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The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax - Conan Doyle



I was sitting in Sherlock Holmes's rooms in Baker Street. He was looking at my boots.
'Why Turkish?' he asked.
'They're made in England,' I replied. 'I bought them yesterday.'
'I can see that!' he said. 'Anyway, I didn't mean your boots. I meant the bath. Why did you have a Turkish bath?'
'It's good for my health,' I said. 'I wanted a change.'
'You shouldn't let the assistants at the baths tie your boot laces. You tie them better yourself.'
I looked at my laces and saw the knot was in fact tied a little differently to the way I usually tied my knots.
'Incredible!' I thought. 'He notices the smallest differences!'
'If you really want a change, Watson, I have a job for you. You can go to Switzerland, all expenses paid. I have a case I must investigate there but I don't want to go too far away. Besides, I prefer my housekeeper's cooking to the food abroad. Mrs Hudson makes an excellent lunch, if you'd like to stay.'
'Thank you,' I replied. 'But I can't stop, I must go back home.' Holmes ordered lunch anyway.
'I think Scotland Yard would prefer to see me in London,' he continued. 'There's one criminal in particular who will happily take advantage of my absence, but that is not something I can discuss at this moment.'
'I'd like to hear more,' I said.
'Lady Frances Carfax,' he began, 'the daughter of the late Earl of Rufton, is around forty years old. She is very beautiful for her age. She has the advantage of wealth and the disadvantage of having none of her own. Her brother owns the family home whereas she has no fixed address and no husband. She has some valuable Spanish jewellery, which she carries with her everywhere. I'm afraid that she may be in danger.'
'I don't understand,' I said. 'Is Lady Frances Carfax in Switzerland?'
'An interesting question,' he replied. 'Is she there or somewhere else? Is she alive or is she dead? Her family last heard from her more than five weeks ago. She has a friend in England she often writes to. She has had no letters from her.'
'Has anyone seen her?' I asked.
'She went into a bank in Switzerland four weeks ago and wrote a cheque for fifty pounds to her maid. Send me a telegram if you find out more information.'
Holmes gave me an address of a hotel in Lausanne.
'Holmes, are you really asking me to investigate?'
'Of course. Here — I have a first class ticket you can have! Now, shall we eat?'
Two days later I arrived at the hotel in Lausanne. I found out that Lady Frances often stayed there. She was a lovely lady. She was interested in books and she often went for walks on her own. She told the owner she was going to stay for the summer, but five weeks later she paid in advance and left early. The head waiter was engaged to her maid, Marie, and he knew nothing of their plans to leave until he received a letter from his fiancee. It said that she was visiting her family in France to tell them about their engagement. I asked to speak to him.
The waiter couldn't tell me much about Lady Frances. Marie never spoke about her employer's private matters but he remembered something interesting: in the last few days before she left, the lady seemed sad and worried. A dark-haired man with a beard was seen holding her by the arm near the lake. Marie thought the man was following her because she saw him again near the hotel. Soon after this Lady Frances left.
He gave me Marie's address in France and suggested I spoke to the travel agency in town.
The travel agency had copies of train tickets that were sold to two English ladies on the day they left. The final destination was Baden. The lady who paid did not leave her name and she did not leave an address for her luggage, which she preferred to keep with her.
In Baden, I found an English-speaking guest house. The hotel manager recognised Lady Frances from my description. Her maid only stayed one night. The lady was friendly with two guests,
Dr Shlessinger and his wife. Dr Shlessinger came to Baden to rest after becoming unwell during his time in South America. He was a very religious man and often spoke of his work with the missionaries there. Lady Carfax, in particular, seemed very interested in their missionary work and wanted to help. Dr Shlessinger paid for her hotel bill and the three guests said they were leaving for London.
'You aren't the only person looking for the lady,' the manager added. 'A man asked me about her. He was a big, bearded man. I think he was English but I didn't recognise his accent. I'd say he has lived abroad for some time.'
I was sure the man had something to do with Lady Frances's disappearance. I sent a telegram to Holmes to tell him how quickly I was resolving the matter and that I was leaving for France to speak with Lady Frances's maid. I received a telegram in return asking for a description of Dr Shlessinger's left ear. I didn't like Holmes's strange idea of a joke. I decided to continue with my investigations.
The maid lived in a small village and I quickly found her house. When I explained that her mistress was missing, she was very upset and told me everything I needed to know.
'I am so sorry!' she said. 'The mistress was angry at me for leaving and we argued. When I left she gave me a letter. There was a cheque for fifty pounds as a wedding present. She is such a kind lady but she has not been the same since she saw that man by the lake in Lausanne!'
'Which man?' I asked. 'Describe him to me.'
Just as she began describing the man, she screamed loudly at a face at the window.
'There he is!' she cried. 'The man I told you about! He's following us!'
I ran out of the door and down the street and there he was — he was a giant of a man! He was tall with wide shoulders, a dark beard and big dark-brown eyes. His skin was brown from the sun.
'Who are you?' I asked.
'Why do you want to know?' he replied.
'I'm looking for Lady Frances Carfax. She is missing. What have you done to her?'
'What have I done to her?' he repeated angrily. He put his hand on my throat and held it there until I couldn't breathe. I pushed him away but he held tighter. Then a man came running towards us from the cafe opposite.
'Stop!' he cried. He hit the bearded man on the arm and he let go of me.
'It's lucky that I came,' he said. 'Is there anything you've done right in this investigation?'
I turned around and to my surprise I saw that the man was Holmes.
'You sent me here!' I shouted. 'I expect your investigations would be much better.'
'My investigations were better,' he replied. 'I found someone who can help us. And you started a fight with him.'
'This man is following Lady Frances's maid. He knows where Lady Frances is.'
'Good. Well, let's ask him politely,' said Holmes. 'Let me introduce you to the Honourable Philip Green, a family friend of Lady Frances Carfax.'
'I'm so sorry, sir! I'm losing my mind!' Green cried. 'I love Lady Frances more than anything. I don't know what to do!'
'Let's go back to the cafe,' said Holmes, 'and you can tell my friend Watson your story.'
'I've always loved Frances,' Green began, 'and I think she loved me. When I first met her I was young and stupid. She didn't think I was serious about her. Her father asked me not to see her again because she was going to get married, but now I know that wasn't true. I left for South Africa in the hope of making money there. I did well. I bought land and had a house with servants but I knew something was missing. Years later, friends told me that Lady Frances was still unmarried. I hoped it was because she still loved me. When I found her in Lausanne, she told me it was too late to think of marriage but I feel sure she still feels something for me! I thought perhaps her maid might talk to her. Now you tell me she is missing. Please, tell me, what has happened to Frances?'
'That is what I hope to find out,' said Holmes. 'I suggest you go back to London. Send me your address. You can help us with our investigations.'
When we arrived in London the next day, there was a telegram waiting for Holmes at Baker Street. It said:
Left ear: torn, piece is missing
'What does this mean?' I asked.
'It's the question you didn't answer,' said Holmes. '«What does Dr Shlessinger's left ear look like?» Fortunately, I sent it to the hotel manager. He remembered.'
'I don't understand,' I said.
'Dr Shlessinger's left ear was bitten in a fight. He is better known to the Australian police by the name of 'Holy Peters'. Mr Peters has spent years becoming friendly with lonely ladies who do good work. He tells them their money is for his religious work. One lady, who he calls his 'wife', left with him for South America. He stole from people who were dying. By the time the missionaries found out, they were on a ship to Europe. The longer Lady Frances stays with them, the more danger she is in.'
In a big city like London, Peters and his wife disappeared like they never existed. It was a week before one of Sherlock Holmes's contacts arrived at the door with information: a man wearing religious clothes and matching the description of Peters was seen selling an old Spanish necklace. The man looked pleased with the money he received and said that he had more jewellery at home. He would come back the next day.
On hearing this news, Sherlock Holmes asked the Honourable Philip Green to come to Baker Street.
'I must help!' Green said. 'I can't sit and do nothing.'
'Did you see a couple with Lady Frances in Baden?'
'Yes' he replied.
'And did they see you?'
'No. I just followed. I didn't want to be seen.'
'Then, you must do exactly as I say. Tomorrow they will try and sell more jewellery. I want you to follow them. Come back here and tell me everything you see. Do not speak to anyone.'
The next day Green returned with the news.
'We've got him!' he cried excitedly. 'His wife sold another necklace an hour ago. I followed her down the street. She went to an undertaker. The door was left open and I listened to their conversation. The wife wanted something but it wasn't ready yet. «The size is unusual,» the woman in the undertaker's repeated. «It must be ready soon,» his wife said. I followed her back to their house.'
'Did you look inside?' asked Holmes.
'No. The curtains were closed. I waited for three more hours and then I saw two men arriving at the house with a coffin! Mr Holmes, what if the coffin is for Lady Frances?'
'Excellent work, Green!' said Holmes. 'Leave the rest to us… Watson, let's go! There is not a moment to lose!'
On the way to the house Holmes talked excitedly about the case. 'We have two possible options here, Watson: either she is alive or she is dead. Let's imagine they have sold all her jewellery. If she was still alive, she would go to the police so they'd have to kill her. If they want to bury her in a coffin, they'll need a death certificate. Did the doctor think it was a natural death? I'm guessing it was some type of poison. Or the doctor wasn't a real doctor… Stop the cab here, please!' he shouted to the driver.
I knocked loudly on the door of the house. A pale, thin lady answered.
'I want to speak with Dr Shlessinger,' Holmes said.
'He doesn't live here,' the lady said.
Holmes put his foot in the door and held it open. A bald, red-faced man appeared. I knew straight away that he was the man we were looking for because I recognised his torn ear.
'My name is Mr Peters,' he said politely. 'There is no-one called Dr Shlessinger in this house. I think there must be a mistake, gentlemen.'
'I don't have time for this!' cried Holmes. 'If you're not the man I'm looking for, then I'm not Sherlock Holmes! Where is Lady Frances Carfax?'
'Mr Holmes, you say? I met a lady by the name of Lady Frances in Switzerland. She said she had no money. I paid her hotel bill and her ticket home. She gave me some jewellery in return. Unfortunately, it was worth nothing. I hope you find her,' he added in the same soft voice.
'You can be certain that I will find her,' said Holmes, ' this house!'
'I'm sorry,' said Peters, 'you can't come in. You don't have a warrant.'
Holmes showed him his gun. 'This is my warrant,' he said.
'Call the police!' Mr Peters shouted to his wife.
'Where is the coffin that came into the house today?' asked Holmes.
'Surely you must have some respect for the dead!' Peters cried.
Holmes and I searched the house. The coffin was in the dining room. Peters followed behind us.
'Open the coffin!' shouted Holmes.
'Never. I won't open a closed coffin!' he replied.
'Then I will,' said Holmes. He took out a knife.
'Watson, help me lift the lid, please!'
We pushed up the lid and there at the bottom of a very big coffin was a poor old lady of ninety years old. Even I could see that she was not Lady Frances. Sherlock Holmes looked pale. He shut the lid angrily. Mr Peters was laughing loudly.
'Oh, I'd pay money to see that again! The man I've heard so much about — the great Sherlock Holmes — has made a mistake. Who did you think you were going to find: Lady Frances, perhaps?'
'Who is the woman in the coffin?' asked Holmes impatiently.
'We are kind people, Mr Holmes. She was my wife's nurse. She was very ill and she had no money to pay for a doctor so we looked after her in her final hours. She died a few days after she arrived. We paid for a coffin and we are going to bury her tomorrow. The funeral is at half past eight.'
Then we heard a voice behind us. It was the police sergeant. 'Holmes, I need to see your warrant.'
'Arrest him!' cried Peters.
We walked outside with the police sergeant.
'This matter isn't finished,' said Holmes. 'I will get a warrant. Watch these people carefully,' he added to the police sergeant. 'Don't let them leave the house.'
Later that day we went to Scotland Yard to ask about the warrant. When we returned I went to bed. I could hear Holmes walking around his room. He could not sleep. The next morning, at twenty past seven, he knocked on my door.
'Quickly!' he said. 'It's life or death, Watson, and very little chance of life! What time's the funeral?'
'Half past eight,' I replied.
Fifty minutes later we were at Mr Peters's house again. Four men were carrying the coffin to a carriage outside the house.
'Take the coffin back inside!' cried Holmes.
'Mr Holmes!' said Peters. 'Do you have your warrant or not?'
'The police are arriving with the warrant. The coffin must go back inside the house. I'll give a gold coin to the first person who opens it!' Once inside, the men worked quickly to open it. I put my hand over my nose and mouth. The coffin smelt terribly of chloroform. Inside the coffin were two bodies and one of them was a pale but beautiful lady. Her head was covered in a cloth left in the anaesthetic. Holmes lifted her out of the coffin. At that moment the sergeant arrived with the warrant. Mr Peters and his wife ran out of the door. Two more policemen were waiting outside and ran after them.
'Doctor Watson, I need your help,' Holmes said.
Lady Frances was still alive. There was a small chance we could save her. Thirty minutes later, after some medicine and a lot of help to start her breathing again, she opened her eyes. She was very confused.
'You can take the poor old lady who is still in this coffin,' Holmes said to the men in the room. 'Maybe now she can rest in peace.'
We heard the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs.
'Ah, I see the Honourable Green has arrived. Please look after Lady Frances,' Holmes said to him.
'Maybe in time, she will understand how much you love her.'
'Thank you for all you have done,' he said, taking the lady in his arms.
When we returned to Baker Street, Holmes was quick to discuss the details of the case.
'An intelligent man must learn from his mistakes,' he said.
'I thought about the case all night. I knew there was some clue… and there it was: the word 'unusual'. It's true. It was an unusually big coffin for a small body. They had a death certificate for the old lady. No-one would know their plan — they were going to bury Lady Frances alive so they wouldn't have to commit murder! I believe we found her just in time. These are very clever criminals, Watson. I'll be surprised if the police catch them. I'll be interested to see what they do next… very interested… What do you think? Should we ask Mrs Hudson for some tea?'
Hope you have enjoyed the reading!
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