The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg: New Excerpt
By Leonard GoldbergMay 29, 2017
1914. Joanna Blalock’s keen mind and incredible insight lead her to become a highly-skilled nurse, one of the few professions that allow her to use her finely-tuned brain. But when she and her ten-year-old son witness a man fall to his death, apparently by suicide, they are visited by the elderly Dr. John Watson and his charming, handsome son, Dr. John Watson Jr. Impressed by her forensic skills, they invite her to become the third member of their investigative team.
Caught up in a Holmesian mystery that spans from hidden treasure to the Second Afghan War of 1878-1880, Joanna and her companions must devise an ingenious plan to catch a murderer in the act while dodging familiar culprits, Scotland Yard, and members of the British aristocracy. Unbeknownst to her, Joanna harbors a mystery of her own. The product of a one-time assignation between the now dead Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outwit the famous detective, Joanna has unwittingly inherited her parents’ deductive genius.
I am John Watson, Jr., M.D., the son of the close friend and longtime associate of the famous Sherlock Holmes, who passed from this earth in the year 1903, while tending bees on the Sussex Downs. To this day my father still resides in rooms at 221b Baker Street and can attest to the truth of the story I am about to record. It was his hand that guided us through this criminal maze and the terrible dangers it contained. He alone could serve as guide, because portions of the drama you are about to read transpired before, with the very same players he and Sherlock Holmes had encountered near the turn of the century.
How can this be, you ask?
Are not most of the people involved—Holmes, Moran, Lestrade—long dead?
Yes, indeed they are. But their genes live after them, and have endowed their offspring with many of the same features that the parents themselves possessed. When Shakespeare—in his play Julius Caesar—wrote, “the evil that men do lives after them,” I wonder if he was in some measure referring to the master criminals and their offspring, and to the despicable deeds they would continue to do. I suspect this was Shakespeare’s intent, but the reader can draw his own conclusions in this matter. I searched at length for a title to the story I am about to tell, but could not find one that fit well. So I turned to my father, who was the most excellent chronicler of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He smiled at his only son’s predicament, and in an instant jotted down a perfect title: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes. As he did, there was a definite twinkle in his eyes, and for once I thought I could read his mind. He was thinking that Sherlock Holmes was, after all, still with us.
The Game Is Afoot
As was my custom, I visited my father, Dr. John H. Watson, every Friday to make certain he was comfortable and not in need. His general health was slowly deteriorating and he was being deprived more and more of the simple pleasures of life. But he never complained and always greeted me with a warm smile and a wave. This Friday in the early spring of 1910 I found him standing at the window of his rooms at 221b Baker Street and staring out at a cold London morning. He continued to turn his head from side to side as if he were following some object in motion. He was attired in a tattered, maroon smoking jacket that was so badly worn it was threadbare at the elbows. I had offered to purchase him an identical replacement, and last Christmas had even given him one as a present. But he would not wear it, preferring to hold on to the old smoking jacket that was the last vestige of his happier, exciting days with Sherlock Holmes.
“Good morning, Father,” I said cheerily. “I trust your cold is better.”
“Some,” he replied with a raspy voice, before taking another puff on his favorite cherrywood pipe.
“You really should not be smoking,” I advised. “It will only worsen the inflammation in your bronchial tubes.”
“I will make a note of that,” he said, his gaze still fixed on some object in the street below.
I groaned to myself and thought how foolish my comment was. Here was I, a young physician at thirty-two, giving advice to an esteemed, now retired doctor who had more medical experience than all my living years put together. But I cared for the man far more than I would admit, so I added, “At least promise that you will limit yourself to two pipefuls each day.”
“Why give a promise that I have no intention of keeping?”
“To make your son feel better.”
My father nodded slowly before saying, “A warm lie is much preferred over a cold fact, isn’t it?”
“In your case, no.”
He flicked his wrist, which was his way of ending a particular topic of conversation. In the morning light I could clearly see the toll the advancing years had taken on my father. Now he was a quite thin man, bent at the waist, with deeply grayed hair and mustache. His once strong jawline was partially hidden with hanging jowls. But his eyes were clear and his vision good despite the years. At length, he asked me, “How goes your work at St. Bartholomew’s?”
“It is satisfactory,” I answered, but my tone of voice said otherwise.
For the past five years I have been employed by the pathology department at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where my workload is heavy and never ending. But it was stimulating and I held the highly regarded position of assistant professor. Nevertheless the head of the department, Dr. Peter Willoughby, made life unpleasant for those who were associated with him. He covered his shortcomings with a mean bark and an even meaner bite. “There are moments when I wonder if I have chosen the best place to practice my skills.”
“Your day will come,” my father prophesied. “Bide your time. Willoughby’s type always fades and brings about his own end.”
“The waiting is difficult.”
“It always is.”
Suddenly my father tapped his pipe against the window and pointed to the street below. “Ah! Now she makes her move!”
I hurried over to the window to see what had so aroused my father’s interest. It was a veiled woman, dressed entirely in black, alighting from a horse-drawn carriage. She appeared to be studying the street address above the door, yet at the same time she glanced over her shoulders.
“What do you make of that?” my father asked.
“She is looking for an address.”
“She knows the address already.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“Because the very same carriage she rides in has stopped briefly in front of this front door three times, only to drive on and return shortly.”
“Perhaps she was unsure of the address.”
“Three times?” My father shook his head. “I think not. She knew exactly where she wished the carriage to go, having given the driver a precise address. That is why the carriage stopped momentarily in front of our very door.”
“If that is the case, why did she not step out earlier?”
“Because she is uncertain as to whether or not she should bring her problem here.”
“And the way she glances around makes me believe that she envisions herself being followed by someone.”
“Possibly,” my father said. “But unlikely. If she thought she was being followed, she would not keep returning to her destination three separate times in such a short period. More likely, she wishes to satisfy herself that she is not seen entering this well-known address because her problem is so delicate.”
“How do you know her problem is delicate?”
“The death of a close family member always is.”
It required only a moment to follow my father’s line of reasoning. “The black dress and veil! She is in mourning.”
I could not help myself as I placed my hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze. “I can see a bit of Sherlock Holmes in you.”
“Pshaw! I am a rank amateur compared to Holmes. By now he would have given us all the details about this woman, including who she is, where she lives, and what her social standing is. He would even know the nature of her problem and why she is bringing it to 221b Baker Street. And if it was of interest to him, he would have answers to her dilemma before she entered the room or spoke a word.”
“Oh, come now!”
“I do not embellish,” my father assured me.
“How in the world could he accomplish this?”
“Because Holmes not only saw things as we do, he carefully observed them as well. He would then connect these observations to his vast knowledge on any number of subjects, which in this particular case happens to be the city of London.” He paused briefly to watch the veiled woman, who was now chatting with her driver and still glancing about. “Allow me to give you an illustration. Did you notice the emblem on the door of the carriage that brought her?”
“Yes. But it has no special meaning to me.”
“Nor to me. But to Holmes it would represent a treasure chest of information. He would have recognized the emblem and known the exclusive area of London it served. And since the carriage is obviously an expensive one and no doubt serves a very pricy clientele, Holmes could have pinned down the woman’s address to a four-square-block area in West London.”
“And her elegant attire attests to the fact that she is a woman of means,” I added. “But how would Holmes be aware of the nature of her problem?”
“He would instruct us to reason backward, for that is how most such puzzles are solved. The most conspicuous clue in this case is her black dress and veil, which indicate she is in mourning for a close and loved relative. In all likelihood it is the recent death of this beloved one that brings her here. And there is an unpleasantness to this death, perhaps some scandal. That is why the woman is so hesitant to approach us with her problem and why she does not wish to be seen doing so.”
“Father! Your mind seems so keen here.”
“Not really.” He downplayed his deductive achievement. “I witnessed Sherlock Holmes performing a similar feat many years ago when a veiled woman came to us in distress.”
“But a scandal, you say.”
“Do you know what the scandal is?”
“I have no idea, but Holmes would have arrived at the answer in a matter of minutes. Say, for example, the woman’s address would be Belgravia, where the aristocracy live and where the scandals are the juiciest. The unpleasant death would have been covered extensively in the newspapers, all of which Holmes read on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, he kept copies of these newspapers for a week in case an article he had skimmed took on sudden significance. Holmes would have consulted these papers and quickly known the woman’s family, the unexpected death, and the reason for her visit.” My father paused to relight his pipe before concluding, “Putting all these clues together, he, like I, would rightly assume this woman brings with her a most delectable tale.”
I applauded gently. “Holmes would be proud of you, Father.”
My father shrugged. “He would have simply said, ‘The clues were waiting there to be read, my dear Watson.’”
There was a soft knock on the door.
“Yes,” my father cried out.
The door opened and Miss Hudson appeared, she being the daughter of the late Mrs. Hudson, the housekeeper who served Sherlock Holmes and my father for so many years. “There is a young woman downstairs who wishes to see you, Dr. Watson. Shall I show her up?”
“By all means.”
As the door closed, I asked my father, “It seems strange that they continue to bring their problems here, does it not?”
My father nodded. “As if Sherlock Holmes was still alive.”
“Are you able to help them?”
My father shrugged. “To the smallest extent. I give them guidance and hope for the best.”
“That is most kind of you.”
He shrugged once more and said, “I am merely an old man trying to remain relevant.”
We heard soft footsteps coming up the stairs. Abruptly my father straightened up from his stooped posture, then ran a quick hand across his silver-gray hair, and smoothed out his thick mustache. “Do not pry until she has given us her entire story.”
There was another tap on the door and Miss Hudson showed in a young woman, dressed from head to toe in black, with no adornments whatsoever. She was small and thin and, as she raised her veil, we could see she had large, doelike eyes that were reddened and sad.
She spoke directly to my father. “I am at my wit’s end and can only pray that you will be able to assist me, Dr. Watson.”
“I shall try,” my father said, and beckoned to a large, comfortable chair by the fireplace. “This is my son, the junior Dr. Watson, who is often of assistance to me. Please tell us who you are and the nature of your problem.”
“My name is Mary Harrelston,” she said with a quivering voice. “And I am here because of my brother’s recent, tragic—” Before she could speak further, tears streamed down her cheeks. She quietly sobbed for several moments, then dabbed away the tears with a handkerchief she kept in her sleeve. “Forgive me,” she began again, “but you will understand my sorrow and distress once you hear my story.”
“Take your time,” my father said gently. “And tell us in detail about your brother’s heartbreaking death.”
Mary Harrelston’s eyes widened. “You knew my brother?”
“Only from a very brief account in the newspaper.”
“Of course,” she said, with an understanding nod. “They say his death was a suicide, but that is something my brother would never consider despite the depth of his woes. He was deeply indebted to a friend, Christopher Moran, and had even lost more while gambling with this friend on the afternoon of his death. When Moran left the room momentarily, it is said my brother was so consumed with despair that he leaped from a window to his death. This, Dr. Watson, would be impossible, for my brother was now the leader of our family and all of us—my father, my mother, and I—depended on him and his strengths greatly. Although his gambling was a weakness, he was so strong in every other aspect of life. And he continued to assure us that he had a definite solution to our financial woes, which would be forthcoming shortly. These are not the words of a man about to take his life.”
My father squinted an eye, as if trying to recapture an old memory, then asked, “Did you say that the fellow gambler’s name was Moran. M-O-R-A-N?”
“Yes,” she responded. “That is how I believe he spells it.”
“Curious. Very curious,” my father remarked. “Pray continue.”
She paused and dabbed at her cheeks once more, then added, “A strong man would have never done this.”
“Perhaps you overestimated his strengths,” I thought aloud.
My father gave me a disapproving look, for I had interrupted her story with an assumption.
It did not bother Mary Harrelston in the least. She promptly went on. “My assessment of his strengths is not simply based on the love I had for my brother, but on his exploits outside the family. He was commended for his bravery in the Second Afghan War, where he along with several other officers were taken prisoner by the enemy. It was he who was instrumental in planning and executing their escape. His medals and ribbons would easily fill the chest of any military coat. This was not a man who takes his own life when faced with a great challenge.”
“Indeed,” my father agreed. “Yet the newspapers said there were witnesses to this tragic event.”
“There were two, but with differing accounts,” she said. “A gardener working down the way swore that he saw my brother leap wildly out of the window, while a ten-year-old boy, who was walking by with his mother, claims my brother appeared to float down motionless from the roof.”
“Float down from the roof, you say?” my father questioned at once.
She nodded firmly. “Those were the young lad’s exact words according to Scotland Yard. They of course discarded his testimony and believed that he was simply embroidering the event with his own imagination. So we have two varying accounts of the same event. And there is an obvious difference between leaping wildly out of a window and floating down from the roof.”
“Which do you believe is correct?” I asked.
“Who can know the truth?” she answered back. “All I know is that I have a dead brother and that my family’s reputation is stained forever because of the recounting of a nearby gardener and a young boy who happened to glance up as my brother fell.” Her face suddenly hardened and she added, “It is not fair, Dr. Watson. It is not fair or just.”
“What would you have me do?” my father asked.
“Why, investigate! Clear my family’s good name by finding out who was responsible for my dear brother’s death.”
My father’s expression told me that he had scant interest in the case and would have little to offer this poor woman.
“Perhaps I could make some inquiries to Scotland Yard on your behalf,” he proffered.
“They will not help,” she said. “I must confess that earlier I consulted a private detective who did just as you proposed. Scotland Yard told him in no uncertain terms that they would not bother Mrs. Blalock or her son or the gardener again. Their statements had been taken and the case closed.”
My father sprang from his chair and stared down at the woman. “Are you telling me that one of the witnesses was Joanna Blalock?”
“Yes,” she replied. “It was Mrs. Joanna Blalock who was walking with her son, and it was her son Johnnie who witnessed my brother’s fall. She vouches for the accuracy of a portion of his account.”
“This Mrs. Blalock being the daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Blalock, who resides in Belgravia?”
“You are certain?”
“Then we shall look into this matter,” my father said with authority. “We shall investigate every aspect of this tragic happening for you.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said gratefully. “I feel as if a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders.” She extended her hand and my father assisted her to her feet. Walking to the door, she asked a final question. “Where will you begin?”
“With the witnesses.”
“Then you must avoid one Inspector Lestrade. It was he who insisted that Mrs. Blalock and the gardener not be bothered again.”
“That is where the case starts. That is where we will go,” my father said, undeterred.
“If there are any expenses incurred, I will—”
My father waved away the offer. “We shall keep you informed.”
Mary Harrelston quickly left the room, taking with her what little hope my father could provide.
Once she departed, I noted that my father’s entire demeanor had changed. He rubbed his hands gleefully together while he paced, his posture upright and straight, a decided bounce to his step.
“What is the reason for the sudden joy and excitement I see in you, Father?” I inquired.
“Because, my dear John,” he answered, refilling his pipe, “the game is now afoot!”
Copyright © 2017 Leonard Goldberg.