It was with great relief I read the recent news regarding the death of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. Although I regret to admit pleasure at the death of a fellow human being, I must admit to having borne a secret far too long, and one I am finally at leisure to disclose. Mr. Holmes was notorious for his skills as a detective, and his blind spots were no less renowned. Although speaking ill of the dead is loathsome to me, I cannot remain silent while his biases to continue to spread across the Empire, and to expose these truths now should bring no harm. Over the years, I have read the accounts of Doctor Watson in your publication with great interest, as indeed, unbeknownst to him, I was intricately entangled with his first case.
As such, I made it my business to keep up with his tales in your publication, mostly to be certain no inkling of my prior involvement was exposed. I admit I laughed when I saw his account of The Scandal in Bohemia. Passions to Holmes, Watson said, “were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.” Perhaps if the Great Detective had been able to see women before that case, he would have realized the veil that continually tinged his observations. No matter to me, of course. I have found my peace.
Some may recall Doctor Watson’s account of his first meeting of Sherlock Holmes in The Study in Scarlet, a garish title if I do say so. However, Watson notes Holmes’ lack of literary exposure, and in fact a general ignorance of anything relating to inductive reasoning, subjectivity, or the humanities at all, and it is no doubt due to this shortcoming the detective was unable to come up with a better image. In fact, this may also be how his was so easily misled. Watson took it upon himself to publish “all the facts,” without realizing how few of them he truly had.
Some may recall the formal account: London Jarvey Nabbed by Great Detective in Sensational American Double Murder! Cabdriver Hope Lost All: Found Dead in Cell of Natural Causes. It is funny how, when the mind is hungry for scandal in installments, it will seize on any account, true or false. Back in Illinois, my father said that a newspaperman will believe any truth, so long as it will fetch a good price on the open market. The British media, hungry for tall tales from overseas, will believe nearly anything of the Wild West. Women on the frontier must outwit arranged marriages with the types of men forced into the wilderness by civilized people for feeding newlyweds to wolves out of self-preservation. Encouraging a narrow-minded man-child of privilege, with little to offer the world but for an inflated understanding of chemistry, highly observant of all but his own prejudices, was really quite simple.
It is amazing how rigid the perspective of an urbane man of some disposable income can be when he is consumed by the supremacy of objectivity to the exclusion of his own subjectivity and fallibility. Similarly Holmes’s brain, being so rigid, was easily pointed in directions that undermined his objectivity. Anyone who has ever engaged in an argument with a bigot knows how easily they are turned, unbending, toward a conclusion they suspect via the most basic suggestions. Certainly any woman knows how easily a man might be gently guided in the direction of an opinion, as many a wife has done to win a husband’s allowance. I have done no different with Mr. Holmes, nor indeed did I do otherwise with Mr. Hope.
My father was indeed named Ferrier, but we originally hailed from Springfield, Illinois, a town not far from Nauvoo, Illinois. It is hard for the Englishman’s mind to grasp the vastness of the Americas. There is such an expanse of differing landscapes, peoples, and beliefs, it does not seem so wild to believe that the Lord Himself might appear there. However, as is always true when non-uniformity rides into town, fear, uncertainty, and doubt follow as the other three horsemen, bringing an end to any difference. Just as the Mormons were chased out of the state, so were we.
We were quite poor, and my mother did indeed die, although not wandering the wilds, as sweet, simple Jefferson believed, but of childbirth. My father had been a bit of a “confidence man.” People, he would say, have rules, just as any other machine or science. Watching a man run is just like watching a train engine, he said. You see where the fuel goes, and which gears need greasing to run most smoothly, but their track is in them before you meet them. My father was determined to end this way of life and find a quiet retirement.
My father, in our travels, had met a farmer of modest means, and had already promised me to him in marriage in exchange for some of the land. As one might imagine, I had no alternatives and little means of escape. A woman in any society is largely at the will of the men who control it, even in this enlightened era with its new ideas about Feminism, and in the less civilized townships of America it is even more so. Many women have been sold or used and discarded, not unlike my mother. Although I had always been a duteous daughter toward my father, I was also quick to learn his trade. My father chose a man with some land in the hopes of eking out a pension off my back. He did not realize the depths of this man’s callousness, however. Although he was willing to sacrifice his own daughter, the last remaining link to his deceased wife, to this monster, I was able to see the potential in this match he overlooked.
First, I told Drebber about my father’s criminal record back in Illinois. I convinced him that I was devoted to him but to be fearful of my father. I insisted that we could not marry, as my father was merely using this as an excuse to take over his meager estate. I simultaneously told my father of Drebber’s plan to kill him. My father forged documents to make it appear he had always owned the farm, while Drebber tried to drum up support among nearby townspeople. Men are so quick to believe the worst of anyone different, and to believe the least of anyone feminine. A small town filled with people already hostile toward each other is easily swayed to spread gossip.
All I needed was an escape plan. It was then that I met dear, dear Jefferson. He was a simple hunter and believed everything I told him. Drebber, like Holmes, was a man of calculated arrogance and required specific facts and evidence, but Jefferson, perhaps due to being named Hope, was prone to romantic ideals. My father joined in on the act, filling Jefferson’s sheltered imagination with some nonsense propaganda about Mormons he had picked up in Illinois.
Ultimately, Drebber was too cowardly to kill my father alone, and called in his friend Stangerson. This was acceptable to me, as I have often found two men are far too distracted by trying to impress each other to truly observe their circumstances. They struggled to come up with the courage, however, and I was forced to shoot him myself. As penance for their womanly cowardice, the two willingly dug the grave, a task I was not only loathe to do, but one that also would convince anyone of their guilt if we were to be apprehended. “It must have been a young man, or even two,” anyone stumbling upon the scene would say, just as society thinks a lady would never use a messy knife as a weapon, despite women’s ample experience butchering meals for centuries.
I told the men that Jefferson was a friend of my father’s and that he would seek revenge. They were easily manipulated. Fearful of what they had done, fearful of what Jefferson would do, and blaming me for driving them to it, they did what all men do sooner or later and left me to my own devices. I was prepared for being abandoned, having planned for my escape in advance by leaving luggage for my new life in the woods. I made my way through the forest, and then continued on until I reached Europe, where I changed my name, manners, even accent, to escape the men who had tried to own me, rape me, sell me, or steal from me. I knew no one would look for me, presuming a dainty waif such as myself would be incapable of surviving such a trek.
It was not until shortly before the events called “the Brixton mystery” that I learned the rest of the tale. Drebber and Stangerson, of course, bragged of their exploits to others in town, and the story of my alleged marriage, my father’s death, and my subsequent kidnapping made the rounds until the two men were forced to leave. Jefferson pursued until Drebber sent him off with a story of my death from a broken heart. As a master craftswoman of stories myself, I have to admit the poetic touch was effective. So effective, in fact, the ennobled Mr. Hope took it upon himself to avenge me.
This, of course, created a bit of a problem for me.
For years after, Drebber and Stangerson crossed countries to escape Jefferson’s retribution, all the while trying to find me to convince him of their innocence. When they turned up at my residence, I was quite terrified and leaned upon the kindness of my landlady and her family. Thankfully the British distrust of Germanic names was to my advantage, and I reminded her of her daughter.
When Jefferson reappeared, tracking his prey to my door soon after, I knew what had to be done. He was overjoyed to see I was still alive, and I explained that I had been forced to flee the country. I told him I went to England to find my mother’s family, as I had believed he was dead. He believed me, and swore vengeance against the men who had torn us apart.
Where, in America, I had time to prepare for my escape, in London I had little time to formulate a plan. It is for this reason I was quite sloppy– Leaving my ring at the scene, allowing Stangerson to get through his message, even partially– mistakes that required my personal intervention. I admit, I must have had the steel of Lady Macbeth herself when I went, in costume, to speak to the great detective himself. It was for this reason I forgot the alias I had so carefully prepared, flustered that my voice might reveal my youth under my costume. How I laughed when I read, years later, he decided I must have been a young man!
Thankfully, my darling Jefferson was ever the epitome of misguided masculinity and happy to speak naught of my involvement. Holmes’s own lack of perspicacity provided me all the cover I needed. It would never occur to him to suspect that a woman might be capable of murder. Nor, I imagine, would he question the precise information carefully released into his network of street urchins, despite doubtless considering gossip and governing the children to be a woman’s role. This is because he would never be capable of understanding what it is like to be held hostage by one’s own society. He could never understand what going to war for one’s personal freedom would feel like. The struggles of Josephine Butler on behalf of young girls are political issues the young Master Holmes probably finds beneath his intellect and station. I am saddened that lives were lost, to be sure, but to me they are merely enemy soldiers in a battle for my own survival. There are no good men on the frontier. It is for this reason I do not feel guilty that Jefferson has acted in this way on my behalf, as he would have readily imprisoned me on a lonely homestead had I not hatched my original plan to escape. His heart, unfortunately, was not up for the task of living with the lie and finally gave out, making my success complete.
One may ask why I have decided to expose myself now. Firstly, I have secured a new identity and life now that I do not have to fear from the men who sought to destroy me. Secondly, I have often read Watson’s accounts of this so-called great detective with humor, seeing how often Holmes’s deductions are in fact based on statistical likelihood, an inductive process, or even merely happenstance he calls a result of his intellect. Last, and most certainly not least, I have no doubt that this letter will never be printed.
If this letter is ever seen, one may wonder why I am so certain that the Strand Magazine, who has made a considerable amount of money off of their stories of the Great Detective, will have no interest in tarnishing Master Holmes’s reputation, despite the juicy sensationalism of a murderess akin to a spider eating her mates. It is for the same reason that Holmes himself was unable to detect my presence in the case: Man is not ready to conceive of a woman capable of thinking or independence, let alone using the coarse, perhaps even revolutionary, language I have used here. Doubtless this letter will be perceived as a hoax perpetuated by a young man and disregarded, lest it take any shine off the golden detective or perpetuate ideas of murder in the minds of lost young girls.
Doctor Watson reports that Holmes said, “It must have been a young man,” after I successfully infiltrated Baker Street. Perhaps if Mr. Holmes had been able to see more than only one woman, or had developed an ability to acknowledge the existence of women earlier in his career, he would have asked Madame Charpentier if anyone else was staying at her boarding house. No one else in the neighborhood would have seen the sympathetic young Canadian widow, only recently out of of deep mourning, named Mrs. Rachel Sawyer. Certainly no one saw her help unload suitcases from a mysterious cab late at night.
For some time, I was afraid the Great Detective might investigate more deeply, recognizing how flimsy his sources truly were. Considering how easily my landlady collapsed under pressure, I imagine things would have ended quite differently if he had.
Yours very sincerely,
L. Ferrier is as good a name as any
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