The Vampire of The Lyceum
The Vampire of The Lyceum
A Sherlock Holmes short story
by Charles Veley and Anna Elliott
It’s 1890 and Halloween night in London. Ravenswood is playing at the Lyceum Theatre and the forces of evil are at work.
From the notebook of John H. Watson, M.D.
In recent years, Bram Stoker has become almost a household name, forever associated with his tales of the supernatural and the macabre. What the general public does not know, however, is that Sherlock Holmes and I had met Mr. Stoker before his rise to fame, and that the extraordinary nature of the case on which he engaged us—that of the Ravenswood Vampire—contained within it the seeds of the story that would so greatly advance Mr. Stoker’s literary career seven years later.
The case began on the 31st of October, 1890.
A persistent tapping awakened Mary and me in our bedroom, just after dawn.
We were in our home in Paddington, where we had been living for the two years that had followed our marriage. Awakening, I realized the tapping came from our bedroom door. From behind the door we heard the tremulous voice of our maid.
“Oh, and I’m surely apologizing, sir,” she said, speaking through the keyhole, “but there’s a Mr. Stoker here to see you. He’s a great big forceful fellow and he won’t take no for an answer. He’s in considerable distress, and he needs you right away. I put him in your consulting-room.”
I dressed and came downstairs, opening the door to my consulting-room with some annoyance at being disturbed at such an early hour. But that feeling vanished immediately when I saw the desperation in the blue eyes of the new arrival seated on my consulting table, legs dangling, rocking back and forth. He was a burly fellow, a bear of a man, perhaps the same height as Holmes but with a far heavier frame. His thick reddish hair had been recently moistened and badly combed, probably with fingertips. From the wet droplets on my washstand I knew just how recently.
“You can trust me,” I said, entering the room. “What brings you here at this early hour?”
He got down from the table and stepped forward to shake my hand in a warm, firm grasp. “I have come straight from the Lyceum Theatre. I am the house manager there. My name is Abraham Stoker. I need your help very badly, I fear, for I believe that either I am losing my mind or there are dark and supernatural forces within me or perhaps even without. I cannot be certain.”
Then the effort of standing and speaking caused him to come over faint, apparently, for he staggered and spun around, his knees buckling beneath him like a collapsing jack in the box. He hit the floor and lay still. I got him upright, though with some difficulty, for he was, as I have said, a bulky fellow and to manoeuvre an inert and unconscious human frame is more difficult than one would imagine. I propped him against the wall and prepared brandy and water from my cabinet and sink. Soon he was awake again.
He blinked and stared at me. “You see, I am quite overtaken –overmastered by whatever this fiend may be,” he said.
“More likely fatigue,” I said. “You have been working yourself too freely, I would imagine.”
“How do you know that?”
“Your have ink stains on the characteristic first and second fingertips and thumb of your right hand. So you have been writing recently. Your right elbow is worn and shiny from where you rest while writing. You say you are the house manager, so there is the theatre activity to consider before and after the performance. You are no doubt responsible for closing up after all have departed. Perhaps that is when you do your writing. You have come straight from the Lyceum, so you have been there all night. Working two jobs, so to speak, and overextending yourself.”
“You have the same skill as your friend Sherlock Holmes, Doctor,” he replied. “What you said is entirely true. I have been overextending myself. Yet that is a habitual state of mine and I have never had such an experience befall me as what occurred in my office three hours ago.”
I settled him into one of the two chairs I keep before my desk and sat beside him on the other. “Please tell me what happened.”
“I had been writing, as you surmised.”
“What were you writing?”
“In part, letters for Mr. Henry Irving to sign – he is the principal owner of the Lyceum, and his leading role in our current production of Ravenswood has attracted a great deal of critical attention. I was composing the last of these letters when I heard a rustling of fabric, perhaps silk or taffeta, at the far reaches of my office. I should mention that my desk is at one side of a large room, and at the centre of that room are two other desks, those of Mr. Irving and our stage manager, Mr. Loveday. We find it congenial to be able to speak to one another while working, for most of the business matters we share between us are well known to all three. We are partners, though Mr. Irving’s share is by far the greater. But I fear I am straying from my subject.”
He broke off and took a long swallow from the water glass. “As I said, I heard the rustling. So I took my lamp and walked over to the edge of the room. But I could see nothing amiss and the sounds stopped. I returned to my desk and finished the last letter. I took a sip of coffee.”
“You had coffee at your desk.”
“I keep a pot warm for Mr. Irving and Mr. Loveday. After the performance we sometimes like to discuss matters and plan the next day’s activities, resolving any matter that needs a consensus among us. The coffee had gone cold, of course, by the time I speak of.”
“Did the coffee taste at all strange to you?”
“No, it did not. The flavour was no longer what it had been but I was drinking it primarily for its powers as a stimulant. I wanted to keep awake, you see. I set the letters aside, and took out my notebook and the pages of the manuscript I am working on.”
“I write fictional tales. I greatly admire your true accounts of Mr. Holmes’s adventures, however, and I have my hopes that someday I shall make a name for myself that is equally well known to the public. But be that as it may. I had turned to the pages of my manuscript and picked up my pen to continue from where I had left off the previous night. Then I sensed a strong or strange or sharp odour. I do not know whether it came from the manuscript, or from somewhere nearby, but I was aware of it. And almost at the same time I felt a strange, otherworldly dizziness.”
“Similar to what you just experienced here in this room when you fell?”
“Quite possibly. I cannot recall the details with exactitude. Still, feeling dizzy as I said, I believed I had better lie down. My first thought was to stretch out on the floor, but there is a little cot that I keep for a nap when the need arises at a late hour and so I headed there. I lay down and closed my eyes. The room seemed to swirl around me.
“Then I heard the rustling again. I determined to get up to investigate, but I was still feeling dizzy, and allowed my eyes to remain shut for just a moment more, resolving to get up as soon as the wave of dizziness passed.
“Then, to my horror, I felt something brush my cheek. You know, Doctor, I am not a fearful man normally and my size and strength are such that physical attacks on my person have been non-existent since I attained adulthood. You can imagine how startled I was. When I opened my eyes I was feeling terror, yet I resolved to confront whatever it might be.”
He broke off and shook his head.
“The recollection is no doubt painful,” I said. “But perhaps your telling it would be of benefit to you.”
He swallowed another generous draught of water. “Very well. What I saw two inches from my face, breathing upon my cheek, was a woman, or a beast, or a man. I cannot be certain. The creature had a human-like face and scarlet lips, like a woman’s. But the teeth were those of an animal and the voice had a deep and disturbing resonance.”
“What did the creature say?”
“It spoke no words, Doctor. It gave a horrible, deep grunt, as though it was well satisfied with what it saw, and as if it was preparing to eat me.”
He gave a convulsive shudder. “I felt its intention, as strongly as I felt your kindness a few moments ago when you supported me and administered the brandy that brought me round. The intention of this thing—whatever it was, overmastered me. I feel terribly ashamed to say it, but that is the truth. I, who the moment before had been resolved to get up and confront whatever lay within the shadows, now, when faced with the thing itself, experienced the shame of defeat. In short, I fainted.
“When I awoke the creature was gone. I was on the cot, a bit dazed, for I had just sat up bolt upright, in a terror, as one does after a distressing dream.”
“So this could very well have been a nightmare, brought on by the effects of overwork.”
He gave me an odd smile. “So I thought as well. Then I went to the washstand that we have in the office and looked at my reflection in the mirror to splash cold water on my face. I had done the same thing in childhood when a nightmare had come and gone. I noticed that my tie and collar were unbuttoned. Then I looked at my neck, and what I saw put me into what I can only describe as a state of blind panic. I ran, Dr. Watson. God help me, I ran out of my office and down the steps and out of the theatre as fast as my legs would take me. I thank God that I had the presence of mind to stop and lock the outside door. Now, let me show you what I saw that put me into that horrible state of mind.”
He removed his tie, loosened his collar and leaned forward, baring the florid skin on the left side of the neck.
A cold thrill ran through me. About two inches below the line of his beard, the skin had been broken by two puncture marks.
“I agree with you, Mr. Stoker,” I said. “This was not a dream.”
After my new patient and I had fortified ourselves with buttered scones and fresh coffee, we made the short journey by cab to Baker Street.
Mary had given me a smiling shake of her head on hearing my reason for leaving the house so abruptly. “A case of demonic possession? Really, John, if you are so very eager to take part in another of Mr. Holmes’ investigations, you could just say so. I have told you before that I don’t mind.”
Fortunately, Sherlock Holmes was available to see us upon our arrival at number 221B.
I had not consciously looked for an excuse to visit Holmes. But I had to admit that it was pleasant to see the old sitting room again, the scene of so many beginnings to so many singular adventures.
We settled into the familiar chairs around the fireplace. Holmes listened to Stoker’s tale with eyes shut and chin resting on steepled fingers. Then Mr. Stoker once again loosened his tie and opened his shirt collar, displaying the puncture marks on his neck for Holmes to inspect.
I had been holding my breath in anticipation for what Holmes would say, weighing whether he was most likely to scoff at Mr. Stoker’s belief in the supernatural, or offer some entirely rational explanation for the story that had just been told.
Holmes, however, remained in his chair, motionless, for a few moments, holding up one finger to indicate that he was still thinking and did not wish to be disturbed. Then he clapped his hands together, sat up straight in his chair, and then sprang to his feet.
“We shall continue this interview in a cab,” he said. “We must reach the Lyceum without delay.”
We found a vacant growler, the ubiquitous London four-wheeler that offers little comfort but at least affords some shelter and privacy. Holmes seated himself across from Stoker and motioned that I should do the same. He asked a series of questions.
“Is your desk drawer locked?”
“No, but the room is quite private. Security ushers keep the public out and the theatre itself is locked after hours. As I told Dr. Watson, I had the presence of mind to see to that myself when I ran away early this morning.”
“Why do you write at such a late hour?”
“I find my imagination flows more freely after the day’s work has been done, when I am no longer burdened by my business responsibilities.”
“Why in the theatre?”
“So as not to disturb my wife. I frequently stride up and down, acting the parts of my characters, so to speak, and this can be unsettling to her, particularly when she is trying to sleep.”
“Did anyone touch your coffee?”
“I cannot say. The pot was unattended when I walked with Mr. Irving and Mr. Loveday to the theatre exit and locked the doors behind them.”
“What is the subject of the book you are writing?”
“An Irish tale. It concerns mainly the ancient battle of good and evil. There are vampires, representing evil, of course, and the church is the opposing force for good.”
Holmes thought for a moment. “You are familiar with the concept of stigmata. Watson, I take it that the injuries you observed were not stigmata, inflicted by Mr. Stoker’s mind.”
“The punctures that I observed were actual perforations in the skin. Definitely not stigmata.”
“Mr. Stoker, who knows the subject matter of your book?”
“In general, quite a few people know. But I haven’t shown the manuscript to anyone.”
“Very well. Would you please describe the events of the day on which you were attacked. Take care not to omit any detail, no matter how trivial it may seem.”
Stoker considered. “Very well. I arose just before noon. My wife gave me breakfast. On the way to the ferry I stopped at Mrs. Jacoby’s home.”
“Who is Mrs. Jacoby?”
“She supervises the understudies at the Lyceum and instructs them. She was an actress of some repute when she was active. We pay her because the young ladies need to be ready to go before a paying audience on short notice, and they themselves have not any spare funds. Mr. Irving considers the payments a form of insurance.”
“What was your purpose on visiting Mrs. Jacoby?”
“I needed to see her to determine how much she was owed and to agree on it. Her group is performing at a large banquet to be held tonight. It will take place before many distinguished guests, members of the Beefsteak Club, in lieu of the theatrical performance. You may have heard of the Club. Its members are renowned in artistic and literary circles.”
Holmes ignored the digression. “Why would you discuss business away from the theatre?”
“I needed to ascertain that I would have sufficient funds on hand at the theatre to pay Mrs. Jacoby for her work when she arrived to teach her students yesterday afternoon. Mr. Irving pays all his obligations in gold sovereigns. It is an eccentricity of his, but he finds that people are more reliable and ultimately will take less if that form of payment is employed.”
“Did you have sufficient cash on hand?”
“I did not, but I was going to stop at the bank in any event, for I needed to have the funds available to pay for tonight’s banquet. The musicians, the wait staff, the cook, and the decorator and florist all will arrive this afternoon to set up, along with Mrs. Jacoby and her young ladies. All of them will want their payment in advance, as usual.”
“But you needed to pay Mrs. Jacoby yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh, that was for her work as instructor of the understudies in yesterday’s class. I shall pay her for her group’s banquet performance later this evening.”
“What did you do between the time you left her home and the time you made the payment?”
Stoker thought for a moment. “I got on the ferry at the Oakley Street pier as usual. I paid for my ticket. I arrived at Waterloo Bridge pier, and went directly to the bank. I withdrew the gold sovereigns, placed them into my satchel, and went to the theatre. The remainder of the afternoon was perfectly ordinary. I read some new plays at Mr Irving’s request and wrote more letters for his signature to the playwrights or agents who had submitted them.”
The cab stopped before the stately columns of the Lyceum, where Holmes and I had begun our Agra Treasure adventure only two years earlier. We waited for the cabman to open the door.
Holmes asked Stoker, “Where did you place your satchel?”
“I took out the amount I would need to pay Mrs. Jacoby. Then I put the satchel with the rest of the cash in—” A careful look came over his bear-like features as he saw the cabman holding the door open for us. “—in a safe place. I will show you when we arrive.”
Not long afterward we had climbed the twelve carpeted steps from the outside pavement up to the theatre lobby, where Stoker unlocked the entry door. He called out for theatre attendants, but none were present. A lack of staff was to be expected at that hour, he said. The box office did not open until one o’clock. We climbed twelve more steps to the upstairs office area. The door was unlocked. We went inside.
Before us was chaos. Drawers of the three desks were open. There were papers strewn everywhere. The chairs had been overturned; the carpet between the desks had been pulled up and thrown to one side of the room, where it lay in an untidy heap.
Stoker stood with open mouth, gasping at the disorderly mess. He stepped forward, as though he were intending to tidy up. “Oh, God,” he said, “what will Mr. Irving think?”
“Mr. Stoker, please,” said Holmes. “Touch nothing here. Take us to the safe place where you hid your satchel of gold sovereigns.”
With a groan, the hapless man complied. His shoulders slumped as he turned and led us downstairs. We opened a large door and found ourselves in a darkened space, nearly pitch black. Stoker switched on the electric lights and we saw that we were in a huge, cavernous space. The chandeliers hung at least thirty feet above us and there was an enormous banquet table at the centre of the room, with at least thirty chairs around it.
“The Beefsteak Room,” Stoker said. “It is here, tonight, where we are to have the banquet I spoke of earlier.”
He walked hurriedly past the table, and his steps quickened as he drew closer to a large door set into the panelling on the opposite side. He flung open the door. In the shadows cast by the ceiling lights of the banquet hall, we could see that this was the back of the theatre stage.
“The gold is in one of the props in the wing, stage left,” Stoker said. “Nothing here seems disturbed. I pray that the hiding place has not been discovered.”
He turned to the dividing wall and raised his hand to another electric switch. The stage lights came on, revealing a jumbled collection of furniture and artificial plants, and, above the clutter, a tall, shadowy staircase going up some twenty feet.
“That staircase leads to Miss Terry’s dressing room,” said Stoker. “In some of the plays she uses it to great dramatic effect to make her entrances. But my hiding place is down here.”
He took a few steps more, and we saw, behind one of the sofas, a coffin. Its polished black surface glistened in the stage light.
“There is a funeral scene in the play we are performing now. The young heroine played by Miss Terry kills herself and the burial occurs in the last scene. The coffin has a false compartment built into the end, large enough to fit my satchel. It is behind a satin lining and no one would observe it unless one knew of its existence. I can only hope –”
He lifted the lid of the coffin.
The dreadful sight that confronted us haunts my memory.
Inside the coffin, a young lady lay face up, her blonde hair fanned out delicately atop the lavender satin lining. Her face glistened, her skin unnaturally shining and white. She wore a black cape and a white silk blouse. The sharp coppery smell of blood and death made it clear that this was not a theatrical effigy, and that a real human body lay inside this coffin. Looking closely, I could see that it was white face cream on her forehead and cheeks that gave them their abnormal whiteness. Her lips had been painted a dark crimson. Her hands were folded demurely on her chest. Her right forefinger and hand were stained red, as though they had been dipped in blood. Red stains also disfigured the left side of her neck and the adjoining collar of her blouse. Looking more closely, I saw that the flesh of her neck had been ripped open.
“Dear Heaven,” said Stoker. “This is Miss Carol Rinehart, the young understudy for Miss Terry. The animal teeth are missing, but this is the face of the thing that accosted me in my office less than twelve hours ago.”
Written in blood across the white silk fabric of Miss Rinehart’s blouse were three letters.
Stoker was staring at the letters, his eyes bulging wide in horror. “No,” he said, gasping for breath, his hand at his own throat. “It is not possible.”
Then, for the second time in my presence, he fainted.
Holmes took charge immediately, bidding me leave the theatre and fetch a constable, and to say nothing of what had transpired between Mr. Stoker and ourselves.
I obeyed without hesitation. The burly constable who I flagged down on the Strand was at first reluctant, but I knew there was a telephone at the Savoy Hotel nearby and insisted on calling New Scotland Yard. Fortunately Inspector Lestrade was there to verify my identity. It was not long afterward that the inspector, the constable, the police photographer and I were with Holmes and the unfortunate Mr. Stoker inside the theatre.
“No one has been here but ourselves,” said Holmes, “and I have removed nothing from the area.”
Lestrade nodded to the constable, who moved to stand close by the very despondent Stoker. Then he bent over the cold form of the young woman. Looking closely at the blood on her hand and the wound on her neck, he said, “Here, now. There’s a light trail of blood from the wound across her blouse to where she wrote those three letters. Looks like she died before she could finish writing out your name, Mr. Stoker. I’ve heard of you. Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
Stoker folded his arms across his chest. “I am innocent,” he said, “and I will say no more. I rely on Mr. Holmes to clear my name.”
“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” Lestrade turned to Holmes. “And you’ve spoken with him about this, have you? Why do you think he’s innocent?”
“You can see that for yourself. He is standing here.”
“You mean because he led you to the body? Ha. That’s just what a clever criminal would do. Told you some tall story, I suppose? Did you know he is a writer and makes up stories on a regular basis?”
“Yes, he told me as much. He was in his office upstairs, asleep on his cot, having been working and very likely drugged. This young woman awakened him. He fainted. When he awoke, she was gone. He felt greatly disturbed by the experience and consulted Dr. Watson on the assumption that he was suffering from some physical malady. Dr. Watson brought him to me to investigate the possibility that there may be others involved.”
“Mr. Stoker, do you have any witnesses who can verify your story?”
Stoker stood mute.
“Then I’ll tell you what is obvious to me and will be obvious to any jury. You were here alone in the theatre with this young woman. I know your types. An up and coming young actress – we’ll say no more about her, so as not to speak ill of the dead. You had a disagreement, let us say. You killed her. Then you stuffed her into this coffin and scarpered.”
“Mr. Stoker’s office and that of his two partners has been ransacked,” said Holmes.
“He could have easily done that himself. Corroborative detail.”
“The office appears to have been searched.”
“Enough gold sovereigns to pay for a large banquet that is to be held tonight. Food, servants, entertainers, decorations.”
Stoker spoke for the first time. “Two hundred pounds.”
“And where is it?”
To my surprise, Stoker said nothing.
“You won’t cooperate? Mr. Holmes, tell your client he ought to cooperate. Where is the money?”
“I believe it to be located in the theatre,” said Holmes.
Once again I was surprised that Holmes would not divulge the location of the satchel with its golden contents. Then I wondered whether the thieves had already taken the satchel from the coffin. Or whether Holmes himself had taken it. But Lestrade was speaking.
“I really don’t care where the gold is. We are investigating a murder here, not a theft. Personally, I think it’s quite likely that you, Stoker, took the gold and killed this young woman. Perhaps she was expecting some payment from you, was she? You were responsible for the funds, they were in your possession, and your name is written by the victim’s own hand in her own blood on her own blouse.”
“Not his entire name,” said Holmes. “She could have been writing anything that begins with those three letters. Or someone – the real murderer, could have moved her hand when she was already dead or unconscious. You will note that her hands have been folded.”
“That doesn’t exonerate Stoker. She could have felt death coming fast, and folded her hands so as not to look awkward when discovered. These young actresses are always fretting about their appearance. This one would have been no different, and it looks to me that her concern for her appearance stayed with her right up to her last breath.”
“Dr. Watson and I can attest that the coffin lid was shut when we discovered the body. Are we to assume that the young woman had enough strength and presence of mind to write the incriminating three letters, but not enough to open the coffin lid so that she could breathe?”
“There’s no telling what a dying woman will do,” said Lestrade. “Much less a dying young actress. Put the bracelets on Stoker, constable. Mr. Stoker, you are under arrest for the murder of this young woman. Anything you say may be written down and used against you by the Crown prosecutor in a court of law.”
“Take his photograph first,” said Holmes.
The photographer complied.
As Stoker was led away, he turned to Holmes and his blue eyes had a stricken, pleading look.
I felt the weight of his glance settle over me like a heavy chain across my shoulders. Stoker had come to me, imploring aid– and now he was arrested, perhaps to be hanged for murder.
Holmes said nothing.
A few minutes later, the remains of Miss Reinhart had been photographed and taken away, along with the coffin. I would have protested at the removal of the gold – if indeed the gold had been within the compartment as Stoker had claimed – but a warning look from Holmes insured my silence. Then Lestrade conferred briefly with two constables who had returned from inspecting Stoker’s office. The little group of policemen remained out of our hearing, however, so we learned nothing of their findings or their plans. I would have expected Holmes to protest and demand cooperation if only as a professional courtesy, but he seemed satisfied to wait.
Not long afterwards, Holmes, Lestrade and I were on the river ferry bound for the Chelsea pier and thereafter for the studio of Mrs. Jacoby, the acting instructor who had been with Miss Rinehart and her fellow understudies at the Lyceum yesterday afternoon. The chill wind from the west stung our faces and the dampness penetrated our overcoats. Holmes took no notice, however, and neither did Lestrade, who fairly bristled with excitement and determination. “You’ll see, Mr. Holmes,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Mark my words. We will get all the evidence we need to corroborate my view. Which will stand up in court, I might add.”
Holmes shrugged. “Possibly.”
“Well, what is your theory, then?”
“I have none at present. It is a capital mistake—”
“Yes, yes, I have heard you say that before. Perhaps you will be more confident after we interview that acting teacher in her studio.” He stood up. “Now for some fish and chips. I have had no breakfast and no luncheon. Shall I bring you some? No? Suit yourself.”
When he had gone I seized my opportunity.
“Holmes,” I said, “is the satchel still inside the coffin? Surely there is a great risk that it may be lost. The body will be removed for the autopsy. The coffin will be set aside and as it is moved without the body someone will surely notice that one end is far out of balance with the other.”
“The satchel will not be lost,” said Holmes.
“You have hidden it elsewhere?”
I had no reply, however, for at that moment Lestrade returned, with a newspaper folded around a generous and fragrant portion of fish and chips. He offered them politely to us. We both declined.
“I have another idea,” Lestrade said between two bites of his crisply battered cod. “I expect it’s another version of the events that Stoker might use. He had a story of some kind he was writing. He was working late and had that young actress with him for inspiration. Oh, yes, my constables told me about that manuscript scattered all over the floor. About some horrible creature: some flying, biting thing from an Irish myth. Stoker no doubt was taking drugs to lift his imagination, as some of these writer fellows do. We found bottles of drugs in his desk drawer, so that’s a fact, Mr. Holmes, not an airy theory. We haven’t analysed them yet, but we will.”
“And what is your other idea, then?”
“Why, he took too many drugs, of course, and it drove him out of his mind. Like that Dr. Jekyll story. If he was drugged, a jury may show some sympathy. Or he may be sent to an insane asylum instead of to the gallows.” Lestrade mused, for a moment. “Though that’s not a fate I’d personally want if I were in Stoker’s shoes. But it could happen, and my theory fits the facts. What do you say to that?”
“I agree. It is not a fate I would personally want.”
Not long afterward we stood on the threshold of Mrs. Jacoby’s residence, one of many along a row of tall imposing brick homes. Hers, we saw by the position of her name on the nameplate, appeared to take up the ground floor and the first floor. In response to Lestrade’s knock the door partially opened.
We looked up to see a woman’s protruding head, peering out at us with gimlet eyes, her lips tightly compressed. She wore a red silk scarf wrapped, turban-fashion, around her hair. She spoke in a deep, rich, theatrical voice. “Well?”
“Mrs. Jacoby? I am Detective inspector Lestrade of the Metropolitan Police Force. These two gentlemen are assisting me. May we come in? We have a few questions concerning one of your students.”
Without a word, Mrs. Jacoby opened the door more widely. But instead of stepping aside, she pushed forward onto the welcome mat, closing the door behind her. A tall, imposing woman – just as tall as Holmes, I thought – she looked us up and down appraisingly.
“Does the student have a name?”
“When she was alive, Madam, your student was called Miss Rinehart.”
Lestrade waited for the woman to grasp the idea. Reactions to the news of death, he had always said, were important.
Mrs. Jacoby drew in her breath and put her hand to her mouth. “That is quite a shock,” she said. “You’d better come in.”
We entered into a drawing room containing a piano and perhaps a dozen chairs. The room had once been smaller, I thought, but had been opened out to connect with what had once been a dining area, so that very nearly the entire ground floor was one large room. “I shall bring tea,” she said, “I feel the need for a cup of hot tea myself.”
We followed her to a kitchen area at the far right of the flat. A well-filled conservatory was visible to the left of the kitchen. Pale light came in through its glass walls and small ceiling. A large plant hung drooping from a pot on a tall ladder. Its many small leaves were tangled in a soft-looking mass that spread out like a grey woollen scarf, dominating the small glassed-in enclosure.
“You have successfully grown Spanish moss, I see,” said Holmes in a friendly manner, intended, I thought, to set the woman at ease.
Mrs. Jacoby looked up from her kettle. “Oh, it is not my own skill that accounts for the success. The conservatory faces south, fortunately, and provides sunlight even in the winter months, so the credit goes to the positioning of the plant. Very like staging, as I tell my students. Where one stands determines where the lights can reach you, and also what the audience will see of you.” She chattered on, clearly wishing to collect her thoughts by discoursing about familiar subject matter. When she had finished her preparations she led us back to the drawing-room area. We took our seats as she set down the tray and poured out hot tea for all.
Holmes accepted his cup with a tight smile of acknowledgment. Then as Mrs. Jacoby seated herself, he stood up, as though a sudden idea had occurred to him. “Would you pardon me, please?” he asked. “I should like water instead of tea. I have been quite stimulated today and require no more. Please do not trouble yourself, madam, I can get the water from your kitchen while the inspector begins with his questions. I shall be only a moment.”
“How long had you known Miss Rinehart?” asked Lestrade.
Mrs. Jacoby shrugged. “She joined our little group about six months ago. We call it the “Understudies Club.” She had some promise as an actress. A contralto voice, quite pleasing in tone.”
“And she was at the Lyceum yesterday afternoon?”
“We were rehearsing some madrigals for tonight’s banquet. A pity she will not be able to attend, as it will be difficult finding someone to sing her part on short notice. The young ladies stroll in small groups around the tables—” She broke off, as though something distressing had occurred to her, and then continued. “The banquet will go on, though, won’t it? The girls – young ladies – need the opportunity to perform before distinguished gentlemen. And there are gifts bestowed in gratitude. The girls pool the money and divide it among themselves.”
“But none for you, Mrs. Jacoby?” Lestrade said with a smile.
“Oh, I am paid for my work at the Lyceum.” She smiled modestly and then appeared to recollect her earlier question. “But about the banquet?”
“Oh, it will go on.”
“That is a relief.” She brightened, nodding at Holmes as he returned with his cup filled, I assumed, with plain water.
“Now,” she went on, “what can I tell you about Miss Rinehart? Let me see. She shared a flat with three other girls. I can give you the address. It is on Tite Street. The other girls are sure to know more, and there may be letters and such among her possessions.”
“Did she have a sweetheart?” Lestrade said the word with some discomfort.
“She said she could not afford one. As a young actress just starting to get roles, she was best off not being tied down. One needs all the supporters one can have at that stage of one’s career, if you take my meaning.”
“Did she have any enemies?”
“Oh no. She said she could not afford to have enemies either. She said it with a smile, poor dear.” Mrs. Jacoby lowered her gaze and took another sip of tea. “How did she come to die, may I ask?”
“We are trying to determine that,” said Lestrade. “Did she seem in any way out of the ordinary yesterday afternoon when you were rehearsing?”
“She was a bit distressed.”
“Did she say why?”
“No, but I had it from one of her flatmates that she was behind in payments for her share of the rent, and that their landlord had been cutting up rough about it.”
Holmes asked, “What role did she have in the current production?”
“She was understudy to Miss Terry. Her colouring suited the role, and her voice, as I say, was adequate. She had a very convincing body control, which is a requisite for swooning. The part requires a swoon or two in the scenes, the more important occurring towards the end, where her character dies. ”
“Did she ever have opportunity to rehearse with Mr. Irving?”
“I’m afraid not. But there was a consummation devoutly to be wished, if you take my meaning.”
“She admired Mr. Irving?”
“I should say so. Always casting the worshipful calf-eyes at him.”
“Did he take notice?”
“Oh, he has an eye for all the ladies, does our Mr. Irving. But I never noticed him pay particular attentions to Carol Rinehart.”
“Did any of the other gentlemen at the Lyceum pay her particular attentions? Mr. Loveday, for instance? Or Mr. Stoker?”
Her expression hardened for a moment and she took a breath, seeming to consider the implications of the question. Then she shook her head. “Oh, those are both married gentlemen,” she said. “I can’t recall any instances of such behaviour.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Jacoby,” said Holmes. I have only one question remaining. Did Carol Rinehart take drugs – opioids or stimulants?”
“Not that I know of. She wasn’t that sort; at least I don’t think she was. You should ask her flat-mates, and others in our little group. You can see them tonight at the theatre. We all must be there for costuming at six. Dinner begins at eight.”
She made as if to rise, as though mindful of what other activities lay before her between the present moment and the journey to the theatre. Then she sat back down with a look of polite inquiry.
“I shall leave you to your preparations.” Holmes stood up. “Unless, Inspector Lestrade, you have more questions?”
The little inspector having none, we took our leave.
Outside on the pavement once more, Lestrade gave Holmes a triumphant glance. “What did I tell you? Did you see the way she covered up for Stoker? ‘Married gentlemen,’ and ‘can’t recall?’ I’ll wager she’ll have quite a lot more to say in the witness-box if we charge him and bring him to trial.”
“I have no argument for you,” Holmes replied. “Now I have a few small errands to complete and, Watson, as it is nearing two o’clock I am sure you will wish to return to Paddington to look in on your waiting-room. Your patients may have need of your attention. Inspector, I presume you will be visiting Mrs. Stoker?”
“Constables have already gone to interview the poor woman. I will have their report on my desk when I return to the Yard.”
“Then, if you permit, I shall complete my errands, change into dinner attire, and meet you again at the Lyceum for the Beefsteak Club festivity. Watson, will you join us? I hope your good wife will understand and permit it, for I should be glad of your assistance.”
Lestrade looked puzzled. “Why assistance? What do you suppose will happen?”
“We shall have to wait and see.”
“Why do you think something will happen?”
Holmes gave one of his tight, fleeting smiles. “Because Mr. Stoker is still alive.”
I was detained in Paddington, first by a patient with an unusual cramp, and then by my wife, who also was not feeling well. Over her protests, I arranged for a nurse to attend her. She would not hear of me staying, for she knew how much Holmes relied on me, she said, and how important it was to me to be with him at such moments as this, when he had asked for my assistance.
Given those delays, it was roughly seven forty-five when I mounted the steps to the Lyceum and found the lobby crowded with men in black topcoats and top hats, waiting to be let into the theatre and led to the Beefsteak Room behind the stage. Lestrade and several constables were on hand, stationed where they could observe the gathering. The little inspector looked unusually dapper, though somewhat uncomfortable in his evening attire.
He took me aside. “We had the medical report on Miss Rinehart. Poison. They haven’t determined what was used, but there were no other marks suggestive of strangulation. No suffocation, no blows to the head, and no injuries other than the wound on her neck. So it has to be poison.”
“Are you saying that the cause of death was not the wound to her neck?”
“That occurred post mortem. There was minimal bleeding, really.”
“Could they rule out the possibility that her blood had been drained away?”
Lestrade gave me a strange look. “I did ask that, and no, they could not. But with more time, weighing the body and so forth, they may be able to establish something. For now, we are proceeding on the poison theory.”
“Or possibly an overdose of something. It might have been suicide, after all.”
“Oh, come now, Doctor. She takes an overdose, gets into the coffin, wounds herself with some disappearing implement – you recall there was no weapon found nearby – and then writes what she wrote and closes the coffin lid and dies?”
“It does seem unlikely when you put it that way. Have you seen Holmes?”
“He is with Mr. Irving.”
Lestrade shrugged. “He did not say. But we had already interviewed both Mr. Irving and Miss Terry, as well as the other principals, and found they had nothing to offer that would add anything to the facts of the case.”
“What about Miss Rinehart? Did the constables search her rooms?”
“They found nothing. The flat-mates didn’t seem to like her very much, and there were hints that where Mr. Irving was concerned she was no better than she should be. But I put all that down to jealousy. Irving had given her the leading female understudy part, you see, and the others couldn’t admit that she had won the role on her talent alone.”
“Where are they now – Mr. Irving and Holmes, I mean.”
“They were in Irving’s office, but he was planning to come down to address the serving staff. Some difficulty about the payment, I believe.”
“Behind the stage. There is a large anteroom kitchen adjacent to the Beefsteak Room where the food is prepared and kept hot.”
I found my way to the room in question without much difficulty. Holmes was near the entrance, looking perfectly comfortable in his evening garb. We might have been lounging at our ease before a theatrical performance.
Before us the room was filled with a group of anxious-looking tradespeople: those cooks, waiters, costumed actresses, and musicians who were to provide the evening’s meat, drink and entertainment. I also noticed two sombre-faced men in business attire. “They are from the bistro that supplies the food and drink for the evening,” Holmes said, following my gaze. “A most elegant and expensive repast. Irving must mollify them, and the entire crowd here. They had expected their payment nearly an hour ago.”
“Have you found the gold sovereigns?” I asked.
“They are safe. Look, here is Irving now.”
We stepped aside as Irving swept into the room. Tall, commanding, with a high forehead and massive cheekbones, his face might have been carved from a block of granite. Within this unyielding frame were piercing dark eyes and highly arched brows, framed by flowing brown locks. He wore a long black cape, which accentuated the power of his presence, trailing behind him like the robe and train of a royal personage.
The crowd parted to allow him to reach the front. He took one of the chairs, set it beside a table, and nimbly stepped up to stand before the crowd, gazing at each one of us as easily as if we were in his own drawing room and we were all his honoured and valued guests.
“My friends,” he began.
“Where’s our money?” came a cry from somewhere within the crowd between Irving and where we stood. In response, however, Irving did not put up his hands to silence the outburst, as I would have expected. Nor did he protest. Rather, he simply dropped his hands to his sides, spread his palms wide, lifted his outstretched arms slightly and waited, as though completely open to the needs of his audience and entirely incapable of concealing anything from them.
There were a few more outcries and grumbles, but they soon subsided into expectant silence. When the stillness had grown uncomfortable, Irving asked, “Will you allow me to tell you?”
Murmurs of agreement arose. The great actor spoke.
“You have all heard of the tragedy last night, and I know you and I are all grateful that we have been allowed to proceed by the reasonable personages of the Metropolitan Police, including Commissioner Bradford himself, who is attending tonight’s event as his illustrious predecessors have done for nearly a decade. As you are aware, I withdrew – or my associate withdrew, to be accurate – more than two hundred pounds in gold sovereigns so as to be able to pay each and every one of you for your good services. The money is safe, but it may be of evidentiary value in explaining the sorrow-laden events of last night. That is why, up until now—”
He stopped, after emphasizing the last word, and the audience held its collective breath. Then he resumed, “Up until now, it has been barred from my access; otherwise I should certainly have given it to you. But the Commissioner has just given me leave to produce the funds at the conclusion of tonight’s banquet. That is to say, when the dessert and coffee have been served, you shall find me here with the gold sovereigns – and two stout constables at my side, I hasten to add – prepared to give each of you precisely what you are owed and not a penny less. In short, I know where the treasure is and you have my personal assurance that before the evening is over I will have it in hand and you will be paid.”
“Can’t say fairer ’n that,” I heard someone say. Murmurs of assent followed.
Irving went on for a moment or two longer, addressing the group on the themes of heritage and history and reputation, and the glory that would shine on each one of them and colour their own individual memories with imperishable satisfaction if they performed well this evening for their illustrious audience.
Holmes spoke quietly so that he would not be overheard. “We are to dine at the standing tables on the perimeter of the banquet room. Irving will take his seat at the head of the central table. Whatever happens, do not allow him out of your sight. Stay close to him at all costs. His life and the lives of others are at stake.”
“Where will you be?”
“I shall be observing him as well. But I may be delayed or interfered with.”
“Does Lestrade know?”
“He is aware and has given his consent. But his men must not be visible.”
Irving’s address concluded, and the workers that composed his audience turned to their appointed tasks. I saw Mrs. Jacoby with her young ladies, who all appeared stricken and despondent, no doubt in distress at the death of their compatriot Miss Rinehart. Their glum and pallid faces contrasted with their costumes, which were those of saucy tavern wenches, with white bonnets and tightly laced black corsets. Beneath the corsets they wore frilly white blouses that fully exposed their bare shoulders and necks.
Mrs. Jacoby beckoned them out of the anteroom for their final instructions, imperiously gesturing towards the door that led to the backstage area. They moved together like a flock of reluctant sheep. I could not help thinking of what fears and visions might have been haunting the imaginations of those young ladies, for I was certain that they knew they were going very near to the exact location where the unfortunate Miss Rinehart had been found in that horrid coffin.
Despite this somewhat foreboding commencement to the evening, the dinner itself progressed with wonderful efficiency. I had my supper standing up at one of a dozen small tables provided for those guests who were not among the thirty-six most notable members of the Beefsteak Club, and accordingly did not have places at the main table where Irving, as president and host, held forth at the head. The beefsteak was the finest I had ever tasted. I wondered if Holmes, at his standing-table on the side of the room farthest from mine, was eating his portion, or whether as usual he was ignoring the needs of his body when immersed in a case.
Mindful of Holmes’s instructions, I kept my eyes on Irving as I ate, and I did not allow any of the waiters to refill my glass, although the claret was indeed excellent and flowed in abundance.
However, it was difficult not to be distracted by the evening’s entertainers, the young ladies who, in groups of four, circulated to sing familiar popular melodies and English madrigals. Whereas they had been pallid and despondent on their way to their last-minute rehearsal with Mrs. Jacoby, they were now radiant and energetic, filled with friendly spirits and savouring each note as they sang it, as if nothing in the world could have been more pleasing or beautiful than to perform for us. A fellow diner standing next to me gave me a knowing nod. “Actresses,” he said. “They do come alive on a stage, no matter how small that stage may be.”
Then I saw Irving stand up and bow momentarily to the gentleman to his left, as though excusing himself. He strolled along the length of the table, gesturing and nodding at guests in personal recognition. Then he did the same on the other side, coming back to his place at the head. I thought he might seat himself once more, but instead he veered off to the standing-tables at the far side of the room, strolling and greeting those guests in turn. He eventually came to my side of the room, and then passed my table, his face creased in a warm and friendly smile of good cheer, and his piercing eyes darting back and forth, as if eager to bestow friendly recognition. He passed by our table, moving toward the next. One of the singing quartets had been waiting behind him and now drew closer to surround and serenade the five of us diners. I was momentarily distracted as they began to sing, “Adieu, sweet Amyrillis.”
Then I looked for Irving, and he was gone. I cast my gaze around the room to the table where Holmes had once stood, but he was no longer visible.
A wave of panic and frustration passed over me. I had failed Holmes. Whatever was about to happen, if Holmes were relying on me, he would be disappointed, and, quite possibly, endangered. I stared in desperation at the empty space where Irving had last been in my field of vision.
Then I saw the door to the backstage area was not quite shut.
I was through that door and into the backstage area in a moment.
The lights had been extinguished but the stage curtain was fully open and the dim glow cast by the safety lanterns at the back of the auditorium provided a pale illumination.
Irving was walking toward the centre of the stage, stepping carefully as though on a tightrope. He stopped and crouched down. Then he looked round as though wishing to be certain that he was unobserved. I shrank back against the wall. He had not seen me.
He turned his attentions to the floor and I heard the clink of metal, and then the creak of a hinge. He reached down and, struggling, hauled up from an opening in the floor a dark object, which I realized was a good-sized leather satchel. As he set the satchel down beside him I heard the soft metallic clink of the contents.
He turned back to the opening in the stage and knelt to reposition what I now realized was a trapdoor.
Then I heard from above us the soft rustle of fabric. The noise came from the direction of the staircase and Miss Terry’s dressing room. I looked up.
To my shock and amazement, a huge dark figure in a black mask and black cape was sliding down the railing of the staircase at an extraordinarily rapid rate of speed, seemingly to float or fly downward like a great hawk swooping down upon its prey. Before I could react, the figure had landed beside Irving, kicking him to one side and lifting up the satchel in one swift movement.
In the next instant the masked figure leaped from the stage to the deserted floor of the auditorium, and, black cape billowing behind, dashed up the aisle, carrying the satchel in both arms like a rugby player.
I ran across the stage to where Irving was picking himself up from the floor. He appeared shaken, but unharmed. We both looked toward the rear of the auditorium and saw the masked figure burst through one of the exit doors and vanish into the shadows. My heart sank.
Then a moment later, to my astonishment, Sherlock Holmes emerged from the orchestra pit. With a few swift steps and a springing, sideways leap he levered himself up onto the stage to stand before us. “An excellent performance, Mr. Irving,” said Holmes. “I commend your skill in avoiding injury.”
From the rear of the theatre there arose the muffled sounds of a brief struggle. “Ah, Lestrade’s men have her,” Holmes said.
“Her?” I could not help asking the question.
The same exit door opened and Lestrade appeared. Behind him were three burly constables, two on either side of the masked figure and the third close behind. With Lestrade leading the way, the constables frog-marched the masked figure, stooped over with arms cuffed behind, down the aisle to stand at the foot of the stage before us.
Lestrade reached up and tore off the black mask.
“Good evening, Mrs. Jacoby,” said Holmes.
The tall woman glared at him, hatred oozing from her very presence.
Holmes’s voice took on that silken tone he adopts when having his final conversation with his vanquished opponent. “There is no sunlight at this hour for your Spanish moss, is there? All your exotic tropical plants are in darkness, including your South American peyote and your ayahuasca, which I recognized in your conservatory early this afternoon. As I explained to Inspector Lestrade, here, and to the Commissioner of Police, ayahuasca is known as the ‘telepathic vine’ and it induces strong feelings of empathy within the minds of those who consume it. Peyote as well also produces hallucinations. You infused both, I believe, into the coffee pot of Mr. Stoker less than twenty-four hours ago, along with a mild dose of a sedative that would cause him to feel fatigued and wish to lie down. Then your associate, the unfortunate Miss Rinehart, donned the theatrical garb and animal teeth that so terrified Mr Stoker when she awakened him a short while later. He fainted, as expected, given the effects of the drugs, and you or Miss Rinehart made puncture marks on his neck, duplicating the marks of those supernatural creatures that had consumed his imagination, as you well knew from previous examination of the manuscript that he kept in his unlocked desk drawer.
“You stood in the shadows of his office, waiting for him to awaken. He went to his washstand, and he discovered the marks. But instead of behaving as you expected, he fled immediately from the theatre. Was it then that you had a quarrel with Miss Rinehart, when she realized that her night’s work was not to about to yield payment? Or had you drugged and murdered her by then, poisoning her with the red lip paint, or the white face cream you so liberally applied? Whatever the prior sequence of events may have been, you then placed her in the coffin, the location of which you of course knew of from rehearsals. You made a mess of Stoker’s office, leaving bottles of drugs in his desk drawer and strewing the pages of his manuscript about so that all would know what occupied his creative imagination. You cut her throat and used her finger to write the first letters of Stoker’s name in order to incriminate him.”
“You can’t prove a word of this,” she snarled. “All you can prove is that I grow tropical plants in my conservatory, and there’s no crime in that.”
“On the contrary,” said Holmes. “We have ample proof. A few hours ago, after you had left your flat in Chelsea to come here, constables found the red-stained animal teeth worn by Miss Rinehart hidden in your bedroom. In a cabinet at the back of your closet they found a large supply of cocaine, which you have been giving to those unfortunate young ladies in your “Understudies Club,” inducing them to rely on the drug to bring their performances to a more exalted level. In your dustbin the constables also found the red and white makeup jars, the contents of which will upon analysis no doubt prove to be quite incriminating. And we have your very presence here. I saw the excitement in your eyes this afternoon when you learned that the dinner performance would still go on, and I thought that could be used to advantage. So I obtained the kind cooperation of Mr. Irving and Inspector Lestrade and Commissioner Bradford. Oh, and we have several cocaine suppliers who will be willing to testify that you are in debt to them for more than one hundred pounds. That is why you were so desperate to obtain Mr. Irving’s two hundred pounds in gold. All this evidence will have a cumulative effect on any jury, and will be ample to place your neck into the noose.”
“Damn you, Holmes,” was all she said.
“As to that, madam, if there is a judgment in a next world, perhaps there you will receive the punishment you deserve for preying on the young actresses in your charge, selling them drugs for your own profit. You are the true vampire here, for you have drained the young ladies’ scant resources as well as their hopes. You caused them to become addicted, when you should have taught them to rely on their own energies and talents. You gave them cocaine even tonight, immediately before the banquet, did you not?”
“Damn you,” she said again.
Two of the constables dragged Mrs. Jacoby away. We watched her writhing and struggling between them, until they had left the auditorium. Then Lestrade handed the satchel up to a grateful Mr. Irving, who, after a satisfied glance at the contents inside, bowed to each of us in turn. “Now, gentlemen,” he said, “I shall attend to business. After I have concluded, I hope you will join me in a celebratory toast of claret.”
We watched him re-enter the banquet room in the company of the third constable. A few moments later we heard a loud cheer.
Holmes looked expectantly at Lestrade.
The Inspector said, “Stoker will be released at once. I shall telephone the Yard from here.”
“And yes, I shall keep my promise. He will be taken to his home in one of the Commissioner’s carriages, and a deputy commissioner will accompany him, and the deputy will make profuse apologies to Mrs. Stoker for the unfortunate misunderstanding that has kept them apart.”
Lestrade cleared his throat. “Now, Mr. Holmes, I should like you to keep your part of the bargain. How did you know that Mr. Stoker was innocent?”
“As I said previously, because of what I observed. There were three particular points of interest. As the police photograph of the unfortunate Miss Rinehart will show, she had no ink smudges on her white blouse, so it was unlikely that Mr. Stoker, whose ink-stained fingertips were quite apparent, placed her in the coffin.”
“He might have worn gloves.”
“He might have. But he did not wear gloves when removing his collar, for smudges were apparent there, and there were also smudges on the white silk of his tie. Yet there were no smudges on his neck where the puncture marks had been made.”
“Perhaps he put on the gloves after he exposed his neck.”
“Unlikely, but possible. However the third point of interest was quite conclusive.”
“What was that?”
“The police photograph will also show that Miss Rinehart’s blonde hair had been carefully spread, fan-like, over the velvet pillow cushion of the coffin. That proves it would have been impossible for her to have written out the three letters of Stoker’s name with her right hand, using the blood from the wound on the left side of her neck. In order to do that, she would have needed to twist her body and move her head, which would have disturbed the careful and artistic arrangement of her hair. For her to have restored that fan-like effect would have been impossible for her to do without leaving bloodstains on the blonde fibres. So by eliminating the impossible, I knew Stoker was innocent. To find the guilty party, I needed to utilize the motive of the attack on Mr. Stoker, which was obviously not meant merely to cause him harm.”
“I follow you there. I agree the perpetrators did not merely wish to cause him harm. But what did they want from Mr. Stoker?”
“When they drugged and then terrified him, they expected him to reveal the location where he had hidden the gold sovereigns.”
“Why did they think he would do that?”
Holmes took a deep breath, closing his eyes momentarily as though he were recalling something of emotional importance to him. Finally he said, “When a person has just undergone a shocking experience, the immediate instinct is to confirm the safety of other persons important to him, or to rush to be sure that whatever possession most valuable to him is still intact. I myself have used the technique to advantage on several occasions. Though not, I must admit, with complete success.”
Again, his eyes shut for a moment. Then he cleared his throat. “In this case, however, “ he said, “Mr. Stoker did not react in the predicted manner. That was probably due to the effects of the drug and his own active imagination, which had been inflamed by the fearsome aspects of the supernatural villainies with which he was preoccupied.”
He gave a brief bow. “So, Inspector, Dr. Watson and I will leave you to your mission. When you have confirmed that Mr. Stoker is on his way to his wife and home, I invite you to join us in the celebratory toast to which Mr. Irving referred.”