Sherlock Holmes: The Reddening Sun 8
Jones said, “The Reading son must be Mr. Bradford here, illegitimate son to Mr. Farley of Reading, but what of this word turning to ash?”
Holmes turned to Mr. Farley. “Please tell us all the contents that were within your wardrobe, if you don’t mind.”
“I’ve already given this to the detective.”
“But the significance of a particular item might give Detective Jones something new to think on this time.”
“Very well. All my attire, save the nightdress on my back as I slept, and within the drawers I kept personal papers.”
“I ask you to be more specific.”
“Nothing of importance, Mr. Holmes, merely sentiment. All my legal documents are kept within the safe in this room. Only letters and photographs were in my wardrobe.”
“Letters to or from whom?” Jones asked.
“Excellent question, Detective,” Holmes commended.
“Some from my late wife, several from my colleagues over the years, a few from Tom.”
“And, no doubt, at least one from Mr. Bradford’s mother,” Holmes supplemented.
“You learned of your son from this, and wrote back with more allusions to your identity as Mr. Bradford’s father.”
“Since this was a secret to most, these were most likely the only papers detailing this as fact and, now that they are gone, there is no proof that you have any familial ties to Mr. Tom Bradford. He could claim that you are a fraud pretending to be his father, removing you from his life, and no one would be able to stand against him. Then he would turn you into the police without the secret coming out and his conscience would be mostly clear, since he has disowned you as a father. This, of course, was the intent. The riddle stating that his word would be ash was referring to you, Mr. Farley. Your word against Mr. Bradford’s. And your word, within the letters, is now truly ash, in a very literal sense.”
“You mean to say that the burglary was all about those letters?” Jones asked.
“Why else would someone go to the very specific trouble of stealing a wardrobe? I’m sure Mr. Farley has objects of much more value within this hall.”
“But why take the entire wardrobe?” I pointed out. “Removing these letters from the drawers would have been much easier and their absence may have been completely overlooked.”
“Ah, yes, very astute, Watson, but Mr. Farley surely kept these drawers under lock and key, did you not?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Mr. Canton keeps the key for me.”
“The burglars were hardly aware of this when they intruded, and they most likely shared your idea, Watson. The magic trick of vanishing a wardrobe was improvised, and quite impressively, I might add.”
“Mr. Holmes,” Jones urged, “I do insist that you explain how it was done.”
“Gladly.” My friend skipped to the door adjoining to the bedroom and beckoned us inside. He straightened to his full height at the spot where the wardrobe used to reside. “At about six feet, I am the height of your wardrobe, correct?”
“This is true.”
“And according to the markings on the floor, only three feet across and two feet deep.”
“These are the sort of dimensions that could fit through a doorway.”
“But they went through the window, Mr. Holmes, not the door,” Jones critiqued.
“Incorrect,” Holmes said. “The four men worked together to heave it through this doorway and into the study.”
“Four?” Jones piped up again.
“Yes, Mr. Bradford and three gentlemen from the broker to aid him.”
“There is only one set of tracks outside that window.”
“They were nearly clever, but they fell short. At a glance it appears as if only one set of boots trudged across, but upon closer inspection three sets of following prints alighted within the same indentations. Mr. Bradford went first, going by the amount of mud I noted on his boots last week. I see you have cleaned them off now, Bradford. Perhaps if you had done it sooner my evidence would not be so conclusive. But as it is, these burglars had the foresight to make it appear as if one man did the deed, to throw suspicion and perplex the authorities. They clearly succeeded, going by the look on your face, Detective.”
Inspector Jones bristled. “But what of the wardrobe? We were just in the study and I believe we would have noticed it, were it there.”
As my partner led us back into the study, I said, “But certainly you have already answered this, haven’t you, Holmes? The deciphered riddle said that the word is ash.”
“Excellent, Watson! There truly is only one explanation.” Holmes waved to the fireplace. “I suspected such a thing when you originally read the newspaper article out to me, but without specific context I could not make any judgements until now.”
Jones said, “But it was six feet tall. Fitting it into a fireplace would be impossible.”
“The whole six feet did not go in at once. It would have required much care, but lying it down and feeding the end into the fireplace would be conceivable. I surmise this is how they accomplished it, since scrapes on the floor suggest that your desk was moved away to make room and then returned to its place after all had burned. If they hadn’t kept the fire under control, the entire house could have gone up in flame. I’ll put this to Mr. Bradford, since he was the only one present who can confirm my accuracy. This complicated scheme came from your broker companions, yes?”
Mr. Bradford had stood by, silent and stoic, through Holmes' entire retelling. His skin appeared much too gray and, as a doctor, I worried that the stress may overwhelm him into a faint. He mustered the strength to finally reply, “Yes, Mr. Holmes.”
Without breaking stride, Holmes ran back into the bedroom and fiddled with the window latch. “These were the fumes that awoke Mr. Farley, and his motivation for opening this window.”
“Hold on,” Jones said, “but the window had to already be open for them to get inside. That happened first.”
“The intruders came through the front door. They merely exited through the window, seizing the opportunity since it already stood open for them. The footmarks outside attest to this, only leading away from, and not toward, the house. Mr. Farley’s only son was among the burglars. He undoubtedly has a key of his own to allow access. The tracks of their coming are shrouded on the main path among the dozens of other footsteps that have been parading there.”
“You mean to say the wardrobe was already missing when I awoke?” Mr. Farley asked.
“It was the middle of the night, pitch black in the room, and you were still heavy with sleep. There’s no reason you would have noticed its absence.”
“Excuse my interruption,” Miss Mortimer chimed in for the first time, stunned from all the information, “but you claimed my uncle to be murdered also, an I am still not understanding of the horse and six sacks that Tom arrived with that night.”
To be concluded in The Reddening Sun 9...
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber