Upon my persistent urgings, my dear friend Holmes has finally given me permission to chronicle some of the lesser known cases in which he played a part. I recount here a particularly mysterious one, none other than that of Mr James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.
It was during the autumn of '88, on a particularly gloomy morning, when I entered the quiet rooms of my friend Holmes, to find him up and about, pacing impatiently. I was instantly struck by the gleam in his eyes when he turned upon me. I did not need his great powers of deduction to see that he had a case.
"Ah, Watson, just the man I need at this juncture."
"I see you have a case!"
"Indeed, Our friend, Lestrade, dropped by early this morning, and he brought me this most singular account. Would you care to hear the details?"
"By all means, Holmes! I am all ears."
He settled in his favourite chair, leaning back with half-closed eyes, and began.
"Dr. James Phillimore is an archaeologist by profession, held in great esteem amongst his peers. Early last morning, he set off from his country dwelling at Kent towards the nearby village, accompanied by his colleague Dr. Trevor Windham. The pair intended to travel to Cornwall, where an excavation is in progress.
"Hardly had they walked fifty yards, when Dr. Phillimore exclaimed that he had forgotten his umbrella, and hurried back to fetch it. Dr. Windham waited for a while, and finally losing patience, he went back himself to see what was keeping Phillimore.
"Upon entering the house, he noticed that Phillimore had taken off his boots, and that his clothes were lying in a heap on the floor. Of Phillimore himself, there was not a trace.
"Windham rushed upstairs to the bedroom in the loft, where Phillimore's young wife, Ruth was asleep. He roused her, and quickly explained what had transpired, upon which they proceeded to search the entire house and the surrounding yard, but to no avail.
"The house itself is situated in a clearing near a small lake, and for quite a distance there is no cover of any sort where a person can conceal himself. A farmer and his son, who had been watering their horses at the lake, observed the whole series of events, and upon questioning, they insisted that they had seen no sign of Phillimore after he had returned to the house.
"Windham then hastened to alert the village police, who, after some deliberation, turned it over to the Yard, and thus by the graces of our friend Lestrade, I have a puzzle to solve."
"Most extraordinary, Holmes!" I exclaimed, "My only guess would be...."
"Ah, Watson!" he cut me short with a chiding smile, "We must be wary of making deductions before we have enough data. I have not examined the scene yet, so if I can count on your company, we shall travel to Kent immediately."
"Most happy to accompany you, Holmes." I said, and once again I felt the rising excitement of being part of one of Holmes' investigations, the thrill of watching a master at his game.
We left immediately for Scotland Yard, where Lestrade was waiting for us with a carriage. The three of us set off at a good pace towards Kent, over sodden muddy roads. The weather had worsened considerably and a cold gray mist hung over us, all along the way. Throughout the journey, we maintained silence, Holmes poised like a statue, unmoving, with his unlit pipe at the side of his mouth.
The combination of the dismal weather, the silence, and thought of the strange events that had occurred, seemed to draw me into the deepest gloom, with a sense of vague menace. It was with some effort that I shook myself out of my dark broodings, and I was very much relieved when we reached our destination.
Holmes and I waited by the side of the road, while Lestrade walked into the village police station, to return a few minutes later accompanied by his colleague Tobias Gregson and two members of the local constabulary.
"Glad to have you here, Mr. Holmes! Dr. Watson!" Gregson greeted us warmly and went on "I must confess that our own investigation has led nowhere."
"Always glad to be of assistance, Gregson," replied Holmes, "Shall we proceed?"
We set off towards the Phillimore estate, situated about a mile from the village. The mists had cleared by then and the landscape around was most pleasing to the eye, broad rolling pastures dotted with sheep, and the small placid lake, edged by a few massive trees. My spirits had risen considerably, and I started to look forward to seeing Holmes apply his unique methods.
We soon came upon the house itself, with brightly painted walls, and gabled roof. On the path ahead of us, lay a makeshift barricade.
"I had left instructions with the local force, to prevent anyone from trampling the evidence here." Lestrade explained, " You see Mr. Holmes, I am quite aware of the value of footprints as evidence," he said with some pride.
"Indeed" remarked Holmes and at a slight gesture from Lestrade, the two constables moved the barrier to one side. Holmes then proceeded to examine the ground in his usual bloodhound manner, darting left and right, sometimes placing his head close to the ground, even stamping violently on a patch of untrodden ground to judge its softness.
He made his erratic progress toward the house and we followed at a respectful distance. Such was the reputation of my friend Holmes - which I daresay I had a role in building, due to my diligent chronicling of his cases - that the two constables watched him in a silent awe, even though to the layman there might appear to be more madness than method in his actions. Even Lestrade, no stranger to Holmes and his ways, showed signs that he was witnessing something he did not comprehend entirely.
Soon we all stood at the door, which Lestrade knocked sharply. The door was opened by the fair Mrs. Phillimore, who showed us into a broad corridor.
A burly, bearded individual stood there, whom we rightly guessed to be Dr. Windham. "Mr. Holmes! Dr. Watson!" he exclaimed, "Most glad to have you here in our hour of need, though I wish we had met under different circumstances."
He nodded greetings to the others and went on, "I know better than to waste your precious time on pleasantries, so let me lead you to the perplexing scene. It has been left exactly as we saw it yesterday."
"Well, Mr. Holmes," said Lestrade, "We will leave you to your investigation here. Unlike you, we need to attend to official matters and deal with the paperwork. We will be at the station, if you desire any assistance."
"Very well, Lestrade, I appreciate your situation. Gregson, I will inform you of any developments in my investigation, as always."
They let themselves out, and Windham led us to a small room at the end of the passage, which the Phillimores used as a storage space for footwear and other odds and ends.
In one corner, stood a pair of Blucher boots, of the type commonly issued to servicemen. They were heavy, ankle length ones, with crisscrossed laces all the way up.
"Both James and I favour these military boots, since we often tread on difficult terrain in the course of our expeditions and excavations," offered Windham.
In the middle of the room was an untidy heap of clothing, which included a coat, trousers, gloves, muffler, and a hat, obviously belonging to Dr. Phillimore. Holmes set about examining these, picking them up slowly, as if he expected something to emerge from beneath each one. He then turned to the shoes and his eyebrows rose immediately.
"Tell me Dr. Windham, was Dr. Phillimore a man of large build?" queried Holmes.
"No, he was quite a small man, but as you must judge by the size of these boots, despite his diminutive frame he had rather large feet. I might be considered to be quite a large man, but even my boots are of smaller size than those."
Holmes continued to examine the soles of the boots intently. He finally put them down and exclaimed, "I think I am done here. Shall we proceed inside?"
Dr Windham led us into the large hall, which seemed more like some sort of museum. Almost all the available space on the walls and floor was covered with diverse displays. Prehistoric fossils, tribal masks and statues, preserved animal specimens from various parts of the world, and numerous glass cases filled with historical artefacts. Above the small fireplace, ostentatiously displayed, was an enormous elephantine skull, with curving tusks, labeled as being that of an ancient mammoth from Siberia.
Despite the size of the hall, there was not much room to move about, and most of the room was practically inaccessible. This seemed to explain the fact that everything was covered with layers of dust, even the windows. The feeble light they provided gave the sense we were within the bowels of some dark catacomb, rather than a cheery country house, a feeling further intensified by the macabre masks and peculiar tribal fetishes hung on the walls.
"Oh dear! I must apologize for this untidiness, but James would never allow anyone to touch, or even dust his precious artifacts. It was one of his obsessions that he alone should handle his extensive collection." Mrs. Phillimore spoke in a very low, distressed voice, and even in the dim light, she looked abnormally pale. As a practitioner of medicine, I knew that the events of the day before had dealt a severe blow to her constitution. She wrung her arms nervously and seemed about to burst into tears at any juncture. Despite her shaken and distraught appearance, I still saw that she was a very beautiful woman, of a slight and delicate frame, and noble features.
We passed the guest room where Dr. Windham had been staying, and moved on to a study where Dr. Phillimore seemed to have been engaged lately with some old scrolls. In the corner, a wooden staircase led to the loft, which was the sleeping quarters of the Phillimores.
After a cursory examination, Holmes turned to Windham and said, "I believe I have seen what I needed to. I would only like to hear from yourself and Mrs. Phillimore, a precise account of what you saw."
Windham looked a bit worried and exchanged glances with Mrs. Phillimore. He said, "I fear that such an action is bound to further distress Ruth, it has not been easy for her."
Holmes smiled gently, "Far be it from me to cause her undue distress, Dr. Windham, Your account alone shall suffice."
Windham brightened "Thank you, Mr. Holmes, I find you are as gentlemanly as you are astute," then turning to Mrs. Phillimore "Ruth, you must go upstairs and rest, I will take care of these gentlemen."
We left her in peace and walked out of the house, whereupon Dr. Windham began his account -
"James and I have been good friends since our youth, and I also happen to know Ruth for about as long.
"Last week, I returned from a long trip to South America, and James invited me here for a few days. After my brief stay, I planned to visit an excavation site at Towednack, in Cornwall, where some very interesting objects have been unearthed. James was to accompany me on the trip.
"The night before last, Ruth seemed a little under the weather, and excused herself shortly after dinner. We decided to leave early next morning without disturbing her sleep. The weather of late has been particularly bad, and yesterday morning was indeed the worst I have seen since I had arrived here. We bundled ourselves up well against the biting cold ,and set out to the village. Just a little way along the path, James realized that he had forgotten his umbrella, and told me to wait while he fetched it from the house. He hurried back to the house, and seemed to take an inordinately long time. After waiting almost a quarter of an hour, my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I hastened back to see what kept him. I was afraid that perhaps Ruth's condition had taken a turn for the worse."
"Did you notice anything strange about Dr. Phillimore's gait that morning?" Holmes interjected.
Windham looked at Holmes with a puzzled expression and replied "Why Mr. Holmes! Now that you mention it, I do seem to recall that he seemed to rush back to the house in a sort of tottering gait, not at all the usual long strides I knew him to take. Very odd when I consider it now, but it was almost as if he were on a hobble."
"I gathered as much, from my examination of his footprints in the mud, but do go on Dr. Windham." said Holmes.
"Well, I entered the house and found James' clothing and boots exactly as you saw. Ruth was asleep, and after I woke her up, we searched high and low, but James was nowhere to be seen. I ran down to the lake where a couple of village folk were tending to their horses. They had seen no trace of James after he entered the house either. As you can see." he waved his arm around "There is nowhere around that James could have hidden, even supposing he had wished to hide himself, for some inexplicable reason."
Windham was silent for a while, and then spoke softly "Mr. Holmes, I am as much a man of science as you, but I have witnessed strange cultures and even stranger happenings, and I find myself almost willing to accept a supernatural explanation for James disappearance. You might laugh, but I know of the powerful legends behind so many of those tribal artefacts that James keeps within his house. Where they originate, they are sacred, and for a foreigner to possess them is tantamount to blasphemy. There is a particularly malevolent looking idol of..."
"Come, come, Dr. Windham," interrupted Holmes gently, "You let your reason slip, no doubt from the sorrow and distress of your friend's disappearance. There is enough malevolence and evil amongst men, to account for all the sorrow that surrounds us. We need no invocation of intangible demons for that purpose."
He turned towards me and went on, "I think our work here is done, Watson. We should head back to Baker Street, at the earliest."
"Have you come to any conclusions, Mr. Holmes?" Windham seemed worried at Holmes plans of immediate departure.
"No, of course not! I needed data and I have enough - now all that remains is to ponder upon it, and there is no better place for the purpose than the humble lodgings that I call home. Now, if you will excuse us, we will be off at once. Rest assured that I will inform you of any conclusions that I reach, at the earliest. We shall bid you goodbye now. Kindly convey our regards and assurances to Mrs. Phillimore too."
"Goodbye Mr. Holmes, and Dr. Watson, Ruth and I will wait expectantly to hear from you."
We walked down to the village and having informed the official force, we started our journey back to London.
"What do you make of it, Watson? Now is the time for theories and conjecture - you have seen all that I have, and although you may have missed some finer points, your imagination is most striking - so let me hear what you have to say."
"Well, I am not quite in favour of the supernatural theory, for obvious reasons. That only leaves two options, neither of which bodes well for Mrs. Phillimore. One is that Phillimore is dead, drowned in the lake, and the other is that for some unfathomable reason, he has deserted both his wife and best friend and wandered off somewhere."
"But the testimony of the farmers? Surely they would have seen Phillimore drowning, or running away?" questioned Holmes.
"Well if he is drowned, since there has been no sign of a corpse, he must have been weighed down, and if we are looking at foul play, then we cannot trust the farmers, who may well be involved in the plot!"
"Excellent, Watson! You surpass yourself, once again. What of the other theory then, that Phillimore has wandered away?"
"Well, once again it is not very clear, but supposing that Phillimore had suffered some kind of a stroke, and lost his mind. His tottering gait might well have been a symptom of this. He walks into the house, and temporary insanity, he sheds his clothes. He hides somewhere within the house, perhaps within that veritable museum in the hall, and after everyone has given up hope of finding him, creeps out of there under cover of darkness, and wanders away into the night. Perhaps he didn't even lose his mind, perhaps he just intended to stage his disappearance in a cunning fashion, and did all of this in perfect lucidity!"
"Upon my word, Watson!" Holmes exclaimed, with visible glee, "You have hit the nail right on the head. What you may lack in observation, you more than make up for with your powerful imagination!" he said, seemingly with pride.
"Indeed." he went on, still smiling "Had it not been for two observations I made, I would have inclined to much the same conclusions as you have reached."
I was filled with a glowing pride, as a pupil who has been praised by his teacher would be. It was not often that Holmes showed such warmth, and I savoured every moment of it.
He continued - "The strange gait, of course was quite evident from the footprints, but the first thing I noticed out of the ordinary was the fact that in the heap of piled clothes, the coat was at the bottom of the pile."
"My dear Holmes! How on earth does that have any bearing on the matter?"
"Let me assure you Watson, that it most definitely does. But, the more surprising observation I made was that the laces on the boots were done up quite tightly. I am quite surprised that Gregson did not make anything of it from his investigation. Lestrade, though, would have missed its significance in any case."
"Quite peculiar, I admit. But what indeed, does it signify?" I said.
"That, my dear Watson, is something I shall let you know as soon as I have come to a conclusion, so you must exercise patience."
I knew from experience, that I would not get another hint out of him until he had solved the case and tied up all the loose ends. So, I withheld my curiosity for the remainder of the journey, and engaged myself in trying to apply his methods, running through the facts of the case in my mind, eliminating the impossible explanations, and looking at what remained, improbable or otherwise.
It was late evening by the time we reached Baker Street, and having bid Holmes good night, I retired to my own lodgings for the night, quite unable to stop thinking of the strange case we were involved in.
The following morning, I called on Holmes, but was informed by Mrs. Hudson that he had gone to Kent, and that I should wait for his cable. I went about the chores at my practice, patiently awaiting news from Holmes.
Late in the afternoon, I received his brief cable "COME AT ONCE," and at once set off towards Kent. I knew that by this time, Holmes would have solved our mystery, and I was impatiently anxious to hear of his deductions.
Upon reaching the village, I promptly walked to the police station, where I found Holmes and Gregson waiting for my arrival.
"Watson, my dear fellow, our case has drawn to a close, we are just about to inform Mrs. Phillimore and the good Dr. Windham that Dr. Phillimore has been found."
"Holmes! Are you suggesting that my naive explanation of the facts was true after all? That Phillimore wandered away?"
Holmes chuckled "No Watson, it is not as simple as that, but I will only keep you in the dark for a little while longer: please bear with me."
"Well, you know best, Holmes!" I said, a little annoyed that I had to wait longer for the answers.
"Come Watson, time is not on our side, dusk is approaching."
The three of us made our way to the Phillimores' house, and knocked on the door. Mrs. Phillimore answered and let us in silently. She seemed even more distraught and full of despair than when we had first seen her, with a hunted look in her eyes.
"Mrs Phillimore, Dr. Windham, we bring good news," began Holmes - "we have just received a cable from Scotland Yard that Dr. Phillimore has been found in good health, and we expect him to be here in the morning, once he has made his statement to the authorities."
As Holmes spoke, both Mrs. Phillimore and Dr. Windham showed puzzlement on their faces.
Mrs. Phillimore blurted out "But. Mr. Holmes, how on earth did James end up in London?"
"Madam, my apologies, I am as much in the dark as you are, I suggest that we wait patiently until he arrives, after which everything will be clear. We beg to be excused now; we must return to the village."
We left the two of them and started walking down the road. As soon as the door had closed, Holmes grabbed my arm and whispered "Hush, Watson! Follow me in total silence."
I was extremely perplexed, but I followed Holmes and Gregson as they furtively made a circuitous path back to the house, and crouched beside the doorway.
"What in Heavens name, Holmes?" I whispered.
"Observe, Watson!" he hissed back, pointing at the road. The light was fading fast now.
There along the path, we saw a man, walking down towards the house, despite the fading light, I noticed that he was dressed in the exact same clothing and shoes as the ones belonging to Phillimore, his face covered with the same woollen muffler.
I was certain he would notice the three of us crouched there, but he continued on to the door, seemingly unaware of us.
He knocked on the door, and as soon as it opened, we heard Mrs. Phillimores wife her voice rising to a scream.
"James! It's you! It can't be true - How.."
We had moved swiftly behind Phillimore, and noticed that Mrs. Phillimore had fallen into a faint. Windham was charging down the passage, with a heavy poker in hand, with undeniably murderous intent towards Phillimore, who stood there, bewildered.
Holmes and Gregson both moved fast, but Holmes got to Windham first. He applied an expert grip to the others wrist and exclaiming - "No Dr. Windham, not twice in a row!" he forced him onto the ground.
I immediately set about trying to rouse Mrs. Phillimore, and when she awoke, she looked around and sobbed loudly repeating "Oh! It wasn't Trevor's fault, it wasn't his fault!" over and over in a desperate litany.
His target had now taken off his hat and muffler, and Windham, staring at his face shouted, "What trick is this! That is not James Phillimore!" The man who we thought was Phillimore revealed himself to be a thin constable in uniform. He nodded at Holmes, gave a smart salute to Gregson and was off, without saying a word.
"Of course not!" exclaimed Holmes, "He is a member of the local force who had disguised himself, but driven by your guilt and fear, you thought he was Phillimore, which is why you tried to kill him, with this murderous implement!"
"I thought he had harmed her, the wretch." mumbled Windham, in a half sob.
"Enough!" commanded Holmes. "I shall give you one choice, either you confess the truth or I shall be forced to hand you over to Gregson, who will set in motion the merciless machinery of the law."
Mrs. Phillimore seemed to have regained her composure by then. "I think it's time everyone knew the truth, Trevor. It is our only recourse," she said in a remarkably calm voice.
Trevor Windham assumed an expression of intense sadness, and said resignedly "Very well, I will tell you everything, gentlemen."
He composed himself and began - "James and I first met when we were students, and our shared passion for archaeology made us very close friends. Around the time, we came to be introduced to Ruth, whose father was a well-known archaeologist. She displayed an innate interest in archaeology herself, and the three of us became the very best of friends, often accompanying her father on his expeditions. We continued to have frequent contact over the years, as both James and I continued to pursue our learning at the university.
"It was only natural that over time, my friendship for Ruth turned to affection, and eventually to love. But I dared not reveal my feelings, lest I risk our friendship. It was an ordeal, simply to keep my feelings within me, every time I chanced to see her. However, fate seemed to provide a way out of the dilemma, when I was invited to a three year long archaeological expedition to Peru, where an ancient city of stone was being unearthed in the jungle.
"During the time I spent in Peru, communication with England was quite unreliable, but both Ruth and James would write to me as frequently as possible. After a years time, I received a letter from James, informing me that he had become engaged to Ruth. I was somewhat shattered at first, but I was happy for James, who was after all my best friend. I was puzzled, however, that there was no letter from Ruth herself. For several months, I regularly received news from James, about their wedding, their moving to Kent, about his findings and publications. From Ruth herself, there was not a word. Shortly after I received news that Ruth's father had passed away, and I was glad that she had James to take care of her.
"Two weeks ago, I returned back to England, and I immediately wired news of my return to all my associates, including the Phillimores. Shortly afterward, I received a most disturbing letter from Ruth. She begged me for help, saying that her life had been a living hell these past years.
"She told of how, soon after my departure, James had come forth and proclaimed his love for her. She had rebuffed him gently, telling him that she had another in her heart. It filled my heart with deep anguish, when I realized that she had been speaking of me, and if only I'd had the courage to have spoken to her, everything would have been so different.
"James, as you know, was a very possessive man, of dogged determination. When he was thus rejected, he resolved that he would go to any lengths to possess her. Something dark was born inside of him that day, and he strove to manoeuvre himself into a position of favour with her father, at every possible juncture. His love for Ruth had changed into a dreadful obsession, and he longed to possess her with the same intensity as he would a prehistoric fossil. On the outside, he showed no sign of this, but carefully orchestrated matters, so that when he approached her father, asking for her hand in marriage, her father approved immediately.
"Ruth was terribly upset; she had none in this world to call her own save her aged father. He suffered from a weak heart, and she feared that if she went against his wishes, he might suffer another attack.
She wrote to me, of what had happened, but James managed to intercept her letters and destroy them. Believing that I had no interest in helping her, she resigned herself to her fate. She told herself that despite everything, James was a good man, and she would learn to be happy with him. But sadly that was not to be.
"Despite the outward appearance of wedded bliss, the Phillimore household was one of discord. He had no interest in her once he actually possessed her, and she was confined to the house like any of his dusty fossils. He viewed her with no more feeling than a butterfly pinned to a card, restricting her movements, and treating her in the most monstrous fashion. You will notice Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, the cruel bruises on her arms." She rolled up her sleeves revealing horrible marks on the fair skin "My friend James, had turned into a beast!"
"No sooner than I had heard from Ruth, I also received an invitation from James to come and stay for a few days. He did not know that I was aware of all that he had concealed from the world. When I met James, he seemed exactly as before, and I could not bring myself to believe what Ruth had written to me. She seemed quite cheerful, and I was utterly confused, wondering if I was the victim of a most distasteful prank.
"One afternoon, James left for town on urgent business and said he hoped to return in the morning. No sooner had he left, Ruth collapsed into my arms, weeping and sobbing like a child. That day she told me everything. I cannot think of what she said then, without being filled with a blinding rage, even now after James is gone, God have mercy on his wicked soul!
"I resolved that we would waste no time. We would flee that night, to some far off place, to never ever see James Phillimore again. She packed her personal effects in a large valise and I discretely made arrangements at the village for a means of transport planning to leave at dusk, so that we would not attract attention.
"We were just about to leave the house, when the door sprung open, and there stood James, who took in the scene in an instant. His face assumed a most hideous expression when he realized what was happening. Ruth moved forward in a hopeless attempt to pacify him, but he struck her with such force that she fell limp on the floor, like a rag doll. I went berserk and charged at him, screaming. For the first time in my life, I saw James with fear in his eyes. Somehow he managed to dodge my assault and he ran into the hall, the coward!
"A few moments later, I heard a loud crash his chilling scream. Ruth had got back on her feet, and we rushed inside. We saw a most dreadful scene - James had tripped on the end of the carpet and fallen. His head had struck a heavy metal statue and he lay there, unseeing eyes agog, his face still bearing the most horrible expression of rage and fear.
"We realized quite soon that James was no more, though curiously, there was no sign of blood. Ruth wished to summon the law at once, but I convinced her that this would not be the wisest thing to do. I surprised myself by formulating in my mind a most ingenious way to make it appear that James had vanished forever. But first, we had to dispose of James' body - It was quite dark now and it did not take me very long to carry his body to the lake, and weigh him down to the bottom in neck deep water. The lake is quite murky and full of weeds, so there was not much chance of anyone discovering the corpse.
"After that horrible deed, I came back to the house and told Ruth exactly what we had to do. Neither of us could sleep, as we brooded upon what we had done. At dawn, I observed the farmers come to the lake - I needed them to bear witness for the following events, if my plan was to work. Ruth dressed herself up in James' clothes, putting on several layers of her own clothing on the inside, until she quite approached James' build. He was not a tall or large man, so with the muffler, the boots and the hat, the disguise was complete. It would have been impossible for anyone to guess that it was not James, from more than ten yards away.
"The rest of the story, you gentlemen already know, Ruth's tiny feet could not quite fill James boots, and that accounted for the strange way in which she was seen walking back to the house. I intended that the mystery would remain unsolved; after I left and things had quieted down, Ruth would leave this place forever and join me, and we would begin a new life together in some other land far away.
"Whatever happened, I assure you that I take full blame for everything, Ruth is perfectly innocent." He concluded in a sorrowful manner."
Holmes had been looking impassively at Windham all the while, and now he spoke "Well, Dr. Windham, I believe that you are concealing nothing from us, and after hearing the truth, I believe we must not judge you too harshly. I dare say that any of us here might have acted in a similar fashion, had we found ourselves in such unfortunate circumstances.
"I had deduced beforehand, that it had never been James, but Ruth, who accompanied you that morning. It was also quite clear that the only place that James could be was at the bottom of the lake. However, I suspected that he had been murdered in cold blood, and I am now convinced of quite the contrary. To the extent that you concealed a death, and misled the law, you must face the consequences. I daresay that Gregson here, who has often shown himself to be more astute and kind than the law he defends, would charge you in the most lenient manner under the circumstances."
"Indeed Holmes." I offered. "As a medical man, I am inclined to think that Phillimore succumbed to an apoplectic stroke and died even before he struck his head. That would account for the lack of bleeding. In that case there would be not a shadow of doubt that he had lost his life by accident."
"We will recover the body at the earliest, Mr. Holmes, and after establishing the cause of death, I shall see to it that things proceed in a just manner. I am most thankful to you Mr. Holmes for once again demonstrating your great powers," said Gregson.
"As always, I prefer that any official mention of myself be kept to a minimum, though Watson here, would rather have it otherwise." Holmes said with a smile. "Watson, I think our role here has come to an end. Let us return to London at once."
We bid goodbye to the sad but hopeful couple, and after we left Gregson at the police station, we set out on the long journey back.
"Holmes! I have displayed the utmost patience, but now you owe me an explanation of your deductions!" I exclaimed, as soon as we were seated.
"Indeed, Watson, as I mentioned to you yesterday, the first odd thing that I noticed was the fact that the coat lay at the bottom of the pile. You wondered why this had anything to do with the matter, but it most definitely did."
"Consider Watson, that a man, who enters a house, customarily takes off his hat first. On the other hand, a woman, in this case Miss Ruth, - I believe she would rather be addressed that way considering her circumstances - dressed in a coat and a hat, would instinctively take the coat off first, since it would be a heavy encumbrance on her.
I will admit that this deduction, though true, has very feeble reasoning behind it. Which is why the second clue was extremely vital."
"You mean the knotted bootlaces" - I ventured.
"Precisely!" exclaimed Holmes - "Miss Ruth was a slender woman with quite tiny feet, and in order for her to be able to walk about in Phillimore's boots, she had done up the laces in as tight a manner as possible. Despite that fact, they were still loose enough that in her nervousness, she managed to slip out of them without undoing the laces. This looseness would also account for her strange gait when she walked back to the house. Moreover, the delicate, neat way in which the laces had been knotted, was an certain confirmation of a woman's hand.
"Once I was sure of this, I realized that Phillimore had been missing well before the incident, probably dead, so I looked for signs of his body's disposal. I managed to track Windham's footprints leading to the lake. There were two sets of footprints, one from when he had run towards the farmers, and another deeper set of marks, where it was obvious that he was carrying something heavy - Phillimore's corpse.
"Now all that remained was to get the truth out, and I wished to do so without raising any suspicions in the couple. This precluded any attempts to extricate Phillimore from the lake. At this point I believed that it was a cold, calculated murder, but I felt that there was something more to the story. You might recall that Windham seemed to orbit around Miss Ruth constantly, and he seemed to mention her at every possible opportunity. It was obvious that he was much more than a friend to her. All this weighed very much against the couple.
"However, I have had the misfortune of observing a number of murderers, during my innumerable investigations, and all my instincts were telling me that neither Ms. Ruth nor Trevor Windham was of such a disposition.
"Gregson arranged that Phillimore's clothes be collected by the police, and we arranged for a policeman of suitable build to masquerade as Phillimore. The false news that Phillimore had been found put the couple in enough confusion and fear, so that as soon as they saw the disguised man, they reacted in the exact way I had foreseen, and broke down.
"Wonderful, Holmes! Your brilliance, though I am much accustomed to it, still puts me in awe, but today you have shown that your heart is as big as your intellect, and you concluded your case in a most merciful manner," I said. "I shudder to think of how Lestrade might have gone about it."
Holmes remained silent, smiling gently at this, and for a long while, he smoked his pipe with an expressionless face, lost in his own thoughts, until suddenly he spoke, leaning in towards me -
"What does it all mean Watson? This circle of hate, of fear and suffering - where does it all lead? What purpose does it serve?" - He was looking at me intently now, as if he wished to somehow force the answer out of me, by sheer will.
I shook my head "I do not know, Holmes, I do not know..."