The Case of the Bloodless Sock
Written by Anne Perry — Narrated by Simon Vance

 

There had been no cases of any interest for some weeks, and my friend Sherlock Holmes was bored by the trivia that came his way. His temper showed it to the degree where I was happy to accept an invitation from an old friend, Robert Hunt, a widower who lived in the country, not far from the handsome city of Durham.

"By all means go, Watson," Holmes encouraged, except that that is far too joyful and heartening a word for the expression on his face that accompanied it. "Take the afternoon train," he added, scowling at the papers in front of him. "At this time of the year you will be in your village, wherever it is, before dark. Good-bye."

Thus was I dismissed. And I admit, I left without the pleasure I would have felt with a more sanguine farewell.

However the late summer journey northward from London toward the ever-widening countryside of Yorkshire, and then the climb to the dales, and the great, bare moors of County Durham, improved my spirits greatly. By the time I had taken the short, local journey to the village where Robert Hunt had his very fine house, I was smiling to myself, and fully sensitive to the peculiar beauty of that part of the world. There is nothing of the comfortable Home Counties about it, but rather a width, a great clarity of light, and rolling moorland where hill upon hill disappears into the distance, fading in subtle shades of blues and purples until the horizon melts into the sky. As I came over the high crest and looked down toward the village, it was as if I were on the roof of the world. I had almost a giddy feeling.

I had wired ahead to inform Hunt of my arrival. Imagine then, my dismay at finding no one to meet me at the deserted station, and being obliged to set out in the darkening air, chillier than I am accustomed to, being so much further north and at a considerable altitude, carrying my suitcase in my hand.

I had walked some four miles, and was worn out both from exertion and from temper, when an elderly man in a pony trap finally offered me a lift, which I accepted, and then arrived at Morton Grange tired, dusty and in far from my best humor.

I had barely set my feet upon the ground when a man I took to be a groom came running around the corner of the house, a wild hope lighting his face. "Have you found her?" he cried to me. From my bewilderment he understood immediately that I had not, and despair overtook him, the greater after his momentary surge of belief.

I was concerned for him and his obviously deep distress. "I regret I have not," I said. "Who is lost? Can I assist in your search?"

"Jenny!" he gasped. "Jenny Hunt, the master's daughter. She's only five years old! God knows where she is! She's been gone since four this afternoon, and it's near ten now. Whoever you are, sir, in pity's name, help me look—although where else there is to search I can't think."

I was appalled. How could a five-year-old child, and a girl at that, have wandered off and been gone for such a time? The light was fading rapidly and even if no harm had come to her already, soon she would be in danger from the cold, and surely terrified.

"Of course!" I said, dropping my case on the front step and starting toward him. "Where shall I begin?"

There followed one of the most dreadful hours I can remember.

My friend Robert Hunt acknowledged my presence, but was too distraught with fear for his only child to do more than thank me for my help, and then start once more to look again and again in every place we could think of. Servants had already gone to ask all the neighbors even though the closest was quarter of a mile away.

In the dark, lanterns were visible in every direction as more and more people joined in the search. We would not have given up had it taken all night. Not a man of us, nor a woman, for the female staff was all out too, even gave our comfort, our hunger or our weariness a thought.

Then at some time just after midnight there went up a great shout, and even at the distance I was, and unable to hear the words, the joy in it told me the child was found, and they believed her unhurt. I confess the overwhelming relief after such fear brought momentary tears to my eyes, and I was glad of the wind and the darkness to conceal them.

I ran toward the noise, and moments later I saw Hunt clasping in his arms a pale and frightened child who clung onto him frantically, but seemed in no way injured. A great cheer went up from all those who had turned out to search for her, and we all tramped back to the house where the cook poured out wine and spices into a great bowl, and the butler plunged a hot poker into it.

"Thanks be to God!" Hunt said, his voice shaking with emotion. "And to all of you, my dear friends." He looked around at us, shivering with cold still, hands numb, but face shining with happiness. We needed two hands each to hold the cups that were passed around, and the hot wine was like fire in our throats.

We quickly parted as relaxation took over, and the nursemaid, chattering with laughter and relief, took the child up to put her to bed.

It was not until the following morning—all of us having slept a trifle late—as Hunt and I were sitting over breakfast, that he looked at me earnestly and spoke of the mystery that still lay unaddressed.

"I am very exercised in my mind, Watson, as to how to deal with the matter for the best. Jenny is devoted to Josephine, the nursemaid. Yet how can I keep in my employ a servant who could allow a child of five to wander off and become lost? And yet if I dismiss her, Jenny will be desolated. The girl is all but a mother to her, and since her own mother died . . . " His voice broke for a moment and he required some effort to regain his composure. "Advise me, Watson!" he begged. "What can I do that will bring about the least harm? And yet be just . . . and not place Jenny in danger again?"

It was a problem that had already occurred to me, but I had not thought he would ask my counsel. I had observed for myself on the previous evening the nursemaid's care for the child, and the child's deep affection for her. Indeed after the first relief of being found, it was to her that she turned, even when her father still clung to her. It might well do her more hurt to part her from the only female companionship and care that she knew, than even the fear of being lost. She had already been bereaved once in her short life. In spite of last night's events I thought it a certain cruelty to dismiss the maid. Perhaps she would now be even more careful than any new employee would, and I was in the process of saying so, when the butler came in with a note for Hunt.

"This was just delivered, sir," he said grimly.

We had already received the post, and this had no stamp upon it, so obviously it had come by hand. Hunt tore it open, and as he read it I saw his face lose all its color and his hand shook as if he had a fever.

"What is it?" I cried, although it might well have been none of my affair.

Wordlessly he passed it across to me.

Dear Mr. Hunt,

Yesterday you lost your daughter, and last night at exactly twelve of the clock you received her back again. You may take any precautions you care to, but they will not prevent me from taking her again, any time I choose, and returning her when, and if I choose.

And if it is my mind not to, then you, will never see her again.

M.

I confess my own hand was shaking as I laid the piece of paper down. Suddenly everything was not the happy ending to a wretched mischance, it had become the beginning of a nightmare. Who was "M," but far more pressing than that, what did he want? He made no demand, it was simply a terrible threat, leaving us helpless to do anything about it, even to comply with his wishes, had that been possible. I looked across at my friend, and saw such fear in his face as I have only ever seen before when men faced death and had not the inner resolve prepared for it. But then a good man is always more vulnerable for those he loves than he is for himself.

Hunt rose from the table. "I must warn the servants," he said, gaining some control as he thought of action. "I have shotguns sufficient for all the outdoor staff, and we shall keep the doors locked and admit no one unknown to us. The windows have locks and I myself shall make the rounds every night to see that all is secure." He went to the door. "Excuse me, Watson, but I am sure you understand I must be about this matter with the utmost urgency."

"Of course," I agreed, rising also. My mind was racing. What would Sherlock Holmes do were he here? He would do more than defend, he would attack. He would discover all he could about the nature and identity of this creature who called himself "M." Hunt's mind was instantly concerned in doing all he could to protect the child, but I was free to apply my intelligence to the problem.

My medical experience has been with military men and the diseases and injuries of war, nevertheless I believe I may have a manner toward those who are frightened or ill which would set them at as much ease as possible. Therefore I determined to seek permission of the nursemaid, and see if I might speak with Jenny herself, and learn what she could tell me of her experience.

The maid was naturally deeply reluctant to pursue anything which might distress the child, of whom she was extraordinarily fond. I judged her to be an honest and good-hearted young woman such as anyone might choose to care for an infant who had lost her own mother. However the fact that I was a guest in the house, and above all that I was a doctor, convinced her that my intentions and my skill were both acceptable.

I found Jenny sitting at her breakfast of bread and butter cut into fingers, and a soft-boiled egg. I waited until she had finished eating before addressing her. She seemed to be little worse for her kidnap, but then of course she had no idea that the threat of that again, and worse, awaited her.

She looked at me guardedly, but without alarm, as long as her nursemaid stayed close to her.

"Good morning, Dr. Watson," she replied when I had introduced myself. I sat down on one of the small nursery chairs, so as not to tower over her. She was a beautiful child with very fair hair and wide eyes of an unusually dark blue.

"Are you all right after your adventure, yesterday night?" I asked her.

"Yes, I don't need any medicine," she said quickly. It seemed that her last taste of medicine was not one she wished to repeat.

"Good," I agreed. "Did you sleep well?"

The question did not appear to have much meaning for her. I had forgotten in the face of her solemn composure just how very young she was.

"You did not have bad dreams?" I asked.

She shook her head.

"I'm glad. Can you tell me what happened?"

"I was in the garden," she said, her eyes downcast.

"What were you doing there?" I pressed her. It was important that I learn all I could.

"Picking flowers," she whispered, then looked up at me to see how I took that. I gathered that was something she was not supposed to do.

"I see." I dismissed the subject and she looked relieved. "And someone came and spoke to you? Someone you did not know?"

She nodded.

"What did he look like? Do you remember?"

"Yes. He was old. He had no hair at the front," she indicated her brow. "His face was white. He is very big, but thin, and he talked a funny way."

"Was his hair white?" What was her idea of old?

She shook her head.

"What did you call him?" That might give some clue.

"Fessa," she replied.

"Fessa?" What an odd name.

"No!" she said impatiently. "P'fessa!" This time she emphasized the little noise at the beginning.

"Professor?" I said aghast.

She nodded. A ridiculous and horrible thought began to form in my mind. "He was thin, and pale, with a high forehead. Did he have unusual eyes?" I asked.

She shivered, suddenly the remembered fear returned to her. The nursemaid took a step closer and put her arms around the child, giving me a glare, warning me to go no further. In that moment I became convinced within myself that it was indeed Professor Moriarty that we were dealing with, and why he had kidnapped a child and returned her with a fearful warning, would in time become only too apparent.

"Where did he take you?" I asked with more urgency in my tone than I had intended.

She looked at me with anxiety. "A house," she said very quietly. "A big room."

How could I get her to describe it for me, without suggesting her answers so they would be of no value?

"Did you ride in a carriage to get there?" I began.

She looked uncertain, as if she could have said yes, and then no.

"In something else?" I guessed.

"Yes. A little kind of carriage, not like ours. It was cold."

"Did you go very far?"

"No."

I realized after I had said it that it was a foolish question. What was far in a child's mind? Holmes would chastise me for such a pointless waste of time.

"Was it warm in the room? Was there a fire?"

"No."

"Who was there, besides the Professor? Did they give you anything to eat?"

"Yes. I had teacakes with lots of butter." She smiled as she said that, apparently the memory was not unpleasant. But how could I get her to tell me something that would help find the place where she had been taken, or anything whatever which would be of use in preventing Moriarty from succeeding in his vile plan? "Did you go upstairs?" I tried.

She nodded. "Lots," she answered, looking at me solemnly. "I could see for miles and miles and miles out of the window."

"Oh?" I had no need to feign my interest. "What did you see?"

She described an entire scene for me with much vividness. I had no doubt as to at least the general area in which she had been held. It was a tall house, from the stairs she climbed, at least three stories, and situated a little to the west of the nearby village of Hampden. I thanked her profoundly, told her she was very clever, which seemed to please her, and hastened away to tell my friend Hunt of our advance in information. However I did not mention that I believed our enemy to be the infamous Moriarty.

"I have reason to think that the matter is of great gravity," I said as we sat in his study, he still ashen-faced and so beset with anxiety he was unable to keep from fidgeting first with a paper knife, then with a quill, scribbling as if he had ink in it but merely damaging the nib.

"What does he want?" he burst out in desperation. "I cannot even comply! He asks for nothing!"

"I would like your permission to go into the village and send a wire to my friend Sherlock Holmes," I replied. "I think he would involve himself in this matter willingly, and I know of no better chance in the world to detect any matter than to have his help."

His face lit with hope. "Would he? So simple a thing as a child who has been taken, and returned, with no ransom asked? It is hardly a great crime."

"It is a great crime to cause such distress," I said quite genuinely. "And the fact that he has asked no price, and yet threatened to do it again, is a mystery which I believe will intrigue him."

"Then call him, Watson, I beg you. I will have the trap sent around to the front to take you immediately. Ask him to come as soon as he may. I will reward him any and every way in my power, if there is any reward he will accept."

But I knew, of course, that the name of Moriarty would be sufficient to bring him, and so it turned out. I received a return wire within a few hours, saying that he would be there by the late train that evening, if someone would be good enough to meet him at the station. I spent the rest of the afternoon searching in the village of Hampden until I was sure that I had found the house Jenny had described, but I was careful to appear merely to be passing by on my way somewhere else, so if any watcher saw me it would cause no alarm.

In the evening I went to meet the train, and the moment it drew in and stopped amid clouds of steam, one door flew open and I saw Holmes' lean figure striding along the platform toward me. He looked a different man from the miserable figure I had left behind me in Baker Street. He reached me and said the one word, as if it were some magic incantation, his eyes alight. "Moriarty!"

I was suddenly afraid that I had miscalculated the situation, perhaps been too quick to leap to a conclusion. He so often charged me with precisely that fault. "I believe so," I said somewhat cautiously.

He gave me a quick glance. "You are uncertain. What makes you doubt, Watson? What has happened since you wired me?"

"Nothing!" I said hastily. "Nothing whatever. It is simply a deduction, not a known fact that it was he who took the child."

"Has any demand been received yet?" There was still interest in his voice, but I thought I detected a note of disappointment all the same.

"Not yet," I answered as we reached the gate to the lane where the trap was waiting. He climbed in and I drove it in silence through the winding, steep-banked roads, already shadowed in the sinking sun. I told him of my conversation with Jenny and all I had learned from it, also my location of the house, all of which he listened to without comment. I was certainly not going to apologize to him for having called him out on a matter which may not, after all, involve his archenemy. It involved the abduction of a child, which as far as I can see, is as important as any single case could be.

We were within quarter of a mile of the Grange when I saw in the dusk the gardener come running toward me, arms waving frantically. I pulled up, in case he should startle the pony and cause it to bolt. "Steady, man!" I shouted. "Whatever has happened?"

"She's gone again!" he cried while still some yards from me. He caught his breath in a sob. "She's gone!"

Instantly Holmes was all attention. He leaped out of the trap and strode to the wretched man. "I am Sherlock Holmes. Tell me precisely what has occurred. Omit no detail but tell me only what you have observed for yourself, or if someone has told you, give me their words as exactly as you can recall them."

The man made a mighty effort to regain control of himself, but his distress was palpable all the time he gasped out his story.

"The maid, Josephine, was with Jenny upstairs in the nursery. Jenny had been running around and had stubbed her toe quite badly. It was bleeding, so Josephine went to the cupboard in the dressing room where she keeps bandages and the like, and when she returned Jenny was gone. At first she was not concerned, because she had heard the hokey-pokey man outside the gates, and Jenny loves ice-cream, so she thought that she had run down for the kitchen maid to find him." He was so distraught he was gasping between his words. "But she wasn't there, and the kitchen maid said she hadn't seen her at all. We searched everywhere, upstairs and down . . . "

"But you did not find the child," Holmes finished for him, his own face grim.

"That's right! Please sir, in the name of heaven, if you can help us, do it! Find her for us! I know the master'll give that devil anything he wants, just so we get Jenny back again, an' not hurt."

"Where is the hokey-pokey man now?" Holmes asked.

"Percy? Why, he's right there with us, helping to look for her," the gardener replied.

"Is he local?"

"Yes. Known him most of my life. You're never thinking he would harm her? He wouldn't, but he couldn't either, because he's been here all the time."

"Then the answer lies elsewhere." Holmes climbed back into the trap. "Watson may know where she was taken the first time and we shall go there immediately. Tell your master what we have done, and continue your search in all other places. If it is indeed who we think, he will not be so obvious as to show us the place again, but we must look.

We drove with all speed to Hampden and I took Holmes to the street parallel with the one on which was the house. We searched it and found it empty. We had no time to lose in examining it closely, and only the carriage lantern with which to do it.

"She has not been here tonight," Holmes said bitterly, although we had not truly dared believe she would be. "We shall return in the morning to learn what we may."

We left to go back to the Grange to continue with any assistance we could. It was in turmoil as on the evening before, and as then, we joined the others seeking desperately for the child. Holmes questioned every one of the staff, both indoor and outdoor, and by nearly eleven o'clock we were exhausted and frantic with fear for her.

I found Holmes in the kitchen garden, having looked once again through the sheds and glass houses, holding a lantern up to see what the damp ground might tell him.

"This is a miserable business, Watson," he said, knowing my step and not bothering to raise the light to see. "There is something peculiarly vile about using a child to accomplish one's purposes. If it is in fact Moriarty, he has sunk very low indeed. But he must want something." He stared at me earnestly, the lamplight picking out the lines of his face, harsh with the anger inside him. I have never observed him show any special fondness for children, but the anguish caused to a parent had been only too clear for all to see. And Holmes despised a coward even more than he did a fool. Foolishness was more often than not an affliction of nature. Cowardice was a vice sprung from placing one's own safety before the love of truth, known as the safety and welfare of others. It is the essential selfishness, and as such he saw it as lying at the core of so much other sin.

"But he wants something, Watson. Moriarty never does anything simply because he has the power to do it. You say the child was returned last night, and this morning a note was delivered? There will be another note. He may choose to torture his victim by lengthening the process, until the poor man is so weak with the exhaustion of swinging from hope to despair and back, but sooner or later he will name his price. And you may be sure, the longer he waits, the higher the stakes he is playing for!

I tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but I was longing to take up my lantern again and renew my effort to find Jenny. After my conversation with her this morning she was no longer merely a lost child, she was a person for whom I had already grown a fondness, and I admit the thought of Moriarty using her in his plot nearly robbed me of sensible judgment. If I could have laid hands on him at that moment I might have beaten him to within an inch of his life—or closer even than that.

I walked what seemed to be miles, calling her name, stumbling over tussock and plowed field, scrambling through hedgerows and frightening birds and beasts in the little coppice of woodland. But I still returned to the house wretched and with no word of hope at all.

We were all gathered together in the kitchen, the indoor staff, the outdoor, Hunt, Holmes and myself. It was all but midnight. The cook brewed a hot, fresh pot of tea and the butler fetched the best brandy to strengthen it a little, when there was a faint sound in the passage beyond and the door swung open. As one person we turned to face it, and saw Jenny standing white-faced, one shoe off and her foot smeared with blood.

"Papa . . . " she started.

Hunt strode across the floor and picked her up. He held her so tightly she cried out with momentary pain, then buried her head on his shoulder and started to cry. She was not alone, every female servant in the place wept with her, and not a few of the men found a sudden need to blow their noses uncommonly fiercely, or to turn away for a moment and regain their composure.

* * *