It was not long after my friend made his "return to the land of the living," as he called it, that a case came upon us as quickly and unexpectedly as the November cold spell we then found ourselves in. It, of course, did not appear to be a case at first-sight. In retrospect, Holmes said that had merely been part of the mystery of this case; identifying it as such.
It was just after the affair I so dutifully chronicled under the title of `The Three Students' that Holmes had forced me from my desk, implying that I was so enraptured with exercising my mind that I had fallen into neglect toward the exercising of my body.
He was right, of course. I had buried my head in my journals for the previous two weeks, cementing myself quite voluntarily to my desk. I was hiding from the cold spell which had come down upon us like a heavy hand, and I had vowed not to leave the fireplace or the back log of publications on my desk until autumn had once again returned to Baker Street.
And so because of the trap I had now lain for myself, I was to be subject to several hours' of walking through the park. Through the course of our trip, I was also forced to endure Holmes' lecturing on human nature, culminating in a forty-five minute dissertation upon the peculiarity of human beings to respect anyone with a ring full of keys. I knew a twinge of regret for all of the times I had coaxed him from his moping about the house and caused him to tolerate my own prattle.
When at last Holmes decided that my penance was complete, I was never quite so happy to see 221B Baker Street. Chilled and out of breath, I took the sky-gray sandstone steps behind Holmes, who seemed totally unaffected from our jaunt in the park.
Holmes removed his keys from the inner pocket of his greatcoat and, finding the correct key placed it inside the coal colored, key battered iron door lock. Silently I willed him to hurry about his task, as all the feeling had finally left my toes, and I was anxious to reacquaint myself with the fire's warmth.
Holmes had begun talking again, no doubt in illustration of his earlier point about keys, but I did not hear him. My mind was absorbed with thoughts of warm tea and every hot meal Mrs. Hudson had ever served us. So preoccupied was I, that when Holmes paused just over the threshold, I ungracefully ran into his back.
"Really, Holmes, you ought to warn--"
With a quarter turn to his right he held a finger to his lips and his gloved hand pointed past the coat tree and the umbrella rack and up the short flight of steps into our rooms, gesturing for me to not make a disturbance for above Mrs. Hudson was speaking to someone.
He moved forward and I followed. It was very seldom that Mrs. Hudson had guests, much less receiving them in our quarters. And it was most certainly a guest for Mrs. Hudson, from familiar tones with which she spoke. I had known the dear old woman for long enough to know that such familiarity was reserved for only those she was truly fond of.
My friend and long time acquaintance proceeded onward, and I followed, unbuttoning the top of my coat and removing my hat. Reluctantly, I removed my coat and placed it upon one brass hook and let my hat come to rest on another. I was still chilled, but attempted to steady myself. We should certainly greet whoever it was.
Holmes turned back to me once again. "Watson. The door?" he said in low tones.
I looked back. He was quite right. I'd left it opened, as if I were a savage. It seemed the cold had taken my sensibility from me, as well as all the feeling in my limbs.
I closed the door as gently as I could. Hopefully I had not been too disruptive.
"Ah, that would be Mr. Holmes, at least. He thinks that I pay to heat the whole of London."
I would have to apologize later for letting him take the blame for my folly. I followed after him remorsefully.
The scene we came upon was that of Mrs. Hudson sitting at our round table. Across the room the fire was crackling with the recent addition of fresh coal. It seemed to abolish the gray light that shot through the windows and gave the rooms a healthy glow. I resisted the urge to flee instantly to the fire, and instead, be civilized towards our little guest. Mrs. Hudson was next to a small girl who was all but consumed by a large blanket, one that I recognized as coming from the foot of my bed.
Before her was a cup of tea which was half-empty.
The girl's dark brown hair stuck to the sides of her face in long, straight tufts. They clung to the tearstains on her cheeks. She was no more than twelve. Her arrow shaped nose and chin were thin, like the rest of her features. They were lean and chiseled and spoke of a Germanic heritage. Her strong face also held much sadness To see a child in such a state, I did not fault Mrs. Hudson for showing her in.
Mrs. Hudson gave the child's small, delicate hand a pat. "And Doctor Watson as well. He'll look you over, and tell you the same thing I said, that it's too cold to be running out of the house with no coat."
Holmes bowed to the young lady. "Miss Amelia Harper. I am Mr. Holmes." He gestured to me. "And this is Dr. Watson. And yes, our Mrs. Hudson is correct, it is far too cold for such things."
Say what one would about Holmes, he did have a streak of politeness in him, when the situation demanded. I did not bother to ask how he knew the child's name. One grew used to such feats of deduction with Holmes, and through the course of his absence, I had missed such occurrences.
I found myself sitting next to the girl, instantly taking up my physician's duties. "How long was she in the cold," I asked, finding her hand, which had retracted among the folds of my quilt.
"Just long enough for me to grab hold of her. A few minutes, I suppose." Mrs. Hudson responded, appearing to take a sudden interest in what Homes had set himself to doing. She did not say a word to him, but she seemed to be judging if now was a good time to ask something of him.
Her pulse was normal, and other than her chill and obvious emotional sickness, she appeared to be as healthy as any other child her age. I did reinforce Mrs. Hudson's previous statement about going into the cold without the appropriate attire and asked why she would think of doing such a thing.
Ms. Amelia Harper, who had not yet spoken word to either Holmes or myself looked first to Mrs. Hudson for help with answering. When Mrs. Hudson offered no aid, she looked down at her tea.
"I was mad," she said simply, shyly.
"Tell them what you were mad over," Mrs. Hudson prompted, she, herself sounding indignant that a child should be so moved with anger as to flee into the cold.
"I didn't get my doll. It's the only thing I wanted, and my grandmother promised, sirs. She said it was mine, and that is all I wanted, for sure. They got everything else that they wanted, and I didn't get anything I wanted."
She was on the verge of tears again. It was not within me to see a lady cry, albeit a little lady. I removed the handkerchief from my sleeve and gave it to her. Holmes took the straight back wooden chair from near the secretary and brought it to the table to sit himself in.
"Of your grandmother's estate?" Holmes asked once he was seated.
The girl nodded, her big brown eyes fixed wholly on Sherlock Holmes in something of caution mixed with curiosity.
"And the 'they' that you speak of? Your father and--"
"My uncle. Father got the china. Uncle took everything else. He probably killed her for it."
I was not prepared for the venom with which this apparently innocent child had spoken of her uncle. It was not, of course, polite to accuse a family member of murder, but I'd have thought the child of better breeding. The child was obviously in mourning, so that may account for some of her untoward emotion.
"Now, that isn't a nice thing to say," Mrs. Hudson said to the child before me. "Though I know you'd like your doll back."
"I would, ma'am. I'd like it back very much. Whenever I visited, my grandmother would take it out of the chest in her bedroom and let me play with it. She said I'd always have it to remember her by. She never let me see what was in the chest, but she said that was for me too. He took the chest, even when I asked for it. He just took it away, out of her room to I don't know where, just this morning. The funeral was this morning, too. He's a dirty man who didn't even wait until she was in the ground to start going through her things. I want my doll back, sirs. That's why I ran away. I miss my grandmother, and I want my doll back."
Mrs. Hudson was looking at Holmes again. I wondered to what end for a moment, until I saw the question being proposed silently with her eyes. And I found myself asking the same query.
Holmes tried to ignore the fact that this exchange was taking place, and I surmised that was supposed to be our answer-- that he would not retrieve the doll for the little girl. Holmes had previously complained of how every child with a lost pencil box came to him for help, but certainly this was a little different. The doll was an irreplaceable object of sentimental value, and while not being the most difficult exercising of his abilities, surely Holmes could make an exception for the sake of a grieving child.
Of this silent discussion Amelia was thankfully unaware. She'd reinvested herself in her tea, probably so that we would not see that she had begun crying again. If Holmes could turn away such a sight, that of a girl attempting to be brave in a situation no one had the right to ask her to make such a display, then he was truly the unfeeling, calculating machine that I had once called him.
He frowned for just a moment, and a tiny groan of displeasure sounded in the back of his throat in a jester of defeat. He then leaned toward Ms. Harper and in utter sincerity announced, "it would be my greatest pleasure to attempt to recover your prized possession!"
The child's despair had turned instantly to joy upon hearing such a declaration of intent from my friend. She leapt from her chair and dragged the blanket along with her. She wrapped both arms around his neck and thanked him.
Holmes' back appeared to stiffen at the child's display and he looked over Amelia's shoulder to me, seeming to ask if I was happy now.
Some bit of pleasure having been restored to the girl's life, she looked into his eyes and said, "I used to think you were the most awful man from Dr. Watson's stories. Now I see you're very nice, and Dr. Watson is just a bad writer."
Out of the mouth of babes, I reminded myself. Unfortunately Holmes seemed amused with the idea of my poor writing skills being the cause of his misrepresentation and so he smiled and agreed with little Amelia.
He tolerated the girl's apparent newfound attachment until Mrs. Hudson could coax Miss Amelia back to her tea. It was much more appropriate for her to be hounding after Amelia at the table instead of Holmes. She seemed exceptionally contented, no doubt with how things had just fallen out in regards to setting Holmes upon this 'case.'
The man, himself, remained utterly expressionless through the remainder of Amelia's visit. He made polite replies, but was inspired to little else.
After another cup of tea, Mrs. Hudson elicited a solemn vow from Amelia that she would not do such a thing as running out into the cold ever again, no matter how angry or upset she had become. This put my heart at ease as well, for I had no wish to be treating the child for exposure or any other cold induced illness.
Mrs. Hudson bundled the child in her own sweater and shawl for a trip across the street and down a few houses to her own home at 228 Baker Street. She left to return Amelia to her father, and Holmes watched them cross the street from the window seat. When they had safely crossed, he turned to me with a look of annoyance. "You do know how I despise being backed into a corner."
I was surprised in that I had not thought Holmes would take to blaming me for his current situation. "You could have said no," I offered as I returned to my desk. I'd neglected it for a full three hours now, and it beckoned to me.
"Do you honestly believe that?"
Of course I didn't honestly believe that. As unpredictable as Holmes could be, I would have been exceptionally disappointed in him, had he turned the girl's request down.
"And Mrs. Hudson. I should have known she would have no qualm with putting me in a situation."
He rose and rocked upon his feet, then drew himself up to his full height. He loomed there for a moment like a great, proud statue before announcing, "fine then. I will do this thing. But I tell you, it will not interfere with my dinner. I shall have this entire affair wrapped neatly and placed upon a shelf before the grandfather clock chimes six."
Indeed, leave it to Sherlock Holmes to turn something of no challenge into one. If he could not test his wits, he could at least test his efficiency with this "affair" as he had deemed it.
I asked if he shouldn't get on his way then, since he was "on the clock," as it were.
"We should be on our way, you mean."
I explained that I had done more than my fair share of traipsing about in the cold today, and since his constitution could obviously endure more of the elements than mine could, I would stay by the fire. I was only up into September's backlog of publications and therefore it would be most economical for both of us if we parted ways.
This did not deter Holmes upon the course he had set, and so just when I was interested in an article comparing various diseases and their causes, a hat and coat were thrust into my field of view.
I sighed, resigning myself to make this concession on the behalf of my little friend. Of course this did not mean that I had to rush about my business.
"No dallying, Watson." He said far too cheerfully. "Come. Misery loves company."
I shall not mention here the address of the house that once belonged to Cecilia Harper, Matron of the Harper family and grandmother to little Amelia. This is because a young family now resides in the home and would not benefit from the type of gawking that revealing it would produce.
All I will say to the effect of the location of the house is that it was firmly planted on the corner of a block in a fashionable district. It stood tall and proud, it's dark brown brick structure, trimmed with sand stone, scaling up past the ground and first floors to yet another floor on top of that, which I presumed to be a spacious attic. The window frames were trimmed in a dark forest green, which seemed to be the rims of the smoke-tinted spectacles of the home.
I was ill at ease with the look of this home, for it was seemingly asleep. Certainly if we proceeded further, we would wake it.
Holmes chastised me once again for lagging behind as he ventured up the three steps, which lead to the front door. Window boxes on the ground floor were filled with wilted and dead flowers, whether killed from neglect or the sudden declining temperatures I was not able to say. It only further added to the feeling of unwelcome which had presented itself upon our arrival.
Holmes dutifully knocked upon the door, no doubt in effort to attempt the most direct rout of obtaining that which we sought. This, of course, seemed the most logical and time-productive course of action.
A tall, round man answered the door. He had blonde hair gone gray, great bushy eyebrows like overused mops, and a pear shaped figure, which stuck out from his well-tailored coats. He welcomed us into a small receiving room just a tad too readily; shaking Holmes' hand with such vigor I thought it should surely snap. This was all far too strange for my weary mood.
Fortunately, he cleared up at least some of my apprehension, but none of Holmes' curiosity when he gave us his name, Donald Harper, executor of his mother's estate.
Holmes seemed a bit quicker to this game than I was, and much more ready to play. He introduced himself as Mr. Baker, a banker from the other side of town, and myself as Mr. Williams, his secretary. I nearly called off this round of whatever Holmes had decided to play, until a moment of guilt made me stop. I had, after all, dragged him into a situation he did not wish to be in. I ought to let him have fun with it, or at least as much fun as Holmes was capable of having.
It soon became apparent that Mr. Harper had confused my friend for a prospective buyer of the home, for he had begun talking of it's structure and history. He looked directly at Holmes, while he could probably not have cared less if I had vanished from the face of the earth. This is probably because I was supposedly a mere secretary. I did not get the impression from Mr. Harper that he took much interest in those of lower station than himself, other than, of course, to make himself look greater. Perhaps this was some device of Holmes' to ensure that I suffered sufficiently for leading him into such a mundane situation.
The receiving room had pristine wine-colored carpets, and though they were old, had been kept in excellent condition. The room was full of various brick-a-brack, seemingly all of sentimental nature. Some were momentos from trips abroad and others had been collected from a life time of living. Regardless of where they had come from, all of the contents I had seen thus far in the house seemed of no considerate value, which seemed odd considering the obvious value of the home and the surrounding neighborhood.
The room appeared at once cluttered and sparely populated, and I could not say at that moment what gave me such a feeling.
I got an over-all bad feeling from the seeming emptiness, which greeted us. I did so wish Holmes would just explain our real intent, retrieve the doll, and be home for dinner as he had promised.
Instead of acquiescence to my silent wishes, Holmes seemed more intent upon his game, or study, or whatever it was that had now engaged him. He was now pacing around a six by six-foot area of carpet which was devoid of furniture. A look had come upon him which I knew well, and due to what fancy had now come upon him, I doubted greatly that we would see dinner at our usual time tonight.
"What became of the piano?" he asked rather suddenly.
Mr. Harper was startled by my friend's question. "It--I..." He hesitated.
"I simply wonder because the room looks empty without it. I should have paid a great deal extra for a fine baby grand as what stood here."
This did seem to upset our host, and he seemed filled with regret as he explained that the piano had been removed that afternoon by a gentleman with a great love for older instruments.
Holmes expressed his regrets, and allowed himself to become interested in the fire place. He inspected the gray-green slate tile around the black marble of the fire place with incredible interest, noting how well it had withstood the test of time and giving agreeing nods to many of Mr. Harper's comments.
According to the great detective, it was a stunning piece for any home to have, and he took incredible interest in the thing. He even turned the lace doilies over to inspect their undersides. In such a short time he'd grown attached to it, and so it was only with reluctance he moved on to the rest of the inspection.
I followed after them like an unsure but devoted puppy as they moved on from the fireplace and to the rest of the house. As Holmes grabbed the oak banister going up the stairs and gave it a firm shake, I wondered briefly if this was, in fact, a game. I was not fully aware of Holmes' current financial situation and the house we now inspected seemed beyond either of our current means, and yet he took so much interest.
Usually our quarrels with each other were quickly resolved, as is always the case with good friends. Because of this, I never thought that even for a moment, my friend would leave our lodgings at Baker Street on a permanent basis. This somewhat unrealistic fear welled up within me like mercury in a metal tube as I continued after them.
We were given to see the entire first floor, which consisted of three bedrooms, a spacious bathroom and a host of other rooms. There was a sizeable library, which seemed to be missing key volumes, all apparently recently ripped from the shelves. There was a solarium, several study rooms devoid of decoration and a large walk-in closet along the hall, which was probably the size of my bedroom at Baker Street.
I noticed there was one door we had not yet entered, but I did not make the request. This was Holmes' show, after all.
"Everything looks well in order. We will indeed have to settle on things immediately. There appears to be only one thing remaining."
I did often wonder just what things ran through my friend's overly talented mind, and this was one of them. With his assertion that all was in place for the purchase of the home, I feared the days of our boarding together had come to a permanent conclusion.
"The attic, sir? It is not much to see. There are some items stored up there, but not worth getting dust on one's trousers over. Most certainly not a task for so late in the day." Our friend Mr. Harper withdrew a clam-white handkerchief from his pocket and whipped it across his pink, fleshy brow.
"Oh, that is of little importance to me. I will probably only put old files up there anyhow. It is the place where my head will rest that has me most interested now."
Donald Harper twisted the handkerchief in his fingers, and upon realizing what he was doing, shoved the piece of cloth hastily into his pocket. His hands, without the handkerchief to work upon grew restless and rubbed together.
"It is rather unfortunate," he began in measured tones, "but the bedroom is not in a presentable state. Perhaps in just a day or two, it will be ready."
Holmes persisted, and won, on the grounds that he refused to purchase a house without seeing where he should be spending one third of his time in it. I did not bother telling our host that "Mr. Baker" was simply being eccentric. He'd not have cared, I felt.
Donald Harper was indeed a defeated man when he unlocked the door to the master bedroom and admitted Holmes and myself.
The same wine colored carpets adorned this room as the floor below. Many of the personal items of the room had already been dispensed with. I noticed the space at the foot of the bed that had once been inhabited by the trunk Amelia had described.
Holmes instantly moved to a pile of lavender silk bedclothes that were heaped uncomfortably upon the floor. The feeling that came upon me was rather unsettling, as I felt like a scavenger going through Scrooge's bedroom belongings. Donald was as unnerved as I was by Holmes' behavior, and I felt the need to explain. I wandered to a fine wooden table next to the bed, and rested my hand upon the metal music box that rested upon it, in an attempt to divert some of our host's attention from my friend.
It did not work of course, but in a moment, Holmes explained himself. "My apologies. I become too familiar at times. My grandmother once had bedclothes this color. I fear my reminiscence takes me ahead of myself." Holmes was far better at contriving stories than myself.
Mr. Harper's eyes drooped from attention into apathy. "If the room meets with your approval? We can conduct the rest of our business perhaps this evening? I could have the rest of these things cleared from here before the end of the week if you are anxious to move in."
It struck me that only a cold or unusually expedient man could sell his mother's home the evening after her funeral.
"This evening, then." Holmes said, exiting the room.
We made our good-byes and were on our way. I was anxious to be gone far enough to ask what had piqued my friend's interest so as to justify the scene he had caused, and why it was nearly five in the evening and we were still sans doll.
"I shall have to thank Mrs. Hudson for setting me about this interesting query," he muttered as we descended the front steps. He grew silent as he often did when he was contemplating a case. Knowing I would get no information out of him save what he chose to reveal, I reviewed my own observations of the house in an attempt to glean some small insight as to what he found so engaging.
We crossed the street and I was tempted to make another effort at hailing a cab, when my friend stopped and looked back. He'd been in the habit of catching me off guard all day and I was weary.
"Now, Holmes, I'm going to hail the next cab to come around that corner if you don't explain yourself." While I was of a mind to humor him while we were in the house, it would take more than guilt to get me to stay in the cold for another extended period.
"Better yet, Watson, why don't you explain it to me."
I really was in no mood for this. "Holmes, I asked the question first."
"You did notice quite a few things absent from Mrs. Harper's home."
I nodded. That much had been obvious. I wasn't sure where the problem lay, nor did I see what that had to do with the absence of the trunk or the doll, nor did it account for the embarrassing scene he'd made in the dead woman's bedroom. Holmes had better be on the scent of something the size of conspiracy against the crown, because my thin nerves had just snapped.
"Our friend Amelia has pointed out to us that her father got very little from the estate, and that her uncle has taken the rest. The items that were disposed of were of obvious value, and so it is quite plain that they were taken to be sold. I suspect to pay off a debt. Gambling, if my insight into the personality of Mr. Harper holds true. While that in itself is merely amusing and not damaging, it does lead one to be quite interested in the situation we find ourselves in." He continued to stare at the house.
"And what situation is that?" I asked peevishly.
"Think, Watson. Use the brains God gave you."
I was neither of a humor to think or continue on like this, with him apparently lying in wait. "What of some things missing? It doesn't speak to Mr. Harper being an incredibly upright individual, but I gained that information on my own simply from the ill feeling that beset me upon meeting the man."
"If I've taught you nothing, I would like to think you've learned that ill-feeling is not enough to go on. It is certainly shy of a conviction."
"Conviction?" My friend had certainly lost me. Thus assuming he ever had me along this intellectual journey to begin with.
"Conviction. Don't worry, I will explain as soon as a few more pieces fall into place." A cab came round the corner, and Holmes began walking away from the direction in which it was coming. "Come now. We look like loiterers."
The cab stopped in front of the Harper home and a tall, wide man appeared. His dark hair was barely visible from beneath his imposing hat, which was the same dark color as his large woolen coat. I supposed it to be black but I could not determine exactly, as the sky was turning blue with the onset of night. The man's face was in shadow but he looked cool and unwavering. I thought that I should not like to be caught alone with such a person.
From a few blocks away, a church bell tolled the half-hour. Dinner would both come and go pretty soon, but I knew it was useless to point out to Sherlock Holmes his previous vow to have the affair concluded before the appointed hour. Certainly not now, because with the entry of this new player into the scene, I sensed that the plot had just thickened.
Sherlock Holmes urged me to follow him as he crossed the street back to the deep-colored house. He looked down it's length for a moment, as if he could see through the rough brick and mortar and into Cecelia Harper's home and to the curious man who had just entered.
I was quite interested as to the nature of the visit of the broad-chested, dark-clothed man. He could be another prospective homebuyer, the one Donald Harper had mistaken Holmes for early on in the game, but my friend seemed convinced not.
"I propose, he began to say, as he pondered the house. "That we do not interfere with events, unless it is evident that Mr. Harper is in danger of physical harm." I made no reply. Holmes knew I would concede to his wishes.
After just a moment more, he chose our direction, and I followed him to a window just above his height, where we stopped. Holmes gestured for me to appear as leisurely as possible, even though we were obviously snooping. I fixed my eyes on his look of concentration and my ears upon the voices we heard within. They were quite casual, and that was all I could tell. I could not hear the words they spoke, but their tone emitted through the thick glass. I sensed some uneasiness and maybe a bit of malice in the nature of the pauses in the conversation, but I wondered if I was getting ahead of myself again, as Holmes had chastised me for not moments before, on the other side of the street.
One part of the conversation was heard quite clearly; that was the last words spoken. "It has been a pleasure." And as I did not recognize the voice as being that of Mr. Harper, I had to assume it was our other "friend." From my best judgment, his voice was as stark and imposing as his figure, and I once again desired to not be caught alone with him. I was chilled from the weather, and from the voice. It was ruthlessly business-like, and I did not know what to make of it.
We crossed the street once again after our frightening friend took his leave of Mr. Harper, and appeared to continue on our leisurely walk at a sluggish pace. Behind us, I could hear a cab door clank in the frame and the horse began to move on.
"I can only have one hope," Holmes said abruptly. "That our dear Mr. Harper has not sacrificed Amelia's prized possession to that brute. If so, then we're in for a considerable amount of trouble."
I didn't respond, as I still didn't have a clear idea of what was going on. I merely followed as my friend redirected us once more from our current position to once more at the front of the house. I had a suspicion that Holmes' intent was to go back into the house. This, of course, was short lived when he confirmed it for me by taking himself up the steps.
"Could I bother to ask what is happening?" I said quietly, making a strong effort to keep sarcasm out of my voice.
"We'll all know soon enough." I knew it was his way, but I did so hate when he withheld information. What he considered unnecessary for me to know before he had thought it through entirely, I considered necessary to my sanity. And at times like this, when I was tired and cold, it did grate on my patience not to see all that he saw.
He knocked on the door once again. Donald Harper answered, and appeared rather surprised to see us so soon after our departure. Or perhaps it was so soon on the heals of the other man's departure.
I briefly recalled the moment of panic which had come upon me in the house early in the afternoon, that Holmes' charade was more than an act, that he did intend to purchase the old home. I felt silly for fearing such, especially in light of the current shift of events. And even more so now by the simple lie which formulated itself upon Holmes' lips.
"I was half way back to my office, when I realized I'd lost a cuff link. I've looked everywhere else, I don't suppose you'd let me?" he left the rest of the question unstated.
Mr. Harper's fleshy features once again relaxed from some expression I was unable to name, to secure annoyance. He saw us in, and my friend set instantly to his task of "looking" for his missing wardrobe piece.
Usually Sherlock Holmes gave me more of a hint as to what he wished me to do, or what was transpiring, but it seemed that events had developed far too quickly since we'd saw the dark man enter. Since I did not know much more than what I had seen, I was left with Donald Harper in the receiving room, staring into the house after Holmes as he meandered about.
I noticed that even though he appeared to be wandering aimlessly, he seemed to be pressing ever toward the back of the house. The moment at which he came to a door that I did not recall opening during our earlier visit, Harper seemed to jump out of his skin and leap forward, even as he called out for Holmes not to do what he was doing.
My friend pretended not to hear. He flung the door open and cried out that he just wanted to look in this room.
Harper's surprise turned quickly to anger at Holmes' invasion, and he rushed to my friend as fast as his corpulent body would allow. I, of course, had no choice but to follow.
I arrived right on the heals of the man, but when I entered, he'd already placed himself between Holmes and a large mass covered by a red tarp. The room was dimly lit and the tarp seemed to almost burn in the ill-lit chamber. The heap was against a wall and next to a door. This was the same one I recognized as being along the side of the home and to the rear, as we'd passed it several times in our comings and goings.
"I can assure you that your missing cuff link is not in this room," he ejaculated with no concern for propriety. His round, pink cheeks puffed with the flush of mortification.
"I know this now," my friend said mildly. "Because this seems to be an enclave we missed in our earlier visit. As I recall, you placed yourself between myself and the door and ushered me right past. Tell me, what is that bundle by the door?"
Very quickly I realized that this was not pacify in Holmes' voice, but calculation.
"Nothing. Some things of my mother's that I am removing. Now, you're cuff link--" He pressed forward and attempted through motion alone to turn my companion and guide him out of the room.
Holmes was resolute. "I would pay handsomely for anything n the pile which interests me."
The bulbous and flustered man hesitated, but soon returned just as firmly with his answer. "No, they are personal. And very dear to me."
I, myself was repulsed instantly by this outright untruth. One look at the man was all it took to confirm is ardent insincerity. Holmes for his part, looked over Harper's shoulder and to the mass upon the floor.
"As long as you are quite certain that they are only dear to yourself..." he began.
The normally blushed color upon Harper's face turned to a gaunt white. "Yes, they are mine," he answered too quietly.
"Nothing belongs to... a nice?" Holmes prodded very gently. I sensed that he was deriving some pleasure from this cat and mouse game. I would not stop him.
Harper grew defensive at this and advanced upon my friend in this little dance they seemed so engaged in. "You're implications are unwelcome. Now if you don't mind?"
He tried once again to turn us out of the room, using the width of his body in an effort to plough us out the door.
Fortunately, Holmes would not be deterred, and myself along with him. I was quite annoyed with this man. He was a pompous fellow who seemed to think that demeanor alone would win him his way, and save him from this situation.
"The door is this way." The man announced, making one final effort at seeing us out.
"I think not. Now, I have a little client waiting back at Baker Street for me, who not only wishes for her doll to be returned, but also accuses you of murder. "Now, I have a motive and an opportunity, if you would be so kind as to supply the doll and the murder weapon, I could be home before dinner is too terribly cold."
Holmes paused, then added, "it really would only be to your benefit at this point to cooperate.
Harper tried to regain the ground he had lost with his outburst by returning to a cool lethargy. His eyes half-veiled, he responded, "I haven't the slightest idea--"
While the man was quite plainly lying, no matter what had transpired, I truly was as clueless as he professed to be. My dear friend seemed to be slightly ahead of me yet again, but I had faith that an explanation was right now forthcoming.
"Oh, Mr. Harper, it is unbecoming," Holmes retorted as he peeked at his watch drolly, in an attempt to convey his displeasure. "I have three minutes," he began, "in which to resolve this affair, and I should like to be on my way."
Harper spread his long, thick arms in a change of tactic, which seemed to be a physical barrier between ourselves and what the red tarp concealed. "Mr. Baker, I still don't understand why you insist--"
Just then, through the thick outer walls of the house, the almost indistinct sound of the church bell chimed. It clearly cut Harper off, this most holy of sounds intruding in so dark a situation. Six consecutive clangs rang dully, and Holmes looked again at his watch.
"I appear to be running slow. Watson, I ask your pardon, ad another three minutes in which to resolve the affair."
Our friend looked like a frightened, cornered dog at the mention of my name. The situation seemed to come into focus for him as he came to see what and who he was up against.
The feeling that the look upon his face inspired within me was something akin to pleasure. "By all means, Holmes, take all the time you need." I truly had a mean streak within myself, when the occasion arose.
Our dear friend Donald Harper froze with a slackened jaw, and it was with absolutely no effort at all that he simply walked past the man, pushing his arm down as he did so.
"Watson, turn up the gas, and lock the door. I'd like to keep our friend with us, while we put this to rest."
I willingly obliged. After locking the door which lead back into the front of the house, I pocketed the key in a rather superior manner that was as unbecoming as it was delicious to play out. Holmes could inspire dramatics in one, now and again.
In a similarly theatrical manner, Holmes threw back the tarp from the objects next to the door. Harper made no sound and gave no attempt at stopping the display.
"Motive: Money." He said, looking through the treasure trove of expensive items surrounding and resting upon the ancient oak trunk.
"Necessary, of course, to pay of gambling debts incurred very quickly and totaling to a significant sum. I have little doubt that our broad-chested friend from earlier would be returning as soon as the sale of these items and the house were complete. Isn't that right, Mr. Harper?"
I kept myself squarely planted between Mr. Harper and the door as I watched with interest as Holmes unfolded his explanation like a napkin at the dinner table. It was delightful to see that there had been method to his madness after all.
"Opportunity." He began again in earnest. "According to Amelia Harper, you were with Cecelia when she passed on. Which I find rather odd, considering that during the length of her illness, you never once visited her. Your own mother. Easily explained, though, you found yourself in need of cash and had come to ask for a loan, or, once finding the opportunity and conditions in place, take what no doubt you consider to be rightly yours."
Holmes continued to rummage as he spoke. "So easy, to kill a woman on her death bed. And so clean, too. Except for one little problem. Ah, here we are."
He opened a small wooden box, and produced from it's shallow recesses a lavender pillow case, no doubt related to the bed clothes on the floor of the master bedroom, the ones my friend had so distastefully picked through earlier in our visit.
"Except for one small detail." He held the pillowcase up to the light. It caught and accentuated ripples and seeming deformations in the material. "Silk has an awful tendency to run, when that much tugging and prodding is done to it." He indicated some mountains and valley's in the material. "That would be the imprint of Cecilia's face." Holmes indicated the craters along the edges. "That would be imprints from your fingers, Mr. Harper. I have no doubt that if we put it to the test, we would find the span between the finger marks quite comfortably matched to your own."
I was more than revolted by the image that my friend has created, and by the man who would hasten the death of a dying woman to benefit his own needs, and in such a grizzly manner.
"It is repulsive, isn't it, Watson." Holmes said at last. "Lestrade and his men will have quite a field day over this one."
The small enclave filled with a thick silence as Holmes pulled away a portion of a thick and costly drape and picked up a doll, or at least what was left of one.
"Oh, Mr. Harper, you truly are the lowest of the low." Holmes breathed in a low tone that seemed to be concealing some emotion I at odds to identify.
The doll bore dark hair and a round porcelain head, attached to a stuffed body. The seams of the body had been ripped violently open and the innards lay exposed in garish tufts upon my friend's long, thin hand.
"The dress was sewn on to the body to prevent you from doing just such a thing. Here it is." He held up a doll's dress made of delicate black lace and trimmed with a gold fabric. The lace was adorned with many red stones, which were later appraised to be rubies. The dress itself was worse for the ware, bearing the signs of the brutal means by which it was removed from the little lady's body.
Holmes shook his head in disgust, and possibly sadness. He removed his handkerchief from his pocket with reverence and respect. Unfolding the white cloth, he placed the battered doll and her fancy gown within. Almost as if shrouding the dead, he covered Amelia's most loved item and held it close.
The police said very little of the matter, certainly not more than was necessary to close the case and haul Donald Harper away for a nice visit with the judicial system.
My companion also was quieter than usual. All events having been brought to light, no question remained in my mind that needed answering, and so I left Holmes and his bundle be. He continued to give it great care through the rest of our time in the Harper home and in the company of the authorities. This was another matter on which I did not press him.
It was, of course, well past dinner time when we again set foot into our lodgings at Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson was kind enough to save dinner for us. I ate alone, my friend excused himself from the table and took himself into his room. A light would burn steadily through the night, visibly by way of the crack under the door.
It was a disappointing affair indeed. We had the doll back, unfortunately it was less than presentable to our little friend. We had uncovered Donald Harper's secret, but tomorrow morning there would be a very sad young girl to account to, not only in regards to the damaged doll, but to confirm the hasty supposition she had earlier made about her uncle.
Yes, it was indeed a sordid affair.
I did not drop off into unconscious until well past my usual hour. Certain things weight heavily upon my heart, disappointment and dread being the foremost. But after a long day of exertion in the cold, sleep did eventually win me over and I did not wake until quarter past nine the next day.
I was surprised to find my friend had already left our rooms. When I presented myself for breakfast, Mrs. Hudson said that my companion had left when the hour struck nine exactly, a long white box under his arm. She did not have any suppositions as to where he had gone, but wondered out loud that it did not have something to do with the affair as I had related it to her the night before.
Perhaps he had gone alone to break the sad news to little Ms. Harper. It was something in Holmes' character to do, bearing the brunt of the situation.
Sherlock Holmes returned shortly there-after. When he arrived back at our rooms, he was in no mood to talk about where he had been, or what had transpired. The only information he offered was that things with Amelia had been "taken care of." He holed himself up in his room again, and I was half-tempted to make a visit to Amelia Harper's home, just to sate my curiosity as to how things had transpired.
As it turned out, I had no need to make such a trek outside, for just as I was done eating, a knock was heard at the front door, below. Mrs. Hudson showed little Amelia in. She was properly dressed for the weather, I as glad to see. She held something tightly and affectionately to her breast. It was swaddled in a tiny blue blanket and she gave it much attention.
"I wanted to thank Mr. Holmes," The poor, dear child began sweetly. "For getting my doll. He left so quickly this morning."
Ever so slowly, as if unbundling a child, Amelia unwrapped an object from the rumples of the white material. As I watched, the doll in question was revealed.
I found myself without words to see Amelia's prize in perfect condition. The doll seemed reborn. Her stuffing was wholly intact and her dress pristine and untouched. My gaze wandered to Mrs. Hudson in search of an answer. She provided me with very little, other than to confirm with a look that it was not her hand which had so flawlessly resurrected the beloved doll.