We boarded our trap and immediately set out for Kenilworth Castle to see Lord Clarendon. By now it was nearly noon and so I retrieved our lunch basket and offered a sandwich to Holmes.
“Feed yourself if you must, Doctor,” he replied as he prodded the horse into a cantor. “I’ve no need for sustenance now and must concentrate on the problem at hand to contemplate our actions once we meet Clarendon.”
The six mile journey to the castle of the district’s largest and most influential landowner took a bit over an hour. We then found ourselves greeted by a stable boy as Holmes pulled the rig through the open castle gate.
Upon introducing ourselves, the young lad pointed us toward the main entrance and offered to water and rub down our horse, which we gratefully accepted after putting her through a trying pace to reach our destination.
The imposing door to the castle was opened by a proper butler who enquired as to our business, to which Holmes requested an audience with Lord Clarendon on behalf of Lady Beasley.
We were escorted to an anteroom which was lined with tapestries, coats of arms and ancestral paintings. In addition, there were several suits of armor and ancient weapons on display.
I was examining a timeworn rendering of the first Earl of Clarendon, who rode to the Crusades with Richard the Lionheart and was rewarded with his lands and title, that have passed through the generations to the man for whom we waited. He held a Bible in his left hand, near to his heart, with a cross emblazoned in gold on its cover, actually reflecting off of his gleaming breastplate. His right hand was stretched skyward, wielding his two edged sword as if in triumph as it pointed to the heavens. His hair was dark and shoulder length and his beard and moustache were pointed and neatly trimmed. The age of the paint made it hard to see if his eyes were black or brown, but they reflected a determination that gave his countenance a strength worthy of his title.
Holmes was pacing, without seeming to appreciate the antiquities surrounding us and so I attempted to engage him in conversation.
“I say, Holmes, isn’t this painting in remarkable condition for being over 700 years old ?”
He stopped his pacing and looked at me.
“It is in remarkable condition, Watson, for a painting that can be no more than 350 years old, and likely younger than that.”
“Are you saying that this is not the First Earl of Clarendon ?”
Nodding toward the painting he replied, “It could well be his likeness, but if so it was copied from a much older work.”
“What makes you say that, old man ?”
Suddenly a voice came from the doorway, “Because there were no printed Bibles of that type during the time of the Crusades, Doctor.”
Turning, our eyes fell upon the surprising presence of the current Earl of Clarendon. While he retained the hair, and possibly eye coloring of his famous ancestor, the resemblance stopped there. The man approaching us was about 50 years of age, short, stout and held out a pudgy hand in greeting.
Holmes smiled at this admission as he shook the proffered hand, “I would venture to say it rather dates from the late 1600’s, your Grace ?”
“Quite so, Mr. Holmes, commissioned by one of my ancestors in a frenzy of religious zeal. Dr. Watson,” he said, offering his hand to me, “welcome to Kenilworth.”
I shook his hand and found it soft and swollen with age, possibly arthritic. “Thank you, your Lordship,” I responded. “This is quite a collection.”
He looked around the room, “Oh, it is that and most of it is authentic, although there are a couple of pieces, like this painting, that were added as embellishments by my ancestors. They are rather hard to keep up however. I’d as soon donate it all to a museum.”
“Why don’t you ?” I asked.
“Ah, well there are two pressing reasons for that, Doctor. First, there is the weight of my ancestors upon my shoulders. Who am I to break the traditions of several hundred years ? Then there are societal expectations, this is a castle, after all, the public expects a room like this and would be sorely disappointed were its existence to cease.”
“Forgive me, Lord Clarendon,” interjected Holmes, “we are on a rather urgent mission and timing could be of the essence.”
“Of course, Mr. Holmes, let us retire to my study where we can discuss matters in more comfort.”
The Earl’s study proved to be a much more intimate space. Bookshelves lined the walls without interruption except for the doorway and a window which looked out upon the grounds toward the stables. We were offered modern, comfortable leather chairs while Clarendon sat behind a simple oak desk with the view out the window being to his right. He offered us cigars which Holmes declined on our behalf.
“Lord Clarendon,” stated the detective, “we’ve come on behalf of the Lady Beasley in regards to her son, Arthur.”
“I see,” replied the diminutive Lord of the castle. “Is she your only client in this matter?” he asked, somewhat suspiciously.
Holmes responded in his most diplomatic tone, “We were engaged by Lady Beasley, your Grace, the interests of any other parties are secondary to our concern. We believe the young Earl is in poor health and requires medical attention. Our primary goal is to find and assist him as we may.”
The older man steepled his fingers as he leaned back in his chair and peered over them at Holmes. Holmes gaze remained steady under that scrutiny and the time clicked by interminably as this approached the manner of a staring contest. Finally I could stand it no more.
“Confound it, Sir Arthur’s life is in danger, we don’t have time for this!”
The Earl raised his hand as if he could silence me, and calmly stated, “Young Arthur is being taken care of, even as we speak, Doctor. I have arranged for his care at the Ledbetter Sanatorium.”
In response to this statement, Holmes spoke again, “And he has arranged for you to care for the Beasley lands and accounts, as well as Lady Beasley herself.”
Clarendon tilted his head and scrutinized Holmes further before answering, “Yes, Mr. Holmes, you are quite correct. Although, I am at a loss as to how you came to such a conclusion.”
Holmes waved the query aside, “He told his mother all would be taken care of should anything happen to him. As the member of Parliament for this district you are the natural caretaker of your flock.”
“Arthur’s father was a good friend to me and I feel duty bound to see after his family in these troubling circumstances,” answered Clarendon. “The lad has given me power of attorney should he become incapacitated and I will ensure that any debts are paid and any charges laid against him, from any person or purview, are challenged and defended against.”
Do you expect such charges ?” questioned Holmes.
“Are you aware of the Forecastle situation, sir ?” he replied.
“I have Lady Forecastle’s version, which I am ready to accept as fact.”
“Then perhaps you can be of usefulness in this unfortunate chain of events,” responded the Earl.
“If doing so is in the service of my client’s interest.”
“It shall be in the interest of all who seek justice and wrongs righted, Mr. Holmes.”
“Then I will do what I can.”
“The obstacle in all this is, of course, Ronald Forecastle. He is a truly stubborn man,” offered Clarendon. “There are times when I almost wish the rumors were true, for surely Colleen and Arthur seem much more suited to each other. Yet they are both fiercely loyal to Ronald and would never engage in what they are accused of.”
“Do you not have any influence with Lord Forecastle?” I questioned.
“Alas, as close as I am with the Beasley clan, is as far as I am removed from Forecastle. The rivalry between our families over this district has been long and bitter. I would not hold out any hope that my words would have any effect on him.”
Holmes then countered, “I believe that if I am to be of any assistance in reconciling these parties, I must speak with Sir Arthur. As I recall, the Ledbetter Sanatorium is in Coventry?”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes,” replied our host. “Arthur is under the care of Dr. William Blaise, a much respected expert in the treatment of addiction.”
“Yes,” I remarked, “I’ve read of Dr. Blaise’s progress with new treatment methods. In fact, I was going to recommend that Lady Forecastle put herself under his care.”
“Then we should be off for Coventry,” barked Holmes, in that decisive command tone of his.
“Wait, Holmes,” I responded, “I should return to Lady Forecastle and conduct her to Ledbetter’s as well.”
“I see your point, Doctor,” my friend conceded. Turning to our host he asked, “Is there any means of transportation I may borrow, Lord Clarendon, so that Watson can return to the Forecastle’s in our trap ?”
“As a matter of fact, I took Arthur to Ledbetter’s myself so his horse is here and well rested for the journey. I warn you though, Mr. Holmes, Blackjack is quite a spirited animal.”
“All the better for a speedy trip,” my friend replied. “If you will please order him ready I shall depart as soon as possible, so as to make Coventry before nightfall.”
Lord Clarendon rang for his butler and issued the necessary orders. We finalized our plans so that Holmes would proceed on to Coventry and I would return to the Forecastle’s where I would spend the night and convey Lady Forecastle on to Ledbetter’s the next day. A messenger would be dispatched to Lady Beasley to let her know her son was found safe and that further details would follow.
Little did we know how far those plans would deviate.