Out of Sight...
“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened.”
- T.S. Eliot
Sherlock had been silent, but agitated on their way to Hampshire. He had tapped on the stirring wheel and exceeded the speed limit more than once, and John had been tempted to berate him, but had refrained from it. The look Sherlock had given him when he had suggested that he could drive had been enough the keep John from questioning his best friend again for the rest of the way. Sherlock had called him and told him that he had solved the case and they needed to go to the Rucastles now. That had been all. John did not know what the solution was, nor how Sherlock had figured it out. He hoped Sherlock would tell him in due time. Until then he could only watch his brilliant friend work.
When they stopped in front of the gate that led to the estate and Sherlock pulled down the window to enter the security code, John was not sure if he was even surprised that the consulting detective knew the combination. They entered the estate and drove right up to the front door. Sherlock turned off the engine and was about to get out of the car. John was about to ask if he should call the police, when Sherlock pre-empted him, “No. Time is of the essence.” He hurried out of the car and up the stairs to the front door. John did the same and once again wondered if maybe his best friend was indeed a telepath.
Sherlock only rang the bell once and the door was
opened. He strode past a surprised looking Ms Hunter and barked, “Who told you
that Alice Rucastle was in Philadelphia?”
The young governess’ face was a picture of bewilderment when she stared from the consulting detective to his blogger, who had followed into the hall.
Sherlock’s eyes darted about the room and then settled on the Chihuahua who came running out of the study.
He turned back to the woman. “Ms Hunter, who told you that Alice Rucastle was in Philadelphia?” he repeated in an urgent tone.
The governess shook her head confused, as if trying to make sense of his question. “Mr Rucastle,” she answered uncertain.
“Have you ever seen her?” Sherlock questioned her further.
The consulting detective nodded as if her answer proved his suspicion. Again he looked at the little creature that was now standing at his feet, happily wagging its tail. “Where there any other dogs present at the night of the party?”
Again Ms Hunter was confused by his line of questioning, but was quicker to answer this time, “No, only Carlo. Other dogs are not allowed in the house.”
“Mr and Mr Rucastle are not at home at present.” It was not a question, but Ms Hunter nodded none the less.
Sherlock nodded again and was about to ascend the stairs when Mr Toller hurried down the corridor towards them. Sherlock’s face contorted in annoyance for a second, before it became a blank mask once more.
“What are you doing here? Do you have an appointment?” Mr Toller asked with clear indignation in his voice.
“I prefer to show up unannounced. I am more the spontaneous type. Isn’t that right, John?” Sherlock turned towards his blogger.
“Yes. Sometimes even a bit too spontaneous for my taste,” aforementioned person agreed.
The steward ended up standing in front of the consulting detective and tried to look intimidating, which left Sherlock naturally unimpressed.
The consulting detective organized his face into a smile, but his eyes remained detached from the process, “Could we have a look into the east wing?”
Before the butler could answer, Sherlock went on, “I know we could not, so…”
And with that he sidestepped Mr Toller and hurried up the stairs. It only took John a second, and then he followed his friend in hope that he had a plan.
The servants needed a moment longer, surprised by the turn of events, but eventually hurried to catch up with the duo.
By the time they reached them, Mr Toller realized in horror that Sherlock had already turned the key and was about to open the door that lead to the east wing.
In desperation Mr Toller ran over to them, determined to keep them from entering the wing, but he had not expected the courage and quick thinking of Ms Hunter, for she grabbed one of the heavy candlesticks from a dresser and stroke him with it.
John and Sherlock turned at the sound of the steward falling onto the floor. Both men raised their eyebrows in surprise, but only on Sherlock’s lips tugged an amused smile.
John was about to get to see if Mr Toller was severely hurt, but Sherlock’s voice kept him from doing so, “No, John, your medical expertise will be needed beyond that door. He is not seriously injured. Ms Hunter, you’ll stay with Mr Toller and call the police.”
The young woman was pale and looked at the device in her hand as if she registered only now what she had done. As if it had burned her, she put the candlestick back onto its rightful place.
“Ms Hunter!” Sherlock tried to get her to focus, his voice laced with urgency.
She stared at him. “What should I tell the police?” Her voice was small and did not seem to belong to a woman who had just knocked out a man who was considerably taller and stronger than her.
Sherlock Holmes demands DI Lestrade and that they should send the paramedics.”
With that he entered the east wing.
John followed his friend, who went along the corridor with a fast stride. The doors they had passed so far had been wide ajar and the rooms behind them empty. It was cold and smelt rotten. John shivered.
“Sherlock, what are we looking for?”
The consulting detective did not answer, but stopped in front of a closed door. He turned to look at his best friend. John caught up with him and looked at the door. Sherlock was about to get the key he had used on the door to the wing out of his pocket, when John just pushed the handle down and the door opened. Mirth danced in his eyes.
“Ever the hands-on-type, Dr Watson,” Sherlock commented and pushed the door open.
The room was dark. The windows were nailed up with wooden boards. John put two and two together and came up with the fact that this had been one of the nailed up windows they had been looking at when they had been outside the fence. This was one of the rooms Mr Toller had told them Mr Rucastle was using as a dark room for his hobby of photography. John had never been in a dark room before, but he figured that this place was not one. It seemed like Mr Rucastle had a different kind of hobby.
Sherlock switched on the light and stepped into the room. It was dirty. There were a mattress on the floor in one corner, some clothes scattered on the floor, an empty glass, some books, a table and a wooden chair that looked like it was going to fall apart any second. But apart from that the room was empty.
“Sherlock, is this...,” John’s voice trailed off as the detective stepped past him, exited and went down the corridor to the next door. His friend followed. This time Sherlock tried the handle, but now the door would not open. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed as he slowly unlocked the door.
Again they looked into a dark room with nailed up windows, but this time when Sherlock switched on the lights, there were not only a mattress, clothes, a table, books and some other random items in it, but also a skinny person huddled on the mattress in the corner.
John approached the woman carefully. “Everything is alright, Miss. We are here to help you.”
She buried her face deeper into her hands and tried to huddle even closer into the corner. It seemed as if she wanted the wall to absorb her.
John still came closer while Sherlock remained standing in the doorway deducing the room.
“Don’t be afraid, Miss,” John said again when he reached the mattress. He wanted to get closer to her to examine her, but was afraid she would panic. The former army doctor looked over at Sherlock, whose gaze finally settled on the woman in the corner as well.
His voice was of an empathetic tone that John had never heard before coming out of the mouth of his friend, “It is over now, Ms Rucastle. He won’t hurt you anymore.”
John did not know what surprised him more: the fact that Sherlock had called the woman Ms Rucastle, or the fact that when she finally lifted her head to look at John, he thought that Violet Hunter was staring right back at him.
“Now explain it to me, will you?” John demanded of Sherlock.
They were in the study again. The house was swarming with police, Mr Toller (he was not severely injured) was in custody, Mr and Mrs Rucastle were already at the police station, Ms Hunter gave her statement to Lestrade (John did not know why he was handling the affair, since they were outside of London) and Ms Rucastle had been taken to hospital. She was so traumatized, she was not even able to speak.
John was seated on the couch, sipping a cup of tea while Sherlock stood by the window looking out. He had not said much since they had found the poor woman in the dark room.
“Sherlock, I think you’ve had your fun with being the clever one, but now I would really like to know what was going on here.”
Slowly Sherlock turned to his friend, his face emotionless, and explained, “When I did not see any photographs of Alice Rucastle I became curious and did some research on her. She was supposedly in Philadelphia, there was a flight ticket (booked with her father’s credit card), but then her trace vanished. There was no proof that she had ever made it to Philadelphia. She was missing. Ms Hunter told us of noises coming from the east wing and no one was to enter it. Therefore someone was likely to be held there against their will. So far so obvious. But why lock her away? I could get hold of her medical records. She had suffered from a nervous breakdown and other psychological problems after her mother’s death. As you well know, Mr Rucastle is a very old-fashioned man and family honour is everything to him. Alice was to take over the family enterprise – since it belonged to her mother’ side of the family – after his death. But in his eyes she was a shame for the family. But she got a monthly wage from her trust fund, and he needed that money. The company had financial problems.”
In his head John mulled over what Sherlock had told him. “Okay, but why does she look like Ms Hunter?”
“The right question is: Why does Ms Hunter look like Alice Rucastle?”
John rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a smart arse, Sherlock.”
flashed him a grin, before he replied, “Remember the footprints we saw outside
“Like I have said, someone was watching. That was why Ms Hunter had to sit in the chair by the window. Her role was not so much that of a governess, but of posing as Alice Rucastle by the window. So that when her boyfriend looked in, he saw her and thought everything was alright.”
“Obviously. He is a local. Mr Rucastle took his daughter’s phone and pretended to be her, so her boyfriend would not become suspicious. The seeds we found in the footprint were of Fagus sylvatica purpurea, Copper Beeches. At first I was disappointed, because it did not really tell us anything new, but it told us that at some point the man must have made it beyond the fence. Because the Copper Beeches only grow on the premises, and the wind would not blow them so far away. The gate is always closed and locked. Mr Toller is in charge of it and controls who can enter without knowing the combination. The police will find footage of a man who entered the premises. Mr Rucastle did not wipe it, because he wanted to find out who the young man was. They will find the footage in the top drawer of the desk in the sitting room. I have already told Greg.”
John put down his empty cup and shook his head. “Poor Ms Rucastle. That’s really sick. What kind of person does that?”
Sherlock only shrugged, “This generation of criminals, so utterly vulgar.”
“Where did you get the key to the door of the wing all of a sudden?”
“I’ve had it all along. I snatched it out of the top drawer of Mr Rucastle’s table in the study when we were waiting for Ms Hunter the last time we were here. I knew it was the spare one so they would not miss it.”
“How did you know where it was?”
John had to smile a bit at that. When Sherlock was busy solving a mystery, he was indeed almost his old self. He wished Molly could see that.
Suddenly another question that needed answering entered his mind, “So you knew it was Mr Rucastle all along?”
Sherlock looked almost sheepish. “No.”
John raised an eyebrow to demand an explanation.
Sherlock sighed, “Molly made me finally see it. I had always suspected that Mr Rucastle had been the one to knock me out, but I was not sure. And then Molly said that there was a possibility that Mrs Hudson would be bothered by our dog barking.”
John decided to ignore the fact that Sherlock had just said “our dog”, but let him carry on. As long as he did not say “our child”, they were fine.
“I remembered what Ms Hunter had told us: That Carlos never barks at strangers. The only person he barks at is Mr Rucastle. And just before I was knocked out I had heard a dog barking. Since Carlos was the only dog present this night, it must have been Mr Rucastle. Simple chain of evidence. The final clue was the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
John chuckled. This would make a hilarious entry on his blog. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time was probably a bit long for a title, but definitely a memorable quote.
“So, everyone was involved in this? Apart from Ms
Sherlock shook his head, “I guess so, but let’s find out.”
With that the door opened and in went Lestrade and a
brunette woman in her forties.
“This is Ms Sarah Marshall, Sherlock,” Lestrade said and gestured the woman to sit down.
John remembered Ms Hunter telling them of her – she was the housekeeper. Her hands were shaking and her eyes puffy. She had obviously been crying.
“Nice to meet you Miss Marshall. I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is Doctor Watson.”
Miss Marshall nodded and John did the same, trying to smile kindly at her. She looked so shaken, he felt sorry for her.
Sherlock’s perceptive gaze settled on the woman. Lestrade resumed standing and watched events unfold from his place by the door.
Miss Marshall wrung her trembling hands in her lap and obviously felt exposed under Sherlock’s scrutiny. John did not blame her. Being the focus of Sherlock’s attention was seldom a pleasant experience.
Just as John was about to say something to make Sherlock snap out of it, the consulting detective’s stare softened considerably and he said, “You’ve wanted to help her, didn’t you? You felt sorry for her. You knew it was wrong.”
Ms Marshall’s eyes widened fractionally and fresh tears formed in them. She nodded vigorously. “I wanted to help them, Mr Holmes, I swear! I couldn’t save both. I had to make a decision. And she was already so far gone. I....” She broke into tears and John laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“What do you mean, Ms Marshall?” Sherlock asked her in a harsher tone, but the woman broke down. She started to hyperventilate and Lestrade had to get her out of the room to the paramedics.
“Poor woman,” John sighed as the door closed behind her. “Maybe she’ll find some peace now that it’s over.”John was surprised by the statement of his friend, “This is not over yet, John. We missed something. It does not make sense.”