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"Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmail Dilemma" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in The Strand Magazine, and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Taking place during Holmes' absence in The Hound of the Baskervilles and written from his perspective, it recounts the detective's efforts to unravel a blackmail case threatening a young noblewoman's engagement.

Plot[]

After sending Watson to Dartmoor with Sir Henry Baskerville, Holmes turns his attention to another case he has recently accepted. His client is Lady Violet Gaskell, daughter of the late Marquess of Cleveland, and a well-known painter. In her letter, she requested his urgent help, but declined to say more by mail.

Holmes travels to Chessington Hall, Lady Violet's opulent home in Surrey. Lady Violet is obviously upset, though Holmes senses an underlying strength of character. She explains that when but a girl of sixteen, she was briefly courted by a solder named Robert Winter, of the Royal Engineers. An unknown man, calling himself of "A friend of Robert Winter", was now attempting to use their correspondence to extort a small fortune from her, knowing that she was due to be married to Sir Wellesley Lyttleton in two weeks. He had sent a typewritten note asking her to meet him at Hyde Park, alone; unfortunately, when Holmes asks to see the note she replies that she burned it in fear. Up to now she had kept the matter absolutely secret, as any hint of scandal would cause Sir Wellesley to cancel the marriage. The only person she had confided in was her aunt, the Dowager Viscountess Edith Cranley, who had control of her trust until she turned twenty-five or married.

This seems to summon Lady Edith herself, who displays an immediate disdain for Holmes. A domineering, condescending woman, she insists that her niece must marry; Lady Violet is already twenty-two, and close to dishonoring the family with her spinsterhood. To that end, if Holmes fails to stop the plot, she will personally pay the ransom. Lady Violet explains that the blackmailer had requested ten thousand pounds in exchange for her letters. However, she cannot describe the man, as his face was covered and his carriage was dark. Holmes agrees to take the case. Lady Violet informs him that the blackmailer would write her again tomorrow afternoon, and Holmes tells her to bring him his note as soon as possible.

At that moment an irritable middle-aged man barges in, complaining that he has been waiting nearly ten minutes in the courtyard. Lady Violet introduces the man as her finacé, Sir Wellesley, and introduces Holmes as a florist. She then reluctantly leaves with her fiancé. Having met Sir Wellesley and determined him to be a slow-witted bully, Holmes feels conflicted about which outcome would be most beneficial to Lady Violet, as her interests are clearly in conflict with her request.

The following day Holmes visits the Sackville Club in Bloomsbury, the favored haunt of Robert Winter's regiment. However, none of the other soldiers have ever heard of him. He returns to Baker Street to meet Lady Violet, who brings him the blackmailer's latest demand - suddenly making the entire solution clear to Holmes. He tells Lady Violet that they have no choice but to comply with the blackmailer's instructions. She must ask her aunt to wire him the ten thousand pounds at once, which he will deposit in a locker at Charing Cross Station the following day at noon per the note. Lady Violet expresses reluctance, but agrees. Before she leaves, Holmes presses her about her fiancé. Lady Violet admits that the match was arranged by her aunt, primarily for Sir Wellesley's money. She tells him that she had always dreamed of traveling to Italy to live the life of an artist, which affirms Holmes' decision on the case.

The following day, Holmes deposits the money at the station as agreed. He then conceals himself nearby, until Lady Violet arrives to collect the money with an expression of immense relief. There had never been any blackmailer; Lady Violet had concocted the whole plot. With the money she extorted from her aunt, she would be able to escape her marriage and her family and set up a studio in Florence. Her only mistake had been using her own stationery to write her ransom note. Holmes allows her to escape and wishes her well in her future, imagining that Watson would approve. Satisfied with the conclusion, he boards a train for Devon to rejoin his friend and continue the investigation into the Baskerville family's curse.

Trivia[]

  • The story takes place between Chapters 6 and 11 of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and is based on the unpublished case that keeps Holmes in London during that time. Holmes declines to accompany Watson and Sir Henry back to Dartmoor immediately because "'at the present instant one of the most revered names in England is being besmirched by a blackmailer, and only I can stop a disastrous scandal'".
  • Holmes mentions that Watson has never followed through on a request he made in "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" to whisper the word "Norbury" to him if he was ever overconfident, referring to his incorrect conclusion in that case.
  • Holmes mentions that Watson is especially sensitive to him taking blackmail cases following the conclusion of "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" three months previously.
  • Marquess of Cleveland was a real title in the British peerage; however, it belonged to the Vane-Powlett family and became extinct in 1891.
  • Holmes' mention of viewing Lady Violet's paintings at a Bond Street gallery refers to the end of Chapter 4 of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  • Holmes mentions that Watson has no "art in his blood whatsoever". This is a reference to "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", where Holmes uses this phrase to explain his and Mycroft's talents.
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