The answers to Holmes telegrams, which I retrieved the next morning, confirmed that Lord Forecastle would be arriving in London in two days. Further confirmation came when I checked in on Lady Forecastle that morning, before going to see Holmes.
She was clutching a telegram in her hand when I stopped by her room. She looked up at me with such forlorn that I thought she had received news of someone’s demise.
“No, Doctor,” she replied, “except perhaps my own. This was forwarded to me from the staff at the Heights. Ronald is coming home the day after tomorrow.”
“Yes,” I replied, holding up one of Holmes’ answers, “Holmes has received the same information.”
“Whatever shall I do, Doctor ?” she asked in distress.
I put on my most stern and authoritative air and insisted, “You shall do exactly as Dr. Blaise instructs you to do and get better. Your own health must be paramount to all else.”
“Yes, Doctor,” she replied, reaching out and taking my hand as she smiled wanly. “I only hope I have a reason to live.”
“You stop such nonsense this instant !” I declared. “If your husband will not listen to reason and hear the truth, he is not worthy of you.”
She nodded and folded her hands back on her lap. I encouraged her to try and get outside for some fresh air, if the day proved sunny enough, then went on to report to Holmes.
Holmes looked over the telegrams I handed him, in that harried fashion of his. Only, with his arm in a sling, he could not throw the unimportant papers very far and they scattered about his blankets.
Finally he held one aloft with his good arm and declared to me, “Forecastle sails from Calais the day after tomorrow. If I cannot be released from this infernal confinement, you must meet his ship and bring him back here.”
“I’ve already determined that I shall be on hand when the Candlewick docks,” I replied, “for you shall not be, and it imperative that we act on Lady Forecastle’s behalf.”
He looked at me strangely, “How did you know what ship he was arriving on ?”
“Holmes,” I responded, “this only goes to prove why you cannot go. Your medication is affecting your thought process. Did you not realise that I would read these telegrams and thus be aware of the circumstances of his Lordship’s arrival ?”
He sank back on his pillows. “Watson, friend, Doctor, you must eliminate any such medication from my regimen. I need my mind clear if I am to be of any assistance to the young Earl of Beasley or the Lady Forecastle.”
I looked at him. I had made sure his current prescription was not a derivative of either cocaine or morphine, which he had used during our early association. However, his frustration at inactivity was a fragile thing. I took up his chart and noted to cease pain medications immediately. The only drug he would receive henceforth would be sleeping draughts.
He expressed his gratitude and we began to lay our plans for bringing Forecastle to
* * *
Thus it was that I found myself at the London docks, waiting at the bottom of the gangplank where passengers were streaming off the small steamer Candlewick. Lord Forecastle was easily recognizable from the photographs I had seen at Forecastle Heights. He was a large man, over six and one half feet and weighing close to 18 stone. His hair was longer than the photos I had seen, where it had been close cropped in military fashion. The brown locks now covered his ears and curled over his collar. His moustache was a bit ragged and his walk down the ramp indicated an uncharacteristic lack of steadiness
I approached him and introduced myself. His reaction was quite unexpected.
“Doctor ? Thank goodness, I need your help,” he rasped.
He put his hand on my shoulder and steadied himself. I led him to a nearby crate where he could sit down.
“What’s wrong, Lord Forecastle ?” I enquired. “Are you seasick ?” For he was very pale and holding his stomach.
“The crossing was calm enough, but still aggravating to my condition,” he replied.
“What condition has befallen you ?”
He looked at me with a hopeless expression, “That’s just it Doctor, I do not know.”
He went on to describe alternating fever and chills, disruptive bowels and a rash. He also exhibited lesions to his left hand and a tendency to vomit nearly any food he consumed.
His Lordship’s trunk was unloaded as we waited. I ordered it taken to a cab I had standing by. He agreed to accompany me to the Ledbetter Sanatorium, where I told him his wife was already a patient. This trip would only take us two hours by train and he agreed. However, he insisted on sending a telegram first. As there was a telegraph office at the docks this task was quickly accomplished and we were soon wending our way through the London Streets to the Limehouse Station. Prior to our boarding, Ronald Forecastle made an extensive detour to the station’s men’s facility and emerged even paler than before and sweating profusely.
I suggested perhaps we should seek closer and more immediate medical attention, but he insisted on traveling on. We soon ensconced ourselves in a private compartment, whereupon he put his feet up and leaned against the outer wall. Shortly thereafter the train pulled out, slowly at first, then gathering more speed as we left the city for the glens and valleys that lay to the north.
Questions regarding his wife’s health were brief, once he was assured that she was in no danger. His own illness dominated his actions and he soon asked my forgiveness as he stretched out in an attempt to nap. I had given him what medicines my bag contained for his upset digestive tract and they seemed to be taking hold for he was able to sleep for a time.
Our arrival at Coventry occurred just before sunset and I immediately checked him in with the hospital staff. Having a different ailment unrelated to drug use, he was assigned a room in a separate area of the hospital from where his wife and Beasley were being treated. As he was led off and prepared for a diagnostic examination, I sought out Holmes to report the events of the day.
“I suspected as much,” Holmes replied, when I informed him of Forecastle’s condition.
“How on earth could you suspect anything of the kind ?” I asked. “You haven’t even met the man.”
“In spite of what you tell your readers, dear friend, I do have sources of information other than straightforward observation. While you were gone, more telegrams arrived from my contacts in India and France. Lord Forecastle’s activities have not been confined to the tea trade and I intend to use that information to the advantage of his wife and his friend Beasley.”
* * *
The next morning, I arrived at the hospital at 9:00 a.m., in the company of Lady Beasley who had come to visit her son. Upon escorting her to his room, we found the young man looking much better. Though weak, his color was returning and the spasms had subsided. I had informed neither of them of Lord Forecastle’s arrival, not wishing to cause any undo concern. Leaving them to their privacy, I ventured to Lady Forecastle’s room, where I found her to be enjoying a healthy breakfast.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked.
“I am quite well, Doctor,” she answered. “The withdrawal symptoms have not recurred and my cravings appear to have subsided. I hope to be well enough to return home soon.”
“That sounds promising,” I replied, “although I am sure Dr. Blaise has explained to you the necessity of prolonged rest and removal from temptation, before returning to your routine.”
“Yes, he has made that quite clear,” she answered quietly.
“I do have some news for you,” I declared. “Your husband is here.”
“Ronald ?” she started, putting her hand to her throat as her eyes grew wide with apprehension.
“Yes, I don’t wish to alarm you, but you must be told that he is here as a patient. I met his ship yesterday and found him quite ill. I checked him in last night for diagnosis.”
“What is wrong with him, Doctor ? Can I see him ?”
“In good time, I’m sure, Lady Forecastle. I’ll be checking with the staff this morning to ascertain his condition and I will let you know as soon as I know anything.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” she replied, setting her spoon down, obviously too upset to continue eating.
“I would caution you not to seek him out just yet, M’lady. Sherlock Holmes has a plan and I believe we should let him confront your husband before any reunion is attempted.”
She looked at me oddly, but then nodded, “Very well, Doctor. I shall do as you ask, but please implore Mr. Holmes to act quickly. I must know where our marriage stands.”
* * *
Having obtained Ronald Forecastle’s condition and whereabouts from Dr. Blaise, I brought the information to Holmes.
“The man is quite ill, Holmes,” I told him. “The doctors are still running tests to determine his exact malady.”
“Did they question him about his recent travels and activities ?”
“I’m sure they would have,” I replied. “That would be standard procedure.”
“Hmmm, then I’ll wager that his Lordship was not totally honest in his revelations,” responded the great detective. He mulled that over and then flung the covers off his own bed.
“Watson, we must confront him now, while we have the advantage. Help me get dressed.”
“Holmes, there’s no need for all that trouble. His room is not that far away.”
“Yes, but I’d rather hold the upper hand and appear as my normal self, instead of in this weakened state as a fellow patient. If I don’t over exert myself, I can do without this sling.
“What about your knee ?” I enquired. “Can you stand ?”
“In spite of your professional opinion that I should use a cane with my right hand, I believe that for a short walk my left will do.”
With my assistance Holmes was able to get dressed, including his overcoat and homburg, and appear completely hale and hearty. His limp was quite pronounced though, as we made our way to Forecastle’s room. Once there, however, he left his cane outside the door and strode in with nary a hint of pain to show for it.
He stood at the foot of the bed and gripped the brass rail with both hands, leaning forward to confront the prostrate patient. His stance suggested a barrister leaning in to a witness, but I was aware that it also provided him support and balance for his own frail condition.
“Lord Forecastle, my name is Sherlock Holmes. I must inform you that I know all. As an agent of the Countess of Beasley, her son and your wife, I can ensure you that your suspicions and accusations are as false as your own hypocrisy is true.”
In spite of his ill state, Forecastle managed to hoist his large upper torso into a sitting position and glared at Holmes.
“How dare you, sir ! Dr. Watson, who is this person ?”
Before I could answer Holmes launched into a diatribe, such as I had never witnessed from him in all the years of our association.
“’Who am I ?’ Do you not read, sir ? I am the greatest consulting detective who has ever lived. My cases are a matter of public record in Lippincott’s and The Strand magazines as well as the London papers. Watson here has recorded my more famous cases for all posterity. As such I stand here before you to condemn your false accusations and deceitfulness.”
Trying to summon strength for rebuttal, Forecastle turned to me, attempting to dismiss Holmes presence as a mere irritant.
“I was under the impression that you were a physician, Dr. Watson, not a doctor of specious literature. I do not read fictional magazines, and my perusal of the London papers is confined to business and political concerns. Kindly take this phony creation of yours and leave this room instantly.”
That speech, brief as it was, was telling on the man and he could not hide his infirmity at its conclusion. Yet my colleague was relentless.
“It is you, sir, who is the phony,” declared Holmes, as he strode around and placed his left hand on the larger man’s shoulder, in effect pinning him to the pillow.
“Allow me to demonstrate what I know. Your sunburned neck complies with the purpose of your business trip, for you have surely spent time among the tea plantations of India. As a patient of this hospital your luggage was subject to inspection and I took the liberty, on behalf of Lady Forecastle, to join in that examination. There were indeed vegetation and soil samplings among your clothes and boots to verify your field inspections, as well as tickets stubs for various means of transportation. However, your hypocrisy becomes evident when your dress clothes are scrutinized. Your shoes and stockings contained traces of Cedar sawdust. Your evening dress held the odor of perfume and minute stains of lip rouge. Most telling of all were the traces of hair dye on your coat, used by ladies wishing to give the impression of natural blonde tresses. Some of those hairs still clung to your clothing, and the fact they were on certain garments that are not generally exposed to public view is most informative. All these facts, plus the symptoms you now exhibit, which include those of both tropical and the French disease, indicate to me that you were a recent customer of Salon Cédre in Paris. That, for your benefit, Watson, is a gentlemen’s establishment famous for its scattering of cedar sawdust on the floor of the lounge. Who was your entertainment Forecastle, Jeannette ? Bebe ? Gabrielle ?”
Holmes pushed off the man’s shoulder and turned his back on him as he returned to the foot rail. From my angle I could see the grimace of his own pain, but it vanished again when he turned back to face Forecastle.
“As surely as the facts I have just related to you are true, so I tell you that your belief in the infidelity of your wife and best friend is misplaced. If you refuse to hear them out I shall use these observations against you in any suit of divorce you attempt. My personal recommendation would be for her Ladyship to divorce you instead and command a settlement which will stretch your purse to its limits.”
Whether it was his weakened state or his realization that he was a beaten man, Forecastle let his body slide back down into a prone position. He gazed off to one side for a few moments and then returned his attention to us.
“You have me, sir. I cannot deny it. I assure you however, it is not a common practice of mine. I have been faithful to my wife since our wedding day. But all these weeks away, my imagination overtook my belief in Colleen’s love. I indulged in this shameful behavior as punishment in kind, so I thought, for her infidelity to me.”
“You are a bounder, sir,” I responded. “If you do not beg the forgiveness of your wife and your friend you are undeserving of your rank and my next publication shall expose you as such.”
He held up a weary hand. “There is no need, Doctor. As soon as we are all able, I shall meet with Colleen and Arthur and sort the matter out.”
“Then we shall leave you to your rest,” announced Holmes. He turned on his heel and marched out the door. I gave Forecastle one last glare and followed my friend.
In the hall Holmes was leaning with his back to the wall and holding his shoulder, sucking in deep breaths.
“Holmes,” I whispered, so as not to be overheard, “Are you all right ?”
“I shall recover, Doctor,” he replied, retrieving his cane. “I am, however, desperate for a smoke. Let us retreat to the patio and sit for a bit.”
Once again, I commandeered a wheelchair for my friend. On the patio we indulged ourselves in some fine cigars after I had returned Holmes arm to its sling. Once settled I could not help questioning him.
“Old chap, I’ve never seen you in such a state, nor so braggadocios. What came over you?”
He smiled as he blew out a smoke ring. “My indignation at the man was quite real, Watson. While I may have stretched the truth about exactly what I discovered among his luggage, I did have enough to support the reports from my overseas agents. I had also learned he uses his size to intimidate his adversaries, business or social. That is why I insisted on getting dressed and being able to stand over him. If I came on as a braggart it would throw him off guard until I could pounce upon him with facts. Setting his mind in that mode of reversal of thinking was part of my purpose. If he could be forced to re-think his impression of me, then he would be more disposed to re-think the situation with his wife and friend.”
“Well, I congratulate you, Holmes. You solved the case of two leaping Lords, young Arthur and his drugs and Forecastle with his leaping to conclusions.”
Holmes allowed himself one of his brief flashes of a smile and replied, as he adjusted his sling, “Lord Forecastle may have been correct on one thing, Doctor. There are times when I believe your penchant for a literary phrase actually does rival your medical capability.”
He then sat back and pulled his hat over his eyes and mumbled something about “…and then there’re times like this.”