Sherlock's Solution to December's Mystery
The following is a transcript of a letter mailed to you regarding December’s mystery. We hope you enjoyed it . Best of luck with this coming month’s mystery…
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Friday, 16th November 1890
Dear Miss Fremont,
You will have to forgive me for not visiting you in person in concluding the very interesting case which you set before me earlier this week. My other commitments have once again required me to remain within close proximity of Baker Street. That said, I felt it my duty to inform you, at the very earliest opportunity, of what we uncovered earlier today when the enigmatic ‘Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds’ visited Upper Brook Street.
I should first explain why the couple approached you to recreate the dress. Mrs Reynolds, otherwise known as Geraldine Carver, works in a chemist’s shop, but is also a part-time actress in a small West End theatre which has been commissioning you to create costumes and to undertake dress repairs. It is clearly well-known that you are a most diligent and talented dressmaker, so it is no great surprise that she approached you to assist in this venture.
As to why they needed the dress, that is a much more complex matter which I will now set before you. Perhaps it is best to start with what transpired when the couple arrived this morning.
It was a little disingenuous of me not to share with you that I planned to be in Upper Brook Street. I had also alerted Scotland Yard and requested that one of its more capable detectives join us for the denouement of this affair. So it was that when Abigail answered the front door at around nine-thirty, Inspector Lestrade, Dr. Watson and I were already sitting comfortably in the front parlour.
The couple were clearly taken aback on entering the room and seeing the three of us before them. I noted that Miss Carver immediately recognised Dr. Watson – who had visited her the previous day as part of our investigations – and her expression changed from one of bewilderment to a look of some disdain.
I invited them to sit on the chaise longue. As he did so, the man became defensive: “Who are you? What is it you want from us?”
I came straight to the point. “I think it is more a question of what you wanted from Mrs. Van Allen, Mr. Carver.”
The use of his real name had clearly shocked the fellow. He looked as if he were about to say something further, but could not seem to articulate the words. His accomplice then spoke. “Andrew, I think these gentlemen must be the police.”
Andrew Carver was not to be outdone and rose from his seat. “How do you know who I am?”
I stood face to face with him. “Sir, please be seated. My name is Sherlock Holmes and I am a consulting detective. This is my colleague Dr. Watson, while the gentleman to my left is Inspector Lestrade. We ask only that you help us to complete our investigations into your scheme to rob Mrs. Van Allen’s safe deposit box.”
Carver looked from Lestrade back towards me and then sat back down. I continued.
“I have neither the time nor the inclination to provide you with the full details of how we uncovered your plot. But I will tell you what I know. Firstly, you are a groom and carriage driver for the Van Allen family, a post you have held for the past five years. Each month, Mrs. Van Allen takes a trip to Coutts & Co. in The Strand. Here she deposits the precious gems that her husband sends her from overseas. It is your job to drive the carriage and to then accompany her into the bank, nominally ensuring Mrs. Van Allen’s safety as she carries the bag containing the valuables.
“In this role, you observed a pattern. Mrs. Van Allen enters the lobby, walks to the reception area and then asks to see one of the bank’s managers. She is greeted by one of four managers each time. They exchange a few pleasantries and accompany her to the locked door of the vault in which the safe deposit boxes are held. Here they leave Mrs. Van Allen in the capable hands of a bank employee who asks for the number of her box and then, for security, requires her to produce the safe deposit key. When she does this, they unlock the heavy security door and allow her to go into the vault alone where she is able to deposit her valuables. While you are required to wait outside the vault, you know the security number having overheard it many times.
“The monthly trips to the bank are known about by all of the household staff. In fact, I imagine it is often a source of some gossip. But you found out the one piece of information that none of the others knew – namely, where Mrs. Van Allen hid the key to the safe deposit box.”
Carver felt inclined to speak. “It was so simple. I was passing the window of her study some weeks back and looked in to see Mrs. Van Allen stroking the cat. Unaware that I was watching, she reached for the locket and opened it. Inside I could see a small key, the same one I had watched her produce at the bank dozens of times. In that moment, I knew that with the key it would be possible to access the safe deposit box.”
I was encouraged by his confirmation and pressed ahead. “But your challenge was how to get someone to pretend to be Mrs. Van Allen, someone convincing enough to fool the staff and managers at the bank. Is that when you enlisted the help of your sister, the actress?”
It was the turn of Geraldine Carver to look shocked. Like her brother, she had clearly realised that there was no point in lying. “How did you know, Mr. Holmes?”
My response was straightforward. “There is no mistaking the likeness. You are clearly siblings. Miss Fremont noted that you were very similar in looks and nature when she first met you.”
She chuckled unexpectedly. “Yes, it was my idea to pretend to be a married couple. In reality, I have never married. And you must not judge my brother too harshly. It was me that put him up to it. When he told me about the key, I said it would be easy for me to assume the part of Mrs. Van Allen. She is a similar height and frame to me, and has an identically shaped face. For some years, I have made a rather precarious income as a part-time actress, so it is second nature for me to pretend to be someone else. All I required was a decent wig, a little theatrical make-up and a suitable costume.”
This time it was Dr. Watson who spoke. “In other words, a green dress, like the one that your brother had seen Mrs. Van Allen wearing – an expensive and fashionable item which has been the talk of ladies across Europe for some months.”
Miss Carver smiled at him without any hint of malevolence. “I told Andrew it was essential. Both to convince those snooty managers at the bank that I was the well-heeled Mrs. Van Allen, but also so that I would feel appropriately dressed for the part. He had been with her at the bank the first time she wore the dress and knew from the gossiping of the housemaids that it had cost a pretty penny. But I also knew that we could find someone to replicate it, as Miss Fremont is often talked about at the theatre as being a first-rate dressmaker. Of course, our mistake was taking that damned cat!”
I could only agree with her. “Yes. I imagine that your plan was to take the Siamese for a short time, sedate it, and, while the cat was comatose, to arrange for a duplicate key to be cut from the original. I know that you visited a locksmith in Pimlico on your way to Miss Fremont’s. Having then come here to procure the green dress, you planned to return the cat to Sutherland House.”
Andrew Carver did not deny it. “I knew the cat was temperamental. But I was fearful of just taking the key. If Mrs. Van Allen had chanced to look in the locket, I felt certain that she would suspect foul play. But if the cat went missing for only a few hours – and was then returned with the key – I believed it would work in our favour.”
Watson again interjected. “However, unlike your sister, who had access to the sedative you required, you had no clear idea how much to administer.”
Miss Carver smirked while her brother responded. “No, I took the liquid and put some in the cat’s food. It was enough to knock it out when I first removed the Siamese from the study, but when we arrived here the cat came round in a highly agitated state.”
“And then you lost her altogether on the cab journey back to Pimlico.”
“Yes. At first I thought it would prove to be a disaster, but hoped the cat would find its way home. Either way, I thought no one would realise that we had taken the Siamese and would have no clue as to our real intentions in removing it in the first place. So when I saw that the cat had indeed come back, I told Geraldine we should continue with our plan.”
Watson then interposed once more: “You didn’t know that it was Miss Fremont who returned the cat, did you?”
Carver looked at him quizzically. “No, I just assumed the cat had made its own way home.”
I then continued. “Having made the decision to continue, I believe you planned to pick up the dress and then visit the bank this afternoon?”
The carriage driver responded sheepishly. “Yes. I told Mrs. Van Allen this morning that the carriage needed some minor repairs and would need to be driven down to the blacksmith’s. I expected to pick up the dress, travel back to Sutherland House and – with Geraldine suitably attired – drive the carriage to the bank. Having successfully stolen the gemstones, we believed we could return the carriage and make our escape tomorrow. I did not think that Mrs. Van Allen would realise she had been robbed until her next visit to the bank. By then, we would be living a new life on the Continent.”
“Then I am sorry to disappoint you,” I replied, finally. “Watson and I have no option but to hand you over to Inspector Lestrade.”
That then is the audacious scheme which the Carvers sought to perpetrate. They are to be examined by the magistrates early next week on the charge of attempted robbery and will most likely be committed to face trial at the Old Bailey next spring. They can expect heavy prison sentences if found guilty – particularly Andrew Carver, who has broken the time-honoured bond of trust that is supposed to exist between a servant and his employer.
On a much lighter note, I am pleased to say that Mrs. Van Allen is very much in your debt for what you did in helping to expose the robbery plan. She has invited you to call on her at your earliest convenience, for she is planning to organise a society soiree involving lots of her wealthy friends. Apparently, they are all keen to discuss the latest Parisian trends and how you might guide them in matters of style and taste.
As for the green dress which you have laboured over so assiduously, I am pleased to report that it will go to a good home. I understand that Mrs. Watson has taken something of a shine to you in recent days. When she learnt that the Carvers had been arrested, she was most concerned that you would be out of pocket for the work you had completed on such a splendid outfit. As such, she informed the good Doctor this lunchtime that he is to pay the balance owing on the dress which she wishes to have herself. All’s well that ends well, as they say.
Should you require any further explanation regarding the matters above, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can also confirm that there is no fee to be paid for my services. It is recompense enough to know that my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, is likely to have a period of matrimonial bliss in the wake of this affair!