For every puzzling matter that has been untangled by my friend and colleague, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, there have been many more propositions for which he has refused participation. For those instances in which a prospective client’s problem has been dismissed as lacking in intellectual challenge, or when Holmes intuits the person consulting him is not presenting the full truth of the matter, it has fallen to me to employ the so-called “bedside manner” of my profession to help the troubled caller over their disappointment. Most of those who fail to engage Holmes in their cases have left Baker Street with a sense of understanding, though one or two have reacted with anger, most notably a relative of the victim in the notorious Pemberton murder case, which was made redundant after it was discovered that the killer, Pemberton himself, had died. But none has ever returned after being rejected, which is why, upon hearing a rap at the door, I was surprised to see a very large, familiar man wearing a dampened tweed suit and matching waistcoat, a full, auburn beard that could have used a bit more trimming.
“How are you, Dr. Watson?” Bram Stoker asked, thrusting forth his hand, which I shook. “The landlady let me in. I am here to see Mr. Holmes.”
“I’m afraid he is not here,” I told him. “He is out braving the bleakness on a quest to obtain a new Bradshaw. Our old one has been reduced to tatters through overuse. Is there something I can help you with?”
“No, it is he I must see. I have come to appeal that Mr. Holmes reconsider the case I set before him several weeks ago.” His words were delivered with a light Irish brogue.
“I cannot offer you much hope on that score. But neither can I answer for him or predict what he will do. So if you would care to wait for him, you are welcome to.”
Keeping his hat on his head, Stoker stepped inside and glanced at his watch. “I have but a short time to spare. If the guv’nor returns to the theatre and cannot find me, there’ll be hell to pay.” I understood the guv’nor to be the actor Henry Irving and the theatre in question was the Lyceum, for which Stoker served as business manager. It did not take the powers of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Irving was a taskmaster of the most stringent sort. Stoker settled down in our guest chair, filling it, and glanced once more at his watch.
Stoker had consulted his timepiece four more times before I heard Holmes’s impatient footstep on the stair. A moment later, he burst into the room. “I trust you have made our visitor comfortable, Watson,” he said, tossing the new Bradshaw onto a table and shedding his damp greatcoat, hanging both it and his hat on the coat rack.
“How did you know we had a visitor without even bothering to look?” I enquired.
“Oh, really, it could not be more evident. It is raining outside, in case you had failed to notice, and there are faint traces of wet footprints on the stairway as well as a small pool outside the door.” For the first time he turned to look at me, casting his glance down at my feet. “Had you been outside in the rain, you would have removed your wet shoes and left them outside the door, as has been your wont since Mrs. Hudson complained about the stains on her new rug. Since there are wet footprints on the steps but no shoes outside the door, we are hosting another.” Holmes stopped suddenly and sniffed the air. “I detect the faint odour of casein paint.” It was then that he spotted Bram Stoker, who had stood up to greet him.
“I must have brushed against a freshly painted set piece at the theatre, Mr. Holmes,” Stoker said, extending his hand. “I am so used to the scent that I no longer notice it.”
Holmes took his hand. “I am not unhappy to see you, Mr. Stoker, but the answer remains no. I will not be drawn into talk of a curse, even if it is to refute it.”
The first time Stoker had come to us he had hoped to engage Holmes in a case involving the supposed curse that has long surrounded the play Macbeth, a production of which the Lyceum was presently mounting. The theatre’s manager and leading actor, Henry Irving, rejected such notions, but others in the cast, including Ellen Terry, who was to play Lady Macbeth, were more disturbed by them. To placate Miss Terry, Stoker had asked Holmes to pretend to investigate the “curse” and pronounce it so much superstition. But recognizing that he was being sought out merely as a means to an end, Holmes declined.
“The situation has changed we last spoke, Mr. Holmes,” Stoker said. “I beg you to hear me out.”