The House Of Silk
your maid and that you left the house in a hurry? The smudge of black polish on the side of your left cuff clearly indicates both. You cleaned your own shoes and you did so rather carelessly. Moreover, in your haste, you forgot your gloves—’
‘Mrs Hudson took my coat from me. She could also have taken my gloves.’
‘In which case, when we shook hands, why would yours have been so cold? No, Watson, your entire bearing speaks of disorganisation and disarray.’
‘Everything you say is right,’ I admitted. ‘But one last mystery, Holmes. How can you be so sure that my wife missed her train?’
‘As soon as you arrived, I noticed a strong scent of coffee on your clothes. Why would you be drinking coffee immediately before coming to me for tea? The inference is that you missed your train and were forced to stay with your wife for longer than you had intended. You stowed your case at the left luggage office and went with her to a coffee house. Might it have been Lockhart’s? I’m told the coffee there is particularly good.’
There was a short silence and then I burst into laughter. ‘Well, Holmes,’ I said. ‘I can see that I had no reason to worry about your health. You are as remarkable as ever.’
‘It was quite elementary,’ returned the detective with a languid gesture of one hand. ‘But perhaps something of greater interest now approaches. Unless I am mistaken, that is the front door …’
Sure enough, Mrs Hudson came in once again, this time ushering in a man who walked into the room as if he were making an entrance on the London stage. He was formally dressed in a dark tail coat, wing collar and white bow tie with a black cloak around his shoulders, waistcoat, gloves and patent leather shoes. In one hand he held a pair of white gloves and in the other a rosewood walking stick with a silver tip and handle. His dark hair was surprisingly long, sweeping back over a high forehead and he had neither beard nor moustache. His skin was pale, his face a little too elongated to be truly handsome. His age, I would have said, would have been in the mid-thirties and yet the seriousness of his demeanour, his evident discomfort at finding himself here, made him appear older. He reminded me at once of some of the patients who had consulted me; the ones who had refused to believe they were unwell until their symptoms persuaded them otherwise. They were always the most gravely ill. Our visitor stood before us with equal reluctance. He waited in the doorway, looking anxiously around him, while Mrs Hudson handed Holmes his card.
‘Mr Carstairs,’ Holmes said. ‘Please take a seat.’
‘You must forgive me arriving in this manner … unexpected and unannounced.’ He had a clipped, rather dry way of speaking. His eyes still did not quite meet our gaze. ‘In truth, I had no intention of coming here at all. I live in Wimbledon, close to the green, and have come into town for the opera – not that I’m in any mood for Wagner. I have just come from my club where I met with my accountant, a man I have known for many years and whom I now consider a friend. When I told him of the troubles I have been having, the sense of oppression that is making my life so damnably difficult, he mentioned your name and urged me to consult you. By coincidence, my club is not far from here and so I resolved to come straight from him to you.’
‘I am happy to give you my full attention,’ Holmes said.
‘And this gentleman?’ Our visitor turned to me.
‘Dr John Watson. He is my closest adviser, and I can assure you that anything you have to say to me can be uttered in his presence.’
‘Very well. My name, as you see, is Edmund Carstairs and I am, by profession, a dealer in fine art. I have a gallery, Carstairs and Finch on Albemarle Street, which has been in business now for six years. We specialise in the works of the great masters, mainly from the end of last century and the early years of this present one: Gainsborough, Reynolds, Constable and Turner. Their paintings will be familiar to you, I am sure, and they command the very highest prices. Only this week I sold two Van Dyke portraits to a private client for the sum of £25,000. Our business is a successful one and we have flourished, even with so many new and – I might say, inferior – galleries sprouting in all the streets around us. Over the years we have built for ourselves a reputation for sobriety and reliability. Our clients include many members of
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