The Case of the Purloined Talisman
The following details an undisclosed case in the illustrious career of Sherlock Holmes, the legendary consulting detective. The existence of this remarkable document was revealed only recently by a solicitor in the firm once retained by Dr. John H. Watson. A sealed tan envelope had been entrusted to the firm by Dr. Watson shortly after it was written in 1925, and, as stipulated by Dr. Watson, had remained sealed in the firm’s safe until the appointed date for its disclosure, a century after the end of the Great War. The envelope was opened recently and found to contain the following letter and manuscript, which are presented here for the first time. – J.L.
London, 14 August, 1925
To Londoners of the Twenty-first Century:
I have requested that my solicitor safeguard the accompanying document and that its existence not be disclosed until the centennial of the end of the Great War, 11 November, 2018. Following that date, the envelope and its contents may be divulged and conveyed to The Strand Magazine or its literary successor for publication.
Herein lies an extraordinary case undertaken by Mr. Sherlock Holmes whose nature is so delicate that it must not be publicly disclosed until long after I, and all other participants in the story, have gone to our rewards. I thank you for your willingness to conform to what must appear to be an eccentric request, but once the manuscript is revealed, the reason for a century of concealment will become evident. I only pray the world was able to avoid the grave outcome the story portends.
Very respectfully yours,
John H. Watson, M.D.
The Great War had ended nearly five years earlier, and yet London still maintained a discernible air of gaiety, triumph, and relief. The horror associated with the “war to end all wars” had receded, and Britons were quite convinced that nothing comparable could again be contemplated.
Having nearly reached the advanced age of seventy-one, I had long since pared down my medical practice and was content to spend my days in less strenuous activities. Upon occasion, however, I would have the opportunity to visit with my dearest companion of so many decades and adventures, Sherlock Holmes, either at his home in Sussex or on those increasingly rare occasions when he would venture to London.
It was one of those visits in late 1923 that served as the occasion of one of our most remarkable adventures, one whose impact may well be impossible to determine for years to come. I had returned only a few days earlier from a trip to Morocco during a lull in the Berber uprising and was still recovering from the fatigue of the journey when I received a wire from Holmes asking if I might meet him at Waterloo Station. I was delighted at the prospect of seeing my old friend, and was waiting on the platform when his train arrived.
“Good to see you, Watson!” Holmes called cheerily as he stepped off the train and strode across the crowded platform to greet me.
“Holmes!” I said, grasping his hand in both of mine and giving it a good shake. “It is so good to see you! I trust your journey was uneventful.”
“Quite enjoyable,” he assured, eying me carefully, a slight smile turning up the ends of those thin lips. “And I presume that Morocco agreed with you – except for your over-indulgence in the highly spiced foods, your lack of adequate house staff, and your constant concerns for your personal safety.” I smiled patiently at yet again being the object of his astonishing deductive powers.
“Holmes, you never change, do you?” I remarked. “It is very good to be dissected by you like a cadaver on a slab.” His powers of observation and deduction certainly didn’t seem to have deteriorated in the months since our last visit. “All right, explain to me how you come to know so much of my recent activities in North Africa.”
“Surely it’s obvious,” he said, flicking his long fingers towards my face. “There is white powder caked around the corner of your mouth, suggesting recent consumption of a calcium compound intended to relieve gastric distress – doubtless caused by your diet of tagines and hariras common in Morocco. Your lack of house staff is obvious by the flecks of dried food on your sleeve – perhaps some of that harira? – and by the mud you have allowed to accumulate on your boots, all of which surely would have been cleaned by any competent servant.
“As to your safety concerns, I note that you are carrying a cane of unusual heft. The elaborately carved bone handle is clearly of Tuareg origins, designed by those ‘blue people’ for self-protection. Certainly such a formidable instrument isn’t required to assist you in walking – indeed, your gait seems quite normal – so you must have chosen the cane to serve as a club if needed against some ungrateful, feloniously-inclined urchin.”
“But how did you know of my journey to Morocco?” I wondered aloud.
“Ah,” said Holmes, smiling faintly. “You had sent me a note announcing your trip!”
He paused to allow me to admire his exhibition of deductive skills, and to give me an opportunity to acknowledge that he was right on every count. “Well done,” I said, as he surely had expected.
He looked away, shaking his head slightly, and said over his shoulder, “Actually, it was all quite obvious – or, as you would write in one of your little stories, ‘Elementary’,”
He looked somewhat older than on the occasion of our last visit, but he remained whip-thin and from his grip, I could tell, as strong as ever. His hair, combed straight backwards, was thinning on the top, and his gray side-whiskers were trimmed shorter, in keeping with recent style. The lines on his thin face were more pronounced, running down from the edges of his beaked nose, past his thin mouth, towards his long, pointed chin. The hollows under his cheekbones were somewhat deeper, and there was a flap of slack skin under his chin that comes to us all, thanks to the merciless force of gravity. His eyes remained bright and sharp, but the lids above them were slightly more hooded and drooped, accentuating the hawk-like appearance that I had always perceived in his countenance.
We hailed a cab and were taken to the venerable Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, where his as-yet undisclosed client had reserved rooms for him. It always seemed odd to be in London with Holmes and not return to our former quarters at Baker Street, abandoned two decades earlier, but the warmth and elegance of Brown’s compensated in nearly every respect.
“You have a reservation for me,” he informed the youthful clerk at the front desk. “My name is ‘Holmes’.”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” the young man said. “I believe my grandfather had mentioned your name when I was a child!”
Holmes’s eyebrows arched slightly and his mouth pursed, but otherwise he displayed little in response to the clerk’s remark, although I could barely suppress a smile. We deposited Holmes’s luggage in his comfortable room and soon found ourselves at the nearby Goat Tavern. I quickly brought Holmes up to date with the details of my limited practice as he polished off his tea and a slice of lemon cake before reaching for his pipe and shag tobacco. “And you?” I asked. “Are you continuing to enjoy life as an apiarist?”
“I find my Sussex bees most enjoyable,” he said. “I’m pleased to say that I have become great friends with Manley, whom you might know as author of Honey Production in the British Isles.”
“Actually, no,” I replied with a hint of exasperation. “I’m unfamiliar with that particular volume or its author.”
“Well, never mind,” Holmes said impatiently. “Watson, I’ve been asked to undertake a rather unique mission abroad, one in which I could very well use some expert assistance.” A tiny smile spread across his normally expressionless countenance. “Perhaps something that might interest you – if you aren’t too busy, of course.”
Even at this late date, I almost hesitate to identify the eminent figure who had engaged Holmes, for it wasn’t the Foreign Office, but rather a controversial member of Commons. We soon engaged a motorcar to carry us along the Embankment to a clandestine meeting near Whitehall. The name of Holmes’s client was certainly known to me, but largely in a disparaging way, given his controversial record in government during the Great War. “Don’t jump to conclusions,” Holmes counseled. “The key point here is the validity of the mission, not the reputation or popularity of the man behind it.”
Soon we were s being escorted into an office in the shadow of the tower containing Big Ben and seated across the desk from our distinguished employer, the Honorable Winston Churchill, MP, late the wartime Lord of the Admiralty and a man in fear not only for his country’s safety but his own life as well. Tensions with Ireland were at fever pitch once again – indeed, the distinguished diplomat and soldier Sir Henry Wilson had been assassinated outside his own London home by I.R.A. fanatics the previous June, and concerns about the durability of The League of Nations and The Treaty of Versailles were growing with each passing month.
“The whole map of Europe has been changed by the cataclysm that has swept the world,” Churchill had recently declared. The rising menace of the Russian Bolsheviki threatened even greater instability for Eastern Europe, and perhaps for England as well. Mounting disruptions in India and Egypt, instigated by the calls for independence by the nationalist agitator Gandhi, jeopardized the future of the Empire itself.
Despite his thinning red hair, round form, and oddly cherubic look, no one would mistake the mercurial Churchill for anything but a gravely engaged statesman. Of course, I knew of his reputation as a hard-driving advocate for the Empire and promoter of stronger defences, but for all the world, across the table he seemed more like a frantic Puck with a cigar clenched tightly in his mouth.
“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson,” he nodded in our direction slightly as he spoke our names, “these are grave times indeed. I recall the great service that you both provided to Britain on the eve of the Great War, apprehending that scoundrel Van Bork,” Churchill said. “Now your country requires your services as never before. Were your brother Mycroft in better health,” he looked at Holmes, “there would be no need for your involvement. But as it is,” his shoulders involuntarily hunched, “we have no one else to whom we might turn.”
“I am flattered to be of service,” Holmes murmured. “May I ask to whom you allude when you reference ‘we’? Are you speaking on behalf of the government – (He knew that Churchill was not a member of the government, so that was not likely.) – the King – (Even less so, as Churchill was not a favorite of the monarch.) – or some . . . other interest?”
“I am speaking in the interest of all of the above, sir, whether they are aware of it or not!” Churchill replied curtly, waving his hand above his head and vaguely in the direction of the Palace of Westminster. “Your client is England itself! My honorable colleagues in the current government fail to comprehend the risks or the dangers, but I assure you, sir, the peril is grave, and becoming more so daily.”
“Indeed,” replied Holmes, his lips pursing slightly. “Pray explain what service I may provide to you and England.”
“Germany,” said Churchill decisively. “The danger is Germany. The country is coming apart at the seams, a phoenix rising from the ashes, straining to pull itself free from its moorings,” he fulminated, mixing metaphors and syntax. “Few in this country appreciate the gravity of recent developments. And certainly, few in there!” he cried, pointing to Barry’s massive tower with its huge clock looming over the House of Commons.
“I want you, Mr. Holmes – I need you – to help me to wake England out of its stupor, to encourage our countrymen to embrace rearmament, to begin preparing for the next war which is coming as surely as we are sitting here!” he declared. He slapped the tabletop with his bare hand for emphasis before sticking his fat cigar back into his rubbery mouth and hunching forward closer to Holmes’s face.
Churchill described an assignment that would take Holmes into southern Germany to conduct reconnaissance of the noisy band of National Socialist extremists – or Nazis – who had taken root in Bavaria. Their incendiary rhetoric attributed the post-war humiliation of the German nation to treason by Jews, a group with which Churchill had developed close alliances. These fanatics, led by a cashiered army corporal who had served the Kaiser during the War, were inflaming their countrymen and denouncing the concessions made in Versailles treaty, especially the payment of millions of pounds in reparations to the allies and the hated War Guilt Clause. “He is either a maniac or the most dangerous person in the world,” Churchill said of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, “and perhaps both! I need you to tell me.”
The portrait of life in Germany that he painted was far more insidious than that being portrayed in the British press, as was the incendiary tone of the Nazi propaganda. Between this Nazi hysteria on the right, and the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia on the left, it seemed in the opinion of our distinguished host that, however inconceivable, another war might well be unavoidable,
“You see, Mr. Holmes,” he explained, “conventional diplomacy, and even my own scholarly writings, simply fail to achieve the necessary impact. In my current diminished role. I am unable to summon the powers of our military or our intelligence services. I must turn to you, as a private consulting spy, if you will, to help expose the true nature of the Nazi plans. Only then will we wake up this naïve and pacifistic nation to the dangers looming before us.”
But that was not all. Churchill was also deeply concerned with enemies that he believed were operating in England, clandestinely aiding the Germans’ plans for global conquest. “They are everywhere, spinning their webs, seducing the innocents with false promises of peace,” he intoned, sounding both menacing and slightly deranged “They are here in London!” he declared, lowering his voice dramatically “You have heard of Oswald Mosley? We must expose them – and root them out!”
He again stuck his cigar in his rubbery mouth and arched his eyebrows. His face emerged from a cloud of acrid smoke as he leaned as close to Holmes and me as possible. “Well,” he asked as his exhaled smoke enveloped his bulbous head. The effect was remarkable! “Can England count on the two of you? Can I count on you?”
During his long career, Holmes had been no stranger to taking commissions from governments, both British and foreign alike, and on occasion they were of a distinctly clandestine nature. Few challenges, however, seemed to address a scenario as filled with diplomatic intrigue and peril as the one Churchill had outlined.
“The assignment certainly has many points of interest,” remarked Holmes after we had bade adieu to our new client. With a report from an unimpeachable source like Sherlock Holmes, Churchill surmised, he could rouse his fellow parliamentarians from their torpor in order to begin preparations for the inevitable tempest. However, the Nazis were not to be trifled with – a slip, any intemperate comment, could easily expose Holmes’s true identify and subject him to serious danger!
My immediate reaction to the proposition was negative in the extreme. “Holmes, if I may say so, you aren’t the man physically that you once were,” I remonstrated. In his prime, Holmes had been a formidable master of the Japanese art of baritsu, able to defend himself against adversaries of far greater stature. But after decades of strenuous activity and injury (and mountains of shag tobacco), Holmes didn’t move as confidently as he once was able. He would have a difficult time protecting himself against an aggrieved, jack-boot-wearing brown shirt in Bavaria. He stuck out his lower lip as we rumbled along the cobbled streets, his heavy lids half-closed on his slate-gray eyes. “I believe that I can stay a step of two ahead of Corporal Hitler’s thugs,” he said, a slight smile crossing his lips. “And I shall have you along, Watson, if things get really sticky!”
After returning to Brown’s, Holmes instructed, “Hurry home and pack for a short trip, Watson, and don’t forget your service revolver. Our client will not countenance delay.” Holmes passed the remainder of the day immersed in a number of books on the World War, German history, and recent political machinations in Bavaria. Returning to Brown’s late in the afternoon, I found him sprawled on the floor, surrounded by open journals, newspapers, and pads of paper upon which he had been scribbling notes.
“Yes, I believe we are ready for our travels,” Holmes declared. “We shall take the boat train in the morning to France. I’ve booked us a comfortable coach on the train to Munich and rooms in a fine hotel in that city.” He turned to me. “Are you prepared for our departure?” he queried.
“I suppose so,” I replied. I eyed him carefully. “Are you not a bit hesitant undertaking this mission on the instructions of Churchill? Granted, he has a fine military record, but his judgment is suspect. Remember that dreadful Gallipoli failure in Turkey!”
“True, true, not his finest hour,” Holmes responded, “although he was hardly alone in bearing responsibility for the catastrophe. In any event, in this case I believe that he has a clearer eye and sounder appreciation of the threat than many who remain in high positions in the Government.” We spent a relaxing evening playing whist while I recounted my recent adventures in Fez and Marrakech.
Early the next morning, I met Holmes at Victoria Station, and we boarded the train for Dover. The journey was passed in near silence with Holmes deep in thought, his head tilted back, eyes closed. But for his long fingers drumming steadily on the brim of his hat, which he held in his lap, one might have thought him asleep. We transferred to the ferry for the uneventful trip across the Channel, that magnificent moat that had keep England secure from invaders for a thousand years – although the recent innovation of hurling bombs from airplanes had seriously eroded our much-vaunted isolation from unpleasantness on the Continent.
Not until we had boarded the train at the Gare de l’Est in Paris and begun the journey across France to southern Germany did Holmes speak of his intentions. He poked his head outside the compartment to ensure that no one was lurking in the passageway and then closed the door firmly. The rumbling of the wheels over the rails provided us an additional measure of security from anyone attempting to overhear out conversation, but he still drew close to me and spoke in a measured whisper.
“Watson, this may well be our most significant case,” he began, “but also our most dangerous! This Hitler must be taken very seriously, despite his ridiculous rhetoric. I doubt very much that he is the fool that some imagine. His recent speeches show him to be a formidable orator. His supporters number in the thousands, perhaps tens-of-thousands, and they are heavily armed and prone to violence. I fear, as does the Bavarian government, that he will initiate a mutinous action within weeks, perhaps days, that could destabilize all of Germany. We need not speculate about how grave a challenge that would present.”
Our train pulled into the Munich station early in the morning and we proceeded to our rented rooms on the Landwehrstraße. Holmes quickly disappeared into the crowded streets while I made dining arrangements with the hotel-keeper. It required only a few conversations and a quick look at the newspapers – my German remained passable – to appreciate how grave the atmosphere in the city had become. A state of emergency had been declared by the Prime Minister of Bavaria in late September as fears of political violence swirled through the city. With Hitler and his armed legions threatening the fragile government, the air was thick with intrigue.
Holmes returned late in the afternoon, his face grim and his manner furtive. He turned off the lights in the room and motioned me to the window. “Watch the street, Watson,” he asked. “Careful now – don’t allow the curtains to move.”
“What am I looking for?” I beseeched.
“Do you see anyone following me? Is anyone hiding in the shadows, looking up at these rooms?” he queried.
I could see no one, but Holmes’s high state of agitation alarmed me. We had been in numerous tight situations over the years, but his manner seemed one of unusual caution.
“I don’t think that you were followed,” I counseled. “Or at least if you were, I don’t see anyone watching the hotel.” Holmes stepped towards his bedroom. “See here,” I said. “I really think that it’s about time that you shared with me your plan for this expedition – especially if, as it seems, I am also to be endangered by my participation.”
Silently, he waved me into the darkened room and bade me sit on a chair opposite to him. Only the orange glow of the tobacco in the bowl of his pipe assured me he was present in the room at all. Soon my eyes adjusted to the dark and I could see that he was sitting quite close to me, hunched up with his chest near his knees, his left hand slowly rubbing his long jaw.
“Bad business, Watson,” he remarked softly. “Bad business. I doubt very much that even Churchill is remotely aware of the state to which things have deteriorated here. He certainly was right to enlist us in this mission.
“I have been to a meeting tonight of some of the most dastardly criminals I’ve ever encountered,” he began. “These men have no principles, no honor. They live only to intimidate, to destroy, and to dominate. They are far worse than the petty burglar or blackmailer, for their intended victim isn’t a helpless widow or a confused lover, but rather an unsuspecting world!”
“Holmes!” I cried. “Do you mean the Nazi gangsters?”
“Precisely,” he responded. “I have spent the last several hours learning of their nefarious plot, which is about to be sprung.”
“But what is their objective?” I asked.
“Nothing short of revolution!” Holmes replied. “The destruction of the Weimar Government. Indeed, their initial plan was to launch their uprising in Berlin itself, but they called that off when they realized that the odds against success were too great. Now they intend to overthrow the government of Bavaria first, and then expand their anarchy and perfidy across Germany.
“Their leader, this Hitler, is a curious fellow,” he mused. “A painter, of all things, and not without some talent. A minor military figure of no significance whatsoever, and yet, a master of incitement – brutally possessed, even demonic. His words seem to grab hold of the masses, who would clearly follow him into battle – as they undoubtedly will.”
“But why is no one arming to prevent this uprising?” I asked.
“That is the question Churchill sent us here to uncover, for he believes – as do only a few of our countrymen – that the Nazis’ appetite extends well beyond Bavaria or even Berlin. Perhaps,” his voice went soft, “even to the cliffs of Dover and beyond.”
“Outrageous!” I cried. But here we were in a strange city, a foreign country, with no allies. How were we to halt a revolution? I wondered. “What are we to do?”
Holmes grew thoughtful, his long chin in his hand. “As a practical matter, how do we prevent the putsch, which seems imminent?” Holmes mused. “How indeed?”
The following morning, Holmes was gone before I rose, so I dressed and breakfasted, and then took a walk along the Isar River before returning to my room shortly before noon. Holmes returned soon thereafter, and his face was set with a grim look.
“I have met with von Knilling,” he said, referring to the Bavarian Prime Minister. “He seems at his wits’ end. The prospect of violence is growing by the hour, and his government appears nearly powerless to prevent it.”
“Surely he is prepared to meet the rascals head-on,” I protested.
“Yes, but the damage to his government, to the nation, may be impossible to contain,” said Holmes. “I fear that our activities may not remain so secret after this evening. You must arrange for our tickets back to France and then across the Channel tomorrow. It may be too dangerous for us to remain in Munich much longer.”
As the day progressed, Holmes scurried about the city while I visited the concierge to arrange our passage back to London. We shared tea and excellent cakes at a charming café at four o’clock, and we then returned to our rooms where Holmes began applying a mixture of prosthetics, beeswax, and face colorations, transforming himself into a person that even I could scarcely recognize. From several paper bags, he removed a pair of well-worn wool trousers, a shirt and a rough coat, and scuffed boots. Within minutes, he was indistinguishable from an everyday resident of the German city. We ate an early dinner in the hotel’s excellent restaurant, and then Holmes slipped into the street and was swallowed up by the increasingly turbulent atmosphere of Munich.
For one of the few times in our association, I ignored Holmes’s direct instructions. Given the unfamiliar city and the risk of danger, I felt my presence was warranted, as was the service revolver that I had brought on Holmes’s instruction. At a careful distance, and employing the tricks of stealth that Holmes himself had taught me, I followed him through the darkening streets. Crossing the Ludwingsbrüke, Holmes hurried to the Au-Haidhausen district where loomed his destination, the enormous Bürgerbräukeller beer hall.
The hall was well populated and the sounds of music and merriment floated out despite the doors and windows that were closed against the November chill. Far more bracing than the air, however, were the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Nazis in their characteristic brown shirts menacingly milling about outside the Bürgerbräukeller.
I watched from a distance as Holmes maneuvered through their ranks and quickly slipped inside. After waiting a few minutes, I followed him into the cavernous room that reeked of beer and hummed with the laughter and arguments of thousands of inebriated Bavarians and the dreadful “oom-pah” orchestra that no civilized ear could find pleasing.
I was weaving through the crowd when I suddenly felt someone drawing me close. “Watson!” hissed Holmes into my ear. “You shouldn’t have come! The danger is too great!”
“Balderdash,” I whispered back, although whispering was hardly required in the raucous room. “I cannot abandon you to such risk! Did you not see the small army of brown shirts outside?”
“And the members of the local government inside!” Holmes responded, pointing to a large table where Kahr, Seisser, and Lossow were huddled over their steins of beer, clearly evaluating the deepening sense of crisis. “They are at enormous jeopardy if – ”
Holmes’s words were cut off as the doors to the Bürgerbräukeller crashed open and a band of the brown shirted agitators burst into the chamber. At the head of the intruders was the now-familiar visage of Adolf Hitler, a lock of dark hair falling over his forehead and a small moustache giving him a distinct if slightly ridiculous appearance. He was accompanied by his chief lieutenants, the heavily scarred Ernst Roehm, the bloated Hermann Göring, and the bushy-browed Rudolph Hess.
Suddenly Hitler shouted, “The national revolution has broken out! Nobody is allowed to leave!” He punctuated his declaration by pulling a revolver from inside his shirt and firing a single shot into the Bürgerbräukeller’s ceiling. The effect was electric: The music and laughter halted, replaced by expressions of shock and outrage. The shot was the signal for sympathizers inside the hall to spring into action, as well they did, seizing the Bavarian leaders and hustling them to a grim fate.
“Holmes!” I cried in the direction of my friend. “This could be the beginning of the collapse of Weimer!” But he was gone, having vanished into the teeming crowd. In the confusion, I decided to follow his instructions, easing my way outdoors and making my way back to our hotel. For a long while, I sat up waiting for him, but I unwillingly drifted off to sleep in the stuffed chair.
“Wake up, Watson,” I heard murmured roughly in my ear. It was Holmes, and his appearance was alarming, He remained in the costume and make-up, but now he was dirty and haggard, with a ragged cut that ran down his left cheek, just missing his eye. The knuckles on one hand were red and torn, and a bandage on his left hand was stained with dark red blood. His shirt was ripped, as was one knee of his trousers. I noted the cuckoo clock on the mantel read two o’clock in the morning, just as its little door flew open and a carved bird popped out uttering a double chirp.
“Good Lord!” I exclaimed. “What has happened to you?”
“Oh, nothing too serious,” he calmly replied. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better seat to the evening’s very consequential activities. But I should say that the storm clouds gathering in Munich have every likelihood of darkening all of the continent in the not-too-distant future, and very likely our island as well.”
While I ministered to his wounds – washing and bandaging the cuts with sterile gauze that I had fortunately packed – Holmes filled me in on the events that had transpired after I had retreated from the Bürgerbräukeller.
“The Nazis presumed to declare an end to the current government of Bavaria,” Holmes explained. “The three officials in the beer hall were taken into custody, and a call went out for other bands of Nazis to seize government buildings throughout the city. Hitler whipped the mob into a terrifying frenzy. His closing words were – ‘Either the German revolution begins tonight, or we will all be dead by dawn!’ Very theatrical!”
An involuntary shudder shook his thin shoulders as he pulled his woolen scarf up tighter around his neck. “It was quite alarming, Watson,” he muttered. “Even preposterous. This ridiculous megalomaniac! And yet, I fear what we have witnessed is far more the prologue to a long and tragic nightmare than the denouement of a low-brow melodrama.”
He quickly stood and gathered his coat and hat. “I must return to the agitation,” he declared, although it was still hours before sunrise. “I will be cautious, but whether I return or not, Watson, you must be on the train to France in the morning.” I opened my mouth to protest, but Holmes was out the door before I could reach him.
Holmes’s fears of growing violence were more than prescient. In the pre-dawn hours, a band of the Nazis attempted to lay siege to the Reichswehr barracks and then the Defence Ministry, where a cordon of police blocked their way. From my hotel, I could hear a furious gun battle between the two groups. When it was over, I soon learned that four officers lay dead in the street along with sixteen members of Hitler’s legions. Hitler himself, along with other leaders in the abortive putsch, had been rounded up and sent off to prison where, one could only hope, they would soon hang for their acts of treason.
Fortunately, the disorder did not disrupt the travel plans that I’d made. I anxiously waited for Holmes to appear at the train station. Just a few minutes before the scheduled departure, he rushed onto the platform where I was waiting with our tickets. We clambered aboard as the train began to depart the station.
“I’ve sent a wire to Churchill advising him we’re returning to London,” he reported. “I promised him a full report within a few days of our return.”
I looked at his battered face and injured hand. “You certainly will require assistance preparing such a report so quickly,” I said as the train picked up momentum and we mercifully began speeding towards the French frontier. “I’m afraid I must check on several patients upon my return,” I added, hoping he would understand my time was not entirely at his disposal.
“Not a problem on either account,” he assured. “Churchill has extended my stay at Brown’s Hotel and has thoughtfully engaged a temporary assistant to help me. She will meet me at Brown’s, and you may take whatever time that you require attending to your patients.”
We quickly found our compartment where we sat in silence for most of the trip, reflecting on how close we had come to being trapped in the spreading political conflagration. I didn’t draw a relaxed breath until we were safely on board the ferry back to Dover.
Ensconced once again in great comfort at Brown’s, Holmes quickly prepared to draft his report to Churchill, who eagerly awaited our bird’s eye account of the Munich uprising. The assistant arranged by Churchill was a Miss Edwena Hunt, a most attractive and efficient young woman, with blonde hair, a slight limp, and exquisite taste in clothing. She arrived promptly in the morning and proved a devoted aide to the famous detective.
As we sat drinking our morning coffee and reading The Times a few days later, there was a knock on the door. Holmes was poring over his draft report and showed little signs of rising to open it, and so I strode across the room. There, once again, was the ever-attentive Miss Hunt, along with an unfamiliar young man holding a well-wrapped box.
“Mr. Holmes,” she said, as they stepped into the room. “I encountered this fellow in the lobby. He claims that you’ve been expecting this.”
Holmes seemed excited by the young man’s arrival and quickly strode to the door, not even pausing when he knocked some papers and a pencil off his desk. Miss Hunt quickly stooped to pick them up and then carefully straightened up the pages strewn over the desk.
The messenger was casually dressed, the growth of a few days covering his chin. He extended the package to Holmes and stepped backward, his soft cap in hand.
“Ah! Franz, good!” Holmes said, taking the box. “Watson, you remember Franz, one of the ‘Irregulars’?” he said, referencing the young urchins who had run errands and provided intelligence to Holmes during the hey-day of his career.
“Guv’nor,” said Franz, tipping his head towards Holmes, his crooked smile revealing broken and yellowed teeth. “A real pleasure to see you again!” Somewhere in that grizzled face was the young boy who had scampered up and down the stairs at Baker Street all those years past, but I couldn’t recognize him. Holmes handed him a few coins and, with a tip of his hat, he clambered down the stairs and back into the bustle of Albemarle Street.
“Well, it is a relief that this package has arrived safely,” said Holmes, as he tore at the tape and string sealing the brown paper wrapping. In a moment, he lifted a plain, brown cardboard box perhaps two-feet square. I could see the excitement in his eyes as he set it on a low table and lifted the lid, allowing a bright red cloth to partially spill onto the floor.
Pulling the rest of the material out of the box, Holmes revealed to my horror a white circle in the middle of the red banner, and in the center of the white patch, the horrid black swastika of the Bavarian Nazis.
“Holmes!” I cried, “I am appalled! I’m horrified! A Nazi flag? In Brown’s Hotel?”
It was clear Miss Hunt shared my surprise at the contents of the box, which she regarded with keen attention. Holmes stuffed the flag back into the box, thanked Miss Hunt for her assistance, and escorted her from the room, instructing her not to mention the contents of the package to anyone. Once she had departed, he again withdrew the despicable banner and held it out in front of him, a smile of deep satisfaction spreading across his face. He examined the flag carefully, holding it close to his face and grunting a satisfied recognition. Finally, he turned back to me and saw the look of horror on my face.
“Ah, Watson,” he said, carefully laying the object on the table. “You see, this isn’t just any flag. You see this?” He pointed a long finger at dark red splotches that flicked across the white portion of the flag. “This is the Blutfahne.” I remained perplexed. “The ‘Blood Flag’, certain to become a priceless talisman to the Nazi leaders,” Holmes continued. “Especially Hitler.
“I saw this flag carried into battle the other night by the Nazis in Munch. When the police fired on them near the Defence Ministry, unwisely creating sixteen undeserved martyrs, the flag bearer was among the gravely wounded. He collapsed on top of this flag, staining the cloth with his blood, here – ” He pointed to a red spot and then to others. “ – and here, and here. Hitler, I have heard, has let it be known from his prison cell that he prizes this flag more than any relic of the putsch. I have no doubt that madman will do anything to recover it.”
“But how did you come by the . . . Blut-whatever?” I asked.
“All in good time,” Holmes soothingly purred. “All in good time. Meanwhile, I have here in my hands a most valued artifact of the lunatic Nazis, and their mustachioed leader is sitting in a Bavarian jail wondering what became of it! I shall keep it here,” he motioned towards a trunk near the fireplace, “for safekeeping until I deliver it to our friends at the Defence Ministry.” He quickly folded the flag, returned it to its cardboard box, and locked it inside the trunk.
The next morning, Holmes was still triumphant when I arrived for breakfast, which soon appeared along with Miss Hunt.
“You seem in an excellent mood, Mr. Holmes,” she cheerfully said as we sat down to steaming plates of eggs, bangers, and toast. “Are you so enthused over the arrival of yesterday’s package?”
“Oh yes, Miss Hunt,” he replied. “I’m afraid I cannot speak about it too much, even to you,” he added, this latter comment spoken in a theatrical sotto voce, although no one else was in the room. “I must visit Whitehall later today to describe it to some members of the government. It may seem an inconsequential souvenir, but I assure you, the contents of that box may well involve questions of war!”
“War!” she cried with great alarm as she stood up, her hand flying up to her mouth. “But no one believes there is a risk of war, do they? Why, we just ended such a terrible conflict! I – I am distressed just at the thought of another one!” She buried her attractive face in her hands, and as her knees buckled slightly, I sprang forward to steady her.
“There, there,” Holmes comforted. “I’m sure that I spoke too dramatically. There has been a slight ripple of agitation on the Continent, but the likelihood of conflict is quite minimal. League of Nations and all. But I must hurry. The sooner I speak with these officials, the better our country will be served.” He disappeared into his bedchamber and re-emerged carrying his satchel, bade us farewell, and disappeared out the door.
My mind was hardly on my patients that morning – one with the croup, another with symptoms of measles – as I kept an eye on the clock. At one-thirty, I closed the office and headed back to Brown’s as planned, arriving ahead of Holmes. I was alarmed to find the door to his room slightly ajar, and when I entered, I immediately drew in my breath.
The sitting room seemed as though a typhoon had blown through it, with papers and other items strewn haphazardly around. Boxes and drawers had been opened, their contents tossed indifferently on the floor and the furniture upended. Lying on the floor was the distraught Miss Hunt, surrounded by papers and the contents of the desk, the bureau, and even her own handbag.
“Good Lord!” I shouted and rushed to her assistance, tearing the gag from her face and pulling on the cords that bound her wrists. As I did so, I noticed as well a nasty bruise upon her forehead from which a small amount of blood was still flowing, evidently the result of a blow from a blunt instrument. Fortunately, she seemed more terrified than badly injured as I knelt by her side, frantically untying the knots that bound her.
“Oh, Dr. Watson, thank goodness you have come!” she cried, big tears running down her soft cheeks and her shoulders heaving. “This is all my fault!”
“Don’t be silly,” I counseled, fetching her a glass of water, although she might well have appreciated something considerably stronger. “What happened here? And are you alright?”
“Oh, yes, I am now,” she gasped as she sat on the sofa. “I had come by early to straighten up Mr. Holmes’s rooms a bit. You know, with his injured hand, he really cannot do so himself. They arrived soon afterwards, pushing their way into the room when I answered their knock. As I attempted to call the concierge, one hit me here – ” She pointed to the abrasion on her forehead. “ – and they bound me with these ropes. They refused to believe that I didn’t know what they were asking about, and they proceeded to create this unfortunate mess.”
Just then, Holmes burst into the room and quickly surveyed the disorder that only hours before had been his comfortable quarters. We quickly filled him in on Miss Hunt’s terrifying account of the past several hours.
“Hmm, do you have the ropes that they used to bind you?” he asked. Miss Hunt handed them over and Holmes scrutinized their length, their material, and the remaining knots.
“How many men?” he asked.
“Three, I think,” she responded, “and they talked to someone in the hall, so at least four. They went through everything. It took over an hour! Oh, Mr. Holmes, do you know what they were searching for!”
“I have no doubt,” he declared. “I pray they didn’t injure you.” He held her hands tenderly and closely examined her hands and wrists where the intruders had bound her. “No damage, thank goodness,” he said, shifting his examination to the bruise on her forehead. “And this bruise is superficial – no concussion. Don’t you agree, Watson? What a relief that you weren’t injured more seriously!”
“Indeed!” I added.
“Well, they were out of luck because I had the object of their burglary with me,” he explained, patting his satchel. “I’m delivering it this very evening to the Defence Ministry. I fear these hooligans are to be disappointed should they return tomorrow.
“I am deeply sorry for your troubles,” he smiled at Miss Hunt as he gathered up the contents of her handbag and handed it to her. Reaching into his satchel, he withdrew a small box wrapped in blue paper with a red silk bow “Perhaps this small gift will compensate you for your very unnerving day,” he said, handing it to her. “A souvenir of our recent journey to the Continent. I hope it helps soothe you following this most disgraceful assault.”
“Why, Mr. Holmes!” she cried, pulling at the ribbon and tearing the paper. As she opened the box, she uttered a tiny gasp and lifted out a glittering crystal bottle.
“It is the newest perfume in France,” he declared, watching her face eagerly for her reaction. “Chanel No. 5. I don’t know whether there was a 1, 2, 3, or 4, but No. 5 is ‘the rave’ in Paris. I do hope that you will accept it in appreciation for the devoted care you’ve extended to me over these past days.”
“Mr. Holmes, your thoughtfulness and generosity are remarkable,” she replied. “I’m sure it is an extraordinary fragrance. Do you mind if I try some now?”
“I should be deeply disappointed, indeed, if you did not!” he answered reaching for the bottle. His pocketknife cut loose the sealing tape and then he extended his hand to the lady. “Allow me.” She gave her hand to him and as he gently pulled it towards him, dousing her forearm with a generous dollop of Chanel No 5.
“Oh! Perhaps a bit more than required,” he laughed. “But a truly remarkable fragrance, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes, I cannot possibly thank you enough,” she said as she wiped off the excess perfume with her forearm. She flashed him a sweet smile that, given my own experience with women, I took as an indication that the young lady was indeed a bit smitten with the world’s most famous detective.
“Now you should take your leave for the evening. I must complete some work before delivering this wretched flag to Whitehall. After this outrageous intrusion, I shall be relieved to be done with it,” he declared.
“But I must help you clean the room,” she protested. “I feel the mess is in part my fault, as I unwittingly provided the intruders their entry.”
“Certainly not!” he proclaimed. “You bear no responsibility for this intrusion at all.” He helped her to her feet, gathered her coat and hat for her, and gently eased her towards the door. “As they say, ‘Störe dich nicht!”
Miss Hunt smiled wanly. “Thank you, Mr. Holmes,” she said, “but I am afraid I do not understand that language.”
“Hah! Of course not,” Holmes responded. “A remnant of my recent trip. In German, it means ‘Don’t disturb yourself’.” He ushered her out the door with a self-satisfied smile, which told me he was pleased with the response his gift had received.
“Remarkable, indeed!” I exclaimed after Miss Hunt had left. “What an extraordinary gift!”
“Now, now, surely Miss Hunt is deserving of a special thanks for her many services, not to mention her terrible ordeal,” Holmes replied. “I don’t think one small bottle of perfume is a terrible extravagance. Besides – ” He suddenly became quite serious. “ – the game, as you would say, is afoot, and we must prepare for the resolution!”
“What ‘game’?” I exclaimed. “What ‘resolution’? Have you devised a plan to apprehend Miss Hunt’s attackers without even knowing their identity?”
“The ‘plan,’ dear chap, is in that bag,” he said, drawing the Nazi flag from the satchel. “You didn’t think that I would be so foolish as to leave it unguarded in this room! The key to resolving this case should arrive within minutes. In the meanwhile, let me close my eyes for a time, and when our guests arrive, please show them in.”
What guests? I wondered. What role were they to play? Why did Holmes still have that flag, which I thought he would already have delivered to the Defence Ministry or Churchill? As he sat motionless in the stuffed chair, his eyes closed and his eyelids occasionally fluttering, I tried to reconstruct the chaotic journey of the past few days – from Whitehall to a beer hall in Munich, to barely escaping the growing violence in Bavaria, to a purloined, blood-stained Nazi flag in the sitting room at Brown’s and now, the terrible assault on Miss Hunt. I welcomed the knock on the door that signaled the arrival of our guest.
Holmes bounded out of the chair with an alacrity for which I would scarcely have given him credit, given his age and recent injuries. He was at the door in an instant and threw it open.
“Ah, thank you, thank you, Carruthers,” he called to the slender man who appeared in the doorway. “And welcome to you as well,” he said to a tan-and-white dog of impressive size that bounded into the room. In an instant, the dog’s massive paws were on Holmes’s chest as it lapped at the detective’s face, which he turned away to avoid its enthused slobbering.
“He’s Ollie, he is,” said Carruthers, introducing the hound. “That’s short for ‘Olfactory’. That means ‘smell’, you know.”
Holmes murmured his familiarity with the term.
“I tell you, Mr. Holmes, this dog has a nose on him like no dog I’ve ever trained,” Carruthers continued. “Blood, sweat, a scent on a glove or shoe – nothing gets past that nose, it don’t.”
“Well, Ollie, we shall put your nose to the test today,” declared Holmes once Carruthers had departed. “He will assure that our little souvenir from Munich remains secure. Later this evening, we shall depart with my memento, which will never return to this room. I certainly don’t want to risk another intrusion by whomever was searching my room and tying up our poor Miss Hunt like a Christmas goose!”
Ollie’s arrival did little to dispel my utter confusion. For the next half-hour or so, with the dog curled up at his feet, Holmes and I sat by the glowing fireplace as he reviewed the text of his final report for Churchill. He finished his study, stuffed the papers into his bag, and sat back in his chair, his long fingers were supporting his nose while his thumbs hooked under his pointed chin, the thumbs and forefingers forming a diamond and his lids closed. The only sound in the room was the ticking of the mantel clock.
The late afternoon light outside had begun to grow dusky when Holmes declared softly, “I think that will do. Ollie, come here my friend.” In a louder voice he said, “Come, Watson. Let us prepare to deliver this dastardly flag to the proper authorities. The sooner it is out of these rooms for good, the better.”
The hound had stood up and lazily walked to the chair where Holmes sat. Holmes reached across to the small desk, opened a drawer, and withdrew a small vial. Removing the top, he held it out for Ollie to sniff. “Here you go, Ollie,” he offered as the dog wandered over to investigate the contents. When he got close, his head started and Holmes withdrew the vial and replaced its cap.
“Now, Ollie,” he said, intently staring at the hound. “Show me!”
Ollie stood immobile for a few moments, and then turned to a door on the far wall of the room that had been locked shut since we had first arrived. He froze, not moving a hair whilst Holmes followed his gaze to the door.
Suddenly Holmes pulled a silver police whistle from his pocket and blew it three times, emitting a piercing shriek that chilled my bones. At the same moment, he grabbed my Moroccan walking stick from where it rested next to my chair and strode to the door on which Ollie remained fixated. Without warning, Holmes raised the heavy end of the cane above his head and brought it down forcefully on the doorknob, smashing the glass handle and the lock attached to it. Seizing the door, he yanked it open.
He swiftly reached into the dark recess and pulled through the doorway a flustered and angry Edwena Hunt, writhing against his steel-like grip and with a shocked look on her face. She shrieked and swung at Holmes with her free hand, pummeling him again and again, but he held her tightly and kept pulling until she tumbled onto the floor.
“There we are, Miss Hunt!” Holmes cried, brandishing my stick like a club over the enraged woman. “You are unmasked!”
The door of the hotel room flew open and several young men in police uniforms rapidly filed in, led by a tall young man with sandy hair and trim moustache who bent down next to Miss Hunt, grasped her by her left arm, and forcing her to stand. “Edwena Hunt,” he declared, “I am Inspector Trilling of Scotland Yard. You are under arrest.”
“On what charge?” she angrily demanded, trying to twist out of his grip.
“On the charge of espionage against the Crown!”
“Espionage?” she cried, forcing a sharp laugh. “On behalf of whom?”
“On behalf of the Nazi fanatic, Hitler,” Holmes interjected. “It will do you no good to feign ignorance.”
“We have the incontrovertible facts, thanks to Mr. Holmes here – and our colleague, Ollie,” Trilling added, nodding to the hound. He forced handcuffs on her wrists as she struggled vainly.
My head was spinning with the gravity of what had just occurred. “Wait,” I pleaded, sitting down in one of the chairs. “Miss Hunt is . . . a spy . . . for the Nazis?”
“She is not Miss Hunt,” Holmes seethed. “She is Anna Stanzhofler, a disciple of the Nazi rabble, sent to spy on me in hopes of thwarting my services to those in the British government who recognize Nazism as a venal and dangerous ideology.”
“But it is inconceivable Churchill would send a spy to assist you!” I protested.
“Churchill did arrange through an agency for Miss Edwena Hunt to assist me during my stay in London,” he explained, “but apparently a Mosley agent in Whitehall must have learned of the arrangement and arranged for her to be absconded-with on her way to Brown’s. I fear that Miss Hunt’s current whereabouts remain unknown, although we must hope for the best. Miss Stanzhofler was then substituted to impersonate her while conducting nefarious spying activities.”
Holmes looked over at the furious German agent. “I was hardly likely to grant an unknown person – even an attractive young lady – unfettered access to my room without a far more thorough background check than Miss Stanzhofler had evidently anticipated.
“The Nazis had learned of our recent trip to Bavaria,” he said, holding up the stained flag. “They dispatched the ersatz Miss Hunt to see what they could learn of my activities and my report to Churchill. It was, I confess, a deception I perceived quite readily. However, when the flag arrived and I saw Miss Hunt’s reaction, I realized that it would serve as the bait I needed to lure the spy network here in London into exposing itself!
“Some consultation ensued with our friends at Scotland Yard, who were able to confirm my suspicions. Have I got it about right, Miss Stanzhofler?” he asked the seething woman, holding the bloodstained flag where she could see it clearly.
“The Blutfahne!” the fake Miss Hunt hissed, her eyes flashing. “Give it to me!” She lunged for the flag, but the police held her tightly and Holmes moved the flag away from her grasp. “You do not deserve even to touch it!” she shrieked.
“I have a good mind to toss it into the fire and be done with it,” he responded, “but Whitehall has uses for it. Not that you will be in any position to inform your colleagues. Ah, your colleagues!” Holmes strode to the window and opened the sash. “Have you got them?” he called out to those in the street below.
“Yes, Mr. Holmes,” came a voice from the street. “Four of them came running out of the hotel when you blew the whistle, and we got them all, three by the front door and one by the rear.”
“I had Twilling here station several Scotland Yard men outside the front and back entrances of the hotel,” he smiled, “knowing that the conspirators would flee when they heard the police whistle and the commotion caused by your apprehension.” He pointed his long finger down to the group of officers gathered on the street who were holding the angry prisoners in their clutches.
“Should you find yourself free and again engaged in the business of espionage,” Holmes said to the spy, “which I very much doubt will be the fate that awaits you, I suggest that you pay greater attention to details, for your amateurish blunders quickly alerted me to your little masquerade.
“The ropes your associates used to bind you were too loosely tied to be credible restraints,” he explained. “When I examined your wrists and applied the perfume, I saw no signs of chafing that would surely have been expected had you made a genuine effort to free yourself. And that bump on your forehead . . . .” He shook his head disapprovingly. “I’m afraid it was far too gentle a knock, probably self-inflicted, which is why it raised only a superficial welt.
“In addition, the cut was still oozing blood when I examined you, which indicated that the attack had occurred only minutes before Watson and I arrived. Had it been an hour or so since you had been assaulted, as you reported, the blood surely would have coagulated by the time I examined you. Tsk, tsk, not at all convincing.” Holmes turned to me and I nodded my agreement about the freshness of the wound although, in the excitement of discovering her predicament, I confess to having ignored the implication.
Trilling’s’ men grasped the spy by her arm and escorted her out of the room. Holmes carefully folded the Nazi talisman and placed it back in the box and handed it to the inspector. “Now this is your responsibility,” he declared, “and I would appreciate your delivering it to the Defence Ministry at your earliest opportunity. I prefer never to see it again.” I watched Trilling and his prisoner depart, then glanced at Holmes, at the smashed door to the adjacent room, at my ruined walking stick, and finally at Ollie, who was happily chewing on one of Holmes silk slippers.
“I must be getting too old for such adventures,” I admitted to Holmes. “At a minimum, I would have thought I might have suspected some part of this bizarre case, but I must admit, she had me utterly fooled. I am as confused and surprised as I was during the earliest days of our association.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself, Watson,” Holmes counseled, carefully clapping me gently on my good shoulder. “A pretty face can easily interfere with rational thought, I understand. Come, let us venture off to The Globe for an early dinner, and I shall lay the entire case out for you.”
Soon, bolstered by a fine pinot grigio and primo plato of grilled fish, Holmes began to clear away the fog that still swirled about the case.
“Churchill has been desperate to raise the alarm of the rising German threat,” he said, “but the resistance within the government has been ferocious. They are tired of war, of death, of fear itself. They seek tranquility at any cost, he fears, and are prepared to embrace false hopes to avoid the trauma of rearmament and conflict.”
Our journey fortuitously had coincided with the beer hall putsch, providing us with incontrovertible evidence of the capacity of Hitler and his thugs to rally thousands of frustrated Bavarians. Upon our return to London, Holmes had spent a morning dropping hints of his escapade at clubs frequented by known German sympathizers, including the young parliamentarian Churchill had mentioned, Oswald Mosley. In effect, Holmes used himself as bait to expose an underground cell of British devotees of the fascist cause. A day later, Miss Hunt had appeared at our door, ready to care for the wounded detective.
“I was instantaneously skeptical of Miss Hunt when she appeared,” he said as our lamb chops arrived, along with a fine claret, and he began slashing through them. “I have an instinctive suspicion about anyone who conveniently arrives in my presence as a case is afoot. Churchill had arranged for a young lady to assist me whilst in London, but of course he had never actually met Miss Hunt. So I had no reason to accept that she was who she presented herself to be without some checking.
“My motto, as you know, Watson, is to ‘assume nothing’,” he said, spearing a juicy cube of lamb and taking a long drink of wine. “It wasn’t difficult to find holes in her story, especially when I took the liberty of visiting the placement agency that had referred the young lady. The manager was pleased to hear that she was proving satisfactory for my needs, especially given the car accident that had left her with a slight limp.
“Miss Stanzhofler’s masquerade was quite thorough in that respect, as you noticed, but I noted that the wear on her shoe heels was even. The differently worn heels of anyone with a genuine limp undoubtedly would have been quite distinguishable.
“She also struck me as too well informed about my habits – my . . . ‘quirks,’ if you will – for someone that I had never met,” he said, adding slyly, “and she remarkably claimed not to have read your little stories. She made a few mistakes that revealed her as a fraud.
“For example, I took the liberty of checking the contents of her purse when I picked it up after the assault and discovered several pamphlets printed in German. When this imposter claimed not to understand the fragmentary words I spoke to her in German, my suspicions were further aroused. Surely a young woman who read German pamphlets would have understood such simple terms. And yet this woman implausibly denied all understanding of the language.”
He took a deep swallow of the claret and continued. “She spent far too much time examining my rooms on those occasions when she was announcing the arrival of a guest. Remember when she picked up those papers and pencil that had fallen on the floor the other day?” he asked. “She stole a few moments to read over the papers as she was rearranging them on my desk. If she was so curious, might she not also have sought to overhear the conversations that occurred after she had departed? After a good deal of searching, I discovered that my suspicions were correct.
“I was very curious about that door in my suite that evidently was locked from the other side. Where did it go? Clearly into a communicating room, because there would be little reason to lock a closet that opened only to this suite. My suspicion was confirmed in a discussion with the hotel manager, who reported the door led to a small room with its own access to the corridor, typically used by servants accompanying a guest staying in the suite that I’m occupying. Anyone wishing to overhear my conversations need only enter that room silently from the corridor and listen at the door to hear our conversations as clearly as if she had been standing next to us. Of course, it was difficult to know if, or when, Miss Stanzhofler might sequester herself in the room to learn of our plans to deliver the flag to the authorities. So a plan was needed.
“Even before our departure for the Continent, I had been contemplating how to maneuver the Nazis in London into revealing themselves, and the Blutfahne unexpectedly provided me the perfect means. When I saw the wounded demonstrator, Heinrich Trambauer, fall bleeding on this Nazi banner in Munich, an idea immediately struck me. Hitler, who reportedly holds a fanatic’s obsession with the occult, likely would regard such a talisman as having incalculable value and go to great lengths to retrieve it. I believe it is fair to say the entire strategy had occurred to me even before the flag had fallen to the ground in front of the Feldherrnhalle.”
“So, you made arrangements to secure the flag in Bavaria and have it sent to you here in London?” I inquired. “How?”
“I saw the crowd’s angry reaction when a police officer grabbed it from the Nazis,” he explained. “I hurried to the local police headquarters to speak with a high-ranking officer, an old friend whom I had assisted some years ago on a case involving a prominent nobleman in Bavaria and a certain – ahem, ‘singer’ – in a local club.
“‘I should be greatly indebted to you if this flag were to find its way to me,’ I told him. ‘I must have it, even if only briefly. It may well provide us an essential opportunity against these zealots who threaten your country as well as mine!” He readily agreed, and when the flag, bloodied as it was, appeared in his office later in the day, he immediately boxed it and sent it to me here in London, where it was delivered by the one-time Irregular, Franz, with whom you were recently reacquainted.”
“But if you knew that Miss Hunt, or whatever her name is, was a spy, why didn’t you just arrest her?” I asked.
“I needed proof, and I needed her to lure her henchmen to reveal themselves, which is why I loudly proclaimed my intention to deliver the flag to the Defence Ministry tonight. I had to force her hand. Such a disclosure, I was quite certain, would lead her to enlist her own crew of musclemen to intercept me and ensure that the flag didn’t make it to my intended destination.”
“Well, if you suspected she was a spy, why did you give such expensive perfume to her?”
“No young lady can say ‘no’ to perfume, Watson, of that I was quite confident,” Holmes declared. “Yet if she was fond of it, so, too, was my loyal friend Ollie, whose perceptive nose could detect it easily through the locked door leading to the anteroom. I needed to be certain that Miss Stanzhofler was in place to overhear my loud announcement that we were departing. I had little doubt she would signal her compatriots to prepare to subdue me and abscond with the flag.
“By the way,” he added, “I must apologize for damaging your walking stick, which proved quite effective in exposing her hiding place.”
He speared another piece of lamb and smiled.
“I think that Churchill will be pleased to learn that we’ve rounded up the most dangerous band of German spies operating in London, and all because they risked their necks to recover a stained flag,” Holmes said with an air of satisfaction.
We concluded our dinner and took a cab back to the hotel for a nightcap. “England and the world are a bit safer tonight, Watson,” Holmes declared. “A deadly team of maniacal Nazis is safely under lock and key at the Old Bailey, Hitler and his group of fanatics are in jail in Munich, the flag is safely in the hands of Scotland Yard and on its way to the Defence Ministry, and Europe is on notice that the menace of German nationalism far from extinguished. I certainly hope that the government will at last heed Mr. Churchill’s call for a bigger navy, a new air force, and rearmament now that the intentions of the Nazis are so unmistakable. Of one thing we can be almost certain: no British statesman will advocate appeasement with so unstable a tyrant as Hitler!”
Several weeks later, after Holmes had returned to his bees and I to my patients, we heard disturbing news. Evidently a Mosley sympathizer in the Foreign Office, perhaps the same one who had likely tipped off the Nazi saboteurs about Miss Hunt, had pinched the Blutfahne and returned it to the Nazis in hopes of appeasing their maniacal hostility towards England. The icon indeed soon resurfaced in the hands of Nazi officials in Bavaria, where it was being revered as symbol of fanatical nationalism. Even more inexplicably, a few months later, Hitler was surprisingly released after just nine months in Landsberg prison, during which he produced his monstrous autobiography published just weeks ago. Undoubtedly, he has now resumed his struggle to revitalize German militarism, which I fear will not end well for Europe.
“This loss disheartens me more than I can say,” Holmes bitterly admitted. “I fear Whitehall’s sloppy security cost England an item of great symbolic value that will be exploited by very dangerous extremists. And I’m gravely concerned that we have, within our own government, those who still fail to appreciate the grave danger these Nazi hooligans pose to our security.”
The conclusion of the case, however was not without one bright spot. In return for a promise of leniency in sentencing, Miss Stanzhofler agreed to intercede to secure the release of the real Miss Edwena Hunt, who had been held in a dank basement at the Isle of Dogs in the East End. The young woman was shaken but unhurt by her alarming experience and quickly departed London for the quiet of her parents’ home in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
“Holmes, your service has been invaluable,” I assured him. “Surely the culpability lies entirely with Whitehall. One can only hope that your work has raised sufficient concern to prepare for any dangers the flag and its fanatical followers will unleash.”
Given the continuing instability in Continental politics as I write this account in 1925, I have decided to sequester this report on our adventure in Bavaria. I very much hope the readers of the Twenty-First Century will recognize the great debt they owe to the prowess of Sherlock Holmes for identifying the dangers at grave risk to his own safety. Most fervently, I pray that they proved able to avoid the terrible conflagration that this adventure seems to foreshadow.