Eleanor was shy. She bit her lip, leaning towards me and crushing her black sleeves against the table. “Mr. Stevens does not know Mr. Holmes,” she said. “He was only given his name by a colleague. Mr. Holmes may well turn me down. It could look like I am—I mean, without the will, there is nothing to say I have more of a right than—in fact I hate to think of it like that at all—”
“I know, my dear,” I said. “But there was a will. And I know, and Mr. Stevens knows—that’s why he spoke to you at all—that you are not mercenary. You loved your great-uncle, and he loved you, and his secretary believes someone ought to investigate the legal complications surrounding his estate. That’s all. My dear Eleanor, no one will think you do not mourn him.”
“I know,” she said, bowing her head. Her blonde fringe fell in front of her eyes. “And I know—Anna, darling, I know what it could mean for us.” Her small pale hand clasped my darker one. “I just—need to work myself up to it.” She sighed, and rubbed her temple. “And Aunt Louisa won’t want me seeing strange men alone at all, professionally or not. I shall find a way, Anna, darling. It’s just very wearying.”
“I know.” I squeezed her hand. “Drink your tea before it gets cold.”
She smiled at me and did. We were in a tea shop, very respectable but not so close to the West End that she might be recognized by someone from Society. She tried to stay away from it, and this Season she would have her mourning as an excuse, but her aunt did her best to keep her known.
I didn’t worry that her aunt would prevent her from consulting Mr. Holmes. Eleanor’s aunt’s methods were discouragement and disapproval, not force. She was doubtless the reason for Eleanor’s hesitance and worry now, but she could not prevent Eleanor from taking actions she had made up her mind to do. By now Eleanor was an expert at avoiding her notice, or else we would not be meeting here at all, or seeing each other more than perhaps once a week. I was a gentleman’s daughter, and could call upon Lady Andrew Gardner and her niece, if I wanted to talk to them both for no more than fifteen minutes in strictly formal surroundings, but I was not the sort of acquaintance she would encourage.
Mostly she wanted to encourage Eleanor’s acquaintance with eligible young noblemen. I shook away the thought.
“I will come with you, if you like,” I said, though I was beginning to form another idea.
“Thank you,” she said. She shook her head. “It must be soon, I suppose. Of course it must—I should have just gone straight there from the train station, but of course Aunt Louisa would not have stood for that. Oh dear. I’ll wire you when I can go, then. Let’s talk of something else.”
“Tell me more about Leicester,” I said. “You said your uncle had a country house?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Five miles out from the city. Not a large one, not as large as they can be, but he had it built himself, so it’s very modern.”
I listened, and tried not to think how perfect it sounded. I had grown up in London, but trips out of it, away from the fogs and smoke and business, into the countryside, had always relaxed me. Eleanor told me about the pastures and the forests and the sheep kept nearby, and the effects of the city on the river, and, with a laugh, Mr. Stevens’ strong opinions against fox hunting.
When we could stay no longer without raising suspicion from Eleanor’s household, we left, and stood together outside the tea shop for a long moment, holding each other’s hands between us. Then I chastely kissed her cheek, and she kissed mine, and we turned in opposite directions.
In my room at my respectable ladies’ boarding house I adjusted the paper slightly to get the best light and continued typing up Mr. Gilbreth’s scientific article. I worked as fast as I could while staying accurate. I had plans for the next morning.
I wore a very specific outfit for meetings with potential clients, and that was what I put on the next day. It was a grey walking dress, with no suggestion of frills or lace. The line was unfashionable, with no bustle and no need for tight-lacing, and the corset I did wear compressed my sizable bust rather than raising it (and hadn’t that been difficult to make the corsetier understand). I had not heard anything to suggest that Mr. Holmes was the sort of man to take liberties, but by now I knew better than to take chances.
I pinned my black hair back ruthlessly, hiding its tendency to curl, and considered the effect. I did not have to worry too much about my appearance, I supposed. I was engaging his services, rather than the opposite. It was easier, then, to remind myself that my Creole mother was no one to be ashamed of, straighten my back, pin on a plain grey hat, and leave.
It was something of a walk from my boarding house to the nearest Underground station. At Baker Street, however, the station was right next to my destination. I ascended to the surface, and took a moment to breathe in the marginally cleaner air before orienting myself.
I hoped Eleanor would not be upset I had gone alone. I knew she was nervous, sometimes terribly so, around strangers, and I wanted to spare her as much of that as I could. I could explain the background of the matter as well as she could—she might know more of the details, but I had seen her frozen even in casual conversations, mostly with men, and she should not have to force herself past that to get help. I knew that would not happen to me, and I hoped she would not object to my involvement in her affairs.
Once I left the entrance to the station I did not hesitate. The row of houses was well-kept and very clean, every brass number gleaming. I knocked on the door at 221.
The housekeeper was only a little above middle-aged, as neat as the house, and she did not look at all surprised by my appearance. “Is Mr. Sherlock Holmes in?” I asked.
“He is,” she said, with, I thought, perhaps some relief in her voice. “Step inside, please. What name shall I say?”
“Miss Anna Barry,” I said, following her in. The hall was as neat as the outside, with striped wallpaper and white woodwork. I thought I ought to wait for the housekeeper to announce me, but she nodded at once for me to follow her up the stairs.
“Miss Anna Barry, sirs,” she said, gesturing me through the door. I entered and saw a sitting room that showed every sign of being occupied by bachelors, and ones with wide-ranging scientific interests at that. A table in one corner was covered with chemical equipment. Books and papers littered every surface, including parts of the floor, and there was a distinct odour of tobacco.
They rose at my entrance. They were in some ways a study in contrasts, one tall and thin and dark and the other shorter, stouter, and fair. The shorter, moustached one was smiling at the housekeeper behind me with some relief and fellow-feeling. The other gave an impression of aloof angularity, but not necessarily unkindness.
“Ah,” he said. “Good day, Miss Barry. You may be delivering me from a day of tedium, and my friend Dr. Watson from much wasted effort. I am Sherlock Holmes.” He shook hands politely and firmly, and his gaze dropped down my person, but without lingering at all. Dr. Watson, the other, smiled at me directly and pleasantly, but his handshake lasted a second longer—not enough to be impolite, not enough to be uncomfortable, but enough. I took my hand back and wished for plainer looks.
“Take a seat,” said Mr. Holmes. “Were you in Baker Street long enough to clear your lungs? The Underground is always unpleasant. I hope the matter that has interrupted your type-writing is not serious enough to threaten your livelihood?”
“Type-writing?” asked Dr. Watson, as surprised as I was. Mr. Holmes raised an eyebrow at him.
“Yes,” he said, “type-writing. Observe the widened fingertips—will you allow me?” He took my right hand and displayed my fingers like a scientist showing a specimen of a fern. I was not sure I had ever experienced anything like it. It was completely impersonal, but not without respect. He let go quickly, stepping back, and did not look at me with significance, or indeed at all.
“Furthermore, her suit speaks of a woman with regular professional contacts with clients, but she does not work in an office or she would not have been able to come on a weekday morning. Now, then, madam, what do you need my help with?”
I took a deep breath. “I am not here truly for myself, Mr. Holmes, but for a dear friend, Miss Eleanor Morton. She is an orphan, but her mother was the sister of Viscount Clather, and she lives with her aunt, who is now Lady Andrew Gardner. Her father’s side of the family is not nearly as distinguished, but her great-uncle made a fortune by inventing, I think, a new type of valve for steam engines, and he has recently died.
“Miss Morton’s aunt disapproved of her sister’s marriage, but she allowed Miss Morton to travel to her great-uncle’s funeral in Leicester. While she was there, his secretary, Mr. Alexander Stevens, told her he had discovered that Mr. Morton’s will had gone missing. He told her specifically because, he said, Mr. Morton had left Eleanor a sizable amount of his estate. He knew where the will was kept, of course, and he has searched Mr. Morton’s entire office, and cannot find it. He suspects one of Mr. Morton’s relatives, of course, and hopes to get it back. He was extremely angry, Miss Morton said.”
“Hmph,” said Mr. Holmes. “He knows, of course, that any relative with a motive to make away with the will would likely have destroyed it as quickly as possible?”
“Yes,” I said. “However, the person he suspects is Mr. Morton’s great-nephew Alfred. He caught him in Mr. Morton’s study the day after the funeral, and he says Alfred Morton has been making a nuisance of himself and trying to return. So he thinks it may still be somewhere in the house.”
“Ah. And Alfred Morton would inherit if his great-uncle died intestate?”
“I believe so. He is the only surviving male relative, and the child of the eldest son. I think it might be split with Eleanor as well, but the terms of the will would certainly be different. Mr. Morton, I believe, was not on good terms with his family, except for Eleanor. He may have left them nothing.”
“Mr. Stevens would know the content of the will?”
“Yes. And I believe it may be possible for him and the solicitors to reconstruct Mr. Morton’s wishes, but I’ve no idea if that would stand up in court. Besides, he thinks that it would all be simpler if the will could be found, or if there is proof as to what exactly has happened to it.”
“I assume you are here with your friend’s knowledge?” asked Mr. Holmes.
“She decided to consult you, on Mr. Stevens’ advice,” I answered, which was at least technically the truth.
“But you were not at the funeral?”
He nodded. “I believe I shall have to talk to her personally. Indeed, if the will still exists I will likely have to be at Mr. Morton’s home to find it. Ask her if she is available to see me on Thursday, at two.”
“Certainly. I will answer any questions I can now,” I added, but he shook his head.
“You can tell your friend that I will take her case, but I must have firsthand information.”
I sent Eleanor a telegram as soon as I left, asking her to meet me, and then returned home. By the evening she had replied with a time the next day. I lit the lamp and kept typing. If I was to spend even more of my daylight hours away from my work I would need to strain my eyes a little.
My landlady knew Eleanor well enough by now that she let her straight up to my room. I had finished all of Mr. Mathom’s fiction and bound it up to be delivered to him, and so I was working at a more leisurely pace when she knocked. I had been watching the clock, hoping for her, all day.
I drew her into my room, and we were not in public, and not watched, so once the door was closed I could greet her as I had not been able to after her return from Leicester. She relaxed into my arms, and kissed me deeply. I thought she could feel my slight tension, but she did not ask at first, and we held each other, trading kisses, for some minutes.
At last I pulled away, and offered her the chair. “Eleanor,” I said, “I’ve engaged Mr. Holmes on your behalf. I am sorry for not waiting until you could come as well.”
“Oh!” she said. “You went to see him, you mean.”
“Oh.” She looked thoughtful, rather than upset, but she was quiet for a moment. I thought I had better let her think. “To spare me having to do it myself.”
“Yes,” I said. “You can be upset at me. Perhaps you should be.”
“I am not upset at you,” she said. “Indeed I am grateful. I am perhaps a little upset at myself that I could not do it. Thank you for knowing that, though.” She sighed. “You said he agreed to help?”
“He did.” I sat down on the bed and explained it to her. “He still wishes to talk to you, I assume to learn about the characters of the people involved. I am afraid I haven’t spared you the need to talk to him after all.”
“But he has already agreed to take the case. It is not so worrying now. Thank you.”
“And you are not offended that I have been interfering?”
“But you haven’t,” she said. “You are important—Anna, you tell me about your work and your clients and ask me to refer people to you. You have just as much right to be involved in my affairs as I have in yours. We have known each other six years now. I wish—”
I knelt before her to take her hand. “You know what I wish,” she finished.
“I know,” I said, and pulled her head down so I could kiss her. “I know so well.” She pulled me to my feet, and onto the bed.
This was what we had, stolen afternoons, never too frequent. We had had only one full night together, when her aunt had been in the country and the servants had believed she was visiting her father’s relatives, whom her aunt would never speak to. We had spent it pressed against each other in my narrow bed, and had slept hardly at all.
Those were not our first intimacies—we had stolen all the hours we could even before then—but they were what I always remembered. In each other’s arms, so close partly from necessity but mostly from desire, free to touch as much as we wanted, not having to worry about any time but dawn—that night had imprinted itself on my memory and my wishes as the ideal, the supreme goal of my desires for the future. It was such a simple thing, to lie with her every night—every married couple in England had so much more than that ready to hand—and yet it seemed so unreachable.
My family cared for me, but they had been willing to let me step away from them and support myself. I knew that part of the reason, of course, was that my stepmother wanted to focus on my sisters’ chances at marriage, but she would have let me make my own decisions independent of such concerns. I could not know what it would be like were my own mother still alive, but my distance from Rachel Barry, our lack of blood relation, meant that we got along better than we might have otherwise—as did the fact that I had no desire to compete with her own children.
But Eleanor’s family saw their duty to her as requiring her involvement in high society, her good marriage, her being at all times supported by them. Her aunt would not have seen fit to allow her even to become a governess; any other profession was out of the question. In her own right, she was poorer than I, no matter who she was related to, and far more confined.
This afternoon we were both confined by the limit of seven o’clock, when my landlady served supper. Eleanor agreed to see Mr. Holmes the next day at the time he’d asked.
“I could come with you,” I suggested.
“Oh, if you would, that would be lovely,” she said. She peered at herself in my tiny looking-glass. “Do I look all right?”
“You’re beautiful,” I said, “and also there’s no sign of—anything.”
“Oh, Anna, darling,” she said, and kissed me.
She came downstairs with me, and we kissed good bye at the street door much more formally than we had upstairs. I turned back inside, to the dining room, where five of the other lodgers were milling about and talking about their friends or their offices.
I met Eleanor the next afternoon at the corner of Baker Street and Marylebone Road. She was fidgeting with her gloves and biting her lip, and I hurried to her, and without thinking cupped her face in my hand. She stopped biting her lip and smiled at me.
“Shall we go?” I asked.
“Well, I won’t feel any better if I stand here longer,” she said. She brushed back a strand of my hair, which fell forward again at once. It was raining fitfully, and Eleanor pulled me to her side so we could share her umbrella.
The landlady showed us right up, and I squeezed Eleanor’s hand as we entered. Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson were seated almost exactly as before. Dr. Watson smiled at us, and at Eleanor specifically, and as there was more of reassurance than flirtation in the smile I tried not to bristle.
“Sit down, sit down,” said Mr. Holmes. Eleanor and I sat on the sofa, and he turned toward her. “Miss Morton, I presume. You need not worry; I think your case has the potential to be most interesting. I simply need to know the personalities involved, and the precise order of events. From Miss Barry’s account it seems to me that your great-uncle, Mr. Alfred Morton, and Mr. Stevens are the ones most relevant to the case.”
“All right.” She took a deep breath, and straightened her shoulders. “My Great-Uncle Walter was the youngest of three children, and had quarrelled with his family. However, he went into business, and worked as an engineer, and at last became quite wealthy. He built his own house in Leicester, and after she was widowed his sister, my Great-Aunt Mildred, joined him there. I was told that she was the only one of his close relatives he was fond of. I don’t know the reason for why he was on bad terms with the rest of his family, except that its start was long ago, even before my father was born. But once in a while he might come out to some event, and I met him at a party when I was twelve. In fact he spent most of the evening talking to me, about country houses and tennis and the classics, and he said at the end that I reminded him of his sister, who had died the previous year.
“After that once in a while I would get letters from him, and he even visited my parents sometimes, and once or twice invited us to Leicester. When I was seventeen—” she blushed and stopped.
“When you were seventeen?” asked Mr. Holmes, frowning.
“Well—oh, it’s nothing really—except I suppose it’s relevant to this matter. Uncle Walter was staying with us, and a close friend of mine visited, and he said something to her, something like he hoped she wasn’t only interested in me for my prospects. That is, as a joke, you understand, as if she was a suitor of mine. And I said she’d better not be, for I hadn’t any prospects, and he said he’d fix that. I think he also contributed to my first season, and that’s why Aunt Louisa—that is, Lady Andrew Gardner, my mother’s sister—likes him more than she does the rest of my father’s family. But the next year my parents died, and Aunt Louisa took me in in London, and I hadn’t seen him since. But that is why I thought—I mean, Mr. Stevens witnessed the will, and he said there was some left to me. But that’s why it isn’t odd.” I took her hand again, subtly.
“Nothing strange about a man leaving a legacy to his favourite niece,” said Dr. Watson. “And certainly not if he was estranged from the rest of his family. You say you don’t know the reason for the estrangement?”
“I’ve no idea. I think it may have involved my Great-Aunt Mildred, but I never knew her, and though he spoke of her frequently he barely mentioned anyone else in his family, at least not to me. He did grow closer to my father later on, as I said, but he continued to shun the rest.”
“And who were those?” asked Mr. Holmes.
“I know that the breach included his parents, my great-grandparents, but they were both dead by my birth. My grandfather was his elder brother, and he had two sons. Uncle Walter would not speak to his brother, and from what my cousin and my aunt said at the funeral I think they disliked him for that, or else my grandfather had told them more of the history than he told my father.”
“Your father was also at some distance from his family?”
“Well, not deliberately, not from any sort of split. But he married my mother and set off on his own rather than assist in my grandfather’s business. It is so hard to tell—it is five years since the last time I had any regular contact with his family, you see. My aunt does not approve of them, and I have no resources of my own to establish independence.”
“You did not inherit anything from your parents, then?”
“Not after the doctors’ bills,” said Eleanor quietly. Mr. Holmes nodded and moved on.
“And your grandfather’s business?”
“He was not successful in it, and my uncle had inherited his bad luck, but I believe since his death my cousin, Alfred Morton, has had some success. They were never poor, but they did not see the returns they expected from it.”
“I see. Now, tell me about your cousin. Is he your age?”
“Some few years older.”
“Do you know him well?”
“Not at all. We met rarely as children, and as adults even less. Several years ago I met him in society and he paid me some attentions, but I had no interest in him, and my Aunt Louisa disapproved—not, I think, for any reason except that he is in trade, and she wishes me to marry into the nobility.”
“But you believe he has done well in business?”
“He certainly said he had, both when he was courting me and at the funeral.”
“Does he have any business affairs outside of his inheritance?”
“I don’t know, but he did not speak of them at the funeral, and I would have expected him to if he had any.”
“And what do you know of Mr. Stevens?” asked Mr. Holmes.
Eleanor was a little surprised. “He has been with Uncle Walter for oh, years and years, I’ve no idea. Uncle Walter spoke highly of him as a secretary. He has always been very kind to me, but I haven’t seen much of him. He seems very calm, and logical—a little suspicious, perhaps, but it does look like he had reason to be.”
“Was he very affected by your great-uncle’s death?”
“I think he was,” she said. “Mostly he did not look it, but at the funeral—yes, I think he was.”
“Thank you, I think I understand the persons involved well enough now. Now, tell me what happened at the funeral.”
Eleanor nodded. “There was nothing very unusual about the funeral itself. My cousin Alfred arrived late, on the day of the funeral. The family were staying in the house itself, and he—” she paused. “He complained about various things to do with the accommodations, and he was clearly only there in hopes of some reward. I found his talk very unpleasant, even if the funeral was over by the time he started it. He finished his breakfast very early the next morning. I saw him leaving the breakfast room just as I came in, and he looked preoccupied. Within half an hour the housemaid told me Mr. Stevens had asked for me to meet him in his office.
“I saw Alfred in the hallway outside. When I entered Mr. Stevens shut the door behind me and pulled me away from it. He asked if I had seen anyone around the office at all in the time I had been staying in the house.
“‘No,’ I said, ‘but I should have thought you would know better than I.’”
“‘I believe it was locked whenever I was not here myself, but I would like to be sure,’ he said. ‘You see, yesterday I checked to ensure that your great-uncle’s will was in its accustomed place, and it was. Fifteen minutes ago, I entered this room to find Mr. Morton at the desk. He gave no satisfactory explanation for his presence, and I asked him to leave. And now, the will is gone.’
“‘Gone?’ I asked in shock. ‘Alfred is just outside.’
“‘Good,’ said Mr. Stevens; ‘then he cannot have absconded with it, or he would have taken it away and disposed of it at once. I don’t think he could have hidden the document on his person. It is possible, of course, that the will was missing before he came in, but I think it very unlikely.’
“‘Could he have burned it here?’ I asked.
“‘No—there’s no trace of any papers being burnt in the fireplace.’
“‘But then where has he put it?’ I asked.
“And that he could not tell, Mr. Holmes. He has searched the entire office, more than once. After our conversation he sent me to distract Alfred and keep him away from the office, and he insisted that all the family leave the house that day, after lunch. He spoke to me first, however, before I set out for London, and asked that I engage your services to find the will.”
“If it is known to have existed, is this not a purely legal matter?” asked Mr. Holmes. “Your great-uncle’s intentions should be fulfilled.”
“Mr. Stevens and Mr. Jamison, Uncle Walter’s solicitor, are going to pursue matters from that point of view. But it would of course be easier if they had the document itself, and Mr. Stevens was anxious to avoid a court case.”
“Reasonable. Well, it seems like there is no great mystery to the matter, but I would not mind a search,” said Mr. Holmes. “However, I cannot suggest any possibilities without seeing your great-uncle’s office for myself. Would Mr. Stevens allow me to visit, likely for no more than a night?”
“Yes, certainly,” said Eleanor. “He asked me to bring you north, if at all possible.”
“It certainly is possible, eh, Watson?” said Holmes.
“Of course,” said Dr. Watson, reaching for a Bradshaw.
“Time is of the essence, but I think you will need to inform your aunt of your intention to leave?” Eleanor nodded. “Well, I shall just send a telegram to Mr. Stevens, then.”
He went to his desk to find a telegraph form, and Dr. Watson said, “There is a train from St. Pancras at ten past five. Can you make that one?”
“Yes,” said Eleanor, after a moment’s hesitation. “Yes. I should go and tell Aunt Louisa.”
“Of course,” said Mr. Holmes. “We shall meet you at the station, then.”
“Thank you so very much,” said Eleanor. Mr. Holmes waved us out.
“You will come, won’t you?” Eleanor asked me as soon as we had left the house. And I had to hesitate.
“I’m not sure I can afford it,” I said. I had enough for a return ticket, I knew, but it would use up nearly all of my scant savings. Even if it was only for one night, being unavailable, and perhaps late on a commission, might hurt my income after as well.
If matters went well, perhaps it would not matter; perhaps Eleanor would be able to help me. But I did not want to trust on that. Even if she inherited what Mr. Stevens had suggested she would it would take a while to arrange matters and find a house and move, and I would still have to pay my rent while we did.
“Oh,” said Eleanor sadly. “I should have thought. It’s just—it is all moving so fast, and I—I would like you with me.” She bit her lip, looking so anxious, and I nearly embraced her. “But you have your living to make,” she said. “I am sorry.”
“I can come,” I said. “I know I can afford a return ticket. It will merely be a little difficult just after I get back.”
“Well,” said Eleanor, “you know that Mr. Holmes was quite right, Anna. Even if the will cannot be found, Mr. Stevens and the solicitors are witnesses to its existence. The matter can be settled in court if it must be.”
I thought about that. There was not, then, so much of a risk. Mr. Stevens must have been quite certain of Eleanor’s inheritance for him to tell her of it—no, not certain. He had read the will, of course—he knew. And Eleanor trusted him, and I trusted her.
“I’ll come,” I said. “You had better go tell your aunt; I’ll need to pack some things.”
“Of course,” said Eleanor, glowing again for a moment. Then she set her chin. “Aunt Louisa won’t like it at all, not again in the middle of the Season. But I shall manage it.”
“I’ll meet you at St. Pancras, then?”
“Of course.” She kissed my cheek, and I went up the street to the Underground station.
We met just past the ticket counter, just the two of us—Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson were not yet in sight. To my surprise Eleanor was alone.
“Your aunt did not send a maid with you?” I asked.
Eleanor smiled. “She told me she could not spare anyone, to try to keep me from going. So I told her that you were coming, and that I didn’t want to cause her any difficulties and should manage well enough with just you as a companion.” I smiled back. “I also told her we were travelling separately from Mr. Holmes, but she needn’t learn otherwise,” Eleanor added.
She pulled me out of the rush of people, so we were next to a pillar. “I hope you were not upset by anything I said to Mr. Holmes?”
“Why would I be?” I asked.
“I don’t know how much you mind me talking about Rosalind.”
“I don’t, at all,” I said. “I do know about her, I don’t mind that you remember her.” I did mind a little, but I hardly ever thought of it. As far as I knew Rosalind was still in Norfolk where Eleanor had grown up, and there was little chance of her coming to London. “I know I am not the first to appreciate you, my dear.” I was teasing, a little, but she was still serious.
“I approached her as much as she did me. I was not always as I am now, Anna. This fear—”
“It does not make you any less than you were,” I said.
She smiled a little. “I know you think so.”
“Eleanor, my dear—!”
“It is just that I wish sometimes you had known me then, before my parents died. I was happier, if poorer.”
“Of course you were. You liked where you were, and who you were living with. Now you’re living with your aunt.”
She smiled properly at that. “I should prefer otherwise,” she said, and closed her hand around mine. I felt her hope in her grip.
By the pillar, separated a little from the crowds, it was easy for Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson to find us. Dr. Watson offered to take our bags, and we went to the platform.
I had purchased a third class ticket, and so had Eleanor. It was not merely that she wished to stay with me; she was also used to keeping back money from the little her aunt gave her, so that she might have something left over to spend herself. I thought the gentlemen were surprised by the choice, but they followed us demurely enough.
No one had joined us in our half-full compartment by the time the train had started moving, and it turned out to be a lucky thing, for Mr. Holmes had a few more questions. “I think,” he said, “that you disliked your cousin even before this?”
“I’ve no reason to,” said Eleanor, blushing. “Except that his suit to me was unwelcome. He has never been rude. Aunt Louisa thinks he is encroaching, but she thinks that of many people. But it is true that he was very persistent, until, I think, she told him off personally. He did not make a nuisance of himself to me at the funeral. I just—” She shook her head. “I can’t say where he would think to hide anything. I don’t know him very well—I am afraid I am not much help. All I can say is that it was unpleasant to spend time with him.”
“Not at all,” said Mr. Holmes. “Your impressions are valuable.”
“There was a time when you would have scoffed at women’s intuition,” said Dr. Watson, smiling. Mr Holmes shook his head.
“It is my opinion,” he said, “that the ordinary woman is required in the course of her daily life to make so many judgements of the character of those around her—whether a man is friendly or dangerous, whether another woman can be trusted with a secret, whether a merchant is honest—and the consequences for her of a miscalculation are so much worse than they are for the average man, that she thus naturally develops what one might call a subconscious deductive sense. So no, I do not believe in women’s intuition, because I do not believe that it is intuition at all, merely unspoken logic.”
After answering Mr. Holmes’ few further questions Eleanor was mostly silent, fingers tight around mine, and I was glad I could offer at least this much comfort. She was normally shy of public affection, worried about being seen by someone in Society, and it was habit by now. I tried not to be hurt by it.
Once we were out of London, the spring greens flashed by outside the window, providing a welcome distraction for her. Mr. Holmes had closed his eyes when he was finished his questioning and not opened them since, though he did not look asleep. Dr. Watson was gazing out the window with more enthusiasm than Eleanor.
“Browning was right about English springs, wasn’t he?” he asked me. “Not that it’s April quite yet, of course.”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “In the countryside, at least. In town one barely knows it’s spring at all. I should like to see something like this every day.”
Dr. Watson smiled. “And you, Miss Morton?”
“Oh, yes,” said Eleanor. “Parks are nothing to compare to this.”
Dr. Watson engaged Eleanor and I in trivial conversation obviously meant to calm her, and she did relax a little. It kept Mr. Holmes’ silence from seeming forbidding, and by our arrival Eleanor was holding my hand lightly, and smiling a little.
We approached Walnut House in the rain, but it seemed like it would look well enough on a more pleasant day. Mr. Stevens met us in the hall. He was a thin, bespectacled man in his sixties, sober and scholarly. Eleanor smiled at him.
“Mr. Stevens, this is Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and Miss Anna Barry, my companion.” He shook our hands, with only a little hesitation at mine, and by the glance he gave Eleanor I wondered if she had told him something about me.
“I must thank you for coming, Mr. Holmes,” he said at once. “This is a rather distressing situation for all concerned. I know it’s unlikely, but I think we should all prefer if it was settled without going to court.”
Mr. Holmes looked at him carefully. “Yes,” he said, “the uncertainty must be very trying for you.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Stevens, pressing his lips together. “I have told Mr. Jamison, Mr. Morton’s solicitor, of your visit. He will be here this evening. Right now, I suppose you would all like some time to refresh yourselves?”
We were shown up to our rooms. Mine adjoined Eleanor’s, and I remembered, and asked her, “Did you say anything about me to Mr. Stevens?” It seemed a little uncharacteristic of her.
“Not exactly,” she said. “But—you see, he was always with Uncle Walter, when he travelled. He—Uncle Walter must have known about me, I think that is what he meant by saying I was like his sister—so I think Mr. Stevens must know as well. And if he knows about me, then of course he could guess about us.”
“Oh,” I said, then thought further. “Oh. Eleanor, do you think they—” It seemed a scandalous thing to say about a dead man, or the very respectable Mr. Stevens, but was there truly any reason it should be worse than us?
“Well,” said Eleanor, “I think I always supposed so, yes. I never really thought about it, it just seemed natural. Oh, poor man, having to organize everything at such a time.”
I thought about it. “I didn’t want to mention it to Mr. Holmes,” she added.
“Certainly not,” I agreed.
Eleanor hesitated. “Anna, I would like—I don’t know how I feel about it being in this house, now, but we have never had the chance before, without any risk of interruption. Sleep here with me, tonight?”
“Of course,” I said at once—I had only been waiting to be asked, and her full smile, the one she showed so rarely in public, spread across her face.
Mr. Jamison arrived after dinner. He and Mr. Holmes and Eleanor and Mr. Stevens discussed the matter—Mr. Jamison was very polite to Eleanor in a way that suggested he saw her as Mr. Morton’s heir already. He was not, however, entirely complimentary of his former client, at least on his handling of his will.
“It would all be easier if he had left a copy with us, of course, but he refused—he was very stubborn on some points, sometimes without any reason.”
I happened to be looking at Mr. Stevens as the lawyer spoke, and saw sorrow in his eyes, but his mouth turned up, slightly, with something like fondness.
“Of course,” said Mr. Jamison, “he could hardly have expected his grand-nephew to be so conniving.”
“Where is the young Mr. Morton right now?” asked Mr. Holmes.
“Alfred Morton is currently staying in the village inn,” said Mr. Stevens. “I could barely make him leave the house, but his mother was inclined to do as I said, and helped persuade him. He has been attempting to gain entrance for the past four days, and I have had to personally ensure the entire house is locked up and watched at night. However, as far as I can tell he has been kept out, and his continued persistence suggests he has not achieved whatever he hopes for.”
“That is a good sign. Have you evidence he has attempted to enter at night?”
“Certainly someone has,” said Mr. Stevens, “and whoever it was was a most incompetent thief. Once a window was broken, and the footman who was sitting up that night raised the alarm at once, but we could not catch him. The window has been boarded up, and perhaps the immediate response has discouraged further efforts in that direction.”
“That may be useful should you wish to charge him later,” said Mr. Holmes. “It is, I am afraid, rather late to have good light for it tonight, but tomorrow morning I shall examine the office and see what may be found. If you do wish to charge him, I could examine the grounds as well.”
“We’ll consider that after the will is found,” said Mr. Stevens.
“I believe I should be present during your search for it,” said Mr. Jamison. Mr. Holmes frowned but nodded.
“Arrive as early as possible, then,” he said, and Mr. Jamison agreed. It was indeed very late, and soon afterwards Eleanor and I went up to bed. And that night I could lie next to her, both of us tired from the train journey, and heard her breathing slow as I fell asleep.
As soon as Mr. Jamison arrived the next morning the men all headed to the office, and Mr. Stevens asked Eleanor to join them.
“Do you want me with you?” I asked Eleanor quietly. “I think it may be rather crowded.”
“No,” she said, “I’ll be all right. You could look at the gardens, if you want to.”
I did want to, as she had known I would, and she gave me directions. I stepped out into the sunlight, wrapping a shawl around my shoulders.
The main garden, set close to the house, was mostly rather formal and artificial, but there was a path between herbaceous borders, and I walked along it trying to identify the plants. It was a lovely day, and the rain yesterday had only given the first spring flowers more of a chance to bloom. Behind me the house did look fine, tall and modern, but not so much so that it seemed out of place.
There was an ivy-covered wall to my left, probably enclosing the kitchen garden, and a slope down a hill in front of me. When I looked up from the flowers I could see the rolling hills stretching out, broken by lines of hedgerows and filled with slowly moving sheep. To my right was a tall hedge. I stepped under an archway in its middle and found a small rose garden.
Now there were only the first buds of leaves emerging from the brown stems, but I walked to the centre anyway, and tried to imagine it full of colour and scent as it would be in June. There seemed to be no plants other than roses, and it must be like being inside the blossom of a rose itself when they were all in bloom, pouring scent around them. I walked around, imagining what colours and shapes I would have put in each bed. A cloud drifted away from the sun, and I tilted my head back into its light. Though I could not smell the roses in reality, all that I did smell when I breathed in was fresh country air, and all that I heard was birdsong.
Birdsong and soft footsteps behind me. I turned, and Eleanor smiled up at me.
“It’s lovely here,” I said.
“You’re lovely,” she told me. “You belong here.”
I felt my cheeks warm, though likely she wouldn’t be able to see a blush. “Are matters going well?”
“Mr. Holmes seems confident,” said Eleanor. “He sent Mr. Stevens and me out of the room, so I thought I would come see you. Anna,” she said, “whatever happens, we are going to find a cottage somewhere. We will be able to, even if this ends up going to a probate court. And you will have a garden.”
“Eleanor, my dear,” I whispered, drawing her close to me.
“You should be here always,” she said. “In the country, not having to spend all your days in the smoke of London, hidden inside typing and annoyed by businessmen. I have always wanted to take you away from them.”
“Not half so much as I have wanted you to be free of your family.”
At that point we were interrupted by a polite cough, and we turned to see a boy in livery at the archway. “Mr. Jamison sent for you,” he said. “Mr. Holmes says he’s found the will.”
Mr. Holmes was seated in the office, with a large unsealed envelope on the desk in front of him. The room itself was in less disorder than I would have thought, but all the drawers had been pulled out of the desk and a cabinet, and one of them was nearly disassembled, its newspaper lining almost torn out and what I assumed were its contents scattered over the desk and floor. Mr. Jamison and Dr. Watson were sitting in a corner; Mr. Stevens arrived a few moments after we did, having been dealing with one of the no doubt dozens of matters related to his employer’s death.
“You found it,” he said.
“I did,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Mr. Jamison will of course have to look it over, to see if anything is missing.” He handed the envelope to the lawyer.
“Where was it?” said Mr. Stevens.
“In the drawer,” said Mr. Holmes, and then at Mr. Stevens’ look of frustration he said, “Excuse me. Here, look.” He picked up the empty drawer. “You see that the glue holding the newspaper linings of the drawers has grown brittle and here detached from the wood. The lining comes up as one piece. When Mr. Morton took the will out of the drawer he may have dislodged it; when he heard you approaching he realized he could use it. Once the will was beneath the lining the drawer feels the same as it always has, and there is no difference in appearance. However, once emptied it was slightly heavier and shallower than it should have been. But there would have been no way of noticing without emptying all of the drawers, and then examining each of them.”
He began to collect the papers on the floor. “The question was, how could a man hide a document in a room he had never been in before? With that in mind, it could not be any matter of secret compartments—it must have been a pure lucky chance. So I knew better than to tap on the walls, and I assumed you had gone through the papers, therefore my search was already productively narrowed. Then I simply went through the motions he must have to find the will in the first place, and examined all the places those actions would have brought him into contact with.”
“It is all here,” said Mr. Jamison, sorting the will back into its envelope. “Since Miss Morton is here, and the rest of the family not far away—”
There was a hammering on the door downstairs. In moments it was replaced by a loud voice and the calm murmurs of the butler. Mr. Stevens and Mr. Jamison looked over.
“And here he is now,” said Mr. Stevens. “I think that we had better see what he wants.”
“Quite so,” said Mr. Holmes, smiling.
Mr. Stevens requested that the rest of us wait in the parlour while he and Mr. Holmes spoke to Alfred Morton, but we could hear everything, especially Mr. Morton’s loud demands for the respect he was due as a relative. At last Mr. Stevens said calmly, “I’m glad you are here, Mr. Morton. Miss Eleanor Morton has returned, and we have found your great-uncle’s will. You are entirely right—the family should be present at its reading.” After this Mr. Morton was suddenly silent.
“Perhaps you could fetch your mother, Mr. Morton,” said Mr. Holmes. “I understand you are both staying nearby, and no doubt she will be interested as well.”
“And who the devil are you?” asked Mr. Morton.
“I am Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Miss Morton requested my assistance.” There was a moment of silence, and then the door slammed.
Mr. Holmes entered the parlour, sat in the chair next to Dr. Watson’s, and began cheerfully discussing modern fiction.
When Alfred Morton at last returned with his mother, they were shown to the parlour. He was much quieter in her presence, though he still sneered a little at the other men. He greeted Eleanor; she nodded at him and at once turned back to me. He hesitated, but there was no seat near her, and he sat with his mother across the room.
When Mr. Jamison was the only one standing he said, “We will consider the reasons why this reading was delayed when the will’s contents are known. Now then.” He cleared his throat and began.
“I, Walter Morton, of Walnut House, Rothley, in the County of Leicester, hereby revoke all my former Wills and Codicils and declare this to be my last Will and Testament. To Alexander Stevens, in some small recompense for his forty years of service, I give the sum of two thousand pounds free of legacy.”
“What!” said Alfred Morton. Mr. Jamison frowned at him and continued.
“I also give to the said Alexander Stevens an annuity of four hundred pounds a year, during his life, to be paid half-yearly. I also give to the said Alexander Stevens all my personal jewellery not hereinafter mentioned, and all my private papers whatsoever and wheresoever, and I leave him my grateful blessing as the best and truest friend man ever had.
“I give all my shares in...”
I looked at Mr. Stevens, who was turned toward Mr. Jamison, his face bearing only calm still sorrow. He had known what the bequest was in advance, of course. I watched his unchanging face as the reading continued and suspected it was a mask, as my folded hands and Eleanor’s careful gaze straight ahead were masks.
I realized then that of course finding the will meant more to Mr. Stevens than even to Eleanor. She might be considered to have a right to inherit even if Mr. Morton had died intestate. But Mr. Stevens would not, and at his age he would have difficulty finding another place. With the legacy, he had the last thing Mr. Morton could give him—support, and remembrance. Whether or not Eleanor and I were right in our guess—and looking at him, and thinking of the amount, I could not think we were wrong—he had this kindness from an employer who must have been at the very least his close friend, after so many years.
There were more bequests, to friends, to colleagues, a whole series of small ones to servants, but no mention of Eleanor. I did not know the size of Mr. Morton’s estate, but it was large enough that I had no idea what percentage was going to whom. It was not near the end, yet—the house had not been mentioned. I wondered if it was entailed somehow. The whole situation felt dreadfully uncomfortable suddenly—as if Eleanor and I were waiting to loot a corpse.
When I thought it surely could not go on much longer, Mr. Jamison said at last, “And I devise and bequeath absolutely all the remainder of my real and personal estate unto Eleanor Morton, my grand-niece.” Eleanor gasped quietly behind me. All the remainder, I thought, stunned, trying to estimate what that could be. The house—the gardens, I realized, and then I tried to focus on Mr. Jamison’s words again. “And I appoint the aforementioned Alexander Stevens executor of this my Will. In witness whereof I the said Walter Morton, the testator, have to this my last Will and Testament set my hand this twelfth day of May in the year of our Lord 1882.”
Mr. Jamison read off the witnesses’ statements and formally handed the paper to Mr. Stevens.
“Clearly something is missing,” said Alfred Morton. “One doesn’t simply leave out the obvious inheritor.”
“Would he prefer a shilling?” Dr. Watson murmured under his breath beside me. I glanced to the side and saw Mr. Holmes smirking next to him.
“Nothing is missing,” said Mr. Jamison frostily. “I assisted Mr. Morton in drawing up the will, and he was very specific about his intentions. I assure you, and the witnesses can assure you, that what has been read is the will in its entirety.” Before Morton could protest further he added, “Now, as to the circumstances of the delay in this reading. I believe Mr. Holmes and Mr. Stevens can speak to that.”
Mr. Holmes stood and rubbed his hands together. “There is no point in pretending you are surprised by any of the bequests, Mr. Morton. You have no claim over the estate of a relative you have barely met. Everyone in this room—except perhaps your mother—” he added, with a bow, “knows what you have been doing since the funeral. Mr. Stevens and Miss Morton are unimpeachable witnesses; it is up to them to decide whether to prosecute you for concealing the will. By my understanding of the law the sentence is penal servitude for life. They may also wish to add charges of trespass and property damage.”
Mr. Morton had blanched, and shot a worried glance at his mother, who looked baffled and offended. “That’s quite enough of that,” he interrupted. “I’ve never been so insulted in my life. I am leaving. Come, mother!” Mrs. Morton rose and left with him, but while she did seem merely insulted I thought his manner had held much more fear.
“I doubt he will try anything further,” said Mr. Holmes, “but if he does I think you are adequately prepared. You might write statements now, in case they are needed.”
“It was a charge of undue influence I was most worried about, but he seems not to have had the wit to think of it,” said Mr. Stevens.
“That would be ridiculous,” muttered Mr. Jamison. “Morton was perfectly sane.”
“I think, then, that we are finished here.”
Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson left on the next train. Eleanor and I stayed a little longer, so Mr. Jamison and Mr. Stevens could give her a clearer idea of her new inheritance. She came out of the office looking a little shocked.
“Good news?” I asked.
“Yes—yes, entirely.” She shook her head. “I really had no idea—I am a little overwhelmed. I shall need some time to get used to it, I believe.”
“You may take up residence as soon as you wish, of course,” said Mr. Stevens.
“I will write and tell you when I can,” she said. “In the meantime, will you keep running the house, for the same salary? I am sorry to impose.”
“Of course I will. Now, lunch?”
Eleanor had promised her aunt she would only be gone for one night, so late in the afternoon we were driven to Leicester station. We were not so lucky as we had been on the way up—our train compartment was shared with a couple and a small family. Eleanor and I sat next to each other, and I could feel how much more relaxed she was than she had been on the way up.
For a moment, when we were halfway to London, she did grow tense, and then she turned to me. “You do want to come and live there, in that house, Anna?” she asked. “Just to be sure.”
“Of course I do,” I said, and wished I could kiss her. She smiled at me and squeezed my hand.
Eleanor had asked Mr. Stevens to stay on as manager at least until we were prepared to move in. I thought he might want to judge our abilities as residents before he gave the house entirely into our possession; either way he had not yet made plans to leave. The house was admirably run, so neither of us minded.
It took longer for me to move than it did for Eleanor. I had to notify all of my clients, finish up the last of the work I was contracted for, give my landlady notice. Eleanor, with the confidence that comes with financial independence, had simply given orders to her maid to pack her things. I did not know exactly how the conversation with her aunt had gone, but I had the impression that it had been very short.
“I don’t need anything, really,” she said. “I’m giving all the ballgowns and so forth to Phillips. I don’t need anything from Aunt Louisa anymore, so I don’t have to worry about what she thinks.”
She had moved in within two weeks of the house coming into her possession. A week later, having said farewell to my sisters and stepmother, I stepped off the train at Leicester station. Eleanor had come to meet me.
She had driven herself, and I had little enough baggage that she and I could easily load it on the dog-cart. She pointed out a few sights on the way to Walnut House, and I pretended to look at them rather than simply watching her. I had not seen her for a week, which was not so long, considering, but now—
When we arrived Eleanor told the footman to take my trunks in, but then she said, “The rose garden is almost blooming. Would you like to see?” And of course I did.
I could see from the archway that a few of the rosebushes were beginning to show buds; on one of them the first petals were unfurling. Eleanor led me past it, further in, to a bush that was just out of sight of the entrance, where one pale pink flower was fully open. “Oh!” I said, and Eleanor beamed at me.
“I won’t pick it, though it would look lovely in your hair,” she said. “Later, we can bring in dozens. But I wanted you to see.”
“Thank you,” I said. I looked up at the imposing brick house, and then leaned toward her. And there, in our rose garden, with Mr. Stevens and the servants and anyone else able to look out a window, she kissed me—kissed me properly, kissed me as we had only kissed behind closed doors, kissed me as if she wanted to do so every morning for the rest of our lives.