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Montague Street

Chapter Text

Narrators:
□ Doctor John Watson, M.D.
■ Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire
⁰¹ Mr. Lucifer Garrick, Esquire
⁰³ Mr. Campbell Kerr, Esquire

MONTAGUE STREET


1876
■ Interlude: Wishing And Hoping
Holmes has hopes – if they can come true

□ Case 5: The Fifth Case
A case of wine disappears – and it leads to a diabolical murder

□ Case 6: The Adventure Of The Circus Belle
A lady's beauty nearly proves her death as the circus comes to town

■ Case 7: Blind Man's Bluff ☼
Introducing Tobias Gregson, whose family is..... well, they are family

□ Case 8: The Adventure Of The Thieving Son
Holmes both proves and disproves a fellow youngest son's guilt

⁰¹ Interlude: Tiny
Lucifer finds himself on the receiving end of something rather large

 

1877
□ Case 9: The Adventure Of The Andover Asses
Stolen coins point the way to someone who is not what they seem

■ Case 10: The Adventure Of The Easy Rider ☼
Mr. Christopher Bond gains revenge on a client – and rather more

■ Case 11: The Adventure Of The Knocker-Up ☼
Holmes is being followed – by someone whose life he has ruined

⁰³ Interlude: Pillow Talk
Even powerful businessmen need to relax with people they can trust

□ Case 12: The Adventure Of The Aluminium Crotch
Be careful what you wish for – as sometimes prayers do get answered

□ Case 13: The Adventure Of The Fearful Fugitives
Two foreign gentlemen in fear for their lives are killed – sort of

■ Case 14: The Adventure Of The Norfolk Novelist ☼
The case and the book that inspired Watson to take up his own pen

□ Interlude: Write On
The doctor begins his work as a scribe

□ Case 15: Samson's Hair-Raising Adventure
The Silent Knight comes under attack – but Holmes saves the day

■ Case 16: Cadence For Cream Cake ☼
Mr. Milo Thatch has his eyes opened to what one lady is really like

 

1878
□ Case 17: The Adventure Of Rhododendron Lane
The Ricoletti case, where we sadly meet Holmes's brother Randall

■ Case 18: Poetic Justice ☼
Revenge is a dish best served from several thousand miles away

□ Case 19: The Adventure Of Mrs. Farintosh's Opal Tiara
Modern technology makes an impossible theft possible

■ Interlude: Bad Habits
Holmes knows that he is not perfect but he is trying

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

One of the perils of someone in my position in society is that as with anyone possessed of money and/or status, one finds that it tends to engender a certain level of obsequiousness among the people around one which can make one rather too prideful. I only had to look at certain members of my own family to see what might happen when character flaws went uncorrected, particularly with far too many of my brothers. Mycroft is both proud and arrogant, looking down on us mere mortals with open disdain while treating his poor wife abysmally. Torver uses his High Church preferences to much the same end; I am sure that he would establish his own religion if he could find anyone stupid enough to start worshipping him. Of the three of my relations who ended up serving the government in various capacities Randall is a lounge-lizard who never considers anyone's welfare before his own, and as for Guilford he seems to treat life as one huge joke although he has survived surprisingly long in his government post considering that. Only my sort of cousin Luke makes full and proper use of his talents, and although his temper is to be feared he does not unleash it unless provoked. In that and his physical appearance he is strikingly similar to Carl who is already rising fast through the Army ranks and will rise still further if there is any justice in the world. I frankly think the Good Lord owed me that my sister Anna is perfectly normal, and that I also have my stepbrother Campbell to help balance the books despite his, ahem, business interests.

That is why I was so blessed to have Watson enter my life. His level-headedness and righteousness are beyond question, and when I first saw him in Oxford (excluding our initial encounter in the dark which he hates being reminded of!) I felt almost as if I knew him from somewhere. This was of course ridiculous as until his trip south he had not left his native Northumberland save to visit his mother's county of Roxburghshire. I can only thank whatever deity was in charge of affairs that he not only deemed me worthy enough to maintain contact with me but was brought back into my life a second time, and that given another chance I belatedly had the good sense to propose our taking rooms together. That he tolerated my moods and sometimes marginally less than full coherence on some mornings – he is pulling a face for some strange reason - was more than I deserved, but then most people cope quite well with having more than they deserve.

I had mentioned before to Watson that Mother had likely had our new lodgings checked out. I may have neglected to add that I was equally sure she had done the same to him and although it would be some time before they finally met (for which he later confessed himself absurdly grateful!), she seemed to take to his presence in my life surprisingly well. At this time in my life only Mycroft and Carlyon were married (I knew how much it irked my eldest brother that Carl had had five sons whereas he then had three daughters). I was therefore a little confused when Mother said that she now had three of her boys settled, but knowing from experience that any explanation would be worse than not knowing I wisely did not ask. I still had that framed Wedding Order of Service in a drawer somewhere!

I was now beginning to achieve my desire to become a consulting detective. Watson still had to complete the 'practical' part of his degree and I increasingly found that I did not like going out for a case without him by my side. It just felt wrong somehow, even though he himself said more than once that he contributed very little to the course of events in our travels. When I stared at him across the breakfast table and he sighed before handing me half his bacon, I felt strangely warm inside. I knew not yet just where my life would take me but one thing was certain; I wanted this most righteous of men to be part of it.

I was to get my wish. Eventually.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

Montague Street today (1936) seems an unlikely setting for gentlemen seeking accommodation in our capital city. It is as it was back then part of the London estates owned by the Duke of Bedford and takes its name from one of his ancestors Simon de Montagu, who in turn took his name from the Normandy village of Montaigu-les-Bois. The street runs for but a few hundred yards from Russell Square in the north to Great Russell Street in the south, its western side now even more dominated by the ever-expanding British Museum. When we moved in however there were still several private houses at the Great Russell Street end including our own house (which itself was later knocked down and its replacement incorporated into the Bedford Estates Offices).

The street is in the Bloomsbury district of London and our landlady for those two happy years the estimable Mrs. Aliana MacAndrew had inherited her property from a distant cousin and, following the passing of her husband, had decided to live in a small part of it and rent out the remainder. Even though our stay there was cut short I still look back on the time with fondness. My first real home.

Barely twenty-four years of age and I was already becoming maudlin!

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Quote: 'I know that I am not the easiest person in the world to get along with'.

Hah! 'Not the easiest?' Holmes was absolutely impossible! Tidiness seemed to be a concept unknown to him and our room quickly took on the same sort of tornado-afflicted appearance as his half of Stamford's and his main room back at Bargate. And worse, he always appeared so distracted that I did not like to raise the small issue of not being able to cross the main room without risking severe injury! I could empathize with the poor maids who just looked at it and sighed before trying to dust the disaster area.

Our own rooms were small to the point of being cramped – I could not fully open the wardrobe door in my bedroom without catching the bed - although the danger zone that comprised the main room was just about adequate. On the plus side although at the far end of Bloomsbury it had the great benefit of being just fifteen minutes' walk of the surgery which with my limited income was important (it was actually the closest of the four addresses that I stayed at, although not by much). I particularly enjoyed the hearty meals that Mrs. MacAndrew laid on for us. She expressed to me the opinion that my friend looked severely undernourished ('braw skinny as a rake' were her exact words) and she seemed determine to put some flesh on those bones. I supposed that it was Holmes's height – seven inches taller than the average man at the time and two more than me – coupled with his haphazard approach to tidiness which made him always look like someone who had never managed to finish either a meal or getting ready.

Two things in particular about my new room-mate puzzled me, as neither seemed to make sense for what was otherwise a deeply logical gentleman, and both would become almost trademarks of his in later years. These were of course his pipe and his deer-stalker hat. He did not smoke yet he had a pipe, which seemed strange, and as for the hat I saw no reason to wear such a thing going round London when it should have been used for, well, stalking deer of which there were not that many in the capital. What was even stranger (and I felt a little embarrassed for knowing this as I had only found it out when I had been looking for something else – was that these were clearly symbolic in some way. In his drawer I had found an older pipe and hat identical to the ones he used, both very carefully wrapped to protect them, so I presumed meant that these items had such meaning that he had had copies made in order to protect the originals from wear and tear. I was still three years from learning the dark tale that lay behind these items, even if there would be light from the darkness as time went on.

Like all 'unattached' doctors of the time I split my hours between my practice work and attending people who called at the house, usually by going to their homes. The street was then as now a middle-class area; to the north lay the grim slums of St. Pancras while to the south was the gentle bustle of Covent Garden (I quickly learned however that the apparent wealth or not of my potential patient was absolutely no indication of their readiness to pay their bills!). I was therefore out for much of the day and was perhaps not the best company when I returned tired and footsore. Yet Holmes was nearly always there when I came in and I increasingly wondered; just what did he actually do all day? Of course he did not need to work with his family situation, but did he not become bored out of his mind?

All right, yes; I would have loved to have been so financially secure that I could have had the same problem rather than having to utter a silent prayer every time I opened a bank statement. Still, it seemed odd.

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One of the most frequent visitors to our rooms was a rather thickset sergeant of about thirty years of age. He was possessed of one of these terrible 'goaty' beards that were occasionally for some reason thought fashionable, which when coupled with his polished dome made it look as if his remaining hair had decided to migrate south for the rest of his life (Sammy had tried such a beard for three days when he was fifteen, I recalled, but the wholesale derision that it had attracted back in Belford had meant that it had not made it to its first weekend of existence). The sergeant was quite officious-looking and if not rude then gruff, and we only ever exchanged the briefest of words on the rare times that we met. I rapidly came to the impression that he was one of those Londoners who took their commonality as far as disliking anyone they considered 'too upper-class'. I also very quickly noted that he only ever seemed to arrive on one of our landlady's baking days. Hmm.

I encountered the fellow one day when I returned from my rounds in late September, so when I mounted to our room I mentioned his presence to Holmes.

“That is Sergeant Gawain LeStrade from the local station”, he said without looking up from his book. “Despite his name there is not an ounce of French blood in him, nor for that matter anything remotely Arthurian. He is London working-class and proud of it as I am sure his attitude makes clear to everyone that he encounters, yourself included. A most intelligent fellow despite his rough appearance; he should go far provided his superiors rate intelligence above smooth talking or familial connections. Or subtlety, for he has none. Fortunately for him his immediate superior is Inspector Fraser MacDonald, who is disposed to hate all Mankind equally.”

(Because LeStrade and his family would play a major role in our lives I shall take this opportunity to mention that the sergeant's grandfather Arthur had had a preference for names out of the legends concerning his royal namesake, and after one of his sons had changed his Christian name on reaching twenty-one, had left his estate in such a way that only those who retained their Arthurian names could inherit. They could also only pass on their moneys if their offspring too bore such names. This sort of thing was not unknown in the nineteenth century and explained why LeStrade – who I had indeed thought looked not the least bit like a Gawain – bore the name that he did).

“What was the sergeant doing here?” I asked curiously.

“He wished to consult me on a case”, he said.

“Consult you?” I said incredulously. Perhaps a little too incredulously; he actually looked up from his book and raised an eyebrow at me.

“I am a consulting detective”, he said a little plaintively as if that was something that I should have known.

“So you solve crimes for a living?” I asked interestedly. Of course I knew that he was smart enough but doing that for a living seemed... odd.

“Indeed”, he said, seemingly thinking the discussion at an end as he returned to his book.

“Do you go out and find clues?” I asked eagerly.

He glanced up from his book, the look on his face suggesting that he was seriously doubting my sanity. That was most unfair; I had asked a quite reasonable question.

“I am not some bloodhound to go chasing all over the place after criminals”, he said loftily. “The likes of LeStrade bring their problems to me and I think about them for a while, then tell them the answer. Sometimes I have to go out and make inquiries, but at this moment in time most matters I am involved with are fairly minor.”

“That is impossible!” I said hotly. “You cannot solve crimes by merely sitting in a chair and thinking about it!”

He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment. I felt for neither the first nor the last time that those impossibly blue eyes could see right down to my very soul. I may have shuddered ever so slightly, but it was October.

“You have a new patient who is more than well-off”, he observed. “They live some distance from here. The man, or possibly his wife, is miserly and they keep a poor class of servant. They paid cash today which was most unusual, your surgery has had dealings with them before over non-payment of their bills, and they are possessed of at least one cat.”

I stared at him in astonishment.

“Who told you that?” I demanded. He had perfectly described the rather unpleasant Carrington-Byrne family whose stroppy daughter Madeleine I had attended earlier that day. Her father had been one of those who had all but hung over me throughout the examination and it had been quite vexing. And Holmes was right about the surgery; the family had been warned that legal action would be pursued if they were tardy settling their accounts again. Mr. Carrington-Byrne had definitely grumbled as he had handed me his coins.

“Your trousers, to start with”, he replied to my utter confusion.

I sat down opposite him.

“Explain”, I demanded, adding a belated “please” at his raised eyebrow. He sighed and finally put down his book.

“You wore your best trousers and had them pressed before you left this morning”, he said. “You only do that when you are attending one of your richer patients. You also asked our estimable landlady for that useful little brush she has that removes cat hair most effectively. Your eyes are still red as you do not respond well to the presence of a feline in your vicinity, even the cat hair as you removed it earlier.”

I was surprised at that last, as I was sure that I had not mentioned my allergy towards vicious feline shedding-machines.

“And the miserliness?” I asked.

“All the best houses have gas lighting now but your hat shows a tallow mark that was not there this morning”, he said. “Hence despite their wealth they have chosen not to spend money updating their lighting, plus their servants were careless with your property. Also you only take a cab when you can afford it and your call is some distance from here. It has been raining on and off all day yet your coat is almost dry. Therefore you took a cab home and since you left your wallet behind this morning in a fit of absent-mindedness, they paid cash. As that is against their miserly nature they would only have done so had they felt that they had no choice.”

It seemed annoyingly obvious when he explained it that way. Although that did not entitle him to not-smirk like that, even if his face remained impassive. I had grown up with Stevie and I knew a not-smirk when I did not see one!

“What did the sergeant want?” I asked. “A new case for you?”

“Not exactly”, he frowned. “He came primarily to brief me on some developments concerning a murder inquiry that I have been assisting him with.”

“And did you identify the murderer?” I asked.

“Not yet”, he admitted with what I thought was more than a shade of reluctance.

“Oh.”

He hesitated.

“The sergeant did have another related matter that he thought might interest me, though”, he said. “Quite fitting really.”

“Fitting?” I asked. “How pray?”

He smiled.

“Bearing in mind I have partaken in person of some major four investigations already, this one seems singularly appropriate”, he said. “It is the Case of the Fifth Case!”

I looked at him in confusion.

“It is a very small thing”, he said, “but the person who stands to be affected by the case if it is not cleared up is a good friend of LeStrade, surprising as that seems given his nature. It is probably nothing, but I have a nose for these things and I do not like it. I may even have to leave the house and make some inquiries.”

I smiled inwardly at his put-upon tone. He looked suspiciously at me for some reason but placed his bookmark in his book and putting it to one side, indicating his apparent willingness to talk.

“The facts are on the surface few and simple”, he went on. “The sergeant's friend is one Mr. Martin Vamberry, a wine-merchant based in the docks. He supplies beer and wine, mostly the latter, to a number of public houses and private clubs in the eastern half of the city. His business has been doing very well which is why this is so serious.”

“Serious?” I asked. “How?”

“Yesterday morning Mr. Vamberry sent out his deliveries on his two carts as per usual”, he said. “Everything seemed in order until that evening when a Mr. Thomas Wilberforce, owner of the Elephant & Castle public house in Shadwell, called round claiming that he had only received four of the five cases of wine that he had paid for. Mr. Vamberry checked his warehouse thoroughly but could not locate the missing case. To placate his customer he arranged for one of his men to take round a case of superior quality wine that same evening.”

“It all seems rather dull”, I said dismissively. “Probably someone made a mistake when doing the order?”

He looked at me almost pityingly.

“You do not appreciate the seriousness of this case, doctor”, he said firmly. “For someone in Mr. Vamberry's position, his reputation is all-important. If it were bruted about that he were less than honest, he could lose everything.”

“It is hardly murder”, I muttered.

“Murder of a man's reputation”, he said firmly. “Besides I do not take cases based on their seriousness, and most definitely not on the wealth of those affected despite what some people with money might wish. I take them on whether or not they are interesting. Plus as I said, there is also a connection to the murder that LeStrade is investigating.”

I felt suitably chastised although I also had a sneaking admiration that he did not show any preference for those with more money. Too many people did these days, like some of my richer patients who thought that medical services should be restricted to the likes of them no matter how rude and obnoxious they were. Some of whom may have been charged rather more than was strictly necessary on the odd occasion.

“Perhaps the pub owner was lying?” I suggested.

“For one case containing a mere six bottles?” he said disbelievingly. “LeStrade said that they only deliver an order of four to five cases every three months to that establishment, and it was not even the most expensive of the five cases.”

“What about the delivery men?” I asked.

“Mr. Frederick Sylvester and Mr. Mark Allendale. Both decent enough fellows with no real black marks against them; Mr. Allendale is something of an alcoholic but his tastes run to beer, not wine, and he is wise enough to keep such behaviour away from his workplace. He is also courting a local lady so has had to cut back on his consumption as of late. Mr. Sylvester has some questionable friends but thankfully that is not a crime or the gaols could not cope! The landlord was absent at the time of their delivery so they left the four cases inside the lock-up in the back and raised the marker to show that they had been. They delivered at around six-thirty in the morning; the landlord's wife came out and took the cases in shortly after nine.”

“The delivery men did not know that there should have been five cases?” I asked.

“According to Mr. Vamberry's statement the system is that the supervisor marks the boxes according to the order of delivery”, he explained. “He is certain he marked five boxes with a number '1' the night before – it was the first delivery of the day – but the men only found four at the back of the cart. The cart was also searched but nothing was found.”

“Who is the supervisor?” I asked.

“Mr. Richard Sylvester, brother to the delivery man of the same name. He is a somewhat more interesting character than his sibling as he provides the connection to the sergeant's murder case being one of several people who owed the dead man money. However he stayed late at the warehouse doing inventory – there were witnesses – and did not leave until ten o' clock whereas the murder happened between eight and nine. The medical evidence for that is quite definite.”

“Then it is all very strange”, I observed.

“Indeed”, Holmes said crisply. “In the circumstances I think it advisable for me to pay a visit to Mr. Vamberry's warehouse. Would you like to accompany me?”

I was surprised at his offer but gladly accepted, and we fixed for an early departure the following morning.

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Mr. Vamberry's warehouse was in one of the less salubrious areas of the docks (and that was saying something!). We entered a cavernous building in which two large carts were being laden with boxes. A thin and unkempt tow-headed man in his forties stood between them checking off items on a clipboard, and spared us a dark look.

“Mr. Richard Sylvester”, Holmes observed quietly. “Not the most pleasant of characters according to LeStrade. We will go straight to Mr. Vamberry's offices.”

We handed our card to the secretary who took it in. She had barely returned however when the door burst open and a tall blond fellow burst through, having to duck his head to avoid hitting the lintel. He scowled at both of us before striding quickly away. A similar-looking gentleman appeared in the doorway and sighed heavily.

“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson”, he said bowing courteously. “Martin Vamberry at your service. Gawain says that you may be able to help me.”

He escorted us into his inner sanctum, a small and rather stuffy room with only a narrow and dirty ventilation window on one side. He waited for us both to sit before taking his chair.

“I shall certain try to help you, Mr. Vamberry”, Holmes said, his voice much warmer than usual, I noted. “Sergeant LeStrade was kind enough to provide me with some of the facts of the case and I decided that viewing the mise en scène might be beneficial to my understanding of the events that transpired. May I inquire as to the identity of the gentleman leaving in such a hurry?”

Mr. Vamberry sighed in a put-upon way.

“My brother Peter”, he said sounding quite bitter. “My mother wanted the three of us to run the company jointly but she died giving birth to our other brother Benedict, and my father rapidly discerned that Peter had little or no head for business. When Father moved back to the Netherlands I got the business and they each got a sum of money, Ben investing most of his back into the company. Peter has spent his way through his own inheritance and has started demanding his 'rightful' share of the business on top of it. As you probably saw he did not take the iteration of my refusal well.”

Holmes raised an eyebrow.

“Are you the full owner, sir?” he asked.

“Not any more”, Mr. Vamberry said. “When I moved to this place I had to turn over a large part of the business in shares to various banks and lenders; that was when Ben invested to help me. We are doing well enough but any sort of bad publicity would do us great harm. That is why one misplaced case of wine is so important.”

“Misplaced?” I asked curiously.

“Yes”, Mr. Vamberry said “It was found at the back of the warehouse this morning, under a tarpaulin. I have no idea how it got there; I was quite sure that we had searched the place thoroughly. I sent it round to Joe - Mr. Wilberforce, the tavern owner whom we inadvertently short-changed - as an additional apology. But I am fearful that however the error occurred it may happen again, further tarnishing my good name.”

“Did you check the case first?” Holmes asked. Mr. Vamberry looked puzzled.

“I opened it”, he said, “and checked each bottle. It was definitely the missing case.”

I thought that the whole thing seemed frankly bizarre. No-one except the tavern-owner seemed to have gained, and a case of six bottles of wine was likely not worth the expense of sorting the mistake out. Yet something in Holmes's demeanour suggested otherwise.

“Is it fair to say then that it would be in your brother Peter's interests to damage the business”, he asked, “so as to make your creditors nervous?”

Mr. Vamberry looked shocked at the idea but, I noted, did not deny it. Holmes looked around the room.

“Is this where Mr. Richard Sylvester was working on the night of the murder?” he asked.

The wine-merchant seemed to shake himself back to reality.

“Yes”, he said. “Gawain asked me about that, but as you can see the only way out is through the main warehouse.”

“They might have been too busy to spot him leaving?” I suggested. Mr. Vamberry shook his head,

“The men are entitled to a half-hour break which they take in three turns between eight and half-nine”, he said. “Because the warehouse is so cold they always come into the outer office where my secretary works during the day, then they light the fire and play cards there. I do not mind provided they avoid this room; I keep all my important papers in here. As you can see there is no way that anyone, not even someone as thin as Mr. Sylvester, could possibly have fitted through that window.”

“Who was the person who saw him leave?” Holmes asked.

“Teddy Bartlett, the local bobby”, Mr. Vamberry said, clearly surprised for some reason. “He saw him coming out of the door just after ten. But how did you know that? He only mentioned it to me today and I was planning to tell Gawain after I was done here.”

Holmes was silent for some time.

“When you sent out the replacement case on the evening in question”, he said eventually, “who decided that Mr. Frederick Sylvester would take it?”

“He offered”, Mr. Vamberry said. “He was in my office reporting about the hunt for the lost case when Joe burst in. The Sylvesters live but two streets over from the tavern so it was not far out of his way, and it was close to the end of his shift. I allowed him to go a little early as his work was done.”

“I see”, Holmes said.

“I know that it is none of my business”, Mr. Vamberry said nervously, “but after what Gawain said, are you thinking that the missing case and that terrible murder are in some way related?”

Holmes squinted at him.

“One more question”, he said, a trifle evasively I thought. “Has anything else gone missing from the office of late?”

“No, sir.”

I did not notice anything unusual in that response but clearly Holmes did. He pounced at once.

“Cushions or pillows?” he demanded.

I could not see what he was driving at but the effect on the wine-merchant was electric. He went deathly pale.

“How... how could you know that?” he gasped.

Holmes smiled knowingly.

“It is my business to know things, sir”, he said. “Often things that other people might not wish me to know. We shall return with Sergeant LeStrade at nine this evening when I hope to have this case wrapped up for you. You might also consider extending an invitation to Mr. Wilberforce to attend, as it was the theft of his property which led to this.”

He stood, bowed and left. I scurried after him.

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The cab-ride back to Montague Street was uneventful but on arrival at our lodgings there we found a smart carriage drawn up outside, one of those with far more ornamentation than was necessary. Holmes sighed in exasperation.

“My brother Mycroft has come to call”, he growled. “Damnation!”

I stared at him uncertainly. I knew that that would have been his eldest brother some six years his senior; he rarely spoke of his siblings but I had quickly reached the opinion that for most of them their absence from his life was a Good Thing that he wished to continue for as long as possible (I would later come to realize just how justified he was in that opinion).

“Do you need me there for moral support?” I ventured at last. “Or would you prefer me to take a walk for an hour or so?”

“The latter, unfortunately”, he said ruefully. “Mycroft is doubtless 'checking me out' either for himself or on Mother's orders. Most probably the former; I am quite sure that Mother has already had the place thoroughly examined.”

Somehow that did not surprise me. I had not yet met Holmes's mother (and I did not fully appreciate then how fortunate that made me!) although she had written to me one time to thank me for my friendship with her youngest son and Oxford. I had had the distinct impression that she was trying to tell me rather more than she said, but I had not been able to put my finger on just what. Holmes had sighed when I had mentioned it to him and told me to be exceedingly grateful that she had not gone into details!

Mr. Mycroft Holmes was I knew married, had three daughters with a fourth child due and was something or other in the City. Because his father's title was only a baronetcy it could not be inherited, which Holmes had mentioned as something that rankled with his brother. I had seen a picture of the fellow in the 'Times' and despite the generally poor quality of such I had thought he looked nothing like Holmes; shorter, darker and far too proud for someone like him. I nodded to my friend and walked off towards Russell Square.

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I purchased a cheap paperback book and sat in the park reading it for about an hour before returning home. Mrs. MacAndrew's delicious food duly worked its magic and I was able to function more or less as a human again by the time we left later that evening, although I could see that Holmes had been decidedly annoyed after his brother's visit. Although when our dinner had turned out to be a full cooked breakfast his expression had definitely softened, and I felt for him sufficiently that I handed over half my bacon ration, to him which also improved his mood.

After we had waited outside the warehouse for the best part of half an hour I was beginning to suspect that the sergeant was not going to show. Fortunately he came hurrying along the quayside at that moment, panting heavily.

“A stabbing in Soho”, he explained between gasps. “It was all hands on deck at the station.”

“Did you find the information that I asked for?” Holmes asked. LeStrade regained his breath before answering.

“No connection”, he said, “but you were right about the debts. Still you cannot think.....”

“We had better go in”, Holmes said. “Doubtless we have already kept poor Mr. Vamberry waiting far too long. Your men are coming later?”

“About five minutes behind me”, the sergeant said, now openly dubious, “but there is no....”

“Excellent!” Holmes exclaimed before hustling through the door. I shared a look of exasperation with LeStrade before we both followed him inside.

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I could not help but notice that Mr. Wilberforce, the landlord of the tavern in the case, looked distinctly uneasy at the sergeant's arrival. Obviously my friend noticed it too.

“Be not afraid Mr. Wilberforce”, he said. “I merely thought that you would like to understand how your missing case of wine ties into a murder.”

The man's face turned quite pale. I half-feared that he was going to faint.

“M... m.... murder, sir?” he squeaked.

“Murder most foul”, Holmes said gravely before turning to Mr. Vamberry. “Sorry I am to say it, sir, but the police will shortly be in your warehouse to arrest the brothers Sylvester; one for murder, and one for aiding and abetting. The penalty for both is quite rightly death by hanging.”

“Sir that is impossible!” the wine-merchant said firmly. “We have witnesses who will state on the Holy Bible that Mr. Richard Sylvester never left that office on the evening of the murder.”

“I do hope not”, Holmes said gravely. “Perjury, even when unwitting, is a grave offence in the eyes of the law.”

The wine-merchant seemed to be trying to get some words out but failed. Holmes sat down and stretched out his long legs in front of him.

“I will tell you how it was done”, he said. “First, the motive. I knew from LeStrade that Mr. Richard Sylvester was in dire financial straits. His only hope of relief was the death of the moneylender Mr. Berwick, which would have resulted in a delay before the debt could be transferred elsewhere. He saw correctly however that as a major borrower he himself would immediately come under suspicion, so he arranged a most cunning alibi.”

“On the morning in question Mr. Richard Sylvester arrives early at work and hides one of the five cases of wine destined for the Elephant & Castle public house. The choice of your establishment, Mr. Wilberforce, was by no means accidental as I will shortly explain. He knows that he can rely on his brother to make sure that the missing case is safely stored away. It is imperative that it is discovered only at the right time when all the hue and cry has died down.”

“Why?” Mr. Vamberry asked. Holmes looked annoyed at the interruption.

“He does one other thing before everyone else arrives”, he went on. “He knows that there are cushions, pillows and sheets in one of the outer office cupboards for when people work into the night. He takes a couple of these from the cupboard and hides them behind the couch in the inner office. The day then proceeds as planned until Mr. Wilberforce as expected arrives at five o' clock and quite justifiably demands to know why he has been short-changed. Acting on the recommendation of Mr. Richard Sylvester you, Mr. Vamberry, agree to furnish him with a superior case of wine which Mr. Frederick Sylvester, who is rather fortunately to hand, will deliver when he leaves shortly.”

“How could you know that I would arrive here at that time?” Mr. Wilberforce demanded indignantly. Holmes smiled knowingly.

“Your statement to the sergeant mentioned that you were returning from your sister's house which you said is in Southend”, he explained. “You also stated that you visit there on the first full weekend every two months and always combine these visits with business dealings which lead to your being away from the house at an early hour, returning in time for tea. I am sure that at some time in the past someone, possibly your good lady wife, must have mentioned that to Mr. Frederick Sylvester which led to the brothers fixing on you as a suitable target. They banked, correctly, on you realizing that you were a case short and coming round to demand restitution immediately upon your return.”

Mr. Wilberforce blushed.

“To continue”, Holmes said. “Witnesses reported that Mr. Frederick Sylvester left with the extra case of wine just before six o' clock. That was of course incorrect.”

“What?” I exclaimed.

“What actually happened was that before leaving, Mr. Frederick Sylvester went to the main office”, Holmes said calmly. “He was admitted to the room and once you Mr. Vamberry had left, Mr. Richard Sylvester departed wearing his brother's coat. That in itself was unusual as it was a warm day, yet the statements were that he had already buttoned his coat up and had his hat and scarf on. It was already dark outside, the outer office is poorly lit and the secretary had gone home for the day.”

“Hang on a minute there!” the sergeant put in. “I know the light out there is bad but Mr. Frederick Sylvester is about twice the girth of his brother. There is no way anyone could mistake those two.”

I gasped as I realized.

“The cushions!” I burst out. Holmes beamed at me.

“Exactly!” he said. “Most annoyingly for Richard Sylvester no-one then comes forward to state that they saw 'his brother' leave – one seldom gets a witness when one actually needs one! He takes the extra case of wine to the tavern – I believe you expressed annoyance, Mr. Wilberforce, that he left it at the door though now you may understand why – then takes his gun, finds and shoots Mr. Berwick, and returns to the warehouse. Frederick Sylvester remains behind a locked door, for as well as providing his brother's seemingly ironclad alibi he has to wait for the men taking the breaks in the warm outer room to conclude. He then slips out unnoticed between half-past nine and ten.”

“I noticed LeStrade that in your as ever excellent notes you mentioned that there was a small explosion, possibly a firework going off at about that time. I would wager that that was in fact a distraction caused by Mr. Richard Sylvester so his brother could leave unnoticed. Our killer then waits until the local policeman happens by and makes sure he is seen locking the door, apparently on his way home. He has established the perfect alibi; everyone will swear that he never left the office until ten o' clock.”

We were all stunned into silent admiration.

“Why did Mr. Frederick Sylvester not just commit the crime himself”, Mr. Wilberforce asked eventually.

“Family matters”, Holmes said. “Mr. Richard Sylvester did not wish his brother to kill for him, merely to cover up his own dark deeds. Unfortunately for both of them the result will be the same.”

“What about proof?” the sergeant asked.

“Did you get Mr. Richard Sylvester's coat?” Holmes asked.

“Yes”, LeStrade said handing it over. Holmes held it up for critical examination.

“He is as good as hung”, he said quietly.

“But how?” I asked.

He pointed to the front of the coat where a faint orange stain could be made out.

“That is the same chalk used to mark the deliveries”, he said, “a job Mr. Richard Sylvester never does. The only way he could have got a mark like this is by carrying a case of wine for a considerable distance, something that according to his story he never did. If you look closer, LeStrade, you may notice that there is a tiny fragment of wood lodged under one of the buttons. I would wager that that matches the wood of the 'missing' fifth case.”

There was a knock at the door and the wine-merchant's secretary came in without being asked. She was clearly upset.

“Sir!” she blurted out. “The police have arrived, and they have arrested Mr. Sylvester and his brother!”

I looked across at Holmes and caught what was undeniably another not- smirk. He stared back at me far too innocently. Hmm.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

Foreword: To explain the political situation at the time of this story, Austria had gained much territory in northern Italy after the Napoleonic Wars but the nationalist movements in the middle years of this century had led to the Italian Wars of Independence which had wrested all those gains from her. She had also seen the once-proud Serene Republic of Venice absorbed into the newly unified Italian Kingdom. Many Venetians had sought new homes elsewhere in the world as a result, as was witnessed by the fact that at a time when London's population had almost doubled in just twenty years, that of La Serenissima had barely changed.

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At this time in our brief acquaintance I had naturally assumed that Holmes would be undertaking many cases to which I would not be a party. After all I had many essays to write as part of my degree as well as my work at the practice, and surely he would not want me around all the time. Even if I did sort of enjoy working with the fellow.

There were still some things about my room-mate that puzzled me, however. Top of the list was his appearance; he could have made so much more of himself and when he had pointed out his military elder brother Captain Carlyon Holmes (Mycroft's younger twin) across the Park during one of our walks I could see the potential, yet he seemed to prefer looking an incomplete mess. What with his occasionally practising his pistol-shooting in our main room (and how Mrs. MacAndrew let him get away with that, the Good Lord alone knew!), I decided not to comment on it. Then again I had noted that whenever he was looking particularly down a cooked breakfast would manifest itself a second time that day in the evening, which meant that I had to hand over my bacon twice a day to him. I could not have refused him; for all that he was taller than me he could look like the most put-upon man in all existence when there was dead pig in the immediate vicinity.

I had a temporary change of room-mate in the days immediately after the conclusion to the Vamberry case as Holmes had to go and spend a long weekend with his family (the Holmes's London house was in Guilford Street not that far east of our rooms, though when I had suggested we go that way for a walk Holmes had given me a look that had suggested his next investigation might be that of a very localized murder!). I had thought to have a weekend by myself only for Stevie to drop by out of the blue. Apparently there were some legal papers that Edinburgh University had requested from London, so important that they dispatched one of their students to fetch them. We had a good time together seeing the sights and just talking over where our lives were just then. I saw him off at King's Cross Station and on the platform he mentioned that he had arranged for a bar of chocolate to be delivered to my house. I was through the ticket-barrier before the engine had cleared the platform and home in record time, only to find that the 'bar' in question was a miniature one less that an inch in diameter! And plain chocolate to boot!

I ate it anyway – waste not, want not – but he was so going to pay for that!

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Holmes returned and predictably found Stevie's lame attempt at a joke hilarious. I scowled my displeasure, which for some reason only made him laugh even more. Harrumph!

Two days later I was writing up some notes from the Vamberry case when Mrs. MacAndrew knocked to inform us that we had a visitor. We both knew this in itself was unusual; our landlady only announced people she deemed ‘important’ although she had a soft spot for Sergeant LeStrade whose arrival continued to most miraculously coincide with her baking days! I only hoped that he could detect criminals with the same degree of accuracy that he detected her cakes all the way from his station!

Our visitor was a nervous fellow in his early thirties whose calling-card stated that he was a Mr. John Smith. I briefly considered whether this might be an alias but I must say that he really did not look the type. The only distinctive thing about him was the decidedly unpleasant cologne he was wearing which was both vinegary and overpowering; I was glad that the window was slightly open that mild October day. He had short and somewhat scruffy mousy brown hair, and I assumed that he was a lowly clerk or some such.

Which showed how much I knew about people as Holmes calmly proceeded to blow my ideas clean out of the water.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Smith”, he said politely. “Does your fisheries business bring you here today?”

Our visitor must have noted my surprise for he hastened to explain.

“I own a large processing factory in Lowestoft in Suffolk and we supply London with several varieties of fish”, he explained. “One of my investors is your father Mr. Holmes, and when I mentioned certain recent, ahem, difficulties that I had been experiencing, he recommended you as the person to help me.”

“Please proceed”, Holmes said, waving him to a chair. “This is my friend and colleague, Doctor Watson.”

Our visitor nodded to me and took a seat.

“I should begin by explaining that I have a large house in Essex near Majestic Park on the edge of London”, he said. “I prefer to allow my factory managers up in Suffolk to do things themselves and pay only irregular visits to keep an eye on them, although I visit the distribution centre in London rather more often. What has happened – or rather, not yet happened – concerns the circus that was set up in a corner of the park last year. It is not that near to my house yet it has had an impact on my life that I could never have foreseen.”

“The area that the circus moved into had recently been cleared prior to a planned development and this in turn had led to a large influx of foreign workers into the area many of whom were Venetians, who seemingly prefer British to Italian rule. One of them, a gentleman called Mr. Salvatore Vincenzo, was unable to get work on the site. He therefore applied for work at my London factory which is next to Liverpool Street Station and.... his daughter Vittoria also applied. The work is mundane but it pays a fair wage, and I am said by most to be a decent employer.”

My eyes narrowed as I noticed the slight hesitation when he mentioned the lady's name. There was definitely something there.

“I must admit that at the first sight of Vittoria, I fell in love with her”, he continued, blushing fiercely. “Of course I was her employer which put me in a difficult enough position to start with, let alone the ten-year age gap. Matters were further complicated when her father died in that outbreak of winter flu at the start of the year which caused her to look for additional work elsewhere. And that was where my troubles really began.”

“Although her sweet nature is wondrous in itself, Vittoria is stunningly beautiful. Indeed when I first declared my interest in her I would have been far from surprised if she had refused me; with her looks she could have had any man in London. It was those looks which enabled her to obtain a job at the circus which had once again come to the area. Many such places have a Belle, a girl of outstanding beauty, and the Galliano Circus is no exception. I agreed to amend her hours at the factory so that she could work evenings and the occasional afternoon at the circus, and all seemed set fair.”

“Unfortunately it was at that moment that my troubles increased in the form of a young jackanapes called Mr. Roderick West. In the ring he is Roderigo Occidentale, the Knife-man From Hell, and he made it clear from when he first saw Vittoria that he wished to be considered as a suitor for her affections. She was flattered – he is not ill-looking although I am sure that he is more than the nineteen years that he claims to be – but she chose not to return his affections. However he has recently been pressuring the circus manager, a Mr. Pines, to have Vittoria included in his act. The thought of that horrible man throwing knives at my... that dear girl – I cannot allow it!”

“The question is”, Holmes said in his gravelled growl, “does Miss Vincenzo wish to allow it?”

“She does not”, our visitor said ruefully, “but she needs the job to continue to afford her house and I very much fear that she may feel forced to yield. However, I do not trust the fellow.”

Holmes pressed his long fingers together.

“This is difficult”, he said. “No crime has been committed as of yet, but if your fears of your rival prove justified then we may be looking at a potential case of murder, and one which could all too easily be made to appear as an accident. Obviously Miss Vincenzo cannot move in with you and leave her house so we must find a solution quickly. When might we wait on the lady in question?”

“She returns home from the factory at three today”, our visitor said, “and I know that she would have to leave by a quarter-past five to be at the circus for the evening performance. You would catch her any time between three-thirty and five o' clock.”

“Excellent!” Holmes smiled. “If you leave her address with us, we shall visit her between those hours and then formulate a plan of action.”

I was a little surprised that my friend so casually assumed that I would be going with him, although I said nothing. I must however have shown some emotion, for once our visitor was gone Holmes spoke.

“I am sorry if I assumed a little too readily”, he said looking abashed. “I do however find your presence grounding and would welcome it if you could come.”

He looked at me so pleadingly that I knew I was going to go with him. Honestly, first Stevie's puppy-dog eyes and now this! I sighed in a put-upon manner and he gave me one of those smiles where his eyes crinkled at the edges. He looked nice when he smiled, even if he was a mess.

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Miss Vittoria Vincenzo lived at Number 30A, FitzAllan Gardens. It turned out to be a detached and quite modern house standing athwart the road which was terminated by the railway behind it, a single goods line running into Liverpool Street Station. I could not help but notice that the numbers were a little strange; houses one to thirty (no number thirteen) ran down one side, then Miss Vincenzo's house, and then sixty to eighty-nine back down the other side. Our client's house was large and I did not wonder at her having to hold down two jobs to maintain it, although I presumed that she rented out unused rooms like everyone else.

The lady had obviously been apprised as to our coming and welcomed us with coffee (I noted how Holmes's eyes lit up at that!) and cake. She was indeed beautiful and of the sort that make-up would mar rather than make. I wondered how my friend would set about his inquiries and his first question surprised me.

“Have you by any chance had an offer for this house, Miss Vincenzo?”

She looked as surprised as I felt but rallied quickly.

“Yes”, she said, her voice somewhat melodic in tone. “How did you know that?”

“I did not”, he said. “But one of the things that I noted when we arrived is that the area directly behind the railway line is being re-developed, and I surmised that this would make a suitable access road from the City while avoiding the busy terminus which is visible from your house. Also the house numbers suggested that there had once been another part to the street which had been removed to make way for the railway. Obviously the developers of the site would have to purchase your house should they wish to have their road.”

She nodded.

“It has made for some bad feeling along the road”, she admitted. “Many of my fellow Venetians live here and they had assumed that it was going to remain a quiet area. The thought of it becoming a busy thoroughfare worries them what with their children playing in the street. As you say the remainder of the street was removed to make way for the railway; I was told that the lands beyond were then marsh but they have as you can see since been drained. The developer who demolished the old houses built this house for himself; my late father told me that he had an interest in railways hence the position.”

“Who made you the offer?” Holmes asked.

“Duncan & Hands, the developers of the site beyond the railway”, she said. “I am afraid that I do not know if they were the ones making the offer or if they were acting for someone else. Mr. Smith very kindly had the house valued for me when I told him about it; their offer was actually a little more than the house was worth but he advised me to refuse it as he said it was far short of what I should get. I did not understand such things but since he knows business I decided to follow his advice.”

“He presumably believed that the developers would pay more because they would be gaining the access across the railway line”, Holmes said. “He was likely correct; we must look into that further. Mr. Smith also tells us that he has some concerns about a co-worker of yours at the circus, a Mr. Roderick West?”

She shuddered.

“I think that he means well”, she said, “but he is such..... I would say that he is a Man rather than a gentleman, as the 'Times' said about someone recently. I do believe that he was genuinely surprised when I did not return his affections, or so one of my fellow Venetians who works there as a cleaner told me. He is attractive but.... I am not quite sure about him. Mr. Smith is certain that he is behind the idea for me to be included in his act, which I would not like at all. But I cannot afford to lose my job there so I may have to. I have two lodgers and I still struggle.”

Holmes looked at her consideringly.

“Miss Vincenzo”, he said eventually, “you mentioned that there are several other Venetians living in this particular road. Do you happen to know if your father sought to buy this house in particular, or if he was just looking for somewhere in this area?”

“That I do know”, she said. “He hoped to buy number Twenty-Three but that was sold to someone else, one of those people who, I believe the phrase is, sub-let to others. Not my fellow Venetians I do know; a family from somewhere in Essex lives there now and they are quite pleasant. However the owner of this house heard that he was looking for property and he was as it happened just about to put his own house on the market. My dear papa had some money put by and we were fortunate that the seller was prepared to accept a little way below its full value for an immediate sale. Papa had to take out a loan as well but we could just afford it. I did worry about that a little but Mr. Smith kindly explained that the process of selling a house can be horrendously expensive, and sometimes people will take a lower price to just have done with it.”

“I see”, Holmes said, and I somehow knew that he was on to something. “May I ask why your father purchased a house outright rather than just renting?”

“He wished to settle in England permanently”, she explained. “His own father was moderately rich and although that estate was divided between three sons my father had just enough to be able to afford this house. As I am sure you know the incorporation of Venice into the Kingdom of Italy was not welcomed across La Serenissima, and many of us have left for other countries.”

“Quite”, Holmes smiled. “You are quite clearly a lady of sense as well as beauty Miss Vincenzo, so I am going to be honest with you. Your life is in danger unless you do exactly as I say.”

I felt that he was being a little too direct here. The poor lady looked terrified.

“Why?” she gasped.

“You must trust me”, Holmes said firmly. “In a moment I am going to run through a list of instructions, and if you follow them to the letter all will be well. To the letter Miss Vincenzo. Failure to do so may well result in your untimely demise and we do not wish that, do we?”

“No!” she managed.

“Excellent!” Holmes smiled. “Now this is what you must do……”

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Next we paid a call to the offices of Duncan & Hands, which was only a few streets away. It turned out to be a small branch of the company and the only manager who worked there was out with a potential client, which meant that Holmes had to ask his questions of the secretary Miss Grassington. Sixty if she was a day, her hair tied up in a bun and wearing a severe black dress, she looked as if she had forgotten what a smile was.

I could not believe it. She actually simpered at the walking mess and she was very nearly old enough to be his grandmother! He asked her several questions then thanked her for her time before returning outside with me.

“They are indeed the developers for Laxton Fields”, he said. “Miss Grassington also had several particularly interesting pieces of information to impart. For one thing Mr. George Hands, her manager, scheduled an unexpected meeting with someone when she was away from the office the day before. A Mr. Roderick West. She only found out when she came across his notes from it.”

“Did she know what the meeting was about?” I asked.

“No”, he said, “but Mr. Hands retrieved the papers concerning the Laxton Fields development at the same time.”

“I am surprised that she was prepared to tell you as much”, I said a trifle sourly. I still could not believe how he had charmed that Medusa. He grinned at me.

“I am full of surprises!” he said.

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Once we were back in Montague Street I asked if he thought the case was solvable.

“I solved it before we left FitzAllan Gardens”, he said airily. “However I rather liked dear Miss Grassington and she was most helpful to me, so I thought it only fair to warn her that she might very soon be out of employment.”

“Why?” I asked, confused.

“Because there is every likelihood that the criminal investigation into her employers will force them to close down”, he said, “so I advised her that immediately seeking alternative employment might be in her best interests.”

“But how are they involved?” I asked.

He was saved by answering by the announcement of a visitor, obviously an important one as Mrs. MacAndrew herself had come up. It turned out to be none other than Miss Vincenzo. Holmes kissed her hand and led her to a chair.

“I should say now that the danger I feared is all but passed”, he smiled. “I am however expecting another visitor, and it would be best if we waited for him before commencing.”

“Who is that?” she inquired.

“Mr. West”, he said. She paled.

“Is that necessary?” she asked a little sharply.

“It is if you wish to know the whole truth”, Holmes said crisply. “It is not a happy tale in parts but it looks to end about as well as could have been hoped.”

She looked at him dubiously but did not make to leave. A maid brought coffee, tea and cakes, and fifteen minutes later she led up Mr. West. Out of his outrageous pirate-style uniform that I had seen in the poster for the circus (I wondered if he truly hated having to wear such a get-up) he looked an utterly normal young Victorian gentleman, and I thought that Mr. Smith had been right when he had remarked on his apparent lack of years. Then I reminded myself that this was someone who could knife a victim at a great distance (ironically those abilities would prove rather useful to us some years later). I did notice that he looked rather embarrassed at finding his fellow performer there, and I managed to not shudder.

“Miss Vincenzo”, Holmes began, smiling slightly at me for some reason, “I must start this tale with your father as he was the man who, albeit unwittingly, placed you in your recent peril.”

“My father?” she asked clearly puzzled. “How, pray?”

“My inquiries at the estate agents confirmed what I had suspected”, Holmes went on. “Your father was not outbid on Number Twenty-Three as he told you. While at the estate agents he chanced to see plans which showed that your current house would likely have to be knocked down as part of an access road to the new estate to be built beyond the railway line. I also found that since there had been a road before, there would be much less problem reinstating it than there would have been in obtaining permission for a new thoroughfare. Your father foresaw that the owner of that house would likely make a huge profit once the development became public knowledge which is why he was prepared to offer more than the value of the house to its current owner for an immediate sale. More, not less as he told you.”

“His intention was of course that he would be the one making that profit. As it happened his departure from this earthly realm left you in possession of the house. Now, apart from him only the estate agents and the developers knew of the plans to build in the area at this time. However those plans then became known to a second gentleman.”

Holmes turned to look hard at Mr. West.

“I don't know what you're talking about”, he said defensively.

“The estate agents were recently visited by a certain 'Mr. West', and for some reason the appointment was not logged in the schedule as is common practice”, Holmes said. “It is regrettably still the law of this country that a married woman's property becomes that of their new husband† should she predecease him, so the gentleman who married Miss Vincenzo might eventually come into possession of a most handsome property – especially if his new wife just happened to die!”

“I've never been to no estate agents!” Mr. West said boldly.

Holmes stared at him for a moment before turning back to Miss Vincenzo.

“I am very much afraid, madam, that had you married in the near future then said marriage would have been curtailed by your untimely death in an accident that would not have been the least bit accidental.”

She visibly edged away from Mr. West.

“You wished me to be in your act? Heavens!”

“I still don't know what you're talking about”, Mr. West blustered but I could see the fear in his eyes. Holmes eyed him thoughtfully.

“The secretary there, a Miss Grassington, is a most highly talented lady”, he said. “I for one am glad that she exhibits no criminal tendencies, as I fear that she might prove a most formidable opponent. For example, she observed two things about the visitor that she was sent out to avoid observing. The first was a small quantity of sawdust on her manager's floor which she assumed had come off the visitor's footwear, since she knew that it had not been there before the visit.”

Mr. West instinctively pulled his boots back a little and I thought 'circus ring'.

“Sawdust can come from anywhere”, he blustered, but he looked increasingly worried.

“Actually that is not true”, Holmes said. “It is most fortunate for you, young sir, that Miss Grassington is as tidy-minded as she is talented. She cleaned the mess away before the cleaner arrived, depositing the dust in her own waste-paper basket which she empties herself only when it is full as she likes to double-check the contents to make sure that nothing important has been thrown away in error. I was therefore able to obtain a sample of this 'sawdust' which I have since tested. What do you think I found when I did that, young sir?”

He looked like a cat waiting to strike at a cornered mouse. Mr. West shook slightly. Then Holmes smiled.

“I found that the sawdust in the room was not the same as the sawdust used in your own circus ring!”

“What?” I exclaimed. Both our guests were similarly astonished.

“It was planted by either the estate agent or his visitor to give the false impression that Mr. West had been there”, Holmes said. “It is in fact from a piece of garden fencing, Miss Grassington gave me part of the sample and I had it tested, which revealed traces of some form of paint.”

“But who was it then?” I queried. “We have only just started investigating the case.”

Too late I realized that I had said 'we' instead of 'you'. The slight quirk of an eyebrow told me that that slip had not gone unnoticed but fortunately he did not comment on it.

“This is how the crime was committed”, he said with what looked dangerously like a knowing smile. “Our criminal – not Mr. West – learns of the value of Miss Vincenzo's house and sets out to woo her.”

“But the only person that I am seeing now is Mr. Smith”, she objected.

I winced. She was going to put two and two together.... and from the agonized look on her face she just had.

“No!”

“All marches well until Mr. Smith makes a mistake”, Holmes said. “I do not doubt that poor Mr. West here was to be set up as the man behind the future Mrs. Smith's untimely demise, but in establishing this scenario the villain mentions his concerns to his business partner who replies that his youngest son is most handily a consulting detective. Mr. Smith sees an excellent chance to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. He arranges a private meeting with the estate agents who were doubtless in on the whole ramp 'for a cut', and sawdust is left in the room thus incriminating his rival.”

“But Mr. Smith's cologne”, I objected. “It was.... well, potent. Would Miss Grassington not have noticed that?”

“Ah”, Holmes said, “there we come to the matter of Mr. Smith's accomplice. Wanting to eliminate any risk of himself coming under suspicion he looked around the circus for someone who shared his dislike of Mr. West here; indeed I am sure that if we were to check, we would find that he had a strong alibi for the time of that meeting. The man who assisted him was Giordo the clown.”

“How can you know that?” I challenged.

“Because the other thing observed by the eagle-eyed Miss Grassington puzzled her considerably”, Holmes said. “She told me that while she had not detected any unusual scent in the office upon her return, she had noticed what she thought to be a small rouge marking on the visitor's chair. What struck her as odd was the shade, which she described as 'dark burgundy'. Not a common colour among ladies – and of the four clowns at the circus only Giordo used that colour.

The lady finally found her voice.

“And you think..... you think that Mr. Smith may have tried to kill me?” she asked in a small voice.

Holmes looked at her, his face unsmiling.

“My dear lady”, he said gravely, “I am certain of it.”

“He should hang for this!” Mr. West growled.

“That is the problem”, Holmes said. “Of evidence we have very little. If we put this in front of a court it would most likely be rejected. However I have told my father that Mr. Smith is not to be trusted and I dare say that my soon to be ex-client will find his business affairs a trifle more difficult in the coming weeks.”

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Holmes was right. Sir Edward Holmes pulled his money out of Mr. Smith's business that same day and the latter was forced to sell out less than a year later. I was not surprised to read a few months after that that the body of a failed businessman had been hauled out of the Thames having been stabbed in the back. It was a fitting end considering his character.

Miss Vincenzo and Mr. West decided to settle elsewhere in London and sold her house at a handsome profit. They married beforehand but Mr. West insisted on his new wife keeping all the proceeds from the sale for herself in a separate bank account. They proceeded to have six children five of whom were boys, and the youngest of these we would meet many years later in one of our last adventures together. And as I said we would also meet Mr. West when he would demonstrate his knife-throwing skills to great effect.

Holmes, God bless him, purchased a huge pop-up spider from the circus and arranged for it to be shipped up to Edinburgh in a box marked 'Evidence' as a surprise for Stevie. A few days later I received a simple telegram with the message 'I hate you!' I laughed and laughed.

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Notes:
† After nearly half a century of campaigning, this situation was finally remedied by the Married Women's Property Act of 1882. Under an earlier Act of 1870 Miss Vincenzo would as said have retained control of her inheritance but had she then died, it would have passed to her widower – and likely killer!

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

It was, I suppose, appropriate that Gregson came round on Guy Fawkes's Night. Well, on Guy Fawkes's Day, I suppose.

Watson is right on two things; I am occasionally less than perfectly organized and he really should get something for that cough of his as it is becoming annoying! I had better start at the beginning.

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When I started in practice as a consulting detective the Metropolitan Police Service had been around for some fifty years, and so was just about regarded as an acceptable part of London life. However any large organization is bound to have in it people who are at cross purposes with each other or, as Watson rather bluntly put it in the case of Gregson and LeStrade, 'hate each other's guts and then some'. All right, make that accurately rather than bluntly. So when Gregson came round that day I knew there was about a fifty per cent chance that it would be to moan about his deadly rival.

The sad thing was that the two men had passed out at Hendon (the police training college in north London) in the same class and, perhaps fortuitously for the peace of the Service, had made sergeant at the same time as well. They were also the same age and had both a shared love for cake, turning up at Montague Street almost always only on our landlady's baking days (if they came on any other day then I knew that things were really bad!), but that was there the similarities ended.

Gawain LeStrade was despite his French surname as English as they come, a solid, bluff London boy from the East End and not really someone you would wish to meet down a dark alley, or even a well-lit one for that matter. His family had I knew been dirt-poor and he had been exceptionally lucky to obtain what was pretty much a scholarship to Hendon. He was the sort of fellow who would call a spade a spade, and probably insert a few choice Anglo-Saxon adjectives to make it clear what he thought of said garden implement.

Tobias Gregson on the other hand could hardly have been more different. He was a younger son of William, 3rd Baron Gregson (number seven of nine, so little if any chance of inheriting) who was a minor if insufferably pompous Middlesex lord, and I knew that his late father in particular had been annoyed at his choice of career (although that was partly because Gregson's mother had won a huge settlement from him in the courts). He had however not been able to frustrate his son's ambitions for he was as determined as LeStrade when it came to getting his own way. And in hunting down cake.

Watson was becoming a bad influence on me!

Tall and thin, there was something of the patrician about Gregson but he had a sharp mind and would likely go far if he managed to avoid annoying the wrong people (although with him that was a rather big 'if'; his only other similarity to his rival was that neither had attained or ever looked likely to come anywhere close to attaining Level Zero in subtlety!). He was blond and always toying with his hair, partly (I suspected) because his rival had started to go bald a few years back. The two clashed at every opportunity and even at a few that were not opportunities; frankly they were terrible! They were however were both excellent policemen and I dreaded when the first vacancy for inspector that they could apply for came up, although thankfully that would not be for at least a decade. I could hopefully wangle a case somewhere in the vicinity of Timbuctoo around that time!

There was one good thing about the sorry Gregson-LeStrade imbroglio, and that was that their former inspector had decided to move to France for some reason. Not maybe for France as Inspector Baldwin had been a most unpleasant fellow and, I knew, had deliberately stirred the already tense relationship between his two sergeants presumably to try to drive them to outdo each other. His replacement however was cut from a very different cloth; the huge Fraser Macdonald down from Cumberland and some seven years younger than my police friends. Promotion nearly a decade ahead of his time seemed a recipe for disaster even given that he had family in the service, but in his few months in charge it had become clear that, quite fairly, he hated all Mankind equally. For some reason this worked and about the only thing that my two friends agreed on was their respect for their new superior.

Watson, who is as bad as ever, pointed out that I was mistaken when I had written this and that there was a second thing my friends agreed on – the fastest route to Montague Street on Mrs. MacAndrew's baking days. Worse, I cannot argue with him because he knows that he is right!

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Fortunately it was not the playground antics of the Terrible Twosome that had brought Gregson to Montague Street this fine autumn day, when even London looked almost presentable. Watson had gone off on his rounds looking depressed as he had one client that he frankly loathed so I had sent out to the local sweet-shop for a bar of that new milk chocolate† that he liked. Despite the fact that as it was not Mrs. MacAndrew's baking day and the villain's cynicism had meant that yes, I had checked the calendar when Gregson had been announced.

“I do not know if you can help me, sir”, my friend said, sounding oddly down for him. “It is about my family.”

He had my sympathy there to start with. My own family was, as my dear Mother herself often said, the sort who put the 'dys' into dysfunctional. Worse, she was working on some spy story of late with the terrifying title 'Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'! How she was able to make a man shudder with as little as a title was alarming indeed.

I wondered if Gregson's visit might be because his poor wife had had a miscarriage recently, sadly her second, after which Watson had advised the fellow that to try again might well risk her life. I knew that he had been bitterly disappointed in that, not least because he had but two sons. I had been a little surprised that his new superior Inspector Macdonald had given him time off to be with his wife; only later would I find myself drawn into the Cumberlander's own unhappy family life.

“My elder brother Tommy”, my visitor sighed. “The estate thing again.”

Ah, that. His father had died two years back and the title had passed to his son of the same name, an apple that had regrettably not fallen far from a rotten tree. Gregson had mentioned at the time that he privately hoped all five of his father's wives would eventually find him in the next world as he had not treated any of them, including Gregson's mother, at all well. Still, two years on seemed a lot even given the snail's pace of the average lawyer these days.

“Was the will not clear about who got what?” I asked.

“The will is not the problem, sir”, Gregson sighed. “You know how poor Tommy is almost blind? He is also training to be a priest, heaven alone knows why as the Good Lord has hardly dealt well with him so far in life. Although he recently took up with a good girl from the docks, Peg White. I almost wish that Father could have still been alive; the shock of one of his boys linking up with a Stepney girl would have killed him again!”

I smiled at that.

“Peg came to see me last week”, he said. “Because she is smart Tommy asked her to take over his money and all, as they are moving in together once they are married. But she found that he had signed some paper giving up his share of the estate, so he had next to nothing!”

I thought for a moment.

“Did all his money therefore go to his brother the new baron?” I asked.

“She did not know that”, he admitted. “But she did find one thing that puzzled her. There was something to do with sunsets.”

That meant nothing to me, but fortunately I knew of someone who might be able to explain it in English rather than legal-ese.

“I will look into it”, I promised, “and I will call you when I have something.”

He looked intensely relieved. Especially as I was sure that he would be calling in to check up on my progress come the next one of Mrs. MacAndrew's baking days. Just as I was sure that the sun would be rising in the east tomorrow!

As I said, Watson was becoming a bad influence on me.

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Watson was more than willing to help and that same evening he sent his brother up in Edinburgh a telegraph asking him about the phrase. Two days later he had his response in one of those letters that had clearly been written by a lawyer, and made me glad that recipients no longer had to pay to receive their mail.

“It is something quite that they took up from the Ancient Greeks”, he said, “and came about because of a famous case that arose out of the Irish Mail railway crash at Tamworth‡ some six years back. It could not be worked out whether one or the other of a family had died in the wreckage first, and that was important as it affected who got what in a will. Most of the estate was lost in legal fees according to Stevie, so lawyers developed this new 'sunset clause'.”

“I would have thought that lawyers would have been more than glad at such an outcome”, I observed.

“He says that it caused a whole lot of bad publicity for the company involved because one of the victims was a young child”, he said. “It is called sunset because it means that when someone dies a timer begins, so that if a beneficiary in their will also dies within a certain time then they and any of their offspring cannot inherit. The Greeks had the original idea; at one time all their laws automatically expired after ten years and had to be renewed.”

I thought that quite a good idea given governmental tendencies to stick their nose into everything and anything these days. I reached across for an envelope that I had ready.

“I was able to obtain the late Baron Gregson's will”, I said, “so knowing that fact we can see cui bono – who benefited from the disinheritance of Mr. Thomas Gregson.”

I read carefully through the document, pausing only when Watson brought me a coffee which was my second of the afternoon. Not my fifth, whatever anyone with hazel eyes and a damnably annoying smirk said. When I was done I placed it aside and scowled.

“Damnation!”

“What is wrong?” he asked anxiously.

“Thomas Gregson is indeed disinherited, but his funds have been shared equally among all his eleven brothers and sisters with the exception of Gregson himself”, I said. “I presume that that was because his mother in particular was so public over her divorce of him, and he was her only child with his useless father.”

“I suppose that setting fire to his study during a visit from minor royalty might have been considered a rather public act”, he smiled. “Not to forget taking him to court afterwards and winning that huge settlement for his beating her.”

“That means that each of them would get about thirty-five pounds¶”, I said. “Even allowing for the fact that everyone except his heir got less, it is still hardly motive.”

“Men have killed for less”, he said sagely, “especially in London.”

He was right, I supposed. I frowned. I had a lot of suspects but very little in the way of motive.

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They do say that inspiration can come from the most unlikely places, and of all my brothers I would have rated Torver as being the least useful to.... well, anyone of the eight hundred million souls on the planet! Yet it was a conversation involving him, or at least one which moved to include him, which showed me a new angle on this case.

Watson had asked about my unusual Christian name.

“My mother chose it”, I said. “Overall it means 'sheared locks'; that is I suppose appropriate. Her grandfather was named Lockford which might explain the latter part of it, but I have never plucked up the courage to ask her about the former – there is as I am sure you can appreciate the terrible fear that she might contrive to write a story about it! Worse, she would likely make me stay to hear it!”

He looked at the arguably less than pristine black thatch atop my pate and I could just feel him biting back a sharp remark. I shot him a warning look.

“What about the rest of your family?” he asked looking far too innocent in my humble opinion. “Your brothers in particular have some unusual names.”

I winced at that.

“What is it?” he asked , puzzled.

“All my other siblings are named after properties owned by my family”, he explained. “Properties where I suppose Mother and Father.... you know....”

He went bright red. He knew!

“Mycroft is our Scottish estate in the Far North”, I said, glad to speed the conversation away from some dangerous waters. “Carlyon is our Cornish one; I suppose they were born in one and..... the other. Torver is in the Lake District near Coniston Water, Randall is a village near Bakewell in the Peak District, Guilford is as you know the street where our London house is, and Annabella is actually the village near Mallow in Ireland where Mother came from and where she now has a house.”

“Did you not say that there was someone else at your family house?” he recalled.

I was impressed that he remembered; I was sure that I had only mentioned Luke the one time.

“Luke - Mr. Lucifer Garrick, the nephew of my father's first wife. I suppose that technically he is not my cousin but I have always called him such, as he is an agreeable fellow. Both his parents died just after he turned nineteen so Father took him in.”

Watson looked pointedly at me.

“Carl and Anna are all right”, I said a little defensively, “and as you know both Carl and Mycroft are married. Luke, Randall and Guilford all work for the government in various capacities.”

“But not Torver?” he asked. I snorted in disbelief.

“The day that Torver does anything for anyone without expecting four times as much in return will be the day that the sun rises in the west!” I said firmly. “He is the sort who would go up to a beggar in the street and steal his few pennies just because.....”

I stopped. Watson looked at me curiously.

“What?” he asked.

“Perhaps that is it”, I said. “This disinheriting of Mr. Thomas Gregson. Maybe the motive is some Torver-like spite, rather than just the money.”

“So you need to find the most spiteful of Gregson's siblings”, he said.

I shook my head.

“Mr. Thomas Gregson may be almost blind but I am sure that his memory is working perfectly”, I said. “In this case we will first go after the monkey rather than the organ-grinder.”

He looked at me in a confusion that was borderline adorable for a grown man.

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Every man has his price, they say. Naturally included in those men are servants, whose loyalty can be either earned or frittered away. A surprisingly small number of sovereigns in the right pocket and I knew just which of Mr. Thomas Gregson's family had betrayed him.

I was.... surprised.

A few days later we had a visitor to Montague Street. I was not at all surprised to see that William 4th Baron Gregson, our friend's eldest brother, had brought his lawyer, a repulsive little creature called Mr. Christian Gamphrey. A wise move, though not for the reasons he doubtless thought.

“Thank you for coming, gentlemen”, I said, noting their evident displeasure at Watson taking notes at the table. “My friend documents all my cases for the record.”

“You asked to see me”, the baron said curtly. “Well?”

He was I knew eleven years older than my friend, but fast living was already taking its toll on what had likely been few looks to begin with. I knew that he was married with two sons so his lineage was secured, and that his marriage was if not on the rocks then heading their at full steam after his wife had recently discovered that he had fathered an illegitimate child by a lady of the night. Unfortunately for him his wife was well-connected enough to support herself, her father being unlike this excrescence in the House of Lords. Watson had told me all this, which was quite impressive given how rarely he claimed to ever glance at the social pages in the 'Times'.

“It is about the disinheriting of your brother Thomas”, I said.

“I do not know what you are talking about”, he said blithely, looking supremely bored. Although I noticed that his lawyer was on edge, as well he should have been.

“Mr. Thomas Gregson was prevailed upon to sign a document waiving his right to his share of his late father's estate”, I said. “A sum of four hundred pounds, approximately. He was told he had to sign a document as part of the proceedings to sort the estate out, and he was also shown a will stating that as he was – I am loath to use the vile phrase, but those were the words used – 'not whole', he was therefore not a beneficiary.”

“I take it that you have this will?” Mr. Gamphrey inquired snootily.

I was so going to enjoy this! Already in my short career I had made the acquaintance of several people on both sides of the law, one of whom was a most excellent thief who had said he would reward me by paying me 'in kind'.

Which he duly had. I reached down to the floor and picked up the will that had been extracted from the rascally lawyer's offices only two days back. He went deathly pale when he recognized it.

“What is that?” he gasped in an impressively high-pitched tone.

“The will that you claimed you had left with Mr. Thomas Gregson when he signed those papers”, I smiled. “In fact you left him some typed notes and took this back to your office, where you were doubtless rewarded by your partner in crime.”

The lawyer looked hopefully at the door.

“What do you want, Mr. Holmes?” the baron snarled.

“There are some documents on the table awaiting your urgent attention”, I said. “You will sign over around ninety per cent of your share to Mr. Thomas Gregson; that way he will inherit your share and you his. That is, I think, quite fair.”

“That is preposterous!” the baron almost shouted. “I can have you arrested for blackmail.”

“Feel free to call a policeman”, I smiled easily. “Then you can explain how you swindled your own brother out of a small inheritance solely because you did not like his being almost blind. Social ruin awaits you if you do, as I am sure you are aware. As for you Mr. Gamphrey, I shall be informing your superiors about your actions. I doubt that they will require your services for much longer after today.”

The baron growled at me but rose to his feet and lumbered over to the table where he signed the documents. His lawyer looked as if he might protest but wisely decided not to.

“The two blue envelopes are your copies”, I said helpfully. “One you may wish to give to your lawyer – although perhaps you may decide to have a new one, given the circumstances.”

He scowled at me, then at Watson, and strode from the room with his lawyer scurrying along behind him. I could hear them arguing as they moved away down the stairs, and smiled in relief.

“It really is disgusting that he should have taken advantage just because his brother has bad sight”, Watson sighed. “I think that I shall ask around to see if I can find someone who could take a look at him, and see if what he has is treatable.”

I smiled at him. He was a good friend and a good man. I was lucky to have him around.

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Postscriptum: Watson did indeed find a doctor friend who, showing great philanthropy, invited Mr. Thomas Gregson in to see what could be done for him. His sight could not be completely restored but he went from about ten per cent vision to nearly fifty, which he said in a generous thank-you letter to me he found was a great improvement. He and his Peg were indeed married before moving to Cambridgeshire where he did indeed become a local vicar, and he insisted on sharing the money he had gained with the brother who had brought me in on the case. Baron William died just three years later and the title passed to his son Martin, who at seventeen was guided through to his majority by his uncle Edmund after which he made a much better addition to the English nobility than either his father or grandfather had done.

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Notes:
† Fry's Milk Chocolate had been first produced the year before this story is set, although the first mass-produced chocolate bar, Cadbury's Dairy Milk, would not appear until 1905.
‡ Again, poor railway practices led to three deaths and thirteen injuries on the London & North Western Railway. Two signal-boxes controlled either end of a passing loop but there was no communication between them and an overbridge blocked the line of sight. The Irish Mail was diverted onto a loop but not turned off it at the other end, and so ran straight into the River Anker.
¶ At least £3,250 ($4,200) at 2020 prices.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

One of the questions that I was asked most frequently during my long years with my blue-eyed genius was as to how he survived for so long while putting away people who along with their families would often kill or order killed (even among said families) in the same way most people would leave a note for the milkman requesting an extra pint of a morning. Part of the answer lay in this early case which involved a famous painting, a group of gangsters and a matter where Holmes was asked to prove the innocence of a man's son and duly did. Yet he also did not. It was very Holmes.

Like his ability to do that damn not-smirk of his!

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It was December in the Year of our Lord eighteen hundred and seventy-six, and London was getting ready for Christmas. Winter had come early that year and as the previous weeks having been uncommonly busy at the surgery, I was rewarding myself with a rare day off from both my studies and my surgery work. I was sat by the fire reading my favourite book 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens when Holmes surprised me with a question.

“How do you feel about art, doctor?”

I looked up wondering what had brought this on. I would never have called my friend a Philistine but I had observed on more than one occasion that he viewed his brain as needing to be kept as clutter-free as possibly to function properly, and I would have thought the world of art to have been something that he would have had little time for.

“I do not really feel much about it”, I admitted. “My main contact is the paintings that I see in rich patients' houses, which I tend to avoid commenting on in case they turn out to be some ancestor or other.”

“Have you read about the forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery?” he asked.

I nodded. Relations between Great Britain and Russia were for once tolerable (although if the Bear kept sniffing around the ailing Ottoman Empire then that rapport would be a brief one) and as a result several notable Russian émigrés had got together to put on an exhibition of their various collected artworks at the Gallery.

What I did not see however was why a display of Russian-owned artwork should interest a Phili.... a consulting detective. He obviously saw my point judging by his next words.

“A certain Mr. Richard Kuznetsov has asked me to call round to his house, to investigate the theft of a painting from his collection”, he explained, looking sharply at me for some reason. “A painting that he had intended to loan to the Gallery for the exhibition. It is called 'The Two Ladies'.”

If truth be told I probably had little more art knowledge than my friend, but as it happened I did know that particular painting because it was quite famous and I had seen a copy of it on display at one of my patient's houses. It was one of those strange drawings where depending on how you looked at it you either saw a beautiful young woman or a disfigured old crone. A child's plaything perhaps but the artist of this version had done much more with it using the background either side of the figure to show pictures from old and modern Russia. The original painting was a small thing indeed, barely any larger than the book I was holding, but the copies like the one that I had seen were always much larger. It certainly made a change from seemingly constipated ancestors or bland pastoral scenes.

“Another case then?” I said trying to keep the hope out of my voice.

He seemed to hesitate. My heart sank.

“I would love to have your company on this or any case”, he said carefully. “However this particular one has certain.... difficulties which may preclude your involvement.”

“Too politically sensitive you mean?” I hazarded. He sighed.

“What I mean”, he said slowly, “is that you will probably not approve of my client.”

I was surprised.

“Because he is Russian?” I asked.

“No”, he said. “Because he is one of the top crime lords in the city of London.”

I stared at him aghast.

“And you are still taking the case?” I protested.

He looked at me meaningfully.

“'To no-one will we deny or delay right, or justice'”, he said softly.

I recognized the quote from Magna Carta but even so, I still felt that this was wrong in some way.

“That was what I meant”, he explained. “You are a righteous and good-hearted man, doctor, while this case involves some of the lowest of society. I would still prefer to have your company of course, but I shall quite understand if you would prefer not to involve yourself.”

I thought about it for a moment. Damn the fellow, he was right! The test of any truly civilized society was whether they gave justice to all regardless of status. Once those in power began picking and choosing who was 'deserving' of justice, it was the start of a very slippery slope. I had to admire Holmes for agreeing to take the case.

“I am in!” I said firmly.

He looked at me uncertainly for a moment as if doubting my keenness but then effected one of his smiles. I felt stupidly warm at having gotten that out of him, enough that I was able to ignore the definitive sound of my manliness rolling its eyes at me. Again.

“Very well”, he said with a knowing smile for some reason. “The facts of the case seem to be straightforward. Three days ago my client Mr. Richard Kuznetsov was visited at his London mansion by his youngest son Gregor, who lives but a few streets away. The father was out at the time and returned to find his famous painting missing. He immediately sent two of his men round to his son's flat where they duly found the painting.”

I looked at him expectantly, but apparently that was it.

“You said seem to be straightforward”, I said clutching at the one straw on offer. “You do not believe that the son took the painting?”

He sighed.

“Mr. Kuznetsov plans to lend the painting to the exhibition in five days' time”, he said. “I am following a line of reasoning which, if it holds true, would make that something of a deadline.”

“Did the son admit to it when he was caught?” I asked.

“He denied it point blank”, he said. “He could not however explain as to how the painting had come to be in his house.”

“Who saw that the painting was missing?” I asked.

“One of the maids”, he said. “She went into the gallery to clean there and saw the gap on the wall where the painting had been. Being so famous it had a central position so its absence was obvious.”

“You are taking the case on principle?” I asked. He smiled.

“Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov is the younger of the two sons”, he said, “so as the youngest of six I may be a little biased. But Mr. Kuznetsov is himself dubious as to his son's guilt and in his, ahem, line of business that instinct can often be the difference between survival and a terminal dip in Old Father Thames. I have said that I will call round there at ten o' clock tomorrow morning. Would you be able to accompany me?”

“Gladly”, I smiled.

He returned to his own book and his expression did not change, but somehow I could sense that my reaction had pleased him. I smiled as I read on.

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One of the good things about Holmes was that in the cold months he somehow managed to turn into a walking heater. I sometimes wondered if he was human in that while everyone else was shivering in the December snows, the scarecrow sat next to me in the cab was radiating heat like a mini-furnace. And fortunately the close confines of the average hansom meant I had no choice but to lean against him.

He was smiling for some reason. Hmm.

In describing Mr. Kuznetsov's house as a mansion I felt that Holmes had if anything been understating the case. It occupied most of one side of one of the city's quieter tree-lined squares but at least the front was fairly tasteful. A disdainful footman admitted us and took us into a small waiting-room while he took Holmes's card to his master. He came swiftly back looking at us as if we had only marginally improved his opinion of us, and we were duly admitted.

Mr. Kuznetsov was an unremarkable fellow, about forty-five years of age, slightly portly and clearly fighting a losing battle with hair loss but also possessed of a pair of sharp brown eyes which zeroed in on me.

“My friend Doctor Watson”, Holmes said smoothly.

My presence was clearly unwelcome, but before the fellow could object Holmes asked a question.

“Your footman is Russian?”

Mr. Kuznetsov blinked, his objection to my presence forgotten.

“Two of them are, but not Feodor”, he said.

Again I had the sense that my friend had spotted something in what had seemed a perfectly straightforward answer to his question. I wondered what on earth it could have been.

“Then why does he have a Russian name?” Holmes asked. Mr. Kuznetsov shrugged his shoulders.

“He told me that he was christened Theodore”, he said, “but took the Russian version of that name because of his love for my other country. I believe that you were summonsed here to help investigate a missing painting, sir, rather than to inquire into the ancestry of my staff?”

“Very true”, Holmes said. “I think that I would like to see the item before proceeding any further, if that is all right?”

Mr. Kuznetsov nodded, stood and led the way out of the room. After a considerable walk we found ourselves in a long gallery with the picture in question hanging on the wall immediately to our right. Unfortunately I could not make out much of it as Holmes was almost immediately right up to it, to the obvious concern of our host. The detective even sniffed at it before straightening up. There was a distinctly knowing smile on his face.

“I think that we should go back to your room, sir”, he said courteously. “There are a number of questions that I would wish to ask which may help in the solving of the case.”

“Do you believe that Gregor is guilty?” our host asked, sounding almost fearful.

Holmes did not answer until we were safely back in the room that we had set out from.

“Why do you think that he is not?” he countered. “The facts such as they are seem to be wholly against him.”

Mr. Kuznetsov frowned.

“In my line of business”, he said, “I like to play my gut feeling. It once stopped me from walking into a warehouse where three men were waiting to kill me, so I am sort of attached to it. Despite all the facts being as you said against him, somehow it does not feel right. I have no idea why, though.”

Holmes nodded.

“In both cases it is the famed intuition, which the fairer sex would lay sole claim to”, he said. “You likely noticed something out of the corner of your eye and, although it did not consciously register, you felt a sense of unease for some inexplicable reason. I would like to speak to your son now.”

“I thought that you might”, the man said. “He is waiting upstairs. I shall have him summoned.”

He rang a bell and a few moments later a servant showed in Gregor Kuznetsov. He was an unprepossessing reedy young blond fellow of not yet twenty years of age, with a weak chin and a most unfortunate attempt at what was presumably meant to have been a moustache. I fingered my own far superior specimen of facial hair as he looked at us fearfully.

“I have just two questions for you”, Holmes said, smiling at me for some reason. “Firstly did anyone know you were coming round to the house on the day of the theft?”

The man nodded then looked warily at his father.

“Mrs. Wells knew, sir.”

“My housekeeper?” his father asked, clearly astonished. His son turned to him.

“I wanted to discuss something..... delicate, father”, he said carefully. “I chanced to meet her in the park last week and she said to come yesterday because she was making your favourite chocolate cake.”

“The way to a man's heart!” I chuckled.

All three looked hard at me. I immediately shut up although I made a mental note to see if I could speak with the cook about that cake. It might be central to the whole case!

Holmes nodded, seemingly satisfied with the young man's answer, although he looked sharply at me again before continuing. And I was sure that he ran his tongue around his lips ever so slightly.... no, I had to be imagining it.

“Secondly”, he said, “I would like to examine the ring that you are wearing.”

The young man looked appealingly at his father but the latter shrugged his shoulders and gestured for him to hand it over. Holmes watched him closely all the while and looked only briefly at the ring before handing it back with a smile.

“Thank you”, he said politely. “You may go.”

The young man looked to his father, who nodded his permission. I wondered what all that had been about.

“The case is almost complete”, Holmes said much to the astonishment of us both, “but I have one more request to make of you, sir. One which you may well find impertinent.”

“Hit me with it”, our host said gruffly.

“I wish to see your will.”

“You what!” the man shouted.

“Please do not overexcite yourself, sir”, Holmes said patiently. “I have most of what I need to prove who the guilty party is in this matter and your will is I suspect is the final link in the chain.”

The man looked angry but eventually relented and crossed to a bureau where he extracted a key from his pocket and unlocked a small drawer. Taking out a sheaf of papers he handed them over to Holmes who read through them before handing them back.

“If you are thinking that my eldest was involved in this mess, you can think again”, the man said firmly. “Ivan is away on business in Hull and will not be back until the weekend.”

There was the slightest pause before Holmes's response, and again I had the sense that something important had been said. One day I would be smart enough to work out just what.

“My thoughts were not actually running along those lines”, Holmes said, shaking his head slightly for some reason. “I believe that I have now solved the case although I am not quite sure that you will like the solution. I shall however need you to do something to help matters go forward.”

“What is that?”

“An hour or so after our departure, please inform your staff that you are closing the house up and moving to your country retreat”, Holmes said. “Say that you are leaving at nine o' clock tomorrow morning. I promise that Doctor Watson and I will call round at half-past eight.”

“You are coming with me?” Mr. Kuznetsov asked. Holmes chuckled.

“Not exactly”, he said. “But I promise you a resolution within half an hour of our arrival. Good day, sir.”

He stood up, bowed and we both left.

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“If that man is one of the top criminals in the city”, I said anxiously as we went home in our cab, “then surely it is not wise to make him wait?”

Holmes sighed.

“I fear that Mr. Kuznetsov is in for an unpleasant surprise tomorrow”, he said. “”But at least he will have his painting.”

“He does have his painting”, I pointed out.

“A fake”, he said dryly.

“What?” I stared at him in astonishment.

“I would draw your attention to three things”, he said. “The footman who showed us in, the three birds flying into the distance on the right of the painting, and the wording of Mr. Kuznetsov's will.”

Only you read that”, I objected.

“His estate is split between his sons of his blood body in decreasing proportion, so for example two parts to the elder and one to the younger, save that if a beneficiary is in gaol at the time of his death then they cannot inherit.”

I stared at him.

“So you are saying that Mr. Ivan Kuznetsov.....”

“The port of Hull does have a railway station with fast trains to London, dear fellow”, Holmes smiled. “Ah, we are home.”

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I had an essay for my degree that I had to read through one last time before submitting, so I was looking forward to a quiet evening in front of a blazing fire with the fervent hope that Holmes's violin would remain in its case (his playing was normally excellent but when he was stressed it took on a life of its own and became almost unbearable). However we were met in the lobby by our landlady and my heart sank when she informed us the fire in our room would be out of commission that evening as the chimney that it led to was blocked and a sweep could not be obtained until the following day. I was used to changing into my pyjamas and dressing-gown if I was done going out for the day but if our Russian day was to be followed by a Siberian evening I decided to remain fully clothed. I got my essay out and started to work on it.

Holmes came upstairs after me a few moments later and bless the man if he did not sit next to me on the couch, radiating a blissful heat. He had his own book under a blanket but somehow I found myself edging underneath it with him, leaning up against his taller frame and all but burrowing into his side. When I had finished I carefully placed the essay to one side and just lay there enjoying the heat.....

I woke some time later to find I was even warmer and blinked at my friend in confusion. The fire before us was now blazing merrily away and I had no idea what time it was, though it must have been past my bedtime.

“What?” I said incoherently.

“I pulled a few strings to get us a sweep this evening”, he explained. “He came while you were sleeping and cleared the chimney then the maid came in and laid the fire.”

And both of them had seen me like this, I thought, flushing bright red. Then again we were just two friends leaning against each other to conserve heat in a chilly room. Two fully-clothed quite respectable gentlemen doing absolutely nothing at all untoward.

“Watson?”

“Uh huh?”

He looked pointedly at where my arm was draped around him. Apparently in my sleep I tended to.... embrace him in a manly-like manner. Yes, that was what I had done. I flushed even redder.

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On waking the following morning my disobliging brain immediately made me recall draping myself all over my friend the day before. Fortunately Holmes was his normal pre-coffee incoherent self and it was worth handing over all my bacon rashers so that he did not comment on my heat-seeking tendencies to.... embrace him in a manly-like manner.

One of these days I was going to work out how my own damn conscience could snigger at me like that!

We arrived promptly at the Kuznetsov residence to find the place all a-bustle. Bags were heaped up in the hallway and the gentleman himself looked quite exasperated as we were shown in.

“So why am I going to the country, Mr. Holmes?” he demanded.

“You are not.”

“What?” The man blinked at him.

“You are going nowhere”, Holmes said calmly. “If you take a seat I will explain. Is your butler to be trusted?”

The man looked at him confusedly.

“Yes”, he said, “but why....”

“Kindly summon him if you please.”

Still looking bewildered our host rang the bell. The butler promptly appeared.

“I would like to give your man an instruction if I may”, Holmes said.

“Go on”, Mr. Kuznetsov said warily.

Holmes whispered something to the elderly man who looked surprised.

“That item is in the hall, sir”, he said crisply.

“Please bring it in here”, Holmes said quietly.

The butler nodded – clearly a good servant if he was doing whatever strange thing a visitor had requested without asking why – and left. Less than a minute later he was back bearing a medium-sized handbag with some effort, which Holmes took and heaved easily round to behind one of the chairs.

“The staff are all downstairs having breakfast as you requested, sir”, the butler intoned.

“As you requested?” Mr Kuznetsov demanded, clearly getting annoyed. “What is going on here?”

“I took the liberty of sending a message to your housekeeper”, Holmes said, “to ask if she could serve a late breakfast so all your staff would be out of the way when I called.”

“Oh you did, did you?” our host asked. He was evidently not pleased.

“Yes”, Holmes said. “Because I can now tell you about the theft of your painting.”

“Theft and return”, the man corrected.

“No”, Holmes said and I knew that he was enjoying what was about to come. “Just theft. The painting currently hanging in your gallery is an excellent copy. Done by one of the master copiers in the city and probably worth quite a fair sum in its own right, but of course not a patch on the original.”

The man gaped.

“So I have been robbed! It was Gregor all along!”

Holmes sighed.

“Also, it really would have been easier if you had told me everything, sir”, he said plaintively.

“I did....”

“You did not mention that on the day of the theft, you received a hoax telegram that caused you to have to leave the house.”

The man's jaw dropped. Holmes looked hard at him.

“I can now tell you how the crime was accomplished”, he said. He handed a slip of paper to the stunned man. “Please carry out the instructions therein to the letter.”

Mr. Kuznetsov pulled himself together and read Holmes's note, then rang one of the bells. Feodor, the snooty footman from the day before, duly appeared.

“Please fetch Mr. Gregor, Feodor”, Mr. Kuznetsov said heavily.

The man nodded and left. Holmes looked pointedly at me and I understood; he was thinking that the accused might make a run for it. As surreptitiously as possible I moved over to the door just in time for there to be a knock swiftly followed by the entrance of a worried-looking Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov and the footman. Feodor made to leave but Mr. Kuznetsov bade him remain for the moment, presumably as back-up. Holmes turned to our host.

“The good news is that I know where the stolen painting is, sir”, he said, bowing. “But before I tell you, I regret that I must cause you some pain. You asked me to investigate whether or not your youngest son stole your valuable painting. I regret to inform you that he did.”

Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov gasped. I noted that the footman was looking rather oddly at Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov.

“Father, I swear that is not true!” the latter said roundly.

“I am sorry, but it is”, Holmes said sinking into his chair. He shot a second warning look at me and I remained on my guard, watching the son closely.

“At around two o' clock on the day of the theft Feodor here hands you, Mr. Kuznetsov, a telegram”, Holmes said. “I do not know the contents of that message but the effect, as desired, was to cause you to leave the house for a period of time. That message as you later discovered was a hoax, but it was essential that you not be here when your son arrived and that your absence last long enough for him to go away again.”

“Why?” Mr. Kuznetsov demanded. Holmes ignored him.

“At approximately half-past two Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov leaves his apartment for the ten-minute walk to his father's house”, Holmes went on. “He believes that the only person who knows that he is coming is the housekeeper, but as we all know, servants gossip. Importantly Mr. Gregor is wearing his long-coat.”

“Why is that important?” I asked in my turn. Holmes predictably ignored me too.

“At approximately twenty minutes to three Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov arrives at this house and is shown into the waiting-room. He hands his coat to Feodor here who takes it and hangs it in the cloakroom – but not without first extracting his house-keys!”

I was almost unprepared for the footman's desperate lunge for the door but fortunately I was both bigger and stronger than him, and Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov hurried across to assist me. The two of us soon had the fellow pinned down much to our host's astonishment.

“Feodor?” he gasped. “But..... that is impossible!”

“Mr. Gregor had mentioned that he was coming here at this time so your footman arranged for you to be out”, Holmes said. “He had planned this ramp some time back which was why he had ready a copy of the painting made by one of London's best copiers, a Mr. Hebediah Woolsford of the Minories. His copies are excellent and as I said worth a lot in their own right, but he does insist on always adding his own mark to any copy that he does, a tiny letter 'W' worked into the painting somewhere. I have seen the original painting and I know that it has two birds flying in the far distance on the right, not three as your copy has.”

“Why did you not tell me that yesterday?” Mr. Kuznetsov demanded hotly.

“Because I wished for you to have a good night's sleep”, Holmes said easily. “In light of what I knew about the case, I thought that you might well need it.”

What did he mean by that? I wondered.

“Feodor slips out with both the fake painting and the keys that he has extracted from Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov's coat-pocket”, Holmes went on. “A fit man, he can make it to his target's house in five minutes. I dare say that he was seen but then no-one thought to ask if anyone went into Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov's rooms at that time since all the attention was on this house. Feodor leaves the painting poorly hidden and races back home. Fortuitously his absence has not been spotted and no-one has yet told Mr. Gregor that his father is unlikely to return for some hours, so Feodor tells him that and he leaves. Our criminal then goes to the gallery and takes the real painting from the wall, hiding it in his own room. When his master returns Feodor arranges for one of the maids to clean the gallery knowing that she will see the bare gap on the wall and report it. You, Mr. Kuznetsov, link it to your son's visit and send your men round to his apartment where they find the copy. Because you are so relieved you do not think to check if it is a fake which, I am sorry to say, it was.”

Mr. Kuznetsov sat in stony silence. Feodor whimpered on the floor between myself and Mr. Gregor Kuznetsov.

“By advising you to make an immediate move to the country I forestalled any attempt by the criminal to dispose of the painting”, Holmes explained. “His only hope was to take it with him” - he reached behind the chair for the suitcase and I saw the footman's face go even whiter - “so I believe that it should be in here.”

He opened the case and extracted a slim package which he unwrapped. Sure enough it was 'The Two Ladies'.

“But you were wrong on one thing”, I pointed out. “You said that the theft had been carried out by the youngest son.”

Mr. Kuznetsov had gone almost as pale as his footman.

“That was the motive”, Holmes said quietly. “The precise wording of the will was that the estate was to be divided in proportion between all the sons of the blood body regardless of which side of the blanket they were born on. Three parts to the eldest son Mr. Ivan, two to Mr. Gregor here and one to your youngest, Feodor. I suspected from when I saw him and you in the same room, sir, that he was your blood. The will which he chanced to read one day meant that he saw the removal of his half-brothers would make him even richer.”

He bowed to our ashen-faced host.

“Sorry I am to say it sir, but had you pursued charges against your son Gregor then I fear you and your eldest son would both have suffered 'accidents' not long after his incarceration. Mr. Gregor here would have been debarred because of his criminal record and your.... 'servant' would inherit all.”

Mr. Kuznetsov shuddered.

“What are you going to do?” he managed.

“I am employed by you in merely a private capacity”, Holmes said gently. “The way you choose to deal with what has happened today is solely up to you, sir.” He turned to me. “Doctor, I think that our presence here is no longer required.”

I nodded and let got of the crumpled footman. We left Mr. Kuznetsov and his son – both his sons – in the large, lonely house.

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Holmes did not charge our client for his services as such except to say that he hoped Mr. Kuznetsov would make it clear to his 'acquaintances' that he now regarded the detective as a friend and would not take kindly to any moves against him (i.e. 'not take kindly' as in 'provide a one-way tour of the Thames river-bed with free concrete footwear'). I suspect that such an action, considering the many enemies my friend would amass over the coming years, was worth far more than any sum of money.

Mr. Kuznetsov arranged for his 'footman' to be transferred to his sole property back in Russia, an act of leniency which surprised me somewhat - until I found out the property in question was in Eastern Siberia!

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Lucifer Garrick, Esquire]

I still remember my first time with another man – ye Gods, just two years ago! I had waited until my fearsome sort of stepmother was safely away at the far end of the country before heading round to a molly-house that I had had recommended to me, only to find that that 'recommendation' had been slipped to me by my stepmother – because the place was run by my cousin Campbell who, she said, 'would take very good care of me'. If I was ever going to die of sheer mortification then that was going to be the moment! Luckily Campbell did indeed see me right, and my first time ever was with the twins Balin and Balan who..... I was man enough to admit, it, both had to help me to my cousin's room afterwards.

Campbell explained to me that with my now working for the government, I might well be liable to blackmail especially from the direction of his unpleasant stepbrothers Mycroft, Torver and Randall, so it would be better for me to have one steady, trustworthy lover at a time (except for the twins who he had saved from the streets and who were his most loyal men). For the past two years my man had been a handsome and hung cabbie called Mr. Cheiron 'Kai' Jones, but he had decamped to the United States so I needed someone new. We had got on well although I was, I admit, a little embarrassed that I had never 'led' in our relationship. Then again when he was hung almost as much as the mythical beast that he was named for, why would I? That was what padded seats were for, surely?

Still, I looked forward to my new lover who Campbell said was a fellow just starting out, a Mr. Anthony Little who, in the terrible humour of his workplace, was nicknamed Tiny. Which my cousin found hilarious because, he said, he was not.

All right, I was trembling a bit.

There was a knock at the door and I took a deep breath.

“Enter!” I called.

'Tiny' duly came in – then stood up! I gulped; he had to be at least six foot nine and..... then he shed his dressing-gown. Yup, everything was in proportion; he was even bigger than Kai! I was toast!

“Mr. Campbell said you might want to try me out for keeps, sir”, he smiled shyly. “How do you like it?”

I opened my mouth to state the obvious, but he was looking at me with such a piteous, hopeful expression that before I quite knew where I was I threw off the sheet and raised my legs. He grinned and stepped up to the wicket......

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Two whole days! No wonder Campbell had insisted on us meeting on a Friday evening; I could barely move the following Monday. And I knew that when I got home, my new 'footman' would be waiting to tend to my every need.......

It was damn cold in my office all of a sudden.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

It was the start of another year and the country was still adjusting itself to our dear old queen's new title, Empress of India. Thankfully Great Britain had learned the painful and unnecessary lesson from the loss of its American colonies and now treated at least some of its overseas possessions as sister-nations rather than mere subjects although I could foresee the day when the people therein, having been brought up to our level of civilization, would want to run their own affairs. But that was all for the future and for now we had another case.

Holmes had achieved what I had thought impossible and was looking even less put-together as we were driven across the Hampshire countryside, into the teeth of a wind seemingly intent on trying to push us back to the small town of Whitchurch whence we had come. We were heading to the Andyke, an ancient earthwork and according to what we had been told the scene of a modern-day theft. Our driver and host was one Mr. Peter Goodfellow, an affable flaxen-haired fellow of about thirty years of age who very clearly knew his subject well.

“As I am sure you gentlemen are aware”, he said, “the idea of a lady archaeologist raised more than a few eyebrows when Miss Sutherland first joined our 'dig'. Several of the older members were quite shocked as she is, er, a little modern in her approach. But to be fair she has worked as hard as any of us, which is why this whole business has come as quite a shock.”

“Tell us about the 'dig', please”, Holmes said.

“Hampshire was where the ancient West Saxon kingdom, forerunner to England, was founded”, our host said. “As you might have guessed, the native Celts did not give up without a fight. When the West Saxon King Cerdic tried to fight his way up the River Test they used a combination of hill-forts and earthworks to block his way. Or rather they tried to; he overcame them all from what we have found. There are of course no written records from those times which is why our work is so important.”

“The earthwork we are working on is known as the Andyke; we think that the name comes from an old word referring to giants as the works are so big. It seems that the king took the small Roman settlement at Leucomagus a couple of miles north-east of Andover and the Celts fell back to their defensive line here. It was almost their last stand; once he was across the dyke Cerdic could effectively surround his future capital at Venta, what is now Winchester, on three sides. We are not certain however as to how long the dyke was held against him.”

“Why so?” I asked. The history of the Dark Ages was not a particular interest of mine but the young fellow's enthusiasm was contagious.

“We know from another dig down at Winchester that the ancient walls there were reinforced on the southern side of the town but not the northern one”, he said. “So clearly there was a threat to the south that lasted long enough for them to go to the trouble of strengthening their defences against it, but the northern one must have come upon them before they could react. That suggests therefore that they overran the dyke we are approaching pretty easily. Except that buried in the earthwork here we found a leather pouch of about forty ancient coins. It seems an odd place to hide something like that; we would have expected them to have only been hidden somewhere safe.”

“I would have thought a huge earthwork fairly safe”, I said. Holmes tutted at me.

“Watson, such earthworks were like the outer part of a castle wall”, he said. “The defenders would have been based close by so they could be summonsed to defend it when the attack came. You would not place your worldly goods where the enemy could advance to within yards of it even thought they might not be aware of its location.”

Show-off, I thought.

Was he shaking his head at me? He was, damnation!

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I have to say that the Andyke, when we reached it, did not overly impress me. I suppose that over thirteen centuries were bound to inflict some wear and tear but it seemed like just a large ditch and bank marching across the landscape through which the London to Exeter road had been thrust at one point. Our host obviously caught my disappointment.

“It would have been higher and with a far deeper ditch in its day”, he explained, “and have been backed with a high wooden palisade. A mile or so south it blocks the Dever Valley which was the way King Cerdic would have wanted to advance on Winchester. While most of the area around would have been heavy forest, we think that they most likely cleared the area in front of the dyke to make shooting at an approaching enemy easier.”

“I wonder why they did not just go round the thing”, I said.

“People forget how different England was then”, our host explained. “The forests were pretty much impenetrable plus there was always the danger that an ambush might be lurking somewhere in the greenwood. The West Saxon state was still small; it did not have the manpower for anything more than an advance along the easiest paths like the old Roman roads and river valleys. That was why the people of Winchester did not initially have to bother about their northern walls; they knew their enemies did not have the strength to fully besiege them. But they underestimated them at the end.”

“How did the trouble concerning Miss Sutherland arise?” Holmes asked.

“We have our digs in the nearest large village, Sutton Scotney”, our host explained, “but our base of operations is Whitchurch. When Mark – Mr. Chilton - uncovered the coins they were taken to the room we have in the pub there where we keep our finds and plan the 'dig'. The next day they were gone and someone started a rumour that the bag had been seen in Miss Sutherland's room. It turned out to be true.”

“Were the coins verified?” Holmes asked. Our host looked surprised.

“We arranged to have an expert come down and check them”, he said, a little defensively I thought. “He is due down this weekend. I looked at them and they seemed genuine enough.”

“And now they are gone”, Holmes said. “Interesting.”

“But we do have something”, Mr. Goodfellow said. “I did rubbings for five of the coins and I still have those. Would you like to see them?”

“I would”, Holmes said. “Once we are out of this infernal wind, that is. Tell me about the gentleman who found them.”

For some reason our host winced.

“Mark”, he said. “You see he – well, he was engaged to Miss Sutherland some months back, but it did not work out.”

“Who broke it off?” Holmes asked. I thought that a rather personal question and our host was clearly surprised at it.

“I believe that he did”, he said. “They got together because of their shared interest in archaeology and her coming down here after him – it was dashed awkward.”

“And you said that Mr. Chilton was the one who found the coins in the first place”, I said, seeing quite clearly where this was heading.

He nodded.

“Were any other coins or such found on the site?” Holmes asked.

“Only one”, our host said. There was a small hole in the pouch; this one coin had fallen out and got separated from the others. I have it here.”

He produced a small box from his pocket and handed it to Holmes who examined the coin closely.

“Interesting”, he said. “Are you a student of Roman history, sir?”

“No”, Mr. Goodfellow admitted. “The Dark Ages is my special field. I do not suppose that just one coin tells you much.”

Holmes passed the coin to me to examine and I did so. It was small, dirty and unremarkable with jagged edges, hardly round at all. In faded writing I could just make out 'POSTVMVS'.

“Possibly named for a son born after his father had died”, I suggested. “I would hazard that he was emperor at the time that the coin was minted. It is quite unremarkable.”

“On the contrary”, Holmes said. “This is an as, and likely a key element to establishing the guilty party in this case.”

We both stared at him.

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Once we were back at Whitchurch, Holmes immediately went out to dispatch a telegram to someone or other, and on his return he asked to see the rubbings that the archaeologist had made of the lost coins. He seemed quite excited by one that had been done in the reign of the great Augustus for some reason and questioned our host on what he remembered of that coin. He also grilled him about the pouch that the coins had come in before letting the fellow depart for his supper.

“Why were you so interested in the bag rather than the coins in it?” I asked. “Surely the bag is not worth anything?”

He shook his head at me.

“You do not see it, Watson”, he said (his eyes were alight which meant that he was getting carried away again). “Empathize for a moment; put yourself in the shoes of some Dark Ages landowner in the sixth century facing conquest and slavery, if not death. Are you really going to hide your wealth on the very front line against the enemy, the very first place that they will likely overrun? Second, my interest in the bag was because it was a bag.”

“Pardon?”

“Someone rich enough to have forty or more coin is not going to entrust them to some tatty leather pouch”, he said disdainfully. “That would be the act of a complete imbecile!”

I reddened at not having spotted that and turned away from him. Belatedly he seemed to realize that he had offended me.

“I am sorry, friend”, he said quietly. “I would not do this without you, you know that.”

“I am going out for a walk”, I said stiffly. “I will see you later.”

“But supper is in ten minutes”, he pointed out.

“Oh rot! I am not hungry.”

I stormed out, feeling quite cross with him.

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I had of course lied. I arrived back an hour later absolutely ravenous and wondering if I could slip down and cadge some food without Holmes knowing. I was no sooner in the room however than he smiled that beseeching smile of his at me. I felt my resolve melting like a lump of ice-cream in a furnace, and I just knew that my manliness was seriously considering how to set about disowning me. Properly, this time.

“Good, you are back”, he said. “I am sorry for being so rude to you earlier, Watson. I sent down to delay our supper until your return so I will go down now and let them know to bring it up.”

I blushed. That had been good of him. I knew enough of my own character to know that had the roles been reversed, I might well have let him starve as a punishment.

Who was I kidding? One more look from those blue eyes and I would have folded faster than a deck-chair in a hurricane. I was so whipped!

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The following day we met Miss Mary Sutherland. I cannot say that she overly impressed me; she seemed to be striving far too hard to be a Modern Woman and while I appreciated that a lady could hardly work on a 'dig' in a full dress, she was clearly aiming to be 'one of the boys'. Aiming and missing.

“I have no idea how that pouch got there”, she said angrily. “Besides why would I of all people take it? I can hardly hawk it around London, can I?”

“I am sure that you know as well as I do”, Holmes said smoothly, “that there are many collectors willing to pay a high price to acquire what their rivals have not, regardless of any legal niceties involved. Many of the rich consider that laws are solely for the little people.”

She glared at him.

“I do not move in such circles, sir”, she said loftily. “Besides if you really are the clever-clogs that they say you are, then you will know that I have not been charged nor will I ever be!”

I wondered at her assuredness on that point. Holmes just smiled at her and we left.

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“Why was she so confident about not being charged?” I asked him later. “The facts look to be against her.”

“For one thing she believes that the company in charge of the 'dig' will not wish for the publicity”, he said. “She is just waiting for the surprise witness to emerge and clear her name.”

I stared suspiciously at him.

“You are guessing!” I said accusingly. He stared at me in mock offence.

“I never 'guess'”, he said loftily. “Today or tomorrow she will be cleared and the spotlight will turn on someone else.”

Holmes was clever, but this time I was sure he had overstepped the mark.

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When would I learn? We met with Mr. Goodfellow barely an hour later and he was brimming with news.

“You will not believe it, sir”, he said. “Miss Sutherland is in the clear! A surprise witness has come forward!”

I was not sure what annoyed me more; the straight face that Holmes maintained when I glared at him or the very slight smirk that I caught just as I turned away. Harrumph!

“What surprise witness?” I asked not at all sourly.

“One of the serving-girls at the pub was going to her room and saw Mr. Chilton going into Miss Sutherland's room”, he said excitedly. “She did not say anything about it at the time because.... er, you know.”

“No, I do not 'know'”, Holmes said innocently. “What?”

I prodded him.

“Do not be mean, Holmes!” I chided. “So the two of them were back together, I take it?”

Mr. Goodfellow shook his head.

“She knew that Miss Sutherland was downstairs at the time because she had just spoken to her”, he said. “And Mr. Chilton was carrying a small pouch – which was not on him when he emerged!”

“A most observant young wench”, Holmes smiled. “What is her name? I would like to ask her more about this observation of hers that she has remembered in such a timely manner.”

“May. She is the red-headed one.”

“I shall go and see her at once”, Holmes said rising to his feet. “I will join you again shortly.

“He had better watch out”, Mr. Goodfellow said to me as my friend departed. “That May is a character and then some. I would not put it past her to inveigle any man into her bedchamber, and that includes your friend.”

For some reason that thought made me feel very uneasy.

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Holmes re-appeared some time later only to be intercepted by a boy with a telegram as he approached to where I and Mr. Goodfellow had been joined by Mr. Chilton, an amiable dark-haired fellow of about twenty-five years of age. I noted that my friend's appearance looked even more dishevelled than usual and grimaced inwardly at the thought of him and that female... ugh! He deserved much better.

“The case is concluded”. Holmes said, taking a seat. “I have asked Miss Sutherland to join us and we can set about bringing justice upon those who merit it.”

I was sure that one of the two men with us flinched though I did not see which one. Fortunately we only had to wait a couple of minutes before Miss Sutherland (thankfully wearing some rather more feminine attire) joined us, pointedly sitting as far away as possible from Mr. Chilton. Holmes thanked her for coming and began.

“There are three parts to this case”, he said. “Indeed for what started out like a theft of some old coins it has blossomed remarkably into something much larger. As a result of my investigations one of you here will be facing some most unpleasant consequences very soon.”

I was sure that they all shuffled in their seats at that.

“The first thing that struck me”, he said, “was not the coins but the pouch that they came in. Why would our Celtic nobleman have a haul worth so much yet not have been able to have afforded a cheap metal box to protect his wealth? I commented on this most harshly to my friend the doctor here who reacted quite justifiably, and in doing so demonstrated my own foolishness in not seeing the obvious.”

“I did?” I asked, surprised. He nodded.

“You said, 'rot'”, he said. “I immediately thought back to the chalky ground in which the pouch was discovered. Water drains through chalk very easily and would surely have rotted away any pouch, even one made of leather, in the millennium or more that it had purportedly been there. That was the second fact that suggested the coins themselves were fakes.”

“Fakes? Mr. Chilton asked, alarmed. “How the blazes could you know that?”

Holmes fixed him with a look.

“I dispatched a number of telegrams to London after my visit to the site yesterday”, he said. “One of them was to request from a historian friend the dates of all the Roman Emperors as well as certain other information. The small coin that had slipped out of the pouch was one of the Emperor Postumus – and it was very obviously a fake.”

“How could you know that?” I asked.

“Because someone simply took a list of all the emperors, extracted some names at random from different eras and had fake asses – yes Watson, that is the plural – made.”

I had not sniggered that much!

“However”, Holmes went on still eyeing me warily, “Postumus was actually not a Roman Emperor. He ruled a breakaway territory, the so-called Gallic Empire, and he did not issue any coins in his time. My belief was reinforced by Mr. Goodfellow's rubbings which showed a second of the lost coins to be from Emperor Augustus.”

“Now even I know that he was real”, I said. Holmes smiled.

“He was”, he said, “but he was also a reformer. Mr. Goodfellow confirmed that the coin he took the rubbing from was a copper one like the rest, but Augustus made his asses from bronze.”

He looked pointedly at me clearly expecting another snigger. I managed to keep a straight face despite all the 'asses'.

Fairly straight. Ish.

“Suspecting this subterfuge, I asked an acquaintance of mine who specializes in high-quality forgeries as to whether anyone he knew had been asked to create a set of old Roman coins of late”, Holmes went on still eyeing me. “He asked around, and an acquaintance of his had been asked by a young fellow with dark hair to do just that.”

Everyone's eyes turned on Mr. Chilton who reddened.

“I have no idea what you are talking about”, he said defensively.

“The unfortunate thing for our criminal”, Holmes said, “was that forgers require the very best senses for their trade. The man who created those coins had not only excellent eyesight but a sharp sense of smell. Hence he was a little confused as to why the young 'gentleman' who requested his services was seemingly wearing a similar lavender-based perfume to the one favoured by his good lady wife.”

Like one of those new tennis matches we turned as one to look at Miss Sutherland. She tossed her head at us but said nothing.

“You decided that you were not the sort of person to be so lightly tossed aside by Mr. Chilton here”, Holmes said softly. “You planted those coins for him to find, then placed them in his room. The serving-girl whom you recompensed adequately but not adequately enough was more than willing to admit her role in the set-up, once she realized that she herself could go to gaol for bearing false witness. Not I might add that it stopped her from trying to flatter her way out of the entanglement by means of her own wiles.”

So the harlot had tried to entrap my friend. And she had failed! Hah!

“”I have done nothing legally wrong”, Miss Sutherland said. “And you will not be taking me to court.”

“Why will we not?” Mr. Chilton asked angrily.

“For one thing you would need to know her real name”, Holmes said. “Miss Mary Sutherland is in fact Miss Maria McEwan, cousin to the Duke of Sutherland†. For all the good works that that gentleman has done especially in his native Highlands, he does not deserve to be tarred by the same brush as his blood.”

The harridan grinned triumphantly.

“However”, Holmes said sharply, “while a case for entrapment would be difficult to prove, there is still the not insignificant matter of impersonation.”

I and the two gentlemen looked at him in confusion, but I noticed that the woman had gone rather pale.

“The noble Duke granted a generous allowance to Miss McEwan's father, his cousin Mr. Reynold McEwan”, Holmes explained. “It is the practice of noble families to support offspring some distance from the main branch and the allowance was to expire on Mr. McEwan's death. Which the noble duke will doubtless find surprising as that happened some five years ago. The letters he has been receiving since thanking him for his munificence have all been written by the dead man's daughter. Fortunately he has now been corrected in that mistake and I am sure that his lawyers have already been instructed to pursue the 'lady' here for the return of all the moneys that she fraudulently obtained.”

How Miss McEwan managed to get from a sitting position to throw herself against Holmes while screaming a whole set of unrepeatable and quite inventive obscenities, I do not know. The three of us pulled her off and the two gentlemen hustled her away.

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“I am just glad to be getting away from here”, I said, as we waited outside for the cab Holmes had ordered to take us to the station. “And especially that dreadful serving-girl. She was only after one thing!”

His smile was far too knowing and the silence far too long. I stared at him suspiciously.

“You did not... did you?” I asked.

“Did not what, Watson?” he grinned.

I glared at him.

“I did not”, he reassured me. “But I find your reaction... interesting.”

I decided then and there that I did not like him after all. Fortunately our ride came and spared him from my disapprobation. We were soon off and I wondered a little at the extravagance of hiring a carriage for what was little more than a mile's walk.

I was wondering rather more when instead of heading to the station Holmes took the road south out of the small town, soon passing a mile-stone that told us we were some fifty-nine miles from London and twelve from Winchester.

“Where are we going?” I asked, confused. “Another case already?”

He looked sheepishly at me, which worried me all the more.

“You said how much you enjoyed looking round ancient cathedrals and old churches”, he said. “I remember that you mentioned once how you had always wanted to see the cathedral in Winchester.”

I stared at him in surprise. He had remembered!

“Thank you”, I muttered embarrassed at my sudden incoherence. He smiled his small, gummy smile at me and we drove on in a contented silence.

He was still a mess, though! And he could stop shaking his head like that! Harrumph!

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Notes:
† George Granville William Sutherland-Leveson-Gower (1828-1892), duke since 1861. The grandson of the 1st Duke and Duchess who were involved in the Highland Clearances, the third duke was a far more noble character. He supported charities for injured soldiers and personally paid for part of the Highland Railway to link his estate and the Far North of Scotland to the railway system.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

The Good Lord has seen it fit to 'bless' me with five full brothers, but the only one who I can tolerate for any length of time without resorting to justifiable homicide is Carl (Carlyon), Mycroft's twin and some six years my senior. He also has five sons while his twin has none, which being Carl he does not 'accidentally' mention at every single family gathering (ye Gods, I am getting as catty as Watson!). Carl was just about to turn twenty-nine at the time of the events I am about to describe, and had come to me for assistance in a rather unusual problem.

“It is not like you to be unable to control the men under you”, I smiled. My brother was now a captain in the Army and a very good one; his men both feared and trusted him which was an excellent combination.

He sighed and sat back in his chair. Physically we were quite dissimilar sharing only our height and he was closer to Watson's build although more muscular, with light blue eyes and blond almost white hair. I had always thought it strange that he was so strikingly similar to my cousin Luke, even though they were not blood-related. Like Luke he was also always very well turned out while I was perhaps occasionally less than pristine (I just know a certain note-taker in the corner is rolling his eyes, damn the fellow!).

“This new lad is something else!” he grumbled. “Lieutenant Flynn Rider; part Irish, part Scottish, and part demon-spawn sent to drive me to distraction! He treats the Army as a joke but he is so charming that all my superiors think he is wonderful, and anything that he does wrong is my fault! I will never make major as long as he is around!”

“What do you wish me to do?” I asked.

“Know any murderers?” he said hopefully.

I shook my head at him reprovingly. I did, but I had four other brothers. For now at least.....

“Failing that”, he sighed, “I need you to come up with an idea to make him follow orders. Although if he accidentally gets shot in the process....”

He really was terrible at times. Almost as bad as Watson.

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Despite the apparent unimportance of this case it did place me in a tricky position as regarded Watson. My medical room-mate had many fine qualities but among the many adjectives I would have used to describe him, 'conservative' would have been in the top ten. Which was why I was wary about letting him into one of the arguably less salubrious sides of my family (and considering we are talking the likes of Mycroft, Torver, Randall and Guilford, that was a low bar!).

I have mentioned before my cousin Luke (Mr. Lucifer Garrick), the nephew of my father's first wife the former Miss Mary Kerr. That marriage lasted barely a year before she died in childbirth but her son survived. My stepbrother Mr. Campbell Kerr was the last of his lineage and his father-in-law Sir Jameson Kerr had asked that he be allowed to raise the boy himself. I had learned this from my mother who, showing her usual degree of tact and diplomacy (see under absolutely none whatsoever) had explained that she had met my father while this had been going on and had 'persuaded' him to agree to the request. Bad mental image, really bad mental image!

Sir Jameson Kerr had died in 'Sixty-Five in what for Campbell proved rather fortuitous timing. The baronet had arranged with his son to marry the daughter of a neighbouring landowner but fortunately the girl's father had insisted that the marriage not go ahead until they were both twenty-one, which she would reach at the end of that year. Once his father had passed the girl was, even more fortunately, quite prepared to call the marriage off as she had her eye on someone else, and the Kerr estate was divided approximately two to one between Campbell and Luke, who was then seventeen. It also proved timely for the latter because both his parents died in a train-crash just two years later and he came to live with my father who managed his estates for two years until he fully inherited them when he turned twenty-one in 1869. Campbell meanwhile came south to manage the bulk of the Kerr lands – where he got quite a surprise!

I sometimes wondered if I had underestimated Watson the same way that Campbell had very much underestimated his grandfather, who many had considered to be the sort of gentleman whose picture would have appeared in a dictionary under 'crusty'. Because the surprise had been that Sir Jameson Kerr's London 'businesses' were in fact a chain of six molly-houses, where gentlemen went so other gentlemen could, ahem, cater to their needs. Fortunately my stepbrother was not only that way inclined himself but also had his grandfather's excellent business sense such that as of now there were twelve of the things, and considering the business that he was in I knew people spoke very highly of him. Although I suspected that in at least some cases that was because Campbell might, if he so choose, do a lot of damage to society if provoked. He and his 'official' cousin Luke got on particularly well, especially after Campbell had set Luke up with the Selkirk twins Balin and Balan for his 'first time' a couple of years back, for which some bastard I called an honorary cousin insisted on trying to give me details!

(I should note here that despite their Arthurian names, the Selkirk cousins had no connection to LeStrade's family; those sort of names were popular at times in Victorian England and would indeed feature in some of our other cases. Balin and Balan were indeed twins and, I knew, had quite literally been rescued off the streets by Campbell (he was a soft touch beneath the muscular exterior) when their own parents had discovered their feelings for each other at the tender age of twelve. They had been the first of the 'boys' to be treated by Watson; I only knew about it because he mentioned that while Balin had the injury his twin had also been there. It said a lot for my stepbrother that he allowed both to take time off like that; I knew that they hated being apart from each other).

On the upside there had been Luke's utter mortification that the encounter had been arranged by my mother who, being my mother, called him round afterwards and had demanded details. Then, about as predictably as the Sun rising in the east, had written a story about it ('Twin Peaks') which poor Luke had to read. Karma is a not-nice female personage at times!

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It was ironic that of my fellow family members of my generation, only Luke and Carl (not of course blood-related) were of similar appearance. But even allowing for the fact that he was a Kerr, Campbell was strikingly different from us all. Six foot six and of a solid muscular build, at thirty-two years of age he still looked like a semi-tamed Celtic who someone had put in a suit in an effort to try to civilize. It had only half-worked but I knew he was a gentle soul who cared deeply for his 'boys'. Even if he did have the annoying habit of acting like my big brother just because he was ten years older than me.

“You have still not plucked up enough courage to bring the good doctor?” he teased as I sat down in his study. “You do remember that he has treated Balin and Balan, as well as a few of the other 'boys'?”

I frowned at that. Not that Watson's philanthropy surprised me – he had a most generous nature – but that he was getting rather too near to some of the less salubrious sides of my family.

“He is very much a traditionalist”, I said. “We have not long moved in together and..... I know that I am not always the easiest person to get along with.”

He seemed to be having some problem with his face, the bastard! I glared at him. Was it possible to disown a stepbrother?

“You really should tell him”, he smiled. “You know what London is like; he is bound to find out sooner or later. If he thinks that you have been keeping something from him, it will not look good.”

He was right I supposed, but he was already smug enough so did not need to be told that. I hated smug people!

“I was hoping that I might borrow one of your 'boys'”, I said. “I have a case on hand for my brother Carl and I think that that would be the best way of solving it.”

“I like Carl”, Campbell smiled. “It is a great pity that he is a happily married man; more than one of my 'boys' has lamented that fact as well as that his demonic doppelgänger restricts himself to just one of them at a time, although I suppose that Tiny is a lot for any man to take on. Or in. What is the problem exactly?”

“He has a new young lieutenant under him, one Lieutenant Flynn Rider....”

I stopped. My stepbrother's face had darkened, and I felt more than a little alarmed at the look on his face.

“Average height, untidy auburn hair and an attitude wider than the Pacific?” he asked coldly.

“Yes”, I said, surprised. “He has been here?”

“He visited us under an assumed name of course”, Campbell said, still frowning. “He called himself 'Mr. Eugene Fitzherbert' but we always make a point of finding out the identities of our more.... problematic clients.”

“Problematic?” I asked. He nodded.

“He hired Kristoff – Chris Bond from Stepney, the big Viking – and had him call at his house in the Minories. Chris was new otherwise he would have known to make any client read through and sign our standard sheet beforehand, saying what can and cannot be done. The bastard tied him up – obvious I suppose, given the size difference between them – then left him there afterwards. I sent some of the boys round when I found out but it was only rented rooms and he had gone, although I found out soon enough that he was joining the Army. I was just waiting to see if he got shot before I dealt with him.”

I smiled at that.

“Then perhaps the Iceman† can have his revenge sooner rather than later!”

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I was still worried about allowing Watson onto the arguably shadier side of my family, but I was to be spared that concern at least for now as I was without him for a while. One of his surgery's richer clients was fiercely Anglophobic and had determined that his daughter, now a week away from giving birth, should deliver the next generation in Scotland rather than England. As Watson was half-Scottish through his mother that was presumably enough for him qualify, so he was 'asked' to go north with the poor woman for the big event. I missed having him around, especially as it had become custom for us by this time for him to hand me some of his bacon at breakfast on the odd morning. Not because I looked even remotely piteous across the table at him.

Not solely because of that.

Carl came by on Tuesday and I knew immediately from his demeanour that things were going well.

“I really wished that I could have photographed Rider's face when he saw that mountain of muscle in a private's uniform!” he chuckled. “I did what you said and told him that those above me in the food chain were considering the villain for promotion despite the fact that I considered him completely unsuitable – he knows that I cannot stand him – and that I had agreed solely if he could train up Private Bond. The rogue looked like the End Times had come upon him when he saw what he was up against, and the look he got in return – that is the scariest thing I have seen since Mother's last story....”

I shot him a warning look. I myself had suffered having to read our mother's recent 'masterpiece' about a spaceship captain trapped in a whole academy of sex-starved cadets.... and I was thinking about that 'Star Tricks', damnation! I glared at my smirking brother.

“I might tell her about Chris so that she can ask you over for more details”, I grumbled. “Her next horror is surely ready by now.”

“Sorry”, he said with absolute insincerity. “I am back to the regiment. Army duties, you know.”

I was rapidly going off him!

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Carl was back the following day, looking..... yes, gleeful was the word.

“That is the first time I have ever seen Rider unpopular with the men”, he smiled. “He told Bond to disassemble a gun and of course he made a complete mess of it. The villain shouted at him and I tell you, for a big guy he can look like a puppy smacked with a rolled-up newspaper. All the men had a go at Rider for upsetting him.”

“That is good”, I smiled. “Because for Mr. Rider things are about to get even worse. I have a few things I want you to pass onto him to tell Mr. Bond to do, none of which will work out quite as planned.”

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Incredibly the next day Carl's smile was even wider. But then he had had to call in at the family house and had managed to miss Mother and her dreadful stories, so he had a right to be happy. Worse, my evil stepbrother had inspired her latest story by telling Mother about Mr. Bond and his ice-business, which had led to 'North By North-West' in which he had not needed an ice-pick to break up blocks of the stuff! Worse still, the villain had done this knowing that he was too busy to have to suffer the consequences!

“Rider told our newest recruit to go on a six-mile run to Uxbridge”, he chuckled. “So he did – one way! The villain was actually shaking when he told me about it.”

“It was his own fault”, I said unsympathetically. “He told Mr. Bond to go six miles down a road. He did not specify three miles there and three miles back. For all his size the fellow does run a lot – for pleasure, inexplicably – so he would have found it easy enough.”

“Rider was banging his head in frustration”, Carl smiled. “It was great!”

“I need you to make sure he gives tomorrow's command precisely”, I said, “so that it too can be very sadly misinterpreted.”

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Carl shook his head at me.

“Lieutenant Rider was on the whisky when I left”, he smiled. “Who would have thought such a simple command could go so wrong? Then he had to go out and fetch the fellow in the dark.”

“It was just bad luck that Mr. Bond thought he said 'stand at Hayes' rather than 'stand at ease'”, I smiled. “At least it was only a few miles from the barracks, and he had the courtesy to send a telegram asking for further instructions. The lieutenant can hardly discipline him for obeying orders.”

“He tried”, Carl grinned, “and he got a murderous look in return. The villain actually tried to hide behind me. I wonder how he will cope with what he will face tomorrow?”

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I received a telegram that evening from Watson to say that his client's daughter had given birth, a day early but safely North of the Border, and he would be back on Monday. I was relieved; I missed having him around. It was not the same putting some of my own bacon rashers on a plate across the table from me then taking them back.

Carl gave me a knowing look the following morning when I visited him at his barracks and told him of my friend's imminent return. I had no idea why.

“Rider had Bond over this morning to the officers' barracks I gave him, for a good talking-to”, he said. “He made him do guard-duty overnight as I told him and said he should not let anyone in without their passes.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. He chuckled.

“It was surely just bad luck that the top brass arrived early this morning for an inspection”, he said. “Bond would not let them in, and only when his fellow soldier went to let me know was it all sorted. They were furious; you know how brass hats are when they are kept waiting.”

“Doubtless they blamed the lieutenant”, I smiled, “who as is the wont in any organization will try to pass the blame down.”

“Bond did not look happy when they went in”, Carl said. “Come to that, it was over an hour ago. They cannot be still yapping.”

“Let us go and see”, I said.

We left his room and walked down the corridor to where the lieutenant had his temporary quarters. There was silence from behind the closed door so Carl knocked.

“Come in, sir.”

My brother frowned.

“That is Bond's voice”, he said. “I hope that he is all right.”

We duly entered, and I realized that Mr. Christopher Bond was indeed all right. He was more than all right. He was sitting on the bed stark naked, with a seemingly inert fellow human impaled on.... ouch!

The private scrambled to his feet, eliciting a pained moan from his captive. The lieutenant was half the mass of his fellow soldier and very clearly going nowhere any time soon.

“Lieutenant Rider!” Carl said in mock disapproval. “Really! This is not what we expect from one of Her Majesty's soldiers!”

“Tell Her Majesty I quit!”, Mr. Rider muttered. “Oh God Chris please!”

“I am afraid that I must also resign my commission, sir”, Mr. Bond said politely. “I am taking Mr. Rider back to London with me for some..... hard lessons!”

I was sure that I saw the smaller man shudder there. I very much doubted that he would survive many more of those 'hard lessons'.

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Postscriptum: I am pleased to say that his experience left Mr. Rider a changed and much improved (as well as infinitely sorer!) man. He and Mr. Bond moved in together in London where both became regulars at my stepbrother's molly-houses. Indeed we would encounter them both on further occasions in my career.

Campbell said that it was a pity that Victorian attitudes (which were nothing like what later generations made them out to be) did not extend to allowing men who loved each other to have something formal and/or legal, and I quite agreed. I had no way of knowing it at the time but that restriction would one day come rather closer to home for me personally.

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Notes:
† Until the advent of refrigerators around the start of the twentieth century, nearly all ice was imported from Scandinavia.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

Several of the cases that I tackled over the years reflected the ever onwards march of technological progress, as old jobs died away and new ones took their place. It will therefore be understood that the gentlemen and ladies who thus found themselves out of a job were not best pleased at this, but short of the Luddite approach of smashing up the machines that so often replaced them, there was little that they could realistically do to prevent it.

Except in this case, where an additional wrinkle led one such victim of technology to take things a little too personally.

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Although as I have said I had three family members in governmental positions, only one of them was trustworthy. Fortunately my cousin Luke more than made up for the many, many, many deficiencies in both Randall and Guilford, and recently I had asked him to apply some subtle pressure on the far too large a number of slow payers to Watson's surgery over in Bloomsbury, which was why today he almost managed a smile when he saw his bank statement. He wandered over to the window still looking at it, then to my disappointment the smile faded. I wondered why.

“Is something wrong?” I ventured.

“I am not sure”, he said, still frowning. “That fellow across the street; he was there when I left to see to Mrs. Smith earlier. I did not see him when I came back but he is there now and I remember his cap; it is a railway one.”

I knew that that did not necessarily mean anything. Railway caps were always getting lost† or being sold on the cheap, so were worn by many men. I went to join him at the window.

“I do not recognize him”, I said dismissively.

“I do not like it”, he said suspiciously. “Still, I suppose that he will be gone soon enough.”

“How can you know that for sure?” I challenged. He just smirked.

“It is Mrs. MacAndrew's baking day!” he retorted. “Gregson was round earlier but LeStrade has not called by yet.”

He really was shockingly cynical for someone in his mid-twenties, I thought reprovingly.

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The smirk was even more annoying half an hour later as he stood by the window, having just told me that the observer across the road had hurried off.

“Hullo LeStrade”, I said, scowling at my possibly soon to be ex-friend. I really found it annoying when people smirked too much.

“Fancy seeing you today”, Watson said innocently. “You did know that Mrs. MacAndrew is not baking until tomorrow this week?”

It really was unfair of him to tease our friend like that, just because he had not missed a single one of our landlady's baking days since we had got here last year... all right, maybe he had a point.

“Watson!” I said reprovingly. “I am sure that our landlady will be sending some cake up shortly.”

Even I was hard put not to smile at the relief on the sergeant's face. He looked like someone who had just remembered that his prize-winning ticket had not gone in the wash after all!

“I suppose that you are here about the attack on Lady Mornington the other day”, I said. “Her connections in the upper establishment of the Service will make it exert its best efforts to find the perpetrator.”

“Very true”, the sergeant sighed. “In Mayfair of all places! I don't suppose that you've any ideas on it, sir?”

“Bearing in mind that she was out walking several hours away from her normal time, one is inclined to be suspicious”, I said. “I have already asked around, and she recently took into her employ a new maid with a rather questionable past. You might start by looking at those two, and given that Her Ladyship will likely not be best pleased at your findings you had best make sure to do it at a safe distance.”

“Mayfair”, the policeman sighed. “No-one's above a bit of crime these days.”

“That reminds me”, I said, “we seem to have acquired someone who is watching this house for some strange reason. Any chance that you or one of your boys could pull him in for questioning and find out why?”

“Sure”, LeStrade said, eyeing with pleasure the arrival of the blessed cake. There may or may not have been drool.... damnation, Watson was right!

There was still no need for that smirk, though. I hated people who smirked too much!

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Unusually it was our landlady herself who showed the sergeant up the following day. She looked suitable perplexed, although it was arguably unfair of Watson to remark (as he did later) that this was because it was not a baking day. Still worse, Watson's influence was obviously rubbing off on her; she promised to sent up a slice of cake anyway and that was definitely a smirk that I saw as she left. People these days!

“We pulled in that fellow who was lurking opposite, sir”, LeStrade said, sinking into the fireside chair. “Name of Bernie Brooks, a knocker-up by trade.”

(Because this profession was even then on the wane I had better explain it here for later generations. Before alarm clocks became cheap and widely available, factories would employ someone to go round to the houses of their employees and bang on a door or window (for which latter they often carried a long pole) to wake them up. There were still some in existence when Watson published our final canon in 1936 but they were few and far between).

“Did Mr. Brooks have anything to say as to why he had suddenly taken to staring at our house?” I asked.

“Afraid he just clammed up as so many do these days”, LeStrade sighed, his eyes widening as the cake arrived.

“Only one slice left”, Watson said with that terrible faux innocence of his that I did not believe for a minute. “We shall all have to share it.”

I gave him a sharp look. Now he was being mean; it was not as if I ever deprived him of..... er.....

If that was a rasher of bacon that he was drawing on his notes just then, we would be having Words later!

“The sergeant did us a favour with Mr. Brooks”, I said, silently telling my conscience to shut up, “and he deserves it all.”

That time, the sigh of relief was audible! I would allow Watson that eye-roll, and would remember to pick him up something chocolatey from the bakery later to make up for no cake now.... ye Gods it was half-gone already!

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I did not like the idea of anyone, even someone as seemingly harmless as this fellow, staring at my house, so the following day I slipped out the back door and went round to Mr. Brooks's house in Lambeth. It was as I had expected the standard mean terrace and there seemed to be no-one at home, but there was a young fellow digging in the garden next door. I introduced myself and he turned out to be a Mr. Roger Hedges, a guard who worked on the London & South Western Railway.

“I'm off for a week because my wife's just given birth, sir”, he said. “Had to work two months non-stop to get it, though.”

I thought privately that many companies would get a whole lot more out of their workers with just a little better treatment, but this was not the time for such things.

“I am inquiring into a Mr. Brooks who lives here”, I said. “He seems to have taken to staring at my house, and that is not something I really appreciate.”

To my surprise the young man nodded.

“I thought he was up to something”, he said. “You must be Mr. Sherlock Holmes then. To be fair to him sir, you brought it partly upon yourself.”

I stared at him in confusion.

“How, exactly?” I asked.

“He worked as a knocker-up for Pickford's, the factory around the corner that closed recently”, he said. “You were in the paper as being behind that that investigation into them using kids underneath the machines like they shouldn't have and the story did for them; they closed down last month. He blamed you for it, sir.”

“That seems a trifle rough”, I said. “It was the company that was actually breaking the law, after all.”

“When you're at the bottom of the pile you don't have time for legal niceties”, he said. “What really did it for him was you and the missus, though.”

I stared at him. This conversation was becoming stranger and stranger!

“I have never met Mrs. Brooks”, I said. “At least I do not recall ever seeing a Mrs. Brooks.”

He grinned knowingly.

“But she saw you, sir”, he said. “Bernie and she went to your street to see you, and she simpered at you with him right next to her! They got into an argument and she stormed off. Next thing he knew she was filing for divorce on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.”

I must admit that I had no idea why some women seemed to find me attractive. I took little care of my appearance, and I knew that it galled Watson when women looked at me in a certain way, rather than at him. He is after all far more attractive in the conventional sense of the word.

I thanked Mr. Hedges for his information and tipped him, then left to consider my next move. Mr. Brooks was not doing anything illegal and might give up anyway, but I did not want him to continue with his actions. It was just vexing.

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In the end I contacted my stepbrother Campbell who had three of his largest men stroll down Montague Street and have a 'talk' with Mr. Brooks in which they explained that they would really appreciate it if he stopped his vigil. They may or may not have also offered several suggestions as to what they might or might not do to him if her persisted. I was however a little annoyed that when I explained things to Watson he actually expressed sympathy with my stalker, as if his actions were in some way justifiable!

“Some people in society have so much”, he said, “that we forget just how hard those at the bottom have to struggle to make ends meet. I know that you were not responsible directly for this fellow's sufferings, but as his neighbour said he is not in a position to see that.”

I hated both that he was so reasonable and dangerously verging on almost being right. So I went round to thank Campbell for his help and to talk to him about it. He, I was sure, would see things from my point of view.

“The doctor is right, of course”, he said, as unhelpful as ever (I did not know why I had suffered a mental aberration that had made me think otherwise). “He is much nearer this fellow than you are ever likely to be.”

That was just unfair!

“What do you mean by that?” I demanded. He may have been bigger (a lot bigger) than me but that did not give him the right to act like an annoying elder brother, especially given the competition for that role.

“As I have said before, Watson finds making ends meet a struggle while you do not”, he said simply. “Also, he deals with people like this who have found themselves on the wrong side of technological progress.”

That was also annoying, especially as he was perhaps arguably not far from being right on that. Watson's face when he had opened the bank statement before his more recent happier one had been heart-ren.....

It still did not give my stepbrother the right to smirk like that, though!

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After some thought I spoke to my father (being very careful to make sure that my mother was not around!) and he arranged for a business friend to take on Mr. Brooks. Either way we saw no more of my 'tail'. Although we did see LeStrade the very next baking day.

Yes, and Gregson. Which reminded me; Watson's smirk was becoming even more annoying of late.

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Notes:
† It was only around this time that it apparently dawned on railway companies that they should provide decent cabs on steam locomotives. When one looks at the early pictures of a driver and fireman balancing on a fast-moving platform with at best a metal rail to hold on to, one can almost hear a modern health and safety guru having the vapours!

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Campbell Kerr, Esquire]

“You are worried, sir.”

I sighed happily as I lay embraced between Balin's and Balan's muscular bodies. One of the many problems of running a molly-house empire was that I myself was unable to have any relationship with all the good-looking muscular men that I worked with every day, but I was always safe with the twins as everyone knew that they loved each other dearly. They were also completely trustworthy, and for once I felt compelled to share the load just a little.

“I had a rather strange telegram”, I said as I relaxed into their dual embrace. “I thought that it was from Sherlock as it was initialled 'S.H.' but it was not his style at all; he never uses more words than absolutely necessary.”

Balan nibbled at the back of my neck, which felt wonderful.

“Can you tell us about it, sir?” he asked. “Or would you rather not?”

“It said that I would find someone of my own within the next two years”, I said. “I am getting on, and running the business is tiring.”

Balin reached back and kissed me lightly on the cheek. It was the gentle touches of the twins that made them perfect for me, and I oftentimes wished that they had felt for me what they felt for each other. But they were twelve years my junior, let alone the gratitude thing for me rescuing them from the vile parents when they had been just twelve. I was grateful that at least I had this.

“You were lucky to catch us, sir”, Balan said. “We just got back from Mr. Garrick's house where Tiny had asked for us to help him celebrate a successful thing at work.”

“I would wager that there was little left of my cousin by the time you left”, I smiled.

“Hard to say”, Balin said. “Tiny was carrying him around impaled in his dick again and he was screaming. We made them both some food and he was still screaming when we left.”

I was glad at least that Luke was happy, and for that matter that Tiny was settled with someone that I could trust. He was one of the more vulnerable fellows here and we had more than our share of clients who would take advantage.....

Oh!

Balan rolled onto his back pulling my muscular bulk on top of him, and I felt his twin begin to finger me open. Time to take it like a man – twice over!

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

Foreword: The changing English language is such that 'crotch', which around the time of this story was used for both the body part and the support, is nowadays restricted to the former, the latter more usually spelt 'crutch'. I have retained the old spelling. Because.

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At this time in our acquaintanceship Holmes had yet to achieve the fame and recognition which, much as he often scorned them, would later become rightfully his. In analysing the cases from 'Seventy-Seven I find them to be nineteen in number, most of which were small and inconsequential. This was one of those that were later deemed worthy of publication mainly because of the surprising level of interest aroused by my sole reference to it in one of my original works. It is interesting not just because of the strangeness of the means of death – quite literally a chance in a million - but because it was a case that I, albeit inadvertently, brought to Holmes's attention.

I had had to make a trip to Scotland concerning the pregnancy of a daughter of one of the surgery's richest clients, a frankly repulsive fellow who believed that philanthropy was only any good if one told everyone about how generous one was at least twenty times a day. He was also a fierce Anglophobe, and despite my warnings he insisted on his daughter giving birth to his first grandson in Scotland rather than England. His son-in-law objected which was why the poor woman had to travel north with less than a week to go, and I went with her. I missed London and my untidy room-mate (even if every breakfast in Montague Street seemed to involve him looking mournfully at me until I handed over at least some of my bacon!) but at least my client was a good payer (his sole redeeming characteristic, I am sorry to have to say). A son called Malcolm was duly delivered and I was able to stop off in Edinburgh to spend a weekend with Stevie on my way back down south.

The giraffe had gone and grown another half-inch taller, damnation! Harrumph!

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Summer that year was in my opinion far too hot. It would see the first lawn tennis championships held by the All-England Club in the Surrey town of Wimbledon, not far from London, and the offer of cheap train tickets on the London & South Western Railway sorely tempted me to go despite my straitened finances (unfortunately my client as was custom paid the surgery directly, so there was always a delay before the money made its ephemeral appearance in my own bank account). But it was a strange case of what might be called unintentional murder which ensured that I did indeed attend.

Although I knew most of the doctors at the surgery where I worked as acquaintances, my only real friend there was Doctor Peter Greenwood, rather fortunately as things transpired for his skills would one day save my life. He was two years older than me and I should probably have mentioned before that he was my point of contact while I was 'distance-learning' during my mother's final illness. Also that it was through him that I obtained my position (such that it was) at our surgery. He was always a merry young fellow so I was surprised when we met as usual after work for coffee one day and found him looking vexed. I inquired as to why.

“It is this Richmond killing”, he explained. “Did you read about it in the paper?”

I had seen the headline in the paper that day but I had been late leaving the house and had not had time to read any further. Or to be more exact, the paper had been in the possession of an uncaffeinated Holmes whose face had borne the sort of scowl that could likely have removed paint, and I had valued my life! And the bastard had still managed to filch half of my bacon to boot!

“Why is that a concern?” I asked. “The headline said that there had been a murder in Richmond Park. Is it near our surgery there?”

Our surgery had a small branch office in the town of Richmond-upon-Thames, presumably so that the people of that borough did not have to sully themselves by actually coming into the city to see a doctor. I had served a turn there at the end of last year and had come to dislike it intensely as the people were not only unfriendly but exceptionally slow to settle their bills. Coincidentally it was just after a discussion with Holmes about how disinclined to pay some people of the borough were that there had been a sudden flurry of late payments from my time there, something that both I and my bank manager greatly appreciated. Had I had any sense at the time I might have spotted the connection between those two things, but apparently I had none.

“Fairly near but it is not that”, he said. “The murder took place in Remington churchyard some two miles away. As you know I served my sentence there recently and the local squire asked for me in person. I was attending to him when a constable came haring in to tell him what had happened. When he saw me there he asked me to come and examine the body which I did. I am sure that your detective friend would be interested. It is a very strange case.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Perhaps I could call round and discuss it with the two of you?” he suggested.

“I would be fascinated to hear about it”, I said. “I shall talk to Holmes this evening and find out when we can receive you.”

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“So when is your doctor friend coming round?”

Holmes's rumble cut into my thoughts and it took a moment to process just what he had said.

“Eh?” I asked intelligently. He made what was clearly an effort not to roll his eyes.

“Your doctor friend who is going to come round about the murder?” he prompted.

“I thought Thursday...” I began before it hit me. “Wait a minute! I never told you about that!”

He chuckled knowingly but said nothing.

“How did you know?” I demanded. “Did Peter speak to you?”

“No, doctor”, he smiled. “You always meet with your friend every Tuesday after work, and since arriving home you have done nothing except repeatedly peruse the paper from this morning. From its state you have not opened it past the front page where the only significant story in the Aberdour Murder in Richmond, where I know that both you and he have worked. I read the same article myself earlier.”

“Oh”, I said only slightly mollified at the reasons behind his recurrent mind-reading. “Your thoughts?”

“The so-called journalist should learn how to write properly”, he said dryly. “I hope that your doctor friend has better information, or at least can express it in an orderly manner. The article contains so much speculation that it is almost impossible to establish just what did happen. Still, I am sure that someone from your esteemed profession will be far better organized. If you bring him with you after work tomorrow I shall be delighted to meet with him.”

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Our meeting with Peter had to be delayed a little when, just minutes before the surgery was due to close, he was called out to a rich client in Lambeth. However it did not seem likely to take long so we arranged for him to call at Montague Street around seven o' clock. I explained the change of plan to Holmes as we ate dinner that evening and he nodded abstractly. I wondered if it was something to do with his stepbrother who owned a chain of molly-houses and who I was not supposed to know about, despite having treated several of his 'boys' by this time. Mr. Kerr had mentioned that Holmes had called round to see him the other day and he had challenged him over his keeping me in the dark over his existence. I was surprised (and if truth be told, a little hurt) that my friend had not confided in me over that; surely he did not think that I was that much of a fuddy-duddy?

(To answer the readers' other question, of course I did not charge any of these young and sometimes not so young gentlemen. It was an unwritten rule among doctors in that although medical treatment obviously had to be paid for, each of us was morally obliged to do some work for free and of course help out at times of major outbreaks of disease and infection. Even if I had not swiftly discovered the connection between these gentlemen and Holmes, there was a strong element of 'there but for the Grace of God go I; many men and women supplemented their meagre incomes by selling their bodies to make ends meet. It was and likely always would be the way of the world, especially in a place like London).

(All right, I may have blushed when Mr. Kerr said that I myself was a loss to his profession. But it was a manly blush!)

“I am probably being stupid”, Peter began after we had sat down together, “but something about the whole case just feels wrong. The evidence such as it is all points one way yet I feel as if it is all phoney. Like one of those horrible melodramas where you are being pushed to consider one suspect a little too hard.”

“For someone in your profession, playing the right hunch is important”, Holmes said.

“This happened in the village of Remington, close by Richmond Park”, Peter said. “It is a very well-to-do area, almost completely self-contained and snooty even by Richmond standards! The murdered man was a retired colonel, Robert Aberdour by name, and in the short time that I had worked in the area almost everyone I met felt it imperative that I should understand just how hated he really was. Hated is not an overstatement; I did not meet a single person with a good word to say about him. You did well to miss him John; he arrived just after your stint ended.”

“Why was he so unpopular?” I asked curiously.

“Retired army are as you know normally welcome in any area”, Peter explained, “but Colonel Aberdour rubbed just about everyone up the wrong way. He was already a magistrate – he moved from Putney, I think – and he cracked down hard on all and any transgressions making even those of his own class afraid of his bad temper. He walked with a stick and would often use it to lash out at those who displeased him. Which by all accounts was practically everybody.”

“Not the greatest loss, then”, I muttered.

“Indeed”, my friend said. “So to the day of the murder. Colonel Aberdour was coming to see the squire, my patient, for an appointment at five o' clock. I did not know this until at about five minutes past the hour my patient observed that the colonel was rarely ever late....”

“Why were you still treating the patient when he was expecting someone?” Holmes cut in.

“I was called in just to check some wound dressings but I found that they were well on the way to becoming infected”, Peter explained. “The squire is one of the far too many people who do not follow their doctor's sage advice; he had obviously been out walking despite my having told him not to. I had to have them boil some water and tear up some sheets to make new ones while I cleansed the wound. The process took more than an hour rather than the short visit that I had expected; one can never be too careful in such cases.”

“I see”, Holmes said, pushing his fingers together. “Proceed if you will.”

“It must have been only a minute or so after five that Constable Reedless was making his way through the churchyard on his rounds and found the colonel's dead body”, Peter said. “His face had been hideously smashed in on one side and a large hammer lay next to his body. The constable checked to make sure that he was dead then hurried back to the police-station to inform his colleague Constable Westwood.”

“Straight back to the station?” Holmes asked, seemingly surprised for some reason. “How far is that?”

Peter thought about that for a moment. I wondered just where else Holmes would have expected the constable to have gone.

“Not much more than a quarter of a mile I should say”, Peter said. “Is that important?”

“It may be”, Holmes said. “What time did he reach the squire's house, pray?”

“A shade before a quarter past the hour”, my friend said. “We are close to the police-station so he did not have far to come. The clock chimed just before the doorbell rang, I remember. He had left Westwood to guard the body; a crowd had already begun to assemble, Lord alone knows how! I returned to examine the body at once; the squire wanted to come with me but I warned him that if he dirtied his wound a second time he might even lose his leg – a trifle over the top perhaps; the real reason was that I frankly did not want him making a fuss as he is wont to do. Thankfully he stayed behind and we reached the churchyard in about five minutes. I examined the body and placed the time of death at between four-thirty and five o' clock, earlier rather than later I thought.”

“Hmm”, Holmes said. “You mentioned that the object next to the body was a large hammer. Larger than a standard one, I presume?”

“Yes, that was another thing that concerned me about the case”, Peter said. “Constable Westwood went a strange colour when his colleague pointed it out to me and I asked why. He said that he recognized it; it came from the local smithy and was marked with the smith's name. Moreover the smith just happened to be one of the many people who hated the colonel.”

“Is he one of the three gentlemen mentioned in the article?” I asked.

“That bloody article!” Peter growled. “Once those people have been tarred they may never get their good names back. Yes, Hosea Atherley is the village blacksmith. A strapping young fellow which is unfortunate as the force used to strike the fatal blow must have been considerable. But that description also applies to Constable Reedless who is very solidly built. I also know that Aberdour had taken a dislike to Reedless when the constable had tried to defend someone in front of him as a magistrate, and had been trying to get him removed from his post.”

We were not short of suspects for such an unpopular man's death, I thought. Holmes seemed confused over something.

“There is something that you have not told us, doctor”, he said at last.

Peter reddened, and I stared at Holmes. How did he do that?

“Constable Reedless brought Atherley into the station while I was there”, Peter said, sounding almost reluctant. “I noticed that there was a tiny blood spatter on his sleeve. When I mentioned it, he said that he had cut himself shaving that morning.”

Convenient, I thought. Holmes looked sharply at me for some reason.

“Who is the third gentleman?” he inquired.

“Probably the only person who can be cleared right away”, he said. “The Reverend Ian Candy, the vicar at St. Stephen's where the murder took place. He was in the church at the time....”

“Then surely he is a suspect?” I interrupted. Peter smiled knowingly at me.

“The man is barely five foot tall and walks with a limp”, he explained. “I doubt that he could blow the skin off a rice-pudding! He could never have exerted the sort of power necessary for the mortal blow; I would stake my reputation on that. Although he did have motive; the colonel struck out at him to give him that limp only the previous week apparently because he did not like the weekly sermon!”

“So the vicar had been alone, then?” Holmes asked.

“He had been with the verger Mr. Terence Garton-Brooks, a replacement for the normal fellow who is on holiday”, Peter said. “Probably one of the few people not to have earned the Colonel's enmity although I am sure that it would have come with time. They had been untangling and checking the bell-ropes in the tower – it is an impressively tall one for a village church – and when they finished the verger had left, some time around four o' clock. The vicar stayed up in the tower – he said that he prefers it to his office as he is less likely to get disturbed – and we have testimony from the verger's neighbour that he came home and was working in the garden between a quarter past four and five o' clock. The vicar must also be in the clear unless he just pointed his finger at the colonel and struck him down with the wrath of God!”

”Dies Irae”, Holmes smiled. “It sounds a most intriguing case; thank you for telling us about it, doctor. I think a day or so spent by the Thames would do us both the world of good, do you not Watson?”

He looked at me inquiringly. I was a little annoyed that he had not asked me to check my schedule first but the prospect of another case was exciting, so I nodded.

“Good”, Holmes exclaimed. “We shall leave tomorrow.”

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Remington lay about ten miles from Baker Street, but unusually for London there was no easy way to get there by public transport so Holmes treated me to a cab all the way there. We went to the local police station where we were lucky enough to find Constable Obadiah Westwood. Sergeant LeStrade had kindly provided up with a letter of introduction (which he had just happened to have brought round personally on our landlady's recent baking-day!) and the constable was quite willing to share what he knew with us.

“My dear wife read the article to me at breakfast yesterday morning”, he said, pouring out some questionable substance that may or may not have been tea. I eyed the plant in the corner and wondered if pouring my drink into the pot would kill it (probably). “It is accurate as far as it goes, though I was surprised it left out one of the likely suspects.”

“Who might that be?” Holmes asked, accepting a mug.

“Mr. Theophilus Berringe”, the constable said. “He is one of those Nonconformist preacher fellows; the colonel had tried to get him removed from the area but to little avail.”

“That must have vexed him”, I observed.

“It did”, the constable said. “Mr. Berringe is staying at the White Hart, and because the colonel put the landlady Mrs. Benson's husband away for a minor poaching offence she is letting him stay there for free. She even allowed him to preach there though not of course during opening hours. She is a most formidable lady; it was fortunate she was away visiting her sister in Croydon on the day of the murder. I checked, but the ticket-collector at the railway station recognized her coming through the barrier at the time the murder must have been being committed. The colonel did not take her actions at all well but there was nothing he could do about it except shout at everyone about it, me included.”

“I must thank you for discussing the case with us in this way”, Holmes said politely. “I hardly like to impinge on your hospitality any further but.... might my friend the doctor be allowed to examine the body of the deceased? Naturally in the presence of your good self of course and we would share any findings with you.”

“I suppose so”, the constable said. “The mortuary are collecting him tomorrow; I sent details of the death to his great-nephew, the only son of his late niece Mrs. Sharpe. A Lieutenant Noah Oxford of the Lincolnshire Regiment. Bledlow – the late colonel's manservant - said his barracks was in a place called Moretonhampstead in Devonshire, so I wired there.”

“Not a Lieutenant Sharpe?” I asked, surprised.

“Mrs. Sharpe's first husband Mr. Jack Oxford died not long after their son was born”, the constable explained. “She remarried a glove-maker, Mr. Sharpe; Bledlow told me that the colonel hated both men as much as he hated nearly all his relatives, which did not surprise me. He also gave me the name of the solicitors as regards the will. I thought I might have problems there – you know what lawyers are like, sir – but luckily the colonel had ordered the will to be placed in the 'Times' so there were none. The estate goes pretty much all to Lieutenant Oxford except for a decent sum to Bledlow; I must admit that that surprised me given the colonel's nature, but there you are.”

“Was the colonel a rich man?” I wondered as we followed the policeman to the back room. He reached the door before answering.

“Just the cottage and a few savings”, he said. “I checked out the lieutenant but he is indeed in Devonshire and there is no way he could have got all the way here and back without someone missing him. He wired me to tell Bledlow to take care of the place in the meantime and that he will continue to be paid his salary until he can find another position. He also said he is sending up a reference for the fellow, which was good of him.”

“What about Bledlow?” I asked.

“He was visiting a friend in Kingston on his half-day off”, the constable said. “I doubt what he got will make up for losing his employment, though; we all know how difficult it can be to get jobs today.”

He opened the door and we walked in to find the body covered by a white sheet. I noticed how pale our host had gone.

“Perhaps you could hold the door open for us”, I suggested politely. “To, uh, let some air in.”

He nodded gratefully (I noted that he stood behind the door to hold it open, well out of sight), and I lifted the sheet. Colonel Aberdour had been about seventy when he had died and in fairly good health; Holmes pottered around next to me then stood back seemingly lost in thought.

When I had finished I replaced the sheet and we accompanied a visibly grateful constable away from the room.

“Anything?” he asked hopefully.

I shook my head, and looked at my friend who was deep in thought.

“Holmes?” I prompted.

“This is a very strange case”, he said slowly. “The colonel was a tall man.”

We both looked at him expectantly, but apparently that was it.

“Yes, sir”, the constable said. “What of it?”

“The angle of the damage to his face suggests that the attacker struck from above”, Holmes said. “Are any of the accused men taller than the victim? It would have to be by at least four inches.”

The constable shook his head.

“None of them, sir”, he said. “Mr. Atherley is about the same height, but not more.”

Holmes frowned.

“May I see the hammer that was found next to the body, constable?”

“You mean the murder weapon, sir?”

“Possibly. Or possibly not.”

We both looked at him in surprise.

“Not?” I asked at last.

“That may not have been the murder weapon”, he said flatly. “The expression on the man's face is troubling.”

“But there was no expression, sir”, the constable pointed out.

“Exactly.”

“I don't follow....”

“Constable, the angle of the wound suggests that whatever impacted his skull did so at approximately right-angles to the direction in which he must have been walking”, Holmes said. “There is no way that the colonel could not have seen a man approaching him wielding a weapon and that would surely have been reflected in his final visage; shock, anger, fear. Yet from what remains of his face there is no emotion whatsoever. Therefore a single blow is implied which rules out the hammer.”

The constable gaped.

“What sort of weapon are we looking for then, sir?” he asked.

“Dies Irae”, Holmes muttered.

“What?” I asked. My friend chuckled.

“The wrath of God”, he said. “Something Nonconformist priests like Mr. Berringe are always threatening to call down on the lies of Colonel Aberdour. Constable, the place where the body as found; what is the church path made of?”

The constable blinked at the question.

“Loose stone chippings, sir”, he said.

“But there is clear visibility all around?”

“Yes, sir. There are trees, but over in another part of the churchyard.”

Holmes looked meaningfully at him.

“What I am driving at”, he said gently, “is that you have just precluded the possibility of anyone sneaking up on the victim from behind. So since the blow was struck from the side.....”

“He might have known his killer!” I blurted out.

Holmes looked knowingly at me.

“I have an idea, constable”, he said. “Doctor Watson and I need to see someone in the village. If what I suspect is the case then I fully expect the killer of Colonel Aberdour to be in your cells by this evening. Though I have to say that I think that you will find it very difficult if not impossible to secure a murder conviction against them.”

The constable's eyes lit up and I could almost see the word 'promotion' flashing in them. We left him and headed off to the village.

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“This is a very strange case”, I observed as we sat outside the White Hart an hour or so later. “I could almost believe that Colonel Aberdour was indeed struck down by the wrath of God as it seems impossible any earthly agent could have done it.”

“Few things are impossible”, Holmes observed. “As I said before, once one has eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

“Well, I do not see....” I began, only to be interrupted when a muscular blond young fellow sat down unannounced next to me.

“Hosea Atherley”, he said curtly. “Bess tells me you've been asking questions about Aberdour's death?”

“It would do you well to take a more polite attitude, young sir”, Holmes said reprovingly.

“And why would you think that, my fine fellow?” Mr. Atherley sneered.

“Because as long as the murderer is at large, you will remain under the cloud of suspicion”, Holmes said. “For someone in business that could spell disaster.”

The smith seemed to back down at that but still looked at my friend suspiciously.

“Where did you lose the hammer?” Holmes asked.

The fellow clearly hesitated before answering.

“I had it two days ago when I repaired some pipes for Mr. Berringe”, he said. “The only other jobs I've done since were a job at the local railway station, the pipes at the police-station and some repairs to the tower railings at the church. It could have fallen out at any of those places and I wouldn't have missed it. You think that someone is trying to frame me?”

“Is there anyone in the village who might dislike you enough to do that?” Holmes asked.

“Only Reedless!” Mr. Atherley chuckled. “I'm seeing his sister Iris and he doesn't approve!”

I also chuckled. Holmes nodded understandingly.

“Hopefully the killer will be known by this evening”, he said. “Indeed we are expecting one of the other people in the case.... ah, here he comes now.”

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I turned and was surprised to see the Reverend Candy limping towards us. Mr. Atherley nodded to us and left.

“Sit down, Reverend”, Holmes said gently. “Thank you for coming.”

“Your letter said that it was urgent, sir”, the vicar said. “What pray was so important as to make me miss choir practice?”

Holmes looked at me almost apologetically and I suddenly had a very bad feeling about what was about to happen. Typically and because I was assuming the worst, this was one of the few times that I was to be proven right.

“What did you do with it?” Holmes asked quietly. There was no-one sat near us but people were passing nearby on their way into the tavern.

“With what, sir?” the vicar asked, although I noted that he was sweating.

“With the aluminium crotch.”

I thought the man would fall off his chair at that and caught him as he swayed violently. Holmes reached a comforting hand across the table.

“It was not murder”, he said quietly. “There was no pre-meditation. It was quite literally a million-to-one chance. You called down the wrath of God on your enemy, and your employer, to your surprise and horror, duly obliged.”

The man shook, sobbing silently.

“We should take this somewhere else”, I said firmly gesturing to a metal bench on the green across the road. Holmes nodded his assent and I helped the cleric up, the two of us supporting him over to the bench where he sank down. I sat next to him while Holmes stood next to us.

“It was ironic, was it not?” Holmes said gently. “The colonel gave you that injury, and he was killed because of it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “There was no way someone as small and weak as....”

“Do not deny your friend”, the reverend said quietly. “He is correct. I murdered that man.”

“Killed, not murdered”, Holmes corrected.

“But how?” I demanded.

“While the vicar is enjoying the peace and quiet of the bell-tower”, Holmes said, “he remembers Mr. Hosea Atherley's request to look for his lost hammer. He goes out to check the railings where the smith had been working, a vantage-point from which I would wager the view is magnificent.”

I shuddered at the mere mention of heights.

“It was pure chance that led the reverend to look down and see the man who had hurt him”, Holmes went on. “The man whose attitude and approach to life were upsetting so many in his congregation. In a fit of rage he threw at him the only weapon he had to hand, his aluminium crotch. Having seen the church tower and applied some basic trigonometry to calculate the height, I knew that an object that was merely dropped from the roof would, by the time it reached someone standing on the ground, be travelling at a speed of approximately one hundred feet per second, faster still if it was thrown down in anger. The impact on the skull would have been that of an express train at speed. The colonel never knew what hit him, hence his lack of expression.”

“Dies Irae”, Mr. Candy muttered.

“Indeed”, Holmes said. “The wrath of God. For all the suffering that that man caused, your heavenly missile flew straight and true to its destination. When you came down to see what you had done you were of course horrified. Then you heard someone approaching up the path, grabbed the crotch and hurried back inside the church to hide.”

“But what about the hammer?” I asked.

“I am rather afraid that that was Constable Reedless”, Holmes said with a sigh. “He lied when he said that he went straight to the police-station; he took far too long for so short a journey which in the circumstances he would have been hurrying over. His first port of call would obviously have been the nearby church hoping to find the vicar here who, understandably, had re-ascended the tower. The constable did however find Mr. Atherley's lost hammer which I would hazard was likely somewhere in the poorly-lit porch. I am afraid that the temptation to implicate someone that he disliked in a major crime proved too strong.”

“And what of me, sir?” the reverend said quietly. Holmes turned to him.

“We must always remember in any case that it is not just finding the guilty but clearing the innocent”, he said gravely. “No man deserves to be tarnished by association with this crime for the rest of their lives, and you would not wish Mr. Berringe, Mr. Atherley or Constable Reedless to suffer for your actions. You will accompany us to Constable Westwood and confess. In the circumstances I think that a jury may be inclined towards leniency.”

We accompanied the vicar to the police station where a stunned Constable Westwood took his confession then locked him in the cell. I presumed that we would then return to London but Holmes surprised me by saying he had one more fellow to see in the area and would meet me in the tavern in two hours' time. A little disgruntled I made my way there and waited for him. Fortunately he was back sooner than expected and we returned in silence to the capital.

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A week later I was sitting at our breakfast table feeling more than a little annoyed. My hopes of attending the championship final at Wimbledon had been scuppered by an unseasonable outbreak of flu which had kept me working flat out at the surgery. Holmes's unusual morning cheerfulness did not make me feel any better, either, especially as it was boosted by half of my bacon ration. Again.

“I see that they have decided to pursue manslaughter with a recommendation for clemency against our clerical friend”, he observed from behind his paper.

I was relieved that the reverend would not have to face the gallows for his 'crime'. I grunted in assent but said nothing.

“You had better get ready”, he said.

I looked up in surprise, then checked the clock. I still had at least half an hour before I had to leave for work. He smiled at me and slid an envelope across the table to me. I opened it and gasped in shock.

“The final was delayed by rain”, he explained, ”but the tickets are still valid. Your friend Doctor Greenwood has arranged cover for you for today, and a cab is coming to take you to Waterloo in ten minutes.”

“You bought me tickets to the Final!” I managed.

“A thank-you for accompanying me last week”, he said almost dismissively. “I know how much you wanted to go.”

I was deeply touched by the gesture but he clearly felt uncomfortable with anything emotional (as did I) so I muttered my thanks and hurried on with my breakfast. But I did discern the slightest of smiles on his normally taciturn features.

He actually cared!

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

It was September, which meant that it was a certain blue-eyed someone's birthday. His thirty-third so not perhaps a notable one, but as usual I was totally stumped as to what to get the man who could buy anything he wanted. Fortunately inspiration came in the unlikely form of Mrs. MacAndrew's maid Sylvia, who had mentioned to me how she always dreaded having to dust the presentation short-sword that Holmes had been given by his father. I knew that all of Sir Edward Holmes's children had received one of these and could see that its razor-sharp blade would indeed scare some people.

I waited until Holmes was out then set about carefully measuring the object, before heading for a small shop that I knew which could deal with such things. Sure enough they were able to provide a safe and secure mounting for the sword such that it could be either displayed on a surface like a photograph or even hung on the wall. And when I saw Holmes's happy face as I presented it to him, I knew that I had made a good choice.

“Why a sword?” I had once asked him. He had smiled at me.

“Father thought it an important lesson in life”, he had explained. “He said that if we were so stupid as to test how sharp something was by seeing if it would cut us, then we would find life very difficult.”

I had stared at him. Again he had chuckled.

“You are right”, he had said. “Torver had to go and find out the hard way. He then went wailing to Mother for sympathy and got none, especially as she had wagered in the house pool that he would be the first one to be that stupid!”

I smiled at the memory and with an effort brought myself back to the present.

“I may have found my next case”, Holmes said. “I have encountered a Mr. John Halberd in my travels; he is a Bulgar sailor about thirty years of age. He has asked to meet with me; I do not yet know exactly what he wants but I would say that the man is terribly afraid of something, or maybe someone.”

“Tell me about it”, I said.

“He lives in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs”, Holmes said. “That area's long waterfront is as you might expect for such a area dotted with taverns. Many of them cater specifically for certain nationalities whose sailors drift to them knowing that they will meet people from their home country and be able to talk in their own language.”

I was not sure that I liked that idea. England's strength, like that of the United States I had always thought, was not just the people who came to the country but those who came and integrated into it, adding their own culture to ours. People who kept to their own and did not mix – it made me uneasy for some reason. One only had to look almost anywhere in Europe to see that different cultures side by side did not for a happy country make; the mess in this fellow's Balkans was a case in point.

“His house is in the same road as one of these establishments”, Holmes went on, seemingly unaware of my existential crisis. “It is called 'The Sultan of Turkey'.”

“I would not have thought Mohammedans would have needed a tavern”, I said dubiously. Holmes smiled.

“You are forgetting the many Christian subjects still under Ottoman rule† in south-eastern Europe”, he said. “That may be part of the problem. Greeks still under Moslem rule, Macedonians, Rumelians, Bulgars, Bosnians, Herzegovinians – all want independence or self-government in some form or another but all dislike each other almost as much as they dislike their Mohammedan overlords, sometimes more so.”

“Do they not have their own taverns?” I asked.

“That is what makes 'The Sultan of Turkey' unusual”, Holmes explained. “Most taverns only cater to one cultural minority. To find one that caters to several is curious. Besides, with our potential client Mr. Halberd something is most definitely afoot.”

“Twelve inches”, I said.

He looked at me in confusion.

“What is afoot?” I sniggered. “Twelve inches!”

He shook his head at me but I saw the smile.

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We were expecting Mr. Halberd at four o' clock, but from Holmes's reaction the person who was shown up at that time was not him. And whoever he was, he was not the least bit welcome.

“Mr. Sebastian Moran”, Holmes said and I shuddered at the chill in his voice. “What foul wind brings you here?”

Our guest was a tallish blond fellow of about fifty years of age and very clearly felt that he was descending some way Beneath His Station In Life to visit our humble rooms.

“Your idiot brother Randall is away dealing with the latest Balkan mess”, he said disdainfully. “We have sent to Mr. John Halberd and informed him that he will not be requiring your services after all.”

I knew Holmes well enough by this time to know that when he narrowed his eyes like that, trouble was not far behind.

“Mr. Halberd has asked me to aid him in some small matter”, he said calmly. “He did not go into detail. I have not yet started my inquiries.”

“You will drop this matter”, our visitor said shortly.

“No.”

I had to turn away to hide my smile. This 'Mr. Moran' was clearly one of those dreadful 'man-children' who had somehow managed to attain middle-age while remaining unacquainted with that particular two-letter word. He spluttered as he tried to process such an incomprehensible response to the likes of him, and it was the best part of a minute before he could bring himself to speak again.

“What the blazes do you mean by that, sir?” he demanded.

“I rather think that the word 'no' is self-explanatory”, Holmes said, still with an almost preternatural calmness about him. “Would you like to borrow a dictionary so that you can look it up? There is one on the bookshelf over there.”

I barely bit back a snigger. Holmes clearly heard me for I caught the slightest twitch at the edge of his mouth. Our visitor spluttered again.

“The likes of you, Mr. Holmes, do not say 'no' to Her Majesty's Government!”

“Well, if Her Majesty comes to me with a reason then I shall of course bow very low and do her the courtesy of listening”, Holmes said mildly. “Or you could always offer one yourself. But a peremptory demand – that will get you nowhere. Indeed, if such tactics do work at your department then that says something rather ill about the way things are run therein.”

“I do not think that you know who you are dealing with, sir”, our visitor said.

It was definitely a threat. Holmes banged down hard on the table with his fist, making us both jump.

“First, I will be informing my good friend Mr. Disraeli about this visit”, he said coldly. “Second, you have a choice, sir. You may leave by the door or I will bodily take hold of you and eject you through the window, the cost of replacing same being considerably outweighed by the benefit of ridding us of your foul presence!”

Our visitor huffed in annoyance, but seeing Holmes rising to his feet he hastily made his exit. I stared after him in wonderment then remembered something that he had said right at the start.

“What did he mean by talking about your brother being away?” I asked. Holmes had once mentioned that some of his family worked for the government in some way but had not gone into detail.

Holmes sighed.

“My brothers Randall and Guilford, and my cousin Luke, all work for the government in a somewhat irregular capacity.”

“You mentioned that”, I said. “What do they do, exactly?”

“They are, to use the colloquial term that Randall in particular loves, 'fixers'”, he said. “They sort out messes made by government ministers and other politicians, of which there is always a copious supply. Mr. Moran is the head of Randall's department and, incredible as it seems, possessed of even less in the way of human understanding. Proof that miracles do happen, I have always thought.”

“You do not seem pleased at their career choices?” I ventured.

“I can see that sooner or later I am going to come into conflict with one of them”, Holmes sighed. “Almost certainly Randall; his interest is making things go away by whatever means with justice not even being considered. Mine are justice above all and I do not care if it inconveniences some stuffed shirt in the process. I wonder.....”

He frowned for a moment then nodded.

“I think that we need an evening out”, he said with a smile. “The Isle of Dogs‡ is very nice at this time of year.”

“I shall get my coat”, I smiled back.

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I would not say that this part of London was rough but I was more than glad to have recently purchased a new box of bullets for my gun, which was loaded and in my pocket as we drew up outside 'The Sultan of Turkey'. The tavern-owner obviously had a terrible sense of humour for the pub sign was a large turkey with a sultan's hat perched at a jaunty angle on its head. I felt quite entitled to roll my eyes at it.

Inside it was mercifully not as bad as I had feared, and Holmes spoke to the innkeeper for some little time before returning with two pints of what proved to be fair-quality ale. I asked him what he had talked to the fellow about.

“I told him that we were meeting someone here”, he said, “and asked him to point the man round to our table where 'Mr. Smith' and 'Mr. Jones' would be waiting for him.”

“Could you not think of any less imaginative names?” I chuckled. “He will probably think that we are gentlemen who want to bump someone off and are here to hire an assassin!”

He smiled his slow smile.

“Exactly!” he said. “Would you want to ask any awkward questions of such people?”

He had a point.

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We had been there for over half an hour and I was beginning to wonder if our client would actually show when a tall figure lurched around the corner of the divide. He baulked when he saw us and looked set to make a run for it, but Holmes spoke quickly.

“Greetings Mr. Halberd”, he said. “Although if you desire our continued acquaintance, may I suggest that you start by using you real name?”

The man went pale but placed his drink on the table and sat in the free chair. He was as Holmes had said about thirty years of age, dark-haired and unshaven. He was also clearly on edge. There was an awkward silence of at least a minute before he spoke.

“Aleksander.”

“That will do for now”, Holmes said amiably. “Let us start with the obvious question. Why did you lie to me?”

“I did not lie, sir”, he said. His English was good but there was a definite southern European accent. “I came to your country last year on a visit and applied to live here. I changed my name to Mr. John Halberd but your English law says that that can only be done officially after I become a citizen.”

“I see”, Holmes said. “I take it that your approaching me has some connection with the recent unrest in the Balkans, and as your name is of Bulgarian extraction possibly the uprising in that region?”

The man nodded.

“I have – had – a brother, Yulian”, he said his face darkening as he spoke. “He lived in a village called Batak; it was miles from anywhere so I had thought that he was safe enough. Once I had enough money here I was going to ask him to join me. But I never got the chance.”

“You will know if you read the papers that the Russians are attacking the Turks just now, so my people saw it as their chance to break free. The trouble was, they rose too soon. The Turks were able to crush them and.... and....”

He took a long drink. I went to the nearby-side-bar to order him another; he looked as if he needed it. He waited until I returned before continuing.

“Konstantin, a friend of mine, lived not far from Yul. He was the one who brought me the news. Yul's village was wiped out and everyone – men, women and children – all murdered in cold blood.”

I swallowed hard. I had read of such atrocities, but hearing of them at first-hand was more painful that I would have thought.

“Why has this not been in the newspapers?” I asked.

“Can you not guess?” Holmes said softly. “Mr. Disraeli, although he means well, seeks to keep the Turks as an ally even if that means overlooking the occasional mass killing. The 'Times' bows to no man but it will have been warned to be one hundred per cent certain of its facts before publishing anything so it would only act if it had cast-iron evidence; governmental lawyers can after all always delve deep into the public purse to pursue 'enemies of the state'. I am sure that before that could happen the government will be carefully leaking stories about supposed Russian atrocities, all of which are backed up by handy eye-witness testimonies.”

“That bastard from the government came to my house earlier”, Aleksander growled, “and threatened me to get Kon's address. I would not give it to him but I am scared, sir. I want my brother avenged but I do not want my friend's blood on my head.”

“It shall not be”, Holmes said firmly. “Do you have your friend's address?”

The man reached into his pocket and passed over a slip of paper. Holmes read it and smiled.

“Let me tell you what is about to happen”, he said. “I do not underestimate the abilities of the government and in particular that foul Mr. Moran who is training up my lounge-lizard of a brother into something as unpleasant and unnecessary as his foul self. Aleksander, you must not go to or try to communicate with your friend in any way, shape or form during the next twenty-four hours.”

“But sir....”

“We two have most certainly been followed here tonight”, Holmes said and I saw the man turn pale again. “Do not worry; I have readied a little surprise for them when we leave. I shall then be able to communicate a message to your friend to meet with myself and a journalist that I can trust at the 'Times' and with luck the whole story will be in the evening papers, if not the morning ones. Poor Mr. Disraeli will not be pleased but as my dear brother Randall is always fond of telling me, one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. I am sure that he will be so grateful to me for reminding him of that particular old saw!”

Holmes could do insincerity so well!

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When we left the tavern I found what Holmes's 'surprise' was. Instead of hailing a cab we walked to the nearby quayside where a smart little steamboat was moored, her steaming funnel indicating that she was ready to leave. I noted two men hurrying across the road after us but by the time they were at the quayside we were sailing across the Thames to Rotherhithe and safety.

The following day I was anticipating the 'Times' more than usual. However when Holmes passed it to me he first drew my attention not to the huge headline – 'Turkish Massacre Of The Innocents' – but to a small article on the bottom right of the front page. Confused, I read it then gasped in horror.

“Both dead?” I exclaimed. Two dead bodies had been dragged from the Thames and identified as a Mr. Aleksander Aleksandrov and a Mr. Konstantin Radev.

Holmes shook his head.

“I understand all too well how government works”, he said bitterly. “Mr. Moran's is not the only department engaged in 'fixing' things. My journalist friend was most grateful for the story that will greatly advance his career, and in return agreed to print something in his estimable newspaper that may or may not have been the whole truth.”

“So there were no bodies?” I asked.

“This is London”, he said grimly. “There will always be bodies in the Thames, as long as it flows to the sea. I have ensured that our Bulgar friends have been provided with new identities and have been dispatched aboard the 'Cynewulf' to the New World, although I am sure that sadly the United States has its own Mr. Morans and that they are just as evil. But hopefully our two friends will do better there than here, where a vengeful government may try to kill them out of sheer spite.”

I would like to have said that our Nation's government would never stoop to such a level, but I was beginning to have my doubts.

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I had thought this case done with but there was to be one further and rather amusing event in it. One week later I arrived home one Friday feeling even more tired than usual; I had had a run of 'difficult' patients many of whom had had little wrong with them other than a case of advanced hypochondria. I had hoped to come home to a hot dinner but Holmes told me that he was expecting a visitor some time in the next hour and that we would go out for a fish and chip supper afterwards rather than inconvenience Mrs. MacAndrew. I was also sure that there was something very slightly different about our rooms although I could not put my finger on what. Fortunately there were some delicious chocolate éclairs to take the edge off my hunger and as Holmes did not really like them and one could not let them spoil, I generously ate all four while we waited for our visitor.

Who I was not pleased to see was none other than the unctuous Mr. Moran.

“You have gone too far in this, Mr. Holmes”, he said not even sitting down before beginning his tirade. “You have blown some minor diplomatic incident up into a crisis that may bring down Her Majesty's Government!”

“I hardly think at least one thousand people and most likely several times that number being murdered can be defined as 'some minor diplomatic incident'”, Holmes said dryly. “If Her Majesty's Government really does condone such behaviour then perhaps our esteemed monarch should find herself a better government. One with morals, to start with.”

“The likes of you and your 'friend' here do not lecture those in power”, Mr. Moran said loftily (I wondered at the sneer directed in my direction but did not comment on it). “We know what is best for the country and we shall not allow the likes of you to stand in our way.”

“That sounded like a threat, sir”, Holmes said mildly. “Are you sure that Mr. Disraeli will be happy to hear of his public servants behaving like a bunch of tin-pot dictators?”

“I do not believe you when you claim friendship with our prime minister”, Mr. Moran said. “Besides, if anything were to happen to either you or your 'friend' here – and 'accidents' do happen Mr. Holmes - then be assured that he would only be told what he needed to know.”

Holmes smiled. I was beginning to know the man; I knew that he had something up his sleeve. Sure enough he crossed to his bedroom door which, unusually, was slightly ajar, and opened it.

“Why do you not tell him that yourself?” Holmes grinned.

And out of his room came – Mr. Benjamin Disraeli! Mr. Moran screamed and fairly bolted from the room.

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The late evening edition of the 'Times' that day had a further article of interest; the dispatch of some minor government functionary who was being sent to administer the more distant reaches of British Guyana in South America. A lifetime appointment. To the remotest part of the state.

At least he would get a nice tan!

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Notes:
† The situation in the Balkans in 1877. The provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia had secured independence that same year when they had united to form Rumania (later Romania). Serbia was all but independent, the last Ottoman troops having been withdrawn a decade before partly due to British pressure, while Greece was less than half its current size. The once-mighty Ottoman Empire had actually been forced to declare bankruptcy in 1875 and was losing out badly in the latest Russo-Turkish War that had started earlier in 1877. It finished the following year and after much toing and froing eventually established Bulgaria, nominally a vassal of the Ottoman Empire but in practice an independent state, something it achieved in name in 1908.
‡ Not as the local joke goes so-called because it lies near Barking, which town's name most likely means 'the settlement near the beech trees'. The peninsula is opposite the site of the old palace at Greenwich, and during that building's existence the sound of the dogs barking at the royal kennels could often be heard across the Thames.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

I had once remarked to my stepbrother that considering the number of times that I had visited him at his chief molly-house, some people might well get the wrong idea about me. The bastard had of course just smiled and asked when I was going to either bring Watson along or at least tell him of our connection. The twelfth of never was the answer to that one!

“It will all end in tears”, he said, far too sententiously for a fellow who sold his body for a living. “Yours, most likely.”

I ignored his failed attempt at a witticism and moved on to the matter at hand.

“You have a wider understanding of human nature than most people that I know”, I said. “I paid for Watson to go and see his stupid tennis match, and he looked at me like he could not quite believe it. Plus when I had chocolate éclairs waiting for him one evening, he looked his his horse was won the Derby!”

“Of course”, he said blithely.

I reminded myself that murder was wrong, even with horrible family members who provided Mother with inspiration for her literary crimes then fled the scene and left the rest of us to suffer. Mostly wrong. For some reason that I could not quite put my finger on just then.

“Why 'of course'?” I asked, not at all testily.

“For one thing, the doctor is a cynic”, he said. “All the boys who have been treated by him say so, even Balin and Balan who are two of the gentlest men ever to walk the earth.”

That was true, I knew. The Selkirk twins were a kindly pair, and the only ones Campbell himself trusted when he wanted... no, this was my own stepbrother and I was not thinking of that!

“And for the other”, he went on, “you are forgetting the disparity.”

“What disparity?” I asked, confused.

“Come on, brother!” he snorted. “You are rich enough to buy your own house outright, let alone pay for the rooms that you have, while he struggles to make ends meet and to scrape together his half of the rent as well as all the things that as a doctor he is expected to have and do. He is a proud man and he finds that hard to bear.”

I suppose that he had a point there, even if he could have expressed it better. Indeed I may or may not have taken Watson out for the odd evening at the opera or theatre on 'free tickets' just because that was what his snootier clients expected of him, and I had said yes to Mother's buying me the top membership of six London clubs solely because I knew that four of them gave free associate membership to a gentleman friend, so he could have their names on his calling-cards and impress people who might otherwise have not sought his services. Even so.....

“Besides”, he went on, “you are frankly hopeless at people.”

”What?”

I glared at my stepbrother. That was really too much!

“I am not saying that you should be giving him gifts like making him sit in front of two men haring around either side of a net for hours on end”, he said. “I know you have your own philanthropic affairs – and that is something else that you are keeping from him for no good reason – but I have never known you do anything for a fellow man directly until you met Watson. Not ever. I might almost think....”

The bastard looked knowingly at me, and I harrumphed indignantly. As if I would ever..... as if Watson would ever..... honestly!

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The annoying thing, apart from the fact that Campbell was one of the few close family I actually liked for some strange reason, was that the fellow was right (not that I was ever going to tell him that; he was worse than most when it came to being insufferably smug!). Besides, in a time of great differences in wealth it was incumbent on those of us at the upper end of the spectrum to do what we could for those further down, although I was sure that Carl apart my brothers did little or nothing in that area. Of course Mother did, although the sight of her approaching doubtless made many of those less fortunate realize that no matter how bad they had thought their lot in life, things could always get worse! And when she started reading them some of her dreadful stories, they soon realized just how right they had been! Her latest horror, 'The Poseidon Adventure', concerned how that Greek god transformed himself into a well-endowed merman to lure sailors to an exhausted if happy end.... ugh!

I had gone to see my stepbrother on a Sunday, and returned to a quiet Montague Street. I was puzzled for a moment before I remembered; Watson had purchased a new book yesterday morning and on good days liked to read such in the Park rather than here. It had been quite a thick one so he had likely not finished it yet and had gone out today as well.

Some time later I was still musing on Campbell's words – damn the fellow! - when my friend returned. I could see at once that he was upset.

“What has happened?” I asked.

“I just found my book.... a lot to take in”, he said, smiling tiredly. “It is a very good read but it is painful in parts.”

“What is it about?” I asked.

“It is called 'Black Beauty' by a Miss Anna Sewell”, he said. “Very unusual; it tells of a horse's life from its own point of view. It reminded me just how cruel Man can be to the animals who serve him.”

I could see that he was really upset over this.

“Is she famous, this Miss Sewell?” I asked. “I have not heard the name before.”

He shook his head.

“This is her first novel”, he said. “Perhaps even her last; the review that I read in the newspaper which led to me buying it stated that she is very ill.”

I thought for a moment. I knew enough about life to be fairly sure that this authoress would not have received a fair payment for her work. Besides, Watson seemed genuinely affected by it.

Fortunately the Fates decided to throw me a lifeline.

“I think that I shall write to her care of her publishers and let her know just how much I enjoyed her work”, he said. “It is a pity that I cannot call in on her and speak to her in person, but that would not be wise.”

“Does she live in London, then?” I asked.

“No, a place called Catton just outside Norwich.”

I stared at him in puzzlement. He sounded like that was just down the road!

“You forget that I shall be there next weekend”, he reminded me. “Peter and I are escorting old Mr. Forbes to his home in the city. Poor fellow is pretty much going back to his native East Anglia to die, although at least that is what he wants.”

I made a quick decision.

“You should write to this Miss Sewell and ask permission to call”, I said.

“I can hardly do that”, he objected. “We are only being paid to escort the old gentleman home; we have to return the same day as I cannot afford a night at a hotel.”

“I shall go with you”, I said. “I enjoy travelling and we can make a long weekend of it. Your surgery would not mind you being a little late in on Monday if we catch the first train back?”

He looked at me incredulously. He really was not used to good things happening to him; Campbell had been right, worse luck. Even worse, I just knew that somewhere in a molly-house in London, some smug molly-man was smirking!

I wondered if I could get Mother to post him one of her stories....

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It was the following weekend and Watson still seemed incredulous that I was coming with him (although I would of course be in another carriage as he had his patient to attend to). He had written to Miss Sewell care of the publishing company and I may or may not have asked Father to apply a little pressure in the right places to ensure a speedy response. Sure enough a telegram had arrived on the Wednesday saying that Miss Sewell would receive us both despite her condition, which I now knew was likely terminal. I did not share that knowledge with Watson although I knew full well that once they met, he would certainly work it out.

Norwich is as everyone knows reached from London by the Great Eastern Railway, with whom as it happened we would have several future dealings and not all of them happy ones. For now however a smart dark blue locomotive took us from Liverpool Street all the way to Norwich (Thorpe) Station. This was only three years after the terrible train crash just outside the latter, but I knew that that had been human error and that the line was greatly improved now; indeed the tragedy had been that at the time the railway had then just been doubled and had been awaiting a final inspection before the second track which would have averted the disaster could become operational.

Watson and his colleague Doctor Greenwood settled their client in and handed him over to his local doctors, then Watson went to see his friend off at the station (I had offered to put him up at the hotel as well but he had said that he wished to get back to London as he and his fiancée were preparing for their forthcoming wedding. I could have afforded the best hotel the town had to offer but I bore Campbell's words in mind and chose something more modest, and I knew from Watson's reaction when he saw it that I had made a wise choice. If his visit to Miss Sewell tomorrow went well then we could take in his cathedral and some of the other sites in the place before returning first thing Monday morning.

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“It really is so unfair”, Watson sighed as we approached the Sewell house where I knew the authoress lived with her father and family. “The poor lady has been ill for most of her life, yet now she is approaching sixty she has come out with this masterpiece.”

I had made some inquiries into the matter and had learned that Miss Sewell had sold the right to her book to a local publisher for forty pounds†, not really a fair price even given that authoresses invariably earned less (although after the success of the Brontë sisters, also among Watson's favourite writers, that had finally begin to change). I had also read Miss Sewell's book and to my surprise had quite enjoyed it. It was not something that I would have purchased for my own reading pleasure but it 'worked' in the way that a good book did. For example I liked the late Mr. Charles Dickens as did Watson but we both felt that some of books 'worked' while others did not. As John put it, one did not get a coconut every time.

Miss Sewell greeted us and graciously agreed to sign the book that Watson had brought with him. I allowed them to talk for a while and said little, but once the conversation flagged I spoke up.

“My sister Anna is, madam, deeply interested in the welfare of animals”, I said, trying not to think of certain brothers at that turn of phrase and failing miserably, “and she told me how much she enjoyed your work. She believes that if it were distributed more widely it could help effect improvements in the way in which horses in particular are treated.”

Miss Sewell smiled weakly.

“Unfortunately sir, I sold the rights to Jarrolds”, she said. “It is their decision as to how many books are actually published, although they did say that the early sales were promising.”

The reviews of her book in the London newspapers had been glowing, and I knew that the publishers were likely playing down matters to avoid any extra payment. That was quite shameful.

“My sister and I would like to see this book reach many more people”, I said, not failing to notice Watson's surprise at my words. “It may be a little presumptuous of me, but I have spoken to your publishers and asked if they would print a thousand extra copies to be distributed free of charge in the capital once the first run has sold out. Naturally we shall pay them the full price for each book.”

Her reaction was exactly what I thought it would be; surprise followed by sadness. She was doubtless pleased that her book would reach a wider audience but knew full well that her signing away her rights to her publisher meant that she would not receive an extra penny.”

“I also learned of the so-called 'deal' that you struck with your publisher”, I said, frowning. “That they did not offer you any extra payment if the book did well was quite wrong. I have therefore spoken to them and they have agreed to pay you an extra twenty pounds, plus a bonus amount for any extra sales that the free books may engender.”

She immediately looked across at her mother. I smiled.

“I also made clear that that amount would continue for immediate family if the worst happens”, I said, knowing from Watson's demeanour that the worst was all but certain to happen in this instance. “Your parents and siblings would receive the money in that instance.”

She beamed, clearly relieved.

“Thank you so much, sir.”

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Watson was oddly silent as we left the house and walked back to Norwich.

“That was very kind of you”, he said at last. “Although I am surprised that the publishing company agreed to those terms. Did you threaten them at all?”

Damnation, he was getting as good (or as bad) as Campbell when it came to reading me!

“I did something worse”, I admitted.

He looked surprised.

“What?” he asked.

“I sent them one of Mother's scripts to read”, I said. “'Play It Again, Sam'; the one about the organ-player in the cathedral who rewired his instrument so......”

That was one way to curtail a conversation. I had not known that my friend could run that fast!

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Postscriptum: Sadly Miss Sewell died five months after we had met her, but she survived long enough to see the even greater success of her great work which did indeed lead to improved working conditions for horses across England. I kept a weather eye on the publishing company and they only had to be reminded once about our deal, when I sent them 'Watership Down'; Mother's script about the fisherman, the rabbit-pie, the pomegranate and the giant whale. And the tricycle.

Look, I had to read the damn thing!

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Notes:
† About £3,600 ($4,500) at 2020 prices. Not much for what was later rated the sixth best-selling book in the English language.

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Chapter Text

I have to admit that it was the visit to the talented Miss Sewell, and her magnificent work which showed just what great literature could be at its very best, which led me to wonder if Holmes' own adventures might one day be put into print. I did not of course mention this idea to him, because the merest hint of story-writing brought on memories of his terrible mother – my cruel friend had insisted on telling me about that church organist on the train-ride home, and Sunday services would never be the same again!

I was working at the surgery a lot at the time; not as much as I could have wished (or at least my bank-manager would have wished for me), but not yet full-time. Hence I had an irregular yet sizeable number of hours when I had little or nothing to do, and while I used some of them to keep up with the latest developments in medicine I began to use others to marshal my notes from our first adventure together, the 'Gloria Scott' up in Oxfordshire. I had not a fraction of Miss Sewell's talent but on the other hand I was working with a factual base that just needed retelling – or so I had thought, but the whole thing seemed that much harder than I had expected. Of course I could hardly publish the actual ending, yet it still had to seem believable. It was all very difficult.

I quickly realized that I had to be in the right 'mood' to write, as my Muse could not be compelled to produce the words when it did not want to. Nevertheless I took some pleasure as the work progressed, and even had some pleasant daydreams that I might one day become rich simply by publishing our adventures together, such that I would no longer have to scrape a crust treating rich hypochondriacs who were convinced that they were about to be the Black Death's next victim in these islands. Which was about as likely as me becoming a renowned author!

Which eventually I would – but not without a whole lot of bumps along a very adventurous road.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

It was December again which meant that London was full of people planning their Christmas festivities. For me this was always a difficult time of the year as Mother asked (Commanded) that we attend her and endure a family meal. If I was really unlucky she might even have a new story that she wanted to inflict on us. I rarely went to church but I prayed fervently around that time for some divine favour. Or at least a sudden attack of deafness!

I also had a rather curious encounter with my cousin Luke at the gymnasium that we both used. I told him about my recent investigations and he looked surprised for some reason.

“What?” I asked.

“You paid for your friend to attend a sports final, took him to see a cathedral that had absolutely zero interest to you, helped out someone he admired and threw in a free holiday”, he said, feigning what was obviously mock astonishment. “Who are you, and what have you done with my cousin Sherlock?”

I swatted at him. He was getting as bad as Campbell, who had openly gloated the other day that he would not be attending the Family Horror as he would have Balin and Balan round for Christmas! As I have said before, it worried me that these were the relatives that I actually liked for some reason!

“Watson is my friend”, I said coolly. “He deserves that good things should happen to him from time to time, especially considering all the good that he does in his work as a doctor.”

He just looked at me but said nothing. Honestly, a gentleman was allowed to have a gentleman friend!

Fittingly enough friends and family would be a theme for a case that spanned the festive season and ultimately spared me the ordeal this particular year. Unfortunately in doing so it provided me with something almost as bad, as my efforts to keep Watson from the seedier side of my family backfired most spectacularly, just as Campbell had warned.....

Damnation! Well, it was all his fault anyway!

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The first sign of trouble came on the Saturday three days before the Lord's Day. We had gone out for a pleasant walk around Regent's Park and had returned to find that we had missed someone. Normally I would have examined the card that the caller had left but Watson's present to me that year (which he had kindly let me have early) was a small coffee-making set to which I now always headed on my return from our walks. I graciously allowed my friend the slight smile at my eagerness to get at my caffeine and set about making us both drinks.

“A Mr. Campbell Kerr has called”, he said, reading the card.

I did not think that I reacted but I had forgotten that my friend was both a good observer and, irritatingly at times like these, increasingly skilled in reading my various moods. He looked curiously at me.

“He is my stepbrother”, I said at last.

“You never mentioned him before?” he said. “And why is he a Kerr rather than a Holmes?”

“He is part of the connection between our families”, I said. “My father married his mother Miss Mary Kerr as his first wife and she died giving birth to Campbell. Her father Sir Jameson Kerr was a very rich man who had a huge estate up in Scotland. He was what they call 'old-school'; he regarded the senior line as all-important and when he died he left two-thirds of his estate to Campbell and one-third to Luke, despite their both being grandsons by female descent. He also raised Campbell; my father was reluctant to let him do that but that was around the time that he met my mother who.... she persuaded him.”

He winced. He knew as well as I did what that meant. Ugh!

“Campbell was lucky in one other aspect”, I said hurriedly, willing my brain not to provide me with any mental images that would scar me for life. “His grandfather wanted him to marry a local girl up in Scotland but he said that he should wait until he was twenty-one. Sir Jameson died just eight days before; it was a question of which of them was the more eager to call the whole thing off! He came to London soon after; he got all the London properties and Luke the Scottish ones which he sold off.”

He looked at me curiously.

“He is blood, but you have never spoken of him”, he said. “Why?”

This was going to be tricky. Watson had little in the way of politics – like me he believed that politicians were like baby's nappies in that they needed to be changed regularly and for much the same reason – but as I said I had long felt that he would not take well to what some horrible stepbrother's unannounced visit (which I would get him back for, somehow) was about to spring on him.

I was still wondering how to word matters when a maid came to the door and informed us that our gentleman caller from earlier was back and wished to know if we might receive him. Sighing at the unfairness of the world, I agreed.

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Campbell greeted us affably enough and, I noted, sat down rather carefully. I just knew that he was doing that deliberately. The Lord owed me big time for this!

“You are Holmes's stepbrother”, Watson smiled. “Your card says that you are a businessman?”

“That I am”, Campbell smiled. “Indeed, it is my business that brings me here today.”

I allowed myself a silent glare heavenwards. I just could not catch a break!

“Did you manage to buy that molly-house up in Euston?” Watson asked.

I stared at him in shock. He smiled at me.

“I have treated some eight of Mr. Kerr's 'boys' by this time”, he said, “and look forward to treating many more. They all found it quite amusing that you had not told me of your connection to that part of the London scene.”

I scowled at him. My excuse for a stepbrother chuckled.

“Yes doctor, the Euston deal went through”, he said. “I am sorry to spring this on you, Sherlock, but it is important. Colt is being accused of raping some woman at a party last night, which is of course impossible.”

“Which one is Colt?” Watson asked.

“Mr. Colgrevance Hamlin”, Campbell said. “A strapping fellow in his late twenties; one of my best boys. He is what they call a mute which is bad but I suppose better than some names I have heard; he can talk but chooses not to. I think that his family is behind his silence; as my stepbrother knows that can be the case of so many troubles! He is known to our visitors as Samson because of his long hair and huge frame although the boys call him 'Silent Knight'; I might have objected but he likes it for some reason. Indeed it is his silence which is part of the trouble.”

“Please explain”, I said.

“Four of the boys including Colt were asked to work as wait staff at a gentlemen's party last night”, Campbell began. “Lord Greening's place, Rempstone House.”

“He is an important member of the House of Lords”, I explained to Watson, “whose friends could make life for the government decidedly more interesting if they so chose. A most unpleasant individual, bigoted to the core. I take it, Campbell, that your boys knew how the evening would likely progress?”

“For what they were being paid, they knew”, my stepbrother said shortly. “I did not want to send Colt – he does not do well in social situations – but they wanted four of our very tallest men. I only wish that I could have gone instead but I had an important client to see to.”

“Anyone important?” Watson smiled.

“Minor German royalty”, Campbell said dismissively. “They certainly do things very differently in Saxony, although he paid well. But back to the party and the disaster that ensued from it. Our boys did what they had to do with those who paid for it and all returned home, seemingly fine. Then this morning we had the police round. Normally they are not a problem since.... well, enough of them use our services to make any investigation difficult, to say the least. But Lord Greening's daughter Juliana is claiming that Colt had raped her. The devil of it is that he cannot defend himself, which I suspect was why he was targeted.”

I thought for a while.

“Is he under arrest?” I asked.

“That is another odd thing”, my stepbrother said. “He is not.”

I pressed my fingers together. This next part was going to be difficult.

“Has anyone approached you about the case?” I asked.

“They have not”, he said, clearly surprised. “Why would they?”

“Because I suspect that that is what is behind this ramp”, I said. “Rempstone House's local station is Goodge Street, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“Then I shall ask Gregson if he can get the men there to bring Colt in for questioning”, I said.

“Why would you do that?” Watson asked.

“Because their Inspector Williamson is ambitious”, I said, “and will not want to risk anything that will endanger his next promotion, especially as he knows a vacancy will be arising at chief-inspector level soon. A case that falls apart in front of him – as this one very soon will – would severely damage his chances, while one dealt with successfully would greatly improve them. I shall also need to borrow Colt for an afternoon.”

Campbell was clearly surprised by that.

“To help clear his name”, I said. “I shall of course pay the usual rate for the other services that he provides. I promise to take good care of him.”

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Coward that I was, I took advantage of Watson having to go into the surgery on Christmas Eve to make my visit to Campbell's house so that my friend could not come with me. He had taken the 'revelation' well enough but I did not wish to push matters.

I had to hold back a smile when I reached the molly-house. Not only was there not the slightest indication of its true nature but the 'London Gentlemen's Debating Society' notice outside was more than a little humorous especially when it referred to the 'hard thrust of debate', 'going into things deeply', and 'deciding who comes out on top'. Almost directly opposite was the house of a prominent member of the House of Commons who always spoke out most loudly against such doings, although there was always the chance that he used that proximity to his advantage. One never knew with politicians!

Inside it looked a little like a hotel and I met Balan at the reception desk (he was alone for once because Watson had treated his twin for a twisted ankle the other day and had insisted on his taking a whole day off to let it heal, something that Campbell being the good stick he was to anyone who was not a relative had also insisted on). Balan greeted me and smiled when he told me that Colt was as ever in the library. The silent beanpole's fondness for literature of all sorts was legendary and I thought it a pity that he had not been able to make a career out of it rather than having to sell his body. Come to that.....

I duly found Colt in one of the library nooks, curled up with Jane Austen whom I knew to be one of his favourite authors. He surely had to know 'Pride and Prejudice' off by heart now. He looked up in surprise then smiled at me. I was reminded less of the legendary Samson and more of an overgrown puppy looking hopefully up at his master, hopeful that it would be a walk and not the rolled-up newspaper of disapproval.

“Hullo Colt”, I said carefully. “Campbell has asked me to help you out. We need to take a trip.”

He looked uncertain at that and was clearly reluctant to go with me, which I could understand given what had befallen the poor fellow of late. Then he gestured to his open-necked shirt.

“Not for that!” I said quickly. “We are only taking a few short cab rides, so you can bring the book if you wish. I just need you to trust me.”

He nodded. I felt humbled that someone so huge could place his trust in me and determined even more to secure justice for him. Perhaps even a little more than justice.

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I felt that trust even more later when I had to ask Colt to sit in the barber's chair and have his glorious hair shaved off. He should by all rights have looked sad about it but the look of absolute trust and belief that he gave me throughout – I felt that this man deserved so much more out of life than he had had so far. There was more nobility in his character than in many of the so-called great and the good who peremptorily demanded my services at times as if they had some God-given right to them.

He looked more like his old self later as we called into the British Library later and I explained to my friend Mr. Breckenridge what I was hoping for. At that moment he had no vacancies but a part-time one would be arising in a couple of months' time and he was prepared to give Colt a trial on my recommendation. The behemoth actually hugged me on the way out of the building then looked suitably embarrassed, but I smiled reassuringly at him and took him back to the house. It was Christmas Eve and perhaps what they say about it being better to give than to receive presents is true after all.

Coffee-makers excepted, of course!

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Christmas Day, and I presented Watson with a handsome set of warm winter gloves which I knew that he needed, as well as a voucher for the expensive clothes store that they came from. He gave me a large box containing assorted flavours of my favourite barley-sugars, including two that I had never tried before (banana and honey, both of which I liked and neither of which made it to Boxing Day!). We thus had a happy start to the morning and even better, my having been summoned to the police station meant that I had had to send my apologies to the family for missing our annual tortu.... dinner.

“You could always go later?” some horrible personage offered with a smile. I just glared at him.

The room at Goodge Street Police Station was barely large enough for us all, especially with Colt's massive frame taking up so much of it. Across the table from us sat Lord Greening's daughter Juliana, an unappealing female (I shall not demean the term 'lady' by using it on her) of some thirty or so years whose trowelled on make-up had done nothing to improve her looks. Next to her was her lawyer, a man who reminded me that humans and weasels had once had a common ancestor. I and Campbell sat on one side of the behemoth and Watson on the other.

“We are most graciously prepared to consider a fair settlement”, the unfortunately named Mr. Uriah Weisel sniffed. “We would require a substantial payment of course, and access to the records of this house of ill-repute to make sure matters are all above board.”

Records of which members of society have used the house's services and might therefore be open to blackmail, I thought wryly. I had known windows less transparent.

“I understand from the case notes that you claim to have proof of my client's assault on this.... female”, I said.

Miss Greening opened her mouth to complain but her lawyer was quicker.

“One of the locks of her assailant's hair was left behind in the assault”, he said triumphantly. “I would like to see him deny that in a court of law!”

He produced a small bag from which he extracted a few black curly hairs, and placed them on the table.

“That is only part of the sample”, he sniffed, “so do not make any effort to destroy it.”

“I would be foolish indeed to destroy something that exonerates my client”, I smiled. “May I?”

The lawyer looked at me uncertainly but nodded his assent. I looked at my stepbrother who stood and left the room. He was back a few minutes later bearing a cup of steaming hot water. I placed some of the hairs into the cup and we all watched.

Nothing happened.

“What is the meaning of this tomfoolery?” the lawyer demanded. I bit back a smirk.

“Your client really needs to weigh more carefully just whom she is falsely accusing”, I said. “The police take false rape accusations most seriously, and the penalty for such is quite rightly a long, long time behind bars.”

The harridan began to look decidedly uncomfortable.

“This.... female assumed that by targeting a man who could not defend herself, she and her family might gain access to the house records which would open up all sorts of blackmailing possibilities....”

“Sir, I protest!” the lawyer snapped.

“If I had a face like yours, so would I!” I retorted. “However, although the real Samson was captured after losing his long hair, his modern counterpart has found his own locks to be rather more.... helpful.”

With that I reached across and lifted Colt's new hair-piece clean off his head.

“A wig!” the lawyer gasped.

“Not only a wig”, I said. “A blond wig, all part of his act. He was unable to obtain a straight-haired black wig so purchased a blond one and dyed it. If the hair that your client claimed to have ripped from him during his 'assault' on her had indeed come from my client, then the hot water would have removed the dye. Therefore this woman lied – and for that she must pay the price!”

I had almost missed Inspector Williamson moving into the room and even Watson jumped when he emerged from the darkness.

“Miss Greening, I arrest you in the name of the law for bearing false witness”, he said heavily. “You do not have to say anything but....”

She was indeed no lady judging from the obscenity she came out with at that moment. I think from his expression that even Campbell might not have heard that sort of thing before!

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I was, I will confess, more than a little relieved that Watson had taken my stepbrother's line of work so well. Colt got his job at the British Library although he kept working at my stepbrother's molly-houses. Watson was able to obtain some sessions with one of Harley Street's best doctors for him and the 'Silent Knight' finally began to talk – which as things turned out was just as well, for we were only a few years away from seeing him in another adventure of ours.

Campbell was of course delighted with my efforts and Watson (who I had so grievously underestimated) became even more the official doctor to the many 'boys'. Indeed the only downside was that my mother, having been apprised of my reasons for missing her dinner, said that it had inspired her to write another of her stories – 'A Hard Day's Knight' - and I really should come round to hear it.

I wondered what Outer Mongolia was like at this time of year.

“It is London”, Watson said when we talked about the case later. “Our society functions as well as it does because we set high moral standards, but still cater for human weaknesses and desires.”

“You are taking this very well”, I smiled. “To be fair I must admit that Campbell thought that you would. Although he did say that if you tired of being a doctor in the next few years, then there was always a bed in his house with your name on it.”

I had had the sense to be heading to my room as I said that and was through the door when I heard his shocked splutter. I could almost hear the pout that came with it!

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Postscriptum: Sad to say that Lord Greening did try to use his political influence to prevent his daughter from paying the price for her crimes. I made sure that he failed, and that the 'Times' found out about his machinations. He left London for 'an indeterminate stay in the country' soon after.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

It had been some months since Watson had revealed he had known all along about my stepbrother and his, ahem, unusual business interests, and in that time if not before my friend had become a sort of unofficial 'house doctor'. The reader will understand that first, many of the men who worked there could not have afforded medical treatment, and second, even if they could have done few would have sought it for risk of exposure to the censure of a world that knew full well what went on behind those 'London Debating Society' doors but could quite happily pretend that it did not as long as no-one officially told them about it!

The many gentlemen who worked at my stepbrother's houses worked across a whole host of professions, some of which would have shocked people mightily. Included in that was a genial doctor, a black gentleman of about forty years of age who had come over from one of our African colonies, I think the Gold Coast. Doctor Joshua Sweet was as massively muscular as Campbell and it says something that despite his skin colour he had built up a considerable practice. But then we English accept people who fit in, just as we do not accept those who make too much fuss when none is needed.

Doctor Sweet had come round to see us as he needed Watson to take a look at a bruise on his thigh that was healing too slowly, in his opinion. For some reason I felt vaguely uneasy about a nearly-naked and muscular handsome man standing close to Watson, which was of course ridiculous; he was a doctor and that sort of thing was bound to happen.

It was even more annoying because such feelings were totally irrational. After all, I was a strictly rational man.

“I had a couple of other reasons for my call”, the doctor said as he pulled his clothes back on (just as well; those 'shorts' were far too short even for a molly-man). “First of course to thank you, doctor, for your help with Joe.”

I looked curiously at Watson, who blushed.

“Mr. Sweet's eldest son wishes to become a doctor too”, he said, “and I managed to arrange with my colleagues at St. Bart's to take him on as a lecture assistant when he is off school.”

“My fellow medic is too modest, as always”, Doctor Sweet smiled. “Joe was starting to skip school to slip into lectures there, and your friend here made it clear that his finishing his education was contingent on him getting what should be a most useful job.”

I saw his unspoken point there, namely that for all the English would accept a black doctor who was fully trained, for one to get on the bottom rung of the ladder would have been much more difficult. Once again I admired Watson for helping out someone like this; he really was a good friend.

Even it was to gentlemen who sold their muscular bodies for a living!

“I am also here about a neighbour of mine”, the doctor said. “A decent young gentleman called Mr. Miles Thatch; he works in the library doing something or other.”

“What is his problem, exactly?” I asked.

“Poor Milo has a crush on a woman who comes in there from time to time”, the doctor said. “Lady Cadence Knebworth, one of those women who is all looks but cruel inside. She is leading him on which is just wrong; he has a girl down our road called Molly who likes and would be good for him, but he is a dreamer and thinks that he has a chance with Her Majesty!”

I bit back a smile and turned innocently to Watson.

“Do you happen to know anything of this woman?” I asked.

“She is the youngest of eight children of Lord and Lady Knebworth, who have their estate in the village they are named after out in Hertfordshire”, he said. “A very proud family; Lord Knebworth's father famously tripped over at the coronation because he had his nose held so high! All five of the daughters have musical names and all, sadly, take after their grandfather in their pride. Lady Viola once struck and badly injured a servant who, she claimed, had not cleaned her boots to her satisfaction – her father had to pay the fellow off - and Lady Melody once stepped on the Prince of Wales's foot while they were dancing....”

Too late he realized, and blushed horribly. Our visitor chuckled.

“It is a good thing that 'someone' never reads the social pages except for those incredibly rare occasions when he just happens to be passing a newspaper open at those particular pages”, I teased. Watson scowled at me.

“It is my belief that Lady Cadence enjoys the power she has over poor Milo”, the doctor said. “He would never swing my way – poor Molly will have her hands full with him if she ever does get him up the aisle; I doubt he even knows what sex is except in those beloved books of his – but that cannot happen while that horrible woman is on the scene.”

“It is very fair-minded of you to take such an interest in a neighbour”, I said. “Yes, we will take this case.”

I did not fail to catch the slight smile on Watson's face as I said that. I knew that he felt he often contributed very little to my investigations but even the sharpest knife needs a good whetstone, although I had only ever said that to him the once because he had complained about being compared to a large rock! For all his fine qualities he was far too literal at times.

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Our next point of attack in this case seemed to be to visit Miss Margaret 'Molly' Jones, for whom Doctor Sweet had fortunately been able to provide an address. She lived only a little way down from Mr. Thatch and, he had said, always took a Saturday morning constitutional in the park where she read for a few hours, since she lived at home with her parents and six siblings so enjoyed some peace and quiet (I could empathize!).

Sure enough we found the lady sat on a bench, a pleasant young girl of not more than twenty years with a serious expression. She was clearly wary of us at first until we explained our connection to Doctor Sweet.

“Milo's neighbour”, she smiled. “A true gentleman; it is good that he cares for the poor boy.”

I bit back a smile at her slight condescension to the man she intended to marry. And would marry if I had anything to do with it.

(Looking back at this case from years later, only then did I realize that my primary motivation for taking the case had been Watson, as it was most definitely not the sort of thing that I would otherwise have considered using my talents on. Hmm.).

“The doctor mentioned something about a Lady Cadence Knebworth”, I ventured. “Have you met her, perchance?”

“Not to be introduced to, of course”, the lady said shortly, “because if I had, she might not have lived to regret it! I saw her coming out of the library the other week boasting to her poor companion about how much she enjoyed leading poor Milo on.”

“You did not tell him about this?” Watson asked.

“He is one of those scholars who must see written proof before he will believe something”, she sighed. “He is so good and kind; he always thinks the best of people.”

I smiled as I began to see a way forward in this.

“He believes the written word”, I said. “Then it is the written word that we must use to convince him. We shall let Lady Cadence use her own verbiage to destroy herself.”

She looked at me uncertainly, as did Watson.

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A few days later I arranged to meet Miss Jones in Mr. Thatch's library, where she pointed out the object of her affections. I know that they say love is blind, but.... really? The fellow looked like he was but a meal away from starvation, and his few looks were not helped by ridiculously large round spectacles and a general untidiness. As I said to Watson, how could anyone reasonably be attracted to someone who looked as much a piece of human flotsam as that?

He seemed to be developing a cough again. Odd; I had not noticed it this morning.

I knew from my watchers that Lady Cadence was due in here in about fifteen minutes' time, so I nodded to Miss Jones who approached her intended with a magazine that I had given her. Gazing up at her he somehow contrived to look even dopier, but when she mentioned that there was an article in it about Lady Cadence he was clearly more attentive (although not enough to catch his future wife's scowl) and was soon reading avidly. As well he might.

“You did not say what was so fascinating about the article”, Miss Jones said as she rejoined us.

“Watch!” I urged.

Sure enough, Mr. Thatch's face darkened as he read on, and on several occasions he shuddered. I had hired a journalist friend of mine who had approached Lady Cadence ostensibly on behalf of a French fashion magazine, and asked for her thoughts on London society and the men in it. Clearly thinking that nothing she said would reach London, she had made several risqué remarks about quite a few prominent members of society – I severely doubted that the noble Lord Becontree would be pleased about her remark that 'his wide lands in no way made up for his minuscule endowment' – and in particular, she had relished how she was currently stringing along some scruffy young librarian who actually thought that he stood a chance with her! The very idea!

By the time Mr. Thatch had finished the article his face was dark with anger – and for once in her life showing good timing, Lady Cadence chose that very moment to walk into the library. I nudged Miss Jones who quickly hurried over to Mr. Thatch's table with the cream cake that I had purchased earlier.

Yes, I was that bad. Yet when Lady Cadence came up to Mr. Thatch still smirking, only for him to grab the cake and throw it in her face, I did not feel the least bit sorry. If that horrible woman thought that this was bad, wait until later in the day when every gentleman and lady that she had mentioned in her article would be receiving a free copy of the magazine and would get to read her words about them!

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Postscriptum: Lady Cadence felt it politic to withdraw from London society for a while and her family sent her to their Scottish property for what turned out to be an indefinite holiday. Mr. Thatch married his Miss Jones and apparently she did manage to explain a few things to him – because they had some fourteen children! With only a little prompting from me, he later secured an excellent position at the British Museum just across the road from our lodgings in Montague Street – but by that time we had moved on.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

The winter of 'Seventy-Eight was a tense time to be in London. Hundreds of miles away at the end of the Mediterranean the British fleet was anchored off Constantinople, daring the Russian Bear to try to enter the ancient Byzantine capital. It had long been Moscow's intention to secure a warm-water port but never before had the Tsarist armies reached so far south. War between the two Great Powers looked more likely with every day that passed.

These great events bore at first appearance no relation to a brutal suburban murder in the greatest city in the world. But those appearances were deceptive and what began in the cold wastes of the Caucasus Mountains had a minor outpouring in a small London thoroughfare not far from our lodgings in Montague Street, and in a killing that was not what it first appeared.

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The case began one cold March morning when I stumbled into breakfast feeling more tired than usual. The day before news had reached London of the Treaty of San Stefano which had given Russia everything that she could have wanted out of her recent war with the Ottoman Empire, allowing her ships unrestricted access to both the Mediterranean and Great Britain's shipping lanes therein. The public reaction in the greatest city in the world had been fierce and (regrettably) very loud, as a result of which I had got little sleep. My mood was not helped by seeing Holmes up and alert when I stumbled into our main room which in itself was unusual if not unknown. Mercifully, there was coffee and he even poured me a cup before making one for himself.

Wait a minute. He made me a coffee? Lord above, what terrible calamity had occurred? Was about to occur?

“LeStrade is likely coming round today”, he said conversationally. “He will have a case for me.”

“He has sent you details already?” I asked, still wondering what he was up to but gratefully imbibing the caffeine.

“No, but the headline in the 'Times' suggests that he may require my assistance”, he said. He looked at me almost sympathetically. “Would you like to read it or would you prefer me to summarize it for you?”

I was grateful for the consideration as my senses were still barely operational.

“A summary please”, I said.

“Yesterday afternoon a constable from LeStrade's station was patrolling Rhododendron Lane which lies a little way east of Baker Street, when he heard a loud scream from Number Forty-Seven. He immediately went and knocked at the door and when no-one answered he forced his way in. In the main room he found the dead body of the house owner Miss Frances Hanover, a lady who had only just moved into the area. She had been stabbed in the neck and there was a blood-stained knife lying nearby which was subsequently identified as belonging to Miss Hanover's neighbour, Mr. Nicola Ricoletti. It later emerged that he had been paying court to her recently. He has since been arrested.”

“Does the article say anything about him?” I asked.

“It says that Mr. Ricoletti, thirty-one, only moved to the area himself last year from a small town in the Umbria region of Italy”, Holmes said. “He has a club foot so does not get about much, and lives with his former wife Gina.”

I looked up in surprise.

“Surely he is a Catholic if he is from Italy?” I wondered. “So how did he obtain a divorce? And why does he still live with the woman, for that matter?”

“The paper reported that he is actually of a minor sect which, while it recognizes Papal authority in most respects, does allow divorce”, Holmes explained. “Apparently the couple have to remain together for a year and a day before final sanction is granted, one presumes that the recent problems in the peninsula must have prompted a swift removal to the safety of an English street.”

(The newly-independent Italian state was not functioning at all well in its early years, as polarization between left and right often led to political gridlock. That coupled with levels of corruption not seen even across Europe rendered it a relatively weak power, but still one which could tip the scales in a conflict. In particular the island of Sicily was a threat to British links across the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal and its eastern Imperial holdings, although at least while we held the island of Malta further south that threat could be countered).

“Not that safe”, I muttered, “considering that their neighbour is now dead and he is the chief suspect!”

Holmes smiled.

“It all sounds very straightforward”, I said perhaps a little plaintively.

“It might be”, he admitted, “if not Miss Hanover had been one of the principal Austro-Hungarian spies in this country!”

I spluttered my mouthful of coffee somewhat inelegantly across the table.

“Had you not better be getting ready for your day's work?” he asked teasingly.

“You cannot seriously let me go to work with just that!” I protested (it was not a whine whatever anyone said). He smiled.

“Our friend will not be round until five o' clock”, he said. “I promise that I shall not start the case without my trusty sidekick!”

I blushed a little. After our East End encounter with Mr. John Halberd I had challenged my friend as to why he wanted my presence on his cases and he had observed that 'even the sharpest knife needs a good whetstone.' That someone as obviously intelligent as Holmes valued my humble opinion was, I thought, strangely warming.

Even if I was unsure about being compared to a large lump of rock!

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I was just emerging from my room when our visitor arrived. It was definitely not Sergeant LeStrade (which was quite surprising as it was a baking day, the first that he had missed in a long time). And judging from the rather odd look on my friend's face he knew full well who it was.

“Randall!” he growled. “What do you want?”

I might say at this point that I try not to judge from first appearances, but I took an instant dislike to the fellow who, I remembered from the name, was one of Holmes's elder brothers and presumably the replacement for the unmissed Mr. Sebastian Moran (in fact I later learned that the job had gone to someone else, which showed at least some good sense on the government's part). Mr. Randall Holmes was nothing like his brother in appearance; slightly taller, blond hair that had at least a jar of gel in it and sporting a stylized short beard, he was the archetypal lounge-lizard with the sort of face that made any right-thinking Englishman want to punch him. Hard. It did not help that he immediately took my chair.

“That is Watson's place”, Holmes said frostily. “You will either stand or take the fireside chair.”

There was clearly an air of tension between the two brothers. Mr. Randall Holmes looked as if he might stay put for a moment but eventually sighed, got up and made his way to the fireside chair into which he all but fell. I took my place by the table and watched my friend cautiously. Our visitor broke the uneasy silence.

“You have not been around much, Sher.”

“Do not call me that!” Holmes snapped. “I presume that you are here over the Rhododendron Lane Affair?”

Our unwelcome guest sighed.

“And of course to see my little brother”, he said with a frankly feeble smile. He reached across presumably in an attempt to make contact with said brother but Holmes shot him such a look that he pulled his hand back as if burned. There was a pained silence.

“All right”, our guest said. “Dizzy is not pleased over this farrago. Another international incident is all we need right now.”

I was shocked to realize that he was actually referring to our esteemed prime minister. Holmes noticed my expression.

“Despite his playboy exterior”, he said heavily, “my brother 'functions' – if that is the right word – as a valued government operative.”

Said brother stood and bowed deeply to us both.

“Proof if needed that appearances can indeed be deceptive!” Holmes added.

“Sher!” his brother snapped.

Holmes shot him a sharp look. I could actually hear the clock on the mantle-piece ticking. Still, if there was violence I knew that there was a doctor who lived across the street. I might even be prevailed upon to go and see if he was available. Possibly.

“Sherlock”, the unwanted guest muttered crossly.

“Better!” Holmes said. “Tell us about the murder of Miss Hanover.”

His brother looked pointedly at me.

“Can he be trusted?” he asked looking at me as if I was something the cat had just dragged in after having been told not to. I was offended but Holmes spoke before I could.

“More than certain family members I might name”, he said acidly. “Especially those who consort with certain under-housemaids called Mary!”

His brother glared at him and I resisted the urge to crow. I did however pointedly make notes that may or may not have been about domestic servants. I may also have muttered “under-housemaids called Mary” a tad too loudly.

“All right”, our guest said sprawling back into his chair. “As I am sure you know – because Sher....lock here knows everything - Frances Hanover was one of the most accomplished Austro-Hungarian spies in this country.”

“Then why did you not arrest her?” I wondered.

Our visitor looked at me as if I was frankly an idiot, at least until Holmes threw a biscuit at him. I scowled as it bounced off into the fire; what a waste of a perfectly good chocolate digestive. He should have used a plain one instead; they were heavier too.

“Sher!”

“Mention that name again and the next thing to hit you will be a bullet!”

He meant it, I could see. The lounge-lizard shuddered.

“You cannot expect Watson to understand the intricacies of government any more than you could be expected to understand the intricacies of medicine!” Holmes snapped, before turning back to me. “What my uninformative brother means is that knowing Miss Hanover was a spy, the British government was thus able to make sure that the information she supplied to her masters in Vienna was exactly what our country wanted them to believe, whether true or not. As such she was of far more use to London than to Vienna.”

“Oh”, I said. “I see now.”

“The newspaper article is for once accurate”, Mr. Randall Holmes observed, scowling at me as if his attitude were somehow my fault. “However certain facts have been omitted.”

“Which were?” Holmes prompted.

“We are unclear as to just how deep the relationship between Mr. Ricoletti and Miss Hanover had become”, he said, clearly still annoyed at my presence. “His wife – soon to be ex-wife - disapproved of it but suspected that it had gone further than he had admitted to her. And she in turn is one of the problems of this case.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“She is dating a fellow called Mr. Gianluca diMoro. He is an attaché at the Italian Embassy, a right young buck if ever there was one, which brings in our spaghetti-eating friends. And that is something we do not need at the moment.”

“Why?” I asked curiously. Holmes turned to me.

“In the pan-European war which my brother quite correctly judges will happen sooner or later, the position of Italy will be important”, he explained. “At the moment the governments in Berlin and Vienna are doing everything in their power to ensure that Rome sides with them in the coming conflict. Mishandling an incident such as this could make that task easier.”

“I see”, I said. “But what if Mr. Ricoletti is indeed guilty?”

“Like his ex-wife he is currently possessed of both Italian and British citizenship”, our visitor said. “In the event that we can obtain sufficient proof, that evidence would be handed over along with him and/or her to the Italian government to do with as they see fit. Her Britannic Majesty's Government would not like it, but provided that they took him back home and kept him there, they would accept such a deal.”

“If it can be proven”, Holmes said. “I believe that I shall need to stir myself and visit the crime scene.”

Mr. Randall Holmes seemed to hesitate and I had an instinctive feeling that he was about to say something stupid. Happily my instincts were for once spot-on.

“Mother would really prefer for you to live at home, Sher...lock”, he said, eyeing his brother warily. “She feels that.....”

“No.”

“But....”

“The matter is not open for discussion”, Holmes said coldly. “Kindly note that if you persist, then I might use my next visit home to inform Mother about you and Lord Kilburn's step-daughters. All three of them!”

Our unwelcome visitor glared at me as I made a point of muttering 'Lord Kilburn, step-daughters, all three of them' as I wrote that down. In big letters. He huffed in exasperation and I definitely caught my friend in a slight smirk.

“You would not tell her about all that!” our visitor scoffed. Holmes raised an eyebrow at him

“Try me!”

Thus began my unwonted acquaintanceship with Mr. Randall Holmes. It went pretty much downhill from there.

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I suppose that I had better state the obvious before proceeding with this story. Yes, both Gregson and LeStrade called before the day was out. And the Sun sank in the west as well. Only one of those facts was the least bit surprising.

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The following day was fortunately one of the Saturdays on which I was not on call at the surgery, so I was able to accompany Holmes to Rhododendron Lane which as he had said was only a short cab ride from our rooms. It was a row of terraced houses, not the best area but not the worst either. All the properties were well-kept and inevitably there was a knot of people gathered outside Number Forty-Seven, with a constable on duty to keep them in order. Holmes presented our credentials and we were admitted to the house to find his annoying brother waiting for us along with a worried-looking second constable who looked barely out of school.

“Constable Penry-Jones”, Mr. Randall Holmes explained. “He found the body.”

Holmes turned to the policeman.

“You examined the body when you found it, of course?” he asked.

The constable blushed. I wondered why but not for long.

“I did, sir”, he muttered looking anywhere but at us. “She was wearing one of those long thin dressing-gown things, and..... her undergarments, sir.”

“A kimono”, I supplied, having read the report. “An odd thing to wear around the house, especially at that time of day.”

“She had had a dress-fitting earlier”, Mr. Randall Holmes said. “It was a warm day so perhaps she decided to remain in it.”

Holmes gestured to a door in the wall.

“Does that lead into the Ricolettis' house?” he asked.

“Yes, sir”, the constable said, “but it's always locked. They keep a heavy dresser against the door on their side. Tim – Constable Wales – he noticed that when he interviewed the ex-wife this morning.”

“It is a great pity that Mrs. Ricoletti had no motive”, Mr. Randall Holmes said heavily. “The reverse if anything; their divorce cannot be finalized while her husband is in jail.”

“What if he is hanged?” Holmes asked. His brother shook his head.

“They both have to return to Italy to get the church elders to counter-sign their petition, a year and a day after it was lodged”, he explained. “If he does not sign for any reason then the marriage stands for five years from the original petition date.”

“That is cruel!” I said.

“The papers reported was that the fatal wound was in the neck?” Holmes asked.

“That's right, sir”, the policeman said. “It was definitely Mr. Ricoletti's knife. We found his fingerprints on it and his ex-wife confirmed it when we challenged her on it. Reluctantly, I might add.”

“Thank you, constable”, Holmes said. “If you could please join your colleague outside for a moment, my brother and I have things to discuss.”

The constable nodded and left us. Mr. Randall Holmes looked expectantly at his brother.

“I need to see the body and to visit Mr. Ricoletti's house”, Holmes said crisply. “Is his ex-wife at home?”

“Yes, and expecting us”, the lounge-lizard said.

“Then let us not keep her waiting.”

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Having said how much I try to avoid judging on first appearances I have to say that I took an instant dislike to Miss Gina Ricoletti. I felt instinctively that I would not want her wielding a sharp instrument anywhere in my vicinity. She was young, beautiful and charming but there was something cold and calculating about her even when she spoke of her soon to be ex-husband.

“Poor, poor Nico”, she said sadly. “I do not like to speak ill of the dead but That Woman led him on, the harridan!”

I suspected that she found no problems at all speaking ill when it came to some of the dead.

“How long had Mr. Ricoletti been seeing Miss Hanover?” Holmes asked, nodding slightly for some reason.

“He had been paying court to her ever since she moved in over a month ago”, she sniffed. “As far as I know they did not go out together; she enjoyed leading him on with him worshipping her on her pedestal. She had more than enough other male visitors, the Jezebel!”

Jealousy, I thought wryly. And she had the green eyes to go with it.

“What do you do for a living, Mrs. Ricoletti?” Holmes asked. She seemed surprised at the question.

“I work as a dressmaker”, she said. “I supply dresses to Debenham & Hewitt† in Wigmore Street but I also do my own work. I was round there just after dinner yesterday afternoon fitting Miss Hanover for a new dress that she was purchasing. It must have been less than an hour before.....”

She tailed off and I could not help thinking that her whole performance was somewhat theatrical. But to be fair her ex-husband could be facing the gallows, ruining her own prospects in the short to medium term. Holmes got up and walked over to the dresser.

“Is that a Meissen?” he asked looking closely at a hideous vase. His questions were decidedly odd today.

“Oh no”, she smiled. “Just an old family piece from home.”

Holmes studied the vase intently as if it might tell him something.

“Mr. Ricoletti works at a stonemason's?” he asked not looking round.

“Yes, at the local works”, she said.”I suppose that that was in the newspaper; I did not read the article as it was too depressing.”

“No”, Holmes smiled. “I just knew. We shall not take up any more of your valuable time, madam. Good day.”

He bowed and led us out. Once outside his brother turned to him.

“All right Sherlock, what do you know?”

Holmes led us out into the street and away from the still considerable crowd before speaking.

“First, I would like Watson to examine the late Miss Hanover”, he said.

“What am I looking for?” I asked. He smiled.

“If I told you that, you might find it anyway!” he said. “Let us go to the station and see what you can see!”

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“I find it odd that she was still wearing the kimono an hour after she tried on her new dress”, I observed as our cab took us to the police station. “I remember the day of the murder and it was not that warm; I had to attend a client all the way out in Tottenham. Was there even a dress?”

“There was”, Mr. Randall Holmes said shortly. “We checked; Mrs. Ricoletti had started work on adjusting it for her and had the bill signed by Miss Hanover to prove it. And a fellow in his garden across the street reported that he saw Mrs. Ricoletti coming out of Number Forty-Seven and going back into her own house at the time she said.”

“Do not snap at the good doctor”, Holmes said reprovingly. “His point is a valid one.”

His brother looked at him, then gasped.

“Do you mean she and Ricoletti were.... and then he..... ugh!”

“Pot, kettle, black”, Holmes muttered.

His brother glared at him. Fortunately the cab chose that minute to reach the station and I prepared for my examination of the late Miss Frances Hanover.

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Examining the body of someone who had so many years ahead of them is always an unpleasant task, even if the woman had been an enemy of my country. But Holmes was of course right and I did find something. I emerged to find the brothers waiting for me.

“Well?” Mr. Randall Holmes said expectantly.

“She was indeed stabbed”, I said. “With enough force to kill her.”

“We already knew that!” the lounge-lizard snapped.

“Except”, I said, ”that was not what killed her.”

The lounge-lizard gulped and Holmes gave me a look of vindication.

“She was strangled but not with someone's hands”, I said. “Not a rope, or at least not anything cutting. The stab wound occurred after the strangulation; I cannot say exactly how long but it must have been only a short time. The stabbing was done presumably to attempt to hide the real means of death.”

“But why would our Italian friend strangle her and then stab her?” Mr. Randall Holmes asked. “It makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense”, Holmes said. “Well done, doctor. Randall, I am sure that one of your operatives could retrieve an item from Rhododendron Lane for me if I asked?”

“I suppose” his brother said cautiously. “What is it?”

Holmes wrote down something on a slip of paper and handed it to him. His brother read it and looked at him curiously.

“Why...?” he began.

“Bring that to our rooms in two hours' time and I shall tell you how it was done”, he smiled.

“Sher, I really....”

“Call me that again and I will make you wait until tomorrow!”

I did not smirk as his brother hurried away. Well, not that much.

Holmes looked pointedly at me. All right, I smirked! But then so did he!

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Two hours almost to the second later, Mr. Randall Holmes was duly shown in and dropped something onto the table next to his brother. It was a white tape-measure, which I stared at in confoundment. Holmes smiled at me earning himself an impatient growl from his brother.

“Explain why I had to get such a dumb thing”, he demanded.

Holmes raised an eyebrow at him. His brother grumbled under his breath.

“Please!” he managed. It clearly took an effort.

“Very well”, Holmes said. “First, you will have to release Mr. Nicola Ricoletti as the only crime that he is guilty of is an almost fatally poor judgement when it comes to the fairer sex.”

“What?”

“Then you will have to contact the Italian Embassy”, Holmes said, “as they are most definitely not going to like what has happened. But well-handled, I think that they will appreciate Her Majesty's Government's discretion in this matter, especially when one considers the fuss that could have been made. A less kind person would use the term 'whitewash' for such actions, but I shall not. This time.”

“Discretion over what?” our visitor demanded.

Holmes settled himself comfortably into his chair ignoring his brother's glares.

“At around two o' clock Mrs. Ricoletti calls on Miss Hanover to fit her for her new dress”, Holmes began. “Miss Hanover was wearing a kimono in expectation of her visit and had planned to change back afterwards. I believe that Mrs. Ricoletti told her she needed to measure her collar, then simply crossed with the tape-measure and pulled around the neck. The whole process would have taken less than a minute.”

“But.... why....?” his brother began.

“Because as I suspected and Constable Penry-Jones confirmed, he does his rounds in much the same order every day. Mrs. Ricoletti had been monitoring him and knew that he would be along the street some time between half-past two and a quarter to three. She had someone at the door watching out for him; her lover Mr. Gianluca diMoro. It pains me that he will be able to claim diplomatic immunity for his part in this affair, although I am sure that the Italian government will have the decency to remove him from England when 'asked'.”

“Mrs. Ricoletti has already taken advantage of her lookout to ensure that a neighbour is in their garden when she appears to return to her own house”, he went on. “Once she is there, she swiftly rejoins her lover through the connecting door. On seeing the constable turning into the street Mr. diMoro returns to the house and forcibly stabs Miss Hanover in the neck; as the doctor rightly said there was a short time between the strangulation and the stabbing. Once the constable is close enough Mrs. Ricoletti screams then they immediately leave through the connecting door.”

“That reminds me, “I said, “how did you know that Mr. Ricoletti worked as a stonemason if it was not in the newspaper?”

He smiled.

“There was Portland stone dust in the lip of the vase in the Ricoletti house”, he explained. “Although the floor had been polished there were still faint marks from where the dresser had been moved back and then forward again. Obviously Mrs. Ricoletti could not move such a heavy item herself so she had to have had an accomplice.”

“The 'Meissen' vase!” I chuckled.

“Exactly”, he said. “To continue, the constable comes in and finds the blood-spattered knife which Mrs. Ricoletti took from her husband's coat the night before. His guilt is seemingly certain and he will face the punishment that she believes he deserves.”

“But she will not get her divorce”, I objected.

“Mrs. Ricoletti is a patriotic Italian”, Holmes said, “a patriotism which has likely been aroused even further by her liaison with Mr. diMoro. I do not doubt that the latter, possibly because of Mr. Ricoletti's objections to his suit, informed Mrs. Ricoletti of Miss Hanover's true status and the desirability of getting rid of her. He may even have promised to wait for her divorce to be finalized. Which of the two was more instrumental in the plot I cannot say, but I favour the woman. This was in every sense a crime of passion.”

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Holmes was right, as always. Her Majesty's Government presented the evidence to the Italians and requested (off the record) that Mr. diMoro be withdrawn with immediate effect. There was an implied threat of him being declared persona non grata if he was not, but fortunately Rome saw sense and he was out of the country within a week. Mrs. Ricoletti was charged with murder but as she had dual citizenship the British government accepted that she be allowed to serve a life sentence in an Italian jail where she remained until her death in 1924. Her husband also returned to Italy; his religious elders decided that in this particular case some flexibility might be shown and he was granted a divorce soon after which he remarried. Frankly I would have thought that the institution might have lost its appeal for him, but there you are.

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Postscriptum: Three years after the events of this story the French seizure of Tunisia, which Italy had had its eye on as a potential colony, led Rome to indeed sign up to a Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. However many suspected that this was a temporary arrangement especially given Austrian opposition to Italian unification, and so it eventually proved when in 1915 Italy entered the Great War against the Central Powers.

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Notes:
† Founded as Clark's Drapery in 1778, it became Clark & Debenham when Mr. William Debenham became a partner in 1813. By 1837 the addition of two more partners had made it Debenham, Pooley & Smith, and in 1851 it became Debenham & Freebody. It had become Debenham & Hewitt only recently (1876) and by 1905 it was just Debenhams Limited. As of 2019 it is in administration, having been forced to close large numbers of its stores.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

This was one of those curious cases when I arguably failed to provide what my client wished, and yet succeeded in securing justice. Small though the matter was, it showed me that no-one should ever be underestimated.

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I may have remarked to Watson on the odd occasion – certainly not ad nauseam as he claimed – that a brain was like a room, and filling it with clutter made for less efficient working. For some strange and inexplicable reason on the very rare occasions that I did say it, he would look across at my arguably less than tidy side of our main room, look back at me, then nod with an absolute lack of sincerity. In my family, I knew an absolute lack of sincerity when someone was showing it!

I was also observant, and one of the things that I had noticed about my friend was that as well as his only very occasional glancing at the social pages in the newspapers if they happened to be open at that page and he just happened to have been passing just then – I too could do the absolute lack of sincerity thing! - he had a passion for history. One of his most prized possessions was a set of ten encyclopedias covering our Nation's proud history which I had given him for his last birthday, telling him that I had picked up cheap through a friend (I had actually paid well over the odds for them but he did not need to know that). Then there was his frankly inexplicable interest in going round cathedrals and churches. So when a case came up that had a historical connection, I knew that he would be very interested, even if it likely meant a long train journey.

One of the downsides of being a consulting detective is, like Watson, I do not get to choose my clients. I could of course decline to take a case but at this early stage in my career I did not wish to be making enemies, especially among people who could severely damage my prospects if they felt so inclined. I was bearing that in mind when the fifty-year-old Lord Howard of Letwynd strode into our rooms and very pointedly placed his handkerchief on the sofa before seating himself. Some people started with a rock-bottom score yet still proceeded to lose points.

I should mention at this point in the proceedings that, despite the name, this Lord Howard had no connection to the famous Norfolk dukes, as he was but a minor baron in a part of western Staffordshire. However among his landholdings (all four of which were listed on his calling-card in capital letters) was one particular possession which I knew would interest Watson greatly, so I refrained from ejecting him. For now.

The nobleman looked around our room disdainfully.

“I want you to find something”, he said shortly.

I reminded myself that even the British aristocracy† was bound to have the odd bad apple. I only had to look at Gregson's family to see that.

“What 'something', sir?” I inquired.

“A book of poetry”, he said. “Sort of.”

It was going to be one of what Watson rightly called Those Interviews (capitals required). I sighed to myself.

“I shall need rather more than that, sir”, I said firmly. “Is it just one book or has it actually been published in large numbers? If the latter.....”

“Just the one, thank God!” he interrupted, frowning at Watson now. “Must he be here?”

I wondered idly if the window that Mrs. MacAndrew had had replaced last month would open wide enough to get a body through. That hypothesis felt like it increasingly needed testing......

We were interrupted by a knock at the door, and a manservant appeared holding a newspaper. He was about thirty years old, flaxen-haired and well-kempt, and presumably linked to our unpleasant guest as the latter nodded at his entrance.

“About bloody time, Jones!” Lord Howard grumbled. “You tell them. I will wait in the carriage. Do not be long about it, either!”

He grabbed the newspaper from the fellow and stormed off, apparently not noticing the somewhat questionable gesture that the medical personage holding the door open for him made as he left. His manservant sighed and looked inquiringly at me.

“Pray take a seat, Mr. Jones”, I smiled. “I hope that you can be more communicative than your master, although that is a low bar.”

The young fellow sighed and sat down, looking surprised when Watson handed him a drink. He probably needed several with an employer like that; I know that I did and that was from just meeting him.

“I can only apologize for my master, sirs”, he said with a sigh. “He is very angry over the whole affair and blames everybody to hand.....”

“You are welcome here”, I cut in, “but please start at the beginning. Kindly take your time; I would rather have all the facts given the nature of your employer. If he makes a fuss when you do rejoin him, you can merely say that I asked you a lot of questions.”

He smiled at that and began.

“My name is Mr. Thomas Jones”, he began, “and you have seen my master so you know full well what sort of person he is. He was married three times and each wife left him. Incredibly each actually won a settlement from him in the courts.”

That was truly damning, I knew, for the courts were still strongly biased in favour of the husband in such cases. For a man to lose three times in a row.... but then we had met him. It was not surprising at all, really.

“From his marriages my master had four surviving sons who, I am pleased to say, are nothing like him”, Mr. Jones said. “The eldest, Adam, is a most pleasant young gentleman and I know my master would like to disinherit him but the terms of the estate mean that he cannot. He has however settled the remainder of the estate equally between the three other sons – all also good men – and his one surviving daughter Theresa.”

I looked at him sharply. There was something very obviously not there.

“I am to take it that this 'Theresa' is not as good as her brothers?” I asked.

Mr. Jones looked around the room almost fearfully.

“My mother would clip my ear if I called her what she deserves to be called, sirs”, he said (I could empathize with the Magically Appearing Mother; mine had that trick down to perfection as my outspoken elder brothers could have painfully attested to!). “Lady Theresa really is the most terrible creature, although she has the looks or so people say. I cannot see it myself.”

He took a deep breath.

“Did my master mention poetry at all?” he asked.

“He did”, I said. “I am all agog to hear how that fits into the wider scheme of things.”

He took another breath.

“It was lucky that my brother Adrian works for our neighbour Lord Foxfield, sirs”, he said. “You see, Lord Foxfield's youngest Jamie, he took a fancy to Lady Theresa for some reason and she strung him along good and proper. We both knew how it would end; I can only thank the Good Lord that Adey had his wits about him when it did. When she finally slapped him down and in public he was a broken man, and Adey had replaced the bullets in his revolver with blanks. His father was shocked when it all came out and had him sent to America, Adey going with him the lucky dog. It could all have ended so much worse for all she cared.”

“And the poetry?” Watson asked.

“Jamie was always writing her verses”, Mr. Jones said with a smile. “After the.... incident he was in a sanatorium for a month or so, recovering. It was only when he was leaving that Adey told me; the fellow had written a set of verses about what she was really like. He had sent it to a publisher to have it all put together nice; I don't rightly know what for.”

I frowned as I puzzled this through. There were at least two obvious problems here. Better to deal with the immediate one first.

“You should tell your master that I shall be taking his case”, I said. “However you should also tell him that I have an important matter on hand, and as it involves a distant relation of our dear Queen it is of a great urgency. But I should be able to come up to Staffordshire next week, hopefully.”

“I doubt that he will like playing second fiddle to even Her Majesty!” Mr. Jones sighed.

“May I ask if you have any other family besides your brother?” I asked. He shook his head.

“It's just me now”, he said. “Our family has some sort of blood disease where there's a strong chance of it passing to the next generation. Adey and I both decided not to take the risk; it's a hard enough life for children as it is these days.”

“I see”, I smiled. “Well, I hope to see you next week, Mr. Jones. As well as your, ahem, 'interesting' employer.”

He smiled at me, bowed and left.

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“I did not know that you had a case involving royalty”, Watson said as soon as the door was closed behind out visitor.

I noted how down he looked at seemingly having missed out on a case of mine. I would never willingly undertake a case without him if I could avoid it, although I did not like to think too closely as to just how that situation had come about.

“I have not”, I said to his evident surprise.

“But you said....”

“I think that there is a lot more to this case than meets the eye”, I said. “I wish to have a few days to put some measures in place, as I very much doubt that Lord Howard will be pleased with the result of my investigations.”

“You do not think you will be able to find this poetry book?” he asked.

“Yes and no.”

His pout was just glorious!

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I knew from my research that Lord Howard and his unpleasant daughter would be away that weekend visiting some unfortunate relative in Yorkshire, so I arranged for three local actors to dress up as policemen and visit his house 'to ask questions'. Their job was to question every single staff member about any scandal associated with the family, and to find out who knew what about whom. When Lord Howard returned he would of course march round to the local police-station to complain, after which he would realize that the 'policemen' had been impostors and he would rush down to London in a complete panic. So I borrowed Watson from his surgery for a week and we decamped to Staffordshire where we toured around the many sites.

As I had known he would, Watson headed straight for the ruins of Chartley Castle. It looked to me like a grassy mound with a few stones on it, but wisely I kept that thought to myself.

“If I did not know you better I would have thought you only took this case because you know how much I love the story of Mary Queen of Scots”, he said. “Tragic and yet so inevitable.”

He missed my slight smile.

“From what you say of her, she seems to have brought many of her troubles on herself”, I said. “Blowing up her second husband, marrying his murderer, and then fleeting to the lady who she had been calling a bastard for over a decade – she seems to have shared the same poor judgement as her gaol's current owner.”

“The owner at the time was Sir Amyas Paulet”, he said. “The sort of Puritan who would have enjoyed fining people for smiling too much. Lord Howard is not a descendant of his, at least as far as I know.”

He stopped, suddenly looking worried.

“What is it?” I asked, surprised.

“I just thought”, he said. “What if your mother hears of this?”

I could share his horror now. As I had said before, Mother did indeed have 'fads' when her normally terrible stories centred around a theme for a while, and often contrived to become even worse. Proof that miracles did happen, I suppose.

“But you could send her the idea while we are away somewhere?” he suggested with a smile.

He really was becoming a bad influence on me.... but on the other hand, it was an idea!

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As I had hoped, Lord Howard had indeed charged down to London when he had feared that journalists were digging into his family's background. In fact there were journalists whom I had hired, and they had spent the days since the actors' visit to his house reading through Mr. James Foxfield's poetry and working out the various references therein. Soon I had a whole list of what the fellow had meant and..... all I can say is ugh! It nearly put me off my bacon!

Well, nearly.

The following Wednesday I arranged for a copy of the poetry book to be forwarded to Lord Howard; I knew that he was in no way intelligent enough to work out the references in it. But then most readers would soon not have to. I also put in place certain other arrangements and on Friday I was able to call in at Stowe Grange to meet my client.

Lord Howard greeted us with his daughter present, and it was really bad of someone in my party to whisper that even he could have solved the mystery of who had eaten all the pies. Especially as he would have been quite right.

“Well?” the nobleman demanded imperiously. “You had better have some good news for me, Mr. Holmes. First those fake policemen digging around the place, then I found out this morning that that traitor Jones has gone to join his brother in America without so much as a thank-you.”

What would he have had to thank you for? I thought dryly.

“Have you read the book that I sent you?” I asked instead.

“Did”, he said shortly. “Lot of blather. Seemed harmless enough.”

“The letter with it?” I pressed.

“Young whipper-snapper sending copes to all the important families in the area”, he sniffed. “Stupid thing to do, but then the boy always was a fool.”

Watson, bastard that he was at times, looked quite pointedly at Lady Theresa at that point, clearly referencing the departed Mr. Foxfield's choice in females as a case in point. He was so bad!

“I am afraid that young Mr. Foxfield was rather cleverer than any of us gave him credit for”, I said, shooting 'someone' a warning look. “In all the books sent to the families in the area there was a short note stating that a second and more important book was to follow.”

He suddenly went very white.

“A second book?” he said querulously. I nodded.

“What one might call a translator”, I explained. “It showed who the subject in each poem really was – and I am afraid that in every case it was either you or your daughter....”

”What?”

“There are thirty poems in all”, I said, “and each makes a specific allegation. Of course no-one would believe the ones about the fish-net stockings or the two maids, or the whips, and definitely not the one about the kippers......”

He stared at me, dumbfounded. Beside him his daughter also had her mouth open. I am sure it was Watson's influence that made me want to toss a penny into each, but I somehow refrained. Although my hand inched towards my pocket....

I was going to have to start leaving him behind at this rate!

“Indeed”, I said. “Mr. Foxfield's preparations were very thorough. The tragedy is that I came too late to stop him, but even I can only do so much. I did have some questions for your Mr. Jones about his role in things and sent to tell him that, which I suspect was why he fled the country.”

After all, it could assuredly not have been because Lord Foxfield and I had combined to pay for his passage, and I had taken the precaution of having Luke provide him with a false identity just in case the blackguard before me tried anything to fetch him back. I mean, kippers.....

My mother must never get to hear of that!

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Postscriptum: Lord Howard and his unpleasant daughter were unable to face Staffordshire society again, and decamped to his estate in the Far North of Scotland where, sadly, they did not get gored by any stags. I later received a telegram of thanks from Mr. Jones in the United States; he had met up with his brother and the two of them were happy working for Mr. James Foxfield. But for a long time afterwards I was unable to face kippers!

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Notes:
† As a general rule the dividing line between the aristocracy and the gentry was that the former had titles that could be inherited, so Lord Howard's eldest son would gain the title some day, while gentry, the likes of Holmes's family, were less rich and even if they did have a title like Holmes's father, it would only be a baronetcy that could not be inherited.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

It was September, a glorious late summer's day in 'Seventy-Eight. Thanks to lots of extra hours put in at the surgery and some better than expected marks on the essays I hated doing, I had now officially become a doctor a full year ahead of what I had hoped. And I had the afternoon off, which was fortunate as I could join the crowds on the banks of the mighty River Thames. After much effort both physical and diplomatic a giant ancient obelisk from Egypt was this day finally being unveiled to public view. In typical London fashion it had been nicknamed 'Cleopatra's Needle' even though it dated from many centuries before that famous queen. I despaired of my fellow citizens at times but then again it had taken nearly six decades to get the thing here so I supposed that I would have to grant them some leeway.

Some ancient Egyptian queen's 'Needle' might be safe in its home but, as I was to find out a few short hours later, I might very soon not be.

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“We have a problem”, Holmes announced gravely over dinner that evening.

“Another case?” I asked hopefully. In the past two months Holmes had been involved in a number of minor cases but none of them had been very interesting. And one particularly aggressive female had all but propositioned him while pressing him – physically as well as literally – to take her case. Some 'ladies' these days had no morals at all!

“More serious than that”, he said. “We may be about to become homeless.”

“What?” I exclaimed in horror.

“Mrs. MacAndrew suffered a fall coming up the stairs this morning shortly after you left”, he explained. “Naturally I took her straight to the hospital but the doctor says that she needs complete rest and relaxation and she has decided to go and live with her sister in Scotland to achieve this. Hence she is selling this house which means we shall likely need to find somewhere else to live. The new owner may wish to keep us on but we cannot be sure of that.”

My heart sank. I had come to value my odd little friend, but in my heart of hearts I had known that someone as rich and well-connected as he would surely soon be looking to find a nice girl and settle down somewhere to raise a family. I felt a curious pain in my stomach.....

“I looked in the newspaper when I came back”, he went on, looking curiously at me for some reason, “and a Mrs. Hall who has a house in in Cramer Street is offering rooms to let at a reasonable rate. It is still fairly close to your surgery, though not quite as much as here.”

That was surprisingly considerate I thought. And he wanted us to remain together. My heartbeat began to return to normal.

“I do not know the road”, I said.

“It is a quiet thoroughfare just west of and parallel to Marylebone High Street”, he said. “Slightly further from your surgery I think but not much; still within a mile. I went round today to take a look at the place; the rooms are similar to the ones we have here, maybe a little larger, and the area is pleasant enough. The only problem is that Mrs. Hall is planning to emigrate to the United States five years from now – it is all arranged - so she will definitely be selling the house at that time. But the rooms are good and bearing in mind the urgency of our situation, it would do for now.”

He looked at me earnestly and I was quietly touched that this amazingly clever man actually valued me as a friend. Though having (as Stevie had more than once said) the emotional capacity of a teaspoon I could not think of a way of expressing my gratitude. Thus I simply nodded.

“I know that you are free this Saturday”, he said, “so I told Mrs. Hall that we would be round to view the rooms then and let her know our decision straight away. I hope that is acceptable?”

“That sounds very good”, I said.

He nodded and resumed his dinner. I supposed that at least I would not miss the maid service here. All the dust they left in our room made my eyes water at times.

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Mrs. Evadne Hall was on first sight somewhat frightening. Upon further consideration, I retract the 'somewhat'. She was a large lady and her excessive use of lilac water – it was like walking into a wall of scent - made my eyes run when I entered the house (it was I knew even worse for Holmes as he was mildly allergic to the stuff). Happily as things turned out she owned two houses and lived in the other one, this property being run by her sister Miss Letitia Hellingly. The latter lady was shorter, a lot more refined and, mercifully, at least ninety-eight per cent less pungent! Mrs. Hall was also eyeing up Holmes in a way that was I thought quite unbecoming; she may have been a widow but she was at least ten years older than him as well as twice his size! Fortunately the rooms and terms both proved adequate and on the (unspoken) understanding that we would see - and smell! - precious little of her, I agreed to the move.

Although I was supposed to have had the day off that day it was just my luck that the surgery was called by a patient at the other end of Cramer Street, and since they knew that I would be there they dispatched me a telegram asking me to call on her when I was done. Holmes headed back to Montague Street while I went to Number 13A. Unlucky for some, I thought as I knocked at the door.

I was with Miss Joan Swindon for under a minute before I concluded that the only thing that she was suffering from was an advanced case of hypochondria. Worse she was also quite clearly desperate for a man – any man - and I had had the bad luck to be here. Many patients exhibited at least some unease if I suggested a physical examination; she looked put out when I said one was not needed (even if it had been, I would have lied!). I did check her heartbeat but she edged herself far too close to me in the process and her perfume was almost as bad as Mrs. Hall's lilac barrage!

Of course Holmes knew; I suppose it was the perfume that wafted off me as I re-entered our rooms (the cab-driver had given me a rather odd look and I can only imagine what he thought I had been up to). I set a bath running and went to get changed but he intercepted me.

“Who was she?” he asked curiously.

“One of my patients who wanted her physical examination to be a little too physical”, I said testily. I was looking forward to my long hot soak and getting the scent of whatever it was – violets, I think – off of me.

He continued to look oddly at me, then his expression softened.

“Would you like some of my bath salts?” he asked.

That was.... surprisingly considerate. Not that Holmes could not be generous (indeed I would soon find out just how much I had underestimated him in that field) but he rarely seemed to exhibit affection towards anyone. Indeed it was that coolness even with myself that had led me to fear the worst over the coming change of address. And his bath salts would hopefully be pungent enough to remove the stench of that desperate housewife from me. I smiled at him.

“Thank you”, I said as I went into the bathroom.

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We were to make the shift to Cramer Street in three weeks' time – Mrs. MacAndrew's cousin from three doors down, her fellow Scotswoman Mrs. Ferguson, was running the house for her during this time in between simpering at someone who was not me! - and the main room would need a major tidying before we could even start packing. Holmes's side of it reminded me of the first sight of his rooms with Stamford back in Oxford, four years back. I smiled at the memory.

“What about your papers?” I ventured. He shrugged his shoulders.

“I have never got round to organizing them”, he said plaintively. “I suppose that I should have.”

“It might help in future cases?” I suggested.

He looked pointedly across at my own desk which was markedly neat and tidy, and smiled. I have no idea why I said what I did next but it was neither the first nor the last time that my mouth would leave the station while my brain was still waiting in line to buy a ticket. Or possibly not even up the station steps.

“I could order it for you?” I offered. “Unless of course there are things....”

“Watson?” he said softly.

“Yes?”

“Of course I trust you.”

I blushed fiercely. If I were honest I would have admitted that the prospect of seeing the many small cases I knew he undertook on his own was intriguing, but I also enjoyed cataloguing things in general and felt that I could make some semblance of order out of the disaster area on the other side of the room.

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By that evening I was wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. On my instructions Holmes had gone out and purchases a number of large notebooks and folders in which I intended to categorize the people involved in the cases and had then left when a message had arrived from his friend LeStrade. I wondered if it was another case.

My questions were answered when Holmes returned that evening with fish and chips plus a large bag of chocolate drops from the sweet-shop. The man was a saint!

“LeStrade wished to consult me over the disappearance of Mrs. Farintosh's opal tiara”, he explained once we had finished eating.

I sighed feeling wonderfully full, my only regret being that I had been unable to save any of the chocolate drops for later. They went off so quickly.

“She is the sister of the Duchess of Montfort”, I said. “Her husband is something in the government, I know no what.”

“I see that you are still not reading the 'Times' social pages in the morning!” he teased.

I scowled. A gentleman was entitled to a range of interests, damnation!

“How did she lose her tiara?” I asked.

“It is all very strange”, he said. “She travelled down with her husband from Argyllshire two days ago. She took the afternoon train from Lachlan Hall Halt, a private station serving her house there, through to Glasgow and thence the night sleeper to London. She definitely had the tiara on boarding the train at Glasgow as she wore it to the dining coach.”

“As ones does!” I muttered. He smiled at my observation.

“Her compartment was locked while she was in the dining-car”, he said. “She returned to her coach, watched as her maid put the tiara away then turned in for the night. The following morning the maid woke her an hour prior to their arrival at Euston and Mrs. Farintosh checked again on her tiara, only to find it gone.”

“Did the train stop anywhere?” I asked.

“Not after when the tiara was last seen”, he said. “It was a Caledonian Railway train and the London & North Western Railway, over whose metals much of the journey was accomplished, has latterly fitted water-troughs so engines can travel non-stop. The train did slow to forty miles per hour when using them and also to about twenty miles per hour for a stretch around Watford due to a distant signal at danger, but it did not stop.”

“So how could the tiara have been stolen?” I asked. “I assume that everyone was searched at Euston?”

“Mr. Farintosh demanded it”, he said. “Mr. Charles Buttermere, one of the railway's longest-serving employees, had visited her in her coach after dinner and had checked if it was acceptable to lock everything up or if she needed to send to the dining coach for anything. She acceded and then went to bed. The tiara was definitely in her possession at that time. Equally definitely it was not there eight hours later.”

“Mr. Buttermere could have done it”, I ventured. He shook his head.

“He locked the carriage when Mrs. Farintosh left”, he said, “then went to attend to the first-class passengers in the public carriage the other side of the dining-car. He did not return until he was sent for after the theft had been discovered.”

“So that leaves only the people in her coach, then”, I said. He nodded.

“The coach only has one large compartment for passengers and two smaller ones for servants”, he said. “There is no way that anyone could have accessed it during the journey and yet indubitably the tiara was stolen. Hence a ring is drawn around Mrs. Cecily Farintosh, her husband Andrew, her maid Miss Alice Bailey and her husband's valet Mr. Brian Lingard.”

“The husband?” I asked tentatively.

“Mr. Andrew Farintosh is fifty-one and as you said an under-secretary in the War Office”, he said. “Unfortunately he has a strong predilection for gambling. His family has already had to step in to clear his debts on at least one occasion.”

“Motive”, I said. “And opportunity.”

“On the other hand it was he who was insistent about the police searching all of them at Euston.”

I had a thought.

“What about Mrs. Farintosh herself?” I asked. “Was the tiara insured?”

He gave me that look of his as if I were a dog that had just performed a particularly difficult trick. I would have been insulted but I rather valued those looks of praise if only because they were so rare.

“A good point”, he said, “which is one reason that LeStrade is involved. Mr. Andrew Farintosh took out an insurance policy on it only last month - to the value of five thousand pounds†!”

My eyes widened. That was a lot of... motive.

“The maid?” I asked.

“A girl of good character, so her mistress claims”, he said. “Alice Bailey, twenty-seven; she has been with her for three years. She would seem to have had no motive unless she were working with someone else.”

“The valet?” I asked.

“We are on shakier ground there”, he said. “Mr. Brian Lingard, thirty-six and has spent time in gaol for fraud. His family is connected to the Farintoshes through a marriage some generations back and Mr. Farintosh gave him his current post about twelve months ago. He has performed satisfactorily his master said, although there was a small matter of some gold cuff-links going missing some months back. They were never recovered.”

“It is a big jump from cuff-links to a tiara”, I observed. “The problem seems to be one of opportunity. I mean, it is not as if one of them just threw the thing out of the window.”

Holmes gave me the look again, although this time I had not the slightest idea what I had said to earn it.

“I think that we should send LeStrade a telegram”, he smiled. “Sometimes Watson, you amaze me!”

Chuckling, he left the room. I stared after him in wonder.

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Two days later I was standing along with Holmes and LeStrade in one of the sidings of the London & North Western Railway Company at Euston. Before us was the infamous sleeper carriage. The sergeant showed us inside.

“On Mr. Farintosh's orders we went through the place from top to bottom, sir”, he said. “Even checked for secret compartments and the like.”

I smiled at that. Holmes seemed intent on examining the area around the windows in the three compartments although he did not seem to find anything.

“Did you find out the information that I requested, LeStrade?” he asked after a while. The sergeant nodded and took out a notebook.

“All four of the people in that coach had travelled by train recently”, he said. “Three weeks back Mr. and Mrs. Farintosh stayed at a friend's house in Northampton; Miss Bailey and Mr. Lingard were dispatched to Lachlan Hall and the couple followed them last week.”

“Why did they return to London after only a week in Scotland?” Holmes asked.

“One of her relatives had a birthday up there”, LeStrade said, “then one of his in the smoke.”

“Mr. Farintosh did not keep his valet?” I asked in surprise. Maids were one thing but using another man's valet was.... well, odd.

“It was Mr. Lingard's week off”, LeStrade explained, “and Miss Bailey's grandmother who lives near the Hall was ill so they were both sent on. The Argyllshire Police visited Lachlan Hall for me and said that as a mistress Mrs. Farintosh was seen as hard but fair while none of them thought much of her husband. Miss Bailey was seen as a good worker while Mr. Lingard was thought to be all right but a bit too secretive and, some said, very nervous. The Farintoches returned to Scotland on the fifth.”

“Together?” Holmes asked. LeStrade looked puzzled.

“I do not see what....”

“Were they together?” Holmes pressed.

“No”, he said. “Mrs. Farintosh went to see a friend in West Suffolk – Newmarket - while Mr. Farintosh visited an acquaintance of his in Blackpool. The each spent just one night before continuing their journeys.”

Holmes smiled knowingly.

“Blackpool is accessed by a branch-line from the town of Preston, I believe?”

LeStrade stared at him in confusion

“Yes”, he said at last. “Val and I go there on our holidays most years.”

Holmes thought for a moment.

“I need to see outside the coach”, he said.

“Outside?” I asked, puzzled.

“Yes”, he insisted. “Come!”

He led the way and we were soon outside the compartment. There was a raised plank walkway presumably for people to clean the coach windows and Holmes sprang easily up onto it. He stared around the two window frames then smiled.

“The case is nearly complete”, he said to the amazement of us both. “LeStrade, did you bring in Mr. Lingard as I asked?”

“I did, sir. Is he....?”

“We have a call to make before we speak to him”, Holmes said. “Let us not keep him waiting!”

He led the way out of the siding. LeStrade looked at me with an expression of frustration, one which I all too readily shared.

And why we stopped at a hardware shop on the way and Holmes purchased a single bamboo cane, I could not even begin to imagine.

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“Mr. Lingard!”

Holmes smacked the cane down on the desk in front of the valet. I had thought the servant had looked pale enough, but for some reason the sight of that slender piece of wood made him turn a whole new shade of white.

“Sir, please! I beg of you!”

Holmes took out a notebook and pencil, and slid them across to him.

“All is known”, he said firmly. “Your only hope of avoiding a return to gaol is to write the address – you know the one to which I refer – in that book within the next sixty seconds.”

“I cannot....”

Holmes's face softened.

“If you do”, he said much more quietly, “I give you my word as a gentleman that I will do what I can for you. But only if you help me now.”

I could see the exact moment when the wretched man broke. His hands shaking, he somehow managed to write something in the book provided. Holmes took it and ushered us all out of the room.

“LeStrade, get a warrant then take as many men as you can to this address and search it from top to bottom”, he said. “With luck you will not have to look too hard. My belief is that the person there will not be expecting to have their house searched and will not have hidden the object that recently came into their possession.”

“What is that, sir?” the sergeant asked. Holmes chuckled.

“Mrs. Farintosh's opal tiara!”

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It was a couple of hours later and the police station had a visitor. I have to say that I rather liked Mrs. Cecily Farintosh. Though I did see her at her happiest when she entered the interview room and the first thing that she saw was her opal tiara lying on the table.

“You have found it!” she boomed. “That is wonderful!”

“Thanks to this gentleman”, LeStrade said gruffly. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”

“Then you shall most definitely have the reward that I was going to offer!” she declared. “I am so happy!”

Holmes escorted her to a chair and I belatedly sensed that he did not share our visitor's joy. Something was wrong.

“There is, my lady, the not unimportant matter of how the tiara was taken”, he said carefully. “And by whom.”

The lady's face darkened.

“I am certain that it was not my dear Alice!” she declared stoutly.

“Your maid is quite innocent”, Holmes reassured her.

She smiled.

“Unlike your husband”, he added.

That got rid of the smile.

“Impossible!” she declared. “Why, the policemen at Euston searched all of us most thoroughly, Andrew included.” She suddenly paled. “You do not think that I.....”

“Madam, I am sure of your innocence”, Holmes said firmly. “Unhappily I am equally sure of your husband's guilt.”

“I do not see how he could have done it”, I pointed out.

Holmes took the chair opposite the lady.

“This was a most ingenious crime”, he said, “and had it not been for the good doctor here I might not have realized just how it had been accomplished.”

“Me?” I exclaimed. He nodded.

“When we were discussing the case”, he said, “your exact words were, 'it is not as if one of them just threw the thing out of the window'.”

“From a moving train?” LeStrade said incredulously. “What, he had someone waiting by the tracks?”

Holmes shook his head.

“In the pitch dark and on a train which, if it were just a few minutes off schedule, could be miles north or south of a fixed point?” he said. “No, he was cleverer than that. Do you remember his visit to Blackpool shortly prior to the theft?”

We all nodded though I could not for the life of me see how that Lancashire resort would have had anything to do with this.

“One of the wonders of our age”, Holmes said, “is the travelling post-office. Using a system of hooks and nets, mail-bags can be brought onto the train and taken off without stopping.”

I finally began to see.

“Your husband familiarized himself with the system”, Holmes explained to a stunned Mrs. Farintosh, “and how the night sleeper always exchanged bags at Preston Station, the junction for Blackpool and several other Lancashire towns. He used his valet's criminal past to coerce him into obtaining the tiara, placed it in a parcel that he had prepared earlier and at the appropriate time hung it out of the window on a bamboo cane hook. When the station staff at Preston came to collect the bags they would not think it odd that one parcel had somehow slipped out.”

I suddenly remembered.

“The marks on the coach!” I exclaimed.

“Yes”, Holmes said. “I had hoped that there might be a small splinter of wood inside the coach but your husband had cleaned the area well. However the slash of the breaking bamboo cane left a scratch mark on the outside of the coach, exactly where I knew to look for it.”

“So my own husband stole from me!” Mrs. Farintosh said heavily.

“I am sorry”, Holmes said sincerely. “He posted it to an old servant of his who fortunately for us lived in London. I obtained the address from Mr. Lingard earlier today which is how you now have your tiara back. May I be so bold as to ask a favour?”

“Of course!” she said. “Anything!”

“Please can you provide a reference for Mr. Lingard?” Holmes asked, sounding almost humble. “I know that he played his part in this but he was coerced, and I would not like for this to ruin the rest of his life.”

She smiled at him.

“I am so grateful for all you did”, she said. “Yes. I shall provide you such a reference. I shall be staying at my sister's London house in Grosvenor Square if I am needed again, sergeant.”

“I am afraid we shall have to keep the tiara for now, at least until Mr. Farintosh confesses”, LeStrade said. “But I promise you that we shall return it as soon as possible.”

“I know that it is safe”, she smiled. “That is enough for me.”

We all bowed as she stood up and sailed majestically from the room (although not, I noticed sourly, before sending a simper at one of us who was neither a policeman nor a doctor!). LeStrade scratched his head.

“Why a bamboo cane?” he asked. “He must have known that it would break.”

“He was counting on it”, Holmes said. “There was the danger that in breaking, the rod used might smash against the window of the coach. If the wood had been too strong, sergeant, it might well have broken that window impacting as it did at a speed of several dozen miles per hour. Even if Mrs. Farintosh had heard something against the window she would likely have assumed that it was just a stone that had been thrown up.”

“I see”, he said. “Ah well, suppose I'd better get round to Mr. Farintosh. Don't want to keep a gentleman waiting!”

He left and we followed him.

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Postscriptum: Mrs. Farintosh immediately sued for divorce from her husband, which was quickly granted. Mr. Andrew Farintosh served a decade of hard labour for his crime and upon his release had the decency to take himself off to southern Africa from where he was never heard of again. It will also doubtless not surprise the reader that Holmes was as good as his word, and two months later Mr. Brian Lingard had a new post as footman in one of London's top clubs where he did very well for himself.

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Notes:
† At least £475,000 ($600,000) at 2020 prices, probably more given that the value of jewellery has outstripped inflation.

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Chapter Text

[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]

I suppose that he had a much broader and longer experience of human nature that I, but it still annoyed me when my big stepbrother Campbell remarked that I kept too many secrets and that that would be the undoing of me one day. Yes, Watson had taken the revelations about his business far better than I had expected, but there were still several other areas of my past that were unknown to him and, because I had grown up in a household with five elder brothers only one of whom (Carl) understood about that thing called privacy, I had become inclined to tell nothing to anyone.

It was foolish in some ways, at least. I was sure that Watson would not have any objection to my philanthropic efforts even though he worked at one of the institutions that benefited from my efforts. But there were other and darker things like the events in that summer before I had met Watson. Then there was that deer-stalker which somehow both saddened and lifted me whenever I put it (or rather it's modern copy) on. The look that I got from my friend for wearing such a strange item around the city was always one of restrained curiosity, and he proved himself a true friend by never asking about it. Thank the Lord that he was not the sort of nosy friend who might have discovered the original which I kept safely in my desk drawer.

I hated it that Campbell was right about my secretiveness, and even Carl and Luke had admitted that they thought much the same when I had pressed them about it. I could not however so easily change my nature even with Watson's generous forbearance towards some of my marginally less social traits. One part of me felt that he was at the end of the day just someone who I shared rooms with – I perhaps told myself that a little too often, which should have alerted me to what was going on - but when Mrs. MacAndrew had had her fall and I had faced the prospect of losing my friend, I had felt horrified! I was never more relieved when I could see that he too wished to continue our living together, and I hoped that when our time in Cramer Street came to an end five years from now we would move on to somewhere else.

We did. Unfortunately it was not to be that easy, as by then there would be even more secrets that I was withholding from my friend – and as they so rightly say, secrets will out. When they did, it would cause a most painful breach in our relationship and I would think that I could not possibly have felt any lower.

I would ultimately be proven wrong in that too. Very wrong indeed!

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