The Adventure of the German Bookseller

Mr Albert Donahue

As Sherlock Holmes led me into the parlor, I was able to see the features of our visitor. He was a man of average height, about thirty-two years old and dressed in an elegant black coat and hat, with a blue cravat tied around his neck. He pinched his short mustache in agitation upon seeing Holmes and me. "I trust I am not disturbing you, sir?" he asked in a high-pitched voice.

"Not at all. I'm happy for a distraction to take my mind off this ghastly weather." Said Holmes. He flicked his eyes across the man, and asked him, "How was your ride from the East End, sir?"

The man blinked in surprise. "How do you know that?"

Holmes chuckled. "My good sir, if you have come here seeking my help, then you must have some idea of my talents. One of them is knowing what other people think I do not, and it is a most handy one is many situations. Allow me to explain. Over three-quarters of all of London are being consumed by rain-clouds, but the East End has insofar escaped that fate. Your clothes are dry, but you carry no umbrella. Therefore, a journey from the east."

"And how did you know that I rode, and did not walk?" Asked our visitor.

"There are small patches of dirt around the edges of your coat and shoes, but it is not rain-water. It is nothing more than the common mud that over a million passengers trek into London's omnibuses every day. So, by deduction, you are a consultant who lives in the East End. Whitechapel, I am guessing, by your accent. You have come here to Baker Street seeking my advice." And with that, Sherlock Holmes sat down in his armchair, reached for his pipe, and began to smoke. "Well, now I know what you are." He said. "But I do not know who. What is your name?"

"Albert Donahue, sir."

"I see. Well, I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is my good friend Dr. John Watson, who has assisted me on a number of my cases. You can trust him."

Mr. Donahue nodded. "I have a problem, sir."

"You would not be here otherwise."

"It's not about me, sir, it's about my friend, Mr. Geoffrey Schindler."

"What's wrong with him?"

"He's dead, Mr. Holmes." said Donahue.

Sherlock Holmes stopped smoking and fixed his gaze on Donahue. "How did he die?"

"Murder, sir."

There was no change of countenance in his voice when he said, "Tell me his story, and yours, please."

"For a very long time, I have been a poor man, sir. All of the prosperity I have now, I owe to poor Mr. Schindler. He was a German immigrant, you see; he wanted to go to Chicago, in America, but he lost some of his money and had to settle for England. He opened a steel factory-in eighteen seventy-six, I believe-and quickly began a wealthy merchant. I then was simply a poor boy from Whitechapel, looking for a job. He gave me one, and in ten years time I had become the foreman. He became like a second father to me, he did, and when his son Paul died of cholera, he made me heir to the business. Since then I have increased both the factory's wealth and mine to new limits. Then, about a year ago, he began to consider retiring. His first preparation for that life was his buying of a bookshop over in Essex, and it was there that he began to live and have less dealings with the business. I rarely heard from him afterwards. Then, suddenly, he calls on me two days ago, asking to see the deed to the factory. This puzzled me, but I saw no reason to disobey him. So the next day, I went to his shop, and there's a bobby posted at the front door. "Died last night", he told me, and sometime about "unnatural causes". Now, Mr. Schindler was old, Mr. Holmes, but he was by no means frail. At sixty, he was much as strong as he was at forty."

"I shall take your word for it." Said Holmes quietly. "But you did you come to suspect murder as the cause of his death? Did he appeared wounded in any way?"

"No, sir. He looked as though he'd simply lied down and decided to die."

"Then, Mr. Donahue, you are going to have to show me some more proof of your hypothesis, if you want me to take this case."

"I can, sir." Said Mr. Donahue. He dug into his coat pocket, and produced a small glass vial.

"I found this in Mr. Schindler's office, once they let me in." He explained. "I noted that it was odd, because he didn't have any prescriptions, nor was it a whiskey flask. I took it to an apothecary's shop down by Fleet Street, and after examining the few drops that were left, he swore to God and high heaven that it was arsenic."

"Fascinating." Holmes drawled. "But tell me; how did you rule out suicide as a possible cause?"

Donahue shook his head. "Both the police and I have decided against that possibility. I, because I knew him too well to imagine him commit such a deed, and the police because, well; that's my real problem, Mr. Holmes. They believe I killed Schindler."

Holmes sat up. "You?" He asked.

Donahue nodded dismally. "They have a devilishly good theory, Mr. Holmes. You see, when I inherited Mr. Schindler's factory, I invested into other companies as well; chemical manufacturers, for one. The company I am speaking of, Blackwell's, makes a certain kind of liquid, a concentrate, that is very good at cooling the steel when it is too hot to touch. To the police, it is possible, even likely, that I have hired an assassin to give Schindler this poison, and thus succeed him and his wealth."

"They read too many novels, if they base their whole inquiry on that supposition." Said Holmes briskly. "But very well. I shall brood over this case of yours, and give you an answer-and hopefully, the true culprit-in due time. Also, if you don't mind leaving that vial behind?"

Donahue nodded, and took his leave. Just before he left, Holmes called out, "One last thing, Mr. Donahue! Did Mr. Schindler ever visit Speaker's Corner?"

"Not that I know, sir." Donahue replied. "Good day." And with that, he was gone.

I looked at Holmes quizzically. "Why would you ask such a thing?"

He simply yawned. "Oh, no reason, Watson, no reason! Just one of those slip-of-the-tongue things, you know. And now, if you don't mind, I have some brooding to do, and this room will start smelling like tobacco ash in no time. You'd best leave, and soon, before your wife finds you intoxicated."

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