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Authors: Daniel D. Victor

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The Final Page of Baker Street

BOOK: The Final Page of Baker Street
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Title page

The Final Page of Baker Street

(In which are depicted the exploits of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John H. Watson, and Master Raymond Chandler)

Edited By Daniel D. Victor

Publisher information

© Copyright 2014 Daniel D. Victor

2014 digital version by Andrews UK Limited

www.andrewsuk.com

The right of Daniel D. Victor to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without express prior written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted except with express prior written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended). Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damage.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious or used fictitiously. Except for certain historical personages, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not of MX Publishing.

Originally Published in the UK by MX Publishing

335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive,

London,
N11 3GX

www.mxpublishing.co.uk

Cover design by
www.staunch.com

Dedication

Here's another one for Norma, Seth and Ethan

Acknowledgments

My deepest appreciation for their help goes to Calista Lucy, Dulwich College Archivist; to Mariusz Gasior, Access Team Librarian at the Imperial War Museum; to Chris Morton, Information Manager of The National Gallery; and to Roger Johnson, editor of
The Sherlock Holmes Journal
. On a more personal level, many thanks again to Barry Smolin, Sandy Cohen, Seth H. Victor, Ethan J. Victor, and Robert and Sylvia MacDowell. But the greatest thanks and love go to my wife, Norma Silverman, without whose inspiration - in more ways than I can count - this project would never have been conceived, let alone completed.

Quotations

Chandler's time in London can be most accurately sensed in the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle. The ... career of Sherlock Holmes spanned from 1887 to 1917 and captured a city that Chandler knew at first hand.

- Tom Hiney,
Raymond Chandler: A Biography

In one sense, [Marlowe's world] is almost an elaborate transfiguration of that more simply and robustly cosy world in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go about their familiar business, returning to
221b
Baker Street for relaxation over a well-roasted partridge and a bottle of Burgundy.

- John Bayley, Introduction,
Collected Stories of Raymond Chandler

Editor's Preface

Dr. Watson never really understood whom he was describing. Oh, he knew well enough that he was detailing the story of a young man whom he and Sherlock Holmes had befriended as a boy. But due to Watson's death in 1929, the good doctor never got to learn that the youth he and Holmes had called “Billy the Page” would go on to become the famous American crime writer known to the world as Raymond Chandler. To give Watson his due, he did recognize the youth's embryonic talent. He even encouraged the boy's creative efforts. But Watson's mentoring wasn't enough to ignite Chandler's true genius. It would take a trip across the Atlantic, a home in Los Angeles, marriage to an older woman, and job-loss during the Depression to complete the transformation.

As a mystery fan who lives in LA, I've always been intrigued by Chandler, who set so much of his fiction in the “City of Angels.” Reading
The Long Embrace
, Judith Freeman's insightful account of the time in LA spent by Ray and his wife Cissy, renewed my interest in the writer as well as a desire to discover more about him. My search took me to the Internet, a quick check of which informed me that there are two major archival collections of original Raymond Chandler papers: one, at the Bodleian Library in Oxford University, England; the other, at the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA. Since the latter is only a half-hour from my home, it was easy to choose which to visit.

Chandler would have appreciated my route. I drove west, following the curves of Sunset Boulevard, one of those “mean streets” Ray used to write about - past the Strip with its cheesy bars, rock clubs, flashy billboards, and swank hotels; through Beverly Hills with its sentry lines of ficus trees; and on to the university's research library, a large, square building hiding behind a bland façade of vertical and horizontal white strips. But as Chandler's stories testify, you can't let Southern California appearances fool you. Despite its unassuming architecture, the library houses a Special Collections room, which contains a trove of original works from all over the world. It also contained, as I was to discover, the typewritten manuscript of the book you now hold in your hands.

At the front desk of the Special Collections room, you request the material you want to examine. Minutes later, from behind a gilt Chinese folding-screen near the back wall, a librarian will wheel out a cartload of cardboard boxes. Like the files within them, these containers are all numbered, and you are allowed to take back to your seat only a single folder at a time. To protect the valuable collections, the lighting in the room is dimmed; but the tables are equipped with white-shaded reading lamps, so it's easy to examine whatever you've asked for.

And examine I did. Throughout that exciting afternoon, a wide assortment of Chandler-related writings and memorabilia paraded before me. Although they were encased in clear-plastic sleeves, I could hold actual letters to and from Ray, original photographs of Cissy, the entire typed manuscript of
The Little Sister
, complete editions of
Black Mask
magazine containing Chandler stories. I was so fascinated by the material that much of the afternoon was already gone by the time I realized that I had not yet looked into the largest of the boxes. Perhaps I had inadvertently saved best for last.

Oversized to accommodate full-length newspaper clippings, the box is about twenty-four inches wide, thirty-six inches long, and three inches deep. In it, large white folders, whose length and width are only slightly smaller than those of the box itself, cover the entire bottom. Since it's generally easier to open the large folders while they remain stacked within the low-walled box than spread-eagle them over the restricted table space, these particular folders had probably never been lifted out of their confines - at least, not the bottom one. Wanting to be thorough, I took all of them out.

It was underneath the last folder that I discovered the typed pages bound in twine that comprise the contents of this book. Though nobody seems to know how it got there, even if some clerk had at one time seen the manuscript, its title would have raised no concern. The innocuous word “Watson” is all that is scrawled across a yellowing top-sheet. Anyone who did come across the name would no doubt assume that some papers belonging to a “W” file had simply been stored in the wrong place. But since the manuscript was still there, obviously no such discovery had occurred. Until I came along. Curious, I untied the string that held the pages together and discovered this treasure - the heretofore-unknown history of the weighty relationship between Sherlock Holmes, the celebrated detective, and R.T. Chandler, a young student growing up in London at the start of the twentieth century.

I particularly wish to thank the directors of the Department of Special Collections at UCLA for allowing me editorial stewardship of the text. In that capacity, I have taken the liberty to add a traditional title and a brief afterword. To remind everyone of the fame that Chandler was destined to gain so many years after the conclusion of Watson's account, I have also inserted headnotes at the start of each chapter. Apologies made, I now proudly present to you all - readers, fans, students, and scholars - this most revealing tale: a narrative that helps delineate not only the psychological foundation of one of the great writers in the American canon, but also - if you read carefully enough - the shadowy origins of Phillip Marlowe, one of the most celebrated private detectives in literary fiction.

Daniel D. Victor, Ph.D.

Los Angeles, California

July 2014

An Introductory Word of Note

During the many years that I have recorded the adventures of my friend and colleague, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I have had occasion to mention the pageboys, those young lads at our place of residence, who, under the direction of Mrs. Hudson, acted as servants helping to facilitate the smooth running of the household. To be sure, their appearances in Holmes' investigations were periodical at best. In the few investigations in which these boys actually participated, they generally served only to swell a scene or two or add embellishment to the backdrop; but the story that follows dramatizes a role of much greater significance. While my account describes the last few months that Sherlock Holmes spent in our old rooms, in reality, the focus of the narrative reveals the more complicated story of one of those pageboys - in fact, the very boy whom providence chose to designate the final page at
221b
Baker Street.

As I hope my faithful readers recognize, it has always been my goal - as long as practicality and propriety have allowed - to maintain the highest integrity in reconstructing the cases of Sherlock Holmes. Yet one matter in particular has always seemed to call out for clarification, the authorship of a narrative that, despite its attribution to me, has for more than twenty years been continually questioned by the keenest of readers. While I have done my utmost to ignore the controversy, it is time for me to admit that such critical perseverance should be applauded. For it is only now, with the principal players who could have been harmed either gone from our shores or dead, that I am able to confirm in the following narrative those lingering suspicions about the first Sherlock Holmes adventure that neither he nor I, his faithful Boswell (or so he used to call me), had narrated. What's more, my deception precipitated a major and unforeseen consequence; for the callow writer who actually recounted the details wound up involving us in a much more significant case. How that young reporter found himself in our digs, how he came to write the story, and how his presence stimulated a further descent into the foetid and nefarious world of crime are all essential facts which the historical record has persistently demanded be made public.

Ironically, that story I
didn't
write had its roots in a trifling puzzle which I
did
report, a case that Holmes had resolved some eight years before. And while I myself did faithfully, if duplicitously, detail that earlier account, the narrative that follows will reveal some of the facts I felt compelled to obfuscate at that time. Although I will also provide the identity of the heretofore-unnamed chronicler, readers will recognise this revelation as a mere distraction, interesting in the long run only because its revelation helps illuminate the much more significant case in which that reporter later involved us, a case so encompassing that it threatened the very pinnacles of British society. Of even greater importance - and that which makes the account all the more fascinating - is that it dramatizes one of the most twisted and tragic stories that Sherlock Holmes and I ever encountered.

John H. Watson, M.D.

London, 1925

I

Show me a man or woman who cannot stand mysteries and I will show you a fool, a clever fool - perhaps - but a fool just the same.

- Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel”

At first glance, she seemed innocent enough, the dark-haired woman of middle age who came enquiring about her son.

On that cold Tuesday afternoon in April 1903, neither Sherlock Holmes nor I could possibly have anticipated the chain of events her visit would trigger so many years later, a chain of events that would not only ensnare us in a web of violence and murder, but also threaten the stability of one of the most powerful publishing empires in all of England. But that is exactly what happened. A seemingly insignificant episode of eight years past prompted the arrival at Baker Street of a client who would inadvertently entangle us in a tale much more complicated and ominous than the simple case she had originally come to discuss.

But I anticipate myself.

With a thick yellow fog blanketing London, a fire crackled in the hearth, and Sherlock Holmes, clad in his mouse-coloured dressing gown, was drawing aside the white muslin curtain at our bow window. It was the grating of wheels and the clatter of hoofs on the cobblestones below that had caught his attention.

“Like old times, eh, Watson?” he mused, wiping a circle of condensation from the leaden glass. “Perchance a new case to get the blood moving.”

However enticing such a prospect might have been in my earlier life, I was by this time dwelling with my wife in Queen Anne Street and, despite the eerie fog, simply paying my old friend a visit. I was certainly not in the market for any new escapades; such adventures were no longer an option for an old married man like me. To the unencumbered Sherlock Holmes, of course, the game was forever afoot.

“As best I can make out through this muck,” Holmes observed, “a woman of about forty years has just got out from a hansom cab, and she is now matching the house number against one written on some sort of card... No, actually, on the back of a photograph.”

Holmes let the curtain drop and, exchanging the dressing gown for his burgundy smoking jacket, remained standing for the few minutes it took Mrs. Hudson to usher into the sitting room the woman whom Holmes had described. With sharp features and luxuriant brown hair arranged in a chignon, she appeared quite the handsome caller - yet dressed in navy gabardine, also a traditional one. Her only
accoutrements
included a delicate silver watch-pin fastened with a tiny ribbon at the left of her heart and a small, black-beaded reticule whose gilt clasp she was continuously massaging with her right thumb. At the same time, her nervous blue eyes constantly surveyed the surroundings.

I rose to join Holmes in greeting her.

“Mrs. Florence Thornton Chandler,” our landlady announced and quietly exited, closing the door behind her.

“Mrs. Chandler,” Sherlock Holmes said, “allow me to introduce Dr. Watson, my colleague and associate. You may speak freely in front of him.” Indicating the armchair opposite ours and nearest the fire, he added, “Pray take a seat and tell us what brings you here on so gloomy a day.”

The woman nodded in my general direction and was proceeding toward the chair Holmes had offered when he added, “I can only wonder what you've come to talk to me about. That is, of course, besides the concern you have regarding your son at Dulwich College.”

Mrs. Chandler stopped abruptly and turned to stare at my friend. It was exactly the kind of reaction I knew he had hoped to elicit. Despite Holmes' famed stoicism, he never failed to enjoy what appeared to others as a mystifying clairvoyance.

“Elementary, my dear Mrs. Chandler. Your watch-pin - ”

“The ribbon, of course,” the woman interrupted. Despite her unease, she managed a sheepish smile. Initially, she might have felt taken advantage of, but having displayed her own acumen, she could allow herself a degree of satisfaction.

“True,” Holmes continued, “even in so small a strip as the fabric attached to your watch, one can clearly see the College bars of royal blue and black interrupted by light-blue stripes. But may I also draw to your attention the tiny bits of black clay and sawdust clinging to the edges of your boots. As I discovered during a case a number of years ago, such a mixture is peculiar to the athletic fields at Dulwich.”

“Quite impressive, Mr. Holmes,” the lady admitted. “But you also mentioned my son. May I ask what led you to
that
conclusion?”Despite her British name, the dancing lilt of Mrs. Chandler's words and the mellifluous roll of her r's suggested an Irish origin, slightly tempered by an American twang.

“Ah, Mrs. Chandler, the merest trifle. I observed your arrival through our window. Despite the fog, I could see you clutching a photograph. And while the air is not clear enough to have allowed me to distinguish the particulars, even from this distance a large, white Eton collar at the neck of a dark-clad figure is difficult to miss. I presume that the portrait in question now resides in your bag whose clasp you are so constantly massaging.”

Mrs. Chandler immediately stopped the motion, but Holmes paid little notice. “No wedding ring on your finger excludes concern for a husband; the collar in the photograph suggests a youth at school; and thus your obvious anxiety - so readily apparent in the gripping of your bag - assures me that the subject in question must certainly be your son.”

Begrudgingly, the lady nodded. Only then did she take the offered chair. Sitting upright before the leaping flames, she faced us both.

“Now, madam,” I said in what I hoped was a more genial fashion than my friend's, “perhaps you can tell us the specifics of what has brought you here.”

Mrs. Chandler took a deep breath and then another. In those few moments, she seemed to be weighing her words, as if asking herself one final time whether revealing her worries might actually be in her best interest.

“Dr. Watson,” she said at last, “what has brought me here - as Mr. Holmes has already concluded - is concern for my son, the boy in the picture. Oh, I hope I don't sound like a foolish mother, Mr. Holmes, but I have come at the recommendation of my friend Mr. Bannister, a servant at Dulwich College, whom you may have cause to remember.”

“Bannister,” Holmes nodded, “yes, indeed. It was eight years ago - the very case I alluded to earlier in reference to the black clay and sawdust. Watson and I were staying in Dulwich at the time so I could complete my investigation of a property dispute. I had been researching the Early English charter granted to Edward Alleyn by King James in 1619 that established Dulwich College when we were distracted by an academic scandal. You will recall, Watson, that ugly episode related to charges of cheating in pursuit of the Fortescue Scholarship. The results of a Greek exam were in question.”

“Thucydides,” I confirmed. “Reported in the narrative I entitled ‘The Adventure of the Three Students.' By implying that the story took place at a university like Oxford or Cambridge, I believe I successfully shielded the reputation of Dulwich College. It may not be as celebrated a public school as Eton, but whatever I could do to preserve its good name, I felt obliged to do.”

“For which,” Holmes said, “I am quite convinced, its headmaster, Mr. Gilkes, remains fully appreciative.”

“To be certain, sir,” our visitor agreed. “Mr. Bannister told me how pleased his superiors felt when you were able to save him and them from public humiliation. To this very day, everyone who'd been involved in that embarrassing incident remains in your debt. ‘Sherlock Holmes is somebody to be counted on,' is how Mr. Bannister puts it.”

One could well understand Bannister's appreciation although he had obviously not confessed to Mrs. Chandler his own compromising role in the story.

Holmes smiled briefly and reached for his old briar in the pipe rack on a nearby table. Filling the bowl with the black shag he stored in the Persian slipper, he asked Mrs. Chandler the nature of her current distress.

“As I have already said, Mr. Holmes, it is my son, Raymond, who has caused me to come here today.” Once she mentioned the boy's name, her eyes began to moisten. Almost immediately, however, she composed herself. “Although I was born in Ireland, Ray was born in America - Chicago, to be precise. Not long after, Maurice, his miserable father, walked out on us, and Ray and I moved to Nebraska to spend time with my sister Grace and her family. Grace had come to America before I did. Though we shared a number of summers with them in Plattsmouth, it just wasn't a good situation for the boy - too much drinking by his uncles and all-around crookedness - so we went back to Ireland and my family in Waterford, the very people I'd hoped to escape when I left for America.”

“Returning to your childhood home must have been a difficult decision,” I suggested.

Mrs. Chandler allowed herself a smile. “A difficult decision indeed, Doctor! My mother can be quite the dictator. ‘Tyrant' might be a better word.”

“From the proverbial frying pan into the fire,” I offered.

Mrs. Chandler nodded. “My mother was the main reason I followed my sister to America. I had to get out of that house with all the bullying and snobbery and prejudice.”

“But now you're here in England,” I observed.

Mrs. Chandler laughed. “Yes. After leaving Waterford, Ray and I moved to Dulwich. We lived in a large, detached house called Whitefield Lodge in Alleyn Park just next to the school's playing field. In fact, it's owned by my brother Ernest - a business investment, I should imagine. He's a solicitor. My mother and sister Ethel were also living there when we arrived.”

“So, still with your mother,” Holmes said, exhaling as he spoke.

“At least we were free of Waterford,” she explained. “And who knows? Maybe Ernest was happy to be rid of us as well. He too felt the hand of the tyrant. Becoming a solicitor to maintain the family law firm was not
his
choice; it was our mother's. Maybe he was even sympathetic. I must say that he's been most generous in agreeing to pay for Ray's entire education at the College.”

“Very generous indeed,” I said.

“And where are you living now?” Holmes asked.

“Since February of 1901, the family have been staying in Auckland Road in Upper Norwood. In a tall, red-brick house called Mt. Cyra.”

“Most genteel,” I noted as blue smoke from Holmes' pipe began to cloud the room.

“I do still visit friends in Dulwich,” she continued. “Like Mr. Bannister. I suppose the black clay comes from the shortcuts I take across the playing fields.”

“And the lad?” I asked. “How old is he now? How is he progressing?”

“Ray's fifteen,” she answered, “and just switched to studying the classics. He's a diligent worker, but it's all new for him, and he's struggling to catch up.” She paused for a moment as if she herself was shouldering her son's burdens. When she resumed, she had changed the topic. “I must say that Ray's doing well on the pitches. At this time of year it's cricket. He's a bowler. And in the autumn it's rugby. He actually broke his nose in a match.”

“Good show,” I exclaimed, having played some rugby for Blackheath myself.

“Obviously, Dr. Watson, it's not his athletics I'm concerned with. I don't reckon he'll ever be on the school's team or win his blues. No, I'm worried about whatever it is that's distracting him from his studies.”

“A mother's constant worry,” I said, noting how the melancholy had returned to her eyes.

“To be sure,” she agreed. “And yet it's more than just his studies. There's an unhappiness that accompanies the boy. Perhaps it's due to having no permanent home - or father, for that matter, though how much good that no-account would have done is anyone's guess. Ray has strong opinions and few friends. Not only is he shy, but he's a day-boy, you see. Because we live so close to the College. Coming home to his family every night cuts him off from his mates. And then there's his American background. He doesn't know yet whether he's a Brit or a Yank.”

“Neither fish nor fowl,” I lamented.

“Exactly, Dr. Watson,” said Mrs. Chandler. “But what concerns me even more is that during this last fortnight, Ray's been failing to return home after his rugger practices. He disappears each evening and then comes tiptoeing back into the house close to midnight. When I ask him what he's been up to or where he's gone, he just shrugs and goes off to bed. I have come to you, Mr. Holmes, to enlist your help in finding out where he takes himself every night.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “he's reading in the library.”

“The library,” she scoffed. “If he was gone studying, why could he not tell me, I'd like to know?”

Sherlock Holmes, who had been quietly smoking during this exchange, now spoke up. “More likely, spending time with some young lady, I should judge.” Arching his eyebrows, he added, “Your son is, after all, a young man of appropriate age.”

Mrs. Chandler sat up even straighter. “Oh, no, gentlemen. We may be lapsed Quakers, but my Ray is a good boy. He wouldn't wander off with some strange girl from the village.”

Holmes expelled a cloud of pent up smoke. It seemed almost as murky indoors as out.

“Mrs. Chandler,” he said definitively, “my line of work takes me into the criminal world, not to some Never-Never Land full of missing boys. I'm sure the police aren't interested either; it's not as if he's disappeared. You yourself might try following him or hiring someone on your own to look into the matter.”

“‘
Hiring
someone'?” she repeated shrilly, her nostrils flaring. “‘
Hiring
someone'? That's why I've come to see
you
, Mr. Holmes, isn't it?” She enunciated this last interrogative as if it were a statement. “I've crossed my husband and my mother to raise that boy, and I'm not about to be nay-sayed by
you
.”

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