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The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax


By

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle




"But why Turkish?" asked Mr. Sherlock Holmes, gazing fixedly at my
boots. I was reclining in a cane-backed chair at the moment, and my
protruded feet had attracted his ever-active attention.

"English," I answered in some surprise. "I got them at Latimer's, in
Oxford Street."

Holmes smiled with an expression of weary patience.

"The bath!" he said; "the bath! Why the relaxing and expensive Turkish
rather than the invigorating home-made article?"

"Because for the last few days I have been feeling rheumatic and old. A
Turkish bath is what we call an alterative in medicine - a fresh
starting-point, a cleanser of the system.

"By the way, Holmes," I added, "I have no doubt the connection between
my boots and a Turkish bath is a perfectly self-evident one to a
logical mind, and yet I should be obliged to you if you would indicate
it."

"The train of reasoning is not very obscure, Watson," said Holmes with
a mischievous twinkle. "It belongs to the same elementary class of
deduction which I should illustrate if I were to ask you who shared
your cab in your drive this morning."

"I don't admit that a fresh illustration is an explanation," said I
with some asperity.

"Bravo, Watson! A very dignified and logical remonstrance. Let me
see, what were the points? Take the last one first - the cab. You
observe that you have some splashes on the left sleeve and shoulder of
your coat. Had you sat in the centre of a hansom you would probably
have had no splashes, and if you had they would certainly have been
symmetrical. Therefore it is clear that you sat at the side.
Therefore it is equally clear that you had a companion."

"That is very evident."

"Absurdly commonplace, is it not?"

"But the boots and the bath?"

"Equally childish. You are in the habit of doing up your boots in a
certain way. I see them on this occasion fastened with an elaborate
double bow, which is not your usual method of tying them. You have,
therefore, had them off. Who has tied them? A bootmaker - or the boy
at the bath. It is unlikely that it is the bootmaker, since your boots
are nearly new. Well, what remains? The bath. Absurd, is it not?
But, for all that, the Turkish bath has served a purpose."

"What is that?"

"You say that you have had it because you need a change. Let me
suggest that you take one. How would Lausanne do, my dear
Watson - first-class tickets and all expenses paid on a princely scale?"

"Splendid! But why?"

Holmes leaned back in his armchair and took his notebook from his
pocket.

"One of the most dangerous classes in the world," said he, "is the
drifting and friendless woman. She is the most harmless and often the
most useful of mortals, but she is the inevitable inciter of crime in
others. She is helpless. She is migratory. She has sufficient means
to take her from country to country and from hotel to hotel. She is
lost, as often as not, in a maze of obscure pensions and
boardinghouses. She is a stray chicken in a world of foxes. When she
is gobbled up she is hardly missed. I much fear that some evil has come
to the Lady Frances Carfax."

I was relieved at this sudden descent from the general to the
particular. Holmes consulted his notes.

"Lady Frances," he continued, "is the sole survivor of the direct
family of the late Earl of Rufton. The estates went, as you may
remember, in the male line. She was left with limited means, but with
some very remarkable old Spanish jewellery of silver and curiously cut
diamonds to which she was fondly attached - too attached, for she
refused to leave them with her banker and always carried them about
with her. A rather pathetic figure, the Lady Frances, a beautiful
woman, still in fresh middle age, and yet, by a strange change, the
last derelict of what only twenty years ago was a goodly fleet."

"What has happened to her, then?"

"Ah, what has happened to the Lady Frances? Is she alive or dead?
There is our problem. She is a lady of precise habits, and for four
years it has been her invariable custom to write every second week to
Miss Dobney, her old governess, who has long retired and lives in
Camberwell. It is this Miss Dobney who has consulted me. Nearly five
weeks have passed without a word. The last letter was from the Hotel
National at Lausanne. Lady Frances seems to have left there and given
no address. The family are anxious, and as they are exceedingly
wealthy no sum will be spared if we can clear the matter up."

"Is Miss Dobney the only source of information? Surely she had other
correspondents?"

"There is one correspondent who is a sure draw, Watson. That is the
bank. Single ladies must live, and their passbooks are compressed
diaries. She banks at Silvester's. I have glanced over her account.
The last check but one paid her bill at Lausanne, but it was a large
one and probably left her with cash in hand. Only one check has been
drawn since."

"To whom, and where?"

"To Miss Marie Devine. There is nothing to show where the check was
drawn. It was cashed at the Credit Lyonnais at Montpellier less than
three weeks ago. The sum was fifty pounds."

"And who is Miss Marie Devine?"

"That also I have been able to discover. Miss Marie Devine was the
maid of Lady Frances Carfax. Why she should have paid her this check
we have not yet determined. I have no doubt, however, that your
researches will soon clear the matter up."

"MY researches!"

"Hence the health-giving expedition to Lausanne. You know that I
cannot possibly leave London while old Abrahams is in such mortal
terror of his life. Besides, on general principles it is best that I
should not leave the country. Scotland Yard feels lonely without me,
and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes. Go,
then, my dear Watson, and if my humble counsel can ever be valued at so
extravagant a rate as two pence a word, it waits your disposal night
and day at the end of the Continental wire."

Two days later found me at the Hotel National at Lausanne, where I
received every courtesy at the hands of M. Moser, the well-known
manager. Lady Frances, as he informed me, had stayed there for several
weeks. She had been much liked by all who met her. Her age was not
more than forty. She was still handsome and bore every sign of having
in her youth been a very lovely woman. M. Moser knew nothing of any
valuable jewellery, but it had been remarked by the servants that the
heavy trunk in the lady's bedroom was always scrupulously locked.
Marie Devine, the maid, was as popular as her mistress. She was
actually engaged to one of the head waiters in the hotel, and there was
no difficulty in getting her address. It was 11 Rue de Trajan,
Montpellier. All this I jotted down and felt that Holmes himself could
not have been more adroit in collecting his facts.

Only one corner still remained in the shadow. No light which I
possessed could clear up the cause for the lady's sudden departure.
She was very happy at Lausanne. There was every reason to believe that
she intended to remain for the season in her luxurious rooms
overlooking the lake. And yet she had left at a single day's notice,
which involved her in the useless payment of a week's rent. Only Jules
Vibart, the lover of the maid, had any suggestion to offer. He
connected the sudden departure with the visit to the hotel a day or two
before of a tall, dark, bearded man. "Un sauvage - un veritable
sauvage!" cried Jules Vibart. The man had rooms somewhere in the town.
He had been seen talking earnestly to Madame on the promenade by the
lake. Then he had called. She had refused to see him. He was
English, but of his name there was no record. Madame had left the
place immediately afterwards. Jules Vibart, and, what was of more
importance, Jules Vibart's sweetheart, thought that this call and the
departure were cause and effect. Only one thing Jules would not
discuss. That was the reason why Marie had left her mistress. Of that
he could or would say nothing. If I wished to know, I must go to
Montpellier and ask her.

So ended the first chapter of my inquiry. The second was devoted to
the place which Lady Frances Carfax had sought when she left Lausanne.
Concerning this there had been some secrecy, which confirmed the idea
that she had gone with the intention of throwing someone off her track.
Otherwise why should not her luggage have been openly labelled for
Baden? Both she and it reached the Rhenish spa by some circuitous
route. This much I gathered from the manager of Cook's local office.
So to Baden I went, after dispatching to Holmes an account of all my
proceedings and receiving in reply a telegram of half-humorous
commendation.

At Baden the track was not difficult to follow. Lady Frances had
stayed at the Englischer Hof for a fortnight. While there she had made
the acquaintance of a Dr. Shlessinger and his wife, a missionary from
South America. Like most lonely ladies, Lady Frances found her comfort
and occupation in religion. Dr. Shlessinger's remarkable personality,
his whole hearted devotion, and the fact that he was recovering from a
disease contracted in the exercise of his apostolic duties affected her
deeply. She had helped Mrs. Shlessinger in the nursing of the
convalescent saint. He spent his day, as the manager described it to
me, upon a lounge-chair on the veranda, with an attendant lady upon
either side of him. He was preparing a map of the Holy Land, with
special reference to the kingdom of the Midianites, upon which he was
writing a monograph. Finally, having improved much in health, he and
his wife had returned to London, and Lady Frances had started thither
in their company. This was just three weeks before, and the manager
had heard nothing since. As to the maid, Marie, she had gone off some
days beforehand in floods of tears, after informing the other maids
that she was leaving service forever. Dr. Shlessinger had paid the
bill of the whole party before his departure.

"By the way," said the landlord in conclusion, "you are not the only
friend of Lady Frances Carfax who is inquiring after her just now.
Only a week or so ago we had a man here upon the same errand."

"Did he give a name?" I asked.

"None; but he was an Englishman, though of an unusual type."

"A savage?" said I, linking my facts after the fashion of my
illustrious friend.

"Exactly. That describes him very well. He is a bulky, bearded,
sunburned fellow, who looks as if he would be more at home in a
farmers' inn than in a fashionable hotel. A hard, fierce man, I should
think, and one whom I should be sorry to offend."

Already the mystery began to define itself, as figures grow clearer
with the lifting of a fog. Here was this good and pious lady pursued
from place to place by a sinister and unrelenting figure. She feared
him, or she would not have fled from Lausanne. He had still followed.
Sooner or later he would overtake her. Had he already overtaken her?
Was THAT the secret of her continued silence? Could the good people
who were her companions not screen her from his violence or his
blackmail? What horrible purpose, what deep design, lay behind this
long pursuit? There was the problem which I had to solve.

To Holmes I wrote showing how rapidly and surely I had got down to the
roots of the matter. In reply I had a telegram asking for a
description of Dr. Shlessinger's left ear. Holmes's ideas of humour
are strange and occasionally offensive, so I took no notice of his
ill-timed jest - indeed, I had already reached Montpellier in my pursuit
of the maid, Marie, before his message came.

I had no difficulty in finding the ex-servant and in learning all that
she could tell me. She was a devoted creature, who had only left her
mistress because she was sure that she was in good hands, and because
her own approaching marriage made a separation inevitable in any case.
Her mistress had, as she confessed with distress, shown some
irritability of temper towards her during their stay in Baden, and had
even questioned her once as if she had suspicions of her honesty, and
this had made the parting easier than it would otherwise have been.
Lady Frances had given her fifty pounds as a wedding-present. Like me,
Marie viewed with deep distrust the stranger who had driven her
mistress from Lausanne. With her own eyes she had seen him seize the
lady's wrist with great violence on the public promenade by the lake.
He was a fierce and terrible man. She believed that it was out of
dread of him that Lady Frances had accepted the escort of the
Shlessingers to London. She had never spoken to Marie about it, but
many little signs had convinced the maid that her mistress lived in a
state of continual nervous apprehension. So far she had got in her
narrative, when suddenly she sprang from her chair and her face was
convulsed with surprise and fear. "See!" she cried. "The miscreant
follows still! There is the very man of whom I speak."

Through the open sitting-room window I saw a huge, swarthy man with a
bristling black beard walking slowly down the centre of the street and
staring eagerly at the numbers of the houses. It was clear that, like
myself, he was on the track of the maid. Acting upon the impulse of the
moment, I rushed out and accosted him.

"You are an Englishman," I said.

"What if I am?" he asked with a most villainous scowl.

"May I ask what your name is?"

"No, you may not," said he with decision.

The situation was awkward, but the most direct way is often the best.

"Where is the Lady Frances Carfax?" I asked.

He stared at me with amazement.

"What have you done with her? Why have you pursued her? I insist upon
an answer!" said I.

The fellow gave a below of anger and sprang upon me like a tiger. I
have held my own in many a struggle, but the man had a grip of iron and
the fury of a fiend. His hand was on my throat and my senses were
nearly gone before an unshaven French ouvrier in a blue blouse darted
out from a cabaret opposite, with a cudgel in his hand, and struck my
assailant a sharp crack over the forearm, which made him leave go his
hold. He stood for an instant fuming with rage and uncertain whether
he should not renew his attack. Then, with a snarl of anger, he left me
and entered the cottage from which I had just come. I turned to thank
my preserver, who stood beside me in the roadway.

"Well, Watson," said he, "a very pretty hash you have made of it! I
rather think you had better come back with me to London by the night
express."

An hour afterwards, Sherlock Holmes, in his usual garb and style, was
seated in my private room at the hotel. His explanation of his sudden
and opportune appearance was simplicity itself, for, finding that he
could get away from London, he determined to head me off at the next
obvious point of my travels. In the disguise of a workingman he had
sat in the cabaret waiting for my appearance.

"And a singularly consistent investigation you have made, my dear
Watson," said he. "I cannot at the moment recall any possible blunder
which you have omitted. The total effect of your proceeding has been
to give the alarm everywhere and yet to discover nothing."

"Perhaps you would have done no better," I answered bitterly.

"There is no 'perhaps' about it. I HAVE done better. Here is the Hon.
Philip Green, who is a fellow-lodger with you in this hotel, and we may
find him the starting-point for a more successful investigation."

A card had come up on a salver, and it was followed by the same bearded
ruffian who had attacked me in the street. He started when he saw me.

"What is this, Mr. Holmes?" he asked. "I had your note and I have
come. But what has this man to do with the matter?"

"This is my old friend and associate, Dr. Watson, who is helping us in
this affair."

The stranger held out a huge, sunburned hand, with a few words of
apology.

"I hope I didn't harm you. When you accused me of hurting her I lost
my grip of myself. Indeed, I'm not responsible in these days. My
nerves are like live wires. But this situation is beyond me. What I
want to know, in the first place, Mr. Holmes, is, how in the world you
came to hear of my existence at all."

"I am in touch with Miss Dobney, Lady Frances's governess."

"Old Susan Dobney with the mob cap! I remember her well."

"And she remembers you. It was in the days before - before you found it
better to go to South Africa."

"Ah, I see you know my whole story. I need hide nothing from you. I
swear to you, Mr. Holmes, that there never was in this world a man who
loved a woman with a more wholehearted love than I had for Frances. I
was a wild youngster, I know - not worse than others of my class. But
her mind was pure as snow. She could not bear a shadow of coarseness.
So, when she came to hear of things that I had done, she would have no
more to say to me. And yet she loved me - that is the wonder of
it! - loved me well enough to remain single all her sainted days just
for my sake alone. When the years had passed and I had made my money
at Barberton I thought perhaps I could seek her out and soften her. I
had heard that she was still unmarried, I found her at Lausanne and
tried all I knew. She weakened, I think, but her will was strong, and
when next I called she had left the town. I traced her to Baden, and
then after a time heard that her maid was here. I'm a rough fellow,
fresh from a rough life, and when Dr. Watson spoke to me as he did I
lost hold of myself for a moment. But for God's sake tell me what has
become of the Lady Frances."

"That is for us to find out," said Sherlock Holmes with peculiar
gravity. "What is your London address, Mr. Green?"

"The Langham Hotel will find me."

"Then may I recommend that you return there and be on hand in case I
should want you? I have no desire to encourage false hopes, but you
may rest assured that all that can be done will be done for the safety
of Lady Frances. I can say no more for the instant. I will leave you
this card so that you may be able to keep in touch with us. Now,
Watson, if you will pack your bag I will cable to Mrs. Hudson to make
one of her best efforts for two hungry travellers at 7:30 to-morrow."


A telegram was awaiting us when we reached our Baker Street rooms,
which Holmes read with an exclamation of interest and threw across to
me. "Jagged or torn," was the message, and the place of origin, Baden.

"What is this?" I asked.

"It is everything," Holmes answered. "You may remember my seemingly
irrelevant question as to this clerical gentleman's left ear. You did
not answer it."

"I had left Baden and could not inquire."

"Exactly. For this reason I sent a duplicate to the manager of the
Englischer Hof, whose answer lies here."

"What does it show?"

"It shows, my dear Watson, that we are dealing with an exceptionally
astute and dangerous man. The Rev. Dr. Shlessinger, missionary from
South America, is none other than Holy Peters, one of the most
unscrupulous rascals that Australia has ever evolved - and for a young
country it has turned out some very finished types. His particular
specialty is the beguiling of lonely ladies by playing upon their
religious feelings, and his so-called wife, an Englishwoman named
Fraser, is a worthy helpmate. The nature of his tactics suggested his
identity to me, and this physical peculiarity - he was badly bitten in a
saloon-fight at Adelaide in '89 - confirmed my suspicion. This poor
lady is in the hands of a most infernal couple, who will stick at
nothing, Watson. That she is already dead is a very likely
supposition. If not, she is undoubtedly in some sort of confinement
and unable to write to Miss Dobney or her other friends. It is always
possible that she never reached London, or that she has passed through
it, but the former is improbable, as, with their system of
registration, it is not easy for foreigners to play tricks with the
Continental police; and the latter is also unlikely, as these rouges
could not hope to find any other place where it would be as easy to
keep a person under restraint. All my instincts tell me that she is in
London, but as we have at present no possible means of telling where,
we can only take the obvious steps, eat our dinner, and possess our
souls in patience. Later in the evening I will stroll down and have a
word with friend Lestrade at Scotland Yard."

But neither the official police nor Holmes's own small but very
efficient organization sufficed to clear away the mystery. Amid the
crowded millions of London the three persons we sought were as
completely obliterated as if they had never lived. Advertisements were
tried, and failed. Clues were followed, and led to nothing. Every
criminal resort which Shlessinger might frequent was drawn in vain.
His old associates were watched, but they kept clear of him. And then
suddenly, after a week of helpless suspense there came a flash of
light. A silver-and-brilliant pendant of old Spanish design had been
pawned at Bovington's, in Westminster Road. The pawner was a large,
clean-shaven man of clerical appearance. His name and address were
demonstrably false. The ear had escaped notice, but the description
was surely that of Shlessinger.

Three times had our bearded friend from the Langham called for
news - the third time within an hour of this fresh development. His
clothes were getting looser on his great body. He seemed to be wilting
away in his anxiety. "If you will only give me something to do!" was
his constant wail. At last Holmes could oblige him.

"He has begun to pawn the jewels. We should get him now."

"But does this mean that any harm has befallen the Lady Frances?"

Holmes shook his head very gravely.

"Supposing that they have held her prisoner up to now, it is clear that
they cannot let her loose without their own destruction. We must
prepare for the worst."

"What can I do?"

"These people do not know you by sight?"

"No."

"It is possible that he will go to some other pawnbroker in the future.
In that case, we must begin again. On the other hand, he has had a
fair price and no questions asked, so if he is in need of ready-money
he will probably come back to Bovington's. I will give you a note to
them, and they will let you wait in the shop. If the fellow comes you
will follow him home. But no indiscretion, and, above all, no
violence. I put you on your honour that you will take no step without
my knowledge and consent."

For two days the Hon. Philip Green (he was, I may mention, the son of
the famous admiral of that name who commanded the Sea of Azof fleet in
the Crimean War) brought us no news. On the evening of the third he
rushed into our sitting-room, pale, trembling, with every muscle of his
powerful frame quivering with excitement.

"We have him! We have him!" he cried.

He was incoherent in his agitation. Holmes soothed him with a few
words and thrust him into an armchair.

"Come, now, give us the order of events," said he.

"She came only an hour ago. It was the wife, this time, but the
pendant she brought was the fellow of the other. She is a tall, pale
woman, with ferret eyes."

"That is the lady," said Holmes.

"She left the office and I followed her. She walked up the Kennington
Road, and I kept behind her. Presently she went into a shop. Mr.
Holmes, it was an undertaker's."

My companion started. "Well?" he asked in that vibrant voice which
told of the fiery soul behind the cold gray face.

"She was talking to the woman behind the counter. I entered as well.
'It is late,' I heard her say, or words to that effect. The woman was
excusing herself. 'It should be there before now,' she answered. 'It
took longer, being out of the ordinary.' They both stopped and looked
at me, so I asked some questions and then left the shop."

"You did excellently well. What happened next?"

"The woman came out, but I had hid myself in a doorway. Her suspicions
had been aroused, I think, for she looked round her. Then she called a
cab and got in. I was lucky enough to get another and so to follow
her. She got down at last at No. 36, Poultney Square, Brixton. I
drove past, left my cab at the corner of the square, and watched the
house."

"Did you see anyone?"

"The windows were all in darkness save one on the lower floor. The
blind was down, and I could not see in. I was standing there,


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Online LibraryArthur Conan DoyleThe Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax → online text (page 1 of 2)