It was late of a damp, chilly November afternoon when I entered the apartments at 221B Baker Street that I shared with my friend and colleague, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. I was happy to escape the London fog swirling through the darkening streets and even more pleased to feel the warmth of the fire blazing in the hearth of our sitting room, lit, no doubt, by our dutiful housekeeper Mrs. Hudson.
I say “sitting room” but it was, in truth, more the personal study, office and laboratory of Sherlock Holmes, filled as it was with newspapers, case notes, personal effects, a great deal of memorabilia gathered throughout his career and, I couldn’t help noticing, a small array of chemicals and a microscope next to an envelope on the table. Holmes was turned away near the lamp and obviously deep in thought, a small sheaf of papers clutched in one hand and an unlit pipe in the other. It wasn’t until I attempted to hang my overcoat on the accustomed hook, clumsily knocking over a Massai warrior spear in the process, that he noticed my presence.
“Ah, Watson, how fortuitous that you should arrive at this precise moment, having walked from the Diogenes Club following a meal of steak and kidney pie.” Here he approached me, “In the company of your fiancée, Miss Mary Morstan, for a part of the journey. I take it you saw her to a cab?”
“Holmes, how on earth …” I sputtered, for he surely had no way of knowing my recent whereabouts.
“You have arrived home later than is common on your half-day, Watson, time enough to stop for a drink or two at your club, causing you to be more clumsy than usual.” At this he bent to retrieve the fallen spear. “Not only do I detect an odour of brandy but also a subtle scent of jasmine, which, I recall, is a favourite scent of your betrothed. That, in addition to your appearance, leads me to surmise some recent contact.”
At this point Holmes directed me towards the mirror where I beheld the imprint of a pair of red lips lightly embossed upon my cheek. “At this late hour,” he continued, “Mary can only have been on her way home from an afternoon outing when you met by happenstance as you were walking here. You talked briefly; hailed her a cab, fell victim to her embrace, and continued home. As for your choice of dinner the stain upon your shirt cuff tells all.”
“Quite right, Holmes,” I replied blushingly. “Extraordinary, really,” although not so extraordinary as the kiss, I thought to myself.
“But enough of that, Watson,” declared Holmes, growing serious once again, “We have other fish to fry.” At this he settled in a rattan armchair and turned his attention to the papers in his hand.
“What is it, Holmes?” I asked.
“It is a most peculiar and rather astonishing communiqué, a series of queries to be precise, from a gentleman by the name of Jim Cameron, a resident of the town of Cranbrook.”
“Cranbrook, Kent?” I responded.
“Cranbrook, British Columbia,” Holmes replied, arching an eyebrow.
“Well, I suppose that even the colonies require the services of the brilliant Sherlock Holmes,” I pointed out by way of needling my friend.
“Mock me not, Watson, for this is not a matter to be taken lightly. Indeed, it is a matter of some serious import. See for yourself.” And with that, Holmes passed me the papers. I sat down to read as he lit his pipe and gazed out the window into the barely discernible rays of the disappearing day.
I undertook a quick scan of the letter, written as it was in a rather clumsy hand and an unfamiliar vernacular. In the meantime, Holmes had crossed to the table and was conducting a series of experiments upon the envelope I had noticed earlier. I set the papers aside as a short rap came upon the door and Mrs. Hudson entered with the customary tea tray. Following a brief exchange of pleasantries and our assurance that all was in order Holmes and I once again found ourselves alone. After some time had passed in which I sat quietly, enjoying my tea and contemplating my future, Holmes finished his experiments and turned to me.
“So, Watson, you have seen the letter. What do you make of it?”
“Well”, I replied, “I should say it seems rather straightforward. Mr. Cameron is simply seeking your advice upon a few matters in which he is interested coincidental to both yourself and his hometown of Cranbrook, British Columbia.”
“And that is all, Watson?”
Here I searched my brain for the clues to a mystery of which I supposed Holmes to have the answer. In truth I knew not exactly what the mystery was and I said as much.
“Indeed, Watson. It is becoming clearer to me but I have yet to perform one or two additional experiments in order to determine both the age and reliability of the letter.”
“Surely no-one would undertake to forge such a letter?” I replied, rather dumbfounded. “There is nothing at stake and no reason for falsehood.”
“I’m afraid that is not quite the case,” replied Holmes. “There is a great deal at stake. But for now let us content ourselves with reviewing the contents such as we know them.”
And with that Holmes stood and began to pace as was his wont in times of concentrated thought.
“Perhaps,” said Holmes, “you will be so kind as to review the letter aloud while I consider the salient points. And Watson, let us save Dr. Bell for last.”
And so I began…
Next Week: Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Dr. Bell, the Final Chapter