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The Adventure of the Two Brides

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A note from the editor: The following is a rare, unfinished manuscript from the archives of Dr. John H. Watson. Speculation as to why the text remained uncompleted is rife among academic circles. Some would suggest that Dr. Watson, upon undertaking the writing, soon discovered that publication would be impossible without drastically cutting events that were important to the narrative. Therefore, in this edition, an attempt has been made to piece together the second half of the story by using contemporary records, including Sherlock Holmes’ and Dr. Watson’s personal diaries of the time.

 

In the troubled yet remarkable life of Miss Cecily Robartes, Holmes and I had the honour of playing a small part in one of its most remarkable incidents. Although, for reasons that will become apparent in the telling, I cannot think of it as Holmes’ most admirably conducted case, I nevertheless feel it has enough interest to be committed to paper. Whether my friend acted as rationally in this case as his well-found reputation would dictate, I will leave for the reader to decide.

It was toward the end of 1883, two years into my residency at 221B Baker Street, and Holmes and I were enjoying a contented bachelor existence. Mrs. Hudson had made an admirable job of keeping the harsh winter climate at bay and with a well stoked fire and tea on the table, I was feeling as comfortable as can be imagined. Holmes was occupied in some work I could make nothing of, but that seemed to require a vast swathe of our living space to be overtaken by scientific regalia. I myself had a medical paper to pen but, unlike Holmes, I set my task aside at four o’clock and sat down to the meal our housekeeper had taken the trouble to prepare for us. That was when, glancing idly out the window, I caught sight of a young woman crossing the street exactly parallel to our front door. There was a biting wind carrying fitful bursts of sleet, and as a result, there were few other people to be seen.

“Are you expecting a visitor?” I called out to Holmes.

I did not expect a reply and I didn’t receive one. Soon enough, however, I could hear the doorbell ring and, shortly after, our caller was ushered into our rooms.

She was a woman of about twenty-eight, tall and dark, with a severe but somehow pretty face. She was dressed in a neat but austere fashion, the only note of indulgence in which was the fur worn high round her neck so that it brushed her cold-flushed cheeks.

Seeing that Holmes had barely registered her entrance, I introduced him as well as myself.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Watson,” she said in reply, “My name is Robartes. Cecily Robartes.”

At this, Holmes looked up. I was about to offer Miss Robartes a seat when, to my surprise, Holmes leapt up from where he sat and took the opportunity before me.

“Won’t you sit?” said he. And then with a shake of her dainty hand he continued, warmly, “I admit your coming today is as welcome as it is unexpected. I have long wanted to interview you.”

I was caught off guard by Holmes’ sudden display of enthusiasm, and looked between my friend and our guest, quite at a loss as to what to make of it.

“Are you two acquainted?” I asked, tentatively.

“Alas, Watson, I have never before had the pleasure, but I do know Miss Robartes by reputation.”

Miss Robartes appeared only mildly discomfited by Holmes’ eccentric show of familiarity, as though she had become more or less accustomed to such displays. She said, placidly, though unsmiling, “Really, Mr. Holmes? I did not picture you as a gambling man, but I presume that is what you allude to.”

“Oh, I never gamble,” Holmes exclaimed, “But I take a professional interest in those who do. It pays to take note of who has lost out and who has made their fortune in games of chance.”

Miss Robartes allowed herself half of a smile. She took the seat she had been offered and Holmes sat opposite.

“I quite agree,” said she, “I’ve found that there is little to be said for ‘honour among thieves’, and even less for honour among gambling men. That is, in a way, what I have come here to consult you about.”

Holmes leant forward keenly.

“Ah! Have you taken a chance you shouldn’t have?”

“I think you mistake me, Mr. Holmes. I do not gamble any more than you play guessing games. If you have heard of me at all, it is because I win. I do not do that by chance.”

“You cheat?” I interjected. I had barely had time to process the idea that our respectably presented young lady played cards for a living, but I saw immediately I had spoken out of turn. My reproof was the look of intense displeasure on Miss Robartes’ face.

“No,” she corrected, “I simply apply mathematics. I think of it as playing cards properly.”

Holmes emitted the dry chuckle that was his closest approximation to laughter.

“Very well, Miss Robartes. Perhaps, then, you would enlighten us as to the true nature of your visit?”

“I think it would be of use if I were to tell you a little more about myself and the others involved.”

“By all means,” said Holmes, “Be as thorough as you like. One never knows what insignificant seeming detail may be relevant.”

“You should know, firstly,” she said, “That I am the daughter of a well-connected younger son and a woman of no notable family whatsoever. My parents married for love - a very noble undertaking, I’m sure, but one that was in no way rewarded by my father’s family. My father was disinherited and shunned. As a result, the three of us were forced to subsist on my father’s army pay and my mother’s lacemaking. And I was a sickly child, a burden really. When my father died, thousands of miles from home and with barely a penny to his name, my mother was left in a terrible situation. She wrote to her father-in-law but received no answer. I was nine years old at the time. My mother was not a particularly strong-minded woman and one day I woke up to find she had left the family home. She left a rather sweet note, telling me that my grandfather could not refuse to take me in once he knew I had been abandoned and that she’d come back one day soon when she’d found me a new papa. Of course, she never did. I was taken in by my father’s family but I was not wanted. What were they to do with me, the frail, disagreeable child of a nobody and a disgrace? At first, I was given over to elderly relatives and disinterested paid companions and nurses. As I entered my teenage years, my constitution grew stronger and so it was deemed a worthwhile investment to send me to boarding school. It was there that I met Cressida Longford.”

Miss Robartes looked to her hands, which had started to fidget. When she raised her head her previously stern face had taken on a look of such sadness that it softened all her features.

“I made friends at that school, for the first time in my life, but Cressida had a place above all others. She was a year younger than me but she took me under her wing when no one else would. That such a perfect creature could have been born from such cruel parents! Sometimes I believed that the lack of familial love in my own life resulted in the coldness of my character – for I was cold and cruel and wilful. And yet, Cressida, so similarly neglected, radiated with all the kindness she was never given. I was invited to her home once, over a summer. Her father, upon learning of my own parentage, made it clear that I would not be invited back. But in those few weeks, I saw how the only attention Cressida’s parents’ paid her came in the form of tyranny and verbal abuse. She could not take a step without asking her father’s permission and not take another without receiving spiteful criticism from her mother.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that once I left school, my friendship with Cressida ended. At first we would write to one another, but letters became increasingly sporadic and eventually ceased altogether. I don’t think I had heard a word from her for seven years and then, two weeks ago, I was sent this.”

Miss Robartes reached into her coat pocket and retrieved a small envelope, the top of which had been neatly sliced by a letter knife. She passed it to Holmes. Holmes slid out the single piece of letter paper and unfolded it carefully. His keen eyes darted across the sheet. He then handed it to me without so much as a glance.

“May I?” I asked Miss Robartes.

“By all means.”

‘My dear Cecily,’ it read, ‘You must wonder at me writing to you after such a time! I have not the opportunity to even write you a proper letter. I have told the company that I am writing to my ailing aunt and have promised to join them again in the drawing room as soon as I’ve done.
I have a question to ask you, Cecily. What do you know of Mr. Edwin Hunter? I only ask because I came across a letter he had addressed to you. I do not know how many Cecily Robartes’ there are in the world but I can’t imagine there are many who are known to have rooms in Nice. Mr. Hunter and I are engaged to be married and I would be grateful to know that he has your friendship. The match was not my own choice but I feel sure I will be wise to enter into any marriage with your approval.
Your devoted friend,
Cressida L.’

“Well,” said Holmes, “What do you know of this Mr. Hunter?”

“Not a thing! I’ve never known a Mr. Edwin Hunter in my life. It’s true that I have spent much of this year, as I do every year, in the South of France – my livelihood depends upon its casinos. Perhaps I might have come across him there. I can’t be expected to remember the name of every rogue and minor aristocrat I come across. I certainly never received a letter from him though,” she paused, and looked from one to the other of us anxiously, “I have received letters from only a small number of people in that time. My accountant, a Mr. Joseph Hertz; my dressmaker; and Cressida of course.”

Holmes looked intently at Miss Robartes. “I believe there is something you are steeling yourself to tell us,” he said.

In return, Miss Robartes looked Holmes straight in the eye as though he had thrown down the gauntlet to her. Her voice was firm and her face severe once more.

“There is one man who I feel might fit. His name is Meleager. I met him in Nice four months ago. He’s the typical sort you meet there; a young bachelor with money to lose. However, after some… convincing, I agreed to marry him not two months ago.”

“And you think this Meleager and Miss Longford’s Mr. Hunter could be one and the same?”

Miss Robartes nodded.

Before my eyes, I could see the eagerness with which Holmes had attended to Miss Robartes’ story vanish, and his entire body sank back into his chair as though all spirit had left him. He reached for his pipe, on the low table beside him, and looked to Miss Robartes with an air of indifference that belied the energy that had lighted his eyes not a moment before.

“Very well,” said he, “This seems a simple matter. Although I feel that your analytical brain would be quite equal to the task, I can see why you would prefer to leave this matter to an outside party. If there’s no other information you have for us, I will see that you have your answers by the end of the week.”

Miss Robartes looked as though she were caught between pleasure and annoyance – a not unusual combination for Holmes’ clients, as I have learnt over the years.

“There’s only one thing I can think to add,” said she, “Before leaving France, Meleager gave me an address so that I could write to him. I was under the impression that he had rooms in the Albany. However, once I received Cressida’s letter, I returned to England, intending to confront him. I found that the mail I had sent to the Albany was being forwarded, but no porter would give me the correct address.”

 

Once Miss Robartes had left, I asked Holmes, “Do you think she has the right idea? Are Meleager and Hunter the same man?”

“Of course,” said Holmes, “I was quite honest when I said this would be a simple matter. However, the more I consider it, the more I fear there may be more sinister elements to be uncovered.”

“Good Lord!” I cried, “Do you think she’s safe?”

“Oh yes, safe as houses, my dear Watson. It is her friend, Miss Longford, who we should be concerned for.”

Needless to say, I was ready to offer any assistance I could. But Holmes merely placed his pipe between his lips and drew his knees up under his chin. He must have seen my look of disapprobation, for he said to me, “If you would like to help, take down the London directory and search Longford and Hunter.”

“I suppose the name Meleager is a fake?” I remarked, “It’s a pity. There must be a thousand Mr. Hunters in the city.”

“If you looked for a Meleager, however, I doubt you would find even one. Meleager is a character from mythology. I believe he sailed with Jason, killed a wild pig sent by the gods, something along those lines.”

This piece of knowledge, not uncommon for the type of schoolboy who knows his Homer but seemingly too impractical for the mechanically efficient mind of Holmes, caused me to voice my astonishment.

“I did not know you had any interest in tales of ancient heroes.”

Holmes did not look up but answered me in an even voice, “Perhaps it is some fragment of former learning that escaped erasure. I certainly haven’t thought of it in years.”

I noticed that a pronounced frown had marked his features, making him look quite ill at ease, and I remarked on this.

“Well, Watson,” he said, somewhat bitterly, “It is a good thing I did remember that nugget or you might have spent all day searching Regent Street and Piccadilly for a wayward Argonaut.”

With that, he threw down his pipe and rose from his chair. Scanning the shelves to the left of our fireplace he passed by rows of disorderly folders until his eyes alighted on an old Gladstone bag, sitting underneath volumes ‘O’ and ‘B’. I knew this to be the hiding place for his greasepaints and other tools of disguise and I immediately began to wonder what he was about.

“I shall have to stop by a tailors upon the way,” said Holmes, “For I don’t think I have anything that’s quite the right cut for what I have planned.”

When I asked what his plan was, I was met with nothing but evasion. I asked if there was anything I could do to assist him.

“When I come back, I may have work to do and, in that case, it may be necessary for you to pay a visit to Miss Longford.”

I did not see him again until the following morning…

 

Unbeknownst to Watson, Holmes had left 221B to pay a visit to the Albany. The new suit was necessary for him to pose as a prospective tenant for, although he was generally immaculately turned out, he felt it vital to match the dandyish high-fashion of the Albany set. Though it was not the home of the elite that it had once been, the young gentlemen that it attracted tended towards the well-dressed if not the well-financed, and the older inhabitants seemed doggedly unaware that Lord Byron had ever left.

Holmes asked for the manager as soon as he arrived and launched convincingly into the story he had ready for him. He had, he said, been in Australia for the last few years, occupying a minor government role. Circumstances (which he kept purposefully vague to give a whiff of scandal) had forced him to leave for England in a hurry. A friend of his had recommended taking rooms in the Albany. A friend named Hunter. Did anyone happen to know if this gentleman was still in residence?

“It’s quite a common name, sir,” the manager sniffed, turning the pages of his register, “Can you give me anything else to go on?”

“First name… Um, hold on, it’s so damned hard to remember one name when you’ve called a chap by some other one since school. Edward? No… Edmund. Edwin!”

“Close friends, are you, sir?” the manager remarked, dryly.

“Not particularly,” Holmes fired back. He tapped a finger on the desk peevishly.

“I’m afraid,” said the manager, “I can’t tell you anything about an Edwin Hunter. Perhaps you should go home and consult your address book.”

“No, no, never mind,” said Holmes, managing to feign a blush of indignation, “I’ll have a look at the rooms. What’s going free?”

The manager, somewhat reluctantly, called a porter, who led Holmes up a staircase and down a first floor corridor. Holmes reasoned that the porter might not be as discreet as the manager. However, he would likely report Holmes’ interest back to the manager if he thought it might be worth anything. The valets, similarly, would be no good. Holmes needed to find someone paid very badly, who wouldn’t care whether they landed their employer in trouble or no.

Once he had taken a brief look around the free apartment, Holmes wandered away down the hall and, as he had suspected, was not stopped or followed by the porter. It wasn’t at all hard work to move freely about the place. All it took was an air of superiority which, he considered, probably kept a number of the Albany’s residents housed, even when they’d lost all their money for rent. He was intending to find himself lost somewhere near the servants’ staircase, if not actually one of the service wings.

There was a green baize door at the end of the corridor. Holmes reached for a cigarette from the silver case in his pocket and waited. After a few undisturbed minutes, someone pushed their way through.

“Have you got a light?”

He was fired a dirty look before the maid attempted to disappear back behind the green baize.

“Hold on,” said Holmes, putting his foot hastily between the door and the jamb. The maid stopped short at kicking away his heel.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, “I have to be going.”

“You can spare a moment for me, I’m sure. I just want to ask you about a friend of mine by the name of Hunter. Edwin Hunter.”

The maid didn’t seem any more inclined to stay but she couldn’t help making an unimpressed cluck and exclaiming, “Oh him! He was your type and all. Don’t stop about here and bother the girls, sir, if you don’t mind me saying.”

The maid pulled sharply at the door handle, ignoring Holmes’ still-present foot. There was a sound of approaching footsteps on the stairs and, before she could get away, another of the maids pushed past her.

“Oh!” said the newcomer, who had almost tripped right into Holmes. She skipped backwards, poking stray puffs of dark Pre-Raphaelite hair back under her cap, her face flushed. The first maid seemed to be nudging the second back behind the door. Holmes took his chance.

“Perhaps you know Hunter?”

This particular, perhaps even desperate, gambit worked far better than he had even hoped.

“You’re a friend of Mr. Hunter?” the girl gasped, “Oh, thank goodness! How is he?”

“As a matter of fact,” said Holmes, “I was hoping you could tell me some news of him.”

“Why,” said the girl, “I haven’t seen him since he took the house in Holland Park.”

“Don’t be stupid,” huffed the first maid, “I don’t know where that snake’s gone to, but it’s got to be farther than Holland Park.”

“He is in Holland Park! Lord Strathclyde’s valet told me he saw him last week.”

“Well, if I’m any judge, he’s headed for the Marshalsea.”

Holmes was quite sure that these two women could argue the character of Edwin Hunter for a week and a day but he felt he had heard all he needed. He bowed backward, smiling his most earnest false smile.

“Thank you, ladies. You have both been most helpful.”

 

By the time Holmes returned to Baker Street, it was the early hours of the next morning. Watson did not see him until breakfast, whereupon he found his friend sat before the fire with a series of glass flasks laid out in front of him. Even then, Watson was a good third through his kedgeree before Holmes thought to address him.

“Ah, Watson!” came the sudden cry from the hearth rug, “Do you have any plans today?”

“You did ask me to call on the Longfords this morning,” Watson pointed out.

“You needn’t worry about that, I don’t think it will be necessary to meet them after all. Anything besides?”

“I’d considered going to the Jermyn St. bath house.”

“The baths?”

“Yes, the baths,” Watson repeated, feeling uncomfortably that he was being put under scrutiny for reasons he could not guess at.

A pause.

“Really? My dear fellow, I’ve never heard you mention them.”

“You’ve never asked.”

If he were to put it frankly, Watson was perturbed to discover that Holmes was completely unaware of even such a small part of his day to day life. He had always presumed that Holmes read his every movement, and he’d become accustomed to that presumption in the previous two years of their cohabitation.

“Yes, well, if that’s all,” he said, awkwardly. Holmes had already returned to pipetting quantities of liquid from one flask to the other and Watson was unsure whether he was safe to continue with his breakfast.

 

“What a piece of luck,” said Holmes, later, as if the conversation had never come to a juddering halt, “I think I’ll accompany you.”

 

The Turkish baths on Jermyn St. were not an institution that Holmes was at all familiar with. He presumed the purpose of them was health and cleanliness – probably water was involved in some prominent way – but, beyond that, he was ready to watch and learn from Watson. Watson, for his part, had never seen Holmes look quite so out of place. He had never taken the time to consider the difference between standing out from the usual crowd, as Holmes usually did, and being so different as to get lost in it, but he began to see the distinction. He couldn’t help but watch Holmes carefully removing his shoes and thinking that he looked somehow smaller and that his face had changed, even though he was wearing the same fixed expression, maybe even a little defiantly. He quickly turned to his own laces, however, when Holmes noticed him. It was worse when they went together to the steam room. Holmes appeared most ill at ease in these surroundings. His long fingers plucked and clutched at the white sheet hiding most of his pale, slender figure. He moved forward warily, dark head bobbing, birdlike. And he hardly said a word. Watson was used to Holmes being silent. There were occasions when Watson wouldn’t hear from Holmes for several days, even as they continued their lives together within the same few rooms. This silence seemed different, though, as if it were being forced. To reiterate the tension, Holmes twice looked at his feet and said, “This is confoundedly hot.” He was, Watson thought, under the mistaken impression that this came across as relaxed banter.

After they had both swum in the pool, Watson found them a private chamber to sit in. Holmes sat there for just a moment before leaping back up and pacing the hall outside. He was back after a few minutes but then did the same thing again.

When he came back the third time, Watson asked him outright, “Look, Holmes, what are you up to?”

“Up to?” said Holmes, absently, keeping an eye on the doorway.

“You can’t say you’re not acting queerly,” Watson said, hotly, “You keep jumping about and fidgeting with that sheet. And you can’t seem to look me in the eye.”

Holmes kept looking at the door. The heavy silence of before was descending once again.

“The nudity doesn’t bother you, does it?” said Holmes, after a while.

“No, I suppose not. Why? Does it bother you?”

“Of course not,” Holmes said sharply, “Why would it?” He pulled his gaze with some great force of effort to look at Watson. His eyes darted down from Watson’s face and then quickly he added, clutching for some ammunition to throw the focus back on Watson, “Even with that scar you have?”

“Why in blazes would that bother me? More to the point, why would it bother you?”

“I don’t know!”

Sitting straight on the bed, as he was, and with Watson bent towards him, Holmes could reach that scar. He stretched out a hand to touch the spot of pale, taut skin. As if only then made aware of what he was doing, his hand recoiled from Watson’s shoulder at the point of contact. To his amazement, however, Watson caught Holmes’ hand in his own and held it firm against his chest. Watson noticed Holmes’ heavy-lidded eyes widen slightly and his mouth slacken, perhaps about to speak, perhaps not to speak at all.

Watson did not find out which it could have been. There was a sound of shuffling feet and a discreet cough.

“This is a private room,” Watson promptly barked, “Would you mind leaving?”

The stranger nodded, smiling politely but looking suitably ashamed.

“Ah, of course, but actually it was your friend here who asked me in.”

Snatching his hand from Watson’s grip, Holmes stood up and ushered the bemused incomer into the room. “Quite right! Come in and sit down, won’t you?” Watson made to stand up too but ended up merely shuffling to the end of the bed to make room.

“This is my associate, Dr. Watson,” Holmes said, “Watson, this is Mr. Edwin Hunter.”

Both men noticeably tensed.

“Wait a moment!” said the man who was, presumably, Hunter, “You never asked my name.”

“Well, are you Hunter?” asked Holmes pleasantly.

Hunter looked frantically about.

“What is all this?”

He turned to Watson, who struggled, unsuccessfully, to give him an answer. Watson turned to Holmes with a clear mixture of ire and confusion on his countenance.

“I am afraid,” said Holmes, addressing Hunter, “The game is up. Watson and I are here on behalf of your fiancée, Miss Cecily Robartes...”

“Cecily?” Hunter exclaimed, “Is Cecily in London?”

“Who,” said Holmes, continuing as though no one else had spoken, “Is acting on behalf of your other fiancée, Cressida Longford.”

Hunter paled. His already watery eyes became moist with tears and he blinked furiously as he continued to stare at Holmes.

“I…” he began, and trailed off. He tried again, “I was going to end it, with Cressida. I was going to tell her tonight.”

“Three days before the wedding? That seems characteristically heartless. But I do not think that was what you were planning to do at all, was it, Mr. Hunter?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” said Holmes, “the empty bottle of rat poison your housekeeper was so confused about when I talked to her last night. I suggested she might check your dressing table for its contents. I had my suspicions there might be some receptacle that could easily have been carried with you on the honeymoon. Happily, she’d recently had some trouble fending off your creditors and she was quite content to let me have a look at whatever she could find.”

“It was just a foolish idea,” the young man choked, “I might never have gone through with it. You don’t know whether I’d have thrown that vile stuff away, or drank it myself, or used it on the rats. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“No,” Holmes conceded, “There’s nothing illegal in carrying arsenic in a cologne bottle. However, you might still find yourself facing an expensive breach of promise suit. Unless, of course, you’d rather be tried for bigamy.”

Hunter clutched his chest, breathing heavily. Watson was afraid he might swoon outright but Hunter collected himself and said, slowly, pleadingly, to Holmes, “Perhaps if you were to talk to Miss Longford…”

“I don’t think that would be wise,” said Holmes firmly.

“Her parents were dishonest with me,” Hunter continued, with a little more forcefulness, “I thought she had twice as much as she did. When she told me about her friend, who made money enough to keep an apartment in Nice and a house in Grosvenor Square, it seemed like such a better bet.”

“I am presuming,” said Holmes, “That you were formerly relying on an inheritance that never came through. You’re a nephew, perhaps, ousted by a late coming son.”

Hunter did not respond to this. Holmes got up from his seat and looked pensively down on him.

“So you thought it would be best of all to take the combined fortunes of these two unfortunate young women.”

Hunter did not respond to this either.

“I think,” said Holmes, “That we might be able to come to some agreement.”

“Yes?” gasped Hunter, “Yes, what do you suggest?”

 

A few days later, Holmes and Watson were back in Baker Street, shut up against the cold. Watson had braved the weather long enough to purchase a newspaper and was settling down in his chair to read. Holmes looked curiously over his shoulder. After letting Watson read all of two paragraphs he motioned impatiently for the good doctor to hand the paper over.

“Aha!” he said at length, handing it back to Watson.

‘This day, 13th December, Miss Cressida Frances Longford, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Longford of Chelsea, to marry Mr. Edwin Hunter, son of…’

Watson threw down the paper with a start.

“Holmes, I can’t understand it. Hunter left the country not two days ago, you saw to it yourself – can the papers not have cancelled the announcement?”

Holmes shook his head. He had moved to the door and was taking his hat and coat from their hook.

“I have a feeling,” he said, “That the wedding went ahead as planned.” Seeing Watson’s incredulous face he gave a slight smile, “We shall see, we shall see. I shall tell you all about it presently.”

 

When Holmes was let into Miss Robartes’ drawing room, she was busy writing letters. She continued even as the maid bowed out and she felt the scrutiny of her guest focus fully on her.

“I wasn’t aware that you kept such a close eye on the births, marriages and deaths,” Miss Robartes said at length. She had a talent for the inscrutable façade but she knew, in this instance, she should have been caught off guard. She was not willing to act it.

“You were expecting me to read it,” said Holmes, “And you expected me to come.”

“I was almost afraid you wouldn’t,” she said. A note of hesitation had entered her voice, “I had written you a note in case…”

She looked to a drawer in the bureau. Holmes’ eyes followed hers and she let him take the letter from there without a word.

“I didn’t intend to trick you,” she said, finally. Long, silent moments had passed and Holmes hadn’t taken so much as a glance at the note in his grasp. “None of this was planned. I had no thought of it at the start. I truly wanted you to help me. Her, rather.”

Holmes paced from the bureau to the fireplace, looking at the few pieces of furniture in the room. Were the rest already on their way to the continent? In the adjoining room, the dining table and chairs were hidden under dustsheets.

“Did Hunter come to see you?” Holmes asked.

“Only to tell me he was leaving.”

“You weren’t…” Holmes stopped, searching for a suitable word, “Emotional?” He’d settled with an unsatisfactory one, but it would do.

Miss Robartes shook her head. She took a moment to decide what to say.

“I was about to say that I didn’t know why I agreed to marry him… But that wouldn’t be true. I was ready to not be alone. And, well, I suppose he seemed attentive enough.”

When Holmes failed to say anything, she continued, “I wrote to Cress, telling her where Hunter had disappeared to. She told me that her inheritance, her freedom, depended on her marrying. Her parents were settled on Hunter. I believe they were under the impression that he had money.”

Holmes gave a nod. “It seems a good many people were.”

“I was the one who suggested we ‘elope’. Her parents need not attend. One quiet wedding, a pair of men’s breeches and the forged signature of one Mr. E. Hunter. I admit, I was quite surprised that it worked.”

Miss Robartes had long stopped writing. She turned her pen over between her fingers and jabbed the end against the desk nervously.

“I suppose,” she murmured, “You expect me to come with you to see a policeman or some such.”

“No,” said Holmes, “I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Miss Robartes rose from her chair. Holmes saw her face for the first time since he had entered. She no longer looked implacable. She looked confused and frightened.

“You are going back to France, I take it?” Holmes said quickly, sensing that Miss Robartes was about to speak.

“Yes, if you…” she clearly felt that her power of speech was failing her. “Mr. Holmes…” she began again only to find herself interrupted.

“I congratulate you on your match, Miss Robartes.”

The two of them stood awkwardly facing each other from a few yards distance. Miss Robartes tentatively put forth her hand but, seeing that Holmes was not about to take it, stepped forward and took his.

“Thank you,” she said, quietly, “I am sure that you love somebody. That is why you understand.”

 

Holmes returned to Baker Street as soon as his interview with Miss Robartes was done. Watson was more or less where he had been left, by the fire. Holmes brushed himself down and shook the sleet from his hat.

“What have you to tell me then?” asked Watson, who had been waiting a good couple of hours to sate his curiosity, “Are Mr. Hunter and Miss Longford married?”

However, if he was expecting an explanation, he was left disappointed.

“Later!” cried Holmes, “Later!”

Watson made an effort to protest but he was stopped short before he could utter a word. Holmes was before him, leaning close, and putting his fingers to Watson’s top waistcoat button. The action shocked them both into a petrified stillness, which Holmes was the first to attempt to break.

“May I?” he asked, as gently as possible.

“May you what?” Watson gasped, feeling as though the touch of Holmes’ fingers had knocked the breath from him. As some realisation dawned, he gathered himself enough to add, “The other day, at the baths, you mean? I wasn’t sure if we were interrupted or if…”

“Or if?”

“Or if we were about to…”

As answer, Holmes undid the top button.