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The Case of the Misled Lady

From the Memoirs of Dr John Watson

Annoyingly, a couple of months after the Bluekiln Wharf we received a formal letter from Scotland Yard.

‘To the residents of 221b Baker Street, we regret to inform you that Professor Moriarty and Mr Albert Spear whose arrest you assisted in, have escaped! It appears that two hospital porters were bribed to set them free, whilst they were being escorted for a specialist medical examination. The Commissioner is aware of the threat these people pose to you, and due to your previous many public services, has decided to give your premises covert protection.’

 “I thought it was too easy, capturing Moriarty like that! We are fated to plague one another to the death I fear!” said Holmes but his eyes were bright. After weeks of pottering over trivial mundane cases he felt he had new challenges ahead!

 “Do you think this covert protection means that we are safe?” I asked. 

 “No, but with a little assistance from my Irregulars it will be stimulating to guess how Moriarty plans to circumvent it. Yes, on balance I shall stay here. To flee again would be to give in to his terrorising tactics. Our task will be to look for any indicators as to where he will set up a new base?”

 “But it may well be abroad. We know he has close contacts in Paris, Vienna and Berlin.”

 “Yes, and Milan and Madrid too! However, whilst we have impeded the Stiff Sleeves and destroyed his hold over the Chinese Tongs, he has a toe in many other criminal enterprises. I must alert my contacts to keep their ears open.” 

 Three days later our old friend Inspector Hastings called. He told us that strictly speaking he was still convalescent but he had been seconded to Scotland Yard. Yes he was Detective Inspector Hasting now!

 “I have been given a brief to follow up, for which I would appreciate any advice you can give me. You may know that over the last five years there have been a large number of jewellery thefts from large Country Houses. I remember you thinking that Moriarty was involved with the fencing of these jewels which could indeed be the case.”

 “Yes!” Agreed Holmes “And just as he was getting European Art works brought here, very likely he was sending and probably still is sending, jewels and other stuff back there. That Silchester Shipping Line must be very useful to him!”

 “Yes and we cannot keep a close enough watch on them to be sure of stopping him. Anyway my brief is to follow up such leads as my predecessor has unearthed. He was sacked for bungling a snatch in which he allowed two burglars to escape. He should have caught them red handed! The lead which I am following, is that it was noticed that many of these burglaries were preceded by a visit to the house in question, by Mrs Cressida Bermondsey. She is agent for Wasp Wares a reputable ladies corset fitters. Suspicions that she may be casing these places fell on her after a second footman admitted that he left a door unlocked for her. He was expecting an assignation with her. In fact on that night she was attending her branch meeting of Fabiana, a radical Womens Advancement organisation. They always meet on a Monday evening in Camden Town. Most of these burglaries take place on a Monday night. I am told that a lot of these Country Mansions entertain country parties over the weekend, with the guests leaving on the Monday morning. Sometimes the lack of evidence left by the burglars is such, that the guests and their servants are suspected of the thefts! Now our investigations indicate that Mrs Bermondsey visited a robbed house within a fortnight before, in eleven cases! Tracking the lady’s movements is not easy, especially as we employ no female police officers. A tough female Companion called Janice Grant sometime accompanies her. Having noticed Mrs Bermondsey’s apparent involvement, the Yard managed to capture two pairs of burglars whilst a third pair escaped. Now we have made discreet inquiries with Wasp Wares and it seemed that the lady had abandoned the Country Houses for a while until now. She is this very day visiting Lady Verdandi Fitz-Herbert and possibly other females in the household of Larksong Manor. This is north of Ware in Hertfordshire. The mystery is that we do not think that there are any jewels worth stealing at the manor. As a result of the thefts we have been liasing with the main insurers of such items. According to them Lady Verdandi’s jewels are mostly paste and insured for only twenty-five pounds. It is my suspicion that Larksong Manor will be robbed of something next Monday night but I do not know what? We have been intercepting Mrs Bermondsey’s mail and know that she received a letter postmarked Larksong a week ago. This was from a Frau Vermogen Seher. Written in German it merely says ‘The moon is waxing to the full.’! I read this as indicating that the time is ripe for the burglary or whatever is intended. What do you think?”              

 “Well the Moon is now waning not waxing so I suspect that your suspicions are correct.” answered Holmes. “What do you know about this Frau Seher?”

 “We did make discreet enquiries. According to the village policeman she has been staying at the village Inn for a couple of months. She tells fortunes so they say but I doubt she gets much business in sleepy Larksong. It is hard to find out much when the mark is a female and I only have one uniformed constable to assist me!”

I said that if she tells fortunes she might be able to tell us when the local manor might be burgled and for what fortune! Holmes was not amused.

 “She would not tell us because she is part of the gang Watson. She may be Moriarty’s sister for all we know!”

 “Oh Holmes! You and your obsession with Moriarty! He is more likely to be on a ship to Egypt or Brazil or somewhere else. What would he want in a small countryside manor?”

 “That I shall endeavour to find out! You have aroused my curiosity Hastings, Watson and I shall help assist you next Monday when you stake out the Manor.”

 “I thank you though I have not told you of that intention. The nearest LNER station is at Hoddesdon and the trains are frequent. I shall send my constable there to arrange for a carriage to get us to Larksong on the night. Here is my new card with the Scotland Yard Phone number. Whitehall One two One two, it is easy to remember.”

 My guess was that Holmes then went off to the Diogenes Club to quiz his brother Mycroft and other contacts. I looked up reference books in the nearby Marylebone Library for anything I could find about Larksong Manor.

    Later I revealed the fruit of my labours to Holmes. “The Larksong Manor was confiscated from the Church by Henry VIII and given to Sir Derek Knave who built a new manor house. Not long after its completion he was accused of treason for marrying Esmeralda Lawes without the King’s permission and executed. Esmeralda committed suicide and has haunted the manor ever since. The manor was then given to another favourite Francis Todye. His grandson was ruined by James I coming to stay for two months. James was easy to please, but it was his retinue of two hundred that bankrupted Sir Thomas. The Waylinge family bought the manor and managed to keep their heads down in the civil war. In fact they lasted until 1832 when the last Waylinge spinster died. The property reverted to the crown and was given to a Justin Fitz-Herbert. So presumably it will be his descendant who occupies it now. Holmes, it occurs to me that our Occult Verification Society friends might be interested in that ghost? Further, their two ladies might be useful for interrogating the Wasp Wares Corset Lady? That Rumanian woman with the dagger would frighten her into admitting everything! She certainly terrifies me! Aha, perhaps on his travels that Jack the Ripper met her and decided to mend his ways! We have heard little of him recently.”

 “Vastly diverting Watson! If we hope to surprise burglars, we do not want the OVS anywhere near Larksong on Monday. Going on previous form, Mrs Cressida Bermondsey will be at her Fabiana meeting that night and I expect she will be tough enough to withstand even Miss Badamaru’s bullying. It will be too dangerous for the OVS at the Manor. Those burglars escaped because one of them was armed with a pistol which is an unusual circumstance. That and the apparent fact that Mrs Bermondsey is helping more than one set of burglars, suggests to me the organising abilities of Moriarty. Besides I think I have found the objective of the burglary. The manor is owned by Sir Richard Fitz-Herbert and his wife Lady Verdandi.”

 “I say Holmes that is a most unusual name! Verdandi! It sounds Indian, is she a Maharaja’s daughter or something?”

 “No, her parents went in for Norse mythology. Verdandi was one of the Norns that is the Norse Fates. Anyway Mycroft tells me that recently the Lady was very close to our esteemed heir to the throne, whilst taking the waters at Marienbad. There his interest transferred to the American Actress Maxine Elliot. It is possible that Verdandi was given some expensive bauble as a going away present. If so one wonders how even Moriarty obtained news of its existence. Not impossible of course but I have a more likely target. The Fitz-Herbert’s are descendants of Maria Fitz-Herbert morganatic wife of George IV. After obtaining court acceptance in William IVs time, Victoria sent the family to the right about. The Larksong branch of the family then collected all the portraits painted of  Maria’s brood at low prices. Some of them are by good artists, Gainsborough, Kneller and Lawrence for instance! They may still be un-fashionable shall we say but fine works of art nevertheless. When Victoria dies and she is now seventy-two, the stigma of the Fitz-Herbert name may diminish. In fact considering Edward’s infidelities, George IV looks rather tame and it will be a certainty. It would fit Moriarty’s character to hold such pictures as these, casting a snook at the establishment, whilst also laying in a good long term investment!”

 “Oh Holmes! Everything leads you to The Professor. Why the fellow is probably still incapacitated by his wounds. I am very surprised that he survived that Chinese quack’s ministrations! I think your Prince’s bauble the more likely target and that it has nothing to do with Professor Moriarty!”  

 “It may be as you say Watson but I suspect that even if Moriarty is not directly involved those who are, are minions of his! We will assist Detective Inspector Hastings in this to best of our ability and we will go there armed!

    The plan was that we would travel by train to Hoddesdon and take a Growler cab to the police station at Larksong. Ideally too late for the word of our arrival to get abroad, but in good time to walk to places of concealment, near or in the Manor. At the Police Station would be waiting in a sealed envelope addressed to Hastings a Hertfordshire warrant to search Larksong Manor and estate. The Local policeman Robinson, had been deliberately omitted from knowing of the plan and would not know what was in the envelope. Hastings and his man DPC Longscape had kept away from the place so we were working from the map. We were even relying on the Growlerman to know where the Police Station was. Since the village comprised one single street to the west of the manor this was not thought to be a problem. In fact PC Longscape had booked a Growler whose driver knew Larksong well. Unfortunately on the night an encounter with a runaway horse caused us to land in the ditch. It took us some time right it and get it out of the ditch. Then we found that one horse was lame! Hastings was muttering about commandeering any vehicle that we encountered. There were not many vehicles about at this time of the evening. The only one we met was a dray drawn by a single shire horse which would have been no improvement at all! The Carriage driver suggested that we get out and walk but Holmes claimed that that would still be slower! Hastings said that the carriage had been paid for with public money and the driver should honour the contract! Remembering that Hastings was still convalescent we backed him up. So we reached the Larksong Police Station at 2330 hours and did not give the carriage driver a tip! He immediately turned and departed cursing us!

It is a dry overcast night, sighting visibility is down to ten inches with recognition at five.  There is no light in the police station and in fact there do not appear to be any lights around anywhere! Hammering on the door eventually produces Mrs Robinson the village Peeler’s wife. She says her husband is out on patrol but she finds and gives Hastings the warrant envelope. You discover that the station is at the north end of the village the opposite end to the drive to the manor. You are much later than you hoped what is your plan of action? Will you divide your force or keep it altogether. Which way are the burglars likely arrive and exit?   

The Game is Afoot!

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