Sherlock Holmes: The Reddening Sun 6
“I think I have solved it.”
Jones swelled with indignation, his moustache prickling. “But that is impossible, Mr. Holmes!”
“I admit that I may have had more difficulty if I only viewed the evidence that you have viewed yourself. I had the advantage of more information, entirely through luck.”
“Then tell me, what is your theory?”
“I shall like to confirm several points first, before I conjecture any further. Once I examine Schoonover Hall thoroughly, then I will share my insights.”
The manor rose on the horizon like a fortress, with a gate enclosing the grounds. We were led directly to the entrance, but Holmes meandered away, skimming his nose near the ground like a bloodhound on a scent. He honed in on the footprints leading away from a wide window, presumably the bedroom of Mr. Herman Farley.
“I’ve stared at those tracks longer than I want to say,” Jones told him. “They don’t tell us much and blend into the road on the other side of the gate.”
“Hum!” Holmes said. “I suppose there isn’t much more to see here, then. Kindly show us inside, Detective.”
The foyer greeted us with elegance and several corridors branched toward different sections of the house. Jones veered into one and, to my surprise, Holmes followed without argument, foregoing his usual tendency to examine every other area except the seemingly pertinent one. He did, however, halt abruptly in the center of the hall and scrutinize the routine dustiness of the floor.
“May I ask, where is the kitchen located?”
Jones answered, “Down another corridor, nowhere near here.”
“Is it difficult to find?”
“Unless you know your way around.”
“And a pantry attaches to the kitchen, yes?”
“Safe to assume so, but I wouldn’t know. We checked the house for the wardrobe and it certainly wouldn’t fit in any pantry, therefore I had no need to roam that area.”
“I would like a word with one of the kitchen staff, at such a time that they can be at my disposal.”
“I don’t see how that would do much good. Do you suspect someone on his staff is the thief?”
“I accuse no one until I have further facts. Let us see the bedroom, so that I may gather more.”
The stately room displayed Mr. Farley’s wealth through his ornate bed posts and shelves of antique relics. The bare spot against the wall showed noticeably, since the rest of his room was in such order. Holmes knelt in the clean square where the wardrobe used to reside and brushed his fingers along the wood of the floor.
“No scratches,” Jones supplied for him. “I already had the good sense to look.”
“Yet not enough sense to decide certain facts from this singular occurrence, or lack thereof.”
“What do you get from finding no evidence?”
“Mr. Holmes, I don’t quite understand.”
My companion bounded to a door that stood near the empty wardrobe placement. “To the study, I would guess?”
He pushed through it. “I’ll see myself in, if that’s alright.”
The study appeared as one would expect, with his writing desk centered and the warmth of a fire behind. As if he knew for what he searched, my friend dove in front of the desk and scoured along the floor panels. Though he concealed it well, I discerned the lift of his cheeks and the flush of life that marked his little successes. The evidence that he expected had presented itself, I was sure.
The door from the hall opened and a stout, older man was shown in by his servant. From his distraught countenance, I knew this to be Mr. Herman Farley, the master of this extravagant manor.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Holmes. Although I trust Detective Inspector Jones entirely, another set of eyes can never bring harm to such a perplexing case as this.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Holmes said. As the servant receded, my friend called him back. “I wanted to speak to someone of the kitchen staff, but I think you will have the answers I seek. May I have your name, sir?”
“Mr. Charles Canton, at your service.”
“Mr. Canton, has there been a development in the pantry off your kitchen, perchance?”
His eyes widened and his mouth hung agape. “Why, yes, Mr. Holmes. How did you know?”
“It was a fanciful conjecture. May I have permission to see it for myself?”
Winding through corridors until I found myself thoroughly lost, our party dodged through the cooks and arrived at the door of the pantry. Within, a great, wasteful catastrophe had occurred. All had been swept to the side for later cleanup, but a mountain of different food ingredients, such as sugar, flour, eggs, and oils clumped on the tiles along with their packaging. A shelf, slightly above my head height, had downed and the wood plank leaned against the wall. Holmes immediately went to work, dirtying his hands digging through the mound of food.
Mr. Canton said, “The shelf must have bore too much weight and the nails finally gave way the same night as the robbery. The cook came in the next morning to find the mess on the floor.”
“It was found in the morning,” Holmes ascertained. “No one heard the crash during the night?”
“No, sir. Nothing was heard that night, not the burglary or the collapse.”
Holmes pilfered all the packagings from the food and stacked them into their own pile, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Finally he sprang up and hurried out.
“That is all I need from you. Thank you, Mr. Canton. Everyone else, back to the bedroom,” he invited, the enthusiasm of his findings clear as he frolicked about.
Though I never would have found my way back, Holmes led our group to the front corridor where the robbery occurred and skated to the bedroom window.
“What time did you open this window, Mr. Farley?” my friend asked.
“I didn’t chance to look at the time.”
“Because it was too dark?”
“Then what was the exact reason that you opened your window? The paper was vague on this point.”
“The room felt a bit stuffy and I simply needed a breath of fresh air.”
“What was stuffy about it? Was there a specific smell?”
Mr. Farley shook his head with a chuckle. “I’m not sure, Mr. Holmes. I only woke a moment and stepped out of bed to open the window. The exact character of the stuffiness didn’t cross my mind.”
“Is this something you’ve done in the past?”
“I’m sure I’ve done it before. During cold nights the servants sometimes sleep with the fireplaces lit and smoke can waft in. I didn’t think it strange at the time.”
“Were any fireplaces aflame that night?”
“I wouldn’t know, but perhaps. That would explain the stuffiness.”
“It certainly would. So, your window was open. Regardless of the cause, we are sure of that. What about your door? Do you leave it unlocked?”
“Closed, but unlocked, yes. I am getting on in years and would like Mr. Canton to be capable of swift entry if anything were to befall me.”
“Understandable. And your study? The same concept applies?”
“Yes. Every room within the house is unlocked, unless the servants have reasons for locking their personal quarters. Only the entrances that lead outside are latched at night, for the purpose of deterring intruders.”
“But you and your servants possess the keys to all outside doors, I presume. Does anyone outside of your household have a set of keys?”
Mr. Farley considered for a moment. Though my observations aren’t as keen as Holmes, I swore that his consideration might actually have been a hesitation. “No one that does not live here has a reason to hold the keys.”
“Quite so. Hullo! Though I may have a hypothesis to present to you that contradicts your statement. I took the liberty of sending a telegram to a friend of mine. I hope you don’t mind, but I told her they could meet us here. That’s their steps coming down the hall now. Let us meet them in the study. The happy couple arrives.”
To my surprise, the servant led Miss Mortimer and Mr. Bradford into the study as we entered through the adjoining door. Bradford trembled and paled, white as a ghost.
To be continued in The Reddening Sun 7...
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber