The Adventure of the Gilded Tiepin

A new Sherlock Holmes short story for Boxing Day
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"Upon my word, Watson, this is a very singular communication. Kindly give me your opinion of it." It was a bleak, drear morning, two or three days after Christmas, and we were still at breakfast in the sitting-room at Baker Street. A comfortable fire smouldered in the grate, Mrs Hudson had lately borne into the room a second pot of tea, but the countenance of my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, was anything but placid. His gaunt, angular features burned with nervous energy as he tossed the fragment of paper across the gap between our armchairs.

"Upon my word, Watson, this is a very singular communication. Kindly give me your opinion of it." It was a bleak, drear morning, two or three days after Christmas, and we were still at breakfast in the sitting-room at Baker Street. A comfortable fire smouldered in the grate, Mrs Hudson had lately borne into the room a second pot of tea, but the countenance of my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, was anything but placid. His gaunt, angular features burned with nervous energy as he tossed the fragment of paper across the gap between our armchairs.

"You are right, Holmes. It is very singular. Indeed –"

The note, written on parched, yellowy paper, and delivered 10 minutes before by a private messenger, said merely this: " Mr Holmes, I am innocent of the terrible crime imputed to me. Your advice most earnestly sought. I arrive shortly – McCLOSKEY."

"Very singular," I repeated. "Clearly, this is the man of whom we have been reading in this morning's paper, the suspect in the Richmond case." The newspaper, which I had seen Holmes peruse with more than usual interest half an hour earlier, lay on the table between us. Its frontispiece was adorned by an account of what had already impressed itself upon the public imagination as "The Richmond Murder", the horrible destruction, at his country house in Berkshire two days previous, of a gentleman of that name, supposedly at the hands of a man affianced to his sister.

"Clearly," Holmes echoed, with that slight note of asperity I had come to recognise in my association with him. "I must confess, though, that certain other points had struck me. For example, the person who addressed this letter has been out of the country for a period of not less than five years. This is a Burma watermark, you see: they stopped the manufacture of it in 1892. Also, I should say – you will remember, Watson, that I have made a close study of handwriting – that its author was missing the third finger of his left hand. But no matter. I dare say we can verify these deductions all too readily. In fact..."

As he spoke, there was a determined rattling at the door, which opened to reveal the flustered figure of Mrs Hudson, vainly trying to prevent the irruption of a stout, burly gentleman clad in a mud-spattered ulster, and bearing in his outstretched hand a small valise. He had the rapt, exhausted look of one of who has not slept and, additionally, fears himself pursued.

"Mr Holmes," he began, almost piteously, as the two of us sprang involuntarily from our chairs. "I am innocent of this crime, I swear it. There is nowhere for me to turn. I implore you to save me."

"Indeed," Holmes remarked coolly. "Very many people who declare themselves innocent are subsequently proved to be guilty. Thank you, Mrs Hudson, that will do. But I must say already, Mr McCloskey, that your case interests me profoundly. Suppose you take a chair? You will not mind the presence of my confidential friend Dr Watson, I am sure. I see that in the wake of these dreadful events, you first took refuge in Exeter."

"How on earth...?" McCloskey twisted his corpulent frame around in surprise, allowing me to observe that, indeed, the third finger of his left hand ended at the knuckle.

"Come, Mr McCloskey. That is Devon loam on your boots, if I am not mistaken. In any case, the newspaper in your valise is printed on greenish stock. Of all the regional newspapers in England, only the Exeter Herald still follows that ancient practice. But sit down, or I fear that we shall be interrupted."

McCloskey seated himself thankfully in the proffered chair, though not, I observed, without casting a nervous glance at the window, his body still shaking with emotion. "I had better begin at the beginning, gentlemen," he began. "I am a prospector by trade, chiefly in Africa, and in climes even less hospitable. Indeed, I have not been in England for the best part of a decade. Returning home in the late summer, I was dining at my club, the Menander – I keep up my subscriptions, you see – when a fellow at the next table cried out, 'Why McCloskey, we haven't seen you this many a year. Why, it was the Jubilee dinner in 1887 that we last met, I mark the occasion well'.

"He introduced himself as Richmond, James Richmond, and though I confess, Mr Holmes, that I'm rather vague at names and dates – metal samples are more my line – it was plain that he knew all about me and that we had been friends in the old days. He was dining with his brother, Mr William Richmond, and the upshot was that they invited me to their family house beyond Reading." And here the tone of his voice grew appreciably lower. "It was there that I met these gentlemen's sister, Miss Victoria Richmond."

"This is highly significant," Holmes observed, jumping up and beginning to root about in the box of press clippings that lay on the mantelpiece. "Pray, go on."

"Well, sir, I am not a sentimental man – the life of a prospector is not one to encourage idle fancies – but after a couple of months of her society, I asked Miss Richmond to marry me, and though she was reluctant at first, in the end she accepted. By Jove, I don't mind telling you I was a happy man that day. I've been a lonely beggar, you see, Mr Holmes, and... But anyway, there I was. Back in the old country, engaged to be married to the finest girl in the world with the full consent and approval of her brothers – their parents are long dead, by the way – when suddenly, out of the blue, this letter arrives at my hotel."

Holmes seized this second slip of paper, and scrutinised it intently for several minutes. "Hm. 'Miss Victoria Richmond presents her compliments to Mr Jabez McCloskey and regrets that she is unable to do him the honour he has so kindly proposed.' And certain other remarks that we need not go into. What did you make of this, Mr McCloskey?"

"What was I to make of it? The letter arrived on Boxing Day morning. I flew instantly to the house and was met at the gate by Mr James Richmond. He expressed his sorrow at this unhappy turn of events, but swore that it would be best if his sister did not see me, that the decision was irrevocable. I regret that hard words – blows, practically – were exchanged between us. But in the end, it was agreed that I would stay the night and that a meeting between myself and Victoria – Miss Richmond – might take place in the morning. By chance, my sleeping quarters were a room or so away from Richmond's. Waking at midnight to the sound of screams, I found him, insensible, in the passage, bleeding horribly from a wound to the throat. In my anxiety, and remembering that the servants had seen us quarrelling, I lost my nerve and fled. A friend, with whom I took refuge in Exeter, commended me to you."

"With the result that every police force in the southern counties is on your trail," Holmes gravely observed. "Listen."

There was a clatter of footsteps in the passage, above which the vain expostulations of Mrs Hudson could faintly be heard. The door opened to reveal the lean features of Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. Seeing McCloskey by the fireside, he shot my friend a look of quiet triumph.

"Ah, so it is as I expected. Your pardon for this intrusion, Mr Holmes, but I shall not trouble you further. There are a couple of constables and a carriage at the door."

Holmes, still holding Miss Richmond's valediction in one hand, gave Lestrade a quizzical glance such as I had often seen him bestow in his dealings with the representatives of our metropolitan force.

"Indeed, Inspector? Then is the case against my client, Mr McCloskey, so conclusively proven as to admit no doubt?"

"None at all Mr Holmes, I am afraid. We have even secured the murder weapon. Here!" Reaching into an inner pocket of his cape, he brought out a slim, sharp-pointed piece of metal, no more than an inch or two in length, its tip overlaid with gold.

"Good heavens!" The effect on McCloskey was dramatic. The colour all but drained from his face. He looked utterly broken. "It is my tie-pin!"

"Precisely. It was found a foot from the body of James Richmond, and had clearly been employed by this miscreant to pierce him through the heart. And now, if you will excuse me Mr Holmes, this gentleman and I have a train to catch to Reading."

Holmes, I noticed, had not ceased to smile his quizzical smile. "One moment, Lestrade. As ever, your enthusiasm in pursuit of your duties does you the greatest credit. But as it is such an open-and-shut case, perhaps you would not mind my satisfying my curiosity by asking Mr McCloskey here one or two trifling questions?"

"Well. It is highly irregular Mr Holmes, but as you wish."

"I shall be brief. Mr McCloskey," he said, turning to address the unfortunate figure in the chair, "you first met James and William Richmond at the Menander Club, I think I am right in saying. Were any of your subsequent meetings on those premises?"

"Why, no. I don't think so. They took place mostly during my visits to their house."

"Excellent. And on those occasions, were both brothers generally present?"

"Now you mention it, Mr William Richmond was frequently away. Business in the City, it was said."

"The plot thickens, Watson. Now, where do you live when you are in London, Mr McCloskey?"

"Brown's Hotel has been my port of call in the last three months, Mr Holmes. There is an office in Cheapside, no more than a room, where I go two or three times a week."

"I see. And is anything kept there?"

"Maps. Charts of mine-workings. That kind of thing."

"Excellent again!" Holmes remarked, chuckling at the look of bafflement that had begun to cloud the Inspector's face. "That concludes my questioning. But now, if you will permit our attendance, Watson and I had better accompany you to the scene of the crime. Purely as tourists, you understand. Wait, though! It is as I feared. I have an appointment at Messrs Raine & Paulin, the gentlemen's outfitter in the Strand. Perhaps I had better say that I shall meet you gentlemen at Paddington in an hour."

Lestrade raised his eyebrows at this vagary, but being by now habituated to Holmes's somewhat erratic mode of life, was disposed to let the matter rest. In the event, the arrangement proceeded according to plan. Midday found the five of us, Lestrade having brought his two constables, at Paddington, where before no more than 10 minutes had elapsed, the hawk-like figure of Sherlock Holmes could be seen moving swiftly along the platform toward us.

"Splendid," Holmes observed. He seemed in the highest spirits. "Sorry to have kept you waiting, Inspector. You will of course wish to attend to your prisoner. Perhaps it will be better if Watson and I have a carriage to ourselves."

"It is as I suspected, Watson," he began, as the train sped west beyond Acton. "These are dark waters indeed. And a devilish bit of effrontery, too. The woman's letter complicates the affair. At first I diagnosed simple subterfuge. But no, the writing suggested genuine emotion in the hand that wrote it. Let me say, though, that I am as nearly convinced of Mr McCloskey's innocence as it is possible to be."

At Reading, a brace of cabs conveyed us through pleasant scenery to a tall house set in rambling countryside, not far from an ancient and picturesque Saxon church. Holmes, I noted, shot several keen glances at this venerable edifice as we passed. The family seat of the Richmonds bore ample testimony to the tragedy that had recently occurred within its walls. A police officer manned the gate. We were admitted by a grim-faced butler.

"You had better keep McCloskey out of sight," Holmes advised the thoroughly bemused Lestrade. "But I should very much like to interview Mr William Richmond."

That gentleman stood in the hall, a plump, rather ill-featured man who did not seem to relish our presence in the house. "This is a bad business, is it not?" he began as we introduced ourselves. "My sister is in the drawing-room." He indicated a room away to our right in which a young woman, soberly dressed but showing great promise of beauty, sat in a despondent attitude. "Her nerves have been badly affected by this outrage. I think it best that she not be disturbed."

"I would not disturb her for all the world," Holmes gracefully assented. "A very charming place you have here, Mr Richmond. Your church, St Wedekind's, is particularly admired, I believe?"

"Eh? Yes, I believe it is."

"Quite charming, indeed. And now Lestrade, if I could have but one further word with our prisoner, of whose innocence, I may now say, I am completely satisfied?"

"Really Mr Holmes, I..."

"If you please, Inspector."

"One final question, Mr McCloskey," Holmes began, when we found ourselves once more in that gentleman's presence. "On your last visit to your then fiancée, which I take it was a week before Christmas, do you recollect any mishap occurring to your clothing?"

"Why, yes I do! As it happens, I spilled soup all over my shirt-front at luncheon, and had to go and change. And deuced inconvenient it was."

"That settles it!" Holmes turned to Inspector Lestrade. "I suggest that you venture inside and immediately arrest Miss Victoria Richmond on a charge of fratricide, and her brother for the crimes of conspiracy and larceny with intent to defraud. Oh, and if Mr William Richmond possesses an escritoire, or something of that kind, I have no doubt that an item of great value to Mr McCloskey will be found lying within it."

"I must allow," Holmes observed that evening, as we sat over our pipes at Baker Street, "that the Richmonds' claiming of our client's friendship at the Menander Club was very suggestive. My brother Mycroft is a member. There was no Jubilee dinner in 1887. But this could have been an honest mistake. Mr William Richmond's failure to recognise a specimen of the club tie, which I took the opportunity to purchase on the way to Paddington, could not. Clearly, the Richmonds had some reason for wanting McCloskey out of London, while one of them – you will recall that William was nearly always absent? – was there. The 'family house', too, was a fraud, otherwise why should Mr William so readily have assented to the false name I gave to his parish church? No, while McCloskey paid court to his lady love, William was at his office copying out the plan of the Khedive mine that we found in his desk, of the existence of which the gang had somehow become aware. Probably, they had studied the shipping-company lists and knew of McCloskey's return to these shores.

"But, I will allow, it was the woman that puzzled me. This was – at any rate not when the letter cancelling her engagement was written – no heartless schemer. Almost certainly it was composed under duress. Then, when I learnt of the incident in which McCloskey spoilt his clothes, everything fell into place. Miss Richmond is, I fear, a depraved character, but not so far in her villainous brothers' thrall as to be insensible to the love of a man who esteems her.

"You see the scheme. Primed to entice and to dissimulate, she falls in love with her admirer. What agonisings of guilt and passion must have wracked her! The tie-pin is picked up from the floor as a secret token of the kind that women relish. Baulked of her love, ordered to yield, after one last quarrel with her brother, she destroys him with it in an act of desperate jealousy."

"You astonish me, Holmes. You do indeed."

"Well, it is a macabre tale." For a moment, I glimpsed Holmes's aquiline profile in the light cast by the gas-lamp. "How many men have perished before the tarnished sepulchre of a woman's love! But you know my methods, Watson. When in doubt, cherchez la femme."

As told to DJ TAYLOR by the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle