One day we received a visit from an elegant woman whose name I will not reveal for the sake of gentlemanliness. Her husband was missing. According to her version of events, one afternoon they were both sitting by the fireplace planning their daughter’s wedding, taking advantage of the fact that she was absent spending a few days with her aunt in Devonshire, when the husband got up to fan the fire. She had not seen him since. The case had a sufficient dose of mystery so that Holmes would not hesitate to accept it.
The first thing we did was visit the scene: the living room of an elegant house in Piccadilly Circus. Holmes insisted on trying to discover a secret passage in the fireplace and, as a consequence, suffered several first-degree burns. It was clear to him that the husband had had to disappear through the fireplace. The problem is that, according to our client, at the time of the events the fire burned in the fireplace. Now Holmes put out the fire and began to climb the chimney without waiting for it to cool. This time the burns were second-degree.
When we returned from hospital, Holmes looked like one of the British Museum mummies. By then the chimney had already cooled but, in his current mummy outfit, Holmes could not climb the chimney, so he entrusted me with that task.
I had neither the thinness nor the agility or flexibility of my friend, so that halfway I got stuck in the soot-covered duct. Firemen had to extract me from above with giant tongs. In this way I landed in the roof, where I found an important clue regarding the case: thrown on the tiles there were a pair of scorched trousers.
The wife of the missing person identified them as the trousers her husband was wearing when he approached to fan the fire. In this way we could determine that the chimney had been the escape route.
Next, it was necessary to find out what had motivated that risky and sudden escape. Holmes wanted to know the details of the conversation the couple had just moments before the husband escaped through the chimney.
As I have already mentioned, the conversation revolved around the choice of the future husband of the couple’s daughter. Apparently they planned to marry off her to the Duke of Bedford at a time when he was off guard.
That was a far fetched plan. Especially since their daughter used to make fun of the Duke, whom she considered “a pretentious and ridiculous buffoon”. Even so, they decided to carry out the plan with or without their daughter’s participation. It was then that the husband got up with the excuse of fanning the fire and, by all accounts, climbed the chimney.
The next step was to go to visit the Duke of Bedford who, thanks to the fame of Holmes, welcomed us in his Covent Garden estate. During our interview we discovered that for some days the Duke was being stalked by a black man with white legs. At our insistence, he admitted the possibility that it was a man covered in soot who would have lost his pants when climbing up a chimney.
He added that, for two times, this man had tried to force him into a burlap sack, but that he had managed to dodged him. Now he was afraid to go outside.
Holmes and I stood guard in front of Bedford Estate until we saw our suspect approach. When he unfolded the burlap sack, we pounced on him, subdued him and put him in the sack. Then we headed to our client’s house in Piccadilly Circus.
When we had washed him to remove all the soot that covered the upper half of his body, she recognized him as the man he was married to.
Once free of dirt and dressed like a gentleman, the man turned out to be one of the nicest creatures Holmes and I had known. We were chatting and joking by the fireplace for a long time. Suddenly he said:
“Boys, the fire’s dying!”
He jumped up to fan the fire. And, before we knew it, he was gone.