Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the most amazing people of all time. Well, that might be stretching it, but he wrote such simply astoundingly superb (string on the superlatives here, he’s awesome) stories one after another. While not his only works, the trials and tribulations of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty side-kick, Dr. Watson, are surely his most well-known. I have read the entire works; novels and short stories [about two thousand pages] twice, and read many of the stories for a third time. I really enjoy reading Sherlock Holmes stories, and that’s why I choose to write a work following his style. Here goes!
I was enjoying a calm evening to myself, freed of my usual patients and able to enjoy the quiet luxury of Pride and Prejudice in tempo with the steady beat of a light drizzle tapping against my windows, when my aid, Amanda, rushed into the room. My eyebrows dipped down in slight annoyance; I had told that girl one too many a time not to barge in on me like that! With resignation I carefully folded down the top of the page in order to mark my place.
“What can it be that would cause you to interrupt me in such a manner?” I enquired crossly. Amanda, breathless, exclaimed,
“You told me-to come and tell you-if-” she stopped, panting in most un-lady like a fashion. I straightened my serious, rimless glasses upon the bridge of my nose with impatience.
“Well, what is it! Has Cunningham fallen down a flight of stairs yet again?” I said, voicing the worst of my fears. Sir Percy Cunningham was always a mess; he came around to my clinic, it seemed to be, every other week with some ailment or another. A bit of a sissy, I always thought.
“No, ma’am, it’s Mr. Macomb! He telegrammed over that you were to come at once. What should I reply?” Instantly, I stood up, thoughts of a quiet evening devoted to my cat, Aurelius, and I forever banished. With a confident stride, I quickly sailed over to the coat rack and said,
“No need to reply; I shall depart in haste for his place at once. Please have a kettle of tea ready for my return.” And with that, I was out the door and hailing a passing cab before anyone could say otherwise. As the English rain pounded down onto the roof above me, I shook off my umbrella, straightened my hat, and told the driver briskly,
“Twenty-seven Ivy Street, if you please, and an extra fiver if you hurry.”
Upon reaching Macomb’s residence on Ivy Street, I first listened for the sounds of a melancholy cello, but to my relief, heard none. After many years, I knew better than to barge in whilst he was practicing. Before I had time to knock twice, however, the door was flung open, and the excited face of my old comrade Mycroft Macomb greeted me.
“Why, if it isn’t Dr. Margaret Flatcher, my old friend!” He exclaimed jovially, as the light from the streetlamps illuminated the hollows of his cheeks. I think I might have pursed my lips.
“Macomb, I daren’t say you’ve been eating enough,” I remonstrated, and was about to caution him for the millionth time but Macomb waved away my worries with an impatient flick of the wrist.
“Oh, Flatcher, don’t be such an old maid! (had this been said by anyone other than Macomb, they would have felt a swift blow from my surprisingly heavy handbag.) I’ve come upon a positively extraordinary case and I really am quite in need of your help.”
“Well,” I said, softening to his necessity of my assistance as he had probably calculated,
“If you need my help.” He led me inside to the smoky interiors of his room. As I gave a quick glance around, I realized it was very much as it had been when I had seen it last; the dark scarlet armchair, perhaps, was a bit more faded as of late, and certainly there were more papers piled upon the old ornate oak desk of his, but otherwise the old aura was as intact as ever.
“Still a bachelor, I see,” remarking the obvious. He shrugged.
“Haven’t the time for such things, haven’t the time. Now, my dear Flatcher, I must beseech you to wait just a minute for me; I am conducting a very important experiment just now, and the outcome will play an imperative role in developing political affairs. It could make or break a war!” He quickly moved over to a table stacked with a jumble of various test tubes and jars of indescribable colours, shapes, and appearances. Muttering under his breath, he took a fluted flask of dark brownish-red liquid and held it above another of clear.
“Here goes, Flatcher! If this water turns the right colour when I drop in the blood, it means an innocent man has been convicted!” Carefully, he poured the tiniest drop into the vial, which became indistinguishable from the surrounding liquid. However, just a few seconds later, to my astonishment it began to turn a deep purple.
“By the devil, so it is!” He said, and hastily scrawled out a telegram before handing it to a young lad who appeared conveniently at the doorway. “Well, now that that’s taken care of,” he said. He motioned for me to sit down on the only available chair; I tucked my skirt underneath my legs demurely. He quickly took a handful of correspondence off the seat of what normally would have been a dining chair and faced me eagerly, hands faintly trembling as they always did when he was animated.
“I have received the most interesting and mysterious letter! If you are able, we shall depart for Essex.” I raised my eyebrows in obvious surprise and simply commented,
“Essex! Whyever Essex?” It was as if Macomb had been waiting for this question all day. With a practiced flourish, he withdrew a folded up piece of yellowed paper from inside his vest and passed it over to me.
“This explains it,” he said.
“Dear Mr. Mycroft Macomb,
I have been referred through unspoken friends of high circles as to your incredible talents and wonders. I have a bit of a puzzle at the moment; it’s probably mighty poor stuff for someone of your calibre, but if possible, I request your presence immediately at one-oh-four Druxbury Lane, Essex. I cannot go to length in this letter, but will merely hint at matters; my problem concerns a letter, a shoe and pickle juice. Pay is to your discretion. Sincerely Yours, Louisa May.”
I quickly re-read the letter, trying to get a sense of what we were up against.
“How queer,” I remarked to him. “Pickle juice, of all things.” His eyes sparkled.
“Rather piques the interest, doesn’t it, Flatcher? Ah, well, we shall see shortly. So you will accompany me to Essex?” I nodded, a small wisp of grey-brown hair becoming untangled from my otherwise clean bun.
“Of course; my practice-”
“Ah, well, if your cases are more important than mine,” Macomb interrupted huffily. I frowned sternly at him, and continued.
“As I was about to say, my dear Macomb, I am quite sure my practice can be left to itself for a day so long as I tell Amanda to refer my patients to doctor Brown.” Pacified, he said benignly,
“Ah, well then, no time to waste; off we go!” And quicker than one could say tidily winks, we were on a train headed toward East Essex.
Upon arriving upon the girl’s house, quite a lovely Victorian affair with a quaint little garden all around it, we were escorted in at once by a timid, mousy maid.
“Miss Louisa will be in to see you in just a moment,” she murmured, leaving us to ourselves in the parlour. I took a glance around, and got the feeling that this was a rather well-off family; they had a large collection of novels lining the walls in dark wooden bookcases, a rather fancy looking globe in which all the countries were a disconcerting shade of purplish-blue, and a marble bust of Napoleon Bonaparte. While lovely, the room lacked a certain feeling of warmth; indeed, it seemed devoid of feeling. As we continued to wait for the absent Miss Louisa, I found my mind wandering to days long past, recalling a time when I had been in love in a foreign land with a pale, dark-haired lad. My heart stirred in fond reminisces. I saddened, recalling the easy vitality of youth and how quickly it had sifted through my fingers. I believe I would have quite easily continued in this line of thinking if Macomb had not interrupted them abruptly.
“No use dwelling on the past, and on men,” he cautioned me lightly. “What’s done cannot be undone, you know that, Margaret.” I stared at him in astonishment.
“My dear Macomb!” I exclaimed. “Is nothing beyond you, even the reading of minds?” He chuckled while looking quite relaxed; he slouched back in his chair, his arms draped languidly across his stomach.
“Not at all, Flatcher, not at all. You don’t have the slightest idea of what I did?” I shook my head.
“Well then,” said he, “I’ll tell you. First I simply followed your eyes; they looked around at everything, and then came to rest upon a painting leaning against the wall. I remembered that you had lived in Ireland for a time some years ago, which I could tell you were also recalling, judging from how your eyes became unfocused and you were smiling to yourself. I could tell that you then were thinking of something sad, for you frowned and rested your chin on your palm.” In surprise, I glanced down and realized what he had seen was correct. I replaced my hand hastily to my lap.
“But the boy,” I persisted. “I never mentioned him.” He smiled.
“Ah, yes. That was merely a little deduction upon my part. That is really one of the only things you could have been saddened by, as a women; death or men. I went with men.” I laughed.
“Once you explain everything, it really sounds deceptively simple, after all.” I then quieted, for a young, vibrant, dark-haired girl had entered the room. I suppose she was more of a woman than a girl; I think it was simply the expression of bliss set in her features that made me think of someone younger. She looked at us with a charming coquettish intimacy.
“Hullo there! You must be Mr. Macomb and his assistant,” she said in a low, mellow voice. Macomb stood up and bowed.
“At your service,” he said. She giggled.
“Why, thank you. So you received my letter?” Macomb nodded.
“But of course.” She seemed to hesitate. Macomb noticed this and said,
“Just tell us the story as it happened. Don’t worry yourself over getting it perfect; if I don’t understand something, I’ll ask.” Louisa seemed to consider this, and then nodded.
“All right. Well, it happened like this. I was eating my breakfast three mornings ago when Melinda brought me the mail. I received a letter with no return address on it; this sparked my interest at once, and I opened it. Inside was a note written in unfamiliar handwriting. All it said was ‘Watch out for those who wish to be in your shoes.’ I figured it was just a joke from my brother-”
“Does your brother live here?” Macomb interrupted. She shook her head.
“No, he has a place in Devonshire with his wife. He was always just a bit of a prankster, that’s all.” Macomb nodded.
“Well,” she continued, licking her lips with a small red tongue, “So like I said, I thought it was such some silly old thing and placed it aside. But then that afternoon, I went to look for my favourite pair of shoes since I was walking to my friend Janet’s house. They’re these lovely black leather things, a little scuffed to be certain, but lovely all the same; however, they were absolutely no where to be found!” She paused and took the time to arrange a stack of books more neatly atop a varnished desk. “Anyhow. I figured I had simply misplaced them, and wore another pair of shoes to Janet’s. When I got back, however, the place was simply a madhouse; the police were everywhere, and all sorts of folks were gathered in front trying to see. I quickly went to the nearest officer I could find and asked him what in God’s name was going on. He told me that my maid, Melinda, whom you met earlier, was polishing the brass upstairs when she thought she heard a noise downstairs. She called out to them, surprised, since she hadn’t realized anyone was home, but no one answered. She figured I might have come back early, so she went downstairs in order to assist me. However, just as she turned the corner, someone hit her over the head with the poker stick that usually resides next to the stairs, then fled, along with all of our family silver.
“My husband came home and came across poor Melinda. The doctor came round to see her immediately; luckily, it was nothing too bad, just a bit of a scratch and a bump. The officers were very thorough, but they found very little, save for a piece of cloth that smelled rather heavily of pickle-juice.”
“Are you sure it was pickle-juice?” Macomb asked.
“Certain,” she replied. “The police even ran a test to ascertain as much.” Macomb nodded.
“So, who lives here other than yourself, your maid, and your husband?”
“Only the cook, and as she has been here a good nine years, since the time I was a young teenager, in fact, I feel that I can vouch for her.”
“And the maid seems to be cleared because of her injuries. So, that leaves you and your husband.” Louisa May laughed.
“Well, I really haven’t a need to steal my own belongings, and neither does Gregory,” she replied. Macomb made a sweeping gesture with his hand.
“That is certainly logical. However, insurance tends to bungle simple things like logic. I assume your silver was, indeed, insured?” Louisa frowned, a V forming between her pretty brows and looking juxtaposed on a face otherwise utterly devoid of wrinkles.
“I didn’t think about that,” she admitted. Macomb was about to ask something else; however, he was interrupted as the door to the parlour burst open and a young, red-haired man came in.
“Lou, they think you did it!” He bellowed. “Someone saw you hurrying away from the house when you were supposed to be out!” His cheeks were glowing a ruddy red, and only after he had delivered his message did he bother noticing Macomb and me. I gave him a cool smile. Proper men know to always knock first, no matter the hurry. Louisa frowned again, but this time it was a frown more of confusion than of mental distress.
“Well, that’s simply impossible,” she said calmly. He gripped her arm tightly, as if to stress the importance of his message.
“The police don’t know that, though! They found the shoes half a mile away, not far from a local pawn-shop; that along with the witnesses are making them suspicious.”
“So that’s where the shoes were for,” Macomb said, his face lighting up. The red-haired man turned to him and said to Louisa,
“Say, who is this guy, anyhow?” She ignored him and said,
“The police can think whatever they like right now, Spencer, for once they question Janet and her household, and they will see that I was quite definitely there that afternoon.” At this, Spencer stared.
“What do you mean, Janet’s? You never said you were going to Janet’s that afternoon! You said you were just taking a walk! …if you had told me before, I could’ve saved the police the time!” She shrugged, and her delicate pectoral bones went up and down.
“I hadn’t planned on it, but she dropped by on her walk, and so we decided to walk back to her place together.” A blush then quickly crept upon her cheeks and rosied her complexion.
“Mr. Macomb and Miss…my lady, you must think me so rude! Pardon me for not introducing you. This is my brother-in-law, Spencer Porlock. Spencer, this is the esteemed Mr. Macomb, along with his assistant. They’re here to help us.” Spencer pumped both our hands vigorously. I heard a scuttle near the doorway, but it was only the maid, Melinda, cleaning the hallway floor.
“Good luck to you both,” he said heartily. “As for me, I have to go and talk to Gregory. See you later Lou,” he said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek before leaving the same way he had came.
“He’s a little high-strung,” Lou explained while smoothing out the wrinkles of her cerulean blue dress that was laced with a delicate white material.
“He’s a spunky one,” agreed Macomb. “Does he live nearby?”
“Yes, he has a job at Matlow’s, the preservation and fermentation factory a few miles away.” Macomb nodded, got up, and began to pace the room.
“He blames himself for what happened here,” she continued. “He gave us a ring and said he was going to stop by that day, but he forgot and never showed. I keep telling him it’s not his fault at all, but” she shrugged again.
Macomb sat back in his chair, deep in thought. Louisa asked him what he thought of the case, but he simply answered her with an irritated “I’m not quite positive.” Sensing the kind of mood he was in, I escorted myself and the girl out of the room, in order to give him time to think in peace.
“I really wonder whether Mr. Macomb shall solve it,” she confided. “It absolutely baffles me!”
“I myself am rather at a loss as to who stole your goods, but I have faith in Macomb‘s work; he’ll solve it. Is it possible it was just some passing vandal who decided to take advantage of a near empty house?”
“No, because nothing else was touched, and we keep the silver in a rather old and unimportant little cabinet. The police said it had to be an inside job.”
“Hm,” I said. It was then that Macomb called us back in.
“Tell me, what is the official police position on the matter?”
“Well, after they questioned us, Melinda remembered the name of a repairman who had come two or three months ago to fix a leak in our kitchen sink. I doubted this, which is why I asked you to come, since I myself had been there most of the time, and he didn’t take more than an hour or two to complete the job. The police, however, think it was him, since he’s the only stranger to have been to the house in a while, and because I did leave him alone for a bit.”
“What rugged common sense!” Macomb remarked.
“They figured he sent the letter to distract the police.” Macomb looked up sharply.
“What do you mean, as a distraction?”
“Well, since it was big, uppercase block handwriting, all together an unlikely sort of penmanship for a handyman, after all.” Macomb smiled.
“Well, then, it all fits.”
“Do you mean to say you’ve solved the case?” Louisa asked in astonishment.
“Of course. However, before I tell you the conclusions I have come to, I would like to request the presence of your esteemed husband, brother-in-law, and maid.”
“I am not sure why you want all of them, but I shall certainly bring them to you at once,” she replied, and swept out of the room.
“Macomb,” I said, “Have you really solved it?” He smiled at me, a smile that gave away no secrets. Due to the fact he always uses it to conceal what is going on from me, I have always found it to be a rather annoying look of his.
“So it is not quite clear to you?” He asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Oh, don’t give me that, Macomb,” said I crossly. “You know it is not. Tell me what’s going on!” But he only smiled once again his pertinacious smile and said,
“Patience, my dear doctor. Patience.”
In another moment, the graceful Louisa May had arrived back in the parlour with Gregory, Spencer, and the shy Melinda. This was my first view of Gregory, and he seemed to match Louisa perfectly as far as poise went; he was just as elegant and sleek as she. Melinda quickly drifted towards one of the room’s walls, and Gregory shifted from foot to foot, fidgety. Macomb beamed at them all.
“My friends, under this roof has occurred a very interesting crime. There was more than one player, but we shall get to that in a moment.
“Obviously, the shoes were taken from Miss Louisa in order for the crook to escape undetected, dressed as her. Poor fellow must’ve been quite uncomfortable, I daresay. Our criminal had counted on the fact that Louisa May would be blamed; her unannounced visit with her friend was an unaccounted for development. My first clue as to the criminal was the piece of pickle-juice stained cloth. I remembered from what Louisa May said that her brother-in-law worked at the preservation place, in which they prepare pickled foods.”
“Pickled onions are always ever so nice,” Louisa May murmured in her silky voice. Macomb waited for her to quiet, and then continued.
“Therefore, it was his piece of cloth, since no one else in the household ever came across such things.” Spencer coughed loudly.
“Ah, yes, I must have dropped that in there the other day,” he said quickly.
“No, you did not drop it ‘the other day.’ Have you seen the fine condition this house is in? There isn’t nary a speck of dust anywhere! No, thanks to the immaculate housemaid, that is not a plausible explanation.” Over in the corner, Melinda paled.
“The rest of the information fell into place quite easily. The block lettering in the note is the type of lettering that is used in Matlow’s; writing is necessary in the process in order to relay information, and capital, block lettering is the easiest to read. He also has a habit of looking everywhere around him, a nervous habit I have often seen in gamblers. He needed the money.
Spencer did drop by that day, knowing no one to be home; Melinda was, however…she obviously doesn’t go out at lunchtime like other maids Spencer is familiar with. So, as he was pocketing the silver, he heard Melinda call. When she started to come down, he panicked, knocked her out. The thing is, Melinda still knew he did it, but didn’t want to tell anyone.” Everyone turned to stare at Melinda, even Spencer, who had previously been staring at the closed doors with a look of intense longing.
“It-it isn’t true!” She stammered. Macomb gave her a look of pity.
“Sometimes love isn’t as fickle as it should be,” he observed. “I saw her watching Spencer while he was in here and she was cleaning; I recognize a love-sick girl when I see one.
Melinda here had noticed Spencer leaving with the shoes, probably earlier that week. She felt obligated to report it to her mistress, but at the same time, was reluctant to hand over the one she had pined over. So instead, she wrote her a letter.” He paused to eye Melinda, and remarked to Gregory, “Go stand behind her, good sir.” Gregory did, and a moment later, Melinda’s legs gave out and she fainted.
“Good timing,” observed Louisa.
“Yes. Melinda had connected everything together. I am sorry to inform you that your silver is probably already in the pawn shop, but as it happens while you had all left the room I got your esteemed cook, a lovely woman, to post a telegram for me, asking them to hold it for you. I am afraid you may have to pay for it again.” Sensing that he had finished his narrative, Louisa May turned to her brother-in-law, her face full of fury, disappointment, and force.
“How dare you,” she said in a low voice. “If you thought we’d keep this inside the family, think again. You even stooped to injure my Melinda!” She said with a tremble in her voice, looking all the world like a raging angel of the heavens.
“Please, Lou, Greg! I needed the cash!” Spencer pleaded, desperately. Gregory only looked at him with cold contempt.
“How dare you take advantage of my family,” said he. “I have no mercy for you.”
“Well,” Macomb remarked blithely, “I guess this is another story for your collection, eh, Flatcher?” I nodded.
“Certainly. Now, we had best be off,” I said, smoothing back my hair with my hand.
“I have some reading to catch up on.”