The Vampire of Camberwell
Holmes studied the paper intently, his long face buried amongst its
pages. He seemed to be concentrating on one particular article, for
he had been staring at it for several minutes. I sipped my tea
absentmindedly, determining not to disturb one of my friend’s
frequent reveries. Eventually, his searching glance swept upwards,
the bright dark eyes fixed upon my face.
“What is your opinion of vampires, Watson?” The question startled me, if not for its suddenness, then for its subject.
“I don’t know how to answer, Holmes; I have barely any knowledge in such a field.”
“Do you believe that they exist?”
“The myths are not unfounded, I suppose, but at this point I have no reason to believe that they are factual.” His gaze lingered, probing my features to verify my words. The lips curled slightly into the hint of an amused smile. He folded the paper and tossed it over to me.
“Page seven, the article at the bottom.”
“’The Vampire of Camberwell,’” I read aloud. “’Police are currently investigating the remarkable series of crimes resulting in the hospitalisation of two women in as many months. Both women were found insensible near their homes in Camberwell with two small circular wounds to the neck. Police Inspector Lestrade is competently heading the investigation into these most singular occurrences.’ Most singular indeed, Holmes,” I exclaimed. “I wonder how the police are treating it.”
“As a mystery of unknown proportions,” said Holmes, with a dramatic gesture of his hands, indicating his distaste for the London police force.
I was about to ask him of his own theory when there came the sound of our bell followed by the rapid thudding of feet up the stairs. There was a slight pause, then a young man with wavy brown hair and dressed in a well worn overcoat against the cold opened the door. His cheeks were flushed and his blue eyes intense and imploring with frustration.
“Forgive me for my intrusion,” he cried. “But I am on the verge of losing my beloved, and you are the only hope I can think of.”
“Calm yourself, my dear fellow,” soothed Holmes with an air of anticipation; another puzzle to occupy that great mind. He guided the young man to a chair. “Sit down and tell us what has occurred when you’re ready.” Holmes examined the man as he regained his composure and I too attempted to apply the logical train of reasoning I knew would be swiftly occurring in his head. The young man was undoubtedly middle class, unmarried and a tradesman of some description. He was deeply moved and it took a moment for him to contain his emotions.
“Mr. Holmes, I come to you a desperate man,” he began humbly. “I am deeply in love with the most beautiful woman alive-“
“Ah yes, that would be Jane. Your brooch,” Holmes added in response to the young man’s startled glance. “But you have not told us your own name.”
“And you are a construction worker.” Herbert Lancaster was a shocked as before. Holmes laughed. “Your boots betray your trade, and if that were not enough you bear traces of your work in the coarseness of your hands and the bearing of your manner. But from your language you are also well educated.” Lancaster nodded.
“My parents believe that education is the key to all doors in life.”
“And quite right too,” agreed my companion. “But, please, continue your narrative. What is Jane’s last name?” Holmes turned his attention back to his notebook which he balanced upon his lap, pencil in hand.
“Kingsley. We are very much in love, Mr. Holmes, and I am in fact in the process of preparing to ask for her hand in marriage. I know that she loves me as much as I do her. I tell you this to add weight to the problem I will now lay before you. Jane suffers from the after-effects of having had polio as a child and as such is compelled to regularly see her Doctor whom she has known for nearly ten years. This Doctor has always treated her with a certain degree of contempt due to her somewhat timid nature in answering questions. He frightens her, you see, and becomes most frustrated when she doesn’t answer his questions. But he is a good Doctor and enables her to cope with her pain most effectively. But recently he has taken a sudden inexplicable interest in her.”
“When exactly was this, do you remember?” interjected Holmes.
“She first spoke of it two weeks ago; it must have been the fifth of May.” Holmes noted this down.
“I know that this is not as exciting a request as you must be accustomed to, but I am willing to pay you,” began Herbert.
“On the contrary, this is most stimulating!” said Holmes with a familiar spark in his eyes. “A fee does not concern me, only your complete cooperation as to my instructions.”
“I’m only too happy to oblige you, Mr. Holmes.”
“Well then, let us examine some facts: you are concerned because this man’s behaviour is highly unusual and perhaps threatening to yourself?”
“Jane’s heart belongs to me, but yes I am very anxious as to Doctor Berger’s intentions. In fact, the reason I arrived here just now in such a state was because I discovered a letter imploring Jane to meet him for dinner!”
“Do you happen to have this letter with you?” Lancaster rummaged in his coat pockets and produced the letter in its opened envelope. Holmes took out a glass and scrutinised it minutely.
“Hum, he wrote it from his surgery in a hurry, possibly to avoid being interrupted. Left-handed from the writing and most methodical in habit.”
“Why, Holmes, how can you tell?” I asked in awe of my friend’s comprehensive deductions. He smiled at my incredulity, despite my intimate knowledge of his techniques.
“Quite simple, Watson, if you employ a logical chain of reasoning from the result to the effect. The writing is tilted to the left and not quite in a straight line, whereas the letter itself is folded with care, indicating a man of precise habit who in this instance wrote in a hurry. Apart from the angle of the writing, the smudges produced are characteristic of a left-handed individual. Apart from these clues I can derive nothing more of interest. Is there any more information you can give me, Mr Lancaster, about this man?” The young man considered, and then shook his head.
“I hardly know him; I’ve never had a need to until now.”
“And you have no suspicions as to his motives?”
“I can’t figure it out! Jane is less well off than he with no rich relations and he has always treated her with the same indifference as any patient to my knowledge.”
“It seems we will need to pay this man a visit, and also Jane.”
“We are having tea together at her house tomorrow and you would be most welcome to join us. Two O’clock, number six on Salisbury Road.”
“We would be delighted, that is if you are available, Watson?”
“I can easily arrange to be available at that time.”
“Excellent.” Holmes stood to escort Lancaster to the door. “Tomorrow, then.”
“Thank you, both of you,” Lancaster smiled, much more at ease with the assurance of our aid, and departed....