In July, I was on holiday in Greece. The sun was blue and the world was quiet. I decided to write a Sherlock Holmes story. By the end of the day, I had this. It is far from a good Sherlock Holmes story but I enjoyed writing it. I have massively increased respect for anyone who can pull off authentic Holmes. For many reasons, it’s not very easy. Anyway, here it is, my attempt.
The Adventure of the Burning Blood
Domestic bliss, as a concept, is one that can only ultimately disappoint. It is far more oxymoron than attainable goal given that it is constructed by two opposing concepts. Bliss, suggesting something akin to euphoria and, by contrast, domesticity is something in which you will rarely, if, ever, find anything that approaches such a state. This is not to downplay the quiet moments of home life that bring about a pleasing smile. I, myself, have been lucky to experience many such. Although, clearly not where I shared those moments of quiet with Holmes. That quiet often felt more imposed than something that descended slowly and naturally into equilibrium. Holmes was never really at rest and, any such quiet was – and he was very clear on this – not to be interrupted. The quiet, as experienced in the room, was not matched by whatever was occurring within, perhaps, the noisiest of all brains. Such periods of quiet often ended with a smile. Holmes would emerge from his thoughts with a solution. Very little else would force such a natural smile from him. And when Holmes smiled, so did you, often more in relief than a shared joy.
There seems to me danger in such phrases. We turn of the Century people would do well to avoid language that sets out such unattainable goals. Belief that such things might be possible can lead to the kind of entitlement that can only bring disappointment and, ultimately, sadness. What chance would newly weds have if anything short of bliss would be failure? As I reflect on my pleasing – and sadly fleeting – moments of domesticity it is tinged with such a sadness and, yet, I can still feel warmth at the memory.
I would often catch myself in a smile as I watched my beloved Mary go about her business of the day. Effortless and precise, she would spin through the morning sun as if in a ballet. Items were always placed just so as if she were about to create the most glorious of still life paintings. There seemed a beauty in everything, every life, she touched. Perhaps I contradict myself. It does, in the end, come down to how one defined bliss.
If the definition relates to early Sunday evenings full of Mrs Hudson’s excellent roast and myself and Holmes in quiet study of the day’s newspapers then it was perhaps something approaching bliss that was interrupted by a rap at the door. At first Holmes didn’t react but the second salvo made him drop the paper in an exasperated fashion.
“Lestrade? At this hour on a Sunday? I do hope someone has murdered the King, otherwise this intrusion is entirely unnecessary and unwelcome.”
Holmes had long since stopped waiting for the question that sought explanation of his revelations. He would often simply add the explanation to the statement as a flourishing coda.
“Clearly the knock of a policeman, urgent and strong. And no other policeman would even begin to have the temerity to…”
The door to the parlour opened and a slightly sheepish looking Mrs Hudson ushered in a distracted looking Lestrade.
“Ah Lestrade, one hopes that the extreme nature of this interruption is matched by the import of the underlying reason?”
Even Holmes was, in his own way, averse to having his moments of bliss barged in on by a red faced representative of Scotland Yard.
“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, I can only offer sincere apologies.”
“Come Lestrade, an apology will only be necessary when I have deemed this interruption to be unnecessary. Until such time, you have the benefit of the doubt brought about by the soporific effects of Mrs Hudson’s excellent roast. Now, come, speak and we shall see if the apology is warranted.”
“Well, you see, Mr. Holmes, I’m of a mind to think that I know that it is.”
This admission stunned Holmes into a moments perplexed silence which I filled with my own irritation.
“Lestrade, are you saying that you interrupted our Sunday evening contemplation for a matter that you yourself know to be trivial?”
Lestrade shuffled back and forth on his feet and his fingers tightened white round the hat clutched to his body. He was every bit the boy waiting at the master’s office for the birch.
“For this to be of little important to us but so vexing to you can only mean one thing – this matter, I would suggest, is therefore quite important to you personally?”
There will little irritation to be found in any situation that was accompanied by the opportunity for deduction.
“Yes, Mr. Holmes, yes, I suppose you could say that.”
“Then sit man, sit. We should at least allow you a moments relax to tell us the tale.”
Lestrade hesitated but, with a nod, Holmes repeated his offer and he sat, placing his hat neatly on his lap. With every movement he seemed to contort himself to avoiding any further upset.
“Thank you, gentlemen. This is most awkward. Please understand that I find myself in this position not through choice but still, I must admit to more than passing self interest.”
He paused as if looking for permission to continue despite the admission but Holmes was primed for listening so was not of a mind to pick up on such cues, much less respond to them. This I did for Lestrade with a reassuring glance. He cleared his throat and began the most banal of tales.
“I was visited today by a gent, Lord McDonald-Douglas, a very high ranking official at the Home Office. He came to me for help with a domestic matter that, he beseeched, must be handled in the most delicate and private of ways.”
The word “domestic” had already made Holmes slump in agitated disappointment.
“This need for privacy and certain circumstances of the events compelled the good Lord to ask me to reach out to you on his behalf. He was very clear that this was not to become a matter of official police business but, if it were of Mr Holmes pleasing to assist his Lordship, he would be sure to look favourably on Mr. Holmes in the future.”
“I need no such favours.”
I was surprised at Holmes’ restraint.
“Indeed sir, no. Of this I am well aware. But I’m sure you can understand my predicament, what with his Lordship being of the Home Office and him coming to see me and…”
At moments of upset, it was possible to see more of Lestrade’s humble origins as his ability to form cogent sentences diminished. This, I think, drove Holmes to something akin to sympathy. Or, at least, as near as Holmes could get to such an emotion.
“I do indeed understand the nature of your predicament. But you must understand that I have no interest in matters domestic and certainly have no need to reason to curry favour with any man, Lord or no.”
Lestrade shuffled uncomfortably on the chair as he had recently done on his feet. He again grasped at his hat. Holmes spared him the need for any further sheepishness.
“And yet, here we are, you a fellow of many years acquaintance in need of help and me with the ability to relieve you of this burden before I finish the digestion of our recent fine meal. What sort of man would I be to deny such? Tell me Lord Macdonald-Douglas’ tale and we will have you an answer and have you on your way.”
As much as it is possible to do a penitent bow while sitting, Lestrade now attempted and let out a relieved sigh and, with it, relinquished the grip on his hat which fell to the floor.
“Thank you, Mr. Holmes, thank you.”
“So, tell me Lestrade, what is the issue with Lady McDonald-Douglas?”
Lestrade and I both had long since stopped reacting to these leaps of understanding just as we were unsurprised by the start of each day.
“The Lady has become quite indisposed as a result of, well, shall we say, strange occurrences in the household.”
“Come come Lestrade, by now you should know that ‘strange’ is not a word that we allow in Baker Street. It is simply that which has yet to be explained. Nothing is ever strange.”
“Quite so, Mr. Holmes, quite so. I am merely reusing the words of Lord Macdonald-Douglas himself, by way of accurately retelling the tale.”
“The Lady has taken to her bed, very weak, terrified for her very life.”
“Tell me, Lestrade, is the Lady considerably younger than his Lordship.”
“She… she is indeed.”
Lestrade and I again exchanged that most familiar of glances.
“Please carry on.”
“The Lady had spoken of the lamps in the house, burning… like… blood.”
Lestrade finished the sentence uneasily knowing that Holmes was not one to accept such whimsy without vigorous comment. As it was, he let out an almost amused guffaw.
“Let us first concentrate on more observable details Lestrade. Can you describe the good Lady for me?”
Lestrade, a policeman of many years now, was aware that such information was the bedrock on which all investigations were built. The look on his face reflected his precarious position on only loose sand.
“With apologies, Mr. Holmes, but I’m sure you understand, due to the delicate nature of these proceedings I have not been able to interview, or even meet, the good Lady. I know from reputation and from some of the less seemly police station chatter that she is a young lady, perhaps no more than twenty five and she is of very pale face, surrounded by much red hair. And regarded most beautiful.”
“I would expect nothing less Lestrade, there is no trophy in ugliness.”
Holmes ignored his question and carried on.
“Red hair you say? Would Lady Macdonald-Douglas be Irish or, at least, of Irish extraction?”
“I believe so Sir, yes.”
“And there is nothing else to divulge? Just these supposedly mysterious lamps?”
“Yes, this is very much why his Lordship is in need of your help.”
“In which case, I believe our investigation may well be concluded.”
A moment’s delight lit up Lestrade’s face that then contorted into confusion.
“Surely you must accept the possibility Lestrade? A young wife seemingly struck down by a ridiculous tale of lamps burning blood. It is a tale as old as blood itself. I’m afraid you will need to tell his Lordship that he is very likely being cuckolded.”
The horror of this possibility led Lestrade to immediately dispute it.
“But, how? How can that be?”
“Lestrade, my good fellow, in all things there must be balance. An older gentleman may take a younger wife and, in return, she will receive a life of comfort, perhaps wealth, and this she will accept as a fair situation. But once that comfort becomes assumed, the new norm, an imbalance appears. There is more to a young life that simply living well.”
“You speak of…”
“I do. So best left unspoken. But, a beautiful woman will always be in receipt of sufficient attention to create temptation and, should she ultimately succumb, then there are only two outcomes. She is cast off or she lives a life of guilt.”
“Are you saying that her ailment is guilt?”
Lestrade, I believe, was imagining the conversation he would have to have with his superior from the Home Office and already had some panic in his voice.
“Most probably. A young lady of Irish descent will likely be of Catholic faith. Whatever has transpired, set against the sanctity of marriage, will be deeply troubling her piety. Enough for her to see blood in the idle flickering of a lamp. And from there, despond.”
Lestrade reached down to pick up his hat and again flashed white knuckles as he clutched it into his lap.
“Mr. Holmes, I, as I’m sure you know, would never doubt your conclusions but, I’m also sure you understand, this will be a difficult answer to give his Lordship, based, as it is, on…”
“Conjecture? You are accusing me of conjecture?”
Holmes was now irate and, although I had more than an ounce of sympathy for Lestrade’s position, I could see that Holmes was not of a mind to offer him any more.
“Lestrade, you have your answer. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to return to my newspaper.”
Lestrade shuffled out with only a mumbled “Good evening gentlemen” allowing us to resume our silence – only now with irritation in the air. Which is to suggest that the ambience, or not, of any occasion rests mainly with the head.
It strikes me that Mondays always start slower than any other week day as people are required to remind themselves of the details of their travails that may have escaped them on whatever brief respite was afforded them on the Sabbath. Had it not been for newspapers I fear that my own, less rigid, existence may cause me to lose the understanding of the ebbs and flows of a week entirely. This was especially true on days such as these when, not in the throes of a case, everything meandered as slowly as the Thames round the Isle of Dogs and, often, Holmes wouldn’t appear until well into the afternoon.
I ate and busied myself absent-mindedly with some letters until drawn to the window to live vicariously through the urgent wanderings of the people going about their business in Baker Street. Coal was delivered, lamps were being tended to, people criss-crossed, some with purpose, some more obviously taking in the day. Cabs clattered up and down, people getting in and out as their journey dictated. You could almost imagine the whole scene to be one giant automaton like those so popular in Paris.
So transfixed was I by the ticking of the scene that, at first, I didn’t notice the cab that chose to end its journey outside 221B. The sun glinting off the shiniest of top hats woke me from my autonomic trance and meant that, when the knock on the door came, it produced intrigue rather than surprise. I quickly dressed as I felt sure that Holmes would be in no way ready to receive guests.
I entered the parlour to find our guest already being fussed over by Mrs Hudson. He was a stout gentleman, that is, a polite way to say that he was short and fat with the tallest of top hats trying to create an illusion of height. To further the illusion he did his best to carry off a haughty air which extended to his manner of address.
“Holmes. Good. I’ll make this brief.”
It seemed remarkable to me that he would be so ignorant of Holmes to mistake me for him but so it proved.
“Good day sir, I am Doctor John Watson. Mr Holmes is… currently unavailable.”
“I see. Then you will make him available. I won’t have his lies stand for one second longer.”
This gave me a clue as to his identity but it has always served me well to be sure of such things before conversing further. I ignored his accusation for the moment.
“Forgive me sir, may I ask who you would be?”
As simple a question as this was, it seemed to fluster him.
“I am McDonald-Douglas and I will not have my name or that of my wife sullied any longer.”
I nodded in understanding of the name but felt compelled to refute his challenge.
“I can assure you that no one has been sullied sir.”
He waved his stick dismissively, walked to the other side of the room and sat down, uninvited. His gait was ponderous and looked pained. It wouldn’t take someone with as much medical training than I to suspect gout.
“I will sit and wait here until Mr Holmes returns. My complaint is with him sir, not you, you may go about the business of the day as you see fit. I’m happy to wait all day if necessary.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Holmes had heard the voices and made his way to join us.
“Sherlock Holmes at your at service sir, please, don’t get up.”
“At my service! At my service! I think not!”
“I assume I am addressing Lord McDonald-Douglas of the Home Office?”
“You assume correct sir and he is here to tell you that your much vaunted detecting skills have failed you!”
“Surely sir, as a Home Office official, you must know that opinion is not fact.”
“Opinion! Why, the very cheek of you! My wife is of good standing and is in great need of help. Not the sort of help that seeks to ruin her good name.”
Holmes was being uncharacteristically patient, perhaps even he wished to stay on the right side of the Home Office.
“Your Lordship, you asked for my help in this matter. I gave it, I reached a conclusion. If you are unhappy with that conclusion then I am sorry but it remains my conclusion.”
“Conclusion? Without checking the evidence? What sort of conclusion is that?”
“Lestrade was clear that he told me all there was to know.”
Lord Macdonald-Douglas’ face was getting ever redder and I are prepared myself for whatever form of attack might strike should his temper rise further.
“Mr Holmes, did Lestrade tell you that I myself saw the lamps burn red? Did he?”
“He did not.”
“Fool of a man that he is! Well, Mr. Holmes, what do you make of that?”
Holmes didn’t reply. He walked to his pipe and, with exaggerated precision, set about the business of lighting it.
“Are you going to answer me you confounded man?”
Holmes took a long suck on his pipe.
“A regrettable omission. One that may support may my conclusion but we should not rush to answers. They come in their own time.”
This was now too much for McDonald-Douglas and, struggling from the chair, confronted Holmes who now towered above him.
“You will come to my home and inspect the lamps for evidence.”
Holmes looked down his long nose at the short, fat man and, to my great surprise, agreed.
“My cab is outside, we should leave now.”
Holmes and I exchanged a glance.
“My Lord, if you would give us a moment to ready ourselves. You may wait here or in your cab, as his Lordship pleases.”
It was a short cab ride north to Belgravia and we were ushered inside without ceremony. We entered a drawing room to the right. Lord Macdonald-Douglas immediately walked to a gas lamp on the far wall and pointed.
“Here! This is one of the cursèd lamps.”
“Before we get into that detail. Can you describe the occasion of the occurrence?”
“Why does that matter?”
“In my experience it is the things that seem to matter least that end up being of most import. If you don’t mind.”
With some annoyance he threw off his hat and collapsed in an undignified fashion into an armchair.
“Very well. We had been out a reception. Some boring affair. Emma was in need of rest so we made our excuses and left around eight I believe. On returning, we lit the lamps and the room burned a fiery red like I had never seen. The depths of hell would be no redder.”
Holmes appeared not to listen and wandered over to one of the lamps and, rather than remove the cover, started to inspect the area beneath.
“What use is looking at the floor? The lamp sir! The lamp!”
“All in good time.”
Holmes spoke without looking up. I could see him lift something from the floor and drop it into an envelope which he swiftly returned to his pocket. Standing up, he lifted the glass off the lamp and gave it what can only be described as a cursory glance. Turning to face the room, I detected a smile on Holmes’ face. Not bliss but possibly as near as he got.
“My I ask, my good Lord, what was your expectation with regard to the behaviour of these lamps? Did you suspect malfunction? The supernatural?”
“I have no expectations, you sir are the detective. So detect!”
“Oh I have done that. And, I’m afraid to say, my conclusion remains the same.”
Before Lord Macdonald-Douglas’ bluster could rise to anger, Holmes continued.
“May I ask, are you acquainted with men of science?”
This threw McDonald-Douglas and broke the rhythm of his complaint.
“Of course! Of course! I myself am a Fellow of the Royal Society.”
Holmes raised incredulous eyebrows.
“Your Lordship, I do not wish to offend or upset you or the good Lady any further. My conclusion, which I shall not repeat within these walls or elsewhere, stays the same. Now, if we may, we will bid you good day.”
Holmes didn’t wait for an answer. With large strides he left the room and I scurried behind. Outside we hailed a Hansom Cab and, only when safely inside, did Holmes speak.
“Fool of a man.”
We returned to Baker Street and immediately sent a note of warning to Lestrade.
On our return, sat silently for a moment before raising a hand with one finger pointing upward.
“Let’s smoke a pipe Watson.”
It seemed an odd thing for him declare but, seeing no reason to object, I filled the bowl and reached for the matches.
I froze in place. Holmes approached and produced the envelope I had seen at Lord Macdonald-Douglas’ house from his pocket. He took my pipe and tipped the tiny amount of powder he had collected into my pipe.
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
Confused but obedient, I struck a match and brought the flame toward the tobacco. With a tiny flash of red, the pipe lit.
“A ha! Just as I thought!”
Holmes strode triumphantly out the room with no further explanation.
We heard no more of Lord Macdonald-Douglas and his lamps for over a week. Life returned to our best attempt at domestic bliss and days passed without anything of note. Once again this was interrupted by an extremely agitated and apologetic Lestrade.
“Mr Holmes, I cannot express my apologies deeply enough but here I am again bothering you with trivialities relating to Lord McDonald-Douglas and his wife. Things, I’m afraid, have taken a turn for the worse.”
Holmes took a deep breath in an attempt to summon some semblance of sympathy for Lestrade or, at least, to quell the simple urge to throw him out.
“Lestrade, you, as much as anyone, are aware of where my skills are best deployed. Matters of, shall we say, the heart are for others, not for me. All this needs is an honest conversation between the good Lord and his young Lady wife.”
“If only that were possible. There was another occasion of blood red lamps. The young lady became so distraught as to attempt to take her own life. She survived but is in a dreadful state and his Lordship, now at his wits end, is making life for everyone in Scotland Yard very difficult. If there is anything you can do to bring this to some sort of close. I would be ever further in your debt.”
Holmes turned to his pipe to find his way to calm. A few strong puffs billowed smoke over his closed eyes.
“Lestrade, the man you need to find is a young, handsome scientist, most likely affiliated in some way with the Royal Society.”
“A man? What man?”
Holmes spoke of the other man in this less than virtuous triangle.
“With the young Lady incapacitated, there is only one other who can confirm my theory – the man who has been an acquaintance of her Ladyship. I use the past tense as I believe her guilt most likely drove her to stop their occasional liaisons. This, in turn, has led him to these tricks by way of complaint or refusal to accept that he has been set aside.”
Holmes beckoned Lestrade to sit and I awaited the inevitable revelation with some excitement having had no explanation.
“When I visited his Lordship I inspected the area under the lamps in question, I found traces of a white powder not unlike salt. But, crucially, not salt. I didn’t bother to test but I am sure it was a substance containing strontium, most likely strontium chloride.”
Holmes paused but got no looks of understanding from the room.
“Which, when burnt, emits a strong red flame. Anyone with access to the lamps could place the powder into the lamp which would burn red and then disappear. Unless, of course, you spill some.”
I had caught up enough to add some further colour to the story.
“So, it is more than likely that someone in the scientific community who would have access to such a substance.”
“Yes, and by his affiliation with the Royal Society, it is equally likely that his wife would have met that same person at one of their events. For him to have access to do this, I would say that he will have access to the house which allowed him to tamper with the lamps as well as, well, the Lady in question.”
Lestrade took a moment to understand this information which, sadly for him, was a slow process visible on his face. When it had settled into place, he understood that he perhaps yet did not have enough.
“How am I to find the young man Mr. Holmes?”
I could tell Holmes had no interest in being involved any further in such a base matter. But, given the distressed state of Lestrade and the influence of those involved, he gave it more consideration. A silent lap of the room hatched a plan.
“There is something I’d like to try.”
“Anything Holmes, anything.”
“Lestrade, one thing, who knows of the perilous state of the young Lady.”
“His Lordship is extremely protective of his privacy. Although he has been very troublesome at the yard, he has kept all the details to his private conversations with me.”
“Good, good. Then all we have to do is set a trap.”
Holmes stepped to the writing desk and wrote out two messages. One he asked Lestrade to pass to Lord McDonald-Douglas, the other he sent with a boy to the Royal Society. Lestrade was ushered out with reassurances and we settled back into our evening.
“One thing Holmes, why bother yourself with this matter?”
“Progress Watson, progress. Sometimes you need to experiment. And what better way to experiment than with something of so little import?”
The next morning a package arrived from the Royal Society. It contained two items. An unremarkable, but carefully wrapped, piece of glass and the calendar of the Society itself. Holmes inspected the glass and placed it carefully to the side. He then scanned the calendar and quickly wrote out another note to send to the home of McDonald-Douglas.
“Watson, make no plans for the night of the 15th. I will provide the entertainment that evening.”
The eight days to the 15th passed with little to report. We received occasional information on the health of her ladyship but, as Holmes already knew, nothing was going to happen. On the morning of the 15th, Holmes left early and returned with a bottle of something in a brown bag. My quizzical eyes got a response.
“Simply a bottle of tonic water Watson, I’ve not yet taken to drink this early in the day.”
I inquired no further. I did so enjoy Holmes and his grand reveals it often felt a shame to spoil those moments of exhilaration with preemptive questions. After lunch, Holmes summoned a cab and we again took the short trip to Belgravia. His Lordship was waiting for us as per, I assumed, Holmes’ note.
“My good Lord, soon this will be over, I assure you.”
“Mr. Holmes, the Home Office thanks you for your attentions.”
He was far more contrite than previous and his pallor for whiter than before. Trophy or not, his affection was undoubted.
“Please, could you direct me to the rear entrance?”
Without a word, Macdonald-Douglas led the way, through a fine kitchen that featured the latest in mechanised roasting spits.
“Now, let me be clear, when I return inside, no one is to use this door again until this has been concluded. Understood?”
He nodded. Holmes produced the brown bag from his pocket and headed out the door. He returned soon after with an empty bottle.
“Now, we must secure this door so that it may not be opened by the key alone.”
A chair was moved under the handle and secured against a groove in the floor.
“And, with that, my Lord, I bid you au revoir. Go to the Royal Society tonight as normal. I will see you there.”
Lord McDonald-Douglas was about to ask how Holmes knew where he would be tonight but, like so many before him, kept the question to himself.
We returned to Baker Street and spent the remainder of the day about more usual business. Dinner complete, I received my instructions from Holmes.
“Watson, go to the meeting in the Society, look for anyone arriving late. When I make my appearance, be sure to block the door. And, be careful, it will be dark.”
With that, he left. I checked my watch against the clock and wound it carefully. As I turned, I thought about life with Holmes and the entertainment it provided. I thought about what Holmes had said about balance in relationships and how, when my Mary was alive, I had achieved something like that. Three years had passed without her and perhaps now I had to consider a new way to find that same balance. Much like Lady McDonald-Douglas.
I made my way to Burlington House and was warmly welcomed as would have been Holmes’ instruction. A large room was laid out with rows of chairs and I waved away offers of seats to the front in favour of something nearer the door. The room filled with many learned fellows and, as you would expect with such an audience, there was barely a mutter as the events got under way and the first of the presentations began. To my surprise, I found that not only did I enjoy the presentations there was much I understood. The discussion on the use of chloroform in the preparation of vaccines was particularly enthralling. I lost my way a little during the sections on fossils which, although fascinating, felt too abstract for me to grasp. A break in proceedings let the audience retire for their comfort and made it impossible for me to track their comings and goings. As we settled again, it had gone dark. The shutters were closed and lamps illuminated the room. By the end of the next presentation about which I remember nothing other than the puzzling word ‘refraction’ I started to wonder when Holmes would make his appearance. I didn’t wonder for long. As people shuffled and gathered to start the next presentation, the door behind me opened.
“Gentlemen, I beg your forgiveness” began Holmes to an aghast sea of faces “If I may, I would like to add a brief extraordinary presentation to tonight’s proceedings.”
“Mr. Holmes, this is most… unusual.”
“My apologies, my apologies. I do not aim to keep you long but, if you can spare me but a few moments, I would like to demonstrate to you a most remarkable new discovery.”
The crowd of assembled minds fought back their distaste for an adjustment to proceedings as the prospect of any discovery always excites the minds of those tuned to the new. A few men exchanged whispers at the front and concluded with an acceptance of Holmes’ offer.
“Please proceed Mr Holmes, but, if you may, we have much to get through.”
“Thank you gentleman, thank you. Your indulgence is most appreciated.”
The murmur settled and Holmes began.
“In recent months there has been the most remarkable of discoveries across the Atlantic. You are, of course, familiar with ultra-violet light.”
The room collectively nodded.
“But you may not yet be familiar a new and ingenious way to create same. Your American colleague, that most excellent mind, Mr Robert Williams Wood has recently invented a new way to produce this most evasive of lights.”
Holmes reached inside his jacket and produced the piece of glass I had seen in Baker Street.
“In my hand, I hold this new invention. This glass will block visible light, allowing only ultra-violet and infra-red light to pass. Allow me to demonstrate.”
With a nod, Holmes was handed a lamp and the lights in the room were extinguished. The room was in dark with only the glow of the lamp giving Holmes an eerie appearance.
“You can all see the light of lamp but now, when I block the light with this glass…”
The room was plunged into darkness. A murmur rose. Holmes continued.
“With only ultra-violet light now filling the room our humans eyes can see nothing. Unless, of course, this black light should find its way to something with which it can react.”
I could hear Holmes’ footsteps as he made his way slowly and methodically round the room.
“I wonder gentlemen if there is any such substance in this room.”
At that moment, my eyes detected a flash of purple at floor level.
When the lights came back on, Holmes had gone, leaving behind him the lamp, the glass and an empty chair. Bemused, the room struggled back to the original agenda.
“We thank Mr Holmes for that most unexpected of demonstrations. I’m sure the scientific community will find much use for such glass as the understanding of it develops.”
I got up and left to find Holmes. In a nearby ante room he sat with an ashen faced young man querying the reason for his sudden covert extraction from the room.
“What is the meaning of this outrage?”
“Trust me, I have spared you the outrage, Mr. ?”
“Well Mr Purdue, would I be correct in assuming you were late to tonight’s proceedings?”
He nodded in agreement.
“And that you spent the time immediately before in Belgravia?”
He leapt to his feet.
“Please sit. You have committed no crime but you now owe it to those you have wronged to give an explanation.”
“Please, spare us. Your trick with the strontium may, to you, have been amusing but it has caused much distress in the home of the McDonald-Douglas’.”
His demeanour immediately changed.
“She shouldn’t be with that ogre.”
“That is not an opinion that is of any interest to me. I only ask that you explain your actions to his Lordship so that he may be free of the torment and can concentrate on aiding the good Lady in her recovery.”
I could sense Holmes start to be uncomfortable with such matters so I took over.
“A combination of guilt and your jilted trickery drove the poor girl to attempt to take her own life.”
“Oh! My Emma! No!”
“She lives but your antics cannot and must not continue. I’m sure the people of the Royal Society would not look favourably on their science being used for such things.”
“She.. she pushed me away. I just wanted her to… remember me.”
“I have done you the good service of removing you in secret. You may return now to the proceedings of the night under one condition. You will seek out his Lordship this very night as you leave and explain all that has passed.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then, young Mr Purdue, I will do it for you. Which do you think ends better?”
We took our leave and, in the cab back to Baker Street, I was compelled to complete the jigsaw in my head.
“Holmes, the tonic water?”
“Ah yes, a simple ruse. Tonic water contains quinine. Quinine glows under ultra-violet light. As young Mr Purdue paid a visit to Belgravia safe in the knowledge that his Lordship was within the confines of Burlington House he was unaware that he stood in the chemical trap that I had laid for him as he tried to enter the house as he had done before with the key he had been given for his… previous visits. All I had to do was shine the correct light on the subject and all was revealed.”
“With the added benefit of him being removed under the shroud of darkness.”
“Since his Lordship was in the room it would simply not have been seemly to create a scene. Fortunately the science was in my favour.”
“Bravo Holmes, your wonders never cease.”
“Much like progress Watson. It pays to keep abreast of any and all developments. The world is moving quickly, we must keep pace.”
“Or set it? I wager it will many years before the good fellows of Scotland Yard will catch up to such methods.”
“But catch up they will and, until such time, I will maintain my position, slightly ahead of the game to my advantage.”
We heard no more of the domestic situation in Belgravia. Holmes received a note of thanks from his Lordship who clearly found it impossible to face his embarrassment in person. Whether or not they returned to anything like bliss is doubtful starting, as they were, from such a perilous and, ultimately, untrustworthy position. As it was with Holmes and I, in respect of that much sought after bliss. The affair did little more than remind of my time with Mary and make wonder if I could find something close to that again.