nothing save the rage of his own voice. Arthur had to beat a hasty retreat. In his defense for leaving me behind, let me say that it was obvious from Ronald’s accusations that he held Arthur completely responsible. I was viewed as a victim and not in any danger from my husband.”
“But something must have changed his mind to lead him to contemplate divorce,” responded the detective.
“Ronald refused to listen to me. He interrogated the servants and found out how often Arthur had been coming by. Shortly afterward, he packed up and left for India to see to his investment prospects there. I was not aware of his seeking a divorce until I read that awful newspaper article. I immediately contacted our solicitor and found that the newspapers had exaggerated some tidbit they had gotten hold of and that Ronald has only inquired about his options regarding our marriage and has not started formal divorce proceedings.”
“Have you attempted to contact Lord Forecastle and tell him the truth ?” I asked.
She looked at me in despair. “I have taken pen in hand a dozen times to do so and yet I hesitate. If I admit to my drug dependency, will he not divorce me immediately ? Whereas time may heal the wounds he now labors under and he may yet forgive me when he returns home.”
Her logic escaped me, but before I could respond, Holmes jumped in. “Lady Forecastle, we do not know what time may bring, but our immediate focus must be in finding the Earl of Beasley. His drug dependency could lead him to any number of actions which could endanger his life. Do you know where he is ?”
Frightened at the thought of her friend’s danger she cried, “I do not know, Mr. Holmes! Since the encounter with Ronald he has left my drug supply at an apothecary in town where I have arranged for it to be picked up by one of our servants and administered it myself. As you say, he stopped by here the other morning, attracted my attention through the window and I met him in the garden, out of sight of the house servants. He said he was going to see Clarendon but he wouldn’t tell me why, only that he hoped his actions would fix our situation and that he may be gone a long time.”
Holmes closed his eyes and contemplated this statement as we all sat in silence for a minute. Finally he leaned forward and stated softly, “Madam, I do not pretend to be able to save your marriage, that will be left to your husband’s temperament. However, I will do what I can to assist the Earl. What I need to know from you is, are you willing to take the necessary steps to eliminate your addiction ?”
“Is such a thing possible, Mr. Holmes ?” she cried.
“I daresay that it is. I myself have overcome the need for a more powerful drug than you are in the power of.”
“Then by all means, please help me,” she pleaded.
Holmes asked her to bring a vial of the drug she was using for me to examine. It was indeed a powerful pain killer. Something I would only administer to a dying individual because of its addictive effects.
“How often are you taking this, madam ?” I asked her.
“Once a week, Doctor,” she replied.
“Then we have an excellent chance to beat it. Are you willing to move into a sanatorium and stay there for as long as it takes, even if it turns into months ?”
“Yes, anything to remove this vile curse from me!”
“Then I will arrange it,” I stated. “When are you susceptible to your next dose ?”
“Not for a few days.”
“Then I will contact you as soon as I have made arrangements. It shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”
“Thank you, Doctor. What of Arthur, Mr. Holmes ?” she asked.
Standing, Holmes replied, “We shall leave immediately to see Lord Clarendon and learn what we may. In the meantime I can only suggest that you write to your husband and tell him the absolute truth. I believe that is your only chance for any possible forgiveness on his part.”
She stood as well, “Thank you, Mr. Holmes, and Godspeed on your journey to save poor Arthur.”