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Not Entirely Clueless

Chapter Text

Sherlock Holmes, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a gay disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; yet he had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to interest or intrigue him. And then the murders began.



Sherlock was the youngest of the two sons of a most affectionate, indulgent father. His mother had died too long ago for him to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection. Sixteen years had Miss Martha Taylor been in the Holmes family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both sons, but particularly of Sherlock. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend, very mutually attached, and Sherlock doing just what he liked — highly amused by Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by his own.


The real evils, indeed, of Sherlock's situation were the power of having rather too much his own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of himself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to his many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with him. 


Sorrow came, a gentle sorrow: Miss Taylor married. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Sherlock first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. To be sure, the event had every promise of happiness for his friend. Mr. Hudson was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what brilliance Sherlock had early deduced the match; but it was a black morning's work for him.


The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day. Sherlock recalled her past kindness — how she had taught and how she had played with him from five years old — how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuse him in health — and how nursed him through the various illnesses of childhood. She had been a friend and companion such as few possessed: intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in Sherlock himself, in every pleasure, every scheme of his — one to whom he could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for him as could never find fault. How was he to bear the change?


It was true that his friend was going only half a mile from them; but Sherlock was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Hudson, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all his advantages, natural and domestic, he was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. Of course Sherlock loved his father, but he was no proper companion. He could not meet Sherlock in conversation, rational or playful. The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Holmes had not married early) was much increased by his constitution and habits; for having been a hypochondriac all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time. Sherlock’s brother, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony, being settled in London, only sixteen miles off, was much beyond his daily reach; and in any case, Mycroft’s society, though it might be rational, was not altogether pleasant.


Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town, to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies, and name, did really belong, afforded Sherlock no equals. The Holmes family was first in consequence there. All looked up to them. Sherlock had many acquaintance in the place, for his father was universally civil, but not one among them who could be accepted in lieu of Mrs. Hudson for even half a day. 


It was a melancholy change; and Sherlock could not but sigh over it, and wish for impossible things, till an event occurred of such a shocking nature as to completely divert his attention. One of the wedding guests — Miss Jennifer Wilson, a cousin of Mr. Hudson, who had travelled all the way from Cardiff to attend his nuptials — collapsed over her cake. At first it was assumed by the assembled company that the lady had merely swooned from an excess of feeling at the joyous occasion. When, however, neither lavender water nor smelling salts proved efficacious in restoring her to consciousness, Miss Sawyer, the apothecary, must be sent for.


While they awaited the arrival of the apothecary, Mr. Holmes gave vent to his fear that the wedding cake had proved too rich for poor Miss Wilson. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him he regarded as unfit for anybody; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade Mr. and Mrs. Hudson from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent anybody's eating it. But still the cake was eaten, and now here were the sad results of his counsel being ignored. 


Mr. Holmes was still lamenting the folly of serving cake at a wedding when Miss Sawyer arrived. Upon being applied to, she could not but acknowledge that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many — perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. She forbore to answer further questions, however, until she could make a thorough examination of her patient.


Miss Wilson had been lifted onto a sofa, where she lay fearfully still, her pale skin standing out in stark contrast to the cheerful pink of her dress. Miss Sawyer knelt at her side, and upon taking her pulse, pronounced it to be markedly slow and weak. Not wishing to give alarm, however, she bade the wedding guests to continue their revelry, and leave her to the task of reviving Miss Wilson.


This was attempted on both sides with equally little success; Miss Sawyer, with all her skills, was unable to revive the unconscious lady, and no one had much heart for making merry while her fate hung in the balance. The party soon broke up, with many expressions of confidence in Miss Wilson’s full recovery, as well as a lifetime of felicity for the newly married Hudsons, but there was no denying the pall that had fallen over the occasion.  


Once back at Hartfield, Sherlock smiled and chatted as cheerfully as he could, to keep up his father’s spirits; but when tea came, it was impossible for Mr. Holmes not to say exactly as he had said at dinner, “Poor Miss Wilson! I wish she had had better sense than to eat that cake! And poor Mrs. Hudson! I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Hudson ever thought of her!" 


“But Mr. Hudson is such a good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that he thoroughly deserves a good wife; and you would not have had Mrs. Hudson live with us forever, and bear all my odd humours, when she might have a house of her own?" 


"A house of her own! But where is the advantage of a house of her own? This is three times as large. And she never minded your odd humours." 


Sherlock was spared further discussion of the topic by the arrival of a visitor. Captain John Watson, a sensible man of about seven or eight and twenty, was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it, as the half-brother of Mycroft's husband, Greg Lestrade. He lived about a mile from Highbury, was a frequent visitor, and always welcome, and at this time more welcome than usual, as coming directly from their mutual connexions in London. 


He had returned to a late dinner, after some days' absence, and now walked up to Hartfield to say that all were well in Brunswick Square. It was a happy circumstance, and animated Mr. Holmes for some time. Captain Watson had a cheerful manner, which always did him good; and his many inquiries after Mycroft and his husband were answered most satisfactorily. 


When this was over, Mr. Holmes gratefully observed, "It is very kind of you, Captain Watson, to come out at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you must have had a shocking walk." 


"Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful moonlight night; and so mild that I must draw back from your great fire." 


"But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wish you may not catch cold." 


"Dirty, sir? Look at my shoes. Not a speck on them." 


“Well, that is quite surprising, for we have had a vast deal of rain here. It rained dreadfully hard for half an hour while we were at breakfast. I wanted them to put off the wedding." 


"By the bye — I have not wished you joy. Being pretty well aware of what sort of joy you must both be feeling, I have been in no hurry with my congratulations; but I hope it all went off tolerably well. How did you all behave? Who cried most?" 


"Ah! poor Mrs. Hudson! 'Tis a sad business." 


"Poor Mr. Holmes and Sherlock, if you please; but I cannot possibly say 'poor Mrs. Hudson.’ I have a great regard for both of you; but when it comes to the question of dependence or independence! — At any rate, it must be better to have only one to please than two." 


"Especially when one of those two is such a troublesome creature!" said Sherlock playfully. "That is what you have in your head, I know — and what you would certainly say if my father were not by." 


"I believe it is very true, indeed," said Mr. Holmes, with a sigh. "I am afraid I am sometimes very troublesome." 


"My dearest papa! You do not think I could mean you, or suppose Captain Watson to mean you. I meant only myself. Captain Watson loves to find fault with me, you know — in a joke —  it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another." 


Captain Watson, in fact, was one of many people who could see faults in Sherlock Holmes, but the only one — besides Mycroft — who ever dared tell him of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Sherlock himself, he knew it would be so much less so to his father, that he would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as him not being thought perfect by everybody. 


"Sherlock knows I never flatter him," said Captain Watson, "but I meant no reflection on anybody. Mrs. Hudson has been used to have two persons to please; she will now have but one. The chances are that she must be a gainer." 


"Well," said Sherlock, willing to let it pass — "you want to hear about the wedding; and I shall be happy to tell you, for we all behaved charmingly. Everybody was punctual, everybody in their best looks: not a tear, and hardly a long face to be seen. It was all most boringly perfect until Miss Wilson fainted.”


“Such a dreadful business!” said Mr. Holmes. “If only she had shown proper restraint, and confined herself to toast and tea, as I did, myself, I’m sure she would have borne up under the strain of a social gathering much better. But she would insist on having a slice of the wedding cake, as so many of the guests foolishly did, and I fear it was too rich for her.”


“Dreadful, indeed,” said Captain Watson. “But I hope she was speedily brought ‘round.” 


“No,” said Sherlock. “Miss Sawyer was sent for, and broke up the party.”


“I am very sorry for Miss Wilson,” said Mr. Holmes, “and I hope we shall soon hear that she has made a full recovery; but the earlier any party does break up, the better. And a wedding party — with it’s temptations of cake and chocolate — is quite unnecessary, I have always maintained. We were all present for the reading of the banns, and beyond that, what is there to celebrate? Dear Sherlock bears everything so well; but, Captain Watson, he is really very sorry to lose poor Mrs. Hudson, and I am sure he will miss her more than he thinks." 


Sherlock turned away his head, divided between tears and smiles. 


"It is impossible that Sherlock should not miss such a companion," said Captain Watson. "We should not like him so well as we do, sir, if we could suppose it; but he knows how much the marriage is to Mrs. Hudson’s advantage; he knows how very acceptable it must be, at Mrs. Hudson's time of life, to be settled in a home of her own, and how important to her to be secure of a comfortable provision, and therefore cannot allow himself to feel so much pain as pleasure. Every friend of Mrs. Hudson must be glad to have her so happily married." 


"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Sherlock, "and a very considerable one — that I deduced the match myself. I deduced the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Hudson would never marry again, may comfort me for anything." 


Captain Watson shook his head at him. His father fondly replied, "Ah! my dear, I wish you would not deduce matches and foretell things, for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not deduce any more matches." 


"I promise you to deduce none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed, for other people. Deductions are the greatest amusement in the world! And after such success, you know! — Every body said that Mr. Hudson would never marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr. Hudson, who had been a widower so long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a wife, so constantly occupied either in his business in town or among his friends here, always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful — Mr. Hudson need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he did not like it. Oh no! Mr. Hudson certainly would never marry again. Some people even talked of a promise to his wife on her deathbed, and others of the daughter and the uncle not letting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed none of it. Ever since the day — about four years ago — that Miss Taylor and I met with him in Broadway Lane, when, because it began to drizzle, he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell's, I made up my mind on the subject. I deduced the match from that hour; and when such success has blessed me in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leave off match-making." 


"I do not understand what you mean by 'deduction,'" said Captain Watson. "Deduction supposes logic. I rather imagine that your ‘deducing the match,’ as you call it, means only your saying to yourself one idle day, 'I think Mr. Hudson might marry Miss Taylor,' and saying it again to yourself every now and then afterwards. Why do you talk of success? Where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess; and that is all that can be said." 


"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a deduction? I pity you. I thought you cleverer —  for, depend upon it, I never merely make a lucky guess.”


“My dear Sherlock,” said Mr. Holmes, “pray do not deduce any more matches; they are silly things, and break up one's family circle grievously." 


"Only one more, papa; only for Mr. James Moriarty. Poor Mr. James Moriarty! You like Mr. James Moriarty, papa, — I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him —  and he has been here a whole year, and has fitted up his house so comfortably, that it would be a shame to have him single any longer — and I thought when he was reading the banns, and joining their hands today, he looked so very much as if he would like to have the same kind office done for him! I think very well of Mr. James Moriarty, and this is the only way I have of doing him a service." 


"Mr. James Moriarty is a very pretty young man, to be sure, and a very good young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if you want to show him any attention, my dear, ask him to come and dine with us some day. That will be a much better thing. I dare say Captain Watson will be so kind as to meet him." 


"With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time," said Captain Watson, laughing, "and I agree with you entirely, that it will be a much better thing. Invite him to dinner, Sherlock, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to choose his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care of himself.”

Chapter Text

Were it not for the untimely demise of one of their wedding guests, the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Hudson would have been hailed by all who knew them as a singularly blessed event.


Mr. Hudson was a native of Highbury, and born of a respectable family, which for the last two or three generations had been rising into gentility and property. He had received a good education, and, on succeeding early in life to a small independence, had been introduced to Miss Adler, of a great Yorkshire family. Mr. Hudson was such a general favourite that when Miss Adler fell in love with him, nobody was surprised, except her brother and his wife, who had never seen him, and who were full of pride and importance, which the connexion would offend. Miss Adler, however, being of age, and with the full command of her fortune — though her fortune bore no proportion to the family-estate — was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it took place, to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs. Adler, who threw her off with due decorum. 


It was an unsuitable connexion, and did not produce much happiness. Mr. Hudson’s wife ought to have found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper made him think everything due to her in return for the great goodness of being in love with him; but though she had one sort of spirit, she had not the best. She had resolution enough to pursue her own will in spite of her brother, but not enough to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother's unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her former home. They lived beyond their income, but still it was nothing in comparison of Enscombe: she did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once to be the wife of Mr. Hudson, and Miss Adler of Enscombe. 


Mr. Hudson, who had been considered, especially by the Adlers, as making such an amazing match, was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died, after a three years' marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain. From the expense of the child, however, he was soon relieved. The girl had, with the additional softening claim of a lingering illness of her mother's, been the means of a sort of reconciliation; and Mr. and Mrs. Adler, having no children of their own, nor any other young creature of equal kindred to care for, offered to take the whole charge of the little Irene soon after her mother’s decease.


Some scruples and some reluctance the widower-father may be supposed to have felt; but as they were overcome by other considerations, the child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Adlers, and he had only his own comfort to seek, and his own situation to improve as he could. He had still a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent; and between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away. He had, by that time, realised an easy competence — enough to secure the purchase of Randalls, a little estate adjoining Highbury, which he had always longed for — enough to marry a woman as portionless even as Miss Martha Taylor, and to live according to the wishes of his own friendly and social disposition. 


Mr. Hudson had never been an unhappy man; his own temper had secured him from that, even in his first marriage; but his second must show him how delightful a well-judging and truly amiable woman could be, and must give him the pleasantest proof of its being a great deal better to choose than to be chosen, to excite gratitude than to feel it. He had only himself to please in his choice: his fortune was his own; for as to Irene, she was more than being tacitly brought up as her aunt and uncle's heir: it had become so avowed an adoption as to have her assume the name of Adler on coming of age.


He saw his daughter every year in London, and was proud of her; and his fond report of her as a very fine young lady had made Highbury feel a sort of pride in her too. She was looked on as sufficiently belonging to the place to make her merits and prospects a kind of common concern. Miss Irene Adler was one of the boasts of Highbury, and a lively curiosity to see her prevailed, though the compliment was so little returned that she had never been there in her life. 


Her coming to visit her father had been often talked of but never achieved. Now, upon her father's marriage, it was very generally proposed, as a most proper attention, that the visit should take place. There was not a dissenting voice on the subject, either when Miss Sawyer drank tea with Mrs. and Miss Turner, or when Mrs. and Miss Turner returned the visit. 


Now was the time for Miss Irene Adler to come among them; and the hope strengthened when it was understood that she had written to her new mother on the occasion. For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included some mention of the handsome letter Mrs. Hudson had received. 


"I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Miss Irene Adler has written to Mrs. Hudson? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mr. Holmes told me of it. Mr. Holmes saw the letter, and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life." 


It was, indeed, a highly prized letter. Mrs. Hudson had, of course, formed a very favourable idea of the young lady; and such a pleasing attention was an irresistible proof of her great good sense, and a most welcome addition to every source and every expression of congratulation which her marriage had already secured. 


She knew herself to be a most fortunate woman; and she had lived long enough to know how fortunate she might well be thought by others; yet she could not wholly rejoice in her marriage when its celebration had been marred by the tragic death of a guest at the wedding. The sad passing of Miss Jennifer Wilson must be felt by Mrs. Hudson most acutely. To her natural sorrow at the loss of a young life, and her compassion for the grief of her new husband, bereaved of a beloved cousin, was added a more disturbing concern. What had brought about Miss Wilson’s demise?


Miss Sawyer was unable to give any more satisfactory answer than that the young lady’s heart had stopped. This might have been sufficient reason for Mrs. Hudson, had not Sherlock, when she related the apothecary’s conclusion to him, responded with:  


“Obviously her heart stopped! Even someone with no medical training whatsoever must certainly be aware that the heart does not continue beating after death. But what caused an otherwise healthy young lady’s heart to stop?”


“Miss Sawyer would not venture to say. Perhaps the strain of travel was too much for her nerves. She did come all the way from Cardiff for our wedding. A week’s journey, and lodging at inns, must tax even the hardiest of constitutions.”


“But she arrived a fortnight ago, and was staying at Randalls, where I’m sure Mr. Hudson did all in his power to make her extremely comfortable. Indeed, she looked the picture of health during the service. It was only afterwards, as we were enjoying our tea and cake, that she showed any signs of ill health.”


“Are you of your father’s opinion, then, that the cake was too rich for her? I shall never forgive myself if it be so.”


“Perish the thought, Mrs. Hudson. My father was the only one of your guests not to indulge in the wedding cake, and no one else suffered any ill effects. I myself had two slices when papa wasn’t looking, and it was as light and wholesome a confection as ever could be. In any case, Miss Wilson had barely tasted a mouthful before she collapsed. Depend upon it, the cake was not the culprit.”


“Well, then, perhaps it was simply her time, as the Reverend James Moriarty said.”


Sherlock, though unconvinced, forbore to worry his friend further by giving voice to his suspicions, which were, at present, so unformed as to make them difficult to articulate, even to himself. Still, he could not shake the sense that something was not quite right. 

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s father was fond of society, although his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms. Not infrequently, Mr. Holmes had some of the chosen and the best to dine with him, but evening parties were what he preferred, and there was scarcely an evening in the week in which Sherlock could not make up a card-table for him. Real, long-standing regard brought the Hudsons and Captain Watson; and by Mr. James Moriarty, a young man living alone without liking it, the privilege of exchanging any vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Holmes' drawing-room, and the smiles of his gorgeous son, was in no danger of being thrown away. 


After these came a second set, among the most notable of whom were Mrs. and Miss Turner, and Miss Ella Thompson, three ladies almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield. Mrs. Turner, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past everything but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite.


Her daughter, Miss Turner, enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, nor rich. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness; her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. 


It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. Miss Turner loved everybody, was interested in everybody's happiness, and quick-sighted to everybody's merits. She was a great talker upon little matters, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip, which exactly suited Mr. Holmes. 


Miss Ella Thompson was the mistress of a School — not of a seminary, or an establishment, or anything which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems — and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity — but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding School, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. 


Miss Thompson's school was in high repute — and very deservedly. She had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit to Hartfield. 


These were the ladies whom Sherlock found himself very frequently able to collect; and happy was he, for his father's sake, in the power; though, as far as he was himself concerned, it was no remedy for the absence of Mrs. Hudson. He was delighted to see his father look comfortable, and very much pleased with himself for contriving things so well; but the quiet prosings of three such women made him feel that every evening so spent was indeed one of the long evenings he had fearfully anticipated. 


As he sat one morning, looking forward to exactly such a close of the present day, a note was brought from Miss Thompson, requesting, in most respectful terms, to be allowed to bring Miss Molly Hooper with her. This was a most welcome request, for Miss Hooper was a girl of seventeen, whom Sherlock knew very well by sight, and with whom he had long felt an interest in becoming acquainted. A very gracious invitation was returned, and the evening no longer dreaded. 


Molly Hooper was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Miss Thompson's school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history. She had no visible friends but what had been acquired at Highbury, and was now just returned from a long visit in the country to some young ladies who had been at school there with her.


She was a very pretty girl, with a look of great sweetness, and, before the end of the evening, Sherlock was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance. He was not struck by anything remarkably clever in Miss Hooper's conversation, but he found her altogether very engaging — not inconveniently shy, not unwilling to talk — and yet so far from pushing, showing so proper and becoming a deference, seeming so pleasantly grateful for being admitted to Hartfield, and so artlessly impressed by the appearance of everything in so superior a style to what she had been used to, that she must have good sense, and deserve encouragement. 


Sherlock quickly deduced that the acquaintances Miss Hooper had already formed were unworthy of her. The friends from whom she had just parted, though very good sort of people, must be doing her harm. They were a family of the name of Hopkins, whom Sherlock well knew by character, as renting a large farm from Captain Watson, and residing in the parish of Donwell — very creditably, he believed — he knew Captain Watson thought highly of them — but they must be coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimates of a girl who wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect. 


Sherlock decided that he would notice Miss Hooper; he would improve her; he would detach her from her bad acquaintances, and introduce her into good society; he would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind experiment: highly becoming his own situation in life, his leisure, and his powers. He was so busy making his deductions, and forming all these schemes, that the evening flew away at a very unusual rate; and the supper-table, which always closed such parties, and for which he had been used to sit and watch the due time, was all set out and ready, and moved forwards to the fire, before he was aware. 


Mr. Holmes’ feelings upon this occasion were in sad warfare. He loved to have the tablecloth laid, because it had been the fashion of his youth, but the recent tragedy that had befallen Miss Wilson — which no one could convince him of being unrelated to overindulgence in the wedding cake — made him fear to see anything put on it; and while his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to everything, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat. Sherlock allowed his father to talk of his concerns, but supplied his visitors with refreshments in a satisfactory style, and on the present evening had particular pleasure in sending them away happy. 


The happiness of Molly Hooper was quite equal to his intentions. Sherlock was so great a personage in Highbury that the prospect of the introduction had given as much panic as pleasure; but the humble, grateful girl went off with highly gratified feelings, delighted with the affability with which he had treated her all the evening, and had actually shaken hands with her at last!

Chapter Text

Molly Hooper's intimacy at Hartfield was soon a settled thing. Quick and decided in his ways, Sherlock lost no time in inviting, encouraging, and telling her to come very often; and as their acquaintance increased, so did their satisfaction in each other. 


In every respect, the more Sherlock saw of Molly, the more he approved her, and was confirmed in all his kind designs. Molly certainly was not quick-witted — to Sherlock’s mind, almost no one was — but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition, was totally free from conceit, and only desired to be guided by anyone she looked up to. Her early attachment to himself was very amiable; and her inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was elegant and clever, showed that there was no want of taste, though strength of understanding must not be expected. 


Altogether he was quite convinced of Molly Hooper's being exactly the young friend he wanted — exactly the something which his home required. Such another friend as Mrs. Hudson was out of the question. Two such could never be granted. Two such he did not want. This was quite a different sort of thing, a sentiment distinct and independent. Mrs. Hudson was the object of a regard which had its basis in gratitude and esteem. Molly would be loved as one to whom he could be useful. For Mrs. Hudson there was nothing to be done; for Molly everything. 


Sherlock’s first attempts at usefulness were in an endeavour to find out who were the parents, but Molly could give no help. She was ready to tell everything in her power, but on this subject questions were vain. Sherlock was obliged to fancy what he liked — but he could never believe that in the same situation he should not have discovered the truth. Molly had no penetration. She had been satisfied to hear and believe just what Miss Thompson chose to tell her; and looked no farther. 


Miss Thompson, and the teachers, and the girls and the affairs of the school in general, formed naturally a great part of Molly’s conversation — and but for her acquaintance with the family of Abbey-Mill Farm, it must have been the whole. But the Hopkins family occupied her thoughts a good deal: she had spent two very happy months with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place. 


Sherlock encouraged her talkativeness — amused by such a picture of another set of beings, and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of Mrs. Hopkins having "two very good parlours, one of them quite as large as Miss Thompson's drawing-room; and an upper maid who had lived five-and- twenty years with her; and eight cows, one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and Mrs. Hopkins had said, as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow.”


For some time Sherlock was amused, without thinking beyond the immediate cause; but as he came to understand the family better, other feelings arose. He had taken up a wrong idea, believing that Molly had been at school with all of the Hopkins sisters, and was equally friendly with them all. From some comments she had previously made, Sherlock had supposed that her romantic proclivities tended toward an appreciation of young gentlemen; but he now deduced that Molly was as partial to the attractions of both sexes as he had always found himself to be indifferent to them; and her admiration for one of the sisters — the eldest, Miss Stella Hopkins, whom Molly had met for the first time that summer — went, perhaps, beyond mere friendship. 


With this notion, Sherlock’s questions increased in number and meaning; he particularly led her to talk more of Stella Hopkins, and there was evidently no dislike of it. Molly was very ready to speak of the share Stella had had in their moonlight walks and merry evening games; and dwelt a good deal upon her being so very good-humoured and obliging. She had gone three miles round one day in order to bring Molly some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them; and Stella was always ready to sing to her, knowing she was very fond of singing. 


Molly believed Stella was very clever, and understood everything. She had a very fine flock, and had been bid more for their wool than anybody in the country. Molly believed everybody spoke well of Stella. Mrs. Hopkins had told her one day (and Molly blushed as she said it) that it was impossible for anybody to be a better daughter, and therefore she was sure, whenever Stella married, she would make a good wife. Not that she wanted her to marry. She was in no hurry at all. 


"Well done, Mrs. Hopkins!" thought Sherlock. "You know what you are about." Aloud, he said, “Miss Hopkins, I suppose, being engaged in farming, is not a woman of information beyond the line of her own business? She does not read?" 


"Oh yes! — that is, no — I do not know — she was not at school with me — but I believe she has read a good deal — but not what you would think anything of. She reads the Agricultural Reports. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, she would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts, very entertaining. And I know she has read The Vicar of Wakefield. She never read The Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of the Abbey. She had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but she is determined to get them now as soon as ever she can." 


The next question was —  "What sort of looking woman is Miss Hopkins?" 


"Oh! Very handsome. But did you never see her? She is in Highbury every now and then, and she is sure to ride through every week in her way to Kingston. She has passed you very often." 


"That may be, and I may have seen her fifty times, but without having any idea of her name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. A farmer can need none of my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other she is below it." 


"To be sure. Oh yes! It is not likely you should ever have observed her; but she knows you very well indeed — I mean by sight." 


"I have no doubt of her being a very respectable young woman. I know, indeed, from Captain Watson’s reports, that she is so, and, as such, I wish her well. What do you imagine her age to be?" 


"She was four-and-twenty the 8th of last June, and my birthday is the 23rd, just a fortnight and a day's difference — which is very odd." 


"Only four-and-twenty. That is too young to settle. Her mother is perfectly right not to wish her to be in a hurry. They seem very comfortable as they are, and if she were to take any pains to marry, she would probably repent it. Six years hence, if she could meet with a good sort of young man or woman in the same rank as her own, with a little money, it might be very desirable." 


"Six years hence! Dear me! She would be thirty years old!" 


"Well, and that is as early as most women can afford to marry, who are not born to an independence, or engaged to someone who is. Miss Hopkins, I imagine, has her fortune entirely to make. Whatever money she might have come into when her father died, whatever her share of the family property, it is, I dare say, all afloat, all employed in her stock, and so forth; and though, with diligence and good luck, she may be rich in time, it is next to impossible that she should have realised anything yet." 


"To be sure, so it is. But they live very comfortably. They have no indoors man, else they do not want for anything." 


Sherlock must suspect danger to his poor little friend from all this interest in a woman who had no claim to being called a lady, and therefore said, "I wish you may not get into a scrape, Molly, from this acquaintance. For though her sisters, from a superior education, are not to be altogether objected to, it does not follow that Miss Stella Hopkins is at all fit for you to notice. The misfortune of your birth ought to make you particularly careful as to your associates. There can be no doubt of your being a gentleman's daughter, and you must support your claim to that station by everything within your own power, or there will be plenty of people who would take pleasure in degrading you." 


"Yes, to be sure, I suppose there are. But while I visit at Hartfield, and you are so kind to me, I am not afraid of what anybody can do." 


"You understand the force of influence pretty well, Molly; but I would have you so firmly established in good society, as to be independent even of my protection. I want to see you permanently well connected, and to that end it will be advisable to have as few odd acquaintances as may be; and, therefore, I wish you may not be drawn into an intimacy with some mere farmer, without education." 


"To be sure. Yes. Not that I think Stella has not had some education — and been very well brought up. However, I do not mean to set up my opinion against yours — and I am sure I shall not wish to further the acquaintance. I shall always have a great regard for her sisters, especially Elizabeth, and should be very sorry to give them up, for they are quite as well educated as me. But if you think it wrong, I certainly shall not increase my connexion with Stella, if I can help it." 


Sherlock watched her through the fluctuations of this speech, and saw no alarming symptoms of love. He trusted that there would be no serious difficulty, on Molly's side, to oppose any friendly arrangement of his own. 


They met Miss Hopkins the very next day, as they were walking on the Donwell road. She was on foot, and after looking very respectfully at Sherlock, looked with most unfeigned satisfaction at his companion. Sherlock was not sorry to have such an opportunity of survey; and walking a few yards forward, while they talked together, soon made his quick eye sufficiently acquainted with Miss Stella Hopkins. Her appearance was very neat, and she looked like a sensible young woman, but her person had no other advantage; and when she came to be contrasted with real ladies and gentlemen, he thought she must lose all the ground she had gained in Molly's inclination. Molly was not insensible of manner; she had voluntarily noticed his father's gentlemanliness with admiration as well as wonder. Miss Hopkins looked as if she did not know what manner was. 


They remained but a few minutes together, as Sherlock must not be kept waiting; and Molly then came running to him with a smiling face, and in a flutter of spirits, which Sherlock hoped very soon to compose. 


"Only think of our happening to meet her! How very odd! It was quite a chance, she said, that she had not gone round by Randalls. She did not think we ever walked this road. She thought we walked towards Randalls most days. She has not been able to get The Romance of the Forest yet. She was so busy the last time she was at Kingston that she quite forgot it, but she goes again tomorrow. So very odd we should happen to meet! Well, is she like what you expected? What do you think of her?" 


"She is very plain, undoubtedly — remarkably plain — but that is nothing compared with her entire want of gentility. I had no right to expect much, and I did not expect much; but I had no idea that she could be so very clownish, so totally without air. I had imagined her, I confess, a degree or two nearer gentility." 


"To be sure," said Molly, in a mortified voice, "she is not so genteel as real ladies and gentlemen." 


"I think, Molly, since your acquaintance with us, you have been repeatedly in the company of some such very real ladies and gentlemen, that you must yourself be struck with the difference in Miss Hopkins. At Hartfield, you have had very good specimens of well-educated, well bred people. I should be surprised if, after seeing them, you could be in company with Miss Hopkins again without perceiving her to be a very inferior creature — and rather wondering at yourself for having ever thought her at all agreeable before. Do not you begin to feel that now? Were not you struck? I am sure you must have been struck by her awkward look and abrupt manner, and the uncouthness of a voice which I heard to be wholly unmodulated as I stood here." 


"Certainly, she is not like Mrs. Hudson or Captain Watson. She has not such a fine air and way of walking as Captain Watson. I see the difference plain enough. But Captain Watson is so very fine a man!" 


"Captain Watson's air is so remarkably good that it is not fair to compare Miss Hopkins with him. You might not see one in a hundred with gentleman so plainly written as in Captain Watson. But he is not the only genteel person you have been lately used to. What say you to Mrs. Hudson? Compare Miss Hopkins with her. Compare their manner of carrying themselves; of walking; of speaking; of being silent. You must see the difference." 


"Oh yes! There is a great difference. But Mrs. Hudson is an old woman." 


"Which makes her good manners the more valuable. The older a person grows, Molly, the more important it is that their manners should not be bad; the more glaring and disgusting any loudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passable in youth is detestable in later age. Miss Hopkins is now awkward and abrupt; what will she be at Mrs. Hudson's time of life?" 


"There is no saying, indeed," replied Molly rather solemnly. 


"But there may be pretty good deducing. She will be a completely gross, vulgar farmer, totally inattentive to appearances, and thinking of nothing but profit and loss." 


"Will she, indeed? That will be very bad." 


"How much her business engrosses her already is very plain from the circumstance of her forgetting to inquire for the book you recommended. She was a great deal too full of the market to think of anything else — which is just as it should be, for a thriving farmer. What has she to do with books? And I have no doubt that she will thrive, and be a very rich woman in time — and her being illiterate and coarse need not disturb us." 


"I wonder she did not remember the book” was all Molly’s answer, and spoken with a degree of grave displeasure which Sherlock thought might be safely left to itself. He, therefore, said no more for some time. 


His next beginning was, "In one respect, perhaps, Mr. James Moriarty's manners are superior to Captain Watson's or Mrs. Hudson's. They have more gentleness. They might be more safely held up as a pattern. There is an openness, a quickness, almost a bluntness in Mrs. Hudson, which every body likes in her, because there is so much good-humour with it — but that would not do to be copied. Neither would Captain Watson's downright, decided, commanding sort of manner, though it suits him very well; his figure, and look, and situation in life seem to allow it; but if any young man were to set about copying him, he would not be sufferable. 


“On the contrary, I think a young man might be very safely recommended to take Mr. James Moriarty as a model. Mr. Moriarty is good-humoured, cheerful, obliging, and gentle. He seems to me to be grown particularly gentle of late. I do not know whether he has any design of ingratiating himself with either of us, Molly, by additional softness, but it strikes me that his manners are softer than they used to be. If he means anything, it must be to please you. Did not I tell you what he said of you the other day?" 


Sherlock then repeated some warm personal praise which he had drawn from Mr. Moriarty, and now did full justice to; and Molly blushed and smiled, and said she had always thought Mr. Moriarty very agreeable. 


Mr. Moriarty was the very person fixed on by Sherlock for driving the young farmer out of Molly's head. He thought it would be an excellent match; and only too palpably desirable, natural, and probable, for him to have much merit in deducing it. He feared it was what everybody else must think of and predict. It was not likely, however, that anybody should have equalled him in the date of the deduction, as it had entered his brain during the very first evening of Molly's coming to Hartfield. 


The longer Sherlock considered it, the greater was his sense of its expediency. Mr. James Moriarty's situation was most suitable, quite the gentleman himself, and without low connexions; at the same time, not of any family that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Molly. He had a comfortable home for her, and Sherlock imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property; and Sherlock thought very highly of him as a good-humoured, well-meaning, respectable young man, without any deficiency of useful understanding or knowledge of the world. 


Sherlock had already satisfied himself that Mr. Moriarty thought Molly a beautiful girl, which he trusted, with such frequent meetings at Hartfield, was foundation enough on his side; and on Molly's there could be little doubt that the idea of being preferred by him would have all the usual weight and efficacy. And he was really a very pleasing young man, a young man whom anyone not fastidious might like. He was reckoned very handsome; his person much admired in general, though not by Sherlock — but the girl who could be gratified by a Miss Stella Hopkins riding about the country to get walnuts for her might very well be conquered by Mr. James Moriarty's admiration.

Chapter Text

"I do not know what your opinion may be, Mrs. Hudson," said Captain Watson, "of this great intimacy between Sherlock and Molly Hooper, but I think it a bad thing." 


"A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing? Why so?" 


"I think they will neither of them do the other any good." 


"You surprise me! Sherlock must do Molly good; and by supplying him with a new object of interest, Molly may be said to do Sherlock good. I have been seeing their intimacy with the greatest pleasure. How very differently we feel! This will certainly be the beginning of one of our quarrels about Sherlock, Captain Watson." 


"Perhaps you think I am come on purpose to quarrel with you, knowing Mr. Hudson to be out, and that you must fight your own battle." 


"Mr. Hudson would undoubtedly support me, if he were here, for he thinks exactly as I do on the subject. We were speaking of it only yesterday, and agreeing how fortunate it was for Sherlock, that there should be such a girl in Highbury for him to associate with. Molly Hooper may not have the superior intelligence Sherlock possesses, but on the other hand, as Sherlock wants to see her better informed, it will be an inducement to him to read more himself. They will read together. He means it, I know." 


"Sherlock has been meaning to read more ever since he was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of his drawing-up at various times of books that he meant to read regularly through — and very good lists they were — very well chosen, and very neatly arranged — sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list he drew up when only fourteen — I remember thinking it did his judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say he may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Sherlock. He will never submit to anything requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of his own genius to the understanding of others. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Miss Hooper will do nothing. You never could persuade him to read half so much as you wished. You know you could not." 


"I dare say," replied Mrs. Hudson, smiling, "that I thought so then; but since we have parted, I can never remember Sherlock's omitting to do anything I wished." 


"There is hardly any desiring to refresh such a memory as that,” said Captain Watson, feelingly; and for a moment or two he had done. 


"But I," he soon added, "who have had no such charm thrown over my senses, must still see, hear, and remember. Sherlock is spoiled by being the cleverest of his family. At ten years old, he had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled every adult in his vicinity. He was always quick and assured: even Mycroft had trouble keeping up with him. And ever since he was twelve, and his brother married and went off to London, Sherlock has been acting as master of the house and of you all. In his mother he lost the only person able to cope with him. He inherits his mother's talents, and must have been under subjection to her." 


"I should have been sorry, Captain Watson, to be dependent on your recommendation, had I quitted Mr. Holmes' family and wanted another situation as governess; I do not think you would have spoken a good word for me to anybody. I am sure you always thought me unfit for the office I held." 


"Yes," said he, smiling. “Though no one on earth could have been fit to keep Sherlock under control. You are better placed here; I am sure Mr. Hudson would give you an excellent recommendation as a wife.” 


"Thank you. There will be very little difficulty in making a good wife to such a man as Mr. Hudson.”


"Why, to own the truth, I am afraid you are rather thrown away, and that with all the practice Sherlock has given you in bearing up under adversity, there will be nothing to be borne. We will not despair, however. Mr. Hudson may grow cross from the wantonness of comfort, or his daughter may plague him." 


"I hope not that. It is not likely. No, Captain Watson, do not foretell vexation from that quarter." 


"Not I, indeed. I only name possibilities. I do not pretend to Sherlock's genius for foretelling and deducing. I hope, with all my heart, the young lady may be a Hudson in merit, and an Adler in fortune.


“But Molly Hooper — I have not half done about Molly Hooper. I think her the very worst sort of companion that Sherlock could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Sherlock as knowing everything. She is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Sherlock imagine he has anything to learn himself, while Molly is presenting such a delightful inferiority? 


“And as for Molly, I will venture to say that she cannot gain by the acquaintance. Hartfield will only put her out of conceit with all the other places she belongs to. She will grow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whom birth and circumstances have placed her home. I am much mistaken if Sherlock's doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all to make a girl adapt herself rationally to the varieties of her situation in life. They only give a little polish." 


"I either depend more upon Sherlock's good sense than you do, or am more anxious for his present comfort; for I cannot lament the acquaintance. How well he looked last night!”


"Oh! you would rather talk of his person than his mind, would you? Very well; I shall not attempt to deny Sherlock's being handsome." 


“Handsome! Say beautiful, rather. Can you imagine any thing nearer perfect beauty than Sherlock altogether — face and figure?" 


"I do not know what I could imagine, but I confess that I have seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing to me than his. But I am a partial old friend." 


"Such an eye! It’s ever-changing colours — and so brilliant! Striking features, flawless complexion! And such a perfect height and size; such a firm and upright figure! There is elegance in his air, his bearing, his glance. He is loveliness itself. Captain Watson, is not he?" 


"I have not a fault to find with his person," he replied. "I think him all you describe. I love to look at him; and I will add this praise, that I do not think him personally vain. Considering how very handsome he is, he appears to be little occupied with it; his vanity lies another way — it is all for his genius.”


“Well, and hasn’t he rightful claim to vanity in that area?”


“Not when it make him think himself infallible. Mrs. Hudson, I am not to be talked out of my dread of this connexion with Molly Hooper doing them both harm." 


"And I, Captain Watson, am equally stout in my confidence of its not doing them any harm. With all dear Sherlock's little faults, he is an excellent creature. Where shall we see a better son, or a truer friend? No, no; he has qualities which may be trusted; he will never lead anyone really wrong; he will make no lasting blunder; where Sherlock errs once, he is in the right a hundred times." 


"Very well; I will not plague you any more. Sherlock shall be an angel, and I will keep my spleen to myself till Christmas brings Greg and Mycroft. Greg loves Sherlock with a reasonable and therefore not a blind affection, and Mycroft always thinks quite clearly. I am sure of having their opinions with me." 


"I know that you all love him really too well to be unjust or unkind; but excuse me, Captain Watson, if I take the liberty (I consider myself, you know, as having somewhat of the privilege of speech that Sherlock's mother might have had) the liberty of hinting that I do not think any possible good can arise from Molly Hooper's intimacy being made a matter of much discussion among you. Pray excuse me; but supposing any little inconvenience may be apprehended from the intimacy, it cannot be expected that Sherlock, accountable to nobody but his father, who perfectly approves the acquaintance, should put an end to it, so long as it is a source of pleasure to himself. It has been so many years my province to give advice, that you cannot be surprised, Captain Watson, at this little remains of office." 


"Not at all," cried he; "I am much obliged to you for it. It is very good advice, and it shall have a better fate than your advice has often found; for it shall be attended to." 


"Mycroft is easily alarmed, and might be made unhappy about his brother." 


"Be satisfied," said Captain Watson, "I will not raise any outcry. I will keep my ill-humour to myself. I have a very sincere interest in Sherlock. There is an anxiety, a curiosity in what one feels for him. I wonder what will become of him." 


"So do I," said Mrs. Hudson gently, "very much." 


"He always declares he will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that he has yet ever seen anyone he cared for. It would not be a bad thing for him to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Sherlock in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do him good. But there is nobody hereabouts to attach him; and he goes so seldom from home." 


"There does, indeed, seem as little to tempt him to break his resolution at present," said Mrs. Hudson, "as can well be; and while he is so happy at Hartfield, I cannot wish him to be forming any attachment which would be creating such difficulties on poor Mr. Holmes' account. I do not recommend matrimony at present to Sherlock, though I mean no slight to the state, I assure you." 


Part of her meaning was to conceal some favourite thoughts of her own and Mr. Hudson's on the subject, as much as possible. There were wishes at Randalls respecting Sherlock's destiny, but it was not desirable to have them suspected; and the quiet transition which Captain Watson soon afterwards made to "What does Mr. Hudson think of the weather; shall we have rain?" convinced her that he had nothing more to say or surmise about Sherlock.


Chapter Text

Sherlock could not feel a doubt of having given Molly's fancy a proper direction and raised the gratitude of her young vanity to a very good purpose, for he found her decidedly more sensible than before of Mr. James Moriarty's being a remarkably handsome man, with most agreeable manners; and as Sherlock had no hesitation in following up the assurance of his admiration by agreeable hints, he was soon pretty confident of creating as much liking on Molly's side as there could be any occasion for. 


Sherlock was quite convinced of Mr. Moriarty's being in the fairest way of falling in love, if not in love already. He talked of Molly, and praised her so warmly, that Sherlock could not suppose anything wanting which a little time would not add. 


Mr. Moriarty’s perception of the striking improvement of Molly's manner, since her introduction at Hartfield, was one of the agreeable proofs of his growing attachment. "You have given Miss Hooper all that she required," he said to Sherlock. "You have made her graceful and easy. She was a beautiful creature when she came to you, but, in my opinion, the attractions you have added are infinitely superior to what she received from nature." 


"I am glad you think I have been useful to her; but Molly only wanted drawing out, and receiving a few, very few hints. She had all the natural grace of sweetness of temper and artlessness in herself. I have perhaps given her a little more decision of character, and have taught her to think on points which had not fallen in her way before." 


"Exactly so; that is what principally strikes me. So much superadded decision of character! Skilful has been the hand!" 


"Great has been the pleasure, I am sure. I never met with a disposition more truly amiable." 


"I have no doubt of it." And it was spoken with a sort of sighing animation, which had a vast deal of the lover. 


Sherlock was not less pleased another day with the manner in which Mr. Moriarty seconded a sudden wish of his, to have Molly's picture. 


“Did you ever have your likeness taken, Molly?" said he. "Did you ever sit for your picture?" 


Molly was on the point of leaving the room, and only stopped to say, with a very interesting naiveté, "Oh dear, no, never." 


No sooner was she out of sight, than Sherlock exclaimed, "What an exquisite possession a good picture of her would be! I would give any money for it. I almost long to attempt her likeness myself. You do not know it, I dare say, but two or three years ago I had a great passion for taking likenesses, and attempted several of my friends, and was thought to have a tolerable eye in general. But from one cause or another, I gave it up in disgust. But really, I could almost venture, if Molly would sit for me. It would be such a delight to have her picture!" 


“It would indeed be a delight!” cried Mr. Moriarty. “Let me entreat you, Mr. Holmes, to exercise so charming a talent in favour of your friend. I know what your drawings are. How could you suppose me ignorant? Is not this room rich in specimens of your landscapes and flowers; and has not Mrs. Hudson some inimitable figure-pieces in her drawing-room, at Randalls?" 


Yes, good man! —  thought Sherlock — but what has all that to do with taking likenesses? You know nothing of drawing. Don't pretend to be in raptures about mine. Keep your raptures for Molly's face. 


"Well, if you give me such kind encouragement, Mr. Moriarty, I believe I shall try what I can do. Molly's features are very delicate, which makes a likeness difficult; and yet there is a peculiarity in the shape of the eye and the lines about the mouth which one ought to catch." 


"Exactly so — the shape of the eye and the lines about the mouth — I have not a doubt of your success. Pray, pray attempt it. As you will do it, it will, indeed, to use your own words, be an exquisite possession." 


"But I am afraid, Mr. Moriarty, Molly will not like to sit. She thinks so little of her own beauty. Did not you observe her manner of answering me? How completely it meant, 'why should my picture be drawn?'" 


"Oh yes, I observed it, I assure you. It was not lost on me. But still I cannot imagine she would not be persuaded." 


Molly was soon back again, and the proposal almost immediately made; and she had no scruples which could stand many minutes against the earnest pressing of both the others. Sherlock wished to go to work directly, and therefore produced the portfolio containing his various attempts at portraits, though not one of them had ever been finished, that they might decide together on the best size for Molly. 


His many beginnings were displayed. Miniatures, half-lengths, whole-lengths, pencil, crayon, and water-colours had been all tried in turn. He had always wanted to do everything, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as he would ever submit to. He played the pianoforte and sang, and drew in almost every style, but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing except the violin had he approached the degree of excellence which he would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. 


Sherlock was not much deceived as to his own skill as an artist, but he was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know his reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved. There was merit in every drawing — in the least finished, perhaps the most; his style was spirited; but had there been much less, or had there been ten times more, the delight and admiration of his two companions would have been the same. They were both in ecstasies. 


"No great variety of faces for you," said Sherlock. "I had only my own family to study from. There is my father — another of my father — but the idea of sitting for his picture made him so nervous, that I could only take him by stealth; neither of them very like therefore. Mrs. Hudson again, and again, and again, you see. Dear Mrs. Hudson! Always my kindest friend on every occasion. She would sit whenever I asked her. There is my brother; I should have made a good likeness of him, if he would have sat longer, but he was in such a hurry to have me draw his husband that he would not be quiet. 


“Then here is my last," — presenting a pretty sketch of a gentleman in small size, whole-length — "my last and my best — my brother’s husband, Mr. Greg Lestrade. This did not want much of being finished, when I put it away in a pique, and vowed I would never take another likeness. I could not help being provoked; for after all my pains, and when I had really made a very good likeness of it — (Mrs. Hudson and I were quite agreed in thinking it very like — only too handsome — too flattering — but that was a fault on the right side) — after all this, came dear Mycroft's cold approbation of — ‘Yes, it was a little like — but to be sure it did not do him justice.’


“We had had a great deal of trouble in persuading him to sit at all. It was made a great favour of; and altogether it was more than I could bear; and so I never would finish it, to have it apologised over as an unfavourable likeness, to every morning visitor in Brunswick Square; — and, as I said, I did then forswear ever drawing anybody again. But for Molly's sake, or rather for my own, and as there are no husbands and wives in the case at present , I will break my resolution now." 


Mr. James Moriarty seemed very properly struck and delighted by the idea, and was repeating, "No husbands and wives in the case at present indeed, as you observe. Exactly so. No husbands and wives," with so interesting a consciousness, that Sherlock began to consider whether he had not better leave them together at once. 


But as he wanted to be drawing, the declaration must wait a little longer. He had soon fixed on the size and sort of portrait. It was to be a whole-length in water-colours, like Mr. Greg Lestrade's, and was destined, if he could please himself, to hold a very honourable station over the mantelpiece. 


The sitting began; and Molly, smiling and blushing, and afraid of not keeping her attitude and countenance, presented a very sweet mixture of youthful expression to the steady eyes of the artist. But there was no doing anything, with Mr. James Moriarty fidgeting behind him and watching every touch. Sherlock gave him credit for stationing himself where he might gaze and gaze again at Molly without offence; but was really obliged to put an end to it, and request him to place himself elsewhere. 


It then occurred to him to employ Mr. Moriarty in reading. If he would be so good as to read to them, it would be a kindness indeed! It would amuse away the difficulties of Sherlock’s part, and lessen the irksomeness of Miss Hooper's. 


Mr. Moriarty was only too happy. Molly listened, and Sherlock drew in peace. 


He must allow Mr. Moriarty to be still frequently coming to look; anything less would certainly have been too little in a lover; and he was ready, at the smallest intermission of the pencil, to jump up and see the progress, and be charmed. There was no being displeased with such an encourager, for his admiration made him discern a likeness almost before it was possible. Sherlock could not respect his eye, but his love and his complaisance were unexceptionable.


The sitting was altogether very satisfactory; he was quite enough pleased with the first day's sketch to wish to go on. There was no want of likeness, he had been fortunate in the attitude, and as he meant to throw in a little improvement to the figure, to give a little more height, and considerably more elegance, he had great confidence of its being in every way a pretty drawing at last, and of its filling its destined place with credit to them both — a standing memorial of the beauty of one, the skill of the other, and the friendship of both; with as many other agreeable associations as Mr. James Moriarty's very promising attachment was likely to add. 


Molly was to sit again the next day; and Mr. Moriarty, just as he ought, entreated for the permission of attending and reading to them again. 


"By all means. We shall be most happy to consider you as one of the party." 


The same civilities and courtesies, the same success and satisfaction, took place on the morrow, and accompanied the whole progress of the picture, which was rapid and happy. Everybody who saw it was pleased, but Mr. James Moriarty was in continual raptures, and defended it through every criticism. 


“Sherlock has given his friend the only beauty she wanted,” observed Mrs. Hudson to him — not in the least suspecting that she was addressing a lover. "The expression of the eye is most correct, but Miss Hooper has not those eyebrows and eyelashes. It is the fault of her face that she has them not." 


"Do you think so?" replied he. "I cannot agree with you. It appears to me a most perfect resemblance in every feature. I never saw such a likeness in my life. We must allow for the effect of shade, you know." 


"You have made her too tall, Sherlock," said Captain Watson. 


Sherlock knew that he had, but would not own it; and Mr. Moriarty warmly added, "Oh no! Certainly not too tall; not in the least too tall. Consider, she is sitting down —  which naturally presents a different — which in short gives exactly the idea —  and the proportions must be preserved, you know. Proportions, fore-shortening. — Oh no! It gives one exactly the idea of such a height as Miss Hooper's. Exactly so indeed!" 


"It is very pretty," said Mr. Holmes. "So prettily done! Just as your drawings always are, my dear Sherlock. I do not know anybody who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders — and it makes one think she must catch cold." 


"But, my dear papa, it is supposed to be summer; a warm day in summer. Look at the tree." 


"But it is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear." 


"You, sir, may say anything," cried Mr. Moriarty, "but I must confess that I regard it as a most happy thought, the placing of Miss Hooper out of doors; and the tree is touched with such inimitable spirit! Any other situation would have been much less in character. The naiveté of Miss Hooper's manners — and altogether — Oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it. I never saw such a likeness." 


The next thing wanted was to get the picture framed; and here were a few difficulties. It must be done directly; it must be done in London; the order must go through the hands of some intelligent person whose taste could be depended on; and Mycroft, the usual doer of all commissions, must not be applied to, because it was December, and Mr. Holmes could not bear the idea of his stirring out of his house in the fogs of December. 


But no sooner was the distress known to Mr. James Moriarty, than it was removed. His gallantry was always on the alert. Might he be trusted with the commission, what infinite pleasure should he have in executing it! He could ride to London at any time. It was impossible to say how much he should be gratified by being employed on such an errand.


Sherlock’s protestations that he would not give Mr. Moriarty such a troublesome office for the world brought on the desired repetition of entreaties and assurances, and a very few minutes settled the business. Mr. Moriarty was to take the drawing to London, choose the frame, and give the directions; and Sherlock thought he could so pack it as to ensure its safety without much incommoding him, while he seemed mostly fearful of not being incommoded enough. 


"What a precious deposit!" said he with a tender sigh, as he received it. 


This man is almost too gallant to be in love, thought Sherlock. I should say so, but that I suppose there may be a hundred different ways of being in love. He is an excellent young man, and will suit Molly exactly; but he does sigh and languish, and study for compliments rather more than I could endure as a principal. I come in for a pretty good share as a second. But it must be his gratitude on Molly's account.


Chapter Text

The very day of Mr. James Moriarty's going to London produced a fresh occasion for Sherlock's services towards his friend. Molly had been at Hartfield, as usual, soon after breakfast; and, after a time, had gone home, to return again for dinner. She returned, and sooner than had been talked of, with an agitated, hurried look, announcing something extraordinary to have happened which she was longing to tell. 


Half a minute brought it all out. She had heard, as soon as she got back to Miss Thompson's, that Miss Stella Hopkins had been there an hour before, and finding she was not at home, nor particularly expected, had left a letter for her and gone away. On opening this letter, Molly had actually found a direct proposal of marriage. 


Who could have thought it? She was so surprised she did not know what to do. Yes, quite a proposal of marriage; and a very good letter; at least she thought so. And Miss Hopkins wrote as if she really loved her very much — but Molly did not know — and so, she was come as fast as she could to ask him what she should do.


Sherlock was half-ashamed of his friend for seeming so pleased and so doubtful. "Upon my word," he cried, “Miss Hopkins is determined not to lose anything for want of asking. She will connect herself well if she can." 


"Will you read the letter?" cried Molly. "Pray do. I'd rather you would." 


Sherlock was not sorry to be pressed. He read, and was surprised. The style of the letter was much above his expectation. There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a true lady; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer. It was short, but expressed good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling. 


He paused over it, while Molly stood anxiously watching for his opinion, and was at last forced to ask, "Is it a good letter? Or is it too short?" 


"Yes, indeed, a very good letter," replied Sherlock rather slowly. "So good a letter, Molly, that everything considered, I think one of her sisters must have helped her. I can hardly imagine the young woman whom I saw talking with you the other day could express herself so well, if left quite to her own powers. But no doubt she is a sensible woman, and I suppose may have a natural talent for finding proper words. A better written letter, Molly, than I had expected." 


"Well," said the still waiting Molly, "well — and — and what shall I do?" 


"What shall you do! In what respect? Do you mean with regard to this letter?" 




"But what are you in doubt of? You must answer it of course — and speedily." 


"Yes. But what shall I say? Do advise me." 


"Oh no, no! The letter had much better be all your own. You will express yourself very properly, I am sure. There is no danger of your not being intelligible, which is the first thing. Your meaning must be unequivocal; no doubts or demurs: and such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pain you are inflicting as propriety requires, will present themselves unbidden to your mind, I am persuaded. You need not be prompted to write with the appearance of sorrow for her disappointment." 


"You think I ought to refuse her, then," said Molly, looking down. 


"Ought to refuse her! My dear Molly, what do you mean? Are you in any doubt as to that? I thought — but I beg your pardon, perhaps I have been under a mistake. I certainly have been misunderstanding you, if you feel in doubt as to the purport of your answer. I had imagined you were consulting me only as to the wording of it." 


Molly was silent. 


With a little reserve of manner, Sherlock continued: "You mean to return a favourable answer, I collect." 


"No, I do not; that is, I do not mean — What shall I do? What would you advise me to do? Pray, tell me what I ought to do." 


"I shall not give you any advice, Molly. I will have nothing to do with it. This is a point which you must settle with your feelings." 


"I had no notion that she liked me so very much," said Molly, contemplating the letter. 


For a little while Sherlock persevered in his silence; but beginning to apprehend the bewitching flattery of that letter might be too powerful, he thought it best to say, "I lay it down as a general rule, Molly, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a proposal or not, she certainly ought to refuse it. If she can hesitate as to 'Yes,' she ought to say 'No' directly. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart. I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you." 


“Oh, no! I am sure you are a great deal too kind to — But if you would just advise me what I had best do — No, no, I do not mean that — As you say, one's mind ought to be quite made up — One should not be hesitating — It is a very serious thing. — It will be safer to say 'No,' perhaps. —  Do you think I had better say 'No?'" 


"Not for the world," said Sherlock, smiling graciously, "would I advise you either way. You must be the best judge of your own happiness. If you prefer Miss Hopkins to every other person; if you think her the most agreeable person you have ever been in company with, why should you hesitate? You blush, Molly. Does anybody else occur to you at this moment under such a definition? Molly, Molly, do not deceive yourself; do not be run away with by gratitude and compassion. At this moment whom are you thinking of?" 


The symptoms were favourable. Instead of answering, Molly turned away confused, and stood thoughtfully by the fire; and though the letter was still in her hand, it was now mechanically twisted about without regard. Sherlock waited the result with impatience, but not without strong hopes. 


At last, with some hesitation, Molly said, "As you will not give me your opinion, I must do as well as I can by myself; and I have now quite determined, and really almost made up my mind — to refuse Miss Hopkins. Do you think I am right?" 


"Perfectly, perfectly right, my dearest Molly; you are doing just what you ought. While you were at all in suspense I kept my feelings to myself, but now that you are so completely decided I have no hesitation in approving. Dear Molly, I give myself joy of this. It would have grieved me to lose your acquaintance, which must have been the consequence of your marrying Miss Hopkins. While you were in the smallest degree wavering, I said nothing about it, because I would not influence; but it would have been the loss of a friend to me. I could not have visited you at Abbey-Mill Farm. Now I am secure of you forever." 


Molly had not surmised her own danger, but the idea of it struck her forcibly. "You could not have visited me?” she cried, looking aghast. "No, to be sure you could not; you told me yourself that you would have nothing to do with farmers. But I never thought of that before. That would have been too dreadful! What an escape! I would not give up the pleasure and honour of being intimate with you for anything in the world." 


"Indeed, Molly, it would have been a severe pang to lose you; but it must have been. You would have thrown yourself out of all good society. I must have given you up." 


"Dear me! How should I ever have borne it! It would have killed me to have lost your friendship!" 


“Dear, affectionate creature! — You, banished to Abbey-Mill Farm? —  You, confined to the society of the illiterate and vulgar all your life? I wonder how Miss Hopkins could have the assurance to ask it. She must have a pretty good opinion of herself." 


"I do not think she is conceited, in general," said Molly, her conscience opposing such censure; "at least, she is very good natured, and I shall always feel much obliged to her, and have a great regard for — but that is quite a different thing from — and you know, though she may like me, it does not follow that I should — and certainly I must confess that since my visiting here I have seen people — and if one comes to compare them, person and manners, there is no comparison at all, one is so very handsome and agreeable. However, I do really think Miss Hopkins a very amiable young woman, and have a great opinion of her; and her being so much attached to me — and writing such a letter — but as to leaving you, it is what I would not do upon any consideration." 


"Thank you, thank you, my own sweet little friend. We will not be parted. A woman is not to marry merely because she is asked, or because someone is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter." 


"Oh! Yes. Nobody cares for a letter; the thing is, to be always happy with pleasant companions. I am quite determined to refuse her. But how shall I do? What shall I say?" 


Sherlock assured her there would be no difficulty in the answer, and advised its being written directly, which was agreed to, in the hope of his assistance; and though Sherlock continued to protest against any assistance being wanted, it was in fact given in the formation of every sentence. The looking over the letter again, in replying to it, had such a softening tendency, that it was particularly necessary to brace her up with a few decisive expressions; and Molly was so very much concerned at the idea of making Miss Hopkins unhappy, and thought so much of what her mother and sisters would think and say, and was so anxious that they should not fancy her ungrateful, that Sherlock believed if the young woman had come in her way at that moment, she would have been accepted after all. 


This letter, however, was written, and sealed, and sent. The business was finished, and Molly safe. She was rather low all the evening, but Sherlock could allow for her amiable regrets, and sometimes relieved them by speaking of his own affection, sometimes by bringing forward the idea of Mr. James Moriarty. 


"I shall never be invited to Abbey-Mill again," was said in rather a sorrowful tone. 


"Nor, if you were, could I ever bear to part with you, my Molly. You are a great deal too necessary at Hartfield to be spared to Abbey-Mill." 


"And I am sure I should never want to go there; for I am never happy but at Hartfield." 


Some time afterwards it was, "I think Miss Thompson would be very much surprised if she knew what had happened. I am sure Miss Prince would — for Miss Prince thinks her own sister very well married, and it is only a linen-draper." 


"One should be sorry to see greater pride or refinement in the teacher of a school, Molly. I dare say Miss Connie Prince would envy you such an opportunity as this of being married. Even this conquest would appear valuable in her eyes. As to anything superior for you, I suppose she is quite in the dark. The attentions of a certain person can hardly be among the tittle-tattle of Highbury yet. Hitherto I fancy you and I are the only people to whom his looks and manners have explained themselves." 


Molly blushed and smiled, and said something about wondering that people should like her so much. The idea of Mr. James Moriarty was certainly cheering; but still, after a time, she was tender-hearted again towards the rejected Miss Hopkins. 


"Now she has got my letter," said Molly softly. "I wonder what they are all doing — whether her sisters know — if she is unhappy, they will be unhappy too. I hope she will not mind it so very much." 


"Let us think of those among our absent friends who are more cheerfully employed," cried Sherlock. "At this moment, perhaps, Mr. Moriarty is showing your picture to his mother and sisters, telling how much more beautiful is the original, and after being asked for it five or six times, allowing them to hear your name, your own dear name." 


"My picture! — But he has left my picture in Bond Street." 


"Has he so? — Then I know nothing of Mr. James Moriarty. No, my dear little modest Molly, depend upon it, the picture will not be in Bond Street till just before he mounts his horse tomorrow. It is his companion all this evening, his solace, his delight. It opens his designs to his family, it introduces you among them, it diffuses through the party those pleasantest feelings of our nature, eager curiosity and warm prepossession. How cheerful, how animated, how suspicious, how busy their imaginations all are!" 


Molly smiled again, and her smiles grew stronger.

Chapter Text


Molly slept at Hartfield that night. For some weeks past she had been spending more than half her time there, and gradually getting to have a bedroom appropriated to herself; and Sherlock judged it best in every respect, safest and kindest, to keep her with them as much as possible just at present. She was obliged to go the next morning for an hour or two to Miss Thompson's, but it was then to be settled that she should return to Hartfield, to make a regular visit of some days. 


While Molly was gone, Captain Watson called, and sat some time with Mr. Holmes and Sherlock, till Mr. Holmes, who had previously made up his mind to walk out, was persuaded by his son not to defer it, and was induced by the entreaties of both, though against the scruples of his own civility, to leave them for that purpose. Captain Watson, instead of being immediately off likewise, sat down again, seemingly inclined for more chat. He began speaking of Molly, and speaking of her with more voluntary praise than Sherlock had ever heard before. 


"I cannot rate her beauty as you do," said he; "but she is a pretty little creature, and I am inclined to think very well of her disposition. Her character depends upon those she is with; but in good hands she will turn out a valuable woman." 


"I am glad you think so; and the good hands, I hope, may not be wanting." 


"Come," said Captain Watson, "you are anxious for a compliment, so I will tell you that you have improved her. You have cured her of her school-girl's giggle; she really does you credit." 


"Thank you. I should be mortified indeed if I did not believe I had been of some use; but it is not everybody who will bestow praise where they may. You do not often overpower me with it." 


"You are expecting her again, you say, this morning?" 


"Almost every moment. She has been gone longer already than she intended." 


“Something has happened to delay her; some visitors perhaps." 


"Highbury gossips! Tiresome wretches!" 


"Molly may not consider everybody tiresome that you would." 


Sherlock knew this was too true for contradiction, and therefore said nothing. 


Captain Watson presently added, with a smile, "I do not pretend to fix on times or places, but I must tell you that I have good reason to believe your little friend will soon hear of something to her advantage." 


"Indeed! How so? Of what sort?" 


"A very serious sort, I assure you,” Captain Watson said, still smiling. 


"Very serious! I can think of but one thing — Who is in love with her? Who makes you their confidant?" 


Sherlock was more than half in hopes of Mr. James Moriarty's having dropped a hint. Captain Watson was a sort of general friend and adviser, and Sherlock knew Mr. Moriarty looked up to him. 


"I have reason to think," he replied, "that Molly Hooper will soon have an offer of marriage, and from a most unexceptionable quarter: Stella Hopkins is the one. Her visit to Abbey-Mill, this summer, seems to have done its business. Miss Hopkins is desperately in love and means to marry her." 


"She is very obliging," said Sherlock; "but is she sure that Molly means to marry her?" 


"Well, well, means to make her an offer then. Will that do? Miss Hopkins came to the Abbey two evenings ago, on purpose to consult me about it. She knows I have a thorough regard for her and all her family, and, I believe, considers me as one of her best friends. She came to ask me whether I thought it would be imprudent in her to settle so early; whether I thought Miss Hooper too young: in short, whether I approved her choice altogether; having some apprehension perhaps of Molly’s being considered (especially since your making so much of her) as in a line of society above her. 


“I was very much pleased with all that she said. I never hear better sense from anyone than Stella Hopkins. She always speaks to the purpose; open, straightforward, and very well judging. She told me everything; her circumstances and plans, and what they all proposed doing in the event of her marriage. She is an excellent young woman, both as daughter and sister. 


“I had no hesitation in advising her to marry. She proved to me that she could afford it; and that being the case, I was convinced she could not do better. I praised the fair Molly, too, and altogether sent Miss Hopkins away very happy. If she had never esteemed my opinion before, she would have thought highly of me then; and, I dare say, left the house thinking me the best friend and counsellor she ever had. 


“This happened the night before last. Now, as we may fairly suppose she would not allow much time to pass before she spoke to Miss Hooper, and as she does not appear to have spoken yesterday, it is not unlikely that she should be at Miss Thompson's today; and Molly may be detained by a visitor, without thinking her at all a tiresome wretch." 


"Pray, Captain Watson," said Sherlock, who had been smiling to himself through a great part of this speech, "how do you know that Miss Hopkins did not speak yesterday?" 


"Certainly," replied he, surprised, "I do not absolutely know it; but it may be inferred. Was not Miss Hooper the whole day with you?" 


"Come," said Sherlock, "I will tell you something, in return for what you have told me. She did speak yesterday — that is, she wrote, and was refused." 


This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Captain Watson actually looked red with surprise and displeasure, as he stood up, in all indignation, and said, "Then Molly is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?" 


"Oh! To be sure," cried Sherlock, "it is generally incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. Most men imagine a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her. But I know better.” 


"Nonsense! I do not imagine any such thing. But what is the meaning of this? Molly Hooper refuse Stella Hopkins? Madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken." 


"I saw her answer! Nothing could be clearer." 


"You saw her answer! I’ll wager you wrote her answer, too. Sherlock, this is your doing. You persuaded her to refuse him." 


"And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing) I should not feel that I had done wrong. Miss Hopkins is a very respectable young woman, but I cannot admit her to be Molly's equal; and am rather surprised indeed that she should have ventured to address her. By your account, she does seem to have had some scruples. It is a pity that they were ever got over." 


"Not Molly's equal!" exclaimed Captain Watson loudly and warmly; and with calmer asperity, added, a few moments afterwards, "No, she is not her equal indeed, for Miss Hopkins is as much Molly’s superior in sense as in situation. Sherlock, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Molly Hooper's claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connexion higher than Stella Hopkins? 


“She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young to have acquired anything herself. At her age she can have no experience, and living at Miss Thompson’s, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. 


“My only scruple in advising the match was on Miss Hopkins’ account, as being beneath her deserts, and a bad connexion for her. I felt that, as to fortune, in all probability she might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, she could do better still. But I could not reason so to a woman in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in Molly, to her having that sort of disposition which, in good hands, like hers, might be easily led aright and turn out very well. 


“The advantage of the match I felt to be all on Molly’s side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would be a general cry-out upon her extreme good luck. Even your satisfaction I made sure of. It crossed my mind immediately that you would not regret your friend's leaving Highbury, for the sake of her being settled so well. I remember saying to myself, 'Even Sherlock, with all his partiality for Molly, will think this a good match.'" 


"I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of me as to say any such thing. What! Think a farmer, (and with all her sense and all her merit Miss Hopkins is nothing more,) a good match for my intimate friend! Not regret her leaving Highbury for the sake of marrying a woman whom I could never admit as an acquaintance of my own! I wonder you should think it possible for me to have such feelings. I assure you mine are very different. 


“I must think your statement by no means fair. You are not just to Molly's claims. They would be estimated very differently by others as well as myself; Miss Hopkins may be the richest of the two, but she is undoubtedly Molly’s inferior as to rank in society. — The sphere in which she moves is much above Abbey-Mill Farm. — It would be a degradation." 


"A degradation to illegitimacy and ignorance, to be married to a respectable, intelligent gentlewoman-farmer?!” 


"As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense Molly may be called Nobody, it will not hold in common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up. There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman — and a gentleman of fortune. Her allowance is very liberal; nothing has ever been grudged for her improvement or comfort. That she is a gentleman's daughter, is indubitable to me; that she associates with gentlemen, no one, I apprehend, will deny. — She is superior to Miss Stella Hopkins." 


"Whoever might be her parents," said Captain Watson, "whoever may have had the charge of her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan to introduce her into what you would call good society. After receiving a very indifferent education she is left in Miss Thompson's hands to shift as she can — to move, in short, in Miss Thompson's line, to have Miss Thompson's acquaintance. Her friends evidently thought this good enough for her; and it was good enough. She desired nothing better herself. 


“Till you chose to turn her into a friend, Molly’s mind had no distaste for her own set, nor any ambition beyond it. She was as happy as possible at Abbey-Mill Farm in the summer. She had no sense of superiority then. If she has it now, you have given it. You have been no friend to Molly Hooper, Sherlock. 


“Stella Hopkins would never have proceeded so far, if she had not felt persuaded that Molly was not disinclined to her. I know her well. She has too much real feeling to address any woman on the haphazard of selfish passion. And as to conceit, she is the farthest from it of anyone I know. Depend upon it, she had encouragement." 


It was most convenient to Sherlock not to make a direct reply to this assertion; he chose rather to take up his own line of the subject again. "You are a very warm friend to Miss Hopkins; but, as I said before, are unjust to Molly. Molly's claims to marry well are not so contemptible as you represent them. She is not a clever girl, but she has better sense than you are aware of, and does not deserve to have her understanding spoken of so slightingly. 


“Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that people are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl with such loveliness as Molly has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of choosing from among many, consequently a claim to be particular. 


“Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people. I am very much mistaken if people in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a potential partner could possess." 


"Upon my word, Sherlock, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do." 


"To be sure!" cried Sherlock playfully. "I know that is the feeling of the world at large. I know that most people set matrimony as a goal, and are foolishly swayed by sentiment. Such a girl as Molly is exactly what they delight in — what at once bewitches the senses and satisfies the judgment. Oh! Molly may pick and choose. And is she, at seventeen, just entering into life, just beginning to be known, to be wondered at because she does not accept the first offer she receives? No — pray let her have time to look about her." 


"I have always thought it a very foolish intimacy," said Captain Watson presently, "though I have kept my thoughts to myself; but I now perceive that it will be a very unfortunate one for Molly. You will puff her up with such ideas of her own beauty, and of what she has a claim to, that, in a little while, nobody within her reach will be good enough for her. Vanity, working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Nothing so easy as for a young lady to raise her expectations too high. Miss Molly Hooper may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. 


“Men and women of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives. Many families would not be very fond of connecting themselves with a girl of such obscurity — and would be afraid of the inconvenience and disgrace they might be involved in, when the mystery of her parentage came to be revealed. 


“Let her marry Stella Hopkins, and she is safe, respectable, and happy forever; but if you encourage her to expect to marry greatly, and teach her to be satisfied with nothing less than someone of consequence and large fortune, she may be a parlour-boarder at Miss Thompson's all the rest of her life — or, at least, (for Molly Hooper is a girl who will marry somebody or other,) till she grow desperate, and is glad to catch at the old writing-master's son." 


"We think so very differently on this point, Captain Watson, that there can be no use in canvassing it. We shall only be making each other more angry. But as to my letting her marry Stella Hopkins, it is impossible; she has refused the offer, and so decidedly, I think, as must prevent any second application. She must abide by the evil of having refused, whatever it may be; and as to the refusal itself, I will not pretend to say that I might not influence her a little; but I assure you there was very little for me or for anybody to do. 


“Miss Hopkins’ appearance is so much against her, and her manner so bad, that if Molly ever were disposed to favour her, she is not now. I can imagine, that before she had seen anybody superior, she might tolerate her. She was the sister of Molly’s friends, and took pains to please her; and altogether, having seen nobody better, she might not, while she was at Abbey-Mill, find Miss Hopkins disagreeable. But the case is altered now. She knows now what gentility is; and nothing but a true lady or gentleman in education and manner has any chance with Molly." 


"Nonsense, errant nonsense, as ever was talked!" cried Captain Watson. "Stella Hopkins' manners have sense, sincerity, and good-humour to recommend them; and her mind has more true gentility than Molly Hooper could understand." 


Sherlock made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was really feeling uncomfortable and wanting his visitor very much to be gone. He did not repent what he had done; he still thought himself a better judge of such a point than Captain Watson could be; but yet, Sherlock had a sort of habitual respect for his judgment in general, which made him dislike having it so loudly against him; and to have him sitting just opposite, in an angry state, was very disagreeable. 


Some minutes passed in this unpleasant silence, with only one attempt on Sherlock's side to talk of the weather, but Captain Watson made no answer. He was thinking. The result of his thoughts appeared at last in these words. 


"Stella Hopkins has no great loss — if she can but think so; and I hope it will not be long before she does. Your views for Molly are best known to yourself; but as you make no secret of your love of match-making, it is fair to suppose that views, and plans, and projects you have; and as a friend I shall just hint to you that if Moriarty is the man, I think it will be all labour in vain.”


Sherlock laughed and disclaimed. 


Captain Watson continued, "Depend upon it, Moriarty will not do. Moriarty is a very good sort of man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match. He knows the value of a good income as well as anybody. Moriarty may talk sentimentally, but he will act rationally. He is as well acquainted with his own claims, as you can be with Molly's. He knows that he is a very handsome young man, and a great favourite wherever he goes; and from his general way of talking in unreserved moments, I am convinced that he does not mean to throw himself away. I have heard him speak with great animation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimate with, who have all twenty thousand pounds apiece." 


"I am very much obliged to you," said Sherlock, laughing again. "If I had set my heart on Mr. Moriarty's marrying Molly, it would have been very kind to open my eyes; but at present I only want to keep Molly to myself. I have done with match-making indeed. I could never hope to equal my own doings at Randalls. I shall leave off while I am well." 


"Good morning to you," said Captain Watson, rising and walking off abruptly. He was very much vexed. He felt the disappointment of Miss Hopkins, and was mortified to have been the means of promoting it, by the sanction he had given; and the part which he was persuaded Sherlock had taken in the affair was provoking him exceedingly. 


Sherlock remained in a state of vexation too; but there was more indistinctness in the causes of his. He did not always feel so absolutely satisfied with himself, so entirely convinced that his opinions were right and his adversary's wrong, as he would like Captain Watson to believe. 


He was not so materially cast down, however, but that a little time and the return of Molly would prove very adequate restoratives. Molly's staying away so long was beginning to make him uneasy. The possibility of Miss Hopkins coming to Miss Thompson's that morning, and meeting with Molly and pleading her own cause, gave alarming ideas. The dread of such a failure after all became the prominent uneasiness; and when Molly appeared, and in very good spirits, and without having any such reason to give for her long absence, Sherlock felt a satisfaction which settled him with his own mind, and convinced him, that let Captain Watson think or say what he would, he had done nothing which friendship would not justify. 


Captain Watson had frightened him a little about Mr. James Moriarty; but when he considered that no one could have observed Mr. Moriarty as Sherlock had done, neither with the interest, nor (he must be allowed to tell himself) with the skill of such an observer on such a question as himself, he was able to believe that Captain Watson had rather said what he wished resentfully to be true, than what he knew anything about. He certainly might have heard Mr. Moriarty speak with more unreserve than Sherlock had ever done, and Mr. Moriarty might not be of an imprudent, inconsiderate disposition as to money matters; he might naturally be rather attentive than otherwise to them; but then, Captain Watson did not make due allowance for the influence of a strong passion at war with all interested motives. Captain Watson saw no such passion, and of course thought nothing of its effects; but Sherlock saw too much of it to feel a doubt of its overcoming any hesitations that a reasonable prudence might originally suggest; and more than a reasonable, becoming degree of prudence, he was very sure did not belong to Mr. James Moriarty. 


Molly's cheerful look and manner soon established Sherlock’s: she came back, not to think of Miss Hopkins, but to talk of Mr. James Moriarty. Miss Prince had been telling her something, which she repeated immediately with great delight. Miss Prince said that she had met with Mr. Moriarty, and found to her great surprise that he was actually on his way to London; he had said that he was going on business which he would not put off for any inducement in the world; and something about a very enviable commission, and being the bearer of something exceedingly precious, which Molly, though certainly not saying as much to Miss Prince, imagined might be her portrait. 


Miss Prince could not quite understand him, but she was very sure there must be a romantic interest in the case, and she told him so; and Mr. Moriarty only looked very conscious and smiling, and rode off in great spirits. Miss Prince had told Molly all this, and had talked a great deal more about Mr. Moriarty; and said, looking so very significantly at her, that she did not pretend to understand what his business might be, but she only knew that anyone whom Mr. James Moriarty could prefer, she should think the luckiest person in the world; for, beyond a doubt, Mr. Moriarty had not his equal for beauty or agreeableness.

Chapter Text

Captain Watson was so much displeased, that it was longer than usual before he came to Hartfield again; and when at last they did meet, his grave looks showed that Sherlock was not forgiven. Sherlock was sorry, but could not repent. Captain Watson might quarrel with him, but Sherlock could not quarrel with himself. On the contrary, his deductions regarding the rightness of a connection between James Moriarty and Molly Hooper were more and more justified and endeared to him by the general appearances of the next few days. 


The Picture, elegantly framed, came safely to hand soon after Mr. Moriarty's return, and being hung over the mantelpiece of the common sitting-room, he got up to look at it, and sighed out his half sentences of admiration just as he ought; and as for Molly's feelings, they were visibly forming themselves into as strong and steady an attachment as her youth and sort of mind admitted. Sherlock was soon perfectly satisfied of Miss Stella Hopkins being no otherwise remembered, than as she furnished a contrast with Mr. James Moriarty, of the utmost advantage to the latter. 


Sherlock’s views of improving his little friend's mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on tomorrow. It was much easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let his imagination range and work at Molly's fortune, than to be labouring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts; and the only literary pursuit which engaged Molly at present was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin volume of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with ciphers and trophies. 


In this age of literature, such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon. Miss Prince, head-teacher at Miss Thompson's, had written out at least three hundred; and Molly, who had taken the first hint of it from her, hoped to get a great many more. Sherlock assisted with his invention, memory and taste; and as Molly wrote a very pretty hand, it was likely to be an arrangement of the first order, in form as well as quantity. 


Mr. Holmes was almost as much interested in the business as the young friends, and tried very often to recollect something worth their putting in. So many clever riddles as there used to be when he was young —  he wondered he could not remember them! But he hoped he should in time. His good friend Miss Sawyer, too, whom he had spoken to on the subject, did not at present recollect anything of the riddle kind; but Mr. Holmes had asked Miss Sawyer to be upon the watch, and as she went about so much, something, he thought, might come from that quarter. 


It was by no means his son's wish that the intellects of Highbury in general should be put under requisition. Mr. James Moriarty was the only one whose assistance he asked. He was invited to contribute any really good enigmas, charades, or conundrums that he might recollect; and Sherlock had the pleasure of seeing him most intently at work with his recollections; and at the same time, as he could perceive, most earnestly careful that nothing ungallant, nothing that did not breathe a compliment to those assembled, should pass his lips. 


They owed to him their two or three politest puzzles; and the joy and exultation with which at last Mr. Moriarty recalled, and rather sentimentally recited, that well-known charade — “My first doth affliction denote, Which my second is destin'd to feel, And my whole is the best antidote, That affliction to soften and heal,” —  made Sherlock quite sorry to acknowledge that they had transcribed it some pages ago already. 


"Why will not you write one yourself for us, Mr. Moriarty?" said he. "That is the only security for its freshness; and nothing could be easier to you." 


"Oh no! I have never written, hardly ever, anything of the kind in my life. I am afraid not even Mr. Holmes” — he stopped a moment — "or Miss Hooper could inspire me." 


The very next day, however, produced some proof of inspiration. He called for a few moments, just to leave a piece of paper on the table containing, as he said, a charade, which a friend of his had addressed to the object of his admiration, but which, from his manner, Sherlock was immediately convinced must be his own. 


"I do not offer it for Miss Hooper's collection," said Mr. Moriarty. "Being my friend's, I have no right to expose it in any degree to the public eye, but perhaps you may not dislike looking at it.”


The speech was more to Sherlock than to Molly, which Sherlock could understand. There was deep consciousness about Mr. Moriarty as he spoke, and he found it easier to meet Sherlock’s eye than his friend's. He was gone the next moment.


After another moment's pause, "Take it," said Sherlock, smiling, and pushing the paper towards Molly. "It is for you." 


But Molly was in a tremor, and could not touch it; and Sherlock, never loth to be first, was obliged to examine it himself.


To _____: 
My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And now the lovely object reigns alone.
Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye! 


Sherlock cast his eye over it, pondered, caught the meaning, read it through again to be quite certain, and quite master of the lines, and then, passing it to Molly, sat happily smiling, and saying to himself, while Molly was puzzling over the paper in all the confusion of hope and dullness, "Very well, Mr. Moriarty, very well indeed. I have read worse charades. 


“Courtship — a very good hint. I give you credit for it. This is feeling your way. This is saying very plainly, 'Pray, Miss Hooper, give me leave to pay my addresses to you. Approve my charade and my intentions in the same glance.' May its approval beam in that soft eye! Molly exactly. Soft is the very word for her eye — of all epithets, the justest that could be given. Thy ready wit the word will soon supply. Humph — Molly's ready wit! All the better. A man must be very much in love, indeed, to describe her so. 


“Ah! Captain Watson, I wish you had the benefit of this; I think this would convince you. For once in your life you would be obliged to own yourself mistaken. An excellent charade indeed! and very much to the purpose. Things must come to a crisis soon now." 


Sherlock was obliged to break off from these very pleasant private observations, which were otherwise of a sort to run into great length, by the eagerness of Molly's wondering questions. 


"What can it be? I have not an idea — I cannot guess it in the least. I wonder who the friend was — and who could be the object of his affections. What can it possibly be? Do help me. I never saw anything so hard. Is it kingdom? Is that a good guess? Can it be Neptune? Behold him there, the monarch of the seas! Or a trident? Or a mermaid? Or a shark? Oh, no! Shark is only one syllable. It must be very clever, or he would not have brought it. Oh! Do you think we shall ever find it out?" 


"Mermaids and sharks! Nonsense! My dear Molly, what are you thinking of? Where would be the use of his bringing us a charade made by a friend upon a mermaid or a shark? Give me the paper and listen. 


“Where it says To _____, read To Miss Hooper.

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
That is court.

Another view of man, my second brings;
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

That is ship — plain as it can be.

Now for the cream.
But ah! united, (courtship, you know) what reverse we have!
Man's boasted power and freedom, all are flown.
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And now the lovely object reigns alone.


“A very proper compliment! And then follows the application, which I think, my dear Molly, you cannot find much difficulty in comprehending. Read it in comfort to yourself. There can be no doubt of its being written for you and to you." 


Molly could not long resist so delightful a persuasion. She read the concluding lines, and was all flutter and happiness. She could not speak. But she was not wanted to speak. It was enough for her to feel. 


Sherlock spoke for her. "There is so pointed, and so particular a meaning in this compliment," said he, "that I cannot have a doubt as to Mr. Moriarty's intentions. You are his object — and you will soon receive the completest proof of it. I thought it must be so. I thought I could not be so deceived; but now, it is clear; the state of his mind is as clear and decided as my deductions on the subject have been ever since I knew you. 


“Yes, Molly, just so long have I been expecting the very circumstance to happen that has happened. I could never tell whether an attachment between you and Mr. James Moriarty were most desirable or most natural. Its probability and its eligibility have really so equalled each other! I am very happy. I congratulate you, my dear Molly, with all my heart. 


“This is an attachment which you may well feel pride in creating. This is a connexion which offers nothing but good. It will give you everything that you want — consideration, independence, a proper home — it will fix you in the centre of all your real friends, close to Hartfield and to me, and confirm our intimacy forever." 


Molly’s joy was too much for her to articulate at first; but when they did arrive at something more like conversation, it was sufficiently clear to her friend that she saw, felt, anticipated, and remembered just as she ought. Mr. Moriarty's superiority had very ample acknowledgment. 


"Whatever you say is always right," cried Molly, "and therefore I suppose, and believe, and hope it must be so; but otherwise I could not have imagined it. It is so much beyond anything I deserve. Mr. Moriarty, who might marry anybody! There cannot be two opinions about him . He is so very superior. Only think of those sweet verses. Dear me, how clever! Could it really be meant for me?" 


"I cannot make a question, or listen to a question about that. It is a certainty. Receive it on my judgment. It is a sort of prologue to the play, and will be soon followed by matter-of-fact prose." 


"It is a sort of thing which nobody could have expected. I am sure, a month ago, I had no more idea myself! The strangest things do take place!" 


"They do indeed; and really it is out of the common course that what is so evidently, so palpably desirable — what courts the pre-arrangement of other people, should so immediately shape itself into the proper form. You and Mr. James Moriarty are by situation called together; you belong to one another by every circumstance of your respective homes. Your marrying will be equal to the match at Randalls. There does seem to be a something in the air of Hartfield which gives love exactly the right direction, and sends it into the very channel where it ought to flow." 


"That Mr. James Moriarty should really be in love with me — me, of all people, who did not know him, to speak to him, at Michaelmas! And he, the very handsomest man that ever was, and a man that everybody looks up to, quite like Captain Watson! His company so sought after, that everybody says he need not eat a single meal by himself if he does not choose it; that he has more invitations than there are days in the week. And so excellent in the Church! Miss Prince has put down all the texts he has ever preached from since he came to Highbury. Dear me! When I look back to the first time I saw him! How little did I think! I ran into the front room and peeped through the blind when I heard he was going by, and Miss Prince came and scolded me away, and stayed to look through herself; however, she called me back presently, and let me look too, which was very good-natured. And how beautiful we thought he looked! He was arm-in-arm with Mr. Stamford." 


"This is an alliance which, whoever your friends may be, must be agreeable to them, provided at least they have common sense; and we are not to be addressing our conduct to fools. If they are anxious to see you happily married, here is a man whose amiable character gives every assurance of it; if they wish to have you settled in the same country and circle which they have chosen to place you in, here it will be accomplished; and if their only object is that you should, in the common phrase, be well married, here is the comfortable fortune, the respectable establishment, the rise in the world which must satisfy them." 


"Yes, very true. How nicely you talk; I love to hear you. You understand everything. You and Mr. Moriarty are one as clever as the other. This charade! If I had studied a twelvemonth, I could never have made anything like it." 


"I thought he meant to try his skill, by his manner of declining it yesterday." 


"I do think it is, without exception, the best charade I ever read." 


”I never read one more to the purpose, certainly." 


"It is as long again as almost all we have had before." 


"I do not consider its length as particularly in its favour. Such things in general cannot be too short." 


Molly was too intent on the lines to hear. The most satisfactory comparisons were rising in her mind. "It is one thing," said she, presently — her cheeks in a glow — "to have very good sense in a common way, like everybody else, and if there is anything to say, to sit down and write a letter, and say just what you must, in a short way; and another, to write verses and charades like this." 


Sherlock could not have desired a more spirited rejection of Miss Hopkins's prose. 


"Such sweet lines!" continued Molly. "These two last! — But how shall I ever be able to return the paper, or say I have found it out? — Oh! What can we do about that?" 


"Leave it to me. You do nothing. He will be here this evening, I dare say, and then I will give it him back, and some nonsense or other will pass between us, and you shall not be committed. — Your soft eyes shall choose their own time for beaming. Trust to me." 


"Oh! What a pity that I must not write this beautiful charade into my book! I am sure I have not got one half so good." 


"Leave out the two last lines, and there is no reason why you should not write it into your book.”


"Oh! but those two lines are —"


"The best of all. Granted — for private enjoyment; and for private enjoyment keep them. They are not at all the less written, you know, because you divide them. The couplet does not cease to be, nor does its meaning change. But take it away, and all appropriation ceases, and a very pretty gallant charade remains, fit for any collection. Depend upon it, he would not like to have his charade slighted, much better than his passion. A poet in love must be encouraged in both capacities, or neither. Give me the book, I will write it down, and then there can be no possible reflection on you." 


Molly submitted, though her mind could hardly separate the parts, so as to feel quite sure that her friend were not writing down a declaration of love. It seemed too precious an offering for any degree of publicity. "I shall never let that book go out of my own hands," said she. 


"Very well," replied Sherlock. "A most natural feeling; and the longer it lasts, the better I shall be pleased. But here is my father coming: you will not object to my reading the charade to him. It will be giving him so much pleasure! He loves anything of the sort! You must let me read it to him." 


Molly looked grave. 


"My dear Molly, you must not refine too much upon this charade. You will betray your feelings improperly, if you are too conscious and too quick, and appear to affix more meaning, or even quite all the meaning which may be affixed to it. Do not be overpowered by such a little tribute of admiration. If he had been anxious for secrecy, he would not have left the paper while I was by; but he rather pushed it towards me than towards you. Do not let us be too solemn on the business. He has encouragement enough to proceed, without our sighing out our souls over this charade." 


"Oh no! — I hope I shall not be ridiculous about it. Do as you please." 


Mr. Holmes came in, and very soon led to the subject again, by the recurrence of his frequent inquiry of "Well, my dears, how does your book go on? Have you got anything fresh?" 


"Yes, Papa; we have something to read you, something quite fresh. A piece of paper was found on the table this morning — dropped, we suppose, by a fairy — containing a very pretty charade, and we have just copied it in." 


Sherlock read it to him, just as he liked to have anything read, slowly and distinctly, and two or three times over, with explanations of every part — and he was very much pleased, as Sherlock had foreseen. 


"Aye, that's very just, indeed, that's very properly said. It is such a clever charade, my dear, that I can easily guess what fairy brought it. Nobody could have written so cleverly, but you, Sherlock." 


Sherlock only smiled. 


After a little thinking, and a very tender sigh, Mr. Holmes added, "Ah! It is no difficulty to see who you take after! Your dear mother was so clever at all those things! If I had but her memory! I’m glad you and Mycroft both take after her. And thank heaven Mycroft will be coming soon. It is so long since he was here! Not since last Easter, and then only for a few days. Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade’s being the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard is very inconvenient. Poor Mycroft! He is sadly taken away from us all!”


Sherlock was not particularly saddened by this state of affairs. He preferred his brother in small doses, well-diluted by the company of others. “We must ask Mr. and Mrs. Hudson to dine with us, while Mycroft is here,” he suggested. 


"Yes, my dear, if there is time. But,” (in a very depressed tone) “he is coming for only one week. There will not be time for anything." 


"It is unfortunate that they cannot stay longer — but it seems a case of necessity. His husband must be in town again on the 28th, and we ought to be thankful, Papa, that we are to have the whole of the time they can give to the country, that two or three days are not to be taken out for Donwell Abbey. Captain Watson promises to give up his claim this Christmas — though you know it is longer since they were with him, than with us." 


"It would be very hard, indeed, if Mycroft were to be anywhere but at Hartfield.”


Mr. Holmes could never allow for Captain Watson's claims on his half-brother, or anybody's claims on Mycroft, except his own. He sat musing a little while, and then said, "But I do not see why poor Mycroft should be obliged to go back so soon, though Greg does. I think, Sherlock, I shall try and persuade him to stay longer with us.” 


"Ah! Papa, that is what you never have been able to accomplish, and I do not think you ever will. Mycroft cannot bear to stay behind without his husband." 


This was too true for contradiction. Unwelcome as it was, Mr. Holmes could only give a submissive sigh; and as Sherlock saw his father’s spirits sadly affected by the idea of Mycroft's attachment to his husband over himself, he immediately redirected his attention to Molly’s little book, and the gentle pleasure of the new charade within. 


Later in the morning, and just as Sherlock and Molly were going to separate in preparation for the regular four o'clock dinner, the hero of this inimitable charade walked in again. Molly turned away; but Sherlock could receive him with the usual smile, and his quick eye soon discerned in his visitor’s the consciousness of having made a push — of having thrown a die; and he imagined Mr. Moriarty was come to see how it might turn up. 


His ostensible reason, however, was to ask whether Mr. Holmes' party could be made up in the evening without him, or whether he should be in the smallest degree necessary at Hartfield. If he were, everything else must give way; but otherwise his friend Stamford had been saying so much about his dining with him — had made such a point of it, that he had promised him conditionally to come. 


Sherlock thanked him, but could not allow of his disappointing his friend on their account; his father was sure of his rubber. Moriarty re-urged — Sherlock re-declined; and he seemed then about to make his bow, when taking the paper from the table, Sherlock returned it.


”Oh! Here is the charade you were so obliging as to leave with us; thank you for the sight of it. We admired it so much, that I have ventured to write it into Miss Hooper's collection. Your friend will not take it amiss, I hope. Of course, I have not transcribed beyond the first eight lines." 


Mr. Moriarty certainly did not very well know what to say. He looked rather confused — said something about “honour," — glanced at Sherlock and at Molly, and then seeing the book open on the table, took it up, and examined it very attentively. 


With the view of passing off an awkward moment, Sherlock smilingly said, "You must make my apologies to your friend; but so good a charade must not be confined to one or two. He may be sure of everyone’s approbation while he writes with such gallantry." 


"I have no hesitation in saying," replied Mr. Moriarty, though hesitating a good deal while he spoke; "I have no hesitation in saying — at least if my friend feels at all as I do — I have not the smallest doubt that, could he see his little effusion honoured as I see it,” (looking at the book again, and replacing it on the table) “he would consider it as the proudest moment of his life." 


After this speech he was gone as soon as possible. Sherlock could not think it too soon; for with all his good and agreeable qualities, there was a sort of parade in Mr. Moriarty’s speeches which was very apt to incline him to laugh. He ran away to indulge the inclination, leaving the more tender and sublime of pleasure to Molly's share.


Chapter Text


Though now the middle of December, there had yet been no weather to prevent the young friends from tolerably regular exercise; and on the morrow, Sherlock invited Molly to join him in a charitable visit to a poor sick family, who lived a little way out of Highbury. Their way was down Vicarage Lane, a lane, as may be inferred, containing the blessed abode of Mr. James Moriarty. A few inferior dwellings were first to be passed, and then, about a quarter of a mile down the lane, rose the Vicarage, an old and not very good house, almost as close to the road as it could be. It had no advantage of situation, but had been very much smartened up by the present proprietor; and, such as it was, there could be no possibility of the two friends passing it without a slackened pace and observing eyes.


 Sherlock's remark was, “There it is. There go you and your riddle-book one of these days.”


Molly's was, “Oh, what a sweet house! How very beautiful! There are the yellow curtains that Miss Prince admires so much." 


"I do not often walk this way now ," said Sherlock, as they proceeded, "but one day there will be an inducement, and I shall gradually get intimately acquainted with all the hedges, gates, pools and trees of this part of Highbury." 


Molly, he found, had never in her life been within the Vicarage, and her curiosity to see it was so extreme, that, considering exteriors and probabilities, Sherlock could only class it, as a proof of love, with Mr. Moriarty's seeing ready wit in her. 


"I wish we could contrive it," said he, "but I cannot think of any tolerable pretence for going in — no servant that I want to inquire about of his housekeeper — no message from my father…” 


He pondered, but could think of nothing. 


After a mutual silence of some minutes, Molly thus began again: “I do so wonder, Mr. Holmes, that you should not be married, or going to be married! So charming as you are!”


Sherlock laughed, and replied, "My being charming, Molly, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming — one other person at least. And I am not only not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all." 


"Ah! So you say; but I cannot believe it." 


"I must see somebody very superior to anyone I have seen yet, to be tempted; Mr. James Moriarty, you know” (recollecting himself) “is out of the question: and I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it." 


"Dear me! It is so odd to hear you talk so!" 


"I have none of the usual inducements to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! But I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want. I believe few married men are half as much master of their own house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in anyone’s eyes as I am in my father's." 


"Dear me! But what shall you do? How shall you employ yourself when you grow old?" 


“If I know myself, Molly, mine is an active, busy mind, with a great many independent resources; and I do not perceive why I should be more in want of employment at forty or fifty than one-and-twenty.”


"But then, to be old and single at last, like Miss Turner!" 


"That is as formidable an image as you could present, Molly; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Turner — so silly, so satisfied, so smiling, so undistinguishing and unfastidious, and so apt to tell everything relative to everybody about me — I would marry tomorrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried." 


"But still, you will be alone! And that's so dreadful!" 


"Never mind, Molly; I shall not be poor; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public. A single person of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior, society, may well be illiberal and cross. 


“This does not apply, however, to Miss Turner; she is only too good natured and too silly to suit me; but, in general, she is very much to the taste of everybody, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not contracted her mind: I really believe, if she had only a shilling in the world, she would be very likely to give away sixpence of it; and nobody is afraid of her: that is a great charm." 


"Do you know Miss Turner's niece? That is, I know you must have seen her a hundred times — but are you acquainted?" 


"Oh! Yes; we are always forced to be acquainted whenever she comes to Highbury. Heaven forbid that I should ever bore people half so much about all my family together, as Miss Turner does about Sally Donovan. One is sick of the very name of Sally Donovan. Every letter from her is read forty times over; her compliments to all friends go round and round again; and if she does but send her aunt the pattern of a doily, or knit a pair of garters for her grandmother, one hears of nothing else for a month. I wish Sally Donovan very well; but she tires me to death." 


They were now approaching the cottage, and all idle topics were superseded. Sherlock was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from his personal attention and kindness, his counsel and his patience, as from his purse. He understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave his assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. 


Once their visit had been paid, Sherlock and Molly made their way back along Vicarage Lane. As they rounded a slight bend, the vicar himself came in sight, walking towards them. The wants and sufferings of the poor family were the first subject on meeting, as Mr. Moriarty had been going to call on them. His visit he would now defer; but they had a very interesting parley about what could be done and should be done. Mr. Moriarty then turned back to accompany them. 


To fall in with each other on such an errand as this, thought Sherlock, to meet in a charitable scheme, this will bring a great increase of love on each side. I should not wonder if it were to bring on the declaration. It must, if I were not here. I wish I were anywhere else.


Anxious to separate himself from them as far as he could, he soon afterwards took possession of a narrow footpath, a little raised on one side of the lane, leaving them together in the main road. But he had not been there two minutes when he found that Molly's habits of dependence and imitation were bringing her up, too, and that, in short, they would both be soon after him. This would not do; Sherlock immediately stopped, under pretence of having some alteration to make in the lacing of his half-boot, and stooping down in complete occupation of the footpath, begged them to have the goodness to walk on, and he would follow in half a minute. 


They did as they were desired; and by the time he judged it reasonable to have done with his boot, he had the comfort of farther delay in his power, being overtaken by a child from the cottage, who was setting out, according to orders, with her pitcher, to fetch broth from Hartfield. To walk by the side of this child, and talk to and question her, was the most natural thing in the world, or would have been the most natural, had Sherlock been acting just then without design; and by this means the others were still able to keep ahead, without any obligation of waiting for him. He gained on them, however, involuntarily: the child's pace was quick, and theirs rather slow; and he was the more concerned at it, from their being evidently in a conversation which interested them. 


Mr. James Moriarty was speaking with animation, Molly listening with a very pleased attention; and Sherlock, having sent the child on, was beginning to think how he might draw back a little more, when they both looked around, and he was obliged to join them. Mr. James Moriarty was still talking, still engaged in some interesting detail; and Sherlock experienced some disappointment when he found that he was only giving his fair companion an account of the party yesterday at his friend Stamford's, and that he was come in time to hear about the Stilton cheese, the celery, the beet-root, and all the dessert. 


This would soon have led to something better, of course, was his consoling reflection; anything interests between those who love; and anything will serve as introduction to what is near the heart. If I could but have kept longer away! 


They now walked on together quietly, till within view of the vicarage, when a sudden resolution of at least getting Molly into the house made Sherlock again find something very much amiss about his boot, and fall behind to arrange it once more. He then broke the lace off short, and dexterously throwing it into a ditch, was presently obliged to entreat them to stop, and acknowledged his inability to put himself to rights so as to be able to walk home in tolerable comfort. 


"Part of my lace is gone," said he, "and I do not know how I am to contrive. I really am a most troublesome companion to you both, but I hope I am not often so ill-equipped. Mr. Moriarty, I must beg leave to stop at your house, and ask your housekeeper for a bit of ribbon or string, or anything just to keep my boot on." 


Mr. Moriarty looked all happiness at this proposition; and nothing could exceed his alertness and attention in conducting them into his house and endeavouring to make everything appear to advantage. The room they were taken into was the one he chiefly occupied, and looking forwards; behind it was another with which it immediately communicated; the door between them was open, and Sherlock passed into it with the housekeeper to receive her assistance in the most comfortable manner. 


He was obliged to leave the door ajar as he found it; but he fully intended that Mr. Moriarty should close it. It was not closed, however; it still remained ajar; but by engaging the housekeeper in incessant conversation, Sherlock hoped to make it practicable for the others to choose their own subject in the adjoining room. For ten minutes he could hear nothing but himself. It could be protracted no longer. He was then obliged to be finished, and make his appearance.


The lovers were standing together at one of the windows. It had a most favourable aspect; and, for half a minute, Sherlock felt the glory of having schemed successfully. But it would not do; Mr. Moriarty had not come to the point. He had been most agreeable, most delightful; he had told Molly that he had seen them go by, and had purposely followed them; other little gallantries and allusions had been dropped, but nothing serious. 


Cautious, very cautious, thought Sherlock; he advances inch by inch, and will hazard nothing till he believes himself secure. Still, however, though everything had not been accomplished by his ingenious device, he could not but flatter himself that it had been the occasion of much present enjoyment to both, and must be leading them forward to the great event.


Chapter Text

Mr. James Moriarty must now be left to himself. It was no longer in Sherlock's power to superintend his happiness or quicken his measures. The coming of Mycroft and his husband was so very near at hand, that first in anticipation, and then in reality, it became henceforth his prime object of interest; and during the ten days of their stay at Hartfield it was not to be expected — he did not himself expect — that anything beyond occasional, fortuitous assistance could be afforded by him to the lovers. They might advance rapidly if they would, however; they must advance somehow or other whether they would or no. Sherlock hardly wished to have more leisure for them. There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves. 


Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade, from having been longer than usual absent from Surrey, were exciting, of course, rather more than the usual interest. Till this year, every long vacation since their marriage had been divided between Mycroft’s family at Hartfield and Greg’s half-brother at Donwell Abbey; but all the holidays of this autumn had been given to sea-bathing, and it was therefore many months since they had been seen in a regular way by their Surrey connexions, or seen at all by Mr. Holmes, who could not be induced to get so far as London, even for Mycroft's sake; and who consequently was now most nervously and apprehensively happy in forestalling this too short visit. He thought much of the evils of the journey, but his alarms were needless; the sixteen miles being happily accomplished, and Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade reached Hartfield in safety.


The bustle of their arrival was increased by the inclusion of a third member of their party. Mr. Andrew Dimmock, a young police constable whom Greg had taken under his wing, had no living family of his own, and so had been invited to share in the Christmas visit to Hartfield. He was clever and hard-working, and was expected to rise quickly through the ranks, especially since Chief Inspector Holmes-Lestrade had taken notice of him; but there was nothing particularly prepossessing in either his manner or his looks. He seemed to feel all the awkwardness of intruding on a family gathering at such a time, and quickly excused himself to his room.  


Sherlock’s relationship with his brother was not always perfectly amiable; the beginning, however, of every visit displayed none but the properest feelings, and this one, being of necessity so short, might be hoped to pass away in unsullied cordiality. They had not been long seated and composed when Mr. Holmes, with a melancholy shake of the head and a sigh, called his son's attention to the sad change at Hartfield since he had been there last. 


"Ah," said he, "It is a grievous business. Now that she is Mrs. Hudson, we do not see our dear Miss Taylor near so often as I could wish.” 


"Oh Papa,” said Sherlock, “we have missed seeing them but one entire day since they married. Either in the morning or evening of every day, excepting one, have we seen either Mr. Hudson or Mrs. Hudson, and generally both, either at Randalls or here — and as you may suppose, Mycroft, most frequently here. They are very, very kind in their visits. Papa, if you speak in that melancholy way, you will be giving Mycroft a false idea of us all. Everybody must be aware that Miss Taylor must be missed, but everybody ought also to be assured that Mr. and Mrs. Hudson do really prevent our missing her by any means to the extent we ourselves anticipated — which is the exact truth." 


"Just as it should be," said Greg, "and just as I hoped it was from your letters. Her wish of showing you attention could not be doubted, and her husband’s being a disengaged and social man makes it all easy." 


"Why, to be sure," said Mr. Holmes, "yes, certainly — I cannot deny that Mrs. Hudson, poor Mrs. Hudson, does come and see us pretty often — but then — she is always obliged to go away again." 


"It would be very hard upon Mr. Hudson if she did not,” said Mycroft. “You quite forget poor Mr. Hudson." 


"I think, indeed," said Greg pleasantly, "that Mr. Hudson has some little claim. You and I, Mycroft, will venture to take the part of the poor husband. Being husbands ourselves, the claims of the man may very likely strike us with equal force.”


“True,” said Mycroft.  “And as for Sherlock, I know he insists he will never marry, but even he seems to have resigned himself to the Hudson’s marriage.” 


“Resigned myself!” cried Sherlock, with some little indignation. “It was I who deduced the match, long before either of the principals had a notion of it.”


"Where is Mr. Hudson’s daughter?” asked Greg quickly, before the brothers could escalate their conversation into an arguement. "Has she been here on this occasion —  or has she not?”


"She has not been here yet," replied Sherlock. "There was a strong expectation of her coming soon after the marriage, but it ended in nothing; and I have not heard her mentioned lately." 


"But you should tell them of the letter, my dear," said his father. “Miss Adler wrote a letter to poor Mrs. Hudson, to congratulate her, and a very proper, handsome letter it was. She showed it to me. I thought it very well done indeed. Whether it was her own idea, you know, one cannot tell. She is but young, and her uncle, perhaps — " 


"My dear Papa, she is three-and-twenty. You forget how time passes." 


"Three-and-twenty! Is she indeed? Well, I could not have thought it — and she was but two years old when she lost her poor mother! Well, time does fly indeed! And my memory is very bad. However, it was an exceedingly good, pretty letter, and gave Mr. and Mrs. Hudson a great deal of pleasure. I remember it was written from Weymouth, and dated Sept. 28th — and began, 'My dear Madam,' but I forget how it went on; and it was signed 'Irene Hudson Adler.' — I remember that perfectly." 


"How very pleasing and proper of her!" said the good-hearted Greg. "I have no doubt of her being a most amiable young woman. But how sad it is that she should not live at home with her father! There is something so shocking in a child's being taken away from her parents and natural home! I never could comprehend how Mr. Hudson could part with her. To give up one's child! I really never could think well of anybody who proposed such a thing to anybody else." 


"Nobody ever did think well of the Adlers, I fancy," observed Mycroft coolly. "But Mr. Hudson is rather an easy, cheerful-tempered man, than a man of strong feelings; he takes things as he finds them, and makes enjoyment of them somehow or other, depending, I suspect, much more upon what is called ‘society’ for his comforts, that is, upon the power of eating and drinking, and playing whist with his neighbours five times a week, than upon family affection, or anything that home affords." 


Sherlock could not like what bordered on a negative reflection on Mr. Hudson, and had half a mind to take it up; but he struggled, and let it pass. He would keep the peace if possible, so he held his tongue until Mycroft and Greg retired to their rooms to settle in.


Captain Watson was to dine with them — rather against the inclination of Mr. Holmes, who did not like that anyone should share with him in Mycroft's first day. Sherlock's sense of right, however, had decided it; and besides the consideration of what was due to each brother, he had particular pleasure, from the circumstance of the late disagreement between Captain Watson and himself, in procuring him the proper invitation. He hoped they might now become friends again. He thought it was time to make up. 


Apologising indeed would not do. Sherlock certainly had not been in the wrong, and Captain Watson would never own that he had. Concession must be out of the question; but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarrelled. Captain Watson apparently felt the same, for though he began with grave looks and short questions, he was soon led on to talk in the usual way, with all the unceremoniousness of perfect amity. 


Sherlock felt they were friends again; and the conviction giving him at first great satisfaction, and then a little sauciness, he could not help saying, "What a comfort it is, that we think alike about Mycroft and Greg. As to the romantic entanglements of others, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to our brothers, I observe we never disagree." 


"If you were as much guided by reason in your estimate of everyone, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where Mycroft and Greg are concerned, we might always think alike." 


"To be sure — our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong." 


"Yes," said Captain Watson, smiling — "and reason good. I was six years old when you were born." 


"A material difference then," Sherlock replied — "and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?" 


"Yes — a good deal nearer." 


"But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently." 


"I have still the advantage of you by six years' experience, and by not being a pretty young man and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Sherlock, let us be friends, and say no more about it.” 


“Now, Captain Watson, a word or two more, and I have done. As far as good intentions went, we were both right, and I must say that no effects on my side of the argument have yet proved wrong. I only want to know that Miss Hopkins is not very, very bitterly disappointed." 


"A woman cannot be more so," was his short, full answer. 


"Ah! — Indeed I am very sorry. — Come, shake hands with me." 


This had just taken place, and with great cordiality, when Greg Holmes-Lestrade made his appearance, and "How d'ye do, Greg?" and "John, how are you?" succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do everything for the good of the other. 


The evening was quiet and conversable, as Mr. Holmes declined cards entirely for the sake of comfortable talk with his dear Mycroft, and the little party made two natural divisions; on one side he and his eldest son; on the other Captain Watson and his half-brother; their subjects totally distinct, or very rarely mixing — Sherlock only occasionally joining in one or the other, and Andrew Dimmock saying nothing at all. 


The half-brothers talked of their own concerns and pursuits. John had all the news of Donwell Abbey to share; and Greg, as Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, provided many interesting anecdotes about the less-savory goings-on in London. 


While they were thus comfortably occupied, Mr. Holmes was enjoying a full flow of happy regrets and fearful affection with his son. "My poor, dear Mycroft," said he fondly, “how tired you must be after your journey!”


“Not at all,” said Mycroft.


“How long it has been since you were last here! So many of our neighbors will wish to see you. Miss Turner was asking about you only last week.”


“Ah, how are the Turners? I hope they are quite well.”


“Why, pretty well, upon the whole.”


“And Sally Donovan? Has she been to visit them?”


“That sweet, amiable Sally Donovan! What happiness it always is, to her good old grandmother and excellent aunt, when she comes to visit them! But it has been ages since I have seen her.”


“I suppose, now their daughter is married, Colonel and Mrs. Sholto will not wish to part with her at all. It is a shame that she cannot be more at Highbury; she is so accomplished and superior, and would be such a delightful companion for Sherlock.”


Mr. Holmes agreed to it all, but added, "Our little friend Molly Hooper, however, is a sweet kind of young person. You will like Molly. Sherlock could not have a better companion than Molly." 


Chapter Text

There could hardly be two happier creatures in the world than Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade, in this brief stay at Hartfield. It was a delightful visit — perfect, in being much too short. 


In general their evenings were less engaged with friends than their mornings; but one complete dinner engagement, and out of the house too, there was no avoiding, though at Christmas. Mr. and Mrs. Hudson would take no denial; they must all dine at Randalls one day. Even Mr. Holmes was persuaded to think it a possible thing in preference to a division of the party. How they were all to be conveyed, he would have made a difficulty if he could, but as the Holmes-Lestrades’ carriage and horses were actually at Hartfield, he was not able to make more than a simple question on that head; it hardly amounted to a doubt; nor did it occupy Sherlock long to convince him that they might in one of the carriages find room for Molly also. 


Molly, Mr. James Moriarty, and Captain Watson, their own especial set, were the only persons invited to meet them. The hours were to be early, as well as the numbers few; Mr. Holmes' habits and inclination being consulted in everything. 


The evening before this great event (for it was a very great event that Mr. Holmes should dine out, on the 24th of December) had been spent by Molly at Hartfield, and she had gone home so much indisposed with a cold, that, but for her earnest wish of being nursed by Miss Thompson, Sherlock could not have allowed her to leave the house. Sherlock called on her the next day, and found her doom already signed with regard to Randalls. She was very feverish and had a bad sore throat. Miss Thompson was full of care and affection, Miss Sawyer was talked of, and Molly herself was too ill and low to resist the authority which excluded her from this delightful engagement, though she could not speak of her loss without many tears. Sherlock sat with her as long as he could, to attend her in Miss Thompson's unavoidable absences, and raise her spirits by representing how much Mr. James Moriarty's would be depressed when he knew her state; and left her at last tolerably comfortable, in the sweet dependence of his having a most comfortless visit, and of their all missing her very much. 


Sherlock had not advanced many yards from Miss Thompson's door, when he was met by Mr. Moriarty himself, evidently coming towards it, and as they walked on slowly together in conversation about the invalid — of whom he, on the rumour of considerable illness, had been going to inquire, that he might carry some report of her to Hartfield — they were overtaken by Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade, with young Andrew Dimmock, returning from a visit to Donwell. They joined company and proceeded together. 


Sherlock was just describing the nature of his friend's complaint — "a throat very much inflamed, with a great deal of heat about her, and a quick, low pulse; and Miss Thompson said that Molly was liable to very bad sore-throats, and had often alarmed her with them." 


Mr. Moriarty looked all alarm on the occasion, as he exclaimed, "A sore throat! I hope not infectious. I hope not of a putrid, infectious sort. Has Miss Sawyer seen her? Indeed you should take care of yourself as well as of your friend. Let me entreat you to run no risks. Why does not Miss Sawyer see her?" 


Sherlock, who was not really at all frightened himself, tranquillised this excess of apprehension by assurances of Miss Thompson's experience and care; but as there must still remain a degree of uneasiness which he could not wish to reason away, which he would rather feed and assist than not, he added soon afterwards, as if quite another subject: 


"It is so cold, so very cold — and looks and feels so very much like snow, that if it were to any other place or with any other party, I should really try not to go out today — and dissuade my father from venturing; but as he has made up his mind, and does not seem to feel the cold himself, I do not like to interfere, as I know it would be so great a disappointment to Mr. and Mrs. Hudson. But, upon my word, Mr. Moriarty, in your case, I should certainly excuse myself. You appear to me a little hoarse already, and when you consider what demand of voice and what fatigues tomorrow will bring, I think it would be no more than common prudence to stay at home and take care of yourself tonight.”


Mr. Moriarty looked as if he did not very well know what answer to make — which was exactly the case; for though very much gratified by the kind care of such a fair young gentleman, and not liking to resist any advice of his, he had not really the least inclination to give up the visit. But Sherlock, too eager and busy in his own previous conceptions and views to hear him impartially, or see him with clear vision, was very well satisfied with his muttering acknowledgment of its being "very cold, certainly very cold," and walked on, rejoicing in having extricated him from Randalls, and secured him the power of sending to inquire after Molly every hour of the evening.


"You do quite right," said he. "We will make your apologies to Mr. and Mrs. Hudson." 


But hardly had Sherlock so spoken, when he found Greg was civilly offering a seat in their carriage, if the weather were Mr. Moriarty's only objection, and Mr. Moriarty actually accepting the offer with much prompt satisfaction. It was a done thing; Mr. Moriarty was to go, and never had his handsome face expressed more pleasure than at this moment; never had his smile been stronger, nor his eyes more exulting. 


"Well," said Sherlock to himself, "this is most strange! After I had got him off so well, to choose to go into company, and leave Molly ill behind! Most strange indeed! But there is, I believe, in many men, especially single men, such an inclination — such a passion for dining out — a dinner engagement is so high in the class of their pleasures, their employments, their dignities, almost their duties, that anything gives way to it — and this must be the case with Mr. Moriarty; a most valuable, amiable, pleasing young man undoubtedly, and very much in love with Molly; but still, he cannot refuse an invitation, he must dine out wherever he is asked. What a strange thing love is! He can see ready wit in Molly, but will not dine alone for her." 


Soon afterwards, Mr. Moriarty quitted them, and Sherlock could not but do him the justice of feeling that there was a great deal of sentiment in his manner of naming Molly at parting; in the tone of his voice while assuring him that he should call at Miss Thompson's for news of his fair friend, the last thing before he prepared for the happiness of meeting him again, when he hoped to be able to give a better report; and he sighed and smiled himself off in a way that left the balance of approbation much in his favour. 


After a few minutes of entire silence between them, Mycroft began with —  "I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. James Moriarty. It is downright labour to him where any object of attraction is concerned. With friends he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has someone to please, every feature works." 


"Mr. Moriarty's manners are not perfect," replied Sherlock; "but where there is a wish to please, one ought to overlook, and one does overlook a great deal. Where a man does his best with only moderate powers, he will have the advantage over negligent superiority. There is such perfect good-temper and good-will in Mr. James Moriarty as one cannot but value." 


"Yes," said Mycroft presently, with some slyness, "he seems to have a great deal of good-will towards you." 


"Me!" Sherlock replied with a smile of astonishment. "Are you imagining me to be Mr. Moriarty's object?" 


"Such an imagination has crossed my mind, I own, Sherlock; and if it never occurred to you before, you may as well take it into consideration now." 


"Mr. Moriarty in love with me! — What an idea!" 


"I do not say it is so; but you will do well to consider whether it is so or not, and to regulate your behaviour accordingly. I think your manners to him encouraging. I speak as your elder brother, Sherlock. You had better look about you, and ascertain what you do, and what you mean to do.”


"I thank you; but I assure you, you are quite mistaken. Mr. Moriarty and I are very good friends, and nothing more.” And Sherlock walked on, amusing himself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgment are forever falling into; and not very well pleased with his brother for imagining him blind and ignorant, and in want of counsel. He said no more. 


Mr. Holmes had so completely made up his mind to the visit to Randalls, that in spite of the increasing coldness, he seemed to have no idea of shrinking from it, and set forward at last most punctually with his eldest son in his own carriage, with less apparent consciousness of the weather than either of the others; too full of the wonder of his own going, and the pleasure it was to afford the Hudsons, to see that it was cold, and too well wrapped up to feel it. The cold, however, was severe; and by the time the second carriage was in motion, a few flakes of snow were finding their way down, and the sky had the appearance of being so overcharged as to want only a milder air to produce a very white world in a very short time. 


Sherlock rode in the second carriage with Greg Holmes-Lestrade and Andrew Dimmock, heading not immediately for Randalls, but for the vicarage. They arrived, the carriage turned, the step was let down, and Mr. James Moriarty, spruced up and smiling, was with them instantly. 


Mr. Moriarty was all obligation and cheerfulness; he was so very cheerful in his civilities, indeed, that Sherlock began to think he must have received a different account of Molly from what had reached Hartfield. Sherlock had sent while dressing, and the answer had been, "Much the same — not better." 


"My report from Miss Thompson's," said he presently, "was not so pleasant as I had hoped — 'Not better' was my answer." 


Mr. Moriarty’s face lengthened immediately; and his voice was the voice of sentiment as he answered. "Oh! No — I am grieved to find — I was on the point of telling you that when I called at Miss Thompson's door, which I did the very last thing before I returned to dress, I was told that Miss Hooper was not better, by no means better, rather worse. Very much grieved and concerned. I had flattered myself that she must be better after such a cordial as I knew had been given her in the morning." 


Sherlock smiled and answered, "My visit was of use to the nervous part of her complaint, I hope; but not even I can charm away a sore throat; it is a most severe cold indeed. Miss Sawyer has been with her, as you probably heard." 


"Yes — I imagined — that is — I did not — " 


“Miss Sawyer has been used to seeing Molly with these complaints, and I hope tomorrow morning will bring us both a more comfortable report. But it is impossible not to feel uneasiness. Such a sad loss to our party today!" 


"Dreadful! —  Exactly so, indeed. — She will be missed every moment." 


This was very proper; the sigh which accompanied it was really estimable; but it should have lasted longer. Sherlock was rather in dismay when only half a minute afterwards Mr. Moriarty began to speak of other things, and in a voice of the greatest alacrity and enjoyment. 


"What an excellent device," said he, “is the use of a sheepskin for carriages. How very comfortable they make it; impossible to feel cold with such precautions. The contrivances of modern days indeed have rendered a gentleman's carriage perfectly complete. One is so fenced and guarded from the weather, that not a breath of air can find its way unpermitted. Weather becomes absolutely of no consequence. It is a very cold afternoon — but in this carriage we know nothing of the matter. — Ha! It snows a little I see." 


"Yes," said Greg Holmes-Lestrade, "and I think we shall have a good deal of it." 


"Christmas weather," observed Mr. Moriarty. "Quite seasonable; and extremely fortunate we may think ourselves that it did not begin yesterday, and prevent this day's party; but now it is of no consequence. This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas everybody invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend's house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se'nnight." 


Mr. Dimmock, who had heretofore remained in his usual shy silence, looked as if he did not comprehend the pleasure, but said only, "I cannot wish to be snowed up a week at Randalls." 


At another time Sherlock might have been amused, but he was too much astonished now at Mr. Moriarty's spirits for other feelings. Molly seemed quite forgotten in the expectation of a pleasant party. 


"We are sure of excellent fires," continued Mr. Moriarty, "and everything in the greatest comfort. Charming people, Mr. and Mrs. Hudson. Mrs. Hudson indeed is much beyond praise, and Mr. Hudson is exactly what one values, so hospitable, and so fond of society. It will be a small party, but where small parties are select, they are perhaps the most agreeable of any. The dining-room at Randalls does not accommodate more than ten comfortably; and for my part, I would rather, under such circumstances, fall short by two than exceed by two. I think you will agree with me,” (turning with a soft air to Sherlock) “I think I shall certainly have your approbation, though Mr. Holmes-Lestrade, perhaps, from being used to the large parties of London, may not quite enter into our feelings." 


"I know little of the large parties of London, sir — my husband and I rarely dine out." 


“Indeed!" (in a tone of wonder and pity) “I had no idea that the law had been so great a slavery. Well, sir, the time must come when you will be paid for all this, when you will have little labour and great enjoyment." 


"My first enjoyment," replied Greg Holmes-Lestrade, as they passed through the sweep-gate, "will be to rejoin my dear Mycroft again."


Chapter Text

Some change of countenance was necessary for each gentleman as they walked into Mrs. Hudson's drawing-room — Mr. James Moriarty must compose his joyous looks, Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade show proper interest in someone other than his husband, and Mr. Andrew Dimmock overcome his reticence enough to be introduced. Sherlock only might be as nature prompted, and show himself just as happy as he was. 


There was not a creature in the world to whom Sherlock spoke with such unreserve as to Mrs. Hudson; not anyone to whom he related with such conviction of being listened to and understood, of being always interesting and always intelligible, the little affairs, arrangements, perplexities, and pleasures of his father and himself. He could tell nothing of Hartfield in which Mrs. Hudson had not a lively concern. The very sight of Mrs. Hudson, her smile, her touch, her voice was a balm to Sherlock, and he determined to think as little as possible of Mr. James Moriarty's oddities, or of anything else unpleasant, and enjoy all that was enjoyable to the utmost. 


The misfortune of Molly's cold had been pretty well gone through before his arrival. Mr. Holmes had been safely seated long enough to give the history of it, when the others appeared, and Mrs. Hudson, who had been almost wholly engrossed by her attentions to him, was able to turn away and welcome her dear Sherlock. 


Sherlock's project of forgetting Mr. James Moriarty for a while made him rather sorry to find, when they had all taken their places, that they were seated close together. The difficulty was great of driving Mr. Moriarty’s strange insensibility towards Molly from his mind, while he not only sat at Sherlock’s elbow, but was continually obtruding his happy countenance on his notice, and solicitously addressing him upon every occasion. Instead of forgetting him, his behaviour was such that Sherlock could not avoid the internal suggestion of Can it really be as my brother imagined? Can it be possible for this man to be beginning to transfer his affections from Molly to me? — Absurd and insufferable! 


Yet Mr. Moriarty would be so anxious for Sherlock’s being perfectly warm, would be so interested about his father, and so delighted with Mrs. Hudson; and at last would begin admiring his drawings with so much zeal and so little knowledge as seemed terribly like a would-be lover, as made it some effort with Sherlock to preserve his good manners. For his own sake, Sherlock could not be rude; and for Molly's, in the hope that all would yet turn out right, he was even positively civil; but it was an effort; especially as something was going on amongst the others, in the most overpowering period of Mr. Moriarty's nonsense, which he particularly wished to listen to. 


Sherlock heard enough to know that Mr. Hudson was giving some information about his daughter. He heard the words "my daughter," and "Irene," repeated several times over; and, from a few other half-syllables, very much suspected that he was announcing an early visit from her. But before Sherlock could quiet Mr. Moriarty, the subject was so completely past that any reviving question from him would have been awkward. 


Now, it so happened that in spite of Sherlock's resolution of never marrying, there was something in the name, in the idea of Miss Irene Adler, which always interested him. Though they had never met, he had frequently thought — since her father's marriage with Mrs. Hudson — that if he were ever to marry, she was the very person to suit him in age, character, and condition. She seemed, by this connexion between the families, quite to belong to him. 


Sherlock could not but suppose it to be a match that everybody who knew them must think of. That Mr. and Mrs. Hudson did think of it, he was very strongly persuaded; and though not meaning to be induced by them, or by anybody else, to give up a situation which he believed more replete with good than any he could change it for, he had a great curiosity to see Miss Adler, a decided intention of finding her pleasant, of being liked by her to a certain degree, and a sort of pleasure in the idea of their being coupled in their friends' imaginations. 


With such sensations, Mr. Moriarty's civilities were dreadfully ill-timed; but Sherlock had the comfort of appearing very polite, while feeling very cross — and of thinking that the rest of the visit could not possibly pass without bringing forward the same information again, or the substance of it, from the open-hearted Mr. Hudson. So it proved; for when happily released from Mr. James Moriarty, and seated by Mr. Hudson, at dinner, he made use of the very first interval in the cares of hospitality to acquaint Sherlock with the whole of it. 


"We want only two more to be just the right number,” began Mr. Hudson. “I should like to see two more here — your pretty little friend, Miss Hooper, and my daughter — and then I should say we were quite complete. I believe you did not hear me telling the others in the drawing-room that we are expecting Irene. I had a letter from her this morning, and she will be with us within a fortnight." 


Sherlock spoke with a very proper degree of pleasure; and fully assented to his proposition of Miss Irene Adler and Miss Hooper making their party quite complete. 


"She has been wanting to come to us," continued Mr. Hudson, "ever since September: every letter has been full of it; but she cannot command her own time. She has those to please who must be pleased, and who (between ourselves) are sometimes to be pleased only by a good many sacrifices. But now I have no doubt of seeing her here about the second week in January." 


"What a very great pleasure it will be to you! And Mrs. Hudson is so anxious to be acquainted with her, that she must be almost as happy as yourself." 


"Yes, she would be, but that she thinks there will be another put-off. She does not depend upon Irene’s coming so much as I do: but she does not know the parties so well as I do.” 


"I am sorry there should be anything like doubt in the case," replied Sherlock; "but am disposed to side with you, Mr. Hudson. If you think she will come, I shall think so too; for you know Enscombe." 


"Yes — I have some right to that knowledge; though I have never been at the place in my life. Mrs. Adler is an odd woman! But I never allow myself to speak ill of her, on Irene's account; for I do believe her to be very fond of her. I used to think she was not capable of being fond of anybody, except herself; but she has always been kind to Irene (in her way — allowing for little whims and caprices, and expecting everything to be as she likes). And it is no small credit, in my opinion, to Irene, that she should excite such an affection; for, though I would not say it to anybody else, her aunt has no more heart than a stone to people in general; and the devil of a temper." 


Sherlock liked the subject so well, that he began upon it, to Mrs. Hudson, very soon after their moving into the drawing-room: wishing her joy — yet observing that he knew the first meeting must be rather alarming. 


Mrs. Hudson agreed to it; but added that she should be very glad to be secure of undergoing the anxiety of a first meeting at the time talked of: "For I cannot depend upon her coming. I cannot be so sanguine as Mr. Hudson. I am very much afraid that it will all end in nothing. Mr. Hudson, I dare say, has been telling you exactly how the matter stands?" 


"Yes — it seems to depend upon nothing but the ill-humour of Mrs. Adler, which I imagine to be the most certain thing in the world." 


"My Sherlock!" replied Mrs. Hudson, smiling. "What is the certainty of caprice?" 


Then, turning to Mycroft, who had not been attending before, she said, "You must know, my dear, that we are by no means so sure of seeing Miss Irene Adler, in my opinion, as her father thinks. It depends entirely upon her aunt's spirits and pleasure; in short, upon her temper. To you — to my two sons — I may venture on the truth. Mrs. Adler rules at Enscombe, and is a very odd-tempered woman; and Irene’s coming now depends upon her aunt’s being willing to spare her."


"Oh, Mrs. Adler; everybody knows Mrs. Adler," replied Mycroft. "And I am sure I never think of poor Irene without the greatest compassion. To be constantly living with an ill-tempered person must be dreadful. It must be a life of misery. What a blessing, that Mrs. Adler never had any children of her own. How unhappy she would have made them!" 


Sherlock wished he had been alone with Mrs. Hudson. He should then have heard more: Mrs. Hudson would speak to him with a degree of unreserve which she would not hazard with Mycroft; and, he really believed, would scarcely try to conceal anything relative to the Adlers from him, excepting those views on the young woman and himself, of which his own imagination had already given him such instinctive knowledge. But at present there was nothing more to be said.


Mr. Dimmock now came and seated himself near Sherlock. The several glasses of wine he had enjoyed with dinner had evidently done their work in relieving his customary diffidence, for he entered at once into a most animated and lively conversation. Indeed, there was something almost of flirtation in his manner. Sherlock, though not at all interested in anything serious, found himself highly diverted by the change in the young man, and permitted his attentions. 


Chapter Text

Mrs. Hudson soon served the tea. Mr. Moriarty immediately brought his cup over to where Sherlock and Andrew Dimmock were sitting together on a sofa, and, with scarcely an invitation, joined them. Sherlock, in good spirits, from the amusement afforded his mind by the flirtation of Mr. Dimmock, was willing to forget Mr. Moriarty’s late improprieties, and be as well satisfied with him as before; and on his making Molly his very first subject, was ready to listen with most friendly smiles. 


Mr. Moriarty professed himself extremely anxious about Miss Hooper — Sherlock’s fair, lovely, amiable friend. He felt much anxiety — he must confess that the nature of her complaint alarmed him considerably. And in this style he talked on for some time very properly, not much attending to any answer, but altogether sufficiently awake to the terror of a bad sore throat; and Sherlock was quite in charity with him. 


But at last there seemed a perverse turn; it seemed all at once as if he were more afraid of its being a bad sore throat on Sherlock’s account, than on Molly's — more anxious that he should escape the infection, than that there should be no infection in the complaint. He began with great earnestness to entreat Sherlock to refrain from visiting the sick-chamber again, for the present — to entreat him to promise not to venture into such hazard till he had seen Miss Sawyer and learnt her opinion; and though Sherlock tried to laugh it off and bring the subject back into its proper course, there was no putting an end to Mr. Moriarty’s extreme solicitude about him. 


Sherlock was vexed. It did appear — there was no concealing it — exactly like the pretence of being in love with him, instead of Molly; an inconstancy, if real, the most contemptible and abominable! He had difficulty in behaving with temper. 


Mr. Moriarty turned to Mrs. Hudson to implore her assistance: Would not she give him her support? Would not she add her persuasions to his, to induce Mr. Holmes not to go to Miss Thompson's till it were certain that Miss Hooper's disorder had no infection? He could not be satisfied without a promise — would not she give him her influence in procuring it? 


"So scrupulous for others," he continued, "and yet so careless for himself! He wanted me to nurse my cold by staying at home today, and yet will not promise to avoid the danger of catching an ulcerated sore throat himself. Is this fair, Mrs. Hudson? — Judge between us. Have not I some right to complain? I am sure of your kind support and aid." 


Sherlock saw Mrs. Hudson's surprise, and felt that it must be great, at an address which, in words and manner, was assuming to himself the right of first interest in him. As for himself, Sherlock was too much provoked and offended to have the power of directly saying anything to the purpose. He could only give Mr. Moriarty a look; but it was such a look as he thought must restore him to his senses. He then left the sofa, removing to a seat by his brother, and giving Mycroft all his attention. 


Sherlock had not time to know how Mr. Moriarty took the reproof, so rapidly did another subject succeed; for Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade now came into the room from examining the weather, and opened on them all with the information of the ground being covered with snow, and of its still snowing fast, with a strong drifting wind. Poor Mr. Holmes was silent from consternation; but everybody else had something to say; everybody was either surprised or not surprised, and had some question to ask, or some comfort to offer. 


Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock tried earnestly to cheer Mr. Holmes, while Mr. Hudson was confessing that he had known it to be snowing some time, but had not said a word, lest it should make them uncomfortable, and be an excuse for their hurrying away. As to there being any quantity of snow fallen or likely to fall to impede their return, Mr. Hudson declared that was a mere joke; he was afraid they would find no difficulty. He wished the road might be impassable, that he might be able to keep them all at Randalls; and with the utmost good-will was sure that accommodation might be found for everybody, calling on his wife to agree with him, that with a little contrivance, everybody might be lodged, which she hardly knew how to do, from the consciousness of there being but two spare rooms in the house. 


"What is to be done?" was Mr. Holmes' first exclamation, and all that he could say for some time.


"We had better order the carriages directly," said Mycroft. 


He turned to Mrs. Hudson for her approbation of the plan. Mrs. Hudson could only approve. 


Captain Watson, who had left the room immediately after his brother's first report of the snow, came back again, and told them that he had been out of doors to examine, and could answer for there not being the smallest difficulty in their getting home, whenever they liked it, either now or an hour hence. He had gone beyond the sweep — some way along the Highbury road — the snow was nowhere above half an inch deep — in many places hardly enough to whiten the ground; a very few flakes were falling at present, but the clouds were parting, and there was every appearance of its being soon over. He had seen the coachmen, and they both agreed with him in there being nothing to apprehend.


Mr. Hudson now entreated them all to stay, as it would be perfectly safe to prolong their visit as long as they wished. No sooner had this alarm over the weather been eased, however, than another took its place.


Mr. Dimmock, who had remained seated by Mr. Moriarty, suddenly slumped over against the other man’s shoulder. It appeared that the mulled wine, which had at first proven so efficacious in relieving his painful shyness, had now, with the most recent glass, moved away from the realm of restorative and had become, instead, quite debilitating. Gone was his ready vivacity, replaced by slack limbs and glassy eyes.


Greg went immediately to his young protégé, shielding him, as best he could, from the notice of the others. He spoke to Dimmock in low tones, urging him to exert himself to some semblance of propriety. His only reply, however, was so slurred as to be incomprehensible.


Abandoning his attempt at concealment, Greg addressed his husband. “Mycroft, I fear that Andrew is unwell. Please ring for the carriage. Forgive me, Mr. Hudson, but we must excuse ourselves.” 


Mycroft responded with alacrity. The bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. 


Sherlock could not repent it. A few minutes more, and he hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house to think, as he ought, of Molly, and the other conveyed to his guest room at Hartfield to recover his sobriety. 


The carriages came: and Mr. Holmes, always the first object on such occasions, was carefully attended to his own by Captain Watson and Mr. Hudson; but not all that either could say could prevent some renewal of his alarm at the sight of the snow which had actually fallen, and the discovery of a much darker night than he had been prepared for. He was afraid they should have a very bad drive. He was afraid poor Mycroft would not like it. And there would be poor Sherlock in the carriage behind. He did not know what they had best do. They must keep as much together as they could; and the coachman was talked to, and given a charge to go very slow and wait for the other carriage. 


Mycroft stepped in after his father, pulling the nearly insensible Mr. Dimmock along with him. Greg, forgetting that he did not belong to their party, climbed in after the young man very naturally; so that Sherlock found, on being escorted and followed into the second carriage by Mr. James Moriarty, that the door was to be lawfully shut on them, and that they were to have a tete-a-tete drive. 


It would not have been the awkwardness of a moment, it would have been rather a pleasure, previous to the suspicions of this very day; he could have talked to Mr. Moriarty of Molly, and the three-quarters of a mile would have seemed but one. But now, he would rather it had not happened. Sherlock believed Mr. Dimmock was not the only one who had been drinking too much of Mrs. Hudson's good wine, and felt sure that Mr. Moriarty would want to be talking nonsense. 


To restrain him as much as might be, Sherlock was immediately preparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity of the weather and the night; but scarcely had he begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate and joined the other carriage, than he found his subject cut up — his hand seized — his attention demanded, and Mr. James Moriarty actually making an overt proposal to him: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping — fearing — adoring — ready to die if Sherlock refused him; but flattering himself that his ardent attachment and unequalled love and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and in short, very much resolved on being seriously accepted as soon as possible. 


It really was so. Without scruple — without apology — without much apparent diffidence, Mr. James Moriarty, the lover of Molly, was professing himself to be in love with Sherlock. 


Sherlock tried to stop him; but vainly; he would go on, and say it all. Angry as Sherlock was, the thought of the moment made him resolve to restrain himself when he did speak. He felt that half this folly must be drunkenness, and therefore could hope that it might belong only to the passing hour. 


Accordingly, with a mixture of the serious and the playful, which he hoped would best suit Mr. Moriarty’s half and half state, he replied, "I am very much astonished, Mr. Moriarty. This, to me? You forget yourself — you take me for my friend — any message to Miss Hooper I shall be happy to deliver; but no more of this to me, if you please." 


"Miss Hooper! — Message to Miss Hooper! — What could you possibly mean!" 


He repeated the words with such assurance of accent, such boastful pretence of amazement, that Sherlock could not help replying with quickness, “Mr. Moriarty, this is the most extraordinary conduct! And I can account for it only in one way; you are not yourself, or you could not speak either to me, or of Molly, in such a manner. Command yourself enough to say no more, and I will endeavour to forget it." 


But Mr. Moriarty had only drunk wine enough to elevate his spirits, not at all to confuse his intellects. He perfectly knew his own meaning; and having warmly protested against Sherlock’s suspicion as most injurious, and slightly touched upon his respect for Miss Hooper as his friend — but acknowledging his wonder that Miss Hooper should be mentioned at all — he resumed the subject of his own passion, and was very urgent for a favourable answer. 


As Sherlock thought less of his inebriety, he thought more of his inconstancy and presumption; and with fewer struggles for politeness, replied, "It is impossible for me to doubt any longer. You have made yourself too clear. Mr. Moriarty, my astonishment is much beyond anything I can express. After such behaviour, as I have witnessed during the last month, to Miss Hooper — such attentions as I have been in the daily habit of observing — to be addressing me in this manner —  this is an unsteadiness of character, indeed, which I had not supposed possible! Believe me, sir, I am far, very far, from gratified in being the object of such professions.” 


"Good Heaven!" cried Mr. Moriarty. "What can be the meaning of this? — Miss Hooper! — I never thought of Miss Hooper in the whole course of my existence — never paid her any attentions, but as your friend: never cared whether she were dead or alive, but as your friend. If she has fancied otherwise, her own wishes have misled her, and I am very sorry —  extremely sorry — But, Miss Hooper, indeed! — Oh! Mr. Holmes! Who can think of Miss Hooper, when Mr. Holmes is near? No, upon my honour, there is no unsteadiness of character. I have thought only of you. I protest against having paid the smallest attention to anyone else. Everything that I have said or done, for many weeks past, has been with the sole view of marking my adoration of yourself. You cannot really, seriously, doubt it. No —” (in an accent meant to be insinuating) “— I am sure you have seen and understood me." 


It would be impossible to say what Sherlock felt, on hearing this — which of all his unpleasant sensations was uppermost. He was too completely overpowered to be immediately able to reply: and two moments of silence being ample encouragement for Mr. Moriarty's sanguine state of mind, he tried to take Sherlock’s hand again, as he joyously exclaimed —  "Charming Mr. Holmes! Allow me to interpret this interesting silence. It confesses that you have long understood me." 


"No, sir," cried Sherlock, "it confesses no such thing. So far from having long understood you, I have been in a most complete error with respect to your views, till this moment. As to myself, I am very sorry that you should have been giving way to any feelings. Nothing could be farther from my wishes. Your attachment to my friend Molly —  your pursuit of her, (pursuit, it appeared,) gave me great pleasure, and I have been very earnestly wishing you success: but had I supposed that she were not your attraction to Hartfield, I should certainly have thought you judged ill in making your visits so frequent. Am I to believe that you have never sought to recommend yourself particularly to Miss Hooper? That you have never thought seriously of her?" 


"Never, sir," cried Mr. Moriarty, affronted in his turn. "Never, I assure you. I, think seriously of Miss Hooper? — Miss Hooper is a very good sort of girl; and I should be happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well: and, no doubt, there are men who might not object to — Everybody has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance, as to be addressing myself to Miss Hooper! — No, sir, my visits to Hartfield have been for yourself only; and the encouragement I received — " 


“Encouragement! — I, give you encouragement? — Sir, you have been entirely mistaken in supposing it. I have seen you only as the admirer of my friend. In no other light could you have been more to me than a common acquaintance. I am exceedingly sorry: but it is well that the mistake ends where it does. Had the same behaviour continued, Miss Hooper might have been led into a misconception of your views; not being aware, probably, any more than myself, of the very great inequality which you are so sensible of. But, as it is, the disappointment is single, and, I trust, will not be lasting. I have no thoughts of matrimony at present." 


Mr. Moriarty was too angry to say another word; Sherlock’s manner too decided to invite supplication; and in this state of swelling resentment, and mutually deep mortification, they had to continue together a few minutes longer, for the fears of Mr. Holmes had confined them to a foot-pace. If there had not been so much anger, there would have been desperate awkwardness; but their straightforward emotions left no room for the little zigzags of embarrassment. Without knowing when the carriage turned into Vicarage Lane, or when it stopped, they found themselves, all at once, at the door of Mr. Moriarty’s house; and he was out before another syllable passed. 


Sherlock then felt it indispensable to wish him a good night. The farewell was returned coldly and proudly; and, under indescribable irritation of spirits, Sherlock was then conveyed to Hartfield. 


There he was welcomed, with the utmost delight, by his father, who had been trembling for the dangers of a solitary drive from Vicarage Lane. Poor Mr. Holmes had been in a state of extreme distress, caused by his concern for both Sherlock and Mr. Dimmock. Now, however — with his son safely returned home, and his guest peacefully sleeping off the effects of Mrs. Hudson’s wine — he was able to retire to his bed with tolerable tranquility.


Mycroft and Greg soon excused themselves to their own room, and the day was concluding in peace and comfort to all their little party, except Sherlock. His mind had never been in such perturbation; and he expected as little sleep as he managed to get that night.


Chapter Text

Sherlock lay down upon his bed to think and be miserable. It was a wretched business indeed!  Such an overthrow of everything he had been wishing for! Such a development of everything most unwelcome! Such a blow for Molly! 


That was the worst of all. Every part of the situation brought pain and humiliation, of some sort or other; but, compared with the evil to Molly, all was light; and Sherlock would gladly have submitted to feel yet more mistaken — more in error — more disgraced by misjudgment, than he actually was, could the effects of his blunders have been confined to himself. If I had not persuaded Molly into liking the man, Sherlock thought, I could have borne anything. He might have doubled his presumption to me — but poor Molly! 


How could Sherlock have been so deceived? Mr. Moriarty had protested that he had never thought seriously of Molly —  never! Sherlock looked back as well as he could; but it was all confusion. He had taken up the idea, he supposed, and made everything bend to it. 


Mr. Moriarty’s manners, however, must have been unmarked, wavering, dubious, or he could not have been so misled. The picture! — How eager he had been about the picture! — And the charade! — And an hundred other circumstances; how clearly they had seemed to point at Molly. To be sure, the charade could have been addressed to him, with its "ready wit" — but then the "soft eyes” were certainly Molly’s — in fact it suited neither; it was a jumble without taste or truth. Who could have seen through such thick-headed nonsense? 


Certainly Sherlock had often, especially of late, thought Mr. Moriarty’s manners to himself unnecessarily gallant; but it had passed as his way, as a mere error of judgment, of knowledge, of taste, as one proof among others that he had not always lived in the best society, that with all the gentleness of his address, true elegance was sometimes lacking; but, till this very day, Sherlock had never, for an instant, suspected it to mean anything but grateful respect to him as Molly's friend. 


To Mycroft was he indebted for his first idea on the subject, for the first start of its possibility. There was no denying that his brother had penetration. Sherlock then recalled what Captain Watson had once said to him about Mr. Moriarty, the caution he had given, the conviction he had professed that Mr. Moriarty would never marry indiscreetly; and blushed to think how much truer a knowledge of his character had been there shown than any Sherlock had reached himself. 


It was dreadfully mortifying; but Mr. Moriarty was proving himself, in many respects, the very reverse of what Sherlock had meant and believed him: proud, assuming, conceited; very full of his own claims, and little concerned about the feelings of others. Contrary to the usual course of things, Mr. Moriarty's wanting to pay his address had sunk him in Sherlock’s opinion. His professions and his proposals did him no service. Sherlock thought nothing of his attachment, and was insulted by his hopes. 


Mr. Moriarty wanted to marry well, and having the arrogance to raise his eyes to Sherlock, pretended to be in love; but he was certainly not suffering any disappointment that need be cared for. There had been no real affection either in his language or manners. Sighs and fine words had been given in abundance; but Sherlock could hardly devise any set of expressions, or fancy any tone of voice, less allied with real love. He need not trouble himself to pity the man. Mr. Moriarty only wanted to aggrandise and enrich himself; and if Mr. Holmes of Hartfield, the heir of thirty thousand pounds, were not quite so easily obtained as he had fancied, he would soon try for Mr. or Miss Somebody-Else with twenty, or with ten. 


But — that Mr. Moriarty should talk of encouragement, should consider Sherlock as aware of his views, accepting his attentions, meaning (in short), to marry him! — should suppose himself Sherlock’s equal in connexion or mind! — look down upon his friend, so well understanding the gradations of rank below him, and be so blind to what rose above, as to fancy himself showing no presumption in addressing him! —  It was most provoking. 


Perhaps it was not fair to expect Mr. Moriarty to feel how very much he was Sherlock’s inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very lack of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence Sherlock was greatly his superior. He must know that the Holmes family had been settled for many generations at Hartfield, a very ancient family — and that the Moriartys were nobody. The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged; but their fortune, from other sources, was such as to make them scarcely secondary to Donwell Abbey itself, in every other kind of consequence; and Sherlock’s family had long held a high place in the consideration of the neighbourhood which Mr. James Moriarty had first entered not two years ago, with nothing to recommend him to notice but his civility and his situation as a clergyman.  


But Mr. Moriarty had fancied Sherlock in love with him; that evidently must have been his dependence; and after raving to himself a little about the seeming incongruity of gentle manners and a conceited head, Sherlock was obliged in common honesty to stop and admit that his own behaviour had been so complaisant and obliging, so full of courtesy and attention, as (supposing his real motive unperceived) might warrant a man of ordinary observation and delicacy, like Mr. Moriarty, in fancying himself a very decided favourite. If Sherlock had so misinterpreted Mr. Moriarty’s feelings, he had little right to wonder that Mr. Moriarty, with self-interest to blind him, should have mistaken his. 


The first error and the worst lay at Sherlock’s door. He had used his powers of deduction in an inappropriate manner. It was foolish, it was wrong, to turn his gift for observation toward the romantic leanings of others, or to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. Sherlock was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more. 


"Here have I," said he, "actually talked poor Molly into being very much attached to this man. She might never have thought of him but for me; and certainly never would have thought of him with hope, if I had not assured her of his attachment, for she is as modest and humble as I used to think him. Oh! I wish that I had been satisfied with persuading her not to accept Miss Stella Hopkins. There I was quite right. That was well done of me; but there I should have stopped, and left the rest to time and chance. I was introducing her into good company, and giving her the opportunity of pleasing someone worth having; I ought not to have attempted more. But now, poor girl, her peace is cut up for some time. I have been but half a friend to her; and if she were not to feel this disappointment so very much, I am sure I have not an idea of anybody else who would be at all desirable for her; — Sebastian Wilkes, perhaps — Oh! No, I could not endure Sebastian Wilkes — a vain young man.” 


Sherlock stopped to blush and laugh at his own relapse, and then resumed a more serious, more dispiriting cogitation upon what had been, and might be, and must be. The distressing explanation he had to make to Molly, and all that poor Molly would be suffering, with the awkwardness of future meetings, the difficulties of continuing or discontinuing the acquaintance, of subduing feelings, and concealing resentment, were enough to occupy him in most unmirthful reflections some time longer, and he lay awake until nearly dawn with nothing settled but the conviction of his having blundered most dreadfully. 


Sherlock got up on the morrow more disposed for comfort than he had gone to bed, more ready to see alleviations of the evil before him, and to depend on getting tolerably out of it. It was a great consolation that Mr. James Moriarty should not be really in love with him, or so particularly amiable as to make it shocking to disappoint him — that Molly's nature should not be of that superior sort in which the feelings are most acute and retentive — and that there could be no necessity for anybody's knowing what had passed except the three principals. These were very cheering thoughts; and, peering out his bedroom window, the sight of a great deal of snow on the ground did him further service, for anything was welcome that might justify their all three being quite asunder at present. Such weather was most favourable; for though it was Christmas Day, he could not possibly go to church. 


Having risen late, Sherlock found his father, Mycroft, and Greg already assembled in the breakfast parlour. Their mournful expressions he at first attributed to the inclement weather, but Mycroft quickly explained their true cause.


“Mr. Andrew Dimmock,” he said solemnly, “did not survive the night.”


Chapter Text

Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade were not detained long at Hartfield. The weather soon improved enough for those to move who must move; and Greg felt it necessary to return the body of the late Andrew Dimmock to London for burial. Nothing Mr. Holmes could say would persuade Mycroft to stay behind, and so the husbands set off together, leaving Hartfield much sadder than when they had arrived.


The sudden death of Mr. Dimmock — a young man in the prime of health and vigor — had shocked them all. Mr. Holmes loudly lamented the fashion of serving wine with dinner — a practice he had long decried. When Miss Taylor had been living under his roof, she had accepted his wisdom in the area of food and drink, but now that she had gone and become Mrs. Hudson, she would insist on serving such unwholesome things as cake and wine — and here was the tragic result. Poor Miss Wilson had succumbed at the wedding, and now poor Mr. Dimmock had drunk himself to death.


Sherlock — not wishing to bring pain to Mrs. Hudson, nor to cast such a pall as would surely mar each future Christmas, in the way that already every anniversary must bring the sad remembrance of a young life lost — convinced his father that the fate of Mr. Dimmock need not be known by any outside the family. As far as the rest of Highbury was concerned, their guest was to have returned to London with the Holmes-Lestrades, and so he had. The condition in which he made the journey need not concern them.   


At any other time, Sherlock would have been more curious as to the circumstances surrounding Mr. Dimmock’s untimely demise. Now, however, his mind was so consumed with self-recrimination over the part he had played in encouraging Molly’s attachment to Mr. Moriarty that everything else must give way. 


The evening of the very day on which Mycroft and Greg went away brought a note from Mr. Moriarty to Mr. Holmes: a long, civil, ceremonious note, to say, with Mr. Moriarty's best compliments, that he was proposing to leave Highbury the following morning in his way to Bath; where, in compliance with the pressing entreaties of some friends, he had engaged to spend a few weeks, and very much regretted the impossibility he was under, from various circumstances of weather and business, of taking a personal leave of Mr. Holmes, of whose friendly civilities he should ever retain a grateful sense. 


Sherlock was most agreeably surprised. Mr. Moriarty's absence just at this time was the very thing to be desired. Sherlock admired him for contriving it, though not able to give him much credit for the manner in which it was announced. Resentment could not have been more plainly spoken than in a civility to his father, from which Sherlock was so pointedly excluded. He had not even a share in his opening compliments. His name was not mentioned — and there was so striking a change in all this, and such an ill-judged solemnity of leave-taking in his graceful acknowledgments, as Sherlock thought, at first, could not escape his father's suspicion. It did, however. His father was quite taken up with the surprise of so sudden a journey, and his fears that Mr. Moriarty might never get safely to the end of it, and saw nothing extraordinary in his language. 


It was a very useful note, for it supplied them with fresh matter for thought and conversation during the rest of their lonely evening. Mr. Holmes talked over his alarms, and Sherlock was in spirits to persuade them away with all his usual promptitude. 


Sherlock now resolved to keep Molly no longer in the dark. He had reason to believe her nearly recovered from her cold, and it was desirable that she should have as much time as possible for getting the better of her other complaint before the gentleman's return. Sherlock went to Miss Thompson's accordingly the very next day, to undergo the necessary penance of communication; and a severe one it was. He had to destroy all the hopes which he had been so industriously feeding — to appear in the ungracious character of the one preferred — and acknowledge himself grossly mistaken and misjudging in all his ideas on the subject, all his observations, all his deductions, all his convictions, all his prophecies for the last six weeks.


The confession completely renewed Sherlock’s first shame, and the sight of Molly's tears made him think that he should never be in charity with himself again. Molly bore the intelligence very well — blaming nobody — and in everything testifying such an ingenuousness of disposition and lowly opinion of herself, as must appear with particular advantage at that moment to her friend. Sherlock was in the humour to value simplicity and modesty to the utmost; and all that was amiable, all that ought to be attaching, seemed on Molly's side, not his own. 


Molly did not consider herself as having anything to complain of. The affection of such a man as Mr. James Moriarty would have been too great a distinction. She never could have deserved him; and nobody but so partial and kind a friend as Mr. Holmes would have thought it possible. Her tears fell abundantly, but her grief was so truly artless that no dignity could have made it more respectable in Sherlock's eyes, and he listened to her and tried to console her with all his heart and understanding — really for the time convinced that Molly was the superior creature of the two, and that to resemble her would be more for his own welfare and happiness than all that genius or intelligence could do. 


It was rather too late in the day to set about being simple-minded and ignorant; but Sherlock left with every previous resolution confirmed of being humble and discreet, and repressing imagination all the rest of his life. His duty now was to promote Molly's comfort, and endeavour to prove his own affection in some better method than by match-making. He would get her to Hartfield, and show her the most unvarying kindness, striving to occupy and amuse her, and by books and conversation, to drive Mr. Moriarty from her thoughts. 


Time, Sherlock knew, must be allowed for this being thoroughly done. He could suppose himself but an indifferent judge of such matters in general, and very inadequate to sympathise in an attachment to Mr. Moriarty in particular; but it seemed to him reasonable that at Molly's age, and with the entire extinction of all hope, such a progress might be made towards a state of composure by the time of Mr. Moriarty's return, as to allow them all to meet again in the common routine of acquaintance, without any danger of betraying sentiments or increasing them. 


Molly did still think Mr. Moriarty all perfection, and maintained the nonexistence of anybody equal to him in person or goodness — and did, in truth, prove herself more resolutely in love than Sherlock had foreseen; but yet it appeared to him so natural, so inevitable to strive against an inclination of that sort unrequited, that he could not comprehend its continuing very long in equal force. If Mr. Moriarty, on his return, made his own indifference as evident and indubitable as Sherlock could not doubt he would anxiously do, he could not imagine Molly's persisting to place her happiness in the sight or the recollection of him. 


Their being fixed, so absolutely fixed, in the same place, was bad for each, for all three. Not one of them had the power of removal, however, or of effecting any material change of society. They must encounter each other, and make the best of it. 


Molly was farther unfortunate in the tone of her companions at Miss Thompson's; Mr. James Moriarty being the adoration of all the teachers and great girls in the school; and it must be at Hartfield only that she could have any chance of hearing him spoken of with cooling moderation or repellent truth. Where the wound had been given, there must the cure be found if anywhere; and Sherlock felt that, till he saw her in the way of cure, there could be no true peace for himself.


Chapter Text

Miss Irene Adler did not come. When the time proposed drew near, Mrs. Hudson's fears were justified in the arrival of a letter of excuse. For the present, she could not be spared, to her "very great mortification and regret,” but still she “looked forward with the hope of coming to Randalls at no distant period." 


Mrs. Hudson was exceedingly disappointed — much more disappointed, in fact, than her husband, though her dependence on seeing the young lady had been so much more sober. For half an hour Mr. Hudson was surprised and sorry, but then he began to perceive that Irene's coming two or three months later would be a much better plan: better time of year, better weather, and that she would be able, without any doubt, to stay considerably longer with them than if she had come sooner. These feelings rapidly restored his comfort, while Mrs. Hudson, of a more apprehensive disposition, foresaw nothing but a repetition of excuses and delays; and after all her concern for what her husband was to suffer, suffered a great deal more herself. 


Sherlock was not at this time in a state of spirits to care much about Miss Irene Adler's not coming, except as a disappointment at Randalls. The acquaintance at present had no charm for him. He wanted, rather, to be quiet, and out of temptation; but still, as it was desirable that he should appear, in general, like his usual self, he took care to express as much interest in the circumstance, and enter as warmly into Mr. and Mrs. Hudson's disappointment, as might naturally belong to their friendship. 


Sherlock was the first to announce this news to Captain Watson, and exclaimed quite as much as was necessary (or, being acting a part, perhaps rather more) at the conduct of the Adlers in keeping Irene away. He then proceeded to say a good deal more than he felt of the advantage such an addition would have made to their confined society in Surrey. Ending with reflections on the Adlers again, he found himself directly involved in a disagreement with Captain Watson; and, to his great amusement, perceived that he was taking the other side of the question from his real opinion, and making use of Mrs. Hudson's arguments against himself.


"The Adlers are very likely in fault," said Captain Watson, coolly; "but I dare say she might come if she would." 


"I do not know why you should say so. She wishes exceedingly to come; but her uncle and aunt will not spare her." 


"I cannot believe that she has not the power of coming, if she made a point of it. It is too unlikely, for me to believe it without proof." 


"How odd you are! What has Miss Irene Adler done, to make you suppose her such an unnatural creature?" 


"I am not supposing her at all an unnatural creature, in suspecting that she may have learnt to be above her connexions, and to care very little for anything but her own pleasure, from living with those who have always set her the example of it. It is a great deal more natural than one could wish, that a young woman, brought up by those who are proud, luxurious, and selfish, should be proud, luxurious, and selfish too. If Irene Adler had wanted to see her father, she would have contrived it between September and January. A woman at her age — what is she? — three or four-and-twenty — cannot be without the means of doing as much as that. It is impossible." 


"That's easily said, and easily felt by you, who have always been your own master. You are the worst judge in the world, Captain Watson, of the difficulties of dependence. You do not know what it is to have tempers to manage." 


"It is not to be conceived that someone of three or four-and-twenty should not have liberty of mind or limb to that amount. She cannot lack money — she cannot lack leisure. We know, on the contrary, that she has so much of both, that she is glad to get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom. We hear of her forever at some watering-place or other. A little while ago, she was at Weymouth. This proves that she can leave the Adlers." 


"Yes, sometimes she can." 


“And those times are whenever she thinks it worth her while; whenever there is any temptation of pleasure." 


"It is very unfair to judge of anybody's conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be. We ought to be acquainted with Enscombe, and with Mrs. Adler's temper, before we pretend to decide upon what her niece can do. She may, at times, be able to do a great deal more than she can at others." 


"There is one thing, Sherlock, which a daughter can always do, if she chooses, and that is, her duty; not by manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution. It is Irene Adler's duty to pay this attention to her father. She knows it to be so, by her promises and messages; but if she wished to do it, it might be done. 


“If she felt rightly, she would say at once, simply and resolutely, to Mrs. Adler — 'Every sacrifice of mere pleasure you will always find me ready to make to your convenience; but I must go and see my father immediately. I know he would be hurt by my failing in such a mark of respect to him on the present occasion. I shall, therefore, set off tomorrow.' — If she would say so to her aunt at once, in a tone of decision, there would be no opposition made to her going." 


"No," said Sherlock, laughing; "but perhaps there might be some opposition made to her coming back again. Such language for a young woman entirely dependent to use! Nobody but you, Captain Watson, would imagine it possible. But you have not an idea of what is requisite in situations directly opposite to your own. Miss Irene Adler to be making such a speech as that to the uncle and aunt, who have brought her up, and are to provide for her! — Standing up in the middle of the room, I suppose, and speaking as loud as she could! — How can you imagine such conduct practicable?" 


"Depend upon it, Sherlock, a sensible woman would find no difficulty in it. She would feel herself in the right; and the declaration — made, of course, in a proper manner — would do her more good, raise her higher, fix her interest stronger with the people she depended on. Respect would be added to affection. They would feel that they could trust her; that the niece who had done rightly by her father, would do rightly by them; for they know, as well as she does, as well as all the world must know, that she ought to pay this visit to her father; and while meanly exerting their power to delay it, are in their hearts not thinking the better of her for submitting to their whims. Respect for right conduct is felt by everybody. If Miss Adler would act in this sort of manner, on principle, consistently, regularly, their little minds would bend to hers." 


"I rather doubt that. You are very fond of bending little minds; but where little minds belong to rich people in authority, I think they have a knack of swelling out, till they are quite as unmanageable as great ones. I can imagine, that if you, as you are, Captain Watson, were to be transported and placed all at once in Miss Irene Adler's situation, you would be able to say and do just what you have been recommending for her; and it might have a very good effect. The Adlers might not have a word to say in return; but then, you would have no habits of early obedience and long observance to break through. To her who has, it might not be so easy to burst forth at once into perfect independence, and set all their claims on her gratitude and regard at nought. She may have as strong a sense of what would be right, as you can have, without being so equal, under particular circumstances, to act up to it." 


"Then it would not be so strong a sense. If it failed to produce equal exertion, it could not be an equal conviction." 


"Oh, the difference of situation and habit! I wish you would try to understand what an amiable young woman may be likely to feel in directly opposing those whom she has been looking up to all her life." 


"Our amiable young woman is a very weak young woman, if this be the first occasion of her carrying through a resolution to do right against the will of others. It ought to have been a habit with her by this time, of following her duty, instead of consulting expediency. I can allow for the fears of the child, but not of the woman. As she became rational, she ought to have roused herself and shaken off all that was unworthy in their authority. She ought to have opposed the first attempt on their side to make her slight her father. Had she begun as she ought, there would have been no difficulty now." 


"We shall never agree about her," cried Sherlock; "but that is nothing extraordinary. I have not the least idea of her being a weak young woman: I feel sure that she is not. Mr. Hudson would not be blind to folly, though in his own daughter. But she is very likely to have a more yielding disposition than would suit your notions of perfection. I dare say she has; and though it may cut her off from some advantages, it will secure her many others." 


“Yes: all the advantages of leading a life of mere idle pleasure, and fancying herself extremely expert in finding excuses for it. She can sit down and write a fine flourishing letter, full of professions and falsehoods, and persuade herself that she has hit upon the very best method in the world of preserving peace at home and preventing her father's having any right to complain. Her letters disgust me." 


"Your feelings are singular. Her letters seem to satisfy everybody else." 


"I suspect they do not satisfy Mrs. Hudson. They hardly can satisfy a woman of her good sense and quick feelings: standing in a mother's place, but without a mother's affection to blind her. It is on her account that attention to Randalls is doubly due, and she must doubly feel the omission. Had she been a person of consequence herself, Miss Adler would have come I dare say. Can you think your friend behindhand in these sort of considerations? Do you suppose she does not often say all this to herself? 


“No, Sherlock, your amiable young woman can be amiable only in French, not in English. She may be very 'amiable,' have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but she can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about her." 


"You seem determined to think ill of her." 


"Me! Not at all," replied Captain Watson, rather displeased. "I do not want to think ill of her. I should be as ready to acknowledge her merits as any other man. But I hear of none, except what are merely personal: that she is well-grown and good-looking, with smooth, plausible manners." 


"Well, if she have nothing else to recommend her, she will be a treasure at Highbury. We do not often look upon fine young ladies, well-bred and agreeable. We must not ask for all the virtues into the bargain. Cannot you imagine, Captain Watson, what a sensation her coming will produce? There will be but one subject throughout the parishes of Donwell and Highbury, but one interest, one object of curiosity; it will be all Miss Irene Adler; we shall think and speak of nobody else." 


"You may not expect me to be so much over-powered. If I find her conversable, I shall be glad of her acquaintance; but if she is only vain and chattering, she will not occupy much of my time or thoughts." 


"My idea of her is, that she can adapt her conversation to the taste of everybody, and has the power as well as the wish of being universally agreeable; having that general information on all subjects which will enable her to follow the lead, or take the lead, just as propriety may require, and to speak extremely well on each; that is my idea of her." 


"And mine," said Captain Watson warmly, "is, that if she turn out anything like it, she will be the most insufferable wretch breathing! What! At three-and-twenty to be the queen of her company — the great woman — ready to display her own superiority, that she may make all appear like fools compared with herself! My dear Sherlock, your own good sense could not endure such behavior when it came to the point." 


"I will say no more about her," cried Sherlock. "You turn everything to evil. We are both prejudiced: you against, I for her; and we have no chance of agreeing till she is really here.”


"Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced." 


"But I am, very much, and without being at all ashamed of it. My love for Mr. and Mrs. Hudson gives me a decided prejudice in her favour." 


"She is a person I never think of from one month's end to another," said Captain Watson, with a degree of vexation which made Sherlock immediately talk of something else, though he could not comprehend why his friend should be angry.


Chapter Text

Sherlock and Molly had been walking together one morning, and, in Sherlock's opinion, had been talking enough of Mr. James Moriarty for that day. He could not think that Molly's solace or his own sins required more; and he was therefore industriously getting rid of the subject as they returned; but it burst out again when he thought he had succeeded, and after speaking some time of what the poor must suffer in winter, and receiving no other answer than a very plaintive "Mr. Moriarty is so good to the poor!" he found something else must be done. 


They were just approaching the house where lived Mrs. and Miss Turner. Sherlock determined to call upon them and seek safety in numbers. There was always sufficient reason for such an attention; Mrs. and Miss Turner loved to be called on, and he knew he was considered by the very few who presumed ever to see imperfection in him, as rather negligent in that respect, and as not contributing what he ought to the stock of their scanty comforts. He had had many a hint from Captain Watson and some from his own heart, as to his deficiency — but none were equal to counteract the persuasion of its being very disagreeable — a waste of time — tiresome women — and all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second-rate and third-rate of Highbury, who were calling on them forever, and therefore he seldom went near them. But now he made the sudden resolution of not passing their door without going in — observing, as he proposed it to Molly, that, as well as he could calculate, they were just now quite safe from any letter from Sally Donovan. 


The house belonged to people in business. Mrs. and Miss Turner occupied the drawing-room floor; and there, in the very moderate-sized apartment, which was everything to them, the visitors were most cordially and even gratefully welcomed; the quiet neat old lady, who with her knitting was seated in the warmest corner, wanting even to give up her place to them, and her more active, talking daughter, almost ready to overpower them with care and kindness, thanks for their visit, solicitude for their shoes, anxious inquiries after Mr. Holmes' health, cheerful communications about her mother's, and sweet-cake from the buffet. Miss Turner was anxious to let them know that Mrs. Stamford had just been there, and she had taken a piece of cake and been so kind as to say she liked it very much; and, therefore, she hoped Mr. Holmes and Miss Hooper would do them the favour to eat a piece too. 


The mention of the Stamfords was sure to be followed by that of Mr. Moriarty. There was intimacy between them, and Mr. Stamford had heard from Mr. Moriarty since his going away. Sherlock knew what was coming: they must have the letter over again, and settle how long he had been gone, and how much he was engaged in company, and what a favourite he was wherever he went; and he went through it very well, with all the interest and all the commendation that could be requisite, and always putting forward to prevent Molly's being obliged to say a word. 


This Sherlock had been prepared for when he entered the house; but meant, having once talked him handsomely over, to be no farther incommoded by any troublesome topic, and to wander at large amongst all the Misters and Misses of Highbury, and their card-parties. He had not been prepared to have Sally Donovan succeed Mr. Moriarty; but he was actually hurried off by Miss Turner, she jumped away from him at last abruptly to the Stamfords, to usher in a letter from her niece. 


"Mrs. Stamford was so kind as to sit some time with us, talking of Sally; for as soon as she came in, she began inquiring after her. Sally is so very great a favourite there. Whenever she is with us, Mrs. Stamford does not know how to show her kindness enough; and I must say that Sally deserves it as much as anybody can. And so she began inquiring after her directly, saying, 'I know you cannot have heard from Sally lately, because it is not her time for writing;' and when I immediately said, 'But indeed we have, we had a letter this very morning,' I do not know that I ever saw anybody more surprised. 'Have you, upon your honour?' said she; 'well, that is quite unexpected. Do let me hear what she says.’"


Sherlock's politeness was at hand directly, to say, with smiling interest, "Have you heard from Miss Donovan so lately? I am extremely happy. I hope she is well?" 


"Thank you. You are so kind!" replied the happily deceived aunt, while eagerly hunting for the letter. — "Oh! Here it is. I was sure it could not be far off; but I had put my sewing basket upon it, you see, without being aware, and so it was quite hid, but I had it in my hand so very lately that I was almost sure it must be on the table. I was reading it to Mrs. Stamford, and since she went away, I was reading it again to my mother, for it is such a pleasure to her — a letter from Sally —  that she can never hear it often enough; so I knew it could not be far off, and here it is, only just under my sewing basket — and since you are so kind as to wish to hear what she says — but, first of all, I really must, in justice to Sally, apologise for her writing so short a letter — only two pages you see — hardly two — and in general she fills the whole paper and crosses half.”


All this spoken extremely fast obliged Miss Turner to stop for breath; and Sherlock said something very civil about the excellence of Miss Donovan's handwriting. 


"You are extremely kind," replied Miss Turner, highly gratified; "you who are such a judge, and write so beautifully yourself. I am sure there is nobody's praise that could give us so much pleasure as yours. My mother does not hear; she is a little deaf you know. Ma'am," addressing her, "do you hear what Mr. Holmes is so obliging to say about Sally's handwriting?" 


Sherlock then had the advantage of hearing his own silly compliment repeated twice over before the good old lady could comprehend it. He was pondering, in the meanwhile, upon the possibility, without seeming very rude, of making his escape from Sally Donovan's letter, and had almost resolved on hurrying away directly under some slight excuse, when Miss Turner turned to him again and seized his attention. 


"My mother's deafness is very trifling you see — just nothing at all. But it is very remarkable that she should always hear Sally better than she does me. Sally speaks so distinct! However, she will not find her grandmama at all deafer than she was two years ago — and it really is full two years, you know, since she was here. We never were so long without seeing her before, and as I was telling Mrs. Stamford, we shall hardly know how to make enough of her now." 


"Are you expecting Miss Donovan here soon?" 


"Oh yes; next week." 


"Indeed! That must be a very great pleasure." 


"Thank you. You are very kind. I am sure Sally will be as happy to see her friends at Highbury, as they can be to see her. Yes, Friday or Saturday; she cannot say which, because Major Sholto will be wanting the carriage himself one of those days. That is the reason of her writing out of rule, as we call it; for, in the common course, we should not have heard from her before next Tuesday or Wednesday." 


"Yes, so I imagined. I was afraid there could be little chance of my hearing anything of Miss Donovan today." 


"So obliging of you! No, we should not have heard, if it had not been for this particular circumstance, of her being to come here so soon. My mother is so delighted! For she is to be three months with us at least. 


“The case is, you see, that the Sholtos are going to Ireland. Mrs. Anderson — Miss Sholto as was — has persuaded her father and mother to come over and see her directly. Sally has heard a great deal of the place’s beauty — from Mr. Anderson, I mean — I do not know that she ever heard about it from anybody else; but it was very natural, you know, that he should like to speak of his own place while he was paying his addresses — and as Sally used to be very often walking out with them — for Colonel and Mrs. Sholto were very particular about their daughter's not walking out often with only Mr. Anderson, for which I do not at all blame them; of course she heard everything he might be telling Miss Sholto about his own home in Ireland; and I think she wrote us word that he had shown them some drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself. He is a most amiable, charming young man, I believe. Sally was quite longing to go to Ireland, from his account of things." 


At this moment, an ingenious and animating suspicion entering Sherlock's brain with regard to Sally Donovan, this charming Mr. Anderson, and the not going to Ireland, he said, with the insidious design of farther discovery, "You must feel it very fortunate that Miss Donovan should be allowed to come to you at such a time. Considering the very particular friendship between her and Mrs. Anderson, you could hardly have expected her to be excused from accompanying Colonel and Mrs. Sholto." 


"Very true, very true, indeed. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson want her excessively to come over with Colonel and Mrs. Sholto; quite depend upon it; nothing can be more kind or pressing than their joint invitation, Sally says; Mr. Anderson does not seem in the least backward in any attention. He is a most charming young man. Ever since the service he rendered Sally at Weymouth, when they were out in that party on the water, and she, by the sudden whirling round of something or other among the sails, would have been dashed into the sea at once, and actually was all but gone, if he had not, with the greatest presence of mind, caught hold of her habit —  (I can never think of it without trembling!) — But ever since we had the history of that day, I have been so fond of Mr. Anderson!" 


"But, in spite of all her friends' urgency, and her own wish of seeing Ireland, Miss Donovan prefers devoting the time to you and Mrs. Turner?" 


"Yes — entirely her own doing, entirely her own choice; and Colonel and Mrs. Sholto think she does quite right, just what they should recommend; and indeed they particularly wish her to try her native air, as she has not been quite so well as usual lately." 


"I am concerned to hear of it. I think they judge wisely. But Mrs. Anderson must be very much disappointed. Mrs. Anderson, I understand, has no remarkable degree of personal beauty; is not, by any means, to be compared with Miss Donovan." 


"Oh! No. You are very obliging to say such things — but certainly not. There is no comparison between them. Miss Sholto always was absolutely plain — but extremely elegant and amiable.”


"Yes, that of course." 


"Sally caught a bad cold, poor thing, so long ago as the 7th of November, and has never been well since. She is so far from well, that her kind friends the Sholtos think she had better come home, and try an air that always agrees with her; and they have no doubt that three or four months at Highbury will entirely cure her — and it is certainly a great deal better that she should come here, than go to Ireland, if she is unwell. Nobody could nurse her, as we should do." 


"It appears to me the most desirable arrangement in the world." 


"And so she is to come to us next Friday or Saturday. So sudden! — You may guess, dear Mr. Holmes, what a flurry it has thrown me in! If it was not for the drawback of her illness — but I am afraid we must expect to see her grown thin, and looking very poorly. If Sally does not get well soon, we will call in Miss Sawyer. Well, now I have just given you a hint of what Sally writes about, we will turn to her letter, and I am sure she tells her own story a great deal better than I can tell it for her." 


"I am afraid we must be running away," said Sherlock, glancing at Molly, and beginning to rise — "My father will be expecting us. We must wish you and Mrs. Turner good morning." 


Not all that could be urged to detain them succeeded. Sherlock regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on him against his will, though he had in fact heard the whole substance of Sally Donovan's letter, he had been able to escape the letter itself.


Chapter Text

Sally Donovan was an orphan, the only child of Mrs. Turner's youngest daughter. The marriage of Lieutenant Donovan and Miss Jane Turner had had its day of fame and pleasure, hope and interest; but nothing now remained of it, save the melancholy remembrance of him dying in action abroad — of his widow sinking under consumption and grief soon afterwards — and this girl. By birth she belonged to Highbury: and when at three years old, on losing her mother, she became the property, the charge, the consolation, the fondling of her grandmother and aunt, there had seemed every probability of her being permanently fixed there; of her being taught only what very limited means could command, and growing up with no advantages of connexion or improvement, to be engrafted on what nature had given her in a pleasing person, good understanding, and warm-hearted, well-meaning relations. 


But the compassionate feelings of a friend of her father gave a change to her destiny. This was Major Sholto, who had very highly regarded Donovan, as an excellent officer and most deserving young man; and farther, had been indebted to him for such attentions, during a severe camp-fever, as he believed had saved his life. These were claims which he did not learn to overlook, though some years passed away from the death of poor Donovan, before his own return to England put anything in his power. When he did return, he sought out the child and took notice of her. He was a married man, with only one living child, a girl, about Sally's age: and Sally became their guest, paying them long visits and growing a favourite with all; and before she was nine years old, his daughter's great fondness for her, and his own wish of being a real friend, united to produce an offer from Major Sholto of undertaking the whole charge of her education. It was accepted; and from that period Sally had belonged to Major Sholto's family, and had lived with them entirely, only visiting her grandmother from time to time. 


The plan was that she should be brought up for educating others; the very few hundred pounds which she inherited from her father making independence impossible. To provide for her otherwise was out of Major Sholto's power; for though his income, by pay and appointments, was handsome, his fortune was moderate and must be all his daughter's; but, by giving her an education, he hoped to be supplying the means of respectable subsistence as a governess hereafter. 


Such was Sally Donovan's history. She had fallen into good hands, known nothing but kindness from the Sholtos, and been given an excellent education. Living constantly with right-minded and well-informed people, her heart and understanding had received every advantage of discipline and culture; and Major Sholto's residence being in London, every lighter talent had been done full justice to, by the attendance of first-rate masters. 


Her disposition and abilities were equally worthy of all that friendship could do; and at eighteen or nineteen she was, as far as such an early age can be qualified for the care of children, fully competent to the office of instruction herself; but she was too much beloved to be parted with. Neither father nor mother could promote, and the daughter could not endure it. The evil day was put off. It was easy to decide that she was still too young; and Sally remained with them, sharing, as another daughter, in all the rational pleasures of an elegant society, and a judicious mixture of home and amusement, with only the drawback of the future, the sobering suggestions of her own good understanding to remind her that all this might soon be over. 


The affection of the whole family, the warm attachment of Miss Sholto in particular, was the more honourable to each party from the circumstance of Sally's decided superiority both in beauty and acquirements. That nature had given it in feature could not be unseen by the young woman, nor could her higher powers of mind be unfelt by the parents. They continued together with unabated regard however, till the marriage of Miss Sholto, who by that chance, that luck which so often defies anticipation in matrimonial affairs, giving attraction to what is moderate rather than to what is superior, engaged the affections of Mr. Anderson almost as soon as they were acquainted; and was eligibly and happily settled, while Sally Donovan had yet her bread to earn. 


This event had very lately taken place; too lately for anything to be yet attempted by her less fortunate friend towards entering on her path of duty; though she had now reached the age which her own judgment had fixed on for beginning. Sally had long resolved that one-and-twenty should be the period. With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice, and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace and hope, to penance and mortification forever. 


The good sense of Major and Mrs. Sholto could not oppose such a resolution, though their feelings did. As long as they lived, no exertions would be necessary, their home might be hers forever; and for their own comfort they would have retained her wholly; but this would be selfishness: what must be at last, had better be soon. Perhaps they began to feel it might have been kinder and wiser to have resisted the temptation of any delay, and spared her from a taste of such enjoyments of ease and leisure as must now be relinquished. 


Still, however, affection was glad to catch at any reasonable excuse for not hurrying on the wretched moment. Miss Donovan had never been quite well since the time of their daughter's marriage; and till she should have completely recovered her usual strength, they must forbid her engaging in duties, which, so far from being compatible with a weakened frame and varying spirits, seemed, under the most favourable circumstances, to require something more than human perfection of body and mind to be discharged with tolerable comfort. 


With regard to her not accompanying them to Ireland, her account to her aunt contained nothing but truth, though there might be some truths not told. It was her own choice to give the time of their absence to Highbury; to spend, perhaps, her last months of perfect liberty with those kind relations to whom she was so very dear: and the Sholtos, whatever might be their motive or motives, whether single, or double, or treble, gave the arrangement their ready sanction, and said that they depended more on a few months spent in her native air, for the recovery of her health, than on anything else. 


Certain it was that she was to come; and that Highbury, instead of welcoming that perfect novelty which had been so long promised it — Miss Irene Adler — must put up for the present with Sally Donovan, who could bring only the freshness of a two years' absence. Sherlock was sorry; — to have to pay civilities to a person he did not like through three long months! — to be always doing more than he wished, and less than he ought! 


Why he did not like Sally Donovan might be a difficult question to answer; Captain Watson had once told him it was because he saw in her the really accomplished young person which he wanted to be thought himself; and though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which his conscience could not quite acquit him. But he could never get acquainted with her: he did not know how it was, but there was such coldness and reserve — such apparent indifference whether he pleased or not — and then, her aunt was such an eternal talker! — and she was made such a fuss over by everybody! — and it had been always imagined that they were to be so intimate — because their ages were the same, everybody had supposed they must be so fond of each other.


These were his reasons — he had no better. It was a dislike so little just — every imputed fault was so magnified by fancy, that he never saw Sally Donovan the first time after any considerable absence, without feeling that he had injured her; and now, when the due visit was paid, on her arrival, after a two years' interval, he was particularly struck with the very appearance and manners, which for those two whole years he had been depreciating. 


Sally Donovan was very elegant, remarkably elegant; and Sherlock had himself the highest value for elegance. Her height was pretty, just such as almost everybody would think tall, and nobody could think very tall; her figure particularly graceful. Sherlock could not but feel all this; and then, her face —  her features — there was more beauty in them altogether than he had remembered; it was not regular, but it was very pleasing beauty. Her eyes, a deep brown, with dark eye-lashes and eyebrows, had never been denied their praise; her skin was very brown as well, but clear, smooth, and glowing. It was a style of beauty, of which elegance was the reigning character, and as such, Sherlock must, in honour, by all his principles, admire it: elegance, which, whether of person or of mind, he saw so little in Highbury. 


In short, Sherlock sat, during the first visit, looking at Sally Donovan with twofold complacency: the sense of pleasure and the sense of rendering justice, and was determining that he would dislike her no longer. When he took in her history, indeed, her situation, as well as her beauty; when he considered what all this elegance was destined to, what she was going to sink from, how she was going to live, it seemed impossible to feel anything but compassion and respect; especially, if to every well-known particular entitling her to interest, were added the highly probable circumstance of an attachment to Mr. Anderson, which he had deduced. In that case, nothing could be more pitiable or more honourable than the sacrifices she had resolved on. 


Sherlock was very willing now to acquit her of having seduced Mr. Anderson's affections from his wife, or of anything mischievous which his imagination had suggested at first. If it were love, it might be simple, single, successless love on her side alone. She might have been unconsciously sucking in the sad poison, while a sharer of his conversation with her friend; and from the best, the purest of motives, might now be denying herself this visit to Ireland, and resolving to divide herself effectually from him and his connexions by soon beginning her career of laborious duty. Upon the whole, Sherlock left her with such softened, charitable feelings, as made him look around in walking home, and lament that Highbury afforded no one worthy of giving her independence; nobody that he could wish to scheme about for her. 


These were charming feelings — but not lasting. Before Sherlock had committed himself by any public profession of eternal friendship for Sally Donovan, or done more towards a recantation of past prejudices and errors, than saying to Captain Watson, "She certainly is handsome; she is better than handsome!" Sally had spent an evening at Hartfield with her grandmother and aunt, and everything was relapsing much into its usual state. 


Former provocations reappeared. The aunt was as tiresome as ever; more tiresome, because anxiety for her health was now added to admiration of her powers; and they had to listen to the description of exactly how little bread and butter she ate for breakfast, and how small a slice of mutton for dinner, as well as to see exhibitions of new caps and new workbags for her mother and herself; and Sally's offences rose again. They had music; Sherlock was obliged to play the pianoforte; and the thanks and praise which necessarily followed appeared to him an affectation of candour, an air of greatness, meaning only to show off in higher style her own very superior performance.


Sally Donovan was, besides, which was the worst of all, so cold, so cautious! There was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapped up in a cloak of politeness, she seemed determined to hazard nothing. She was disgustingly, was suspiciously reserved. If anything could be more, where all was most, she was more reserved on the subject of Weymouth and the Andersons than anything. She seemed bent on giving no real insight into Mr. Anderson’s character, or her own value for his company, or opinion of the suitableness of the match. It was all general approbation and smoothness; nothing delineated or distinguished. 


It did her no service however. Her caution was thrown away. Sherlock saw its artifice, and returned to his first surmises. There probably was something more to conceal than her own preference; Mr. Anderson, perhaps, had been very near changing one friend for the other, or been fixed only to Miss Sholto for the sake of the future twelve thousand pounds. 


The like reserve prevailed on other topics. Sally Donovan and Miss Irene Adler had been at Weymouth at the same time. It was known that they were a little acquainted; but not a syllable of real information could Sherlock procure as to what she truly was. 


“Is Miss Irene Adler handsome?”


"I believe she is reckoned a very fine young lady." 


"Was she agreeable?”


“She was generally thought so." 


"Did she appear a sensible young woman; a young woman of information?" 


"At a watering-place, in a common acquaintance, it is difficult to decide on such points. Manners are all that can be safely judged of; I believe everybody found her manners pleasing." 


Sherlock’s curiosity was unsatisfied, and he could not forgive Sally Donovan.


Chapter Text

Sherlock could not forgive Sally Donovan; but as neither provocation nor resentment were discerned by Captain Watson, he was expressing the next morning his approbation of the whole; not so openly as he might have done had Mr. Holmes been out of the room, but speaking plain enough to be very intelligible. He had been used to think Sherlock unjust to Sally, and had now great pleasure in marking an improvement. 


"A very pleasant evening," he began. “Particularly pleasant. You and Miss Donovan gave us some very good music. I do not know a more luxurious state, than sitting at one's ease to be entertained a whole evening by two such delightful young people; sometimes with music and sometimes with conversation. I am sure Miss Donovan must have found the evening pleasant, Sherlock. You left nothing undone. I was glad you made her play so much, for having no instrument at her grandmother's, it must have been a real indulgence." 


"I am happy you approved," said Sherlock, smiling; "but I hope I am not often deficient in what is due to guests at Hartfield." 


"No, my dear," said his father instantly. “That I am sure you are not. There is nobody half so attentive and civil as you are. If anything, you are too attentive. The muffins last night — if they had been handed round once, I think it would have been enough." 


"No," said Captain Watson, nearly at the same time; "you are not often deficient; not often deficient either in manner or comprehension. I think you understand me, therefore." 


An arch look expressed I understand you well enough; but Sherlock said only, "Miss Donovan is reserved." 


"I always told you she was — a little; but you will soon overcome all that part of her reserve which ought to be overcome, all that has its foundation in diffidence. What arises from discretion must be honoured." 


"You think her diffident. I do not see it." 


"My dear Sherlock," said Captain Watson, moving to a chair close by him, "you are not going to tell me, I hope, that you had not a pleasant evening." 


"Oh! No; I was pleased with my own perseverance in asking questions; and amused to think how little information I obtained." 


"I am disappointed," was his only answer. 


"I hope everybody had a pleasant evening," said Mr. Holmes, in his quiet way. "I had. Miss Turner was very chatty and good-humoured, as she always is. She is very agreeable, and Mrs. Turner too, in a different way. I like old friends; and Miss Sally Donovan is a very pretty sort of young lady, a very pretty and a very well-behaved young lady indeed. She must have found the evening agreeable, Captain Watson, because she had Sherlock." 


"True, sir; and Sherlock, because he had Miss Donovan." 


Sherlock saw his anxiety, and wishing to appease it, at least for the present, said, and with a sincerity which no one could question —  "She is a sort of elegant creature that one cannot keep one's eyes from. I am always watching her to admire; and I do pity her from my heart.”


Captain Watson looked as if he were more gratified than he cared to express; and before he could make any reply, Mr. Holmes, whose thoughts were on the Turners, said, "It is a great pity that their circumstances should be so confined! A great pity indeed! Now we have killed a porker, and Sherlock thinks of sending them a loin or a leg; it is very small and delicate — but still it is pork — and, my dear Sherlock, unless one could be sure of their making it into steaks, without the smallest grease, and not roast it, for no stomach can bear roast pork — I think we had better send the leg — do not you think so, my dear?" 


"My dear Papa, I sent the whole hind-quarter. There will be the leg to be salted, you know, which is so very nice, and the loin to be dressed directly in any manner they like." 


"That's right, my dear, very right. But they must not over-salt the leg — too much salt, just like too much wine, or cake, is very dangerous. But if it is not over-salted, and if it is very thoroughly boiled, and eaten very moderately of, with a boiled turnip, and a little carrot or parsnip, I do not consider it unwholesome." 


"Sherlock," said Captain Watson presently, "I have a piece of news for you. You like news — and I heard an article in my way hither that I think will interest you." 


"News! Oh! Yes, I always like news. What is it? — Why do you smile so? —  Where did you hear it? — At Randalls?" 


Captain Watson had time only to say, "No, not at Randalls; I have not been near Randalls," when the door was thrown open, and Miss Turner and Miss Donovan walked into the room. 


Full of thanks, and full of news, Miss Turner knew not which to give quickest. Captain Watson soon saw that he had lost his moment, and that not another syllable of communication could rest with him. 


"Oh! My dear sir, how are you this morning? My dear Mr. Holmes — I come quite over-powered. Such a beautiful hind-quarter of pork! You are too bountiful! Have you heard the news? Mr. James Moriarty is going to be married." 


Sherlock had not had time even to think of Mr. Moriarty, and he was so completely surprised that he could not avoid a little start, and a little blush, at the sound. 


"There is my news: I thought it would interest you," said Captain Watson, with a smile which implied a conviction of some part of what had passed between them. 


"But where could you hear it?" cried Miss Turner. "Where could you possibly hear it, Captain Watson? For it is not five minutes since I received Mrs. Stamford's note. A Miss Morstan — that's all I know. A Miss Morstan of Bath. But, Captain Watson, how could you possibly have heard it? For the very moment Mr. Stamford told Mrs. Stamford of it, she sat down and wrote to me." 


"I was with Mr. Stamford on business an hour and a half ago. He had just read Moriarty's letter as I was shown in, and handed it to me directly." 


"Well! I suppose there never was a piece of news more generally interesting. Well, Captain Watson, and so you actually saw the letter?" 


"It was short — merely to announce — but cheerful, exulting, of course." —  Here was a sly glance at Sherlock. "He had been so fortunate as to — I forget the precise words — one has no business to remember them. The information was, as you state, that he was going to be married to a Miss Morstan. By his style, I should imagine it just settled." 


"Mr. Moriarty going to be married!" said Sherlock, as soon as he could speak. "He will have everybody's wishes for his happiness." 


"He is very young to settle," was Mr. Holmes' observation. "He had better not be in a hurry. He seemed to me very well off as he was. We were always glad to see him at Hartfield." 


"A new neighbour for us all, Mr. Holmes!" said Miss Turner, joyfully. "My mother is so pleased! She says she cannot bear to have the poor old Vicarage without a mistress. This is great news, indeed. Sally, you have never seen Mr. James Moriarty! — No wonder that you have such a curiosity to see him." 


Sally's curiosity did not appear of that absorbing nature as wholly to occupy her. "No — I have never seen Mr. Moriarty," she replied, starting on this appeal; "is he — is he a tall man?" 


"Who shall answer that question?" cried Sherlock. "I would say 'no,' Captain Watson 'yes;' and Miss Turner that he is just the happy medium. When you have been here a little longer, Miss Donovan, you will understand that Mr. Moriarty is the standard of perfection in Highbury, both in person and mind." 


"Very true, Mr. Holmes, so she will. He is the very best young man. Miss Morstan, I dare say, must be an excellent young woman. And Mr. Anderson seems just such another very charming young man. It is such a happiness when good people get together — and they always do. Now, here will be Mr. Moriarty and Miss Morstan; and there are the Stamfords — I suppose there never was a happier or a better couple than Mr. and Mrs. Stamford." 


"As to who, or what, Miss Morstan is, or how long Mr. Moriarty has been acquainted with her," said Sherlock, “nothing, I suppose, can be known. One feels that it cannot be a very long acquaintance. He has been gone only four weeks." 


Nobody had any information to give; and, after a few more wonderings, Sherlock said, "You are silent, Miss Donovan — but I hope you mean to take an interest in this news. You, who have been hearing and seeing so much of late on the subject of matrimony, who must have been so deep in the business on Miss Sholto's account — we shall not excuse your being indifferent about Mr. Moriarty and Miss Morstan." 


"When I have seen Mr. Moriarty," replied Sally, "I dare say I shall be interested — but I believe it requires that with me. And as it is some months since Miss Sholto married, the impression may be a little worn off." 


"Yes, he has been gone just four weeks, as you observe, Mr. Holmes," said Miss Turner. “A Miss Morstan! — Well, I had always rather fancied it would be some young lady or gentleman hereabouts; not that I ever — Mrs. Stamford once whispered to me — but I immediately said, 'No, Mr. James Moriarty is a most worthy young man — but' — In short, I do not think I am particularly quick at those sort of discoveries. I do not pretend to it. What is before me, I see. At the same time, nobody could wonder if Mr. Moriarty should have aspired — Mr. Holmes lets me chatter on, so good-humouredly. He knows I would not offend for the world. Have you heard from Mr. Holmes-Lestrade lately? Sally, do you know I always fancy Mr. Anderson like Mr. Mycroft Holmes-Lestrade. I mean in person —  tall, and with that sort of look — and not very talkative." 


"Quite wrong, my dear aunt; there is no likeness at all." 


"Very odd! But one never does form a just idea of anybody beforehand. One takes up a notion, and runs away with it. Mr. Anderson, you say, is not, strictly speaking, handsome?" 


"Handsome! Oh! No — far from it — certainly plain. I told you he was plain." 


"My dear, you said that Miss Sholto would not allow him to be plain, and that you yourself — " 


"Oh! As for me, my judgment is worth nothing. Where I have a regard, I always think a person well-looking. But I gave what I believed the general opinion, when I called him plain." 


"Well, my dear Sally, I believe we must be running away. The weather does not look well, and grandmama will be uneasy. You are too obliging, my dear Mr. Holmes; but we really must take leave. Good morning to you, my dear sir. Oh! Captain Watson is coming too. — I am sure if Sally is tired, you will be so kind as to give her your arm. Good morning to you." 


Sherlock, alone with his father, had half his attention wanted by him while he lamented that young people would be in such a hurry to marry —  and to marry strangers too — and the other half he could give to his own view of the subject. It was to himself an amusing and a very welcome piece of news, as proving that Mr. Moriarty could not have suffered long; but he was sorry for Molly: Molly must feel it — and all that he could hope was, by giving the first information himself, to save her from hearing it abruptly from others. It was now about the time that she was likely to call. If she were to meet Miss Turner in her way, the intelligence would undoubtedly rush upon her without preparation. 


It had not been over ten minutes, when in came Molly, with just the heated, agitated look which hurrying thither with a full heart was likely to give; and the "Oh! What do you think has happened!" which instantly burst forth, had all the evidence of corresponding perturbation.


As the blow was given, Sherlock felt that he could not now show greater kindness than in listening; and Molly, unchecked, ran eagerly through what she had to tell. She had set out from Miss Thompson's half an hour ago; it began to rain, and she had no umbrella, so she ran on directly, as fast as she could, and took shelter at Ford's. (Ford’s was the principal woollen-draper, linen-draper, and haberdasher's shop united; the shop first in size and fashion in the place.) And then, who should come in, but Elizabeth and Stella Hopkins! 


“Oh! I thought I should have fainted. I did not know what to do. I was sitting near the door — Stella did not see me; she was busy with their umbrella. I am sure Elizabeth saw me, but she looked away directly, and took no notice; and then they both went to quite the farther end of the shop; and I kept sitting near the door!


“Oh! I was so miserable! I could not go away, you know, because of the rain; but I did so wish myself anywhere in the world but there.


“Well, at last, Elizabeth came up to me, and asked me how I did, and seemed ready to shake hands, if I would. She did not do any of it in the same way that she used; I could see she was altered; but, however, she seemed to try to be very friendly, and we shook hands, and stood talking some time; but I know no more what I said — I was in such a tremble! — I remember she said she was sorry we never met now; which I thought almost too kind! 


“Oh, I was absolutely miserable! By that time, it was beginning to hold up, and I was determined that nothing should stop me from getting away — and then — only think! — I found Stella was coming up towards me too — slowly you know, and as if she did not quite know what to do; and so she came and spoke, and I answered — and I stood for a minute, feeling dreadfully, you know, one can't tell how; and then I took courage, and said it did not rain, and I must go; and so off I set; and I had not got three yards from the door, when she came after me, only to say, if I was going to Hartfield, she thought I had much better go round by Mr. Stamford's stables, for I should find the near way quite floated by this rain. 


“Oh! I thought it would have been the death of me! So I said, I was very much obliged to her: you know I could not do less; and then she went back to Elizabeth, and I came round by the stables — I believe I did — but I hardly knew where I was, or anything about it. 


“Oh! I would rather have done anything than have it happen: and yet, you know, there was a sort of satisfaction in seeing Stella behave so pleasantly and so kindly. And Elizabeth, too. Oh! Mr. Holmes, do talk to me and make me comfortable again." 


Very sincerely did Sherlock wish to do so; but it was not immediately in his power. He was obliged to stop and think. He was not thoroughly comfortable himself. Miss Stella Hopkins' conduct, and her sister's, seemed the result of real feeling, and he could not but pity them. 


As Molly described it, there had been an interesting mixture of wounded affection and genuine delicacy in their behaviour. But he had believed them to be well-meaning, worthy people before; and what difference did this make in the evils of the connexion? It was folly to be disturbed by it. 


Of course, Miss Hopkins must be sorry to lose Molly — they must be all sorry. Ambition, as well as love, had probably been mortified. They might all have hoped to rise by Molly's acquaintance: and besides, what was the value of Molly's description? — So easily pleased — so little discerning; — what signified her praise? 


Sherlock exerted himself, and did try to make Molly comfortable, by considering all that had passed as a mere trifle, and quite unworthy of being dwelt on. "It might be distressing, for the moment," said he; "but you seem to have behaved extremely well; and it is over — and may never — can never, as a first meeting, occur again, and therefore you need not think about it." 


Molly said, "very true," and she "would not think about it;" but still she talked of it — still she could talk of nothing else; and Sherlock, at last, in order to put Miss Hopkins out of her head, was obliged to hurry on the news, which he had meant to give with so much tender caution; hardly knowing himself whether to rejoice or be angry, ashamed or only amused, at such a state of mind in poor Molly — such a conclusion of Mr. Moriarty's importance with her! 


Mr. Moriarty's rights, however, gradually revived. Though Molly did not feel the first intelligence as she might have done the day before, or an hour before, its interest soon increased; and before their first conversation was over, she had talked herself into all the sensations of curiosity, wonder and regret, pain and pleasure, as to this fortunate Miss Morstan, which could conduce to place Miss Hopkins under proper subordination in her fancy. 


Sherlock learned to be rather glad that there had been such a meeting. It had been serviceable in deadening the first shock, without retaining any influence to alarm. As Molly now lived, the Hopkins sisters could not get at her, without seeking her, where hitherto they had wanted either the courage or the condescension to seek her; for since her refusal of Miss Stella Hopkins, the sisters never had been at Miss Thompson's; and a twelvemonth might pass without their being thrown together again, with any necessity, or even any power of speech.


Chapter Text

Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of. A week had not passed since Miss Morstan's name was first mentioned in Highbury, before she was, by some means or other, discovered to have every recommendation of person and mind; to be handsome, elegant, highly accomplished, and perfectly amiable: and when Mr. James Moriarty himself arrived to triumph in his happy prospects, and circulate the fame of her merits, there was very little more for him to do, than to tell her given name, and say whose music she principally played. 


Mr. Moriarty returned a very happy man. He had gone away rejected and mortified —  disappointed in a very sanguine hope, after a series of what appeared to him strong encouragements; and not only losing the object of his interest, but finding himself debased to the level of a very wrong one. He had gone away deeply offended — he came back engaged to another — and to another as superior, of course, to the first, as under such circumstances what is gained always is to what is lost. He came back gay and self-satisfied, eager and busy, caring nothing for Mr. Holmes, and defying Miss Hooper. 


The charming Mary Morstan, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience: the story told well; he had not thrown himself away — he had gained a woman of 10,000 pounds or thereabouts; and he had gained her with such delightful rapidity — the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mr. Stamford of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious — the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green's, and the party at Mrs. Brown's — smiles and blushes rising in importance — with consciousness and agitation richly scattered — the lady had been so easily impressed — so sweetly disposed — had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented. He had caught both substance and shadow — both fortune and affection, and was just the happy man he ought to be; talking only of himself and his own concerns — expecting to be congratulated — and, with cordial, fearless smiles, now addressing all the young people of the place, to whom, a few weeks ago, he would have been more cautiously gallant. 


The wedding was no distant event, as the parties had only themselves to please, and nothing but the necessary preparations to wait for; and when he set out for Bath again there was a general expectation that when he next entered Highbury he would bring his bride. 


During Mr. Moriarty’s present short stay, Sherlock had barely seen him; but just enough to feel that the first meeting was over, and to give the impression of his not being improved by the mixture of pique and pretension now spread over his air. Sherlock was, in fact, beginning very much to wonder that he had ever thought Mr. Moriarty pleasing at all; and his sight was so inseparably connected with some very disagreeable feelings, that, except in a moral light, as a penance, a lesson, a source of profitable humiliation to his own mind, he would have been thankful to be assured of never seeing him again. Sherlock wished him very well; but Mr. Moriarty gave him pain, and his welfare twenty miles off would administer most satisfaction. 


The pain of his continued residence in Highbury, however, must certainly be lessened by his marriage. Many vain solicitudes would be prevented — many awkwardnesses smoothed by it. A Mrs. Moriarty would be an excuse for any change of intercourse; former intimacy might sink without remark. It would be almost beginning their life of civility again. 


Of the lady, individually, Sherlock thought very little. She was good enough for Mr. Moriarty, no doubt; accomplished enough for Highbury — handsome enough to look plain, probably, by Molly's side. As to connexion, there Sherlock was perfectly easy; persuaded, that after all Mr. Moriarty’s own vaunted claims and disdain of Molly, he had done nothing. On that article, truth seemed attainable. What Miss Mary Morstan was, must be uncertain; but who she was, might be found out; and setting aside the 10,000 pounds, it did not appear that she was at all Molly's superior. She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. 


Miss Morstan was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol — merchant, of course, he must be called; but, as the whole of the profits of his mercantile life appeared so very moderate, it was not unfair to guess the dignity of his line of trade had been very moderate also. Part of every winter she had been used to spend in Bath; but Bristol was her home, the very heart of Bristol; for though the father and mother had died some years ago, an uncle remained — in the law line — nothing more distinctly honourable was hazarded of him, than that he was in the law line; and with him the daughter had lived. Sherlock guessed him to be the drudge of some attorney, and too stupid to rise. And all the grandeur of the connexion seemed dependent on the elder sister, who was very well married, to a gentleman in a great way, near Bristol, who kept two carriages! That was the wind-up of the history; that was the glory of Miss Morstan. 


Could Sherlock but have given Molly his feelings about it all! He had talked her into love; but, alas, she was not so easily to be talked out of it. The charm of an object to occupy the many vacancies of Molly's mind was not to be talked away. Mr. Moriarty might be superseded by another; he certainly would indeed; nothing could be clearer; even a Stella Hopkins would have been sufficient; but nothing else, he feared, would cure her. Molly was one of those, who, having once begun, would be always in love. 


And now, poor girl! She was considerably worse from this reappearance of Mr. Moriarty. She was always having a glimpse of him somewhere or other. Sherlock saw him only once; but two or three times every day Molly was sure just to meet with him, or just to miss him, just to hear his voice, or see his shoulder, just to have something occur to preserve him in her fancy, in all the favouring warmth of surprise and conjecture. She was, moreover, perpetually hearing about him; for, excepting when at Hartfield, she was always among those who saw no fault in Mr. Moriarty, and found nothing so interesting as the discussion of his concerns; and every report, therefore, every guess — all that had already occurred, all that might occur in the arrangement of his affairs, comprehending income, servants, and furniture, was continually in agitation around her. Her regard was receiving strength by invariable praise of him, and her regrets kept alive, and feelings irritated by ceaseless repetitions of Miss Morstan's happiness, and continual observation of how much he seemed attached — his air as he walked by the house — the very sitting of his hat, being all in proof of how much he was in love! 


Had it been allowable entertainment, had there been no pain to his friend, or reproach to himself, in the waverings of Molly's mind, Sherlock would have been amused by its variations. Sometimes Mr. Moriarty predominated, sometimes Miss Hopkins; and each was occasionally useful as a check to the other. Mr. Moriarty's engagement had been the cure of the agitation of meeting Miss Stella Hopkins. The unhappiness produced by the knowledge of that engagement had been a little put aside by Elizabeth Hopkins' calling at Miss Thompson's a few days afterwards. 


Molly had not been at home; but a note had been prepared and left for her, written in the very style to touch; a small mixture of reproach, with a great deal of kindness; and till Mr. Moriarty himself appeared, she had been much occupied by it, continually pondering over what could be done in return, and wishing to do more than she dared to confess. But Mr. Moriarty, in person, had driven away all such cares. While he stayed, the Hopkins family was forgotten; and on the very morning of his setting off for Bath again, Sherlock, to dissipate some of the distress it occasioned, judged it best for her to return Elizabeth Hopkins' visit. 


How that visit was to be acknowledged — what would be necessary — and what might be safest, had been a point of some doubtful consideration. Absolute neglect of the mother and sisters, when invited to come, would be ingratitude. It must not be: and yet the danger of a renewal of the acquaintance — ! 


After much thinking, Sherlock could determine on nothing better, than Molly's returning the visit; but in a way that, if they had understanding, should convince them that it was to be only a formal acquaintance. He meant to take her in the carriage, leave her at the Abbey Mill, while he drove a little farther, and call for her again so soon, as to allow no time for insidious applications or dangerous recurrences to the past, and give the most decided proof of what degree of intimacy was chosen for the future. He could think of nothing better: and though there was something in it which his own heart could not approve — something of ingratitude, merely glossed over — it must be done, or what would become of Molly?


Chapter Text

Small heart had Molly for visiting. Only half an hour before her friend called for her at Miss Thompson's, her evil stars had led her to the very spot where, at that moment, a trunk, directed to The Rev. James Moriarty, White-Hart, Bath, was to be seen under the operation of being lifted into the butcher's cart, which was to convey it to where the coaches passed; and everything in this world, excepting that trunk and the direction, was consequently a blank. 


She went, however; and when they reached the farm, and she was to be put down, at the end of the broad, neat gravel walk, which led between espaliered apple trees to the front door, the sight of everything which had given her so much pleasure the autumn before was beginning to revive a little local agitation; and when they parted, Sherlock observed her to be looking around with a sort of fearful curiosity, which determined him not to allow the visit to exceed the proposed quarter of an hour. He went on himself, to give that portion of time to an old servant who was married, and settled in Donwell. The quarter of an hour brought him punctually to the white gate again; and Miss Hooper receiving her summons, was with him without delay, and unattended by any alarming young woman. She came solitarily down the gravel walk — a Miss Elizabeth Hopkins just appearing at the door, and parting with her seemingly with ceremonious civility. 


Molly could not very soon give an intelligible account. She was feeling too much; but at last Sherlock collected from her enough to understand the sort of meeting, and the sort of pain it was creating. She had seen only Mrs. Hopkins and the two younger girls. They had received her doubtingly, if not coolly; and nothing beyond the merest commonplace had been talked almost all the time — till just at last, when Mrs. Hopkins' saying, all of a sudden, that she thought Miss Hooper was grown, had brought on a more interesting subject, and a warmer manner. 


In that very room Molly had been measured last September, with her two young friends. There were the pencilled marks and memorandums on the wainscot by the window. Stella had done it. They all seemed to remember the day, the hour, the party, the occasion — to feel the same consciousness, the same regrets — to be ready to return to the same good understanding; and they were just growing again like themselves, (Molly, as Sherlock must suspect, as ready as the best of them to be cordial and happy,) when the carriage reappeared, and all was over. 


The style of the visit, and the shortness of it, were then felt to be decisive. Fourteen minutes to be given to those with whom she had thankfully passed six weeks not six months ago! — Sherlock could not but picture it all, and feel how justly they might resent, how naturally Molly must suffer. It was a bad business. He would have given a great deal, or endured a great deal, to have had the Hopkins family in a higher rank of life. They were so deserving, that a little higher should have been enough: but as it was, how could he have done otherwise? — Impossible! — He could not repent. 


They must be separated; but there was a great deal of pain in the process — so much to himself at this time, that he soon felt the necessity of a little consolation, and resolved on going home by way of Randalls to procure it. Sherlock’s mind was quite sick of Mr. James Moriarty and Miss Stella Hopkins. The refreshment of Randalls was absolutely necessary. 


It was a good scheme; but on driving to the door they heard that neither master nor mistress was at home; they had both been out some time; the man believed they were gone to Hartfield. 


"This is too bad," cried Sherlock, as they turned away. "And now we shall just miss them; too provoking! — I do not know when I have been so disappointed." And he leaned back in the corner, to indulge his murmurs, or to reason them away; probably a little of both — such being the commonest process of a not ill-disposed mind. 


Presently the carriage stopped. Sherlock looked up; it was stopped by Mr. and Mrs. Hudson, who were standing to speak to him. 


There was instant pleasure in the sight of them, and still greater pleasure was conveyed in sound — for Mr. Hudson immediately accosted him with, "How d'ye do? We have been sitting with your father — glad to see him so well. Irene comes tomorrow — I had a letter this morning — we see her tomorrow by dinner-time to a certainty — she is at Oxford today, and she comes for a whole fortnight; I knew it would be so. If she had come at Christmas she could not have stayed three days; I was always glad she did not come at Christmas; now we are going to have just the right weather for her, fine, dry, settled weather. We shall enjoy her completely; everything has turned out exactly as we could wish." 


There was no resisting such news, no possibility of avoiding the influence of such a happy face as Mr. Hudson's, confirmed as it all was by the words and the countenance of his wife, fewer and quieter, but not less to the purpose. To know that Mrs. Hudson thought Irene Adler’s coming certain was enough to make Sherlock consider it so, and sincerely did he rejoice in their joy. It was a most delightful reanimation of exhausted spirits. The worn-out past was sunk in the freshness of what was coming; and in the rapidity of half a moment's thought, he hoped Mr. Moriarty would now be talked of no more. 


Mr. Hudson gave them the history of the engagements at Enscombe, which allowed his daughter to answer for having an entire fortnight at her command, as well as the route and the method of her journey; and Sherlock listened, and smiled, and congratulated. 


"I shall soon bring her over to Hartfield," said Mr. Hudson, at the conclusion. 


Sherlock could imagine he saw a touch of the arm at this speech, from his wife. "We had better move on, Mr. Hudson," said she, "we are detaining the young people." 


"Well, well, I am ready;" — and turning again to Sherlock, "but you must not be expecting such a very fine young lady; you have only had my account you know; I dare say she is really nothing extraordinary,” — though his own sparkling eyes at the moment were speaking a very different conviction. 


Sherlock could look perfectly unconscious and innocent, and answer in a manner that appropriated nothing. 


"Think of me tomorrow, my dear Sherlock, about four o'clock," was Mrs. Hudson's parting injunction; spoken with some anxiety, and meant only for him. 


"Four o'clock! — Depend upon it she will be here by three," was Mr. Hudson's quick amendment; and so ended a most satisfactory meeting. 


Sherlock's spirits were mounted quite up to happiness; everything wore a different air; the carriage horses seemed not half so sluggish as before. When he looked at the hedges, he thought the elder at least must soon be coming out; and when he turned round to Molly, he saw something like a look of spring, a tender smile even there. "Will Miss Irene Adler pass through Bath as well as Oxford?" was a question, however, which did not augur much. But neither geography nor tranquillity could come all at once, and Sherlock was now in a humour to resolve that they should both come in time. 


The morning of the interesting day arrived, and Mrs. Hudson's faithful pupil did not forget either at nine, or ten, or eleven o'clock, that he was to think of her at four. "My dear, dear anxious friend," said he, in mental soliloquy, while walking downstairs from his own room, "always overcareful for everybody's comfort but your own; I see you now in all your little fidgets, going again and again into her room, to be sure that all is right." 


The clock struck twelve as Sherlock passed through the hall. "'Tis twelve; I shall not forget to think of Mrs. Hudson four hours hence; and by this time tomorrow, perhaps, or a little later, I may be thinking of the possibility of their all calling here. I am sure they will bring her soon." 


Sherlock opened the parlour door, and saw two visitors sitting with his father — Mr. Hudson and his daughter. They had been arrived only a few minutes, and Mr. Hudson had scarcely finished his explanation of Irene's being a day before her time, and Mr. Holmes was yet in the midst of his very civil welcome and congratulations, when Sherlock appeared, to have his share of surprise, introduction, and pleasure. 


The Irene Adler so long talked of, so high in interest, was actually before him — she was presented to him, and he did not think too much had been said in her praise; she was a very good looking young woman; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and her countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of her father's; she looked quick and sensible. Sherlock felt immediately that he should like her; and there was a well-bred ease of manner, and a readiness to talk, which convinced him that she came intending to be acquainted with him, and that acquainted they soon must be. 


She had reached Randalls the evening before. Sherlock was pleased with the eagerness to arrive which had made her alter her plan, and travel earlier, later, and quicker, that she might gain half a day. 


"I told you yesterday," cried Mr. Hudson with exultation, "I told you all that she would be here before the time named. I remembered what I used to do myself. One cannot creep upon a journey; one cannot help getting on faster than one has planned; and the pleasure of coming in upon one's friends before the look-out begins, is worth a great deal more than any little exertion it needs." 


"It is a great pleasure where one can indulge in it," said the young lady, "though there are not many houses that I should presume on so far; but in coming home I felt I might do anything.”


The word home made her father look on her with fresh complacency. Sherlock was directly sure that she knew how to make herself agreeable; the conviction was strengthened by what followed. She was very much pleased with Randalls, thought it a most admirably arranged house, would hardly allow it even to be very small, admired the situation, the walk to Highbury, Highbury itself, Hartfield still more, and professed herself to have always felt the sort of interest in the country which none but one's own country gives, and the greatest curiosity to visit it. 


That she should never have been able to indulge so amiable a feeling before, passed suspiciously through Sherlock's brain; but still, if it were a falsehood, it was a pleasant one, and pleasantly handled. Her manner had no air of study or exaggeration. She did really look and speak as if in a state of no common enjoyment. 


Their subjects in general were such as belong to an opening acquaintance. On her side were the inquiries, "Was he a horseman? —  Pleasant rides? — Pleasant walks? — Had they a large neighbourhood? —  Highbury, perhaps, afforded society enough? — Balls? — Had they balls? — Was it a musical society?" 


But when satisfied on all these points, and their acquaintance proportionably advanced, she contrived to find an opportunity, while their two fathers were engaged with each other, of introducing the subject of her step-mother, and speaking of her with so much handsome praise, so much warm admiration, so much gratitude for the happiness Mrs. Hudson secured to her father, and her very kind reception of herself, as was an additional proof of her knowing how to please — and of her certainly thinking it worth while to try to please Sherlock. She did not advance a word of praise beyond what he knew to be thoroughly deserved by Mrs. Hudson; but, undoubtedly Miss Adler could know very little of the matter. She understood what would be welcome; she could be sure of little else. 


Her father's marriage, she said, had been the wisest measure, every friend must rejoice in it; and the family from whom he had received such a blessing must be ever considered as having conferred the highest obligation. She got as near as she could to thanking him for Miss Taylor's merits, without seeming quite to forget that in the common course of things it was to be rather supposed that Miss Taylor had formed Mr. Holmes' character, than Mr. Holmes Miss Taylor's. And at last, as if resolved to qualify her opinion completely for travelling round to its object, she wound it all up with astonishment at Mrs. Hudson’s beauty. 


"Elegant, agreeable manners, I was prepared for," said she; "but I confess that, considering everything, I had not expected more than a very tolerably well-looking woman of a certain age; I did not know that I was to find a beautiful woman in the prime of life in Mrs. Hudson." 


"You cannot see too much perfection in Mrs. Hudson for my feelings," said Sherlock; "were you to guess her to be eighteen, I should listen with pleasure; but she would be ready to quarrel with you for using such words. Don't let her imagine that you have spoken of her as a beautiful woman in the prime of life." 


"I hope I should know better," she replied. "No, depend upon it, that in addressing Mrs. Hudson I should understand whom I might praise without any danger of being thought extravagant in my terms." 


Sherlock wondered whether the same suspicion of what might be expected from their knowing each other, which had taken strong possession of his mind, had ever crossed hers; and whether her compliments were to be considered as marks of acquiescence, or proofs of defiance. He must see more of her to understand her ways; at present he only felt they were agreeable. 


Sherlock had no doubt of what Mr. Hudson was often thinking about. His quick eye he detected again and again glancing towards them with a happy expression; and even, when he might have determined not to look, Sherlock was confident that he was often listening. 


His own father's perfect exemption from any thought of the kind, the entire deficiency in him of all such sort of penetration or suspicion, was a most comfortable circumstance. Happily he was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it. Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons' understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them. Sherlock blessed the favouring blindness. His father could now, without the drawback of a single unpleasant surmise, without a glance forward at any possible treachery in his guest, give way to all his natural kind-hearted civility in solicitous inquiries after Miss Irene Adler's accommodation on her journey, through the sad evils of sleeping two nights on the road, and express very genuine unmixed anxiety to know that she had certainly escaped catching cold. 


A reasonable visit paid, Mr. Hudson began to move. — He must be going. He had business at the Crown about his hay, and a great many errands for Mrs. Hudson at Ford's, but he need not hurry anybody else. 


His daughter, too well bred to hear the hint, rose immediately also, saying, "As you are going farther on business, sir, I will take the opportunity of paying a visit, which must be paid some day or other, and therefore may as well be paid now. I have the honour of being acquainted with a neighbour of yours,” (turning to Sherlock) “a lady residing in or near Highbury; a family of the name of Donovan. I shall have no difficulty, I suppose, in finding the house; though Donovan, I believe, is not the proper name — I should rather say Thatcher, or Turner. Do you know any family of that name?" 


"To be sure we do," cried her father; "Mrs. Turner — we passed her house — I saw Miss Turner at the window. True, true, you are acquainted with Miss Donovan; I remember you knew her at Weymouth, and a fine girl she is. Call upon her, by all means." 


"There is no necessity for my calling this morning," said the young lady; "another day would do as well; but there was that degree of acquaintance at Weymouth which — " 


"Oh! Go today, go today. Do not defer it,” urged Mr. Hudson. “What is right to be done cannot be done too soon. And, besides, I must give you a hint, Irene; any want of attention to her here should be carefully avoided. You saw her with the Sholtos, when she was the equal of everybody she mixed with, but here she is with a poor old grandmother, who has barely enough to live on. If you do not call early it will be a slight." 


His daughter looked convinced. 


"I have heard her speak of the acquaintance," said Sherlock. "She is a very elegant young woman.”


Irene Adler agreed to it, but with so quiet a "Yes," as inclined Sherlock almost to doubt her real concurrence; and yet there must be a very distinct sort of elegance for the fashionable world, if Sally Donovan could be thought only ordinarily gifted with it. 


"If you were never particularly struck by her manners before," said he, "I think you will be today. You will see her to advantage; see her and hear her — no, I am afraid you will not hear her at all, for she has an aunt who never holds her tongue." 


"You are acquainted with Miss Sally Donovan, are you?" said Mr. Holmes, always the last to make his way in conversation. "Then give me leave to assure you that you will find her a very agreeable young lady. She is staying here on a visit to her grandmama and aunt, very worthy people; I have known them all my life. They will be extremely glad to see you, I am sure; and one of my servants shall go with you to show you the way." 


"My dear sir, upon no account in the world; my father can direct me." 


"But your father is not going so far; he is only going to the Crown, quite on the other side of the street, and there are a great many houses; you might be very much at a loss, and it is a very muddy walk, unless you keep on the footpath; but my coachman can tell you where you had best cross the street." 


Miss Irene Adler still declined it, looking as serious as she could, and her father gave his hearty support by calling out, "My good friend, this is quite unnecessary; Irene knows a puddle of water when she sees it, and as to Mrs. Turner's, she may get there from the Crown in a hop, step, and jump." 


They were permitted to go alone; and with a cordial nod from one, and a graceful bow from the other, they took their leave. Sherlock remained very well pleased with this beginning of the acquaintance, and could now engage to think of them all at Randalls any hour of the day, with full confidence in their comfort.

Chapter Text

The next morning brought Miss Irene Adler again. She came with Mrs. Hudson, to whom and to Highbury she seemed to take very cordially. She had been sitting with her step-mother, it appeared, most companionably at home, till her usual hour of exercise; and on being desired to choose their walk, immediately fixed on Highbury. She did not doubt there being very pleasant walks in every direction, but if left to her, she should always choose the same. Highbury, that airy, cheerful, happy-looking Highbury, would be her constant attraction. 


Highbury, with Mrs. Hudson, stood for Hartfield; and she trusted to its bearing the same construction with Irene. They walked thither directly. Sherlock had hardly expected them: for Mr. Hudson, who had called in for half a minute, in order to hear that his daughter was very beautiful, knew nothing of their plans; and it was an agreeable surprise, therefore, to perceive them walking up to the house together, arm in arm. 


Sherlock was wanting to see Miss Irene Adler again, and especially to see her in company with Mrs. Hudson, upon her behaviour to whom his opinion of her was to depend. If she were deficient there, nothing should make amends for it. But on seeing them together, he became perfectly satisfied. It was not merely in fine words or hyperbolical compliment that she paid her duty; nothing could be more proper or pleasing than her whole manner to Mrs. Hudson — nothing could more agreeably denote her wish of considering her as a friend and securing her affection. 


There was time enough for Sherlock to form a reasonable judgment, as their visit included all the rest of the morning. They were all three walking about together for an hour or two — first round the shrubberies of Hartfield, and afterwards in Highbury. Miss Adler was delighted with everything; admired Hartfield sufficiently for Mr. Holmes' ear; and when their going farther was resolved on, confessed her wish to be made acquainted with the whole village, and found matter of commendation and interest much oftener than Sherlock could have supposed. 


Some of the objects of her curiosity spoke very amiable feelings. She begged to be shown the house which her father had lived in so long, and which had been the home of his father's father; and on recollecting that an old woman who had nursed her was still living, walked in quest of her cottage from one end of the street to the other; and though in some points of pursuit or observation there was no positive merit, they showed, altogether, a good-will towards Highbury in general, which must be very like a merit to those she was with. Sherlock watched and decided that with such feelings as were now shown, it could not be fairly supposed that she had been ever voluntarily absenting himself; that she had not been acting a part, or making a parade of insincere professions; and that Captain Watson certainly had not done her justice. 


Their first pause was at the Crown Inn, an inconsiderable house, though the principal one of the sort, where a couple of pair of post-horses were kept, more for the convenience of the neighbourhood than from any run on the road; and her companions had not expected to be detained by any interest excited there; but in passing it they gave the history of the large room visibly added; it had been built many years ago for a ball-room, and while the neighbourhood had been in a particularly populous, dancing state, had been occasionally used as such —  but such brilliant days had long passed away, and now the highest purpose for which it was ever wanted was to accommodate a whist club established among the gentlemen and half-gentlemen of the place. 


Miss Adler was immediately interested. Its character as a ball-room caught her; and instead of passing on, she stopped for several minutes at the two superior sashed windows which were open, to look in and contemplate its capabilities, and lament that its original purpose should have ceased. She saw no fault in the room, she would acknowledge none which they suggested. No, it was long enough, broad enough, handsome enough. It would hold the very number for comfort. 


They ought to have balls there at least every fortnight through the winter. Why had not Mr. Holmes revived the former good old days of the room? — He who could do anything in Highbury!


The want of proper families in the place, and the conviction that none beyond the place and its immediate environs could be tempted to attend, were mentioned; but Miss Adler was not satisfied. She could not be persuaded that so many good-looking houses as she saw around her could not furnish numbers enough for such a meeting; and even when particulars were given and families described, she was still unwilling to admit that the inconvenience of such a mixture would be anything, or that there would be the smallest difficulty in everybody's returning into their proper place the next morning. She argued like a young lady very much bent on dancing; and Sherlock was rather surprised to see the constitution of the Hudsons prevail so decidedly against the habits of the Adlers. She seemed to have all the life and spirit, cheerful feelings, and social inclinations of her father, and nothing of the pride or reserve of Enscombe. 


Of pride, indeed, there was, perhaps, scarcely enough; her indifference to a confusion of rank bordered too much on inelegance of mind. She could be no judge, however, of the evil she was holding cheap. It was but an effusion of lively spirits. 


At last she was persuaded to move on from the front of the Crown; and being now almost facing the house where the Turners lodged, Sherlock recollected Miss Adler’s intended visit the day before, and asked her if she had paid it. 


“Yes. Oh! Yes,” she replied. "I was just going to mention it. A very successful visit: I saw all the three ladies; and felt very much obliged to you for your preparatory hint. If the talking aunt had taken me quite by surprise, it must have been the death of me. As it was, I was only betrayed into paying a most unreasonably long visit. Ten minutes would have been all that was necessary, perhaps all that was proper; and I had told my father I should certainly be at home before him — but there was no getting away, no pause; and, to my utter astonishment, I found, when he (finding me nowhere else) joined me there at last, that I had been actually sitting with them very nearly three-quarters of an hour. The good lady had not given me the possibility of escape before." 


"And how did you think Miss Donovan looking?" 


"Ill, very ill — that is, if a young lady can ever be allowed to look ill. But the expression is hardly admissible, Mrs. Hudson, is it? Ladies can never look ill. And, seriously, Miss Donovan is naturally so peaked-looking, as almost always to give the appearance of ill health. I know she is often described as a beautiful young woman, but I must confess, that to me nothing can make amends for the want of the fine glow of health.”


“Well," said Sherlock, "there is no disputing about taste. At least you admire her except her looks." 


Miss Adler shook her head and laughed. "I cannot separate Miss Donovan and her looks." 


"Did you see her often at Weymouth? Were you often in the same society?" 


At this moment they were approaching Ford's, and she hastily exclaimed, "Ha! This must be the very shop that everybody attends every day of their lives, as my father informs me. He comes to Highbury himself, he says, six days out of the seven, and has always business at Ford's. If it be not inconvenient to you, pray let us go in, that I may prove myself to belong to the place, to be a true citizen of Highbury. I must buy something at Ford's. I dare say they sell gloves." 


"Oh! Yes, gloves and everything else. I do admire your patriotism. You will be adored in Highbury. You were very popular before you came, because you were Mr. Hudson's daughter — but lay out half a guinea at Ford's, and your popularity will stand upon your own virtues." 


They went in; and while the sleek, well-tied parcels were being brought down and displayed on the counter, Miss Adler said, "But I beg your pardon, Mr. Holmes, you were speaking to me, you were saying something at the very moment of this burst of my amor patriae . Do not let me lose it. I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life." 


"I merely asked whether you had known much of Miss Donovan and her party at Weymouth.”


"And now that I understand your question, I must pronounce it to be a very unfair one. Miss Donovan must already have given her account. I shall not commit myself by claiming more than she may choose to allow." 


"Upon my word! You answer as discreetly as she could do herself. But her account of everything leaves so much to be guessed, she is so very reserved, so very unwilling to give the least information about anybody, that I really think you may say what you like of your acquaintance with her." 


"May I, indeed? Then I will speak the truth, and nothing suits me so well. I met her frequently at Weymouth. I had known the Sholtos a little in town; and at Weymouth we were very much in the same set. Major Sholto is a very agreeable man, and Mrs. Sholto a friendly, warm-hearted woman. I like them all." 


”You know Miss Donovan's situation in life, I conclude; what she is destined to be?”


"Yes —” (rather hesitatingly) “— I believe I do.” 


"You get upon delicate subjects, Sherlock," said Mrs. Hudson, smiling. "Remember that I am here. Miss Irene Adler hardly knows what to say when you speak of Miss Donovan's situation in life. I will move a little farther off." 


"I certainly do forget to think of Mrs. Hudson,” said Sherlock, "as having ever been anything but my friend and my dearest friend." 


Miss Adler looked as if she fully understood and honoured such a sentiment. 


When the gloves were bought, and they had quitted the shop again, "Did you ever hear the young lady we were speaking of, play?" said Irene Adler. 


"Ever hear her!" repeated Sherlock. "You forget how much she belongs to Highbury. I have heard her every year of our lives since we both began. She plays charmingly." 


"You think so, do you? I wanted the opinion of someone who could really judge. She appeared to me to play well, that is, with considerable taste, but I know nothing of the matter myself. I am excessively fond of music, but without the smallest skill or right of judging of anybody's performance. I have been used to hear hers admired; and I remember one proof of her being thought to play well: a man, a very musical man, and in love with another woman — engaged to her — on the point of marriage — would yet never ask that other woman to sit down to the instrument, if the lady in question could sit down instead —  never seemed to like to hear one if he could hear the other. That, I thought, in a man of known musical talent, was some proof." 


"Proof indeed!" said Sherlock, highly amused. "Mr. Anderson is very musical, is he? We shall know more about them all, in half an hour, from you, than Miss Donovan would have vouchsafed in half a year." 


"Yes, Mr. Anderson and Miss Sholto were the persons; and I thought it a very strong proof." 


"Certainly — very strong it was; to own the truth, a great deal stronger than, if I had been Miss Sholto, would have been at all agreeable to me. I could not excuse a man's having more music than love — more ear than eye — a more acute sensibility to fine sounds than to my feelings. How did Miss Sholto appear to like it?" 


"It was her very particular friend, you know." 


"Poor comfort!" said Sherlock, laughing. "One would rather have a stranger preferred than one's very particular friend — with a stranger it might not recur again —  but the misery of having a very particular friend always at hand, to do everything better than one does oneself! Poor Mrs. Anderson! Well, I am glad she is gone to settle in Ireland." 


"You are right. It was not very flattering to Miss Sholto; but she really did not seem to feel it." 


"So much the better — or so much the worse: I do not know which. But be it sweetness or be it stupidity in her — quickness of friendship, or dulness of feeling — there was one person, I think, who must have felt it: Miss Donovan herself. She must have felt the improper and dangerous distinction." 


"As to that — I do not — " 


"Oh! Do not imagine that I expect an account of Miss Donovan's sensations from you, or from anybody else. They are known to no human being, I guess, but herself. But if she continued to play whenever she was asked by Mr. Anderson, one may guess what one chooses." 


"There appeared such a perfectly good understanding among them all — " she began rather quickly, but checking herself, added, "however, it is impossible for me to say on what terms they really were — how it might all be behind the scenes. I can only say that there was smoothness outwardly. But you, who have known Miss Donovan from a child, must be a better judge of her character, and of how she is likely to conduct herself in critical situations, than I can be." 


"I have known her from a child, undoubtedly; we have grown up together; and it is natural to suppose that we should be intimate — that we should have taken to each other whenever she visited her friends. But we never did. I hardly know how it has happened; a little, perhaps, from that wickedness on my side which was prone to take disgust towards a girl so idolized and so cried up as she always was, by her aunt and grandmother, and all their set. And then, her reserve — I never could attach myself to anyone so completely reserved." 


"It is a most repulsive quality, indeed," said Miss Adler. "Oftentimes very convenient, no doubt, but never pleasing. There is safety in reserve, but no attraction. One cannot love a reserved person." 


"Not till the reserve ceases towards oneself; and then the attraction may be the greater. But I must be more in want of a friend, or an agreeable companion, than I have yet been, to take the trouble of conquering anybody's reserve to procure one. Intimacy between Miss Donovan and me is quite out of the question. I have no reason to think ill of her — not the least — except that such extreme and perpetual cautiousness of word and manner, such a dread of giving a distinct idea about anybody, is apt to suggest suspicions of there being something to conceal." 


Miss Adler perfectly agreed with him: and after walking together so long, and thinking so much alike, Sherlock felt himself so well acquainted with her, that he could hardly believe it to be only their second meeting. She was not exactly what he had expected; less of the spoiled child of fortune, therefore better than he had expected. Her ideas seemed more moderate — her feelings warmer. 


He was particularly struck by her manner of considering Mr. Moriarty's house, which, as well as the church, she would go and look at, and would not join them in finding much fault with. No, Miss Adler could not believe it a bad house; not such a house as a man was to be pitied for having. If it were to be shared with the woman he loved, she could not think anyone to be pitied for having that house. There must be ample room in it for every real comfort. The man must be a blockhead who wanted more. 


Mrs. Hudson laughed, and said she did not know what she was talking about. Used only to a large house herself, and without ever thinking how many advantages and accommodations were attached to its size, she could be no judge of the privations inevitably belonging to a small one. But Sherlock, in his own mind, determined that she did know what she was talking about, and that she showed a very amiable inclination to settle early in life, and to marry, from worthy motives. She might not be aware of the inroads on domestic peace to be occasioned by no housekeeper's room, or a bad butler's pantry, but no doubt she did perfectly feel that Enscombe could not make her happy, and that whenever she were attached, she would willingly give up much of wealth to be allowed an early establishment.


Chapter Text

Sherlock's very good opinion of Irene Adler was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that she was gone off to London, merely to have her hair styled. A sudden freak seemed to have seized her at breakfast, and she had sent for a chaise and set off, intending to return to dinner, but with no more important view that appeared than having her hair styled. There was certainly no harm in her travelling sixteen miles twice over on such an errand; but there was an air of pretension and nonsense in it which Sherlock could not approve. It did not accord with the rationality of plan, the moderation in expense, or even the unselfish warmth of heart, which he had believed himself to discern in her yesterday. Vanity, extravagance, love of change, restlessness of temper, which must be doing something, good or bad; heedlessness as to the pleasure of her father and Mrs. Hudson, indifference as to how her conduct might appear in general; she became liable to all these charges. 


Her father only called her a princess, and thought it a very good story; but that Mrs. Hudson did not like it, was clear enough, by her passing it over as quickly as possible, and making no other comment than that "all young people would have their little whims." 


With the exception of this little blot, Sherlock found that Miss Adler’s visit hitherto had given his friend only good ideas of her. Mrs. Hudson was very ready to say how attentive and pleasant a companion she made herself — how much she saw to like in her disposition altogether. Irene appeared to have a very open temper — certainly a very cheerful and lively one; Mrs. Hudson could observe nothing wrong in her notions, a great deal decidedly right; she spoke of her uncle with warm regard, was fond of talking of him — said he would be the best man in the world if he were left to himself; and though there was no being attached to the aunt, she acknowledged her kindness with gratitude, and seemed to mean always to speak of her with respect. 


This was all very promising; and, but for such an unfortunate fancy for having her hair styled, there was nothing to denote Miss Adler unworthy of the distinguished honour which Sherlock’s imagination had given her; the honour, if not of being really in love with him, of being at least very near it, and saved only by his own indifference — (for still his resolution held of never marrying) — the honour, in short, of being marked out for him by all their joint acquaintance. 


Mr. Hudson, on his side, added a virtue to the account which must have some weight. He gave Sherlock to understand that Irene admired him extremely — thought him very handsome and very charming; and with so much to be said for her altogether, Sherlock found he must not judge her harshly. As Mrs. Hudson observed, "all young people would have their little whims." 


There was one person among Miss Adler’s new acquaintance in Surrey not so leniently disposed. In general she was judged, throughout the parishes of Donwell and Highbury, with great candour; liberal allowances were made for the little excesses of such a beautiful young woman — one who smiled so often and curtsied so well; but there was one spirit among them not to be softened, from its power of censure, by curtsies or smiles — Captain Watson. The circumstance was told him at Hartfield; for the moment, he was silent; but Sherlock heard him almost immediately afterwards say to himself, over a newspaper he held in his hand, "Hum! Just the trifling, silly girl I took her for." 


Sherlock had half a mind to resent; but an instant's observation convinced him that it was really said only to relieve Captain Watson’s own feelings, and not meant to provoke; and therefore he let it pass.


Although in one instance the bearers of not good tidings, Mr. and Mrs. Hudson's visit this morning was in another respect particularly opportune. Something occurred while they were at Hartfield, to make Sherlock want their advice; and, which was still more lucky, he wanted exactly the advice they gave. 


This was the occurrence: The Stamfords had been settled some years in Highbury, and were very good sort of people — friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. On their first coming into the country, they had lived in proportion to their income, quietly, keeping little company, and that little unexpensively; but the last year or two had brought them a considerable increase of means — the house in town had yielded greater profits, and fortune in general had smiled on them. With their wealth, their views increased; their want of a larger house, their inclination for more company. They added to their house, to their number of servants, to their expenses of every sort; and by this time were, in fortune and style of living, second only to the family at Hartfield. 


Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared everybody for their keeping dinner-company; and a few parties, chiefly among the single men, had already taken place. The regular and best families Sherlock could hardly suppose they would presume to invite — neither Donwell, nor Hartfield, nor Randalls. Nothing should tempt him to go, if they did. The Stamfords were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them. This lesson, Sherlock very much feared, they would receive only from himself; he had little hope of Captain Watson, none of Mr. Hudson. 


But he had made up his mind how to meet this presumption so many weeks before it appeared, that when the insult came at last, it found him very differently affected. Donwell and Randalls had received their invitation, and none had come for his father and himself; and Mrs. Hudson's accounting for it with "I suppose they will not take the liberty with you; they know you do not dine out," was not quite sufficient. Sherlock felt that he should like to have had the power of refusal; and afterwards, as the idea of the party to be assembled there, consisting precisely of those whose society was dearest to him, occurred again and again, he did not know that he might not have been tempted to accept. 


Molly was to be there in the evening, and the Turners. They had been speaking of it as they walked about Highbury the day before, and Irene Adler had most earnestly lamented his absence. “Might not the evening end in a dance?” had been a question of hers. 


The bare possibility of it acted as a farther irritation on Sherlock’s spirits; and his being left in solitary grandeur, even supposing the omission to be intended as a compliment, was but poor comfort.


It was the arrival of this very invitation, while the Hudsons were at Hartfield, which made their presence so acceptable; for though Sherlock’s first remark, on reading it, was that "of course it must be declined," he so very soon proceeded to ask them what they advised him to do, that their advice for his going was most prompt and successful. He owned that, considering everything, he was not absolutely without inclination for the party. The Stamfords expressed themselves so properly — there was so much real attention in the manner of it — so much consideration for his father. They would have solicited the honour earlier, but had been waiting the arrival of a folding-screen from London, which they hoped might keep Mr. Holmes from any draught of air, and therefore induce him the more readily to give them the honour of his company. 


Upon the whole, Sherlock was very persuadable; and it being briefly settled among themselves how it might be done without neglecting Mr. Holmes’ comfort — how certainly Miss Thompson, if not Mrs. Turner, might be depended on for bearing him company — Sherlock’s father was to be talked into an acquiescence of his son's going out to dinner on a day now near at hand, and spending the whole evening away from him. As for his going, Sherlock did not wish him to think it possible, the hours would be too late, and the party too numerous. 


Mr. Holmes was soon pretty well resigned. "I am not fond of dinner-visiting," said he —  "I never was. No more is Sherlock. Late hours do not agree with us. I am sorry Mr. and Mrs. Stamford should have done it. However, as they are so very desirous to have dear Sherlock dine with them, and as you will both be there, and Captain Watson too, to take care of him, I cannot wish to prevent it, provided the weather be what it ought, neither damp, nor cold, nor windy." 


There must be a prompt answer written to Mr. Stamford. "You will make my excuses, my dear,” said Mr. Holmes to Sherlock, “as civilly as possible. You will say that I am quite an invalid, and go nowhere, and therefore must decline their obliging invitation. You shall go, but you had better return at an early hour. You will not like staying late. You will get very tired when tea is over." 


"But you would not wish me to come away before I am tired, Papa?" 


“Oh, no, but you will soon be tired. There will be a great many people talking at once. You will not like the noise." 


"But, my dear sir," cried Mr. Hudson, "if Sherlock comes away early, it will be breaking up the party." 


"And no great harm if it does," said Mr. Holmes. "The sooner every party breaks up, the better.”


"But you do not consider how it may appear to the Stamfords. Sherlock's going away directly after tea might be giving offence. They are good-natured people, and think little of their own claims; but still they must feel that anybody's hurrying away is no great compliment; and Sherlock's doing it would be more thought of than any other person's in the room. You would not wish to disappoint and mortify the Stamfords, I am sure, sir; friendly, good sort of people as ever lived, and who have been your neighbours these ten years." 


"No, upon no account in the world, Mr. Hudson; I am much obliged to you for reminding me. I should be extremely sorry to be giving them any pain. I know what worthy people they are. My dear Sherlock, we must consider this. I am sure, rather than run the risk of hurting Mr. and Mrs. Stamford, you would stay a little longer than you might wish. You will not regard being tired. You will be perfectly safe, you know, among your friends." 

Chapter Text

Irene Adler came back again; and if she kept her father's dinner waiting, it was not known at Hartfield; for Mrs. Hudson was too anxious for her being a favourite with Mr. Holmes to betray any imperfection which could be concealed. Miss Adler came back, had had her hair styled, and laughed at herself with a very good grace, but without seeming really at all ashamed of what she had done. She had no reason to wish her hair in disarray, to conceal any confusion of face; no reason to wish the money unspent, to improve her spirits. She was quite as undaunted and as lively as ever.


After seeing her, Sherlock thus moralised to himself: "I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly. — It depends upon the character of those who handle it. No matter what Captain Watson may say, she is not a trifling, silly young woman. If she were, she would have done this differently. She would either have gloried in the achievement, or been ashamed of it. — No, I am perfectly sure that she is not trifling or silly." 


With Tuesday came the agreeable prospect of seeing Miss Adler again, and for a longer time than hitherto; of judging of her general manners, and by inference, of the meaning of her manners towards himself; of guessing how soon it might be necessary for him to throw coldness into his air; and of fancying what the observations of all those might be, who were now seeing them together for the first time. 


Sherlock meant to be very happy, in spite of the scene being laid at Mr. Stamford's; and without being able to forget that among the failings of Mr. Moriarty, even in the days of his favour, none had disturbed Sherlock more than his propensity to dine with Mr. Stamford. His father's comfort was amply secured, Mrs. Turner as well as Miss Thompson being able to come; and his last pleasing duty, before he left the house, was to pay his respects to them as they sat together after dinner; and to make the two ladies all the amends in his power, by helping them to large slices of cake and full glasses of wine, for whatever unwilling self-denial his father’s care of their constitution might have obliged them to practise during the meal. 


Sherlock followed another carriage to Mr. Stamford's door; and was pleased to see that it was Captain Watson's; for Captain Watson, having a great deal of health, activity, and independence, was too apt, in Sherlock's opinion, to get about as he could, and not use his carriage so often as became the owner of Donwell Abbey. Sherlock had an opportunity now of speaking his approbation while warm from his heart, for Captain Watson stopped to hand him out. 


"This is coming as you should do," said Sherlock; "like a gentleman. I am quite glad to see you." 


Captain Watson thanked him, observing, "How lucky that we should arrive at the same moment! For, if we had met first in the drawing-room, I doubt whether you would have discerned me to be more of a gentleman than usual. You might not have distinguished how I came, by my look or manner." 


"Yes I should, I am sure I should. You know I am the most observant of men. There is always a look of consciousness or bustle when people come in a way which they know to be beneath them. You think you carry it off very well, I dare say, but with you it is a sort of bravado, an air of affected unconcern; I always observe it whenever I meet you under those circumstances. Now you have nothing to try for. You are not afraid of being supposed ashamed. You are not striving to look taller than you are. Now I shall really be very happy to walk into the same room with you." 


“Nonsense!" was his reply, but not at all in anger. 


Sherlock had as much reason to be satisfied with the rest of the party as with Captain Watson. He was received with a cordial respect which could not but please, and given all the consequence he could wish for. When Mrs. Hudson arrived, the kindest looks of love, the strongest of admiration were for him; Mr. Hudson greeted him warmly; and Miss Adler approached him with a cheerful eagerness which marked him as her peculiar object, and at dinner he found her seated by him — and, as he firmly believed, not without some dexterity on her side. 


The party was rather large, as it included one other family, a proper unobjectionable country family, whom the Stamfords had the advantage of naming among their acquaintance, and the male part of Mr. Wilkes' family, the banker of Highbury. The sisters were to come in the evening, with Miss Turner, Miss Donovan, and Miss Hooper; but already, at dinner, they were too numerous for any subject of conversation to be general; and, while politics and Mr. James Moriarty were talked over, Sherlock could fairly surrender all his attention to the pleasantness of his neighbour. 


The first remote sound to which he felt himself obliged to attend, was the name of Sally Donovan. Mrs. Stamford seemed to be relating something of her that was expected to be very interesting. Sherlock listened, and found it well worth listening to. That very dear part of Sherlock, his fancy, received an amusing supply. Mrs. Stamford was telling that she had been calling on Miss Turner, and as soon as she entered the room had been struck by the sight of a pianoforte — a very elegant looking instrument — which had arrived the day before, to the great astonishment of both aunt and niece — entirely unexpected; that at first, by Miss Turner's account, Sally herself was quite at a loss, quite bewildered to think who could possibly have ordered it — but now, they were both perfectly satisfied that it could be from only one quarter — of course it must be from Major Sholto. 


"One can suppose nothing else," added Mrs. Stamford, "and I was only surprised that there could ever have been a doubt. But Sally, it seems, had a letter from the Sholtos very lately, and not a word was said about it. She knows their ways best; but I should not consider their silence as any reason for their not meaning to make the present. They might choose to surprise her." 


Mrs. Stamford had many to agree with her; everybody who spoke on the subject was equally convinced that it must come from Major Sholto, and equally rejoiced that such a present had been made; and there were enough ready to speak to allow Sherlock to think his own way, and still listen to Mrs. Stamford. 


"I declare, I do not know when I have heard anything that has given me more satisfaction! It always has quite hurt me that Sally Donovan, who plays so delightfully, should not have an instrument. It seemed quite a shame, especially considering how many houses there are where fine instruments are absolutely thrown away. It was but yesterday I was telling Mr. Stamford, I really was ashamed to look at our new grand pianoforte in the drawing-room, while I do not know one note from another, and our little girls, who are but just beginning, perhaps may never make anything of it; and there is poor Sally Donovan, who is mistress of music, has not anything of the nature of an instrument. I was saying this to Mr. Stamford but yesterday, and he quite agreed with me; only he is so particularly fond of music that he could not help indulging himself in the purchase, hoping that some of our good neighbours might be so obliging occasionally to put it to a better use than we can; and that really is the reason why the instrument was bought. We are in great hopes that Mr. Holmes may be prevailed with to try it this evening." 


Sherlock made the proper acquiescence; and finding that nothing more was to be entrapped from any communication of Mrs. Stamford's, turned to Irene Adler. "Why do you smile?" said he. 


"Nay, why do you?" 


"Me! — I suppose I smile for pleasure at Major Sholto's being so rich and so liberal. It is a handsome present." 




"I rather wonder that it was never made before; or that he did not give her the use of their own instrument — which must now be shut up in London, untouched by anybody." 


"That is a grand pianoforte, and he might think it too large for Mrs. Turner's house,” said Miss Adler. 


"You may say what you choose — but your countenance testifies that your thoughts on this subject are very much like mine." 


"I do not know. I rather believe you are giving me more credit for acuteness than I deserve. I smile because you smile, and shall probably suspect whatever I find you suspect; but at present I do not see what there is to question. If Major Sholto is not the person, who can be?" 


"What do you say to Mrs. Anderson?" suggested Sherlock.


"Mrs. Anderson! Very true indeed. I had not thought of Mrs. Anderson. She must know as well as her father, how acceptable an instrument would be; and perhaps the mode of it, the mystery, the surprise, is more like a young woman's scheme than an elderly man's. It is Mrs. Anderson, I dare say. I told you that your suspicions would guide mine." 


"If so, you must extend your suspicions and comprehend Mr. Anderson in them." 


"Mr. Anderson. — Very well. Yes, I immediately perceive that it must be the joint present of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. We were speaking the other day, you know, of his being so warm an admirer of her performance." 


"Yes, and what you told me on that head, confirmed an idea which I had entertained before. — I do not mean to reflect upon the good intentions of either Mr. Anderson or Miss Donovan, but I cannot help suspecting either that, after making his proposals to her friend, he had the misfortune to fall in love with her, or that he became conscious of a little attachment on her side. I do not yet have all the information necessary to be completely certain of the accuracy of my deductions; but I am sure there must be a particular cause for her choosing to come to Highbury instead of going with the Sholtos to Ireland. 


“Here, she must be leading a life of privation and penance; there it would have been all enjoyment. As to the pretence of trying her native air, I look upon that as a mere excuse. — In the summer it might have passed; but what can anybody's native air do for them in the months of January, February, and March? Good fires and carriages would be much more to the purpose in most cases of delicate health, and I dare say in hers. I do not require you to adopt all my suspicions, though you make so noble a profession of doing it, but I honestly tell you what they are." 


"And, upon my word, they have an air of great probability,” said Miss Adler. “Mr. Anderson's preference of her music to her friend's, I can answer for being very decided." 


"And then, he saved her life. Did you ever hear of that? — A water party; and by some accident she was falling overboard. He caught her." 


"He did. I was there — one of the party." 


"Were you really? — Well! — But you observed nothing of course, for it seems to be a new idea to you. If I had been there, I think I should have made some discoveries." 


"I dare say you would; but I, simple I, saw nothing but the fact that Miss Donovan was nearly dashed from the vessel and that Mr. Anderson caught her. It was the work of a moment. And though the consequent shock and alarm was very great and much more durable —  indeed I believe it was half an hour before any of us were comfortable again — yet that was too general a sensation for anything of peculiar anxiety to be observable. I do not mean to say, however, that you might not have made discoveries." 


The conversation was here interrupted. They were called on to share in the awkwardness of a rather long interval between the courses, and obliged to be as formal and as orderly as the others; but when the table was again safely covered, when every corner dish was placed exactly right, and occupation and ease were generally restored, Sherlock said, "The arrival of this pianoforte is decisive with me. I wanted to know a little more, and this tells me quite enough. Depend upon it, we shall soon hear that it is a present from Mr. and Mrs. Anderson." 


"And if the Andersons should absolutely deny all knowledge of it we must conclude it to come from the Sholtos." 


"No, I am sure it is not from the Sholtos. Miss Donovan knows it is not from the Sholtos, or they would have been guessed at first. She would not have been puzzled, had she dared fix on them. I may not have convinced you perhaps, but I am perfectly convinced myself that Mr. Anderson is a principal in the business." 


"Indeed you injure me if you suppose me unconvinced. Your reasonings carry my judgment along with them entirely. At first, while I supposed you satisfied that Major Sholto was the giver, I saw it only as paternal kindness, and thought it the most natural thing in the world. But when you mentioned Mrs. Anderson, I felt how much more probable that it should be the tribute of warm female friendship. And now I can see it in no other light than as an offering of love." 


There was no occasion to press the matter farther. The conviction seemed real; Miss Adler looked as if she felt it. Sherlock said no more, other subjects took their turn; and the rest of the dinner passed away; the dessert succeeded, the children came in, and were talked to and admired amid the usual rate of conversation; a few clever things said, a few downright silly, but by much the larger proportion neither the one nor the other — nothing worse than everyday remarks, dull repetitions, old news, and heavy jokes. 


They had not been long in the drawing-room, before the other guests, in their different divisions, arrived. Sherlock watched the entree of his own particular little friend, Molly; and if he could not exult in her dignity and grace, he could not only love the blooming sweetness and the artless manner, but could most heartily rejoice in that light, cheerful, unsentimental disposition which allowed her so many alleviations of pleasure, in the midst of the pangs of disappointed affection. There Molly sat — and who would have guessed how many tears she had been lately shedding? To be in company, nicely dressed herself and seeing others nicely dressed, to sit and smile and look pretty, and say nothing, was enough for the happiness of the present hour. 


Sally Donovan did look and move superior; but Sherlock suspected she might have been glad to change feelings with Molly, very glad to have purchased the mortification of having loved — yes, of having loved even Mr. James Moriarty in vain — by the surrender of all the dangerous pleasure of knowing herself beloved by the husband of her friend. In so large a party it was not necessary that Sherlock should approach her. He did not wish to speak of the pianoforte; he felt too much in the secret himself, to think the appearance of curiosity or interest fair, and therefore purposely kept at a distance; but by the others, the subject was almost immediately introduced, and he saw the blush of consciousness with which congratulations were received, the blush of guilt which accompanied the name of "my excellent friend Major Sholto." 


Mrs. Hudson, kind-hearted and musical, was particularly interested by the circumstance, and Sherlock could not help being amused at her perseverance in dwelling on the subject; and having so much to ask and to say as to tone, touch, and pedal, totally unsuspicious of that wish of saying as little about it as possible, which he plainly read in Miss Donovan’s countenance. 


They were soon joined by Irene Adler. Sherlock deduced what everybody present must be thinking. He was her object, and everybody must perceive it. He introduced her to his friend, Miss Hooper, and, at convenient moments afterwards, heard what each thought of the other, which was flattering on all counts. 


"I have made a most wretched discovery," said Miss Adler, after a short pause. "I have been here a week tomorrow — half my time. I never knew days fly so fast. A week tomorrow! — And I have hardly begun to enjoy myself. But just got acquainted with Mrs. Hudson, and others! — I hate the recollection." 


"Perhaps you may now begin to regret that you spent one whole day, out of so few, in having your hair styled." 


"No," said she, smiling, "that is no subject of regret at all. I have no pleasure in seeing my friends, unless I can believe myself fit to be seen." 


The rest of the party being now in the room, Sherlock found himself obliged to turn from her for a few minutes, and listen to Mr. Stamford. When Mr. Stamford had moved away, and his attention could be restored as before, he saw Irene Adler looking intently across the room at Miss Donovan, who was sitting exactly opposite. 


“What is the matter?" said he. 


She started. "Thank you for rousing me," she replied. "I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Donovan has done her hair in so odd a way — so very odd a way — that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw anything so strange! — Those curls! — This must be a fancy of her own. I see nobody else looking like her! — I must go and ask her whether it is an Irish fashion. Shall I? — Yes, I will — I declare I will — and you shall see how she takes it — whether she shows signs of consciousness." 


She was gone immediately; and Sherlock soon saw her standing before Miss Donovan, and talking to her; but as to its effect on the young lady, as Miss Adler had improvidently placed herself exactly between them, exactly in front of Miss Donovan, he could absolutely distinguish nothing. 


Before Miss Adler could return to her chair, it was taken by Mrs. Hudson. "This is the luxury of a large party," said she:  "one can get near everybody, and say everything. My dear Sherlock, I am longing to talk to you. I have been making discoveries and forming plans, just like yourself, and I must tell them while the idea is fresh. Do you know how Miss Turner and her niece came here?" 


"How? They were invited, were not they?" 


"Oh! Yes — but how they were conveyed hither? — the manner of their coming?" 


"They walked, I conclude. How else could they come?" 


"Very true. — Well, a little while ago it occurred to me how very sad it would be to have Sally Donovan walking home again, late at night, and cold as the nights are now. And as I looked at her, though I never saw her appear to more advantage, it struck me that she was heated, and would therefore be particularly liable to take cold. Poor girl! I could not bear the idea of it; so, as soon as Mr. Hudson came into the room, and I could get at him, I spoke to him about the carriage. You may guess how readily he came into my wishes; and having his approbation, I made my way directly to Miss Turner, to assure her that our carriage would be at her service before it took us home; for I thought it would be making her comfortable at once. 


“She was as grateful as possible, you may be sure, but with many, many thanks, she said there was no occasion to trouble us, for Captain Watson's carriage had brought, and was to take them home again. I was quite surprised; — very glad, I am sure; but really quite surprised. Such a very kind attention — and so thoughtful an attention! — the sort of thing that so few men would think of. And, in short, from knowing his usual ways, I am very much inclined to think that it was for their accommodation the carriage was used at all. I do suspect he would not have had a pair of horses put to for himself, and that it was only as an excuse for assisting them." 


"Very likely," said Sherlock — "nothing more likely. I know no man more likely than Captain Watson to do the sort of thing — to do anything really good-natured, useful, considerate, or benevolent. He is not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one; and this, considering Sally Donovan's ill-health, would appear a case of humanity to him; — and for an act of unostentatious kindness, there is nobody whom I would fix on more than on Captain Watson. I know he had his horses out today — for we arrived together; and I laughed at him about it, but he said not a word that could betray." 


"Well," said Mrs. Hudson, smiling, "you give him credit for more simple, disinterested benevolence in this instance than I do; for while Miss Turner was speaking, a suspicion darted into my head, and I have never been able to get it out again. The more I think of it, the more probable it appears. In short, I predict a match between Captain Watson and Sally Donovan. See the consequence of keeping you company! —  What do you say to it?" 


"Captain Watson and Sally Donovan!" exclaimed Sherlock. "Dear Mrs. Hudson, how could you think of such a thing? — Captain Watson! —  Captain Watson must not marry! My father would not like it. I cannot at all consent to Captain Watson's marrying; and I am sure it is not at all likely. I am amazed that you should think of such a thing." 


"My dear Sherlock, I have told you what led me to think of it. I do not say I want the match — but the idea has been given me by circumstances; and if Captain Watson really wished to marry, you would not have him refrain on your father’s account?" 


"Yes, I would. Captain Watson would not be free to visit so often if he were to marry, and I could not bear to have my father distressed. — Captain Watson marry! — No, I have never had such an idea, and I cannot adopt it now. And Sally Donovan, too, of all people!" 


"Nay, she has always been a first favourite with him, as you very well know." 


"But the imprudence of such a match!" 


"I am not speaking of its prudence; merely its probability." 


"I see no probability in it, unless you have any better foundation than what you mention. His good-nature, his humanity, as I tell you, would be quite enough to account for the carriage. He has a great regard for the Turners, you know, independent of Sally Donovan — and is always glad to show them attention. My dear Mrs. Hudson, do not take to match-making. You do it very ill. Sally Donovan mistress of the Abbey! — Oh! No, no; — every feeling revolts. For his own sake, I would not have him do so mad a thing." 


"Imprudent, if you please — but not mad. Excepting inequality of fortune, I can see nothing unsuitable." 


"But Captain Watson does not want to marry. I am sure he has not the least idea of it. Do not put it into his head. Why should he marry? He is as happy as possible by himself. He has no occasion to marry, either to fill up his time or his heart." 


"My dear Sherlock, as long as he thinks so, it is so; but if he really loves Sally Donovan — " 


"Nonsense! He does not care about Sally Donovan. In the way of love, I am sure he does not. He would do any good to her, or her family; but — " 


”Well,” said Mrs. Hudson, laughing, "perhaps the greatest good he could do them, would be to give Sally such a respectable home." 


"If it would be good to her, I am sure it would be evil to himself; a very shameful and degrading connexion. How would he bear to have Miss Turner belonging to him? — To have her haunting the Abbey, and thanking him all day long for his great kindness in marrying Sally? — 'So very kind and obliging! — But he always had been such a very kind neighbour!' And then fly off, through half a sentence, to her mother's old petticoat. 'Not that it was such a very old petticoat either — for still it would last a great while — and, indeed, she must thankfully say that their petticoats were all very strong.'" 


"For shame, Sherlock! Do not mimic her. You divert me against my conscience. And, upon my word, I do not think Captain Watson would be much disturbed by Miss Turner. Little things do not irritate him. She might talk on; and if he wanted to say anything himself, he would only talk louder, and drown her voice. But the question is not, whether it would be a bad connexion for him, but whether he wishes it; and I think he does. I have heard him speak, and so must you, so very highly of Sally Donovan! The interest he takes in her — his anxiety about her health — his concern that she should have no happier prospect! I have heard him express himself so warmly on those points! 


“Such an admirer of her performance on the pianoforte, and of her voice! I have heard him say that he could listen to her forever. Oh! And I had almost forgotten one idea that occurred to me —  this pianoforte that has been sent here by somebody — though we have all been so well satisfied to consider it a present from the Sholtos, may it not be from Captain Watson? I cannot help suspecting him. I think he is just the person to do it, even without being in love." 


"Then it can be no argument to prove that he is in love. But I do not think it is at all a likely thing for him to do. Captain Watson does nothing mysteriously." 


"I have heard him lamenting her having no instrument repeatedly; oftener than I should suppose such a circumstance would, in the common course of things, occur to him." 


"Very well; and if he had intended to give her one, he would have told her so." 


"There might be scruples of delicacy, my dear Sherlock. I have a very strong notion that it comes from him. I am sure he was particularly silent when Mrs. Stamford told us of it at dinner." 


"You take up an idea, Mrs. Hudson, and run away with it; as you have many a time reproached me with doing. I see no sign of attachment — I believe nothing of the pianoforte — and proof only shall convince me that Captain Watson has any thought of marrying Sally Donovan." 


They combated the point some time longer in the same way; Sherlock rather gaining ground over the mind of his friend; for Mrs. Hudson was the most used of the two to yield; till a little bustle in the room showed them that tea was over, and the instrument in preparation; and at the same moment Mr. Stamford approaching to entreat Mr. Holmes would do them the honour of trying it. Irene Adler, of whom, in the eagerness of his conversation with Mrs. Hudson, he had been seeing nothing, except that she had found a seat by Miss Donovan, followed Mr. Stamford, to add her very pressing entreaties; and as, in every respect, it suited Sherlock best to lead, he gave a very proper compliance. 


Sherlock knew the limitations of his own powers too well to attempt more than he could perform with credit; he wanted neither taste nor spirit in the little things which are generally acceptable, and could accompany his own voice well. One accompaniment to his song took him agreeably by surprise — a second, slightly but correctly taken by Irene Adler. His pardon was duly begged at the close of the song, and everything usual followed. Miss Adler was accused of having a delightful voice, and a perfect knowledge of music; which was properly denied; and that she knew nothing of the matter, and had no voice at all, roundly asserted. They sang together once more; and Sherlock would then resign his place to Miss Donovan, whose performance, both vocal and instrumental, he never could attempt to conceal from himself, was infinitely superior to his own. 


With mixed feelings, he seated himself at a little distance from the numbers round the instrument, to listen. Irene Adler sang again. They had sung together once or twice, it appeared, at Weymouth. But the sight of Captain Watson among the most attentive, soon drew away half Sherlock's mind; and he fell into a train of thinking on the subject of Mrs. Hudson's suspicions, to which the sweet sounds of the united voices gave only momentary interruptions. 


Sherlock’s objections to Captain Watson's marrying did not in the least subside. He could see nothing but evil in it. It would be a most mortifying change, and material loss to them all — a very great deduction from his father's daily comfort — and, as to himself, he could not at all endure the idea of Sally Donovan at Donwell Abbey. A Mrs. Watson for them all to give way to! — No — Captain Watson must never marry. 


Presently Captain Watson looked back, and came and sat down by him. They talked at first only of the performance. His admiration was certainly very warm; yet Sherlock thought, but for Mrs. Hudson, it would not have struck him. As a sort of touchstone, however, he began to speak of his kindness in conveying the aunt and niece; and though Captain Watson’s answer was in the spirit of cutting the matter short, Sherlock believed it to indicate only his disinclination to dwell on any kindness of his own. 


"I often feel concern," said Sherlock, "that I dare not make our carriage more useful on such occasions. It is not that I am without the wish; but you know how impossible my father would deem it that our coachman should put-to for such a purpose." 


”Quite out of the question, quite out of the question," Captain Watson replied. "But you must often wish it, I am sure." And he smiled with such seeming pleasure at the conviction, that Sherlock must proceed another step. 


"This present from the Sholtos — this pianoforte — is very kindly given." 


"Yes," he replied, and without the smallest apparent embarrassment. "But they would have done better had they given her notice of it. Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. I should have expected better judgment in Major Sholto." 


From that moment, Sherlock could have taken his oath that Captain Watson had had no concern in giving the instrument. But whether he were entirely free from peculiar attachment — whether there were no actual preference —  remained a little longer doubtful. 


Towards the end of Sally's second song, her voice grew thick. "That will do," said Captain Watson, when it was finished, thinking aloud — "you have sung quite enough for one evening — now be quiet." 


Another song, however, was soon begged for. "One more; — they would not fatigue Miss Donovan on any account, and would only ask for one more." 


And Irene Adler was heard to say, "I think you could manage this without effort; the first part is so very trifling. The strength of the song falls on the second." 


Captain Watson grew angry. “Miss Adler," said he, indignantly, "thinks of nothing but showing off her own voice. This must not be." And touching Miss Turner, who at that moment passed near — "Miss Turner, are you mad, to let your niece sing herself hoarse in this manner? Go, and interfere. They have no mercy on her." 


Miss Turner, in her real anxiety for Sally, could hardly stay even to be grateful, before she stepped forward and put an end to all farther singing. 


Here ceased the concert part of the evening; but soon (within five minutes) the proposal of dancing — originating nobody exactly knew where —  was so effectually promoted by Mr. and Mrs. Stamford, that everything was rapidly clearing away, to give proper space. Mrs. Hudson, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Irene Adler, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Sherlock, had secured his hand, and led him up to the top. 


While waiting till the other young people could pair themselves off, Sherlock found time, in spite of the compliments he was receiving on his voice and his taste, to look about, and see what became of Captain Watson. This would be a trial. He was no dancer in general. If he were to be very alert in engaging Sally Donovan now, it might augur something.


There was no immediate appearance. No; Captain Watson was talking to Mrs. Stamford — he was looking on unconcerned; Sally was asked by somebody else, and he was still talking to Mrs. Stamford. Sherlock had no longer any alarm; and he led off the dance with genuine spirit and enjoyment. 


Not more than five couple could be mustered; but the rarity and the suddenness of it made it very delightful, and Sherlock found himself well matched in a partner. They were a couple worth looking at. 


Two dances, unfortunately, were all that could be allowed. It was growing late, and Miss Turner became anxious to get home, on her mother's account. After some attempts, therefore, to be permitted to begin again, they were obliged to thank Mrs. Hudson, look sorrowful, and have done. 


"Perhaps it is as well," said Irene Adler, as she attended Sherlock to his carriage. "I must have asked Miss Donovan, and her languid dancing would not have agreed with me, after yours.”


Chapter Text

Sherlock did not repent his condescension in going to the Stamfords. The visit afforded him many pleasant recollections the next day; and all that he might be supposed to have lost on the side of dignified seclusion, must be amply repaid in the splendour of popularity. He must have delighted the Stamfords — worthy people, who deserved to be made happy —  and left a name behind him that would not soon die away. 


Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common; and there were two points on which Sherlock was not quite easy. He doubted whether he had not transgressed the duty of propriety, in betraying his suspicions of Sally Donovan's feelings to Irene Adler. It was hardly right; but it had been so strong an idea that it would escape him, and her submission to all that he told was a compliment to his penetration which made it difficult for him to be quite certain that he ought to have held his tongue. 


The other circumstance of regret related also to Sally Donovan; and there Sherlock had no doubt. He did unfeignedly and unequivocally regret the inferiority of his own playing and singing. He did most heartily grieve over the idleness of his childhood — and sat down at the pianoforte and practised vigorously an hour and a half. He was then interrupted by Molly's coming in; and if Molly's praise could have satisfied him, he might soon have been comforted. 


"Oh! If I could but play as well as you and Miss Donovan!" 


"Don't class us together, Molly. My playing is no more like hers than a lamp is like sunshine." 


“Oh, dear! I think you play the best of the two. I am sure I had much rather hear you. Everybody last night said how well you played." 


"Those who knew anything about it, must have felt the difference. The truth is, Molly, that my playing is just good enough to be praised, but Sally Donovan's is much beyond it." 


"Well, I always shall think that you play quite as well as she does, or that if there is any difference nobody would ever find it out. Mr. Stamford said how much taste you had; and Miss Irene Adler talked a great deal about your taste, and that she valued taste much more than execution." 


"Ah! But Sally Donovan has them both, Molly." 


"Are you sure? I saw she had execution, but I did not know she had any taste. Nobody talked about it. And I hate Italian singing; there is no understanding a word of it. Besides, if she does play so very well, you know, it is no more than she is obliged to do, because she will have to teach. The Wilkes sisters were wondering last night whether she would get into any great family. How did you think the Wilkes sisters looked?" 


"Just as they always do — very vulgar." 


"They told me something," said Molly rather hesitatingly; "but it is nothing of any consequence." 


Sherlock was obliged to ask what they had told her, though fearful of its producing Mr. James Moriarty. 


"They told me… that Miss Stella Hopkins dined with them last Saturday." 




"She came to their father upon some banking business, and he asked her to stay to dinner.”




"They talked a great deal about her, especially Anne Wilkes. I do not know what she meant, but she asked me if I thought I should go and stay there again next summer." 


"She meant to be impertinently curious, just as such an Anne Wilkes should be." 


"She said Miss Hopkins was very agreeable the day she dined there. Miss Prince thinks either of the Wilkes sisters would be very glad to marry her." 


"Very likely. I think they are, without exception, the most vulgar girls in Highbury." 


Molly had business at Ford's. Sherlock thought it most prudent to go with her. Another accidental meeting with the Hopkins sisters was possible, and in her present state, would be dangerous. 


Molly, tempted by everything and swayed by half a word, was always very long at a purchase; and while she was still hanging over muslins and changing her mind, Sherlock went to the door for amusement. Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury: Miss Sarah Sawyer walking hastily by, Mr. Sebastian Wilkes letting himself in at the office-door, Mr. Michael Stamford's carriage-horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects he could presume to expect; and when his eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's little bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, he knew he had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door. 


Sherlock looked down the Randalls road. The scene enlarged; two persons appeared; Mrs. Hudson and her daughter-in-law; they were walking into Highbury; to Hartfield of course. They were stopping, however, in the first place at Mrs. Turner’s, whose house was a little nearer Randalls than Ford’s, and had all but knocked, when Sherlock caught their eye. 


Immediately they crossed the road and came forward to him; and the agreeableness of yesterday's engagement seemed to give fresh pleasure to the present meeting. Mrs. Hudson informed Sherlock that she was going to call on the Turners, in order to hear the new instrument. 


"For my companion tells me," said she, "that I absolutely promised Miss Turner last night, that I would come this morning. I was not aware of it myself. I did not know that I had fixed a day, but as she says I did, I am going now." 


"And while Mrs. Hudson pays her visit, I may be allowed, I hope," said Irene Adler, "to join your party and wait for her at Hartfield — if you are going home." 


Mrs. Hudson was disappointed. "I thought you meant to go with me. They would be very much pleased." 


"Me! I should be quite in the way. But, perhaps — I may be equally in the way here. Mr. Holmes looks as if he did not want me. My aunt always sends me off when she is shopping. She says I fidget her to death; and Mr. Holmes looks as if he could almost say the same. What am I to do?" 


"I am here on no business of my own," said Sherlock; "I am only waiting for my friend. She will probably have soon done, and then we shall go home. But you had better go with Mrs. Hudson and hear the instrument." 


"Well — if you advise it. But” (with a smile) “if Major Sholto should have employed a careless friend, and if it should prove to have an indifferent tone — what shall I say? I shall be no support to Mrs. Hudson. She might do very well by herself. A disagreeable truth would be palatable through her lips, but I am the wretchedest being in the world at a civil falsehood." 


"I do not believe any such thing," replied Sherlock. "I am persuaded that you can be as insincere as your neighbours, when it is necessary; but there is no reason to suppose the instrument is indifferent. Quite otherwise indeed, if I understood Miss Donovan's opinion last night." 


"Do come with me," said Mrs. Hudson, "if it be not very disagreeable to you. It need not detain us long. We will go to Hartfield afterwards. We will follow them to Hartfield. I really wish you to call with me. It will be felt so great an attention! And I always thought you meant it." 


Irene Adler could say no more; and with the hope of Hartfield to reward her, returned with Mrs. Hudson to Mrs. Turner's door. Sherlock watched them in, and then joined Molly at the interesting counter — trying, with all the force of his own mind, to convince her that if she wanted plain muslin it was of no use to look at figured; and that a blue ribbon, be it ever so beautiful, would still never match her yellow pattern. 


At last it was all settled, and Sherlock escorted Molly away from the counter. Voices approached the shop — or rather one voice and two ladies: Mrs. Hudson and Miss Turner met them at the door. 


"My dear Mr. Holmes," said the latter, "I am just run across to entreat the favour of you to come and sit down with us a little while, and give us your opinion of our new instrument; you and Miss Hooper. — How do you do, Miss Hooper? — And I begged Mrs. Hudson to come with me, that I might be sure of succeeding." 


"I hope Mrs. Turner and Miss Donovan are — " 


"Very well, I am much obliged to you. My mother is delightfully well; and Sally caught no cold last night. Mrs. Hudson told me you were here. — Oh! Then, said I, I must run across, I am sure Mr. Holmes will allow me just to run across and entreat him to come in; my mother will be so very happy to see him, and now we are such a nice party, he cannot refuse. — 'Aye, pray do,' said Miss Irene Adler, ‘Mr. Holmes' opinion of the instrument will be worth having.' — But, said I, I shall be more sure of succeeding if one of you will go with me. — 'Oh,' said she, 'wait half a minute, till I have finished my job;' — For, would you believe it, Mr. Holmes, there she is, in the most obliging manner in the world, fastening in the rivet of my mother's spectacles. — Well, Mrs. Hudson, you have prevailed, I hope, and these young people will oblige us." 


Sherlock would be "very happy to wait on Mrs. Turner,” and they did at last move out of the shop, with no farther delay from Miss Turner.


"What was I talking of?" said she, beginning again when they were all in the street. "I declare I cannot recollect what I was talking of. — Oh! my mother's spectacles. So very obliging of Miss Irene Adler! 'Oh!' said she, 'I do think I can fasten the rivet; I like a job of this kind excessively.' — Indeed I must say that, much as I had heard of her before and much as I had expected, she very far exceeds anything.... I do congratulate you, Mrs. Hudson, most warmly. She seems everything the fondest parent could.... 


“And when I brought out the baked apples from the closet, and hoped our friends would be so very obliging as to take some, 'Oh!' said she directly, 'there is nothing in the way of fruit half so good, and these are the finest-looking home-baked apples I ever saw in my life.' And I am sure, by her manner, it was no false compliment. Indeed they are very delightful apples — only we do not have them baked more than twice, and Mr. Holmes made us promise to have them done three times, as it is the only way he thinks the fruit thoroughly wholesome — but you will be so good as not to mention it. 


“The apples themselves are the very finest sort for baking, beyond a doubt; all from Donwell — some of Captain Watson's most liberal supply. He sends us a sack every year; my mother says the orchard was always famous in her younger days. But I was really quite shocked the other day — for Captain Watson called one morning, and Sally was eating these apples, and we talked about them and said how much she enjoyed them, and he asked whether we were not got to the end of our stock. 


“'I am sure you must be,' said he, 'and I will send you another supply; for I have a great many more than I can ever use. My steward, Bill Murray, said we had a larger quantity than usual this year. I will send you some more, before they get good for nothing.' So I begged he would not — for really as to ours being gone, I could not absolutely say that we had a great many left — it was but half a dozen indeed; but they should be all kept for Sally; and I could not at all bear that he should be sending us more, so liberal as he had been already; and Sally said the same. 


“However, the very same evening Bill Murray came over with a large basket of apples, the same sort of apples, a bushel at least, and I was very much obliged, and went down and spoke to Bill Murray and said everything, as you may suppose. Bill Murray is such an old acquaintance! I am always glad to see him. But, however, I found afterwards from my housekeeper, Patty, that Bill said it was all the apples of that sort his master had; he had brought them all — and now his master had not one left to bake or boil. Bill did not seem to mind it himself, but he said Mrs. Hodges, the housekeeper, was quite displeased at their being all sent away. She could not bear that her master should not be able to have another apple-tart this spring.” 


Miss Turner had just finished this story as Patty opened the door; and her visitors walked upstairs without having any regular narration to attend to, pursued only by the sounds of her desultory good-will. 


"Pray take care, Mrs. Hudson, there is a step at the turning. Pray take care, Mr. Holmes, ours is rather a dark staircase —  rather darker and narrower than one could wish. Miss Hooper, pray take care.”


Chapter Text

The appearance of the little sitting-room as they entered was tranquillity itself: Mrs. Turner, deprived of her usual employment, slumbering on one side of the fire; Irene Adler, at a table near her, occupied in fixing the old lady’s spectacles; and Sally Donovan, standing with her back to them, intent on her pianoforte. 


Busy as she was, however, Miss Adler was yet able to show a most happy countenance on seeing Sherlock again. "This is a pleasure," said she, in rather a low voice, "coming at least ten minutes earlier than I had calculated. You find me trying to be useful; tell me if you think I shall succeed." 


"What!" said Mrs. Hudson. "Have not you finished yet? You would not earn a very good livelihood as a working silversmith at this rate." 


"I have not been working uninterruptedly," she replied. "I have been assisting Miss Donovan in trying to make her instrument stand steadily. It was not quite firm; an unevenness in the floor, I believe. You see we have been wedging one leg with paper. This was very kind of you to be persuaded to come. I was almost afraid you would be hurrying home." 


Miss Adler contrived that Sherlock should be seated by her; and was sufficiently employed in looking out the best baked apple for him, and trying to make him help or advise her in her work, till Sally Donovan was quite ready to sit down to the pianoforte again. That she was not immediately ready, Sherlock did suspect to arise from the state of her nerves; she had not yet possessed the instrument long enough to touch it without emotion; she must reason herself into the power of performance; and Sherlock could not but pity such feelings, whatever their origin, and could not but resolve never to expose them to his neighbour again. 


At last Sally began, and though the first bars were feebly given, the powers of the instrument were gradually done full justice to. Mrs. Hudson had been delighted before, and was delighted again; Sherlock joined her in all her praise; and the pianoforte, with every proper discrimination, was pronounced to be altogether of the highest promise. 


"Whoever Major Sholto might employ," said Irene Adler, with a smile at Sherlock, "the person has not chosen ill. I heard a good deal of Major Sholto's taste at Weymouth; and the softness of the upper notes I am sure is exactly what he and all that party would particularly prize. I dare say, Miss Donovan, that he either gave his friend very minute directions, or wrote to Broadwood himself. Do not you think so?" 


Sally did not look round. She was not obliged to hear. Mrs. Hudson had been speaking to her at the same moment. 


"It is not fair," said Sherlock, in a whisper; "mine was a private deduction. Do not distress her.”


Miss Adler shook her head with a smile, and looked as if she had very little doubt and very little mercy. Soon afterwards she began again, "How much your friends in Ireland must be enjoying your pleasure on this occasion, Miss Donovan. I dare say they often think of you, and wonder which will be the day, the precise day of the instrument’s coming to hand. Do you imagine Major Sholto knows the business to be going forward just at this time? Do you imagine it to be the consequence of an immediate commission from him, or that he may have sent only a general direction, an order indefinite as to time, to depend upon contingencies and conveniences?" 


Sally Donovan could not but hear; she could not avoid answering. "Till I have a letter from Major Sholto," said she, in a voice of forced calmness, "I can imagine nothing with any confidence. It must be all conjecture." 


"Conjecture — aye, sometimes one conjectures right, and sometimes one conjectures wrong. I wish I could conjecture how soon I shall make this rivet quite firm. What nonsense one talks, Mr. Holmes, when hard at work, if one talks at all. — There, it is done. I have the pleasure, madam,” (to Mrs. Turner) “of restoring your spectacles, healed for the present." 


She was very warmly thanked both by mother and daughter; to escape a little from the latter, she went to the pianoforte, and begged Miss Donovan, who was still sitting at it, to play something more. 


"If you are very kind," said she, "it will be one of the waltzes we danced last night. Let me live them over again. You did not enjoy them as I did; you appeared tired the whole time. I believe you were glad we danced no longer; but I would have given worlds — all the worlds one ever has to give — for another half-hour." 


Miss Donovan played. 


"What felicity it is to hear a tune again which has made one happy!” said Miss Adler. “If I mistake not, that was danced at Weymouth." 


Sally Donovan looked up at her for a moment, coloured deeply, and played something else. 


Irene Adler took some music from a chair near the pianoforte, and turning to Sherlock, said, "Here is a new set of Irish melodies. That, from such a quarter, one might expect. This was all sent with the instrument. Very thoughtful of Major Sholto, was not it? He knew Miss Donovan could have no music here. I honour that part of the attention particularly; it shows it to have been so thoroughly from the heart. Nothing hastily done; nothing incomplete. True affection only could have prompted it." 


Sherlock wished she would be less pointed, yet could not help being amused; and when on glancing his eye towards Sally Donovan he caught the remains of a smile, when he saw that with all the deep blush of consciousness, there had been a smile of secret delight, he had less scruple in the amusement, and much less compunction with respect to her. This amiable, upright, perfect Sally Donovan was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings. 


Miss Adler brought all the music to him, and they looked it over together. Sherlock took the opportunity of whispering, "You speak too plain. She must understand you." 


"I hope she does. I would have her understand me. I am not in the least ashamed of my meaning." 


"But really, I am half ashamed, and wish I had never taken up the idea." 


"I am very glad you did, and that you communicated it to me. I have now a key to all her odd looks and ways. Leave shame to her. If she does wrong, she ought to feel it." 


"She is not entirely without it, I think." 


"I do not see much sign of it. She is playing Robin Adair at this moment —  Mr. Anderson’s favourite." 


Shortly afterwards, Miss Turner, passing near the window, descried Captain Watson on horseback not far off. 


"Captain Watson, I declare! I must speak to him if possible, just to thank him. I will not open the window here; it would give you all cold; but I can go into my mother's room you know. I dare say he will come in when he knows who is here. Quite delightful to have you all meet so! Our little room so honoured!" 


She was in the adjoining chamber while she still spoke, and opening the casement there, immediately called Captain Watson's attention, and every syllable of their conversation was as distinctly heard by the others as if it had passed within the same apartment. 


"How d' ye do? — So obliged to you for the carriage last night. Pray come in; do come in. You will find some friends here." 


So began Miss Turner; and Captain Watson seemed determined to be heard in his turn, for most resolutely and commandingly did he say, "How is your niece, Miss Turner? — I want to inquire after you all, but particularly your niece. How is Miss Donovan? — I hope she caught no cold last night. How is she today? Tell me how Miss Donovan is." 


And Miss Turner was obliged to give a direct answer before he would hear her in anything else. The listeners were amused; and Mrs. Hudson gave Sherlock a look of particular meaning. But Sherlock still shook his head in steady scepticism. 


"So obliged to you! So very much obliged to you for the carriage," resumed Miss Turner. 


He cut her short with, "I am going to Kingston. Can I do anything for you?" 


"No, I thank you. But do come in. Who do you think is here? — Miss Holmes and Miss Hooper; so kind as to call to hear the new pianoforte. Do put up your horse at the Crown, and come in." 


"Well," said he, in a deliberating manner, "for five minutes, perhaps." 


"And here is Mrs. Hudson and Miss Irene Adler too! —  Quite delightful; so many friends!" 


"No, not now, I thank you. I could not stay two minutes. I must get on to Kingston as fast as I can." 


"Oh! Do come in. They will be so very happy to see you." 


"No, no; your room is full enough. I will call another day, and hear the pianoforte." 


"Well, I am so sorry! — Oh! Captain Watson, what a delightful party last night; how extremely pleasant. —  Did you ever see such dancing? — Was not it delightful? — Mr. Holmes and Miss Irene Adler; I never saw anything equal to it." 


"Oh! Very delightful indeed; I can say nothing less, for I suppose Mr. Holmes and Miss Irene Adler are hearing everything that passes. And” (raising his voice still more) “I do not see why Miss Donovan should not be mentioned too. I think Miss Donovan dances very well; and Mrs. Hudson is the very best country-dance player, without exception, in England. Now, if your friends have any gratitude, they will say something pretty loud about you and me in return; but I cannot stay to hear it." 


"Oh! Captain Watson, one moment more; something of consequence — so shocked! — Sally and I are both so shocked about the apples!" 


"What is the matter now?" 


"To think of your sending us all your store of apples. You said you had a great many, and now you have not one left. We really are so shocked! Your housekeeper may well be angry. Bill Murray mentioned it here. You should not have done it, indeed you should not. — Ah! He is off. He never can bear to be thanked. — Well,” (returning to the room) “I have not been able to succeed. Captain Watson cannot stop. He is going to Kingston. He asked me if he could do anything...." 


"Yes," said Sally, "we heard his kind offers; we heard everything." 


"Oh! Yes, my dear, I dare say you might, because you know, the door was open, and the window was open, and Captain Watson spoke loud..... Oh! Mr. Holmes, must you be going? —  You seem but just come." 


Sherlock found it really time to be at home; the visit had already lasted long; and on examining watches, so much of the morning was perceived to be gone, that Mrs. Hudson and her companion, taking leave also, could allow themselves only to walk as far as the Hartfield gates, before they set off for Randalls.

Chapter Text

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; but when a beginning is made — when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt — it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more. Irene Adler had danced once at Highbury, and longed to dance again; and the last half-hour of an evening which Mr. Holmes was persuaded to spend with his son at Randalls, was passed by the two young people in schemes on the subject. 


Irene's was the first idea; and hers the greatest zeal in pursuing it; for Sherlock was the best judge of the difficulties, and the most solicitous for accommodation and appearance. But still he had inclination enough for showing people again how delightfully he could dance with Miss Irene Adler— for doing that in which he need not blush to compare himself with Sally Donovan — and even for simple dancing itself, without any of the wicked aids of vanity — to assist him first in pacing out the room they were in to see what it could be made to hold — and then in taking the dimensions of the other parlour, in the hope of discovering, in spite of all that Mr. Hudson could say of their exactly equal size, that it was a little the largest. 


Miss Adler’s first proposition and request, that the dance begun at Mr. Stamford's should be finished at Randalls — that the same party should be collected, and the same musician engaged — met with the readiest acquiescence. Mr. Hudson entered into the idea with thorough enjoyment, and Mrs. Hudson most willingly undertook to play as long as they could wish to dance; and the interesting employment had followed, of reckoning up exactly who there would be, and portioning out the indispensable division of space to every couple. 


"You and Miss Hooper and Captain Watson will be three, and my father and myself five," had been repeated by Irene many times over. "And there will be Mr. Henry Knight, young Sebastian Wilkes and the two Miss Wilkes, besides Miss Donovan. Yes, that will be quite enough for pleasure; and for five couples there will be plenty of room." 


But soon it came to be on one side, "But will there be good room for five couples? I really do not think there will." 


On another, "And after all, five couples are not enough to make it worth while to stand up. Five couples are nothing, when one thinks seriously about it. It will not do to invite five couples. It can be allowable only as the thought of the moment." 


Somebody said that Miss Knight was expected at her brother's, and must be invited with the rest. Somebody else believed that the widow Mrs. Knight would have danced the other evening, if she had been asked. A word was put in for a second young Wilkes gentleman; and at last, Mr. Hudson naming one family of cousins who must be included, and another of very old acquaintance who could not be left out, it became a certainty that the five couples would be at least ten, and a very interesting speculation in what possible manner they could be disposed of.


The doors of the two rooms were just opposite each other. Might not they use both rooms, and dance across the passage? It seemed the best scheme; and yet it was not so good but that many of them wanted a better. Sherlock said it would be awkward; Mrs. Hudson was in distress about the supper; and Mr. Holmes opposed it earnestly, on the score of health. It made him so very unhappy, indeed, that it could not be persevered in. 


"Oh! No," said he; "it would be the extreme of imprudence. I could not bear it for Sherlock! He would catch a dreadful cold. So would poor little Molly. So you would all. Mrs. Hudson, you would be quite laid up; do not let them talk of such a wild thing. Pray do not let them talk of it. That young lady” (glancing at Irene, and speaking lower) “is very thoughtless. Do not tell her father, but that young lady is not quite the thing. She has been opening the doors very often this evening, and keeping them open very inconsiderately. She does not think of the draught. I do not mean to set you against her, but indeed she is not quite the thing!" 


Mrs. Hudson was sorry for such a charge. She knew the importance of it, and said everything in her power to do it away. Every door was now closed, the passage plan given up, and the first scheme of dancing only in the room they were in resorted to again; and with such good-will on Irene Adler's part, that the space which a quarter of an hour before had been deemed barely sufficient for five couples, was now endeavoured to be made out quite enough for ten. 


"We were too magnificent," said she. "We allowed unnecessary room. Ten couples may stand here very well." 


Sherlock demurred. "It would be a crowd — a sad crowd; and what could be worse than dancing without space to turn in?" 


"Very true," she gravely replied. But still she went on measuring, and still she ended with, "I think there will be very tolerable room for ten couples." 


"No, no," said Sherlock. "You are quite unreasonable. It would be dreadful to be standing so close! Nothing can be farther from pleasure than to be dancing in a crowd — and a crowd in a little room!" 


"There is no denying it," she replied. "I agree with you exactly. A crowd in a little room — Mr. Holmes, you have the art of giving pictures in a few words. Exquisite, quite exquisite! —  Still, however, having proceeded so far, one is unwilling to give the matter up. It would be a disappointment to my father — and altogether — I do not know that — I am rather of opinion that ten couples might stand here very well." 


Sherlock perceived that the nature of her flattery was a little self-willed, and that she would rather oppose than lose the pleasure of dancing with him; but he took the compliment, and forgave the rest. Had he intended ever to marry her, it might have been worth while to pause and consider, and try to understand the value of her preference, and the character of her temper; but for all the purposes of their acquaintance, she was quite amiable enough. 


Before the middle of the next day, Irene Adler was at Hartfield; and she entered the room with such an agreeable smile as certified the continuance of the scheme. It soon appeared that she came to announce an improvement. 


"Well, Mr. Holmes," she almost immediately began, "your inclination for dancing has not been quite frightened away, I hope, by the terrors of my father's little rooms. I bring a new proposal on the subject: a thought of my father's, which waits only your approbation to be acted upon. May I hope for the honour of your hand for the two first dances of this little projected ball, to be given, not at Randalls, but at the Crown Inn?" 


"The Crown!" 


"Yes; if you and your father see no objection, and I trust you cannot, my father hopes his friends will be so kind as to visit him there. Better accommodations, he can promise them, and not a less grateful welcome than at Randalls. It is his own idea. Mrs. Hudson sees no objection to it, provided you are satisfied. Is not it a good exchange? — You consent — I hope you consent?" 


"It appears to me a plan that nobody can object to, if Mr. and Mrs. Hudson do not. I think it admirable; and, as far as I can answer for myself, shall be most happy. — It seems the only improvement that could be. Papa, do you not think it an excellent improvement?" 


No; his father thought it very far from an improvement — a very bad plan — much worse than the other. A room at an inn was always damp and dangerous; never properly aired, or fit to be inhabited. If they must dance, they had better dance at Randalls. He had never been in the room at the Crown in his life — did not know the people who kept it by sight. No — a very bad plan. They would catch worse colds at the Crown than anywhere.


"I was going to observe, sir," said Irene Adler, "that one of the great recommendations of this change would be the very little danger of anybody's catching cold — so much less danger at the Crown than at Randalls.”


“I do not understand,” said Mr. Holmes, “how the room at the Crown can be safer for you than your father's house." 


"From the very circumstance of its being larger, sir. We shall have no occasion to open the windows at all — not once the whole evening; and it is that dreadful habit of opening the windows, letting in cold air upon heated bodies, which (as you well know, sir) does the mischief.”


"Open the windows! But surely, Miss Adler, nobody would think of opening the windows at Randalls. Nobody could be so imprudent! I never heard of such a thing. Dancing with open windows! I am sure, neither your father nor Mrs. Hudson would suffer it." 


“Ah, sir — but a thoughtless young person will sometimes step behind a window-curtain, and throw up a sash, without its being suspected. I have often known it done myself." 


"Have you indeed? Bless me! I never could have supposed it. But I live out of the world, and am often astonished at what I hear. However, this does make a difference.”


“If it can be contrived to be at the Crown, Papa,” added Sherlock, “it will be very convenient for the horses. They will be so near their own stable." 


"So they will, my dear. That is a great thing. It is right to spare our horses when we can. If I could be sure of the rooms being thoroughly aired — but is Mrs. Stokes to be trusted? I doubt it. I do not know her, even by sight." 


"I can answer for everything of that nature, sir,” said Miss Adler, “because it will be under Mrs. Hudson's care. Mrs. Hudson undertakes to direct the whole." 


"There, Papa! Now you must be satisfied. Our own dear Mrs. Hudson, who is carefulness itself. Do not you remember what Miss Sawyer said, so many years ago, when I had the measles? 'If Miss Taylor (as Mrs. Hudson was then) undertakes to wrap Sherlock up, you need not have any fears, sir.' How often have I heard you speak of it as such a compliment to her!”


"Aye, very true. Miss Sawyer did say so. I shall never forget it. Poor little Sherlock! You were very bad with the measles; that is, you would have been very bad, but for Miss Sawyer's great attention, and Miss Taylor’s care.”


"My father and Mrs. Hudson are at the Crown at this moment," said Irene Adler, "examining the capabilities of the house. I left them there and came on to Hartfield, impatient for your opinion, and hoping you might be persuaded to join them and give your advice on the spot. I was desired to say so from both. It would be the greatest pleasure to them, if you could allow me to attend you there. They can do nothing satisfactorily without you." 


Sherlock was most happy to be called to such a council; and his father, engaging to think it all over while he was gone, the two young people set off together without delay for the Crown. There they found Mr. and Mrs. Hudson; delighted to see him and receive his approbation, very busy and very happy in their different way; she, in some little distress; and he, finding everything perfect. 


"Sherlock," said she, "this wallpaper is worse than I expected. Look! In places you see it is dreadfully dirty; and the wainscot is more yellow and forlorn than anything I could have imagined." 


"My dear, you are too particular," said her husband. “What does all that signify? You will see nothing of it by candlelight. It will be as clean as Randalls by candlelight. We never see anything of it on our club-nights." 


The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, "Men never know when things are dirty or not;" and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself, "Women will have their little nonsenses and needless cares." 


One perplexity, however, arose, which the gentlemen did not disdain. It regarded a supper-room. At the time of the ballroom's being built, suppers had not been in fashion; and a small card-room adjoining, was the only addition. What was to be done? This card-room would be wanted as a card-room now; or, if cards were conveniently voted unnecessary by their four selves, still was it not too small for any comfortable supper? 


Another room of much better size might be secured for the purpose; but it was at the other end of the house, and a long awkward passage must be gone through to get at it. This made a difficulty. Mrs. Hudson was afraid of draughts for the young people in that passage; and neither Sherlock nor Mr. Hudson could tolerate the prospect of being miserably crowded at supper. 


Mrs. Hudson proposed having no regular supper; merely sandwiches set out in the little room; but that was decried as a wretched suggestion. A private dance, without sitting down to supper, was pronounced an infamous fraud upon the rights of men and women; and Mrs. Hudson must not speak of it again. 


She then took another line of expediency, and looking into the doubtful room, observed, "I do not think it is so very small. We shall not be many, you know." 


And Mr. Hudson at the same time, walking briskly with long steps through the passage, was calling out, "You talk a great deal of the length of this passage, my dear. It is a mere nothing after all; and not the least draught from the stairs." 


"I wish," said Mrs. Hudson, "one could know which arrangement our guests in general would like best. To do what would be most generally pleasing must be our object — if one could but tell what that would be." 


"Yes, very true," cried Irene, "very true. You want your neighbours' opinions. I do not wonder at you. If one could ascertain what the chief of them — the Stamfords, for instance. They are not far off. Shall I call upon them? Or Miss Turner? She is still nearer. And I do not know whether Miss Turner is not as likely to understand the inclinations of the rest of the people as anybody. I think we do want a larger council. Suppose I go and invite Miss Turner to join us?" 


"Well — if you please," said Mrs. Hudson, rather hesitating, "if you think she will be of any use." 


"You will get nothing to the purpose from Miss Turner," said Sherlock. "She will be all delight and gratitude, but she will tell you nothing. She will not even listen to your questions. I see no advantage in consulting Miss Turner." 


"But she is so amusing, so extremely amusing! I am very fond of hearing Miss Turner talk. And I need not bring the whole family, you know." 


Here Mr. Hudson joined them, and on hearing what was proposed, gave it his decided approbation. "Aye, do, Irene. Go and fetch Miss Turner, and let us end the matter at once. She will enjoy the scheme, I am sure; and I do not know a properer person for showing us how to do away difficulties. Fetch Miss Turner. We are growing a little too particular. She is a standing lesson of how to be happy. But fetch them both. Invite them both." 


"Both sir! Can the old lady…?"


"The old lady! No, the young lady, to be sure. Do not bring the aunt without the niece." 


"Oh! I beg your pardon, sir. I did not immediately recollect. Undoubtedly, if you wish it, I will endeavour to persuade them both." And away she ran.


Long before she reappeared, attending the short, neat, brisk-moving aunt, and her elegant niece, Mrs. Hudson, like a sweet-tempered woman and a good wife, had examined the passage again, and found the evils of it much less than she had supposed before — indeed very trifling; and here ended the difficulties of decision. All the rest, in speculation at least, was perfectly smooth. All the minor arrangements of table and chair, lights and music, tea and supper, made themselves; or were left as mere trifles to be settled at any time between Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Stokes. 


Everybody invited was certainly to come; Irene had already written to Enscombe to propose staying a few days beyond her fortnight, which could not possibly be refused. And a delightful dance it was to be. Most cordially, when Miss Turner arrived, did she agree that it must. As a counsellor she was not wanted; but as an approver, (a much safer character,) she was truly welcome. Her approbation, at once general and minute, warm and incessant, could not but please; and for another half-hour they were all walking to and fro, between the different rooms, some suggesting, some attending, and all in happy enjoyment of the future. 


The party did not break up without Sherlock's being positively secured for the two first dances of the ball by Miss Irene Adler, nor without him overhearing Mr. Hudson whisper to his wife, "She has asked him, my dear. That's right. I knew she would!”


Chapter Text

One thing only was wanting to make the prospect of the ball completely satisfactory to Sherlock: its being fixed for a day within the granted term of Irene Adler's stay in Surrey; for, in spite of Mr. Hudson's confidence, he could not think it so very impossible that the Adlers might not allow their niece to remain a day beyond her fortnight. But this was not judged feasible. The preparations must take their time, nothing could be properly ready till the third week were entered on, and for a few days they must be planning, proceeding and hoping in uncertainty, at the risk — in his opinion, the great risk — of its being all in vain. 


Enscombe, however, was gracious: gracious in fact, if not in word. Her wish of staying longer evidently did not please; but it was not opposed. All was safe and prosperous.


As the removal of one solicitude generally makes way for another, Sherlock, being now certain of his ball, began to adopt as the next vexation Captain Watson's provoking indifference about it. Either because he did not like to dance, or because the plan had been formed without his being consulted, he seemed resolved that it should not interest him, determined against its exciting any present curiosity, or affording him any future amusement. 


To his voluntary communications Sherlock could get no more approving reply, than, "Very well. If the Hudsons think it worth while to be at all this trouble for a few hours of noisy entertainment, I have nothing to say against it, but that they shall not choose pleasures for me. — Oh! Yes, I must be there; I could not refuse; and I will keep as much awake as I can; but I would rather be at home, looking over Bill Murray's week's account; much rather, I confess. — Pleasure in seeing dancing? Not I, indeed; I never look at it. I do not know who does. Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are standing by are usually thinking of something very different." 


This, Sherlock felt, was aimed at him; and it made him quite angry. 


It was not in compliment to Sally Donovan, however, that Captain Watson was so indifferent, or so indignant; he was not guided by her feelings in reprobating the ball, for she enjoyed the thought of it to an extraordinary degree. It made her animated and open-hearted. 


She voluntarily said, “Oh! Mr. Holmes, I hope nothing may happen to prevent the ball. What a disappointment it would be! I do look forward to it, I own, with very great pleasure." 


It was not to oblige Sally Donovan, therefore, that Captain Watson would have preferred the society of Bill Murray. No! — Sherlock was more and more convinced that Mrs. Hudson was quite mistaken in that surmise. There was a great deal of friendly and of compassionate attachment on his side —  but no love. 


Alas! There was soon no leisure for quarrelling with Captain Watson. Two days of joyful security were immediately followed by the overthrow of everything. A letter arrived from Mr. Adler to urge his niece's instant return. Mrs. Adler was unwell — far too unwell to do without her; she was too ill to trifle, and they must entreat Irene to set off for Enscombe without delay. 


The substance of this letter was forwarded to Sherlock, in a note from Mrs. Hudson, instantly. As to her going, it was inevitable. She must be gone within a few hours, though without feeling any real alarm for her aunt to lessen her repugnance. She knew Mrs. Adler’s illnesses; they never occurred but for her own convenience. 


Mrs. Hudson added that Irene could only allow herself time to hurry to Highbury, after breakfast, and take leave of the few friends there whom she could suppose to feel any interest in her; and that she might be expected at Hartfield very soon. 


This wretched note was the finale of Sherlock's breakfast. When once it had been read, there was no doing anything but lament and exclaim. The loss of the ball — the loss of the young lady — and all that the young lady might be feeling! — It was too wretched! — Such a delightful evening as it would have been! — Everybody so happy! And he and his partner the happiest! — "I said it would be so," was the only consolation. 


His father's feelings were quite distinct. He thought principally of Mrs. Adler's illness, and wanted to know how she was treated; and as for the ball, it was shocking to have dear Sherlock disappointed; but they would all be safer at home. 


Sherlock was ready for his visitor some time before she appeared; but if this reflected at all upon her impatience, her sorrowful look and total want of spirits when she did come might redeem her. Miss Adler felt the going away almost too much to speak of it. Her dejection was most evident. 


She sat really lost in thought for the first few minutes; and when rousing herself, it was only to say, "Of all horrid things, leave-taking is the worst." 


"But you will come again," said Sherlock. "This will not be your only visit to Randalls." 


“Ah!" Miss Adler cried, shaking her head. “The uncertainty of when I may be able to return! I shall try for it with a zeal! It will be the object of all my thoughts and cares! And if my uncle and aunt go to town this spring — but I am afraid — they did not stir last spring — I am afraid it is a custom gone forever." 


"Our poor ball must be quite given up." 


"Ah! That ball! Why did we wait for anything? Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation! You told us it would be so. — Oh! Mr. Holmes, why are you always so right?" 


"Indeed, I am very sorry to be right in this instance. I would much rather have been merry than wise." 


"If I can come again, we are still to have our ball. My father depends on it. Do not forget your engagement for the first two dances." 


Sherlock smiled graciously at her. 


"Such a fortnight as it has been!" she continued. "Every day more precious and more delightful than the day before! Every day making me less fit to bear any other place. Happy those, who can remain at Highbury!" 


"As you do us such ample justice now," said Sherlock, laughing, "I will venture to ask, whether you did not come a little doubtfully at first? Do not we rather surpass your expectations? I am sure we do. I am sure you did not much expect to like us. You would not have been so long in coming, if you had had a pleasant idea of Highbury." 


She laughed rather consciously; and though denying the sentiment, Sherlock was convinced that it had been so. 


"And you must be off this very morning?” he asked. 


"Yes; my father is to join me here: we shall walk back together, and I must be off immediately. I am almost afraid that every moment will bring him." 


"Not five minutes to spare even for your friends Miss Donovan and Miss Turner? How unlucky! Miss Turner's powerful, argumentative mind might have strengthened yours." 


"Yes — I have called there; passing the door, I thought it better. It was a right thing to do. I went in for three minutes, and was detained by Miss Turner's being absent. She was out; and I felt it impossible not to wait till she came in. She is a woman that one may, that one must laugh at; but that one would not wish to slight.”


She hesitated, got up, walked to a window. "In short," said she, "perhaps, Mr. Holmes — I think you can hardly be quite without suspicion…” She looked at him, as if wanting to read his thoughts. 


Sherlock hardly knew what to say. It seemed like the forerunner of something absolutely serious, which he did not wish. Forcing himself to speak, therefore, in the hope of putting it by, he calmly said, "You are quite in the right; it was most natural to pay your visit, then.”  


Miss Adler was silent. Sherlock believed she was looking at him; probably reflecting on what he had said, and trying to understand the manner. He heard her sigh. It was natural for her to feel that she had cause to sigh. She could not believe him to be encouraging her. 


A few awkward moments passed, and she sat down again; and in a more determined manner said, "It was something to feel that all the rest of my time might be given to Hartfield. My regard for Hartfield is most warm.” 


She stopped again, rose again, and seemed quite embarrassed. She was obviously more in love with him than Sherlock had supposed; and who can say how it might have ended, if her father had not made his appearance? Mr. Holmes soon followed; and the necessity of exertion made her composed. 


A very few minutes more, however, completed the present trial. Mr. Hudson, always alert when business was to be done, and as incapable of procrastinating any evil that was inevitable, as of foreseeing any that was doubtful, said it was time to go; and the young lady, though she might and did sigh, could not but agree, and take leave. 


"I shall hear about you all," said she; "that is my chief consolation. I have engaged Mrs. Hudson to correspond with me. She has been so kind as to promise it." 


A very friendly shake of the hand, a very earnest "Good-bye," closed the speech, and the door had soon shut out Irene Adler. 


Short had been the notice — short their meeting; she was gone; and Sherlock felt so sorry to part, and foresaw so great a loss to their little society from her absence as to begin to be afraid of being too sorry, and feeling it too much. It was a sad change. They had been meeting almost every day since her arrival. Certainly her being at Randalls had given great spirit to the last two weeks — indescribable spirit; the idea, the expectation of seeing her which every morning had brought, the assurance of her attentions, her liveliness, her manners! It had been a very happy fortnight, and forlorn must be the sinking from it into the common course of Hartfield days. 


To complete every other recommendation, she had almost told him that she loved him. What strength, or what constancy of affection she might be subject to, was another point; but at present Sherlock could not doubt her having a decidedly warm admiration, a conscious preference of himself; he was persuaded that she must be a little in love with him, in spite of his own determination against such ridiculous sentiment. 


“Though I have never been in love," said Sherlock to himself, “and have no intention of ever being so, still I must be gratified at being able to inspire love in another. I should be the oddest creature in the world if I were not. Poor Miss Adler, to be called away before we could dance together once more. Well! Evil to some is always good to others. I shall have many fellow-mourners for the loss of the ball; but Captain Watson will be happy. He may spend the evening with his dear Bill Murray now if he likes." 


Captain Watson, however, showed no triumphant happiness. He could not say that he was sorry on his own account; his very cheerful look would have contradicted him if he had; but he said, and very steadily, that he was sorry for the disappointment of the others, and with considerable kindness added, "You, Sherlock, who have so few opportunities of dancing, you are really out of luck. I know you were looking forward to the ball. I do hope you are not too grieved.” 


Chapter Text

Sherlock continued to entertain no doubt of Miss Adler’s leaving Highbury being a sad loss. His ideas only varied as to the how much. At first, he thought it was a good deal; and afterwards, but little. 


He had great pleasure in hearing Irene Adler talked of; he was very often thinking of her, and quite impatient for a letter, that he might know how she was, how were her spirits, how was her aunt, and what was the chance of her coming to Randalls again this spring. On the other hand, Sherlock could not admit himself to be unhappy, nor, after the first morning, to be less disposed for employment than usual; he was still busy and cheerful; and, pleasing as Miss Adler was, he could yet imagine her to have faults; and farther, though thinking of her so much, and forming a thousand amusing schemes for the progress and close of their attachment, fancying interesting dialogues, and inventing elegant letters; the conclusion of every imaginary declaration of love on her side was that he refused her. Their affection was always to subside into friendship. Everything tender and charming was to mark their parting; but still they were to part. 


Sherlock was sensible of his good fortune in this case; for in spite of his previous and fixed determination never to quit his father, never to marry, a strong attachment certainly would have produced more of a struggle than he could foresee in his own feelings. 


"I do not find myself making any use of the word sacrifice," said Sherlock to himself. “In not one of all my clever replies, my delicate negatives, is there any allusion to making a sacrifice. I shall be sorry to disappoint Mrs. Hudson, but Miss Adler is not really necessary to my happiness.”


Upon the whole, Sherlock was equally contented with his deductions about the young lady’s feelings. "She is undoubtedly very much in love — everything denotes it — very much in love indeed! When she comes again, if her affection should continue, I must be on my guard not to encourage it. It would be most inexcusable to do otherwise, as my own mind is quite made up. 


“Not that I imagine she can think I have been encouraging her hitherto. No, if she had believed me at all to share her feelings, she would not have been so wretched. Could she have thought herself encouraged, her looks and language at parting would have been different. Still, however, I must be on my guard. 


“This is in the supposition of her attachment continuing what it now is; but I do not know that I expect it will; I do not altogether build upon her steadiness or constancy. Her feelings are warm, but I can imagine them rather changeable. Every consideration of the subject, in short, makes me thankful that my happiness is not more deeply involved." 


When Irene Adler’s letter to Mrs. Hudson arrived, Sherlock had the perusal of it; and he read it with a degree of pleasure and admiration which made him at first shake his head over his own sensations, and think he had undervalued their strength. It was a long, well-written letter, giving the particulars of her journey and of her feelings, expressing all the affection, gratitude, and respect which was natural and honourable. No suspicious flourishes now of apology or concern; it was the language of real feeling towards Mrs. Hudson; and the transition from Highbury to Enscombe, the contrast between the places in some of the first blessings of social life was just enough touched on to show how keenly it was felt, and how much more might have been said but for the restraints of propriety.


The charm of Sherlock’s own name was not wanting. It appeared more than once, and never without a something of pleasing connexion, either a compliment to his taste, or a remembrance of what he had said; and in the very last time of its meeting his eye, unadorned as it was by any such broad wreath of gallantry, he yet could discern the effect of his influence and acknowledge the greatest compliment perhaps of all conveyed. 


Compressed into the very lowest vacant corner were these words —  "I had not a spare moment on Tuesday, as you know, for Mr. Holmes' beautiful little friend. Pray make my excuses and adieus to her." This, Sherlock could not doubt, was all for himself. Molly was remembered only from being his friend.  


The information and prospects as to Enscombe were neither worse nor better than had been anticipated. Mrs. Adler was recovering, but Irene dared not yet, even in her own imagination, fix a time for coming to Randalls again. 


Gratifying, however, and stimulative as was the letter in the material part, Sherlock yet found, when it was folded up and returned to Mrs. Hudson, that it had not added any lasting warmth, that he could still do without the writer, and that she must learn to do without him. His intentions were unchanged. His resolution of refusal only grew more interesting by the addition of a scheme for Miss Adler’s subsequent consolation and happiness. 


Her recollection of Molly, and the words which clothed it, the "beautiful little friend," suggested to Sherlock the idea of Molly's succeeding him in her affections. Was it impossible? — No. — Molly undoubtedly was greatly her inferior in understanding; but Irene had been very much struck with the loveliness of her face and the warm simplicity of her manner; and all the probabilities of circumstance and connexion were in her favour. 


For Molly, it would be advantageous and delightful indeed. "I must not dwell upon it," said Sherlock to himself. "I must not think of it. I know the danger of indulging such speculations. But stranger things have happened; and when once Miss Adler realises that I could never be interested in her romantically, it will be the means of confirming us in that sort of true disinterested friendship which I can already look forward to with pleasure." 


It was well to have a comfort in store on Molly's behalf, though it might be wise to let the fancy touch it seldom; for evil in that quarter was at hand. As Irene Adler's arrival had succeeded Mr. James Moriarty's engagement in the conversation of Highbury, as the latest interest had entirely borne down the first, so now upon Irene Adler's disappearance, Mr. Moriarty's concerns were assuming the most irresistible form. His wedding-day was named. He would soon be among them again. There was hardly time to talk over the first letter from Enscombe before "Mr. Moriarty and his bride" was in everybody's mouth, and Irene Adler was forgotten. 


Sherlock grew sick at the sound. He had had three weeks of happy exemption from Mr. Moriarty; and Molly's mind, he had been willing to hope, had been lately gaining strength. With Mr. Hudson's ball in view at least, there had been a great deal of insensibility to other things; but it was now too evident that she had not attained such a state of composure as could stand against the actual approach — new carriage, bell-ringing, and all. Poor Molly was in a flutter of spirits which required all the reasonings and soothings and attentions of every kind that Sherlock could give. 


Sherlock felt that he could not do too much for her, that Molly had a right to all his ingenuity and all his patience; but it was heavy work to be forever convincing without producing any effect, forever agreed to, without being able to make their opinions the same. Molly listened submissively, and said it was “very true — not worth while to think about them;” and vowed she would not think about them any longer; but no change of subject could avail, and the next half-hour saw her as anxious and restless about the Moriartys as before. 


At last Sherlock attacked her on another ground. "Your allowing yourself to be so occupied and so unhappy about Mr. Moriarty's marrying, Molly, is the strongest reproach you can make me. You could not give me a greater reproof for the mistake I fell into. It was all my doing, I know. I have not forgotten it, I assure you. Deceived myself, I did very miserably deceive you — and it will be a painful reflection to me forever. Do not imagine me in danger of forgetting it." 


Molly felt this too much to utter more than a few words of eager exclamation. 


Sherlock continued, "I have not said, ‘exert yourself, Molly, for my sake; think less, talk less of Mr. Moriarty for my sake,’ because for your own sake, rather, I would wish it to be done: for the sake of what is more important than my comfort, a habit of self-command in you, a consideration of what is your duty, an attention to propriety, an endeavour to avoid the suspicions of others, and restore your tranquillity. These are the motives which I have been pressing on you. They are very important — and sorry I am that you cannot feel them sufficiently to act upon them. My being saved from pain is a very secondary consideration. I want you to save yourself from greater pain. Perhaps I may sometimes have felt that Molly would not forget what was due — or rather what would be kind by me." 


This appeal to her affections did more than all the rest. The idea of lacking gratitude and consideration for Sherlock, whom she really loved extremely, made her wretched for a while, and when the violence of grief was comforted away, still remained powerful enough to prompt her to what was right and support her in it very tolerably. "You, who have been the best friend I ever had in my life! — Nobody is equal to you! — I care for nobody as I do for you! — Oh! Mr. Holmes, how ungrateful I have been!" 


Such expressions, assisted as they were by everything that look and manner could do, made Sherlock feel that he had never loved Molly so well, nor valued her affection so highly before. "There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart," said he afterwards to himself. "There is nothing to be compared to it. Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction, I am sure it will. It is tenderness of heart which makes my dear father so generally beloved. I have it not — but I know how to prize and respect it. Molly is my superior in all the charm and all the felicity it gives.


“Dear Molly! — I would not change you for the clearest-headed, longest-sighted, best-judging person breathing. Oh! The coldness of a Sally Donovan! — Molly is worth a hundred such. — And for a spouse, such tender-heartedness is invaluable. I mention no names; but happy the woman who changes Sherlock for Molly!”


Chapter Text

Mrs. Moriarty was first seen at church; but curiosity could not be satisfied by a bride in a pew, and it must be left for the visits which were then to be paid, to settle whether she were very pretty indeed, or only rather pretty, or not pretty at all. Sherlock had feelings, less of curiosity than of pride or propriety, to make him resolve on not being the last to pay his respects; and he made a point of Molly's going with him, that the worst of the business might be gone through as soon as possible. 


Sherlock could not enter the vicarage house again, could not be in the same room to which he had with such vain artifice retreated three months ago, to lace up his boot, without recollecting. A thousand vexatious thoughts would recur. Compliments, charades, and horrible blunders; and it was not to be supposed that poor Molly should not be recollecting too; but she behaved very well, and was only rather pale and silent. 


The visit was of course short; and there was so much embarrassment and occupation of mind to shorten it, that Sherlock would not allow himself entirely to form an opinion of the lady, and on no account to give one, beyond the nothing-meaning terms of being "elegantly dressed, and very pleasing." 


He did not really like her. He would not be in a hurry to find fault, but he suspected that there was no elegance — ease, but not elegance. Sherlock was almost sure that for a young woman, a stranger, a bride, there was too much ease. 


Her person was rather good; her face not unpretty; but neither feature, nor air, nor voice, nor manner, were elegant. Sherlock thought at least it would turn out so. 


As for Mr. Moriarty, his manners did not appear — but no, Sherlock would not permit a hasty or a witty word from himself about his manners. It was an awkward ceremony at any time to be receiving wedding visits, and a man had need be all grace to acquit himself well through it; and when he considered how peculiarly unlucky poor Mr. James Moriarty was in being in the same room at once with the woman he had just married, the man he had wanted to marry, and the woman whom he had been expected to marry, Sherlock must allow him to have the right to look as little wise, and to be as much affectedly, and as little really easy as could be. 


"Well, Mr. Holmes," said Molly, with a gentle sigh, when they had quitted the house, and after waiting in vain for her friend to begin; “what do you think of her? Is not she very charming?" 


There was a little hesitation in Sherlock's answer. "Oh! Yes — very — a very pleasing young woman." 


"I think her beautiful, quite beautiful." 


"Very nicely dressed, indeed; a remarkably elegant gown." 


"I am not at all surprised that he should have fallen in love." 


"Oh! No — there is nothing to surprise one at all. A pretty fortune; and she came in his way." 


"I dare say," returned Molly, sighing again, "I dare say she is very much attached to him." 


"Perhaps she might be; but it is not every man's fate to marry the woman who loves him best. Miss Morstan perhaps wanted a home, and thought this the best offer she was likely to have." 


"Yes," said Molly earnestly, "and well she might; nobody could ever have a better. Well, I wish them happy with all my heart. And now, I do not think I shall mind seeing them again. He is just as superior as ever; but being married, you know, it is quite a different thing. No, indeed, you need not be afraid; I can sit and admire him now without any great misery. To know that he has not thrown himself away, is such a comfort! She does seem a charming young woman, just what he deserves. Happy creature! He called her 'Mary.' How delightful!" 


When the visit was returned, Sherlock made up his mind. He could then see more and judge better. From Molly's happening not to be at Hartfield, and his father's being present to engage Mr. Moriarty, he had a quarter of an hour of the lady's conversation to himself, and could composedly attend to her; and the quarter of an hour quite convinced him that Mrs. Moriarty was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar; that all her notions were drawn from one set of people, and one style of living; that though not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr. Moriarty no good. 


Molly would have been a better match. If not wise or refined herself, she would have connected him with those who were; but Miss Morstan, it might be fairly supposed from her easy conceit, had been the best of her own set; and now, as Mrs. Moriarty, she was full of self-importance. 


Her rich brother-in-law near Bristol was the pride of the alliance, and his place and his carriages were the pride of him. The very first subject after being seated was Maple Grove, "My brother-in-law Colonel Moran's estate.” Then followed a minute comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove —  the house, the grounds, the quality of the neighborhood — everything here must be praised in such a way as to demonstrate that, though it was admired, it was no better that what Mrs. Moriarty was used to.


Sherlock did not rate her opinion highly enough to take offense, and therefore only said in reply, "When you have seen more of this country, I am afraid you will think you have overrated Hartfield. Surrey is full of beauties." 


"Oh! Yes, I am quite aware of that. It is the garden of England, you know. Surrey is the garden of England." 


"Yes; but we must not rest our claims on that distinction. Many counties, I believe, are called the garden of England, as well as Surrey." 


"No, I fancy not," replied Mrs. Moriarty, with a most satisfied smile. "I never heard any county but Surrey called so." 


Sherlock was silenced, though inwardly he was beginning to say a great deal. 


"My sister and brother-in-law have promised us a visit in the spring, or summer at farthest," continued Mrs. Moriarty; "and that will be our time for exploring. They will have their barouche-landau, of course, which holds four perfectly; and therefore, without saying anything of our carriage, we should be able to explore extremely well. When people come into a beautiful country of this sort, you know, Mr. Holmes, one naturally wishes them to see as much as possible; and Colonel Moran is extremely fond of exploring. We explored to King's-Hudson twice last summer, in that way, most delightfully, just after their first having the barouche-landau. You have many parties of that kind here, I suppose, Mr. Holmes, every summer?" 


"No; not immediately here. We are rather out of distance of the strikingly beautiful places which attract the sort of parties you speak of; and we are a very quiet set of people, I believe; more disposed to stay at home than engage in schemes of pleasure." 


"Ah! There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am; and yet I am no advocate for entire seclusion. I think, on the contrary, when people shut themselves up entirely from society, it is a very bad thing; and that it is much more advisable to mix in the world in a proper degree, without living in it either too much or too little. 


“I perfectly understand your situation, however,” she continued, looking towards the elder Mr. Holmes. “Your father's state of health must be a great drawback. Why does not he try Bath? Indeed he should. Let me recommend Bath to you. I assure you I have no doubt of its doing him good." 


"My father tried it more than once, formerly; but without receiving any benefit; and Miss Sawyer, the apothecary, does not conceive it would be at all more likely to be useful now." 


"Ah! That's a great pity; for I assure you, Mr. Holmes, where the waters do agree, it is quite wonderful the relief they give. In my Bath life, I have seen such instances of it! And it is so cheerful a place, that it could not fail of being of use to your father’s spirits, which, I understand, are sometimes much depressed. 


“And as to its recommendations to you, I fancy I need not take much pains to dwell on them. The advantages of Bath to the young are pretty generally understood. It would be a charming introduction for you, who have lived so secluded a life; and I could immediately secure you some of the best society in the place. A line from me would bring you a host of acquaintance.” 


It was as much as Sherlock could bear, without being impolite. The idea of his being indebted to Mrs. Moriarty for what was called an introduction — of his going into public under the auspices of friends of Mrs. Moriarty — probably even more vulgar than she herself! — The dignity of Mr. Holmes, of Hartfield, was sunk indeed! 


He restrained himself, however, from any of the reproofs he could have given, and only thanked Mrs. Moriarty coolly; but insisted that their going to Bath was quite out of the question. And then, to prevent farther outrage and indignation, changed the subject directly. 


"I do not ask whether you are musical, Mrs. Moriarty. Upon these occasions, a lady's character generally precedes her; and Highbury has long known that you are a superior performer." 


"Oh! I am dotingly fond of music — passionately fond — and my friends say I am not entirely devoid of taste; but as to anything else, upon my honour my performance is mediocre to the last degree. You, Mr. Holmes, I well know, play delightfully. I assure you it has been the greatest satisfaction to me, to hear what a musical society I am got into. I absolutely cannot do without music. It is a necessary of life to me; and having always been used to a very musical society, both at Maple Grove and in Bath, it would have been a most serious sacrifice. 


“I honestly said as much to Mr. M. when he was speaking of my future home, and expressing his fears lest the retirement of it should be disagreeable; and the inferiority of the house too — knowing what I had been accustomed to — of course he was not wholly without apprehension. When he was speaking of it in that way, I honestly said that the world I could give up — parties, balls, plays — for I had no fear of retirement. Blessed with so many resources within myself, the world was not necessary to me. Certainly I had been accustomed to every luxury at Maple Grove; but I did assure him that two carriages were not necessary to my happiness, nor were spacious apartments. 'But,' said I, 'to be quite honest, I do not think I can live without something of a musical society. I condition for nothing else; but without music, life would be a blank to me.’"


"We cannot suppose," said Sherlock, smiling, "that Mr. Moriarty would hesitate to assure you of there being a very musical society in Highbury; and I hope you will not find he has outstepped the truth more than may be pardoned, in consideration of the motive." 


"No, indeed, I have no doubts at all on that head. I am delighted to find myself in such a circle. I hope we shall have many sweet little concerts together. I think, Mr. Holmes, you and I must establish a musical club, and have regular weekly meetings at your house, or ours. Something of that nature would be particularly desirable for me, as an inducement to keep me in practice; for married women, you know, are but too apt to give up music." 


"But you, who are so extremely fond of it — there can be no danger, surely?" 


"I should hope not; but really when I look around among my acquaintance, I tremble. My sister, Selina, has entirely given up music — never touches the instrument — though she played sweetly. And the same may be said of many more than I can enumerate. Upon my word it is enough to put one in a fright. I used to be quite angry with Selina; but really I begin now to comprehend that a married woman has many things to call her attention. I believe I was half an hour this morning shut up with my housekeeper." 


"But everything of that kind," said Sherlock, "will soon be in so regular a train — " 


"Well," said Mrs. Moriarty, laughing, "we shall see." 


Sherlock, finding her so determined upon neglecting her music, had nothing more to say; and, after a moment's pause, Mrs. Moriarty chose another subject. "We have been calling at Randalls," said she, "and found them both at home; and very pleasant people they seem to be. I like them extremely. Mr. Hudson seems an excellent creature — quite a first-rate favourite with me already, I assure you. And Mrs. Hudson appears so truly good — there is something so motherly and kind-hearted about her, that it wins upon one directly. She was your governess, I think?" 


Sherlock was almost too much astonished at this familiarity to answer; but Mrs. Moriarty hardly waited for the affirmative before she went on. 


"Having understood as much, I was rather astonished to find her so very lady-like! But she is really quite the gentlewoman." 


"Mrs. Hudson's manners," said Sherlock, "were always particularly good. Their propriety, simplicity, and elegance, would make them the safest model for any young person." 


"And who do you think came in while we were there?" 


Sherlock was quite at a loss. The tone implied some old acquaintance — but who could that possibly be? 


"Watson!" continued Mrs. Moriarty; "Watson himself! Was not it lucky? For, not being within when he called the other day, I had never seen him before; and of course, as so particular a friend of Mr. M.'s, I had a great curiosity. 'My friend Watson' had been so often mentioned, that I was really impatient to see him; and I must do my caro sposo the justice to say that he need not be ashamed of his friend. Watson is quite the gentleman. I like him very much. Decidedly, I think, a very gentleman-like man." 


Happily, it was now time to be gone. They were off; and Sherlock could breathe. 


"Insufferable woman!" was his immediate exclamation. "Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Calling him Watson! — I could not have believed it. Never seen him in her life before, and call him Watson! — And discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. M., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and underbred finery. Actually to discover that Captain Watson is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady. 


“I could not have believed it! And to propose that she and I should unite to form a musical club! One would fancy we were bosom friends! 


“And Mrs. Hudson! — Astonished that the person who had brought me up should be a gentlewoman! Worse and worse. I never met with her equal. 


“Oh! What would Irene Adler say to her, if she were here? How angry and how diverted she would be!”


 All this ran so glibly through his thoughts, that by the time his father had arranged himself, after the bustle of the Moriartys' departure, and was ready to speak, Sherlock was very tolerably capable of attending. 


"Well, my dear," Mr. Holmes deliberately began, "considering we never saw her before, she seems a fine sort of young lady; and I dare say she was very much pleased with you. She seems a very obliging, pretty-behaved young lady, and no doubt will make Mr. Moriarty a very good wife. Though I think he had better not have married. I made the best excuses I could for not having been able to wait on him and Mrs. Moriarty on this happy occasion. Not to wait upon a bride is very remiss. Ah! It shows what a sad invalid I am!" 


"I dare say your apologies were accepted, sir. Mr. Moriarty knows you." 


"Yes: but a young lady — a bride — I ought to have paid my respects to her if possible. It was being very deficient." 


"But, my dear Papa, you are no friend to matrimony; and therefore why should you be so anxious to pay your respects to a bride ? It ought to be no recommendation to you. It is encouraging people to marry if you make so much of them." 


"No, my dear, I never encouraged anybody to marry, but I would always wish to pay every proper attention to a lady — and a bride, especially, is never to be neglected. More is avowedly due to her. A bride, you know, my dear, is always the first in company, let the others be who they may." 


"Well, Papa, if this is not encouragement to marry, I do not know what is. And I should never have expected you to be lending your sanction to such vanity-baits for poor young ladies." 


"My dear, you do not understand me. This is a matter of mere common politeness and good-breeding, and has nothing to do with any encouragement to people to marry." 


Sherlock had done. His father was growing nervous, and could not understand his teasing. His mind returned to Mrs. Moriarty's offences, and long, very long, did they occupy him.


Chapter Text

Sherlock was not required, by any subsequent discovery, to retract his ill opinion of Mrs. Moriarty. His observation had been pretty correct. Such as Mrs. Moriarty appeared to him on this second interview, such she appeared whenever they met again — self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-bred. She had a little beauty and a little accomplishment, but so little judgment that she thought herself coming with superior knowledge of the world, to enliven and improve a country neighbourhood; and conceived Miss Morstan to have held such a place in society as Mrs. Moriarty's consequence only could surpass. 


There was no reason to suppose Mr. Moriarty thought at all differently from his wife. He seemed not merely happy with her, but proud. He had the air of congratulating himself on having brought such a woman to Highbury; and the greater part of her new acquaintance, disposed to commend, or not in the habit of judging, following the lead of Miss Turner's good-will, or taking it for granted that the bride must be as clever and as agreeable as she professed herself, were very well satisfied; so that Mrs. Moriarty's praise passed from one mouth to another as it ought to do, unimpeded by Sherlock, who readily continued his first contribution and talked with a good grace of her being "very pleasant and very elegantly dressed." 


In one respect Mrs. Moriarty grew even worse than she had appeared at first. Her feelings altered towards Sherlock. Offended, probably, by the little encouragement which her proposals of intimacy met with, she drew back in her turn and gradually became much more cold and distant; and though the effect was agreeable, the ill-will which produced it was necessarily increasing Sherlock's dislike. 


Her manners, too — and Mr. Moriarty’s — were unpleasant towards Molly. They were sneering and negligent. Sherlock hoped it must rapidly work Molly's cure; but the sensations which could prompt such behaviour sunk them both very much. It was not to be doubted that poor Molly's attachment had been an offering to conjugal unreserve, and Sherlock’s own share in the story, under a colouring the least favourable to him and the most soothing to Mr. Moriarty, had in all likelihood been given also. 


Sherlock was, of course, the object of their joint dislike. When they had nothing else to say, it must be always easy to begin abusing Mr. Holmes; and the enmity which they dared not show in open disrespect to him, found a broader vent in contemptuous treatment of Molly. 


Mrs. Moriarty took a great fancy to Sally Donovan; and from the first. Not merely when a state of warfare with one young person in Highbury might be supposed to recommend another, but from the very first; and she was not satisfied with expressing a natural and reasonable admiration — but without solicitation, or plea, or privilege, she must be wanting to assist and befriend her. Before Sherlock had forfeited her confidence, and about the third time of their meeting, he heard all Mrs. Moriarty's knight-errantry on the subject.  


"Sally Donovan is absolutely charming, Mr. Holmes. I quite rave about Sally Donovan. A sweet, interesting creature, and I assure you I think she has very extraordinary talents. I do not scruple to say that she plays extremely well. I know enough of music to speak decidedly on that point. And her situation is so calculated to affect one! Mr. Holmes, we must exert ourselves and endeavour to do something for her. We must bring her forward. Such talent as hers must not be suffered to remain unknown." 


"I cannot think there is any danger of it," was Sherlock's calm answer. "And when you are better acquainted with Miss Donovan's situation and understand what her home has been, with Major and Mrs. Sholto, I have no idea that you will suppose her talents can be unknown." 


"Oh! But dear Mr. Holmes, she is now in such retirement, such obscurity, so thrown away. Whatever advantages she may have enjoyed with the Sholtos are so palpably at an end! And I think she feels it. She is very timid and silent. I like her the better for it. I am a great advocate for timidity — and I am sure one does not often meet with it. But in those who are at all inferior, it is extremely prepossessing. Oh! I assure you, Sally Donovan is a very delightful character, and interests me more than I can express." 


"You appear to feel a great deal — but I am not aware how you or any of Miss Donovan's acquaintance here, any of those who have known her longer than yourself, can show her any other attention than —"  


"My dear Mr. Holmes, a vast deal may be done by those who dare to act. You and I need not be afraid. If we set the example, many will follow it as far as they can; though all have not our situations. We have carriages to fetch and convey her home, and we live in a style which could not make the addition of Sally Donovan, at any time, the least inconvenient. My resolution is taken as to noticing Sally Donovan. I shall certainly have her very often at my house, shall introduce her wherever I can, shall have musical parties to draw out her talents, and shall be constantly on the watch for an eligible situation for her as governess. My acquaintance is so very extensive, that I have little doubt of hearing of something to suit her shortly.


“I shall introduce her, of course, very particularly to my sister and brother-in-law, the Morans, when they come to us. I am sure they will like her extremely; and when she gets a little acquainted with them, her fears will completely wear off, for there really is nothing in the manners of either but what is highly conciliating. I shall have her very often indeed while they are with me, and I dare say we shall sometimes find a seat for her in the barouche-landau in some of our exploring parties." 


"Poor Sally Donovan!" thought Sherlock. "You have not deserved this. You may have done wrong with regard to Mr. Anderson, but this is a punishment beyond what you can have merited! The kindness and protection of Mrs. Moriarty! ‘Sally Donovan this and Sally Donovan that.’ Heavens! Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Sherlock Holmes-ing me! But upon my honour, there seems no limits to the licentiousness of that woman's tongue!" 


Sherlock had not to listen to such paradings again — to any so exclusively addressed to himself — so disgustingly decorated with a "dear Mr. Holmes." The change on Mrs. Moriarty's side soon afterwards appeared, and he was left in peace — neither forced to be the very particular friend of Mrs. Moriarty, nor, under Mrs. Moriarty's guidance, the very active patroness of Sally Donovan, and only sharing with others in a general way, in knowing what was felt, what was meditated, what was done. 


He looked on with some amusement. Miss Turner's gratitude for Mrs. Moriarty's attentions to Sally was in the first style of guileless simplicity and warmth. She was quite one of her worthies — the most amiable, affable, delightful woman — just as accomplished and condescending as Mrs. Moriarty meant to be considered. 


Sherlock's only surprise was that Sally Donovan should accept those attentions and tolerate Mrs. Moriarty as she seemed to do. He heard of her walking with the Moriartys, sitting with the Moriartys, spending a day with the Moriartys! This was astonishing! Sherlock could not have believed it possible that the taste or the pride of Miss Donovan could endure such society and friendship as the Vicarage had to offer. 


"She is a riddle, quite a riddle!" said he. "To choose to remain here month after month, under privations of every sort! And now to choose the mortification of Mrs. Moriarty's notice and the penury of her conversation, rather than return to the superior companions who have always loved her with such real, generous affection." 


Sally had come to Highbury professedly for three months; the Sholtos were gone to Ireland for three months; but now the Sholtos had promised their daughter to stay at least till Midsummer, and fresh invitations had arrived for Sally to join them there. According to Miss Turner — it all came from her — Mrs. Anderson had written most pressingly. Would Sally but go, means were to be found, servants sent, friends contrived — no travelling difficulty allowed to exist; but still she had declined it! 


"She must have some motive, more powerful than appears, for refusing this invitation," was Sherlock's conclusion. "She must be under some sort of penance, inflicted either by the Sholtos or herself. There is great fear, great caution, great resolution somewhere. She is not to be with the Andersons. The decree is issued by somebody. But why must she consent to be with the Moriartys? Here is quite a separate puzzle." 


Upon Sherlock’s speaking his wonder aloud on that part of the subject, before the few who knew his opinion of Mrs. Moriarty, Mrs. Hudson ventured this apology for Sally: "We cannot suppose that she has any great enjoyment at the Vicarage, my dear Sherlock — but it is better than being always at home. Her aunt is a good creature, but, as a constant companion, must be very tiresome. We must consider what Miss Donovan quits, before we condemn her taste for what she goes to." 


"You are right, Mrs. Hudson," said Captain Watson warmly. "Miss Donovan is as capable as any of us of forming a just opinion of Mrs. Moriarty. Could she have chosen with whom to associate, she would not have chosen her. But” (with a reproachful smile at Sherlock) “she receives attentions from Mrs. Moriarty, which nobody else pays her." 


Sherlock felt that Mrs. Hudson was giving him a momentary glance; and he was himself struck by Captain Watson’s warmth. With a faint blush, he presently replied, "Such attentions as Mrs. Moriarty's, I should have imagined, would rather disgust than gratify Miss Donovan. Mrs. Moriarty's invitations I should have imagined anything but inviting." 


"I should not wonder," said Mrs. Hudson, "if Miss Donovan were to have been drawn on beyond her own inclination, by her aunt's eagerness in accepting Mrs. Moriarty's civilities for her. Poor Miss Turner may very likely have committed her niece and hurried her into a greater appearance of intimacy than her own good sense would have dictated, in spite of the very natural wish of a little change." 


Both felt rather anxious to hear Captain Watson speak again; and after a few minutes silence, he said, "Another thing must be taken into consideration, too: Mrs. Moriarty does not talk to Miss Donovan as she speaks of her. We all know the difference between the pronouns he or she and thou, the plainest spoken amongst us; we all feel the influence of a something beyond common civility in our personal intercourse with each other — a something more early implanted. We cannot give anybody the disagreeable hints that we may have been very full of the hour before. And besides the operation of this, as a general principle, you may be sure that Miss Donovan awes Mrs. Moriarty by her superiority both of mind and manner; and that, face to face, Mrs. Moriarty treats her with all the respect which she has a claim to. Such a woman as Sally Donovan probably never fell in Mrs. Moriarty's way before — and no degree of vanity can prevent her acknowledging her own comparative littleness in action, if not in consciousness." 


"I know how highly you think of Sally Donovan," said Sherlock. A mixture of alarm and delicacy made him irresolute as to what else to say. 


"Yes," Captain Watson replied, "anybody may know how highly I think of her." 


"And yet," said Sherlock, beginning hastily and with an arch look, but soon stopping — it was better, however, to know the worst at once, so he hurried on — "And yet, perhaps, you may hardly be aware yourself how highly it is. The extent of your admiration may take you by surprise some day or other." 


Captain Watson was hard at work upon the lower buttons of his thick leather gaiters, and either the exertion of getting them together, or some other cause, brought the colour into his face, as he answered, "Oh! Are you making deductions? But you are miserably behindhand. Mr. Stamford gave me a hint of it six weeks ago."


Sherlock felt his foot pressed by Mrs. Hudson, and did not himself know what to think. 


In a moment Captain Watson went on —  "That will never be, however, I can assure you. Miss Donovan, I dare say, would not have me if I were to ask her —  and I am very sure I shall never ask her." 


Sherlock was pleased enough to exclaim, "You are not vain, Captain Watson. I will say that for you." 


Captain Watson seemed hardly to hear him; he was thoughtful — and in a manner which showed him not pleased, soon afterwards said, "So you have been settling that I should marry Sally Donovan?" 


“No, indeed, I have not. You have scolded me too much for match-making, for me to presume to take such a liberty with you. What I said just now, meant nothing. One says those sort of things, of course, without any idea of a serious meaning. Oh! No, upon my word I have not the smallest wish for your marrying Sally Donovan or Sally anybody. You would not come in and sit with us in this comfortable way, if you were married." 


Captain Watson was thoughtful again. The result of his reverie was, "No, Sherlock, I do not think the extent of my admiration for her will ever take me by surprise. I never had a thought of her in that way, I assure you." 


And soon afterwards he continued, "Sally Donovan is a very charming young woman — but not even Sally Donovan is perfect. She has a fault. She has not the open temper which someone would wish for in a spouse.” 


Sherlock could not but rejoice to hear that she had a fault. "Well," said he, "and you soon silenced Mr. Stamford, I suppose?" 


"Yes, very soon. He gave me a quiet hint; I told him he was mistaken; he asked my pardon and said no more. Stamford does not want to be wiser or wittier than his neighbours." 


"In that respect how unlike dear Mrs. Moriarty, who wants to be wiser and wittier than all the world! I wonder how she speaks of the Stamfords — what she calls them! How can she find any appellation for them, deep enough in familiar vulgarity? She calls you ‘Watson’ — what can she do for Mr. Stamford?” 


“And so,” continued Sherlock, “I am not to be surprised that Sally Donovan accepts her civilities and consents to be with her. Mrs. Hudson, your argument weighs most with me. I can much more readily enter into the temptation of getting away from Miss Turner, than I can believe in the triumph of Miss Donovan's mind over Mrs. Moriarty’s. I have no faith in Mrs. Moriarty's acknowledging herself the inferior in thought, word, or deed; or in her being under any restraint beyond her own scanty rule of good-breeding. I cannot imagine that she will not be continually insulting her visitor with praise, encouragement, and offers of service; that she will not be continually detailing her magnificent intentions, from the procuring her a permanent situation to the including her in those delightful exploring parties which are to take place in the barouche-landau." 


"Sally Donovan has feeling," said Captain Watson. "I do not accuse her of want of feeling. Her sensibilities, I suspect, are strong — and her temper excellent in its power of forbearance, patience, self-control; but it wants openness. She is reserved — more reserved, I think, than she used to be. And I love an open temper. No — till Stamford alluded to my supposed attachment, it had never entered my head. I saw Sally Donovan and conversed with her, with admiration and pleasure always —  but with no thought beyond." 


"Well, Mrs. Hudson," said Sherlock triumphantly when at last they were alone, "what do you say now to Captain Watson's marrying Sally Donovan?" 


"Why, really, dear Sherlock, I say that he is so very much occupied by the idea of not being in love with her, that I should not wonder if it were to end in his being so at last."


Chapter Text

Everybody in and about Highbury who had ever visited Mr. Moriarty was disposed to pay him attention on his marriage. Dinner-parties and evening-parties were made for him and his lady; and invitations flowed in so fast that Mrs. Moriarty had soon the pleasure of apprehending they were never to have a disengaged day. 


"I see how it is," said she. “We really seem quite the fashion. From Monday next to Saturday, I assure you we have not a disengaged day! A woman with fewer resources than I have, need not have been at a loss." 


No invitation came amiss to her. She found that Mrs. Turner, Miss Sawyer, Miss Thompson, and others were a good deal behind-hand in knowledge of the world, but she would soon show them how everything ought to be arranged. In the course of the spring she must return their civilities by one very superior party — in which her card-tables should be set out with their separate candles and unbroken packs in the true style — and more waiters engaged for the evening than their own establishment could furnish, to carry round the refreshments at exactly the proper hour, and in the proper order. 


Sherlock, in the meanwhile, could not be satisfied without a dinner at Hartfield for the Moriartys. He and his father must not do less than others, or he should be exposed to odious suspicions, and imagined capable of pitiful resentment. A dinner there must be. 


The persons to be invited required little thought. Besides the Moriartys, it must be the Hudsons and Captain Watson; and Sherlock’s father insisted also on his old friends Miss Ella Thompson and Miss Connie Prince. So far it was all of course — and it was hardly less inevitable that poor Molly must be asked to make the tenth; but this invitation was not given with equal satisfaction, and on many accounts Sherlock was particularly pleased by Molly's begging to be allowed to decline it. 


She said, hesitantly, that she would rather not be in Mr. Moriarty’s company more than she could help. She was not yet quite able to see him and his charming happy wife together, without feeling uncomfortable. If Mr. Holmes would not be displeased, she would rather stay at home. 


It was precisely what Sherlock would have wished, had he deemed it possible enough for wishing. He was delighted with the fortitude of his little friend — for fortitude he knew it was in her to give up being in company and stay at home; and he could now invite the very person whom he really wanted to make the tenth, Sally Donovan. 


Since his last conversation with Mrs. Hudson and Captain Watson, Sherlock was more conscience-stricken about Sally Donovan than he had often been. Captain Watson's words dwelt with him. He had said that Sally Donovan received attentions from Mrs. Moriarty which nobody else paid her. 


"This is very true," said Sherlock to himself, "at least as far as relates to me, which was all that was meant — and it is very shameful. Of the same age — and always knowing her — I ought to have been more her friend. She will never like me now. I have neglected her too long. But I will show her greater attention than I have done." 


Every invitation was successful. They were all disengaged, and all happy to trade that state for the much more pleasant one of being engaged to dine at Hartfield. 


The preparatory interest of this dinner, however, was not yet over.


A circumstance rather unlucky occurred. Greg Holmes-Lestrade wrote to say that he was obliged by a case to be in the neighbourhood, and would be spending one full day and night in Highbury — which would be the very day of this party. His professional engagements did not allow of his being put off, but Mr. Holmes was disturbed by its happening so. He considered ten persons at dinner together as the utmost that his nerves could bear — and here would be an eleventh.


The event was more favourable to Mr. Holmes than he had feared, however. Greg Holmes-Lestrade was to come; but Mr. Hudson was unexpectedly summoned to town and must be absent on that day. He might be able to join them in the evening, but certainly not to dinner. Mr. Holmes was quite at ease. 


The day came, the party were punctually assembled, and Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade seemed early to devote himself to the business of being agreeable. Instead of drawing his half-brother, Captain John Watson, off to a window while they waited for dinner, he was talking to Miss Donovan. He had met her earlier in the day, upon his arrival in Highbury, when it had been just beginning to rain. 


It was natural to have some civil hopes on the subject, and he said, "I hope you did not venture far, Miss Donovan, this morning, or I am sure you must have been wet. I scarcely reached Hartfield in time. I hope you turned directly." 


"I went only to the post-office," said she, "and reached home before the rain was much. It is my daily errand. I always fetch the letters when I am here. It saves trouble, and is a something to get me out. The walk does me good." 


"Not a walk in the rain, I should imagine." 


"No, but it did not absolutely rain when I set out." 


Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade smiled, and replied, "That is to say, you chose to have your walk, for you were not six yards from your own door when I had the pleasure of meeting you; and I had seen more drops than I could count long before. The post-office has a great charm at one period of our lives. When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for." 


There was a little blush, and then this answer, "I must not hope to be ever situated as you are, in the midst of every dearest connexion, and therefore I cannot expect that simply growing older should make me indifferent about letters." 


"Indifferent! Oh! No — I never conceived you could become indifferent. Letters are no matter of indifference; they are generally a very positive curse." 


"You are speaking of letters of business; mine are letters of friendship." 


"I have often thought them the worst of the two," replied he coolly. "Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does." 


"Ah! You are not serious now. I know Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade too well — I am very sure he understands the value of friendship as well as anybody. I can easily believe that letters are very little to you, much less than to me, but it is not your being ten years older than myself which makes the difference — it is not age, but situation. You have everybody dearest to you always at hand, while I, probably, never shall again; and therefore, till I have outlived all my affections, a post-office, I think, must always have power to draw me out, in worse weather than today." 


"When I talked of your being altered by time, by the progress of years," said Greg Holmes-Lestrade, "I meant to imply the change of situation which time usually brings. As an old friend, you will allow me to hope, Miss Donovan, that ten years hence you may be as happy in your life as I am with my dear husband." 


It was kindly said, and very far from giving offence. A pleasant "thank you" seemed meant to laugh it off, but a blush, a quivering lip, a tear in the eye, showed that it was felt beyond a laugh.


Sally Donovan’s attention was now claimed by Mr. Holmes, who being, according to his custom on such occasions, making the circle of his guests, and paying his particular compliments to the ladies, was ending with her — and with all his mildest urbanity, said, "I am very sorry to hear, Miss Donovan, of your being out this morning in the rain. Young ladies should take care of themselves. Young ladies are delicate plants. They should take care of their health. My dear, did you change your stockings?" 


"Yes, sir, I did indeed; and I am very much obliged by your kind solicitude about me." 


"My dear Miss Donovan, young ladies are very sure to be cared for. You do us a great deal of honour in joining us today, I am sure. My son and I are both highly sensible of your goodness, and have the greatest satisfaction in seeing you at Hartfield.”


The kind-hearted, polite old man might then sit down and feel that he had done his duty, and made every fair lady welcome and easy. 


By this time, the walk in the rain had reached Mrs. Moriarty, and her remonstrances now opened upon Sally. "My dear Sally, what is this I hear? Going to the post-office in the rain! This must not be, I assure you. You sad girl, how could you do such a thing? It is a sign I was not there to take care of you." 


Sally very patiently assured her that she had not caught any cold. 


"Oh! Do not tell me. You really are a very sad girl, and do not know how to take care of yourself. — To the post-office indeed! I will not allow you to do such a thing again. I shall speak to Mr. M. The man who fetches our letters every morning shall inquire for yours, too, and bring them to you." 


"You are extremely kind," said Sally; "but I cannot give up my early walk. I am advised to be out of doors as much as I can, I must walk somewhere, and the post-office is an object; and upon my word, I have scarcely ever had a bad morning before." 


"My dear Sally, say no more about it. The thing is determined; that is,” (laughing affectedly) “as far as I can presume to determine anything without the concurrence of my lord and master. But I do flatter myself, my dear Sally, that my influence is not entirely worn out. If I meet with no insuperable difficulties, therefore, consider that point as settled." 


"Excuse me," said Sally earnestly, "I cannot by any means consent to such an arrangement, so needlessly troublesome to your servant. If the errand were not a pleasure to me, it could be done, as it always is when I am not here, by my grand-mama’s servant instead." 


"Oh! My dear; but so much as Patty has to do! — And it is a kindness to employ our men." 


Sally looked as if she did not mean to be conquered; but instead of answering, she began speaking again to Mr. Greg Holmes-Lestrade. "The post-office is a wonderful establishment!" said she. "If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!" 


"It is certainly very well regulated." 


"So seldom that any negligence or blunder appears! So seldom that a letter, among the thousands that are constantly passing about the kingdom, is even carried wrong — and not one in a million, I suppose, actually lost! And when one considers the variety of handwriting, and of bad handwriting, too, that is to be deciphered, it increases the wonder." 


The varieties of handwriting were farther talked of, and the usual observations made. 


"I have heard it asserted," said Greg Holmes-Lestrade, "that the same sort of handwriting often prevails in a family; and where the same master teaches, it is natural enough. Mycroft and Sherlock, I think, do write very much alike. I have not always known their writing apart." 


"Yes," said Captain Watson hesitatingly, "there is a likeness. I know what you mean — but Sherlock's hand is the strongest." 


"Mycroft and Sherlock both write beautifully," said Mr. Holmes; "and always did. And so does poor Mrs. Hudson,” with half a sigh and half a smile at her. 


"Miss Irene Adler writes one of the best hands I ever saw,” said Sherlock.


"I do not admire it," said Captain Watson. "It is too small — it wants strength." 


This was not submitted to by Sherlock. “No, it by no means wants strength — it is not a large hand, but very clear and certainly strong. Mrs. Hudson, have you any letter of hers about you?”


Mrs. Hudson answered in the negative. She had heard from Irene Adler very lately, but having answered the letter, had put it away. 


"If we were in the other room," said Sherlock, "if I had my writing-desk, I am sure I could produce a specimen. I have a note of hers. Do not you remember, Mrs. Hudson, employing her to write for you one day?" 


"She chose to say she was employed —" 


"Well, well, I have that note; and can show it after dinner to convince Captain Watson." 


"Oh! When a young lady like Miss Irene Adler," said Captain Watson dryly, "writes to a fair gentleman like Mr. Holmes, she will, of course, put forth her best." 


Dinner was announced.


Mrs. Moriarty, before she could be spoken to, was ready; and before Mr. Holmes had reached her with his request to be allowed to hand her into the dining-parlour, was saying, "Must I go first? I really am ashamed of always leading the way." 


Sherlock ignored Mrs. Moriarty in favour of his own thoughts. Sally’s earlier solicitude about fetching her letters herself had not escaped Sherlock. He had heard and seen it all; and felt some curiosity to know whether the wet walk of this morning had produced any. He suspected that it had; that it would not have been so resolutely encountered but in full expectation of hearing from someone very dear, and that it had not been in vain. He thought there was an air of greater happiness than usual — a glow both of complexion and spirits. 


He could have made an inquiry or two, as to the expedition and the expense of the Irish mails — it was at his tongue's end — but he abstained. He was quite determined not to utter a word that should hurt Sally Donovan's feelings; if not for her sake, then for the sake of Captain Watson’s approbation.

Chapter Text

When they returned to the drawing-room after dinner, Sherlock found it impossible to prevent their falling into five distinct tête-à-tête conversations. The time for general civility had passed, and those who had been separated at the dining table now availed themselves of the opportunity for marginally more private discourse.


Sherlock’s father, still not fully recovered from the shock of “poor Miss Taylor” having left their household to become Mrs. Hudson, was delighted to have her once again where he felt she truly belonged. For her part, Mrs. Hudson was quite content to humour her former employer, indulging his nostalgia and reminiscing with him at length about the joys and trials of raising Mycroft and Sherlock.


Captain Watson, pleased by Greg Holmes-Lestrade’s unexpected visit, drew him into a lively discussion of all that had passed since they last saw each other at Christmas. Though only half-brothers by blood, the two had always been close. Greg was glad to hear the latest news from Donwell Abbey, where he, too, had grown up, and John was equally interested in the news from London.


Thus far, the pairings were mutually agreeable; but no farther. With great perseverance in judging and behaving ill did Mrs. Moriarty engross Sally Donovan. If Sally repressed her for a little time, she soon began again; and though much that passed between them was in a half-whisper, especially on Mrs. Moriarty's side, there was no avoiding a knowledge of their principal subjects: inquiries whether she had yet heard of any situation as governess likely to suit her, and professions of Mrs. Moriarty's meditated activity on her behalf. 


"Here is April come!" said she. "I get quite anxious about you. June will soon be here." 


"But I have never fixed on June or any other month — merely looked forward to the summer in general." 


"But have you really heard of nothing?" 


"I have not even made any inquiry; I do not wish to make any yet." 


"Oh! My dear, we cannot begin too early; you are not aware of the difficulty of procuring exactly the desirable thing." 


"Major and Mrs. Sholto are to be in town again by midsummer," said Sally. "I must spend some time with them; I am sure they will want it. Afterwards I may probably be glad to dispose of myself. But I would not wish you to take the trouble of making any inquiries at present." 


“Trouble! Aye, I know your scruples. You are afraid of giving me trouble; but I assure you, my dear Sally, the Sholtos can hardly be more interested about you than I am. I shall write to my sister, Selina, in a day or two, and shall give her a strict charge to be on the look-out for anything eligible. You know she and Colonel Moran move in the highest circles.” 


"Thank you, but I would rather you did not mention the subject to her; till the time draws nearer, I do not wish to be giving anybody trouble." 


"But, my dear child, the time is drawing near; here is April, and June, or say even July, is very near, with such business to accomplish before us. Your inexperience really amuses me! A situation such as you deserve, and your friends would require for you, is no everyday occurrence, is not obtained at a moment's notice; indeed, we must begin inquiring directly." 


"Excuse me, ma'am, but this is by no means my intention; I make no inquiry myself, and should be sorry to have any made by my friends. When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something, and by applying to them I should have no doubt of very soon meeting with something that would do." 


"Something that would do!" repeated Mrs. Moriarty. "Aye, that may suit your humble ideas of yourself; I know what a modest creature you are; but it will not satisfy your friends to have you taking up with anything that may offer, any inferior, commonplace situation, in a family not moving in a certain circle, or able to command the elegancies of life." 


"You are very obliging; but as to all that, I am very indifferent; it would be no object to me to be with the rich; my mortifications, I think, would only be the greater; I should suffer more from comparison. A gentleman's family is all that I should condition for." 


"I know you; you would take up with anything; but I shall be a little more particular, and I am sure the good Sholtos will be quite on my side. With your superior talents, you have a right to move in the first circle.”


“I am exceedingly obliged to you, Mrs. Moriarty, but I am quite serious in wishing nothing to be done till the summer. For two or three months longer I shall remain where I am, and as I am." 


"And I am quite serious too, I assure you," replied Mrs. Moriarty gaily, "in resolving to be always on the watch, and employing my friends to watch also, that nothing really unexceptionable may pass us." 


In this style she ran on; never thoroughly stopped by anything Sally had to say.


With nearly as much zeal, meanwhile, did Miss Connie Prince monopolize Sherlock’s attention. As the head teacher of Miss Thompson’s school, and one of his father’s oldest friends, she had always appeared to Sherlock in a motherly role. Now, however, her interest in him seemed to have taken a different turn. Though he could scarcely credit his own observations, Sherlock almost believed that she was attempting to flirt with him.  


The remaining guests all being otherwise engaged, Mr. Moriarty was left to converse with Miss Ella Thompson, which he managed with as good a grace as could be expected. His eyes, however, flitted between his wife — still busily arranging every aspect of Sally Donovan’s future — and Sherlock, who was doing his best to maintain his composure while fending off Miss Prince’s unwanted attentions.  


This unsatisfactory state of affairs was put to rest when Mr. Hudson made his appearance among them. He had returned home to a late dinner, and walked to Hartfield as soon as it was over. There was great joy at his arrival. Mr. Holmes was almost as glad to see him now, as he would have been sorry to see him before. 


Mr. Hudson, happy and cheerful as usual, and with all the right of being principal talker, which a day spent anywhere from home confers, was making himself agreeable among the rest; and having satisfied the inquiries of his wife as to his dinner, convincing her that none of all her careful directions to the servants had been forgotten, and spread abroad what public news he had heard, was proceeding to a family communication, which, though principally addressed to Mrs. Hudson, he had not the smallest doubt of being highly interesting to everybody in the room. 


He gave his wife a letter. It was from Irene, and to herself. He had met with it in his way, and had taken the liberty of opening it. 


"Read it, read it," said he. "It will give you pleasure. Only a few lines — will not take you long. Read it to Sherlock." 


Sherlock, grateful for an excuse to leave Miss Prince’s side, crossed the room to Mrs. Hudson. They looked over the letter together, while Mr. Hudson sat smiling and talking to them the whole time, in a voice very audible to everybody. 


"Well, she is coming, you see. Good news! I always told you she would be here again soon, did not I? — Martha, my dear, did not I always tell you so, and you would not believe me?


“The Adlers will all be in town next week, you see. Mrs. Adler has taken it into her head that Enscombe is too cold for her, and so they are all removing to London. I have not much faith in Mrs. Adler's illness. The fact is, I suppose, that she is tired of Enscombe, and she begins to want change. As to her illness, all nothing of course. But it is an excellent thing to have Irene among us again, so near as town. They will stay a good while when they do come, and she will be half her time with us. This is precisely what I wanted. 


“Well, pretty good news, is not it? Have you finished it? Has Sherlock read it all? Put it up, put it up; we will have a good talk about it some other time, but it will not do now. I shall only just mention the circumstance to the others in a common way." 


Mrs. Hudson was most comfortably pleased on the occasion. Her looks and words had nothing to restrain them. She was happy, she knew she was happy, and knew she ought to be happy. Her congratulations were warm and open; but Sherlock could not speak so fluently. He was a little occupied in weighing his own feelings, and trying to understand the degree of his agitation, which he rather thought was considerable. 


Mr. Hudson, however, too eager to be very observant, too communicative to want others to talk, was very well satisfied with what he did say, and soon moved away to make the rest of his friends happy by a partial communication of what the whole room must have overheard already.


It was well that he took everybody's joy for granted, or he might not have thought either Mr. Holmes or Captain Watson particularly delighted.


Chapter Text

A very little quiet reflection was enough to satisfy Sherlock as to the nature of his agitation on hearing this news of Irene Adler. He was soon convinced that it was not for himself he was feeling at all apprehensive or embarrassed; it was for her. His own interest in her was a mere nothing; it was not worth thinking of. But if Miss Adler were to be returning with the same warmth of sentiment which she had taken away, it would be very distressing. If a separation of two months should not have cooled her, there were dangers and evils before him: caution would be necessary. 


Sherlock did not mean to have his affections entangled, and it would be incumbent on him to avoid any encouragement of hers. He wished he might be able to keep her from an absolute declaration. That would be so very painful a conclusion of their present acquaintance! And yet, he could not help rather anticipating something decisive. He felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter his present composed and tranquil state.


This premonition was borne out the very next day, though not at all in the manner Sherlock had supposed it might be. 


It being a Sunday, Sherlock and his father, as usual, attended divine services. Upon reaching the church, they fell in with all of the guests from the previous day’s dinner party, save for the Moriartys, who were already within the chapel to welcome the parishioners, and Greg Holmes-Lestrade, who had spent the night at Donwell Abbey, and departed early in the morning for London, determined to worship there with his beloved Mycroft. Captain Watson explained his half-brother’s absence, and Mr. Holmes was quick to make his feelings on the subject known to the others, though he scarcely seemed to know himself what those feelings were.


“Riding to London? So early in the morning? With the fog and the dew? He’s bound to catch a chill! He should never have attempted it. Although, for poor Mycroft’s sake, I suppose I must be glad he has gone. It is a shocking thing to think of poor Mycroft, left all alone in town. 


“But why must they live in town at all? Mycroft’s position in the government could be conducted quite well by letter, I think. And as for his husband’s being Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, well, it may be true that London is the centre of all villainy, but that can hardly be a recommendation for anyone to live there. And who is to say but that some criminal activity might not someday occur right here in Highbury, and we left with no one to protect us. It would be better for everyone if the Holmes-Lestrades were to relocate here.


“They could live with us at Hartfield. There’s plenty of space, and it’s been so empty since Mycroft left to marry, and then poor Miss Taylor,” (with a reproachful look at Mr. and Mrs. Hudson) “did the same. It is almost enough to put one out of charity with the church,” (with a second, equally reproachful, look at the building before which they stood) “where so many marriages take place, and tear our families so sadly asunder.” 


A moment of silence followed this outrageous pronouncement. Mr. Holmes commanded too much respect for anyone to directly oppose his view, and yet it must be generally opposed.


Miss Connie Prince was the first to venture to respond. “My dear sir,” said she, “I am sure you do not mean to object to matrimony outright. Had it not been for your own marriage to your revered late wife, you would not now have two such fine sons. And here is Sherlock, now, grown into the full glory of his manhood; I am sure you would not wish him to remain single. I am sure you would wish him to establish a union of his own — perhaps one that, instead of drawing him away from you, would bring one of your own dear friends to Hartfield.”


This pronouncement by Miss Prince was even more outrageous than that made by Mr. Holmes, and caused a great deal of shock and consternation on all quarters. Fortunately, her listeners were spared the necessity of reply by the tolling of the church bell, calling them inside.


Sherlock and his father strode to the front of the chapel, to sit in their accustomary pew, along with Captain Watson and Mr. and Mrs. Hudson. So far, all was as expected. But a little incongruity now occurred: Miss Prince, rather than taking her usual place with Miss Thompson and the other teachers of the school, had somehow managed to insert herself between Sherlock and Captain Watson, and was actually sitting down. 


Sherlock was so affronted that he had to exert himself to maintain his composure. The service was beginning, however, and he was obliged to put on a mask of solemn piety. Within, however, his spirit was anything but serene.


The Reverend Moriarty was speaking, but Sherlock barely heard. 


What could be the meaning of Miss Prince’s behaviour? Sherlock feared he could deduce it all too well. Her attentions after dinner the previous evening had been ambiguous enough for him to sweep under the rug, but this intrusion into a space reserved for his family and closest friends — following, as it did, on the heels of her wildly inappropriate and entirely too pointed comment about his future prospects — was too blatant to be ignored. 


The whole congregation must be aware of the scene playing out in the first pew. The Reverend Moriarty certainly appeared to be, if his eyes and expressive eyebrows were anything to judge by. 


Sherlock winced as the Vicar quoted Proverbs 19:13 — “A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping,” — while looking directly at Mr. Holmes. If God were truly watching, Sherlock thought desperately, surely He would put an end to this.


The service dragged on and on, but at last the Invitation to Communion came.


“Draw near with faith,” the Reverend Moriarty commanded. “Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he gave for you, and his blood, which he shed for you. Eat and drink in remembrance that he died for you, and feed on him in your hearts, by faith with thanksgiving.”


All rose to approach the altar, then knelt to receive the Eucharist. 


“The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,” intoned the Reverend Moriarty.


“Amen,” the communicants responded.


“The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation.”




“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”


“In the name of Christ. Amen.”


With those final words, they were dismissed. 


Mr. Holmes, as the chief personage in Highbury, was always the first to leave the church. As Sherlock followed his father from the chapel, he turned for one last look at those within. Miss Connie Prince was still kneeling before the altar, with her head bowed against the rail. Sherlock wondered what prayers she was offering up, and whether they would be answered.


Chapter Text

Miss Connie Prince’s prayers were not answered — unless what she had been praying for was a swift reunion with her Creator. A tearful Molly arrived at Hartfield on Monday afternoon to report that the head teacher of her school had passed beyond this mortal coil.


Sherlock was, for several minutes, entirely speechless. He had been harbouring such resentment against Miss Prince — had been experiencing such uncomfortable feelings at the remembrance of her recent behaviour towards himself — that he had very nearly been wishing never again to be in her company. He therefore felt a momentary modicum of relief, which was instantly and strongly outweighed by an abundance of guilt at having entertained, for even a single heartbeat, such an uncharitable sentiment. 


His silence was, for Molly, an invitation to further communication, and she proceeded, through her tears, to recount the circumstances of the sad event. 


She and the others from Miss Thompson’s school had been seated, the previous morning, as they were every Sunday, towards the rear of the church. Molly had expressed her surprise at Miss Prince’s not joining them. Miss Thompson mentioned Saturday’s dinner party, and supposed that during it some arrangement must have been made for Miss Prince to join the Hartfield family in their pew, though she found it strange that Miss Prince should have made no mention of it to her.


The service then beginning, no further discussion could take place, but Molly had been very curious to hear what Miss Prince would have to say on the subject afterwards. Her curiosity was not to be satisfied, however. After receiving the Eucharist, Miss Prince had bowed her head against the altar rail, and had remained there, kneeling in her private supplication, long after everyone else had departed the church.


This much only had Molly witnessed; the rest of the story she had heard from Miss Sawyer, who had arrived at Miss Thompson’s school an hour ago to deliver the sad news. Miss Prince’s body had been discovered that morning by the charwoman when she came in to clean the church. Miss Sawyer had been sent for, but there was nothing she could do other than to examine the body and confirm what must be apparent even to someone without the most rudimentary medical knowledge — Connie Prince was dead.  


Molly’s grief was most severe. Miss Prince had been her teacher, mentor, and friend; her loss must be deeply felt. Sherlock did all he could to comfort her, and in focusing on Molly’s feelings, was able to successfully ignore his own.


The death of Miss Prince was, for some days, the principal topic of conversation, both at Hartfield and in Highbury generally. As has been previously noted, human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a person who either marries or dies is sure of being kindly spoken of. Just as Miss Mary Morstan was held up to all manner of specious praise when it was announced that she was to marry Mr. James Moriarty, so Miss Connie Prince was now lauded by all who had known her, and many who had not.


Once the funeral had passed, however, the interest in Miss Prince naturally began to fade. It was not long before someone else took her place as the prime subject for Highbury gossips, and gave Sherlock’s mind a more pleasant employment.


As her letter to Mrs. Hudson had promised, the Enscombe family had relocated to town, and Miss Irene Adler was soon back at Randalls. She could not stay long on this first visit; she rode down for a couple of hours; she could not yet do more; but as she came from Randalls immediately to Hartfield, Sherlock could then exercise all his quick observation, and speedily determine how he must act. 


They met with the utmost friendliness. There could be no doubt of Irene’s great pleasure in seeing him; but he had an almost instant doubt of her caring for him as she had done, of her feeling the same tenderness in the same degree. He watched her well. It was a clear thing she was less in love than she had been. Absence, with the conviction probably of his indifference, had produced this very natural and very desirable effect. 


Miss Adler was in high spirits; as ready to talk and laugh as ever, and seemed delighted to speak of her former visit, and recur to old stories: and she was not without agitation. It was not in her calmness that Sherlock read her comparative difference. She was not calm; her spirits were evidently flustered; there was restlessness about her. Lively as she was, it seemed a liveliness that did not satisfy herself; but what decided his belief on the subject, was her staying only a quarter of an hour, and hurrying away to make other calls in Highbury. 


She made her apologies, saying she had seen a group of old acquaintances in the street as she passed — she had not stopped, she would not stop for more than a word — but she had the vanity to think they would be disappointed if she did not call, and much as she wished to stay longer at Hartfield, she must hurry off. 


Sherlock had no doubt as to Miss Adler’s being less in love — but neither her agitated spirits, nor her hurrying away, seemed like a perfect cure; and he was rather inclined to think it implied a dread of his returning power, and a discreet resolution of not trusting herself with him long. 


This was the only visit from Irene Adler in the course of ten days. She was often hoping, intending to come — but was always prevented. Her aunt could not bear to have her leave. Such was her own account at Randalls. If she were quite sincere, if she really tried to come, it was to be inferred that Mrs. Adler's removal to London had been of no service to the willful or nervous part of her disorder. 


That she was really ill was very certain; Irene had declared herself convinced of it, at Randalls. Though much might be fancy, she could not doubt, when she looked back, that her aunt was in a weaker state of health than she had been half a year ago. She did not believe it to proceed from anything that care and medicine might not remove, or at least that she might not have many years of existence before her; but Irene could not be prevailed on, by all her father's doubts, to say that Mrs. Adler’s complaints were merely imaginary, or that she was as strong as ever. 


It soon appeared that London was not the place for her. Mrs. Adler could not endure its noise. Her nerves were under continual irritation and suffering; and by the ten days' end, her niece's letter to Randalls communicated a change of plan. They were going to remove immediately to Richmond. Mrs. Adler had been recommended to the medical skill of an eminent person there, and had otherwise a fancy for the place. A ready-furnished house in a favourite spot was engaged, and much benefit expected from the change. 


Sherlock heard that Irene wrote in the highest spirits of this arrangement, and seemed most fully to appreciate the blessing of having two months before her of such near neighbourhood to many dear friends — for the house was taken for May and June. He was told that now she wrote with the greatest confidence of being often with them, almost as often as she could even wish. 


Sherlock saw how Mr. Hudson understood these joyous prospects. He was considering Sherlock as the source of all the happiness they offered. Sherlock hoped it was not so. Two months must bring it to the proof. 


Mrs. Hudson's own happiness was indisputable. She was quite delighted. It was the very circumstance she could have wished for. Now, it would be really having Irene in their neighbourhood. What were nine miles to a young woman? — An hour's ride. She would be always coming over. Richmond was the very distance for easy intercourse. Better than nearer! 


One good thing was immediately brought to a certainty by this removal — the ball at the Crown Inn. It had not been forgotten before, but it had been soon acknowledged vain to attempt to fix a day. Now, however, it was absolutely to be; every preparation was resumed, and very soon after the Adlers had removed to Richmond, a few lines from Irene, to say that her aunt felt already much better for the change, and that she had no doubt of being able to join them for twenty-four hours at any given time, induced them to name as early a day as possible. 


The Hudsons’ ball was to be a real thing. A very few tomorrows stood between the young people of Highbury and happiness. 


Mr. Holmes was resigned. The time of year lightened the evil to him. May was better for everything than February. Mrs. Turner was engaged to spend the evening at Hartfield to keep him company, and he sanguinely hoped that, it being now a warmer time of year, no one would catch their death of a cold.


Chapter Text

No misfortune occurred to prevent the ball. The day approached, the day arrived; and after a morning of some anxious watching, Irene Adler, in all the certainty of her own self, reached Randalls before dinner, and everything was safe. 


No second meeting had there yet been between her and Sherlock. The room at the Crown was to witness it; but it would be better than a common meeting in a crowd. Mr. Hudson had been so very earnest in his entreaties for Sherlock’s arriving there as soon as possible after themselves, for the purpose of taking his opinion as to the propriety and comfort of the rooms before any other persons came, that he could not refuse, and must therefore spend some quiet interval in Miss Adler's company. 


Sherlock was to convey Molly, and they drove to the Crown in good time, the Randalls party just sufficiently before them. Irene Adler seemed to have been on the watch; and though she did not say much, her eyes declared that she meant to have a delightful evening. They all walked about together, to see that everything was as it should be; and within a few minutes were joined by the contents of another carriage, which Sherlock could not hear the sound of at first, without great surprise. 


"So unreasonably early!" he was going to exclaim; but he presently found that it was a family of old friends, the Wilkes, who were coming, like himself, by particular desire, to help Mr. Hudson's judgment; and they were so very closely followed by another carriage of cousins, who had been entreated to come early with the same distinguishing earnestness, on the same errand, that it seemed as if half the company might soon be collected together for the purpose of preparatory inspection. Sherlock perceived that his taste was not the only taste on which Mr. Hudson depended, and felt, that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had so many intimates and confidantes, was not the very first distinction in the scale of vanity. 


Sherlock liked Mr. Hudson’s open manners, but a little less of open-heartedness would have made him a higher character. General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be. Captain Watson sprung to mind as a prime example. Sherlock could fancy such a man. 


The whole party walked about, and looked, and praised again; and then, having nothing else to do, formed a sort of half-circle round the fire, to observe that, though May , a fire in the evening was still very pleasant. 


Sherlock found that it was not Mr. Hudson's fault that the number of privy councillors was not yet larger. They had stopped at Mrs. Turner's door to offer the use of their carriage, but the aunt and niece were to be brought by the Moriartys. 


Irene was standing by him, but not steadily; there was a restlessness, which showed a mind not at ease. She was looking about, she was going to the door, she was watching for the sound of other carriages —  impatient to begin. 


Mrs. Moriarty was spoken of. "I think she must be here soon," said Irene. "I have a great curiosity to see Mrs. Moriarty, I have heard so much of her. It cannot be long, I think, before she comes." 


A carriage was heard. Miss Adler was on the move immediately; but coming back, said, "I am forgetting that I am not acquainted with her. I have never seen either Mr. or Mrs. Moriarty. I have no business to put myself forward." 


Mr. and Mrs. Moriarty appeared; and all the smiles and the proprieties passed. 


"But Miss Turner and Miss Donovan!" said Mrs. Hudson, looking about. "We thought you were to bring them." 


The mistake had been slight. The carriage was sent for them now. 


Sherlock longed to know what Irene's first opinion of Mrs. Moriarty might be; how she was affected by the studied elegance of her dress, and her smiles of graciousness. She was immediately qualifying herself to form an opinion, by giving her very proper attention, after the introduction had passed. 


In a few minutes the carriage returned. Somebody talked of rain.  


"I will see that there are umbrellas, sir," said Irene to her father. "Miss Turner must not be forgotten.” And away she went. 


Mr. Hudson was following; but Mrs. Moriarty detained him, to gratify him by her opinion of his daughter; and so briskly did she begin, that the young lady herself, though by no means moving slowly, could hardly be out of hearing. 


"A very fine young lady indeed, Mr. Hudson. You know I candidly told you I should form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely pleased with her. At Maple Grove—" 


While she talked of his daughter, Mr. Hudson's attention was chained; but when she got to Maple Grove, he could recollect that there were ladies just arriving to be attended to, and with happy smiles must hurry away. 


Mrs. Moriarty turned to Mrs. Hudson. "I have no doubt of its being our carriage with Miss Turner and Sally. Our coachman and horses are so extremely expeditious! I believe we drive faster than anybody." 


Miss Turner and Miss Donovan, escorted by Mr. Hudson and Miss Adler, walked into the room; and Mrs. Moriarty seemed to think it as much her duty as Mrs. Hudson's to receive them. Her gestures and movements might be understood by anyone who looked on like Sherlock; but her words, everybody's words, were soon lost under the incessant flow of Miss Turner, who came in talking, and had not finished her speech under many minutes after her being admitted into the circle at the fire. 


Irene Adler returned to her station by Sherlock; and once Miss Turner was finally quiet, he found himself necessarily overhearing the discourse of Mrs. Moriarty and Miss Donovan, who were standing a little way behind him. Miss Adler was thoughtful. Whether she were overhearing too, Sherlock could not determine. 


After a good many compliments to Sally on her dress and look, compliments very quietly and properly taken, Mrs. Moriarty was evidently wanting to be complimented herself — and it was, "How do you like my gown? How do you like my trimming? How has Wright done my hair?" — with many other relative questions, all answered with patient politeness. 


Mrs. Moriarty then said, "Nobody can think less of dress in general than I do, but upon such an occasion as this, when everybody's eyes are so much upon me, and in compliment to the Hudsons — who I have no doubt are giving this ball chiefly to do me honour — I would not wish to be inferior to others. And I see very few pearls in the room except mine. So Irene Adler is a capital dancer, I understand. We shall see if our styles suit. A fine young lady certainly is Irene Adler. I like her very well." 


At this moment Irene began talking so vigorously, that Sherlock could not but imagine she had overheard her own praises, and did not want to hear more — and the voices of the ladies were drowned for a while, till another suspension brought Mrs. Moriarty's tones again distinctly forward. 


Mr. Moriarty had just joined them, and his wife was exclaiming, "Oh! You have found us out at last, have you, in our seclusion? I was this moment telling Sally, I thought you would begin to be impatient for tidings of us." 


"Sally!" repeated Irene Adler, with a look of surprise and displeasure. "That is overly familiar — but Miss Donovan does not disapprove it, I suppose." 


"How do you like Mrs. Moriarty?" said Sherlock in a whisper. 


"Not at all.” Then, changing from a frown to a smile, "Where is my father? When are we to begin dancing?" 


She walked off to find her father, but was quickly back again with both Mr. and Mrs. Hudson. She had met with them in a little perplexity, which must be laid before Sherlock. It had just occurred to Mrs. Hudson that Mrs. Moriarty must be asked to begin the ball; that she would expect it; which interfered with all their wishes of giving Sherlock that distinction. Sherlock heard the sad truth with fortitude. 


"And what are we to do for a proper partner for her?" said Mr. Hudson. "She will think Sherlock ought to ask her." 


Irene turned instantly to Sherlock, reminding him that he was already engaged to dance the first two dances with her, which her father looked his most perfect approbation of — and it then appeared that Mrs. Hudson was wanting her husband to dance with Mrs. Moriarty himself, and that their business was to help to persuade him into it, which was done pretty soon. 


Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Moriarty led the way; Miss Adler and Mr. Holmes followed. Sherlock must submit to stand second to Mrs. Moriarty, though he had always considered the ball as peculiarly for him. It was almost enough to make him think of marrying. 


Mrs. Moriarty had undoubtedly the advantage, at this time, in vanity completely gratified; for though she had intended to begin with Sherlock, she could not lose by the change. Mr. Hudson was the host of the ball, and she was his first partner.


In spite of this little rub, however, Sherlock was smiling with enjoyment, delighted to see the respectable length of the set as it was forming, and to feel that he had so many hours of unusual festivity before him. 


He was more disturbed by Captain Watson's not dancing than by anything else. There he was, among the standers-by, where he ought not to be; he ought to be dancing — not classing himself with the husbands, and fathers, and whist-players, who were pretending to feel an interest in the dance till their rubbers were made up —  so young as he was! He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps anywhere, than where he had placed himself. His firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Sherlock felt must draw everybody's eyes; and there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him.


Captain Watson moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble. Whenever Sherlock caught his eye, he forced him to smile; but in general he was looking grave. Sherlock wished he could love a ballroom better, and could like Irene Adler better. 


It seemed to Sherlock that Captain Watson was often observing him. He must not flatter himself that this was in admiration of his dancing, but if it was to judge his behaviour, Sherlock did not feel afraid. There was nothing like flirtation between him and his partner. They seemed more like cheerful, easy friends, than lovers. That Irene Adler thought less of him than she had done, was indubitable. 


The ball proceeded pleasantly. The anxious cares, the incessant attentions of Mrs. Hudson, were not thrown away. Everybody seemed happy; and the praise of being a delightful ball, which is seldom bestowed till after a ball has ceased to be, was repeatedly given in the very beginning of the existence of this one. 


Of very important, very recordable events, it was not more productive than such meetings usually are. There was one, however, which Sherlock thought something of. The two last dances before supper were beginning, and Molly had no partner — the only young lady sitting down — and so even had been hitherto the number of dancers, that how there could be anyone disengaged was the wonder! 


But Sherlock's wonder lessened soon afterwards, on seeing Mr. James Moriarty sauntering about. He would not ask Molly to dance if it were possible to be avoided: Sherlock was sure he would not — and he was expecting him every moment to escape into the card-room. Escape, however, was not his plan. Mr. Moriarty came to the part of the room where the sitters-by were collected, spoke to some, and walked about in front of them, as if to show his liberty, and his resolution of maintaining it. He did not omit being sometimes directly before Miss Hooper, or speaking to those who were close to her. 


Sherlock saw it. He was not yet dancing; he was working his way up from the bottom, and had therefore leisure to look around, and by only turning his head a little he observed it all. When he was half-way up the set, the whole group were exactly behind him, and he would no longer allow his eyes to watch; but Mr. Moriarty was so near, that he heard every syllable of a dialogue which just then took place between him and Mrs. Hudson; and Sherlock perceived that his wife, who was standing immediately above him, was not only listening also, but even encouraging him by significant glances. 


The kind-hearted, gentle Mrs. Hudson had left her seat to join him and say, "Do not you dance, Mr. Moriarty?" 


To which his prompt reply was, "Most readily, Mrs. Hudson, if you will dance with me. I shall have great pleasure, I am sure — for, though beginning to feel myself rather an old married man, and that my dancing days are over, it would give me very great pleasure at any time to stand up with you.” 


"Me! — Oh! No — I would get you a better partner than myself. I do not mean to dance, but there is a young lady disengaged whom I should be very glad to see dancing — Miss Hooper." 


"Miss Hooper! Oh! I had not observed. You are extremely obliging — and if I were not an old married man… But my dancing days are over, Mrs. Hudson. You will excuse me. Anything else I should be most happy to do, at your command — but my dancing days are over." 


Mrs. Hudson said no more; and Sherlock could imagine with what surprise and mortification she must be returning to her seat. This was Mr. Moriarty! The formerly amiable, obliging, gentle Mr. Moriarty.


Sherlock looked round for a moment; Mr. Moriarty had joined Captain Watson at a little distance, and was arranging himself for settled conversation, while smiles of high glee passed between him and his wife. He would not look again. His heart was in an angry glow, and he feared his face might be as hot. 


In another moment a happier sight caught him — Captain Watson leading Molly to the set! Never had Sherlock been more surprised, seldom more delighted, than at that instant. He was all pleasure and gratitude, both for Molly and himself. Captain Watson’s actions showed that he was at last coming around to Sherlock’s views on Molly’s merits. Sherlock longed to be thanking him; and though too distant for speech, his countenance said much, as soon as he could catch his eye again. 


Captain Watson’s dancing proved to be just what Sherlock had deduced it would be — extremely good; and Molly would have seemed almost too lucky, if it had not been for the cruel state of things before, and for the very complete enjoyment and very high sense of the distinction which her happy features announced. It was not thrown away on her, she bounded higher than ever, flew farther down the middle, and was in a continual course of smiles. 


Mr. Moriarty had retreated into the card-room, looking (Sherlock trusted) very foolish. Sherlock did not think he was quite so hardened as his wife, though growing very like her; Mrs. Moriarty spoke some of her feelings, by observing audibly to her partner, "Watson has taken pity on poor little Miss Hooper! Very good-natured, I declare." 


Supper was announced. The move began; and Miss Turner might be heard from that moment, without interruption, till her being seated at table and taking up her spoon.


Sherlock had no opportunity of speaking to Captain Watson till after supper; but, when they were all in the ballroom again, his eyes invited him irresistibly to come and be thanked. Captain Watson was warm in his reprobation of Mr. Moriarty's conduct; it had been unpardonable rudeness; and Mrs. Moriarty's looks also received their due share of censure. 


"They aimed at wounding more than Molly," said he. "Sherlock, why is it that they are your enemies?" He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, "She ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be. To that surmise, you say nothing, of course; but confess, Sherlock, that you did want him to marry Molly." 


"I did," replied Sherlock, "and they cannot forgive me." 


Captain Watson shook his head; but there was a smile of indulgence with it, and he only said, "I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections." 


"Can you trust me with such flatterers? Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?" 


"Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit. If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it." 


"I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Moriarty. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Molly. It was through a series of strange blunders!" 


"And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself. Molly Hooper has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Moriarty is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl — infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs. Moriarty. I found Molly more conversable than I expected." 


Sherlock was extremely gratified at this praise of his friend. 


They were interrupted by the bustle of Mrs. Hudson calling on everybody to begin dancing again. "Come Sherlock, set your companions the example. Everybody is lazy! Everybody is asleep!" 


"I am ready," said Sherlock, "whenever I am wanted." 


"Whom are you going to dance with?" asked Captain Watson. 


Sherlock hesitated a moment, and then replied, "With you, if you will ask me." 


"Will you?" said he, offering his hand. 


"Indeed I will. You have shown that you can dance, and though our brothers are married, we are not really so much related as to make it at all improper." 


"Related! No, indeed."


Chapter Text

This little conversation with Captain Watson gave Sherlock considerable pleasure. It was one of the agreeable recollections of the ball, which he walked about the lawn the next morning to enjoy. He was extremely glad that they had come to so good an understanding respecting the Moriartys, and that their opinions of both husband and wife were so much alike; and Captain Watson’s praise of Molly, his concession in her favour, was peculiarly gratifying. 


The impertinence of the Moriartys, which for a few minutes had threatened to ruin the rest of the evening, had been the occasion of some of its highest satisfactions; and Sherlock looked forward to another happy result —  the cure of Molly's infatuation. From Molly's manner of speaking of the circumstance before they quitted the ballroom, he had strong hopes. It seemed as if her eyes were suddenly opened, and she were enabled to see that Mr. Moriarty was not the superior creature she had believed him. The fever was over, and Sherlock could harbour little fear of the pulse being quickened again by injurious courtesy. He depended on the evil feelings of the Moriartys for supplying all the discipline of pointed neglect that could be farther requisite. 


Molly rational, Irene Adler not too much in love, and Captain Watson not wanting to quarrel with him — how very happy a summer must be before him! 


Sherlock was not to see Irene Adler this morning. She had told him that she could not allow herself the pleasure of stopping at Hartfield, as she was to be at home by the middle of the day. Sherlock did not regret it. 


Having arranged all these matters, looked them through, and put them all to rights, he was just turning to the house with spirits freshened up, when the great iron sweep-gate opened, and two persons entered whom he had never less expected to see together — Irene Adler, with Molly leaning on her arm — actually Molly! A moment sufficed to convince Sherlock that something extraordinary had happened. Molly looked white and frightened, and Irene was trying to cheer her. The iron gates and the front-door were not twenty yards asunder — they were all three soon in the hall — and Molly, immediately sinking into a chair, fainted away. 


A young lady who faints must be recovered; questions must be answered, and surprises be explained. Such events are very interesting, but the suspense of them cannot last long. A few minutes made Sherlock acquainted with the whole. 


Miss Hooper, and Miss Bickerton, another parlour boarder at Miss Thompson's, had walked out together, and taken a road, which, though apparently public enough for safety, had led them into alarm. About half a mile beyond Highbury, making a sudden turn, and deeply shaded by elms on each side, it became for a considerable stretch very retired; and when the young ladies had advanced some way into it, they had suddenly perceived at a small distance before them, on a broader patch of greensward by the side, a party of young ruffians. 


A boy on the watch came towards them to beg; and Miss Bickerton, excessively frightened, gave a great scream, and calling on Molly to follow her, ran up a steep bank, cleared a slight hedge at the top, and made the best of her way by a shortcut back to Highbury. But poor Molly could not follow. She had suffered very much from cramp after dancing, and her first attempt to mount the bank brought on such a return of it as made her absolutely powerless — and in this state, and exceedingly terrified, she had been obliged to remain. 


How the gang might have behaved, had the young ladies been more courageous, must be doubtful; but such an invitation for attack could not be resisted; and Molly was soon assailed by half a dozen youths, headed by a great boy, all clamorous, and impertinent in look, though not absolutely in word. 


More and more frightened, she immediately promised them money, and taking out her purse, gave them a shilling, and begged them not to want more, or to use her ill. She was then able to walk, though but slowly, and was moving away — but her terror and her purse were too tempting, and she was followed, or rather surrounded, by the whole gang, demanding more. 


In this state Irene Adler had found her: Molly trembling and conditioning, they loud and insolent. By a most fortunate chance, Miss Adler’s leaving Highbury had been delayed so as to bring her to Molly’s assistance at this critical moment. The pleasantness of the morning had induced her to walk forward, and leave her horses to meet her by another road, a mile or two beyond Highbury — and happening to have borrowed a pair of scissors the night before of Miss Turner, and to have forgotten to restore them, she had been obliged to stop at her door, and go in for a few minutes: she was therefore later than she had intended; and being on foot, was unseen by the whole party till almost upon them. 


The terror which the uncouth boys had been creating in Molly was then their own portion. Miss Adler had left them completely frightened; and Molly eagerly clinging to her, and hardly able to speak, had just strength enough to reach Hartfield, before her spirits were quite overcome. It was Irene’s idea to bring Molly to Hartfield: she had thought of no other place. 


This was the whole story — of Irene’s communication and of Molly's as soon as she had recovered her senses and speech. Miss Adler dared not stay longer than to see her well; these several delays left her not another minute to lose; and Sherlock engaging to give assurance of Molly’s safety to Miss Thompson, and notice of there being such a set of youths in the neighbourhood to Captain Watson, Miss Adler set off, with all the grateful blessings that Sherlock could utter for his friend and himself. 


Such an adventure as this — two fine and lovely young women thrown together in such a way — could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the steadiest brain. So Sherlock thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what he did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other? How much more must one with deductive genius, like himself, be on fire with speculation and foresight! Especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as his mind had already made. 


It was a very extraordinary thing! Nothing of the sort had ever occurred before to any young ladies in the place, within Sherlock’s memory; no rencontre, no alarm of the kind. And now it had happened to the very person, and at the very hour, when the other very person was chancing to pass by to rescue her! It certainly was very extraordinary! 


And knowing, as Sherlock did, the favourable state of mind of each at this period, it struck him the more. Miss Adler must be wishing to get the better of her attachment to himself, and Molly just recovering from her mania for Mr. Moriarty. It seemed as if everything united to promise the most interesting consequences. It was not possible that the occurrence should not be strongly recommending each to the other. 


In the few minutes' conversation which Sherlock had yet had with Irene, while Molly had been partially insensible, she had spoken of Molly’s terror, her naivete, her fervour as she seized and clung to her arm, with a sensibility amused and delighted; and just at last, after Molly's own account had been given, Irene had expressed her indignation at the abominable folly of Miss Bickerton in the warmest terms. 


Everything was to take its natural course, however, neither impelled nor assisted. Sherlock would not stir a step, nor drop a hint. No, he had had enough of interference. There could be no harm in a mere observation. It was no more than a logical deduction. Beyond it he would on no account proceed. 


Sherlock's first resolution was to keep his father from the knowledge of what had passed — aware of the anxiety and alarm it would occasion: but he soon felt that concealment must be impossible. Within half an hour it was known all over Highbury. It was the very event to engage those who talk most, the young and the low; and all the youth and servants in the place were soon in the happiness of frightful news. The last night's ball seemed lost in the talk of the gang of ruffians. 


Poor Mr. Holmes trembled as he sat, and, as Sherlock had foreseen, would scarcely be satisfied without their promising never to go beyond the shrubbery again. It was some comfort to him that many inquiries after himself and Sherlock (for his neighbours knew that he loved to be inquired after) as well as Miss Hooper, were coming in during the rest of the day; and he had the pleasure of returning for answer, that they were all very indifferent — which, though not exactly true, for Sherlock was perfectly well, and Molly not much otherwise, Sherlock would not interfere with. He had an unhappy state of health in general for the child of such a man, for he hardly knew what indisposition was; and if his father did not invent illnesses for him, he could make no figure in a message. 


The gang did not wait for the operations of justice; they took themselves off in a hurry. The young ladies of Highbury might have walked again in safety before their panic began, and the whole history dwindled soon into a matter of little importance but to Sherlock. In his imagination it maintained its ground, as the catalyst for a blossoming romance between Molly and Irene.

Chapter Text

A very few days had passed after this adventure, when Molly came one morning to Sherlock with a small parcel in her hand, and after sitting down and hesitating, thus began: "I have something that I should like to tell you — a sort of confession to make — and then, you know, it will be over." 


Sherlock was a good deal surprised; but begged her to speak. There was a seriousness in Molly's manner which prepared him, quite as much as her words, for something more than ordinary. 


"It is my duty, and I am sure it is my wish," she continued, "to have no reserves with you on this subject. As I am happily quite an altered creature in one respect, it is very fit that you should have the satisfaction of knowing it. I do not want to say more than is necessary — I am too much ashamed of having given way as I have done, and I dare say you understand me." 


"Yes," said Sherlock, "I hope I do." 


"How I could so long a time be fancying myself in love with Mr. Moriarty!” cried Molly, warmly. "It seems like madness! I can see nothing at all extraordinary in him now. I do not care whether I meet him or not — except that of the two I had rather not see him — and indeed I would go any distance round to avoid him — but I do not envy his wife in the least; I neither admire her nor envy her, as I have done. She is very charming, I dare say, and all that, but I think her very ill-tempered and disagreeable.”


Sherlock could only nod his agreement.


“However, I assure you, I wish her no evil. No, let them be ever so happy together, it will not give me another moment's pang: and to convince you that I have been speaking truth, I am now going to destroy what I ought to have destroyed long ago — what I ought never to have kept — I know that very well,” Molly said, blushing as she spoke.


How odd, Sherlock thought. His interest was piqued.  


“Now I will destroy it all —  and it is my particular wish to do it in your presence, that you may see how rational I am grown. Cannot you guess what this parcel holds?" said she, with a conscious look. 


“I never guess, and this even I cannot deduce. Did he ever give you anything?" 


"No — I cannot call them gifts; but they are things that I have valued very much." 


She held the parcel towards him, and Sherlock read the words Most Precious Treasures on the top. His curiosity was greatly excited. Molly unfolded the parcel, and he looked on with impatience. Within an abundance of silver paper was a pretty little Tunbridge-ware box, which Molly opened. It was well-lined with the softest cotton; but, excepting the cotton, Sherlock saw only a small piece of court-plaster. 


"Now," said Molly, "you must recollect." 


"No, indeed I do not." 


"Dear me! I should not have thought it possible you could forget what passed in this very room about court-plaster, one of the very last times we ever met in it! It was but a very few days before I had my sore throat — just before Mr. and Mr. Holmes-Lestrade came — I think the very evening. Do not you remember Mr. Moriarty cutting his finger with your new penknife, and you recommending court-plaster? But, as you had none about you, and knew I had, you desired me to supply him; and so I took mine out and cut him a piece; but it was a great deal too large, and he cut it smaller, and kept playing some time with what was left, before he gave it back to me. And so then, in my nonsense, I could not help making a treasure of it — so I put it by never to be used, and looked at it now and then as a great treat." 


"My dearest Molly!" cried Sherlock, putting his hand before his face, and jumping up, "you make me more ashamed of myself than I can bear. Remember it? Yes, I remember it all now; all, except your saving this relic — I knew nothing of that till this moment — but the cutting the finger, and my recommending court-plaster, and saying I had none about me! Oh! My sins, my sins! And I had plenty all the while in my pocket! One of my senseless tricks! I deserve to be under a continual blush all the rest of my life. Well —" (sitting down again) "go on — what else?”


"And had you really some at hand yourself? I am sure I never suspected it, you did it so naturally." 


"And so you actually put this piece of court-plaster by for his sake!" said Sherlock, recovering from his state of shame and feeling divided between wonder and amusement. And secretly he added to himself, "Lord bless me! When should I ever have thought of putting by in cotton a piece of court-plaster that someone I fancied had been pulling about! I never was equal to this.”


"Here," resumed Molly, turning to her box again, "here is something still more valuable; I mean that has been more valuable, because this is what did really once belong to him, which the court-plaster never did." 


Sherlock was quite eager to see this superior treasure. It was the end of an old pencil — the part without any lead. 


"This was really his," said Molly. "He wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book; it was about spruce-beer. Captain Watson had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down; but when he took out his pencil, there was so little lead that he soon cut it all away, and it would not do, so you lent him another, and this was left upon the table as good for nothing. But I kept my eye on it; and, as soon as I dared, caught it up, and never parted with it again from that moment." 


"I do remember it," cried Sherlock. "I perfectly remember it. Talking about spruce-beer. Oh! Yes — Captain Watson and I both saying we liked it, and Mr. Moriarty's seeming resolved to learn to like it too. I perfectly remember it. — Stop; Captain Watson was standing just here, was not he? I have an idea he was standing just here." 


"Ah! I do not know. I cannot recollect. It is very odd, but I cannot recollect. Mr. Moriarty was sitting here, I remember, much about where I am now.”


"Well, go on." 


"Oh! That's all. I have nothing more to show you, or to say — except that I am now going to throw them both into the fire, and I wish you to see me do it." 


"My poor dear Molly! Have you actually found happiness in treasuring up these things?" 


"Yes, simpleton as I was! But I am quite ashamed of it now, and wish I could forget as easily as I can burn them. It was very wrong of me, you know, to keep any remembrances, after he was married. I knew it was — but had not resolution enough to part with them." 


"But, Molly, is it necessary to burn the court-plaster? I have not a word to say for the bit of old pencil, but the court-plaster might be useful." 


"I shall be happier to burn it," replied Molly. "It has a disagreeable look to me. I must get rid of everything… There it goes, and there is an end — thank Heaven! — of Mr. Moriarty." 


"And when," thought Sherlock, "will there be a beginning of Miss Adler?" 


He had soon afterwards reason to believe that the beginning was already made, and could not but hope that the ruffians, though they had given Molly quite a fright, might also have given her something much more worthwhile. About a fortnight after the alarm, they came to a sufficient explanation, and quite undesignedly. Sherlock was not thinking of it at the moment, which made the information he received more valuable. 


He merely said, in the course of some trivial chat, "Well, Molly, whenever you marry I would advise you to do so and so.” 


He thought no more of it, till after a minute's silence he heard Molly say in a very serious tone, "I shall never marry." 


Sherlock then looked up, and immediately saw how it was; and after a moment's debate, as to whether it should pass unnoticed or not, replied, "Never marry! This is a new resolution." 


"It is one that I shall never change, however." 


After another short hesitation, he ventured, "I hope it does not proceed from — I hope it is not in compliment to Mr. Moriarty?" 


"Mr. Moriarty indeed!" cried Molly indignantly. "Oh! No!” — and Sherlock could just catch the words, "so superior to Mr. Moriarty!” murmured under her breath. 


He then took a longer time for consideration. Should he proceed no farther? Should he let it pass, and seem to suspect nothing? Perhaps Molly might think him cold or angry if he did; or perhaps if he were totally silent, it might only drive Molly into asking him to hear too much; and against anything like such an unreserve as had been, such an open and frequent discussion of hopes and chances, he was perfectly resolved.


Sherlock believed it would be wiser for him to say and know at once, all that he meant to say and know. Plain dealing was always best. He had previously determined how far he would proceed, on any application of the sort; and it would be safer for both, to have the judicious law of his own brain laid down with speed. 


He was decided, and thus spoke — "Molly, I will not affect to be in doubt of your meaning. Your resolution, or rather your expectation of never marrying, results from an idea that the person whom you might prefer would be too greatly your superior in situation to think of you. Is not it so?" 


"Oh! Believe me, I have not the presumption to suppose — Indeed I am not so mad. But it is a pleasure to me to admire at a distance — with the gratitude, wonder, and veneration, which are so proper, in me especially." 


"I am not at all surprised at you, Molly. The service rendered to you was enough to warm your heart." 


"Service! Oh! It was such an inexpressible obligation! The very recollection of it, and all that I felt at the time — when I saw my rescuer coming — and my wretchedness before. Such a change! In one moment such a change! From perfect misery to perfect happiness!" 


"It is very natural. It is natural, and it is honourable, to choose so well and so gratefully. But that it will be a fortunate preference is more than I can promise. I do not advise you to give way to it, Molly. I do not by any means engage for its being returned. Consider what you are about. Perhaps it will be wisest in you to check your feelings while you can: at any rate do not let them carry you far, unless you are persuaded of their being returned. Be observant. Let the other’s behaviour be the guide of your sensations. 


“I give you this caution now, because I shall never speak to you again on the subject. I am determined against all interference. Henceforward I know nothing of the matter. Let no name ever pass our lips. We were very wrong before; we will be cautious now. The object of your interest has a superior station in life, no doubt, and there do seem objections and obstacles of a very serious nature; but yet, Molly, more wonderful things have taken place, there have been matches of greater disparity. But take care of yourself. I would not have you too sanguine; though, however it may end, be assured your raising your thoughts so high is a mark of good taste which I shall always know how to value." 


Molly pressed his hand in silent and submissive gratitude. 


Sherlock was very decided in thinking such an attachment no bad thing for his friend. Its tendency would be to raise and refine her mind — and it must be saving her from the danger of degradation, were she to fall back into her attachment to Mr. Moriarty or — and Sherlock hardly knew which was worse — Miss Hopkins.


Chapter Text

In this state of schemes, and hopes, and connivance, June opened upon Hartfield. To Highbury in general it brought no material change. The Moriartys were still talking of a visit from the Morans, and Sally Donovan was still at her grandmother's; and as the return of the Sholtos from Ireland was again delayed, and August, instead of Midsummer, fixed for it, she was likely to remain there full two months longer, provided at least she were able to defeat Mrs. Moriarty's activity in her service, and save herself from being hurried into a delightful situation against her will. 


Captain Watson, who, for some reason best known to himself, had certainly taken an early dislike to Irene Adler, was only growing to dislike her more. He began to suspect her of some double dealing in her pursuit of Sherlock. That Sherlock was her object appeared indisputable. Everything declared it; her own attentions, her father's hints, her step-mother’s guarded silence; it was all in unison; words, conduct, discretion, and indiscretion, told the same story. But while so many were devoting her to Sherlock, and Sherlock himself making her over to Molly, Captain Watson began to suspect her of some inclination to trifle with Sally Donovan. He could not understand it; but there were symptoms of intelligence between them — he thought so at least — symptoms of admiration on her side, which, having once observed, he could not persuade himself to think entirely void of meaning, however he might wish to escape any of Sherlock's errors of imagination. 


Sherlock was not present when the suspicion first arose. Captain Watson was dining with the Randalls family and Sally, at the Moriartys'; and he had seen a look, more than a single look, at Miss Donovan, which, from the admirer of Mr. Holmes, seemed somewhat out of place. When he was again in their company, he could not help remembering what he had seen; nor could he avoid observations which, unless it were like Cowper and his fire at twilight, "Myself creating what I saw," brought him yet stronger suspicion of there being a something of private liking, of private understanding even, between Irene Adler and Sally Donovan. 


Captain Watson had walked up one day after dinner, as he very often did, to spend his evening at Hartfield. Sherlock and Molly were going to walk; he joined them. On their way back, they fell in with a larger party, who, like themselves, judged it wisest to take their exercise early, as the weather threatened rain: Mr. and Mrs. Hudson and their daughter, Miss Turner and her niece, who had accidentally met. They all united; and, on reaching Hartfield gates, Sherlock, who knew it was exactly the sort of visiting that would be welcome to his father, pressed them all to go in and drink tea with him. 


The Randalls party agreed to it immediately; and after a pretty long speech from Miss Turner, which few persons listened to, she also found it possible to accept dear Mr. Holmes' most obliging invitation. As they were turning into the grounds, Miss Sawyer passed by on horseback. 


"By the bye," said Irene Adler to Mrs. Hudson, "what became of Miss Sawyer's plan of setting up her carriage?" 


Mrs. Hudson looked surprised, and said, "I did not know that she ever had any such plan." 


"Nay, I had it from you. You wrote me word of it three months ago." 


"Me! Impossible!" 


"Indeed you did. I remember it perfectly. You mentioned it as what was certainly to be very soon. Miss Sawyer had told somebody, and was extremely happy about it. It was owing to Mr. Holmes’ persuasion, as he thought her being out in bad weather did her a great deal of harm. You must remember it now?" 


"Upon my word I never heard of it till this moment." 


“Never? Really, never? Bless me! How could it be? Then I must have dreamt it — but I was completely persuaded — Miss Hooper, you walk as if you were tired. You will not be sorry to find yourself at home." 


"What is this? What is this,” cried Mr. Hudson, "about Miss Sawyer and a carriage? Is Miss Sawyer going to set up her carriage, Irene? I am glad she can afford it. You had it from herself, had you?" 


"No, sir," replied his daughter, laughing, "I seem to have had it from nobody. Very odd! I really was persuaded of Mrs. Hudson's having mentioned it in one of her letters to Enscombe, many weeks ago, with all these particulars — but as she declares she never heard a syllable of it before, of course it must have been a dream. I am a great dreamer. I dream of everybody at Highbury when I am away — and when I have gone through my particular friends, then I begin dreaming of Miss Sawyer." 


"It is odd, though," observed her father, "that you should have had such a regular connected dream about people whom it was not very likely you should be thinking of at Enscombe. Miss Sawyer's setting up her carriage! And Mr. Holmes persuading her to it, out of care for her health — just what will happen, I have no doubt, some time or other; only a little premature. What an air of probability sometimes runs through a dream! And at others, what a heap of absurdities it is! Well, Irene, your dream certainly shows that Highbury is in your thoughts when you are absent. Sherlock, you are a great dreamer, I think?" 


Sherlock was out of hearing. He had hurried on before his guests to prepare his father for their appearance, and was beyond the reach of Mr. Hudson's hint. 


"Why, to own the truth," cried Miss Turner, who had been trying in vain to be heard the last two minutes, "if I must speak on this subject, there is no denying that Miss Adler might have — I do not mean to say that she did not dream it — I am sure I have sometimes the oddest dreams in the world — but if I am questioned about it, I must acknowledge that there was such an idea last spring; for Miss Sawyer herself mentioned it to my mother — but it was quite a secret, known to nobody else, and only thought of about three days. 


“Sally, don't you remember grandmama's telling us of it when we got home? I forget where we had been walking to — very likely to Randalls; yes, I think it was to Randalls. Miss Sawyer was always particularly fond of my mother — indeed I do not know who is not — and she had mentioned it to her in confidence; she had no objection to her telling us, of course, but it was not to go beyond: and, from that day to this, I never mentioned it to a soul that I know of. At the same time, I will not positively answer for my having never dropped a hint, because I know I do sometimes pop out a thing before I am aware. I am a talker, you know; I am rather a talker; and now and then I have let a thing escape me which I should not. 


“I am not like Sally; I wish I were. I will answer for it — she never betrayed the least thing in the world. Where is she? — Oh! Just behind." 


They were entering the hall. Captain Watson's eyes had preceded Miss Turner's in a glance at Sally. From Irene Adler's face, where he thought he saw confusion suppressed or laughed away, he had involuntarily turned to hers; but she was indeed behind, and too busy with her shawl. He suspected in Irene Adler the determination of catching her eye — she seemed watching her intently — in vain, however, if it were so — Sally passed between them into the hall, and looked at neither. 


There was no time for farther remark or explanation. The dream must be borne with, and Captain Watson must take his seat with the rest round the large modern circular table which Sherlock had introduced at Hartfield, and which none but Sherlock could have had power to place there and persuade his father to use, instead of the small-sized Pembroke, on which two of his daily meals had for forty years been crowded. Tea passed pleasantly, and nobody seemed in a hurry to move. 


"Mr. Holmes," said Irene Adler, after examining a table behind him, which he could reach as he sat, “do you still have your box of letters? It used to stand here. Where is it? This is a sort of dull-looking evening, that ought to be treated rather as winter than summer. We had great amusement with those letters one morning. I want to puzzle you again." 


Sherlock was pleased with the thought; and producing the box, the table was quickly scattered over with alphabet tiles, which no one seemed so much disposed to employ as their two selves. They were rapidly forming words for each other, or for anybody else who would be puzzled. The quietness of the game made it particularly eligible for Sherlock’s father, who had often been distressed by the more animated sort, which Mr. Hudson had occasionally introduced, and who now sat happily occupied in fondly pointing out, as he took up any stray letter near him, how beautifully Sherlock had written it. 


Irene Adler placed a word before Miss Donovan. She gave a slight glance round the table, and applied herself to it. Irene was next to Sherlock, Sally opposite to them — and Captain Watson so placed as to see them all; and it was his object to see as much as he could, with as little apparent observation. The word was discovered, and with a faint smile pushed away. 


If meant to be immediately mixed with the others, and buried from sight, she should have looked on the table instead of looking just across, for it was not mixed; and Molly, eager after every fresh word, and finding out none, directly took it up, and fell to work. She was sitting by Captain Watson, and turned to him for help. The word was BLUNDER; and as Molly exultingly proclaimed it, there was a blush on Sally's cheek which gave it a meaning not otherwise ostensible. Captain Watson connected it with the dream; but how it could all be, was beyond his comprehension. 


How the delicacy, the discretion of Miss Donovan could have been so lain asleep! He feared there must be some decided involvement. Disingenuousness and double dealing seemed to meet him at every turn. These letters were but the vehicle for gallantry and trick. It was a child's play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Irene Adler's part. 


With great indignation did Captain Watson continue to observe her; with great alarm and distrust, to observe also her two blinded companions. He saw a long word prepared for Sherlock, and given to him with a look sly and demure. He saw that Sherlock had soon made it out, and found it highly entertaining, though it was something which he judged it proper to appear to censure; for he said, "Nonsense! For shame!" 


Captain Watson heard Irene Adler next say, with a glance towards Sally, "I will give it to her — shall I?”


He as clearly heard Sherlock opposing it with eager laughing warmth. "No, no, you must not; you shall not, indeed." 


It was done, however. This gallant young lady, who seemed to love without feeling, and to recommend herself without complaisance, directly handed over the word to Miss Donovan, and with a particular degree of sedate civility entreated her to study it. Captain Watson's excessive curiosity to know what this word might be, made him seize every possible moment for darting his eye towards it, and it was not long before he saw it to be ANDERSON


Sally Donovan's perception seemed to accompany his; her comprehension was certainly more equal to the covert meaning, the superior intelligence, of those eight letters so arranged. She was evidently displeased; looked up, and seeing herself watched, blushed more deeply than he had ever perceived her, and saying only, "I did not know that proper names were allowed," pushed away the letters with even an angry spirit, and looked resolved to be engaged by no other word that could be offered. Her face was averted from those who had made the attack, and turned towards her aunt. 


"Aye, very true, my dear," cried the latter, though Sally had not spoken a word. “I was just going to say the same thing. It is time for us to be going indeed. The evening is closing in, and grandmama will be looking for us. My dear sir, you are too obliging. We really must wish you good night." 


Sally's alertness in moving, proved her as ready as her aunt had preconceived. She was immediately up, and wanting to quit the table; but so many were also moving, that she could not get away; and Captain Watson thought he saw another collection of letters anxiously pushed towards her, and resolutely swept away by her unexamined. She was afterwards looking for her shawl — Irene Adler was looking also — it was growing dusk, and the room was in confusion; and how they parted, Captain Watson could not tell. 


He remained at Hartfield after all the rest, his thoughts full of what he had seen; so full, that when the candles came to assist his observations, he must — yes, he certainly must, as a friend — an anxious friend — give Sherlock some hint, ask him some question. He could not see Sherlock in a situation of such danger, without trying to preserve him. It was his duty. 


"Pray, Sherlock," said he, "may I ask in what lay the great amusement, the poignant sting of the last word given to you and Miss Donovan? I saw the word, and am curious to know how it could be so very entertaining to the one, and so very distressing to the other." 


Sherlock was extremely confused. He could not endure to give Captain Watson the true explanation; for though his suspicions were by no means removed, he was really ashamed of having ever imparted them. 


"Oh!" he cried in evident embarrassment, "it all meant nothing; a mere joke among ourselves.”


"The joke,” Captain Watson replied gravely, "seemed confined to you and Miss Adler." 


He had hoped Sherlock would speak again, but he did not. He would rather busy himself about anything than speak. 


Captain Watson sat a little while in doubt. A variety of evils crossed his mind. Interference — fruitless interference. Sherlock's confusion, and the acknowledged intimacy, seemed to declare his affection engaged. Yet he would speak. He owed it to Sherlock, to risk anything that might be involved in an unwelcome interference, rather than his welfare; to encounter anything, rather than the remembrance of neglect in such a cause. 


"My dear Sherlock," said he at last, with earnest kindness, "do you think you perfectly understand the degree of acquaintance between the two ladies we have been speaking of?" 


"Between Miss Adler and Miss Donovan? Oh! Yes, perfectly. Why do you make a doubt of it?”


"Have you never at any time had reason to think that Miss Adler admired Miss Donovan, or vice versa?" 


"Never, never!" Sherlock cried with a most open eagerness. "Never, for the twentieth part of a moment, did such an idea occur to me. And how could it possibly come into your head?" 


"I have lately imagined that I saw symptoms of attachment between them — certain expressive looks, which I did not believe meant to be public." 


"Oh! You amuse me excessively. I am delighted to find that you can vouchsafe to let your imagination wander — but it will not do. There is no admiration between them, I do assure you; and the appearances which have caught you, have arisen from some peculiar circumstances — feelings rather of a totally different nature — it is impossible exactly to explain — there is a good deal of nonsense in it — but the part which is capable of being communicated, which is sense, is, that they are as far from any attachment or admiration for one another, as any two beings in the world can be. That is, I presume it to be so on Miss Donovan’s side, and I can answer for its being so on Miss Adler’s. I will answer for that lady's indifference." 


He spoke with a confidence which staggered, with a satisfaction which silenced, Captain Watson. 


Sherlock was in gay spirits, and would have prolonged the conversation, wanting to hear the particulars of Captain Watson’s suspicions, every look described, and all the wheres and hows of a circumstance which highly entertained him: but his gaiety was not met. 


Captain Watson found he could not be useful, and his feelings were too much irritated for talking. That he might not be irritated into an absolute fever, by the fire which Mr. Holmes' tender habits required almost every evening throughout the year, he soon afterwards took a hasty leave, and walked home to the coolness and solitude of Donwell Abbey.


Chapter Text

After being long fed with hopes of a speedy visit from Colonel and Mrs. Moran, the Highbury world were obliged to endure the mortification of hearing that they could not possibly come till the autumn. No such importation of novelties could enrich their intellectual stores at present. In the daily interchange of news, they must be again restricted to the other topics with which for a while the Morans' coming had been united, such as the latest accounts of Mrs. Adler, whose health seemed every day to supply a different report. 


Mrs. Moriarty was very much disappointed. It was the delay of a great deal of pleasure and parade. Her introductions and recommendations must all wait, and every projected party be still only talked of. So she thought at first; but a little consideration convinced her that everything need not be put off. Why should not they explore to Box Hill, though the Morans did not come? They could go there again with them in the autumn. It was settled that they should go to Box Hill. 


That there was to be such a party had been long generally known: it had even given the idea of another. Sherlock had never been to Box Hill; he wished to see what everybody found so well worth seeing, and he and Mrs. Hudson had agreed to choose some fine morning and drive thither. Two or three more of the chosen only were to be admitted to join them, and it was to be done in a quiet, unpretending, elegant way, infinitely superior to the bustle and preparation, the regular eating and drinking, and picnic parade of the Moriartys and the Morans. 


This was so very well understood between them, that Sherlock could not but feel some surprise, and a little displeasure, on hearing from Mr. Hudson that he had been proposing to Mrs. Moriarty, as her brother-in-law and sister had failed her, that the two parties should unite, and go together; and that as Mrs. Moriarty had very readily acceded to it, so it was to be, if Sherlock had no objection. Now, as his objection was nothing but his very great dislike of Mrs. Moriarty, of which Mr. Hudson must already be perfectly aware, it was not worth bringing forward again: it could not be done without a reproof to him, which would be giving pain to his wife; and Sherlock found himself therefore obliged to consent to an arrangement which he would have done a great deal to avoid; an arrangement which would probably expose him even to the degradation of being said to be of Mrs. Moriarty's party! Every feeling was offended; and the forbearance of his outward submission left a heavy arrear due of secret severity in his reflections on the unmanageable goodwill of Mr. Hudson's temper. 


"I am glad you approve of what I have done," said Mr. Hudson very comfortably. "But I thought you would. Such schemes as these are nothing without numbers. One cannot have too large a party. A large party secures its own amusement. And she is a good-natured woman after all. One could not leave her out." 


Sherlock denied none of it aloud, and agreed to none of it in private. 


It was now the middle of June, and the weather fine; and Mrs. Moriarty was growing impatient to name the day, and settle with Mr. Hudson as to pigeon-pies and cold lamb, when a lame carriage-horse threw everything into sad uncertainty. It might be weeks, it might be only a few days, before the horse were useable; but no preparations could be ventured on, and it was all melancholy stagnation. 


Mrs. Moriarty's resources were inadequate to such an attack. "Is not this most vexatious, Watson?" she cried. "And such weather for exploring! These delays and disappointments are quite odious. What are we to do? The year will wear away at this rate, and nothing done." 


"You had better explore to Donwell," replied Captain Watson. "That may be done without horses. Come, and eat my strawberries. They are ripening fast." 


If Captain Watson did not begin seriously, he was obliged to proceed so, for his proposal was caught at with delight; and the "Oh! I should like it of all things," was not plainer in words than manner. Donwell was famous for its strawberry-beds, which seemed a plea for the invitation: but no plea was necessary; cabbage-beds would have been enough to tempt the lady, who only wanted to be going somewhere. She promised him again and again to come — much oftener than he doubted — and was extremely gratified by such a proof of intimacy, such a distinguishing compliment as she chose to consider it. 


"You may depend upon me," said she. "I certainly will come. Name your day, and I will come. You will allow me to bring Sally Donovan?" 


"I cannot name a day," said he, "till I have spoken to some others whom I would wish to come also." 


"Oh! Leave all that to me. Only give me a carte-blanche. I am Lady Patroness, you know. It is my party. I will bring friends with me." 


"I hope you will bring Mr. Moriarty,” said he, "but I will not trouble you to give any other invitations." 


"Oh! Now you are looking very sly. But consider — you need not be afraid of delegating power to me. I am no young lady on her preferment. Married women, you know, may be safely authorised. It is my party. Leave it all to me. I will invite your guests." 


"No," he calmly replied, "there is but one married woman in the world whom I could ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and that one is — " 


" — Mrs. Hudson, I suppose," interrupted Mrs. Moriarty, rather mortified. 


“No… Mrs. Watson. And as there will never be such a person, I will manage these matters myself." 


"Ah! You are an odd creature!" she cried, satisfied to have no one preferred to herself. "You are a humourist, and may say what you like. Quite a humourist. Well, I shall bring Sally with me —  Sally and her aunt. The rest I leave to you. I have no objections at all to meeting the Hartfield family. Don't scruple. I know you are attached to them." 


"You certainly will meet them if I can prevail; and I shall call on Miss Turner in my way home." 


"That's quite unnecessary; I see Sally every day — but as you like. It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Watson; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here — probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Sally will have such another. We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees — and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors — a table spread in the shade, you know. Everything as natural and simple as possible. Is not that your idea?" 


"Not quite. My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house." 


"Well — as you please; only don't have a great set out. And, by the bye, can I or my housekeeper be of any use to you with our opinion? Pray be sincere, Watson. If you wish me to talk to Mrs. Hodges, or to inspect anything — " 


"I have not the least wish for it, I thank you." 


"Well — but if any difficulties should arise, my housekeeper is extremely clever." 


"I will answer for it, that mine thinks herself full as clever, and would spurn anybody's assistance." 


"I wish we had a donkey. The thing would be for us all to come on donkeys — Sally, Miss Turner, and me — and my caro sposo walking by. I really must talk to him about purchasing a donkey. In a country life I conceive it to be a sort of necessity; for, let a woman have ever so many resources, it is not possible for her to be always shut up at home — and very long walks, you know — in summer there is dust, and in winter there is mud." 


"You will not find either, between Donwell and Highbury. Donwell Lane is never dusty, and now it is perfectly dry. Come on a donkey, however, if you prefer it. You can borrow one of Mrs. Stamford's. I would wish everything to be as much to your taste as possible." 


"That I am sure you would. Indeed I do you justice, my good friend. Under that peculiar sort of dry, blunt manner, I know you have the warmest heart. Yes, believe me, Watson, I am fully sensible of your attention to me in the whole of this scheme. You have hit upon the very thing to please me." 


Captain Watson had another reason for avoiding a table in the shade. He wished to persuade Mr. Holmes, as well as Sherlock, to join the party; and he knew that to have any of them sitting down out of doors to eat would inevitably make him ill. Mr. Holmes must not, under the specious pretence of a morning drive, and an hour or two spent at Donwell, be tempted away to his misery. He was invited on good faith. No lurking horrors were to upbraid him for his easy credulity. 


Mr. Holmes did consent. He had not been at Donwell for two years. He agreed that on some very fine morning, he, and Sherlock, and Molly, could go very well; and he could sit still with Mrs. Hudson, while the dear young people walked about the gardens. He did not suppose they could be damp now, in the middle of the day. He should like to see the old house again exceedingly, and could not see any objection at all to his, and Sherlock's, and Molly's going there some very fine morning. He thought it very well done of Captain Watson to invite them — very kind and sensible — much cleverer than dining out. He was not fond of dining out.


Captain Watson was fortunate in everybody's most ready concurrence. The invitation was everywhere so well received, that it seemed as if, like Mrs. Moriarty, they were all taking the scheme as a particular compliment to themselves. All of the young people who had attended the ball were delighted at the prospect of further festivity. Sherlock and Molly professed very high expectations of pleasure from it; and Mr. Hudson, unasked, promised to get Irene over to join them, if possible; a proof of approbation and gratitude which could have been dispensed with. Captain Watson was then obliged to say (untruthfully) that he should be glad to see her; and Mr. Hudson engaged to lose no time in writing, and spare no arguments to induce her to come.

Chapter Text

Under a bright mid-day sun, at almost Midsummer, Mr. Holmes was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party; and in one of the most comfortable rooms in the Abbey, especially prepared for him by a fire all the morning, he was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved. Mrs. Hudson, who seemed to have walked there on purpose to be tired, and sit all the time with him, remained, when all the others were invited or persuaded out, his patient listener and sympathiser. 


It was so long since Sherlock had been at the Abbey — Captain Watson’s daily visits to Hartfield being so rarely returned — that as soon as he was satisfied of his father's comfort, he was glad to leave him, and look around; eager to refresh and correct his memory with more particular observation, more exact understanding of a house and grounds which must ever be so interesting to him and all his family. Sherlock felt all the honest pride and complacency which his alliance with the proprietor — through Mycroft’s marriage to Captain Watson’s half-brother — could fairly warrant, as he viewed the respectable size and style of the building, its suitable, becoming situation, its ample gardens stretching down to meadows washed by a stream, and its abundance of timber in rows and avenues, which neither fashion nor extravagance had rooted up.


The house was larger than Hartfield, and totally unlike it, covering a good deal of ground, rambling and irregular, with many comfortable, and one or two handsome rooms. It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was — and Sherlock felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding. Mycroft had connected himself well. He had given them neither men, nor names, nor places, that could raise any objection. 


These were pleasant feelings, and Sherlock walked about and indulged them till it was necessary to do as the others did, and collect round the strawberry-beds. The whole party were assembled, excepting Irene Adler, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Moriarty, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering and talking — strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.


"The best fruit in England — everybody's favourite — always wholesome — these the finest beds and finest sorts — delightful to gather for one's self — the only way of really enjoying them — morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade." 


Such, for half an hour, was the conversation, until the strawberry-picking was at an end. Seats tolerably in the shade were procured; and Sherlock found that Sebastian Wilkes, who had been hovering always in his periphery, as they rambled about the strawberry-beds, was now ensconced within his personal space. Sherlock had not seen the young man since the ball, when they had stood up together for two dances. Though he had been quite happy to share those dances — indeed, he enjoyed dancing so much that there were few people (with the notable exception of the Moriartys) with whom he would not have been glad to stand up — Sherlock had no desire for any further intimacy with Mr. Wilkes. He thus removed himself to the shade of a different tree.    


Now, however, Sherlock was obliged to overhear what Mrs. Moriarty and Sally Donovan were talking of. A situation, a most desirable situation, was in question. Mrs. Moriarty had received notice of it that morning, and was in raptures. It was not with Colonel and Mrs. Moran, but in felicity and splendour it fell short only of them: it was with an acquaintance of Mrs. Moran, a lady known at Maple Grove. Delightful, charming, superior, first circles, spheres, lines, ranks, everything — and Mrs. Moriarty was wild to have the offer closed with immediately.


On her side, all was warmth, energy, and triumph — and she positively refused to take her friend's negative, though Miss Donovan continued to assure her that she would not at present engage in anything, repeating the same motives which she had been heard to urge before. Still, Mrs. Moriarty insisted on being authorised to write an acquiescence by the morrow's post. 


How Sally could bear it at all was astonishing to Sherlock. She did look vexed, she did speak pointedly — and at last, with a decision of action unusual to her, proposed a removal. Should not they walk? Would not Captain Watson show them the gardens — all the gardens? She wished to see the whole extent. 


The guests arose, united in their desire to see the gardens. Sebastian Wilkes placed himself once again by Sherlock’s side, and seemed determined to stay nearby. When Sherlock quickened his pace, Mr. Wilkes did, as well — hurrying to keep up with Sherlock’s longer stride. 


Sherlock then stopped completely, on the pretence of making an alteration to his boot — a ruse he had employed, to mixed effect, on a previous occasion. Today it did not serve him well at all, though, for Mr. Wilkes, rather than continuing on with the rest of the group, actually dropped to one knee to offer his assistance in lacing up the boot in question. Now, as the boot was, in fact, already perfectly laced, and as Sherlock’s fiddling with it had been aimed solely at discouraging Mr. Wilkes’ attentions without appearing to be rude, he found himself at a bit of a loss. 


“I believe I have a pebble in my boot,” Sherlock improvised. “Pray, do go ahead with the others, and I shall catch up with you in a moment, once I have extracted it.” 


This, however, Sebastian Wilkes declined to do, gallantly insisting that he would help remove the boot.


Sherlock’s shock at hearing this can well be imagined. His mortification at such an improper suggestion was increased by the realisation that Mr. Moriarty had paused a few feet away, and was narrowly observing the two of them. 


Cheeks flaming with embarrassment and anger, Sherlock snapped, “I am perfectly capable of managing on my own, thank you. I insist that you — and Mr. Moriarty,” with a glare at the other man, “rejoin the rest of the party. I will be along presently.”


His manner brooked no argument, and soon the other two gentlemen — if, indeed, they could be so called — had departed, leaving him, for the moment, in blissful solitude.


It was hot, however, and soon the sun drove Sherlock to follow the others to the delicious shade of a broad avenue of limes. It led to a view at the end over the extensive Donwell estate, and all of it’s tenant farms. At half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with woods, and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it. It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive. 


In this walk Sherlock found all the others assembled; and towards this view he immediately perceived Captain Watson and Molly distinct from the rest, quietly leading the way. Captain Watson and Molly! — It was an odd tete-a-tete; but he was glad to see it. There had been a time when he would have scorned her as a companion, and turned from her with little ceremony. Now they seemed in pleasant conversation. 


There had been a time also when Sherlock would have been sorry to see Molly in a spot so favourable for the Abbey Mill Farm; but now, with the thought of Molly’s newfound interest in Irene Adler, he feared it not. It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending. 


Sherlock joined them at the wall, and found them more engaged in talking than in looking around. Captain Watson was giving Molly information as to modes of agriculture, etc. and Sherlock received a smile which seemed to say, "These are my own concerns. I have a right to talk on such subjects, without being suspected of introducing Stella Hopkins."  


Sherlock did not suspect him. It was too old a story. Stella Hopkins had probably ceased to think of Molly.


They took a few turns together along the walk. The shade was most refreshing, and Sherlock found it the pleasantest part of the day. 


The next remove was to the house; they must all go in and eat; and they were all seated and busy, and still Irene Adler did not come. Mrs. Hudson looked, and looked in vain. Mr. Hudson would not own himself uneasy, and laughed at her fears; but she could not be cured of wishing that Irene would part with her flighty black mare. 


Irene had expressed herself as to coming, with more than common certainty. Her aunt was so much better, that she had not a doubt of getting over to them. Mrs. Adler's state, however, as many were ready to remind her, was liable to such sudden variation as might disappoint her niece in the most reasonable dependence — and Mrs. Hudson was at last persuaded to believe, or to say, that it must be by some attack of Mrs. Adler that she was prevented coming. 


Sherlock looked at Molly while the point was under consideration; she behaved very well, and betrayed no emotion. He silently applauded her discretion in concealing any particular interest in Irene Adler.


The cold repast was over, and the party were to go out once more to see what had not yet been seen: the Abbey fish-ponds, or perhaps the clover, which was to be begun cutting on the morrow, or, at any rate, have the pleasure of being hot, and growing cool again in the shade of the limes. 


Mr. Holmes, who had already taken his little round in the highest part of the gardens, where no damps from the river were imagined even by him, stirred no more; and his son resolved to remain with him, that Mrs. Hudson might be persuaded away by her husband to the exercise and variety which her spirits appeared to need. Captain Watson had done all in his power for Mr. Holmes' entertainment. Books of engravings, drawers of medals, cameos, corals, shells, and every other family collection within his cabinets, had been prepared for his old friend, to while away the morning; and the kindness had perfectly answered. Mr. Holmes had been exceedingly well amused. Mrs. Hudson had been showing them all to him, and now he would show them all to Sherlock. 


Before this second looking-over was begun, however, Sherlock was obliged once again to rebuff the attentions of Sebastian Wilkes. The young man seemed determined to assist Sherlock in entertaining his father — an assistance welcomed by neither the elder nor the younger Mr. Holmes. Though his father was far too polite to say so, it was plain to Sherlock that he wished Mr. Wilkes gone. 


With utmost civility, therefore, Sherlock offered the young man his arm, saying, “Come, Mr. Wilkes. Would not you enjoy another turn around the grounds?”


With great alacrity did Sebastian Wilkes take Sherlock’s arm. “Oh, yes! The Donwell estate is spectacular! I should be glad to spend hours exploring it!” 


Sherlock guided him through to the entry hall and out the great doors, before extricating himself from the young man’s grip. “You are quite right,” said he. “You certainly should spend the next several hours exploring Captain Watson’s estate. Now I must return to my father. Goodbye.”


With that, Sherlock stepped back into the hall and unceremoniously closed the door on Sebastian Wilkes. He paused for a moment to regain his composure. When the door opened again a minute later, he was relieved to see it was only Sally Donovan, coming quickly in from the garden, and with a look of escape. 


"Will you be so kind," said she, "when I am missed, as to say that I am gone home? My aunt is not aware how late it is, nor how long we have been absent — but I am sure my grandmother shall be wanting me, and I am determined to go directly. I have said nothing about it to anybody. It would only be giving trouble and distress. Some are gone to the ponds, and some to the lime walk. Till they all come in I shall not be missed; and when they do, will you have the goodness to say that I am gone?" 


"Certainly, if you wish it. Let me order the carriage. It can be round in five minutes." 


"Thank you, thank you — but on no account. I would rather walk — quick walking will refresh me. Mr. Holmes, we all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted. The greatest kindness you can show me, will be to let me have my own way, and only say that I am gone when it is necessary." 


Sherlock could not oppose. He saw it all; and entering into her feelings, promoted her quitting the house immediately, and watched her safely off with the zeal of a friend. Her parting look was grateful — and her parting words, "Oh! Mr. Holmes, the comfort of being sometimes alone!" — seemed to burst from an overcharged heart, and to describe somewhat of the continual endurance to be practised by her, even towards some of those who loved her best. 


"Such a home, indeed! Such an aunt! And such a friend as Mrs. Moriarty!” said Sherlock, as he turned back into the hall again. "I do pity you. And the more sensibility you betray of their just horrors, the more I shall like you." 


Sally had not been gone a quarter of an hour, when Irene Adler entered the room. Sherlock had not been thinking of her, he had forgotten to think of her — but he was very glad to see her. Mrs. Hudson would be at ease. The black mare was blameless; they were right who had named Mrs. Adler as the cause. Irene had been detained by a temporary increase of illness in her; a nervous seizure, which had lasted some hours — and she had quite given up every thought of coming, till very late — and had she known how hot a ride she should have, and how late, with all her hurry, she must be, she believed she should not have come at all. 


"You will soon be cooler, if you sit still," said Sherlock. 


"As soon as I am cooler I shall go back again. I could very ill be spared — but such a point had been made of my coming! You will all be going soon I suppose; the whole party breaking up. I met one as I came — Madness in such weather! — Absolute madness!”


Sherlock listened, and looked, and soon perceived that Irene Adler's state might be best defined by the expressive phrase of being out of humour. Some people were always cross when they were hot; such might be her constitution. Muttering something about spruce-beer, she walked off. 


Sherlock returned all his attention to his father, saying in secret, “I should not like a partner who is so soon discomposed by a hot day. Molly's sweet, easy temper will not mind it." 


Irene Adler was gone long enough to have had a very comfortable meal, and came back all the better — grown quite cool, and with good manners, able to draw a chair close to them, take an interest in their employment, and regret, in a reasonable way, that she should be so late. She was not in her best spirits, but seemed trying to improve them; and, at last, made herself talk nonsense very agreeably. 


They were looking over views of Switzerland. "As soon as my aunt gets well, I shall go abroad," said she. "I ought to travel. I want a change.”


"We are going to Box Hill as soon as the Hudson’s carriage horse is sound,” said Sherlock. “You should join us. It is not Switzerland, but it will be something for a young woman so much in want of a change.” 


Miss Adler responded only with a slight inclination of her head. 


The rest of the party were now returning, and all were soon collected. With some there was great joy at the sight of Irene Adler; others took it very composedly; but there was a very general distress and disturbance on Miss Donovan's disappearance being explained. 


It soon became apparent that Sebastian Wilkes was also missing. Those who had been at the ponds had supposed he had gone to the lime walk, while those enjoying the lime walk had assumed he was at the ponds. Now, however, they were all reunited, and he was discovered not to have been a member of either party. 


Sherlock and his father were questioned, but could give no more satisfactory response than that Mr. Wilkes had expressed an interest in exploring the estate. Mr. Holmes was full of fretful concern: the heat of a Midsummer afternoon was no fit time for anyone to be rambling about out of doors. He believed Mr. Wilkes was in danger of succumbing to insolation.


Captain Watson instantly dispatched a dozen servants to search for the young man, and promised to join in the quest once he had seen his other guests safely on their way. That it was time for everybody to go, concluded the subject; and after giving the requisite thanks for an enjoyable day, they all departed. 


Chapter Text

Captain Watson’s search for his missing guest met with mixed success; Sebastian Wilkes was found, but in such a state as required the immediate attendance of Miss Sawyer. 


The apothecary was duly summoned. She arrived at Donwell Abbey to find her patient — who had been brought in to the coolness of the house, and laid upon a bed in one of the spare rooms — quite insensible, with a slow, weak pulse and shallow breathing. None of her treatments proved efficacious, and before midnight Mr. Wilkes drew his last breath.


This sad news was conveyed to Hartfield by Captain Watson, who arrived early the next morning, to ensure that Mr. Holmes would not be unduly distressed by hearing of it from another quarter. Even with all of his tact, the situation was calculated to disturb Mr. Holmes, who suffered from continual worry about his own health and the well-being of those around him, and for whom any instance of illness in another — let alone an actual death — brought on an exacerbation of his anxiety. 


Captain Watson did his best to calm the old gentleman’s fears, by relating Miss Sawyer’s assurances that there was no hint of contagion in the matter. This information, however, rather than leading to the hoped for calmness and acceptance in Mr. Holmes, instead resulted in disquieting speculation.


“No contagion? Then it must have been the heat. You’ll remember I warned of the dangers of insolation. And I’m sure the food was too rich for him. I don’t know what you were thinking, Captain Watson, in providing such a lavish spread, and then allowing your guests immediately afterwards to exert themselves in the midday sun.”


Seeing the effects of his father’s thoughtless words on Captain Watson’s countenance, Sherlock hastened to step in. “My dearest Papa,” said he, “you forget to whom you are speaking. No one could be more solicitous for the comfort and welfare of his guests than Captain Watson.”


This gentle reproof had its desired effect. Mr. Holmes immediately begged Captain Watson’s pardon, pleading the shock of the news as his excuse. His apology was graciously accepted, and soon afterwards Captain Watson took his leave. 



In a village the size of Highbury, a funeral was not an uncommon event. Death, as the inevitable conclusion to life, was, if not welcomed, at least to be expected. As the community gathered together, listening to the Reverend James Moriarty intone the familiar words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” thoughts naturally turned to those others who were no longer among them. 


Sherlock, along with everyone he knew, had experienced his share of loss. His own mother’s passing, though it had happened so long ago, had forever altered the course of his life. Captain Watson and Greg Holmes-Lestrade had lost three parents between them: the death of Mr. Lestrade leading to his widow’s remarriage to Mr. Watson, and their subsequent passing leaving the half-brothers as each other’s only family. Mr. Hudson had lost his first wife — Irene Adler’s mother; Sally Donovan had been orphaned; Mrs. Turner’s husband had left her a widow. No one could hope to remain untouched by death.  


Though the funeral of Sebastian Wilkes must call to mind these departed loved ones, the passage of time must also serve to soften the remembered grief. Sherlock’s thoughts eventually turned to a less affecting but more recent loss. Miss Connie Prince, a friend of the family, had been buried in this same churchyard not three months ago. 


Sherlock had not dwelt on the circumstances at the time: as a woman of a certain age, there had been little in her passing to excite suspicion; and his own uncomfortable feelings had dissuaded him from examining the matter too closely. Now, though, he wondered at his own previous lack of interest. What exactly had been the cause of Miss Prince’s death?


This led to another question: what exactly had been the cause of Mr. Wilkes’ death? The early demise of a young person, though not unheard of, was certainly a less common event. Yet Mr. Wilkes was not the first young man to meet his end in the village in recent months. Though most of Highbury was unaware of the fact, Andrew Dimmock had also died there. As an outsider, his loss had passed unremarked upon. Sherlock’s mind, though, began to remark — and its remarks were unsettling. 


That two such apparently healthy and vigorous young men as Sebastian Wilkes and Andrew Dimmock should have met their ends within six months of one another was an occurrence that bore closer scrutiny. Adding in Miss Prince made things all the more curious. Was there a connection between these three individuals, and their unanticipated deaths? 


Miss Prince and Mr. Wilkes, as lifelong residents of Highbury, had certainly met, but Sherlock could recall no instance of seeing them interact. Mr. Dimmock had been in the village for such a brief time that he could not have been acquainted with either of them. Any connection, then — if one existed — had not been between the three themselves, but must have been mediated by a third party.


What acquaintance did all three of them have in common? A nagging thought pricked at the back of Sherlock’s brain: he himself was one of the very few people who had known all of the recently deceased. Could there be any significance to this fact? 


Sherlock recalled Mr. Wilkes’ unwanted attentions towards himself. They brought to mind the equally unwanted attentions of Miss Prince; and Mr. Dimmock’s flirtations, though less objectionable, had been no less marked. Here, then, was a possible connection.


This realisation led to another: Mr. Dimmock’s death had not been the first. Miss Jennifer Wilson had died three months prior, at the Hudsons’ wedding. Like Mr. Dimmock, she had not been a resident of Highbury, and so her passing had made no lasting impression on the village in general. Sherlock himself had avoided the topic, not wanting to bring up an event that had cast a pall over Mrs. Hudson’s special day. As he looked back, however, he did recall that Miss Wilson had shown an uncommon degree of interest in him.


Four potential suitors; four unexplained deaths. What could it mean? Highbury was not the setting of some gothic novel, filled with supernatural horrors. Sherlock did not believe for a moment that some ghostly, unseen hand was plucking the souls from the bodies of anyone who dared to flirt with him. No, if the deaths were unexplained, they need not remain so. He would get to the bottom of this.


First, he would review the facts. Miss Wilson had collapsed over her slice of wedding cake; her subsequent death had been attributed by Mr. Holmes to the richness of that cake, and by others to the arduous journey she had recently undertaken from Cornwall, but no definitive diagnosis had been given by Miss Sawyer. Mr. Dimmock had passed away after having consumed a quantity of wine at the Hudsons’ Christmas party, though Sherlock did not believe the young man had drunk nearly enough to put his life at risk. Miss Prince had been found in the chapel, last seen alive with her head bowed in prayer after taking communion; the general assumption had been that it was ‘her time to go,’ but Sherlock thought such a robust woman in her early fifties ought to have had many years of life ahead of her. Finally, Mr. Wilkes had been found unconscious on Captain Watson’s grounds, and had died from unspecified causes, possibly linked to exertion in the heat after consuming a large meal.


In each of these cases, death had occurred after the ingestion of food or drink. Could poison be to blame? If so, who had introduced it, and with what motive?


A horrifying thought darted into Sherlock’s mind: his father was vehemently opposed to matrimony, on the grounds that it served to remove those he loved — Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson — from his home; he had stated on more than one occasion that he could not bear the thought of Sherlock ever getting married and leaving him. Could Mr. Holmes have taken steps to ensure that should never happen?


Sherlock instantly dismissed the idea as ludicrous. He felt hot shame for having allowed it even a split-second’s existence. He knew his father; he knew his heart: there might be occasional selfishness within it, but there was no malice. Mr. Holmes would never cause willful harm to another.


Who else, then, might have motive to do away with four individuals who had shown a romantic interest in Sherlock? 


The next person who sprang to mind seemed a much more likely candidate: Mr. Moriarty. He had been present at each of the events; he had made his own interest in Sherlock unpleasantly clear; and his character, which Sherlock had once thought so unexceptionable, had since proven itself to be most exceptionable indeed. Sherlock did not doubt that Mr. Moriarty, while entertaining unfounded hopes of securing Sherlock’s hand — and fortune — had been capable of trying to eliminate his perceived competition, in the form of Miss Wilson and Mr. Dimmock. Nor was it hard to imagine that, after his own marriage, Mr. Moriarty might still spitefully wish to prevent anyone else — such as Miss Prince or Mr. Wilkes — from succeeding in creating an attachment where he himself had so spectacularly failed. 


These were shocking conjectures, and Sherlock checked himself. He must not allow his dislike for Mr. Moriarty to lead him astray. He could not trust himself to be objective in this case. He needed the counsel of someone on whose judgement he could rely.


As soon as the funeral concluded, therefore, Sherlock sent his father home alone in the carriage, saying he preferred to walk back to Hartfield, if Captain Watson would be so good as to accompany him. This, Captain Watson most readily agreed to do. They set off together; and once they were beyond the range of any inquisitive ears, Sherlock laid out the whole of his deductions.


To his surprise, Captain Watson did not accuse him of being fanciful. Much the opposite. Captain Watson looked grave, and expressed his concern for Sherlock’s safety, and the safety of those around him. 


“My dear Sherlock,” said he, “if your suppositions are true, then we must act. We cannot allow a murderer to walk free among us.”


“Agreed,” said Sherlock. “But what course of action would you recommend? We have no proof of any wrongdoing.”


“I shall send a letter to Greg at once. He and Mycroft were planning to visit in July, but in the circumstances, I’m sure they can be persuaded to come earlier. My brother’s profession gives him experience in these matters; he will know what to do.”

Chapter Text

The arrival in Highbury of Greg and Mycroft Holmes-Lestrade was met with great joy by their relations at both Hartfield and Donwell Abbey. For Mr. Holmes, every visit from his elder son was treasured, and a visit that commenced a fortnight before he had been expected was doubly so. Sherlock was as pleased to see his brother as ever — which was to say, quite moderately — but he and Captain Watson were particularly thankful to have Greg among them. As Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, his presence was welcomed now more than usual. 


Though he promised not to discuss the matter with anyone except his half-brother, his husband, and Sherlock — all of whom were united in their desire to preserve Mr. Holmes from any anxiety — Greg Holmes-Lestrade was eager to investigate the string of recent deaths. That his invitation to Andrew Dimmock, to spend the previous Christmas in Highbury, had led to his protege’s untimely demise, had long been weighing on his conscience. The possibility that the young man had met his end, not by over-imbibing the Hudsons' good wine, but through some more sinister means, was still more disturbing. If there were a murderer in Highbury, Greg Holmes-Lestrade vowed to see him hanged.


However, there was little he could do, at first, save gather information. This he did with the utmost discretion. His interrogation of those closest to the deceased was conducted under the guise of friendly, sympathetic conversation — facilitated by the relationships Sherlock and Captain Watson had with all those connected with the matter, but guided by his own skillful and subtle questioning.


Mr. Hudson, with his usual outgoing manner, was happy to talk at length of his dearly departed cousin, Jennifer Wilson. Miss Emma Tompson was equally communicative regarding her long-time friend and employee, Connie Prince. The Wilkes family, though still in the early stages of mourning, took comfort in reminiscing about their beloved Sebastian. Even Miss Sawyer was drawn out, to share what she knew of her former patients.


The results of these enquiries lent credence to Sherlock’s suspicions. There was nothing in the history of Miss Wilson, Miss Prince, or Mr. Wilkes — nor, so far as Greg Holmes-Lestrade had been able to ascertain, of Mr. Dimmock — that would suggest they were in imminent danger of death by natural causes. Miss Sawyer confessed herself to have been puzzled as to the precise antecedent of each collapse. Though the most obvious cause in each case had been different, the symptoms had been the same in the three patients she examined while still alive — slow, weak pulse, shallow breathing, unconsciousness, and eventual stopping of the heart.


Perusal of the extensive Hartfield library led to the discovery of a possible agent of these symptoms. An Account of the Foxglove and Some of Its Medical Uses, by Dr. William Withering, laid out, not only the titular medical uses of the plant, but also its toxic effects, which included those suffered by the four who had died in recent months. Sherlock was quick to point out the profusion of foxgloves growing in the Vicarage garden; but Mycroft was equally quick to remind him that foxglove was to be found throughout Highbury and the surrounding areas, including the grounds of both Hartfield and Donwell Abbey. If, indeed, it was the source of the poison, it could not be used to point to a particular poisoner.


Here, their investigation paused. A week went by with no new insights into the case, and then another week. Life in Highbury — for all save Sherlock, Captain Watson, and Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade — seemed to be returning to normal; so normal, in fact, that the party to Box Hill was once more under consideration. The lame carriage horse having fully recovered, and the weather appearing exactly right, a day was soon fixed upon.


They had a very fine day for Box Hill; and all the other outward circumstances of arrangement, accommodation, and punctuality, were in favour of a pleasant party. Mr. Hudson directed the whole, officiating safely between Hartfield and the Vicarage, and everybody was in good time. The assemblage included all of those who had been present at the Donwell Abbey strawberry-picking — with the addition of Greg and Mycroft Holmes-Lestrade, and the notable exception of Mr. Holmes, for whom a picnic out of doors was tantamount to an engraved invitation to illness, Mrs. Hudson, who had volunteered to stay behind and keep the old gentleman company at Hartfield, and Sebastian Wilkes, whose absence, by general agreement, went unremarked upon.


Nothing was wanting but to be happy when they got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and everybody had a burst of admiration on first arriving. For two hours, they wandered about the hill in smaller groups, admiring the views.


At last they reunited, and all sat down together for their picnic at the top of a spectacular chalk cliff overlooking the River Mole. Irene Adler grew talkative and gay, making Sherlock her first object. Every distinguishing attention that could be paid, was paid to him. To amuse him, and be agreeable in his eyes, seemed all that she cared for — and Sherlock, glad to be enlivened, not sorry to be flattered, was gay and easy too, and gave her all the friendly encouragement, the admission to be gallant, which he had ever given in the first and most animating period of their acquaintance; but which now, in his own estimation, meant nothing, though in the judgment of most people looking on it must have had such an appearance as no English word but flirtation could very well describe. 


"Miss Irene Adler and Mr. Sherlock Holmes flirted together excessively." They were laying themselves open to that very phrase — and to having it sent off in a letter to Maple Grove by one lady, to Ireland by another. 


Not that Sherlock was gay and thoughtless from any real felicity. He did not wish Irene Adler to feel any genuine attachment to him — he still intended her for Molly — but he hoped that by permitting her attentions, he might be able to draw out whomever had done away with his previous suitors. Having a great deal of confidence in his deductions concerning the identity of that person — regardless of Mycroft’s doubts — Sherlock kept Mr. Moriarty under constant covert scrutiny.


After allowing Miss Adler to engage him in meaningless flirtation for a quarter of an hour, Sherlock finally checked her, saying, “Your gallantry is really unanswerable. But,” (lowering his voice) “nobody speaks except ourselves, and it is rather too much to be talking nonsense for the entertainment of a dozen silent people." 


"I say nothing of which I am ashamed," replied she, with lively impudence. And then, whispering, "Our companions are excessively stupid. What shall we do to rouse them? Any nonsense will serve. They shall talk.” In louder tones, she continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Mr. Holmes (who, wherever he is, presides) to say that he desires to know what you are all thinking of.” 


Some laughed, and answered good-humouredly. Miss Turner said a great deal. Mrs. Moriarty swelled with indignation at the idea of Mr. Holmes presiding. 


Captain Watson's answer was the most distinct. "Is Mr. Holmes sure that he would like to hear what we are all thinking of?" 


"Oh! No, no!” cried Sherlock, laughing as carelessly as he could. “Upon no account in the world. It is the very last thing I would stand the brunt of just now. Let me hear anything rather than what you are all thinking of." 


"It will not do," whispered Irene to Sherlock; "they are most of them affronted. I will try another tack.” 


She raised her voice, proclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen — I am ordered by Mr. Holmes to say that he waives his right of knowing exactly what you may all be thinking of, and only requires from each of you something very clever, be it prose or verse, original or repeated, and he engages to laugh heartily at you all." 


"I like your plan," cried Mr. Hudson. "Agreed, agreed. I will do my best. I am making a conundrum. How will a conundrum reckon?" 


"Low, I am afraid, sir, very low," answered his daughter, "but we shall be indulgent — especially to anyone who leads the way." 


"No, no," said Sherlock, "it will not reckon low. A conundrum of Mr. Hudson's shall clear him and his next neighbour. Come, sir, pray let me hear it." 


"I doubt its being very clever myself. It is too much a matter of fact, but here it is: For whom is the certain key to a young lady’s heart fashioned?” Mr. Hudson asked, with a significant glance at his daughter. 


Most of the party looked puzzled, but Irene, laughing, said, “Ah! My father can never resist a pun.”


When no one else ventured a guess, Mr. Hudson explained, “A certain key is fashioned for a sure lock — Sherlock. Do you understand?”


His meaning, coupled with the telling manner in which his eyes travelled from Irene to Sherlock and back again, was too clear for anyone to miss. That Mr. Hudson had high hopes for a new son-in-law could not have been plainer.


Sherlock flushed with embarrassment. From the corner of his eye, he could see that Mr. Moriarty had flushed as well, though the other man’s countenance suggested that his colour was due to a barely suppressed fury. 


Continuing his surreptitious observation of Mr. Moriarty, Sherlock saw him furtively drop something into a cup and swirl it around before offering it with false joviality to Irene Adler.


“Here, Miss Adler,” said he, “you must try this fine cider. Nothing could be more refreshing on such a hot day.”


Irene raised the cup to her lips, but before she could take a sip, Sherlock dashed it from her hand. She gave a startled gasp as the cup shattered at her feet.


“There’s your poisoner!” cried Sherlock to Greg Holmes-Lestrade. “Search his pockets!”


Mr. Moriarty sprang up, flinging something into the river far below. “What madness is this?” he demanded, all innocence. “Mr. Holmes must be suffering from overexposure to the sun. He does not know what he is saying.”


“It’s you who’ve gone mad!” shrieked his wife, flying to his side. “You promised me, after Mr. Wilkes, there would be no more — and now here you are, at it again! Look what your obsession with that man has driven you to! How can you still care about him when you have me?”


Mrs. Moriarty hurled herself at her husband in a fit of jealous rage. They grappled with each other for an endless moment — as the others looked on, frozen in shock — before tumbling together over the edge of the cliff.


Chapter Text

The shocking image of the Reverend and Mrs. Moriarty plummeting to their deaths would be indelibly imprinted on the minds of all who witnessed it. Their screams, as they fell, could not be unheard; they would haunt the dreams of everyone who had been present at Box Hill on that fateful day. The horror of these events was magnified by the realisation that a murderer had been living among them — that a murderer had, in fact, be entrusted with the shepherding of their immortal souls — for all this time, unnoticed.


Some feelings must be shared by all of the Box Hill party; others were particular to certain individuals. For Mr. Hudson, relief at his daughter’s narrow escape was tempered by renewed grief over the senseless loss of his beloved cousin, Jennifer Wilson. Greg Holmes-Lestrade experienced an odd sense of let-down, in losing the opportunity to personally bring the criminal to justice. And for Sherlock, there was a sort of giddy thrill at having his deductions proven correct — a satisfaction which he was at some pains to conceal from the rest of the party.


Greg Holmes-Lestrade took charge, commanding everyone else to return to the safety and comfort of their own homes. While they waited for the servants to bring up the carriages, Sherlock found Captain Watson by his side. 


Captain Watson looked around, as if to see that no one were near, and then said, "Sherlock, I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privilege rather endured than allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it. I cannot see you acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you so expose yourself? How could you engage in such a blatant, public flirtation? — Sherlock, I had not thought it possible." 


Sherlock recollected, blushed, but tried to laugh it off. He was sorry that his attempts to provoke Mr. Moriarty into revealing himself had opened him up to public censure, but, after all, he had been successful. He replied, therefore, "Nay, how could I help doing what I did?” 


Captain Watson looked grave. “This is not pleasant to you, Sherlock — and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will — I will tell you truths while I can; satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now. I well know you cannot change what you feel for Miss Adler, but I would advise you to check your behaviour.” 


While they talked, they were advancing towards the Holmes’ carriage; it was ready; and, before Sherlock could speak again, Captain Watson had handed him in. He had misinterpreted the feelings which had kept Sherlock’s face averted, and his tongue motionless. They were combined only of  shock, mortification, and deep concern. Sherlock had not been able to speak; and, on entering the carriage, sunk back for a moment overcome. Then, reproaching himself for having taken no leave, making no acknowledgment, parting in apparent sullenness, he looked out with voice and hand eager to show a difference; but it was just too late. Captain Watson had turned away, and the horses were in motion. 


Sherlock continued to look back, but in vain; and soon, with what appeared unusual speed, they were halfway down the hill, and everything left far behind. He was vexed beyond what could have been expressed. Never had he felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in his life. He was most forcibly struck. 


How could Captain Watson have so misunderstood him? How could he have believed that Sherlock’s flirtation with Irene Adler signified anything other than an attempt — a successful attempt! — to induce Mr. Moriarty to show his hand? Sherlock had merely been acting a part. He had been obliged to act it well enough to convince Mr. Moriarty of his interest, but he had never dreamed that it would deceive so astute an observer — one who knew him so well — as Captain Watson. 


Sherlock felt it at his heart. How could he have exposed himself to such ill opinion in anyone he valued! And how suffer to leave him without saying one word of common kindness! 


Time did not compose him. As he reflected more, he seemed but to feel it more. Sherlock never had been so depressed. Happily it was not necessary to speak. There was only Molly with him in the carriage, who was not in spirits herself, and very willing to be silent; and Sherlock felt the tears running down his cheeks almost all the way home, without being at any trouble to check them, extraordinary as they were.


Once the carriage reached Hartfield, however, Sherlock made a valiant effort to compose himself. He would not alarm his father by betraying the depths of his distress. The news he had to impart would be horrifying enough; Mr. Holmes must not be further dismayed by any anxiety over Sherlock’s well-being.


On reaching the house, Sherlock was informed by a servant that Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Hudson were taking a turn in the garden. This was all to the good. It allowed Sherlock time to further collect himself, and to see Molly comfortably settled in the parlour with a cup of tea, before going out to seek them.


Sherlock found his father and Mrs. Hudson sitting on a bench in one of his favourite spots, under the shade of an ancient elm. As he strode up to join them, something in his countenance must have given a hint that all was not well, for Mrs. Hudson rose and touched his arm in motherly concern. 


“My dear,” said she, “you are returned from Box Hill earlier than expected. Is anything amiss?”  


Sherlock sighed. ‘Amiss’ was much too mild a word to use. Though he tried to relate the events of the day in as calm and matter-of-fact a manner as possible, the news was such as could scarcely be understood — let alone believed — for quite some time. Comprehension came first to Mrs. Hudson, who then joined Sherlock in attempting to reconcile Mr. Holmes to the sorry truth.


At last Sherlock was persuaded to return to the house to see to Molly, while Mrs. Hudson remained with his father, soothing him in her gentle way. Sherlock's pensive meditations, as he walked back to the house, were not interrupted; but on entering the parlour, he found those who must rouse him. Captain Watson had arrived during his absence, and was sitting with Molly. 


Captain Watson immediately got up, and in a manner decidedly graver than usual, said, "I would not go away without seeing you, but I have no time to spare, and therefore must now be gone directly. I am going to London, to spend a week or two with Greg and Mycroft." 


"But is not this a sudden scheme?" 


"Yes — rather — I have been thinking of it some little time; and my brother has need of my support." 


Sherlock was sure Captain Watson had not forgiven him; he looked unlike himself. Time, however, he thought, would tell him that they ought to be friends again.


While he stood, as if meaning to go, but not going, Molly spoke up.


“Captain Watson has been sitting with me this half hour,” she said. “I explained that you had gone out in search of your father.” 


“Yes,” said Sherlock. “He is in Mrs. Hudson’s tender care, now. This news has been quite a shock to him. I could not allow him to hear of it from anyone but myself. I have many regrets about my behaviour today — I did not want to add inattention to my father to that list.”


It seemed as if there were an instantaneous impression in his favour, as if Captain Watson’s eyes received the truth from his, and all that had passed of good in his feelings were at once caught and honoured. Captain Watson looked at him with a glow of regard. Sherlock was warmly gratified — and in another moment still more so, by a little movement of more than common friendliness on his part.


Captain Watson took Sherlock’s hand. Whether Sherlock had not himself made the first motion, he could not say — he might, perhaps, have rather offered it — but Captain Watson took his hand, pressed it, and certainly was on the point of carrying it to his lips — when, from some fancy or other, he suddenly let it go. Why he should feel such a scruple, why he should change his mind when it was all but done, Sherlock could not perceive. He would have judged better, Sherlock thought, if he had not stopped. The intention, however, was indubitable; and whether it was that his manners had in general so little gallantry, or however else it happened, Sherlock thought nothing became him more. It was with him, of so simple, yet so dignified a nature. Sherlock could not but recall the attempt with great satisfaction. It spoke such perfect amity.


Captain Watson left them immediately afterwards — gone in a moment. He always moved with the alertness of a mind which could neither be undecided nor dilatory, but now he seemed more sudden than usual in his disappearance. 


Sherlock could not regret having gone out to speak with his father, but he wished he had left him ten minutes earlier; it would have been a great pleasure to spend more time with Captain Watson. Neither would he allow himself to regret that Captain Watson should be going to London, for he knew how much his presence would be appreciated by Greg and Mycroft — but it might have happened at a better time — and to have had longer notice of it, would have been pleasanter.


They parted thorough friends, however. Sherlock could not be deceived as to the meaning of Captain Watson’s countenance, and his unfinished gallantry; it was all done to assure him that his ill-judgement in flirting with Irene Adler was forgiven.


Chapter Text

The following day brought news from Richmond to compete with the shock of the events at Box Hill. An express arrived at Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Adler. Though her niece had had no particular reason to hasten back on her account, she had not lived above six hours after Irene’s return. A sudden seizure, of a different nature from anything foreboded by her general state, had carried her off after a short struggle. The great Mrs. Adler was no more. 


It was felt as such things must be felt. Everybody had a degree of gravity and sorrow; tenderness towards the departed, solicitude for the surviving friends; and, in a reasonable time, curiosity to know where she would be buried. Goldsmith tells us, that when lovely woman stoops to folly, she has nothing to do but to die; and when she stoops to be disagreeable, it is equally to be recommended as a clearer of ill-fame. Mrs. Adler, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints. 


"Poor Mrs. Adler!” cried Mr. Holmes. “No doubt she had been suffering a great deal: more than anybody had ever supposed — and continual pain will try the temper. It is a sad event — a great shock. And poor Mr. Adler! His loss will be dreadful indeed. I daresay Mr. Adler will never get over it." 


Even Mr. Hudson shook his head, and looked solemn, and said, "Ah! Poor woman, who would have thought it!" and resolved that his mourning should be as handsome as possible, while his wife sat sighing with commiseration and good sense, true and steady. 


How it would affect Irene was among the earliest thoughts of both the Hudsons. It was also a very early speculation with Sherlock. The character of Mrs. Adler, the grief of her husband — his mind glanced over them both with awe and compassion — and then rested with lightened feelings on how Irene might be affected by the event, how benefited, how freed. 


Sherlock saw in a moment all the possible good. Now, an attachment to Molly Hooper would have nothing to encounter. Mr. Adler, independent of his wife, was feared by nobody; an easy, guidable man, to be persuaded into anything by his niece. All that remained to be wished was that the niece should form the attachment, as, with all his goodwill in the cause, Sherlock could feel no certainty of its being already formed. 


Molly behaved extremely well on the occasion, with great self-command. Whatever she might feel of brighter hope, she betrayed nothing. Sherlock was gratified, to observe such a proof in her of strengthened character, and refrained from any allusion that might endanger its maintenance. They spoke, therefore, of Mrs. Adler's death with mutual forbearance. 


Short letters from Irene were received at Randalls, communicating all that was immediately important of their state and plans. Mr. Adler was better than could be expected; and their first removal, on the departure of the funeral for Yorkshire, was to be to the house of a very old friend in Windsor, to whom Mr. Adler had been promising a visit the last ten years. 


At present, there was nothing to be done for Molly; good wishes for the future were all that could yet be possible on Sherlock's side. 



One morning, about ten days after Mrs. Adler's decease, Sherlock was called downstairs to Mr. Hudson, who "could not stay five minutes, and wanted particularly to speak with him." 


When they met at the parlour door, Mr. Hudson, hardly asking how Sherlock did, in the natural key of his voice, sunk it immediately, to say, unheard by his father, "Can you come to Randalls at any time this morning? Do, if it be possible. Mrs. Hudson wants to see you. She must see you." 


"Is she unwell?" 


"No, no, not at all — only a little agitated. She would have ordered the carriage, and come to you, but she must see you alone , and that, you know,” (nodding towards Mr. Holmes) “Humph! — Can you come?" 


"Certainly. This moment, if you please. It is impossible to refuse what you ask in such a way. But what can be the matter? Is she really not ill?" 


"Depend upon me — but ask no more questions. You will know it all in time. The most unaccountable business! But hush, hush!" 


To deduce what all this meant, was impossible even for Sherlock. Something really important seemed announced by Mr. Hudson’s looks; but, as Mrs. Hudson was well, Sherlock endeavoured not to be uneasy, and settling it with his father, that he would take his walk now, he and Mr. Hudson were soon out of the house together and on their way at a quick pace for Randalls.


"Now," said Sherlock, when they were fairly beyond the sweep gates, “now, Mr. Hudson, do let me know what has happened." 


"No, no," he gravely replied. "Don't ask me. I promised my wife to leave it all to her. She will break it to you better than I can. Do not be impatient, Sherlock; it will all come out too soon.”


"Break it to me," cried Sherlock, standing still with terror. "Good God! Mr. Hudson, tell me at once. Something has happened in London. I know it has. Tell me, I charge you tell me this moment what it is." 


"No, indeed you are mistaken." 


"Mr. Hudson, do not trifle with me. Consider how many of those dearest to me are now in London. Which of them is it? I charge you by all that is sacred, not to attempt concealment.”


"Upon my word, Sherlock.”


"Your word! Why not your honour! Why not say upon your honour, that it has nothing to do with any of them? Good Heavens! What can be to be broke to me, that does not relate to one of them?" 


"Upon my honour," said he very seriously, "it does not. It is not in the smallest degree connected with any human being of the name of Holmes-Lestrade or Watson.” 


Sherlock's courage returned, and he walked on. 


"I was wrong," Mr. Hudson continued, "in talking of its being broke to you. I should not have used the expression. In fact, it does not concern you — it concerns only myself. That is, we hope. — Humph! — In short, my dear Sherlock, there is no occasion to be so uneasy about it. I don't say that it is not a disagreeable business — but things might be much worse. If we walk fast, we shall soon be at Randalls." 


Sherlock found that he must wait; and now it required little effort. He asked no more questions therefore, merely employed his own deductive skills, which soon pointed out to him the probability of its being some money concern — something just come to light, of a disagreeable nature in the circumstances of the family — something which the late event at Richmond had brought forward. His fancy was very active. Half a dozen natural children suddenly acknowledged by Mr. Adler, perhaps — and poor Irene cut off! This, though very undesirable, would be no matter of agony to Sherlock. It inspired little more than an animating curiosity. 


"Who is that lady in the distance on horseback?" said Sherlock, as they proceeded — speaking more to assist Mr. Hudson in keeping his secret, than with any other view. 


"I do not know. Not Irene — it is not Irene, I assure you. You will not see her. She is halfway to Windsor by this time." 


"Has your daughter been with you, then?" 


"Oh! Yes — did not you know? Well, well, never mind." 


For a moment Mr. Hudson was silent; and then added, in a tone much more guarded and demure, "Yes, Irene came over this morning, just to ask us how we did." 


They hurried on, and were speedily at Randalls. "Well, my dear," said Mr. Hudson to his wife, as they entered the room, "I have brought Sherlock, and now I hope you will soon be better. I shall leave you together. There is no use in delay. I shall not be far off, if you want me." 


And Sherlock distinctly heard him add, in a lower tone, before he quitted the room, "I have been as good as my word. He has not the least idea." 


Mrs. Hudson was looking so ill, and had an air of so much perturbation, that Sherlock's uneasiness increased; and the moment they were alone, he eagerly said, "What is it, my dear friend? Something of a very unpleasant nature, I find, has occurred — do let me know directly what it is. I have been walking all this way in complete suspense. We both abhor suspense. Do not let mine continue longer. It will do you good to speak of your distress, whatever it may be." 


"Have you indeed no idea?" said Mrs. Hudson, in a trembling voice. "Cannot you, my dear Sherlock — cannot you form a guess as to what you are to hear?" 


"So far as that it relates to Miss Irene Adler, I have deduced." 


"You are right. It does relate to her, and I will tell you directly. She has been here this very morning, on a most extraordinary errand. It is impossible to express our surprise. She came to speak to her father on a subject — to announce an attachment — " 


She stopped to breathe. Sherlock thought first of himself, and then of Molly. 


"More than an attachment, indeed," resumed Mrs. Hudson; "an engagement — a positive engagement. What will you say, Sherlock — what will anybody say, when it is known that Irene Adler and Miss Donovan are engaged — nay, that they have been long engaged!”


Sherlock even jumped with surprise — and, horror-struck, exclaimed, "Sally Donovan! Good God! You are not serious? You do not mean it?" 


"You may well be amazed," returned Mrs. Hudson, averting her eyes, and talking on with eagerness, that Sherlock might have time to recover. "You may well be amazed. But it is even so. There has been a solemn engagement between them ever since October — formed at Weymouth, and kept a secret from everybody. Not a creature knowing it but themselves — neither the Sholtos, nor the Turners, nor the Adlers. It is so surprising, that though perfectly convinced of the fact, it is yet almost incredible to myself. I can hardly believe it. I thought I knew her." 


Sherlock scarcely heard what was said. His mind was divided between two ideas — his own former conversations with Miss Adler about Miss Donovan; and poor Molly — and for some time he could only exclaim, and require confirmation, repeated confirmation. 


"Well," said he at last, trying to recover himself, "this is a circumstance which I must think of at least half a day, before I can at all comprehend it. Engaged to each other all the winter —  before either of them came to Highbury?" 


"Engaged since October — secretly engaged. It has hurt me, Sherlock, very much. It has hurt her father equally. Some part of her conduct we cannot excuse." 


Sherlock pondered a moment, and then replied, "I will not pretend not to understand you. And to give you all the relief in my power, be assured that no such effect has followed her attentions to me, as you are apprehensive of." 


Mrs. Hudson looked up, afraid to believe; but Sherlock's countenance was as steady as his words. 


"You may believe me, Mrs. Hudson,” said he. “This is the simple truth." 


Mrs. Hudson kissed him with tears of joy; and when she could find utterance, assured him, that this protestation had done her more good than anything else in the world could do. 


"Mr. Hudson will be almost as much relieved as myself," said she. "On this point we have been wretched. It was our darling wish that you might be attached to each other — and we were persuaded that it was so. Imagine what we have been feeling on your account." 


"I have escaped; and that I should escape, may be a matter of grateful wonder to you and myself. But this does not acquit her, Mrs. Hudson; and I must say, that I think her greatly to blame. What right had she to come among us with affection and faith engaged, and with manners so very disengaged? What right had she to endeavour to please, as she certainly did — to distinguish anyone with persevering attention, as she certainly did — while she really belonged to another? Very wrong, very wrong indeed." 


"From something that she said, my dear Sherlock, I rather imagine — " 


"And how could Miss Donovan bear such behaviour! To look on, while repeated attentions were being offered to another, before her face, and not resent it. That is a degree of placidity, which I can neither comprehend nor respect." 


"There were misunderstandings between them, Sherlock; Irene said so expressly. She had not time to enter into much explanation. She was here only a quarter of an hour, and in a state of agitation which did not allow the full use even of the time she could stay — but that there had been misunderstandings she decidedly said; and those misunderstandings might very possibly arise from the impropriety of her conduct." 


"Impropriety! Oh! Mrs. Hudson — it is too calm a censure. Much, much beyond impropriety! It has sunk her, I cannot say how it has sunk her in my opinion. So unlike what one should be! None of that upright integrity, that strict adherence to truth and principle, that disdain of trick and littleness, which one should display in every transaction of one’s life." 


"Nay, dear Sherlock, now I must take her part; for though she has been wrong in this instance, I have known her long enough to answer for her having many, very many, good qualities. But she has lived her life so long in fear of her aunt’s temper that she thought secrecy her only option. It was Mrs. Adler’s passing which determined her to come forward at once, own it all to her uncle, throw herself on his kindness, and, in short, put an end to the miserable state of concealment that had been carrying on so long." 


Sherlock began to listen better. 


"I am to hear from her soon," continued Mrs. Hudson. "She told me at parting, that she should soon write; and she spoke in a manner which seemed to promise me many particulars that could not be given now. Let us wait, therefore, for this letter. It may bring many extenuations. It may make many things intelligible and excusable which now are not to be understood. Don't let us be severe, don't let us be in a hurry to condemn her. Let us have patience. I must love her; and now that I am satisfied on one point, the one material point, I am sincerely anxious for its all turning out well, and ready to hope that it may. They must both have suffered a great deal under such a system of secrecy and concealment." 


“Miss Adler’s sufferings," replied Sherlock dryly, "do not appear to have done her much harm. Well, and how did Mr. Adler take it?" 


"Most favourably for his niece — gave his consent with scarcely a difficulty. Conceive what the events of a week have done in that family! While poor Mrs. Adler lived, I suppose there could not have been a hope, a chance, a possibility — but scarcely are her remains at rest in the family vault, than her husband is persuaded to act exactly opposite to what she would have required. What a blessing it is, when undue influence does not survive the grave! He gave his consent with very little persuasion." 


“Ah," thought Sherlock, "he would have done as much for Molly." 


"This was settled last night, and Irene was off with the light this morning. She stopped at the Turner's, I fancy, some time — and then came on hither; but was in such a hurry to get back to her uncle, to whom she is just now more necessary than ever, that, as I tell you, she could stay with us but a quarter of an hour. She was very much agitated — very much, indeed — to a degree that made her appear quite a different creature from anything I had ever seen her before — and there was every appearance of her having been feeling a great deal." 


"And do you really believe the affair to have been carrying on with such perfect secrecy? The Sholtos, the Andersons, did none of them know of the engagement?" 


Sherlock could not speak the name of Anderson without a little blush. 


"None; not one. She positively said that it had been known to no being in the world but their two selves." 


"Well," said Sherlock, "I suppose we shall gradually grow reconciled to the idea, and I wish them very happy. But I shall always think it a very abominable sort of proceeding. What has it been but a system of hypocrisy and deceit — espionage, and treachery? To come among us with professions of openness and simplicity; and such a league in secret to judge us all! Here have we been, the whole winter and spring, completely duped, fancying ourselves all on an equal footing of truth and honour, with two people in the midst of us who may have been carrying round, comparing and sitting in judgment on sentiments and words that were never meant for both to hear. They must take the consequence, if they have heard each other spoken of in a way not perfectly agreeable!" 


"I am quite easy on that head," replied Mrs. Hudson. "I am very sure that I never said anything of either to the other, which both might not have heard." 


"You are in luck. Your only blunder was confined to my ear, when you imagined a certain friend of ours in love with the lady." 


"True. But as I have always had a thoroughly good opinion of Miss Donovan, I never could, under any blunder, have spoken ill of her; and as to speaking ill of Irene, there I must have been safe." 


At this moment, Mr. Hudson appeared at a little distance from the window, evidently on the watch. His wife gave him a look which invited him in; and, while he was coming round, added, "Now, dearest Sherlock, let me intreat you to say and look everything that may set his heart at ease, and incline him to be satisfied with the match. Let us make the best of it — and, indeed, almost everything may be fairly said in its favour. It may be a very fortunate circumstance for Irene, that she should have attached herself to a girl of such steadiness of character and good judgment as I have always given Miss Donovan credit for — and still am disposed to give her credit for, in spite of this one great deviation from the strict rule of right. And how much may be said in her situation for even that error!" 


"Much, indeed!" cried Sherlock feelingly. "If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Sally Donovan's. Of such, one may almost say, that 'the world is not their's, nor the world's law.'" 


Sherlock met Mr. Hudson, on his entrance, with a smiling countenance, exclaiming, "A very pretty trick you have been playing me, upon my word! This was a device, I suppose, to sport with my curiosity, and exercise my talent of deduction. But you really frightened me. I thought you had lost half your property, at least. And here, instead of its being a matter of condolence, it turns out to be one of congratulation. I congratulate you, Mr. Hudson, with all my heart, on the prospect of having one of the most lovely and accomplished young women in England for your daughter-in-law.” 


A glance or two between Mr. Hudson and his wife convinced him that all was as right as this speech proclaimed; and its happy effect on his spirits was immediate. His air and voice recovered their usual briskness: he shook Sherlock heartily and gratefully by the hand, and entered on the subject in a manner to prove that he now only wanted time and persuasion to think the engagement no very bad thing. His companions suggested only what could palliate imprudence, or smooth objections; and by the time they had talked it all over together, and he had talked it all over again with Sherlock, in their walk back to Hartfield, Mr. Hudson was become perfectly reconciled, and not far from thinking it the very best thing that Irene could possibly have done.


Chapter Text

"Molly, poor Molly!" Those were the words; in them lay the tormenting ideas which Sherlock could not get rid of, and which constituted the real misery of the business to him. 


Irene Adler had behaved very ill by him — very ill in many ways — but it was not so much her behaviour as his own, which made Sherlock so angry with her. It was the scrape which she had drawn him into on Molly's account, that gave the deepest hue to her offence. 


Poor Molly! To be a second time the dupe of Sherlock’s misconceptions and flattery. 


Captain Watson had spoken prophetically, when he once said, "Sherlock, you have been no friend to Molly Hooper." Sherlock was afraid he had done her nothing but disservice. 


It was true that he had not to charge himself, in this instance as in the former case with Mr. Moriarty, with being the sole and original author of the mischief — with having suggested such feelings as might otherwise never have entered Molly's imagination — for Molly had acknowledged her admiration and preference of Irene Adler before he had ever given her a hint on the subject; but he felt completely guilty of having encouraged what he might have repressed. He might have prevented the indulgence and increase of such sentiments. His influence would have been enough. And now he was very conscious that he ought to have prevented them.


Sherlock felt that he had been risking his friend's happiness on most insufficient grounds. Common sense would have directed him to tell Molly that she must not allow herself to think of Miss Adler, and that there were five hundred chances to one against her feelings ever being reciprocated. He was extremely angry with himself. If he could not have been angry with Irene Adler too, it would have been dreadful.  


As for Sally Donovan, Sherlock might at least relieve his feelings from any present solicitude on her account. Molly would be anxiety enough; he need no longer feel any concern about Sally. Her days of insignificance and evil were over. She would soon be well, and happy, and prosperous. As far as Sherlock’s mind could disengage itself from the injustice and selfishness of angry feelings, he acknowledged that Sally Donovan would have neither elevation nor happiness beyond her desert. 


But poor Molly was such an engrossing charge! There was little sympathy to be spared for anybody else. Sherlock was sadly fearful that this second disappointment would be more severe than the first. Considering the very superior claims of the object, it ought; and judging by its apparently stronger effect on Molly's mind, producing reserve and self-command, it would. 


Sherlock must communicate the painful truth, however, and as soon as possible. 


An injunction of secrecy had been among Mr. Hudson's parting words: "For the present, the whole affair is to be completely a secret. Mr. Adler made a point of it, as a token of respect to the wife he has so very recently lost." 


Sherlock had promised; but still Molly must be excepted. It was his superior duty. 


In spite of his vexation, Sherlock could not help feeling it almost ridiculous, that he should have the very same distressing and delicate office to perform by Molly, which Mrs. Hudson had just gone through by himself. The intelligence, which had been so anxiously announced to him, he was now to be anxiously announcing to another. His heart beat quick on hearing Molly's footstep and voice; so, he supposed, had poor Mrs. Hudson felt when he was approaching Randalls. Could the event of the disclosure bear an equal resemblance! But of that, unfortunately, there could be no chance. 


“Well!" cried Molly, coming eagerly into the room, "is not this the oddest news that ever was?" 


"What news do you mean?" replied Sherlock, unable to guess, by look or voice, whether Molly could indeed have received any hint. 


"About Sally Donovan. Did you ever hear anything so strange? Oh! — You need not be afraid of owning it to me, for Mr. Hudson has told me himself. I met him just now. He told me it was to be a great secret; and, therefore, I should not think of mentioning it to anybody but you, but he said you knew it." 


"What did Mr. Hudson tell you?" said Sherlock, still perplexed. 


"Oh! He told me all about it; that Sally Donovan and Miss Irene Adler are to be married, and that they have been privately engaged to one another this long while. How very odd!" 


It was, indeed, so odd — Molly's behaviour was so extremely odd — that Sherlock did not know how to understand it. Her character appeared absolutely changed. She seemed to propose showing no agitation, or disappointment, or peculiar concern in the discovery. Sherlock looked at her, quite unable to speak. 


"Had you any idea," cried Molly, "of their being in love? You, perhaps, might. You,” (blushing as she spoke) “who can see into everybody's heart; but nobody else — " 


"Upon my word," said Sherlock, "I begin to doubt my having any such talent. Can you seriously ask me, Molly, whether I imagined Miss Adler attached to another woman at the very time that I was — tacitly, if not openly — encouraging you to give way to your own feelings? I never had the slightest suspicion, till within the last hour, of Miss Adler's having the least regard for Sally Donovan. You may be very sure that if I had, I should have cautioned you accordingly." 


"Me!" cried Molly, colouring, and astonished. "Why should you caution me? You do not think I care about Miss Adler." 


"I am delighted to hear you speak so stoutly on the subject," replied Sherlock, smiling; "but you do not mean to deny that there was a time — and not very distant either — when you gave me reason to understand that you did care about her?" 


"Her! Never, never! How could you so mistake me?" Molly asked, turning away, distressed. 


"Molly!" cried Sherlock, after a moment's pause. “What do you mean? Good Heaven! What do you mean? Mistake you! Am I to suppose then…?” 


Sherlock could not speak another word. His voice was lost; and he sat down, waiting in great terror till Molly should answer. 


Molly, who was standing at some distance, and with face turned from him, did not immediately say anything; and when she did speak, it was in a voice nearly as agitated as Sherlock's. 


"I should not have thought it possible," she began, "that you could have misunderstood me! I know we agreed never to speak a name — but considering how infinitely superior he is to everybody else, I should not have thought it possible that I could be supposed to mean any other person. Miss Adler, indeed! I do not know who would ever look at her in the company of the other. I hope I have a better taste than to think of Miss Adler, who is like nobody by his side. And that you should have been so mistaken, is amazing! 


“I am sure,” she continued, “but for believing that you entirely approved and meant to encourage me in my attachment, I should have considered it at first too great a presumption, almost, to dare to think of him. At first, if you had not told me that more wonderful things had happened; that there had been matches of greater disparity (those were your very words) — I should not have dared to give way to — I should not have thought it possible. But if you, who had been always acquainted with him…” 


"Molly!" cried Sherlock, collecting himself resolutely. “Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of… Captain Watson?" 


"To be sure I am. I never could have an idea of anybody else — and so I thought you knew. When we talked about him, it was as clear as possible." 


"Not quite," returned Sherlock, with forced calmness, "for all that you then said appeared to me to relate to a different person. I could almost assert that you had named Miss Adler. I am sure the service she had rendered you, in protecting you from the gang of ruffians, was spoken of." 


"Oh! How you do forget!" 


"My dear Molly, I perfectly remember the substance of what I said on the occasion. I told you that I did not wonder at your attachment; that considering the service that had been rendered you, it was extremely natural. And you agreed to it, expressing yourself very warmly as to your sense of that service, and mentioning even what your sensations had been in seeing the object of your interest come forward to your rescue. The impression of it is strong on my memory." 


"Oh, dear," cried Molly, "now I recollect what you mean; but I was thinking of something very different at the time. It was not those ruffians — it was not Miss Adler that I meant. No! I was thinking of a much more precious circumstance — of Captain Watson's coming and asking me to dance, when Mr. Moriarty would not stand up with me at the ball, and when there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action; that was the noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which made me begin to feel how superior he was to every other being upon earth." 


"Good God!" cried Sherlock. "This has been a most unfortunate — most deplorable mistake! What is to be done?" 


"You would not have encouraged me, then, if you had understood me? At least, however, I cannot be worse off than I should have been, if the other had been the person; and now — it is possible…" 


She paused a few moments. Sherlock could not speak. 


"I do not wonder," she resumed, "that you should feel a great difference between the two, as to me or as to anybody. You must think one five hundred million times more above me than the other. But you know, they were your own words, that more wonderful things had happened, matches of greater disparity had taken place than between Miss Adler and me; and, therefore, it seems as if such a thing even as this, may have occurred before — and if I should be so fortunate, beyond expression, as to — if Captain Watson should really — if he does not mind the disparity — I hope you will not set yourself against it, and try to put difficulties in the way. But you are too good for that, I am sure." 


Molly was standing at one of the windows. Sherlock turned round to look at her in consternation, and hastily said, "Have you any idea of Captain Watson's returning your affection?" 


"Yes," replied Molly modestly, but not fearfully. “I must say that I have." 


Sherlock's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and he sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making him acquainted with his own heart. A mind like his, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. He touched — he admitted — he acknowledged the whole truth. 


Why was it so much worse that Molly should be in love with Captain Watson, than with Irene Adler? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Molly's having some hope of a return? It darted through him, with the speed of an arrow, that Captain Watson must marry no one but himself! 


Sherlock’s own conduct, as well as his own heart, was before him in the same few minutes. He saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed him before. How improperly had he been acting by Molly! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling had been his conduct! What blindness, what madness, had led him on! It struck him with dreadful force, and he was ready to give it every bad name in the world. 


Some portion of respect for himself, however, in spite of all these demerits — some concern for his own appearance, and a strong sense of justice by Molly — (there would be no need of compassion to the girl who believed herself loved by Captain Watson — but justice required that she should not be made unhappy by any coldness now) — gave Sherlock the resolution to sit and endure farther with calmness, with even apparent kindness. For his own advantage, indeed, it was fit that the utmost extent of Molly's hopes should be enquired into; and Molly had done nothing to forfeit the regard and interest which had been so voluntarily formed and maintained — or to deserve to be slighted by the person whose counsels had never led her right. 


Rousing from reflection, therefore, and subduing his emotion, Sherlock turned to Molly again, and, in a more inviting accent, renewed the conversation; for as to the subject which had first introduced it, the wonderful story of Sally Donovan, that was quite sunk and lost. Neither of them thought but of Captain Watson and themselves. 


Molly, who had been standing in no unhappy reverie, was yet very glad to be called from it, by the now encouraging manner of such a judge and such a friend, and only wanted invitation, to give the history of her hopes with great, though trembling, delight.


Sherlock's tremblings as he asked, and as he listened, were better concealed than Molly's, but they were not less. His voice was not unsteady; but his mind was in all the perturbation that such a development of self-awareness, such a burst of threatening evil, such a confusion of sudden and perplexing emotions, must create. He listened with much inward suffering, but with great outward patience, to Molly's detail. 


Methodical, or well arranged, or very well delivered, it could not be expected to be; but it contained, when separated from all the feebleness and tautology of the narration, a substance to sink his spirit — especially with the corroborating circumstances, which his own memory brought in favour of Captain Watson's most improved opinion of Molly. Molly had been conscious of a difference in his behaviour ever since those two decisive dances. Sherlock knew that Captain Watson had, on that occasion, found her much superior to his expectation. From that evening, or at least from the time of Sherlock’s encouraging her to think of him, Molly had begun to be sensible of his talking to her much more than he had been used to do, and of his having indeed quite a different manner towards her; a manner of kindness and sweetness! 


Latterly she had been more and more aware of it. When they had been all walking together, he had so often come and walked by her, and talked so very delightfully! He seemed to want to be acquainted with her. Sherlock knew it to have been very much the case. He had often observed the change, to almost the same extent. 


Molly repeated expressions of approbation and praise from him — and Sherlock felt them to be in the closest agreement with what he had known of Captain Watson’s opinion of Molly. He had praised her for being without art or affectation, for having simple, honest, generous, feelings. Sherlock knew that he saw such recommendations in Molly; he had dwelt on them more than once. 


Much that lived in Molly's memory, many little particulars of the notice she had received from him, a look, a speech, a removal from one chair to another, a compliment implied, a preference inferred, had been unnoticed, because unsuspected, by Sherlock. Circumstances that might swell to half an hour's relation, and contained multiplied proofs to her who had seen them, had passed undiscerned by him who now heard them; but the two latest occurrences to be mentioned, the two of strongest promise to Molly, were not without some degree of witness from Sherlock himself. 


The first, was Captain Watson’s walking with her apart from the others, in the lime-walk at Donwell, where they had been some time before Sherlock came, and he had taken pains (as she was convinced) to draw her from the rest to himself — and at first, he had talked to her in a more particular way than he had ever done before, in a very particular way indeed! (Molly could not recall it without a blush.) He seemed to be almost asking her whether her affections were engaged. But as soon as Sherlock appeared likely to join them, he changed the subject, and began talking about farming.


The second, was Captain Watson’s having sat talking with her in the parlour at Hartfield for nearly half an hour before Sherlock came back from breaking the news about the Moriartys to his father — though, when he first came in, he had said that he could not stay five minutes — and his having told her, during their conversation, that though he must go to London, it was very much against his inclination that he left home at all, which was much more (as Sherlock felt) than Captain Watson had acknowledged to him. The superior degree of confidence towards Molly, which this one article marked, gave him severe pain. 


On the subject of the first of the two circumstances, Sherlock did, after a little reflection, venture the following question. "Might he not — is not it possible, that when enquiring, as you thought, into the state of your affections, as you were looking out over the Abbey Mill Farm, he might be alluding to Miss Hopkins — he might have Miss Hopkins' interest in view?” 


But Molly rejected the suspicion with spirit. "Miss Hopkins! No indeed! There was not a hint of Miss Hopkins. I hope I know better, now, than to care for Miss Hopkins, or to be suspected of it.”


When Molly had closed her evidence, she appealed to Sherlock, to say whether she had not good ground for hope. "I never should have presumed to think of it at first," said she, "but for you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the rule of mine — and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does choose me, it will not be anything so very much to be wondered at." 


The bitter feelings occasioned by this speech, the many bitter feelings, made the utmost exertion necessary on Sherlock's side, to enable him to say on reply, "Molly, I will only venture to declare, that Captain Watson is the last man in the world who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does." 


Molly seemed ready to worship her friend for a sentence so satisfactory; and Sherlock was only saved from raptures and fondness, which at that moment would have been dreadful penance, by the sound of his father's footsteps. He was coming through the hall. Molly was too much agitated to encounter him. She was afraid she could not compose herself — Mr. Holmes would be alarmed — she thought she had better go. 


With most ready encouragement from her friend, therefore, she passed off through another door — and the moment she was gone, this was the spontaneous burst of Sherlock's feelings: "Oh God! I wish that I had never met her!" 



Chapter Text

The rest of the day, and the following night, were hardly enough for Sherlock’s thoughts. He was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on him within the last few hours. Every moment had brought a fresh surprise; and every surprise must be matter of humiliation to him. How to understand it all? How to understand the deceptions he had been thus practicing on himself, and living under? The blunders, the blindness of his own head and heart! 


Sherlock sat still, he walked about, he tried his own room, he tried the shrubbery; in every place, every posture, he perceived that he had acted most foolishly; that he had been imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that he had been imposing on himself in a degree yet more mortifying; that he was wretched, and should probably find this day but the beginning of wretchedness.


To understand, thoroughly understand, his own heart, was the first endeavour. To that point went every leisure moment which his father's claims on him allowed, and every moment of involuntary absence of mind. 


How long had Captain Watson been so dear to him, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun? When had he succeeded to that place in Sherlock’s affection, which Irene Adler had once seemed wanting to occupy? 


Sherlock looked back; he compared the two — compared them, as they had always stood in his estimation, from the time of the latter's becoming known to him — and as they must at any time have been compared by him, had it — oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to him, to institute the comparison. He saw that there never had been a time when he did not consider Captain Watson as infinitely the superior, or when his regard had not been infinitely the most dear. Sherlock saw, that in persuading himself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, he had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of his own heart — and, in short, that he had never cared for Irene Adler at all, because his heart had already belonged to another! 


This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the knowledge of himself, on the first question of inquiry, which he reached; and without being long in reaching it. Sherlock was most sorrowfully indignant; ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to him — his affection for Captain Watson. 


Every other part of his mind was disgusting. With insufferable vanity had he believed himself in the secret of everybody's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange everybody's destiny. Sherlock was proved to have been universally mistaken; and he had not quite done nothing — for he had done mischief. He had brought evil on Molly, on himself, and, he too much feared, on Captain Watson. 


Were this most unequal of all connexions to take place, on Sherlock must rest all the reproach of having given it a beginning; for Captain Watson’s attachment, if it existed, he must believe to be produced only by a consciousness of Molly's; and even were this not the case, he would never have known Molly at all but for Sherlock’s folly. Captain Watson and Molly Hooper! It was a union to distance every wonder of the kind.


The attachment of Irene Adler and Sally Donovan became commonplace, threadbare, stale in the comparison, exciting no surprise, presenting no disparity, affording nothing to be said or thought. 


Captain Watson and Molly Hooper! Could it be? No; it was impossible. 


And yet it was far, very far, from impossible. Was it a new circumstance for a man of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers? Was it new for one, perhaps too busy to seek, to be the prize of a girl who would seek him? Was it new for anything in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous — or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate? 


Oh! Had Sherlock never brought Molly forward! Had he left her to do what she wished, as he ought to have done, as Captain Watson had told him he ought! Had he not, with a folly which no tongue could express, prevented her marrying the unexceptionable young woman who would have made her happy and respectable in the line of life to which she had no objection to belonging — all would have been safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been. 


How Molly could ever have had the presumption to raise her thoughts to Captain Watson! How she could dare to fancy herself the chosen of such a man till actually assured of it! — But Molly was less humble, had fewer scruples than formerly. Her inferiority, whether of rank or situation, seemed little felt. She had seemed more sensible of Mr. Moriarty's being to stoop in marrying her, than she now seemed of Captain Watson's. 


Alas! Was not that Sherlock’s own doing, too? Who had been at pains to give Molly notions of self-consequence but himself? Who but himself had taught her that she was to elevate herself if possible, and that her claims were great to a high worldly establishment? If Molly, from being humble, were grown vain, it was his doing, too.


Till now that he was threatened with its loss, Sherlock had never known how much of his happiness depended on being first with Captain Watson, first in interest and affection. Satisfied that it was so, and feeling it his due, he had enjoyed it without reflection; and only in the dread of being supplanted, found how inexpressibly important it had been. 


Long, very long, Sherlock felt he had been first with Captain Watson. He had not deserved it; he had often been negligent or perverse, slighting his advice, or even willfully opposing him, insensible of half his merits, and quarrelling with him because he would not acknowledge Sherlock’s false and insolent estimate of his own — but still, from family attachment and habit, and thorough excellence of mind, Captain Watson had watched over him, with an endeavour to improve him, and an anxiety for his doing right, which no other creature had at all shared. In spite of all his faults, Sherlock knew he was dear to Captain Watson; might he not say, very dear? 


When the suggestions of hope, however, which must follow here, presented themselves, he could not presume to indulge them. Molly Hooper might think herself worthy of being peculiarly, exclusively, passionately loved by Captain Watson. Sherlock could not. He could not flatter himself with any idea of blindness in Captain Watson’s attachment to him. He had received a very recent proof of its impartiality. 


How shocked Captain Watson had been by his behaviour at Box Hill! How directly, how strongly had he expressed himself on the subject! Not too strongly for the offence — but far, far too strongly to issue from any feeling softer than upright justice and clear-sighted goodwill. Captain Watson would never choose to align himself with someone who had so exposed himself to public censure as Sherlock had done on that fateful day. 


Sherlock had no hope, nothing to deserve the name of hope, that Captain Watson could have that sort of affection for him which was now in question; but there was a hope (at times a slight one, at times much stronger) that Molly might have deceived herself, and be overrating his regard for her. Wish it he must — be the consequence nothing to himself, but his remaining single all his life. Could Sherlock be secure of that, indeed, of Captain Watson’s never marrying at all, he believed he should be perfectly satisfied. 


Let him but continue the same Captain Watson to him and his father, the same Captain Watson to all the world; let Donwell and Hartfield lose none of their precious intercourse of friendship and confidence, and Sherlock’s peace would be fully secured. Marriage, in fact, would not do for him. It would be incompatible with what he owed to his father, and with what he felt for him. Nothing should separate him from his father. Sherlock would not marry, even if he were asked by Captain Watson. 


It must be his ardent wish that Molly might be disappointed; and he hoped, that when able to see them together again, he might at least be able to ascertain what the chances for it were. Sherlock should see them henceforward with the closest observance; and wretchedly as he had hitherto misunderstood even those he was watching, he did not know how to admit that he could be blinded here. Captain Watson was expected back every day. The power of deduction would be soon given — frightfully soon it appeared when his thoughts were in one course. 


In the meanwhile, Sherlock resolved against seeing Molly. It would do neither of them good, it would do the subject no good, to be talking of it farther. He was resolved not to be convinced, as long as he could doubt, and yet had no authority for opposing Molly's confidence. To talk would be only to irritate. 


Sherlock wrote to her, therefore, kindly, but decisively, to beg that she would not, at present, come to Hartfield; acknowledging it to be his conviction, that all farther confidential discussion of one topic had better be avoided; and hoping, that if a few days were allowed to pass before they met again, except in the company of others — he objected only to a tête-à-tête — they might be able to act as if they had forgotten the conversation of yesterday. Molly submitted, and approved, and was grateful. 


This point was just arranged, when a visitor arrived to tear Sherlock's thoughts a little from the one subject which had engrossed them, sleeping or waking, the last twenty-four hours — Mrs. Hudson, who had been calling on her daughter-in-law elect, and took Hartfield in her way home, almost as much in duty to Sherlock as in pleasure to herself, to relate all the particulars of so interesting an interview. A little curiosity Sherlock had; and he made the most of it while his friend related. 


Mrs. Hudson had set off to pay the visit in a good deal of agitation herself; and in the first place had wished not to go at all at present, to be allowed merely to write to Miss Donovan instead, and to defer this ceremonious call till a little time had passed, and Mr. Adler could be reconciled to the engagement's becoming known; as, considering everything, she thought such a visit could not be paid without leading to reports. But Mr. Hudson had thought differently; he was extremely anxious to show his approbation to Miss Donovan and her family, and did not conceive that any suspicion could be excited by it; or if it were, that it would be of any consequence; for "such things," he observed, "always got about." 


Sherlock smiled, and felt that Mr. Hudson had very good reason for saying so. He listened with as much attention as he could muster to all Mrs. Hudson had to tell of her visit with Sally Donovan and Miss and Mrs. Turner. It seemed that the Hudsons and Turners were now equally delighted with the match.


When Mrs. Hudson at last concluded her tale, Sherlock said, “You are very kind to bring me these interesting particulars. They show Miss Donovan to the greatest advantage. I am sure she is very good — I hope she will be very happy. It is fit that the fortune should be on Miss Adler’s side, for I think the merit will be all on hers." 


Such a conclusion could not pass unanswered by Mrs. Hudson. She thought well of Irene in almost every respect; and, what was more, she loved her very much, and her defence was, therefore, earnest. She talked with a great deal of reason, and at least equal affection — but she had too much to urge for Sherlock's attention; it was soon gone to London or to Donwell; he forgot to attempt to listen; and when Mrs. Hudson ended with, "We have not yet had the letter we are so anxious for, you know, but I hope it will soon come," Sherlock was obliged to pause before he answered, and at last obliged to answer at random, before he could at all recollect what letter it was which they were so anxious for. 


"Are you well, my Sherlock?" was Mrs. Hudson's parting question. 


"Oh! Perfectly. I am always well, you know. Be sure to give me intelligence of the letter as soon as possible." 


Mrs. Hudson's communications furnished Sherlock with more food for unpleasant reflection, by increasing his esteem and compassion, and his sense of past injustice towards Miss Donovan. He bitterly regretted not having sought a closer acquaintance with her, and blushed for the jealous feelings which had certainly been, in some measure, the cause. Had he followed Captain Watson's known wishes, in paying that attention to Miss Donovan, which was every way her due; had he tried to know her better; had he done his part towards intimacy; had he endeavoured to find a friend there instead of in Molly Hooper; he must, in all probability, have been spared from every pain which pressed on him now. 


The evening of this day was very long, and melancholy, at Hartfield. The weather added what it could of gloom. A cold stormy rain set in, and nothing of July appeared but in the trees and shrubs, which the wind was despoiling, and the length of the day, which only made such cruel sights the longer visible. The weather affected Mr. Holmes, and he could only be kept tolerably comfortable by almost ceaseless attention on his son's side, and by exertions which had never cost Sherlock half so much before.


It reminded him of their first forlorn tête-à-tête, on the evening of Mrs. Hudson's wedding-day; but Captain Watson had walked in then, soon after tea, and dissipated every melancholy fancy. Alas! Such delightful proofs of Hartfield's attraction, as those sort of visits conveyed, might shortly be over. The picture which Sherlock had then drawn of the privations of the approaching winter, had proved erroneous; no friends had deserted them, no pleasures had been lost. But his present forebodings he feared would experience no similar contradiction. 


The prospect before him now, was threatening to a degree that could not be entirely dispelled — that might not be even partially brightened. Without Captain Watson’s daily visits to Hartfield, all that was good would be withdrawn. What would remain of cheerful or of rational society within their reach? Captain Watson to be no longer coming there for his evening comfort! No longer walking in at all hours, as if ever willing to change his own home for theirs! How was it to be endured? 


And if Captain Watson were to be lost to them for Molly's sake; if he were to be thought of hereafter, as finding in Molly's society all that he wanted; if Molly were to be the chosen, the first, the dearest, the friend, the wife to whom he looked for all the best blessings of existence; what could be increasing Sherlock's wretchedness but the reflection never far distant from his mind, that it had been all his own work?



Chapter Text

The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield — but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Sherlock resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to him. He longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Miss Sawyer's coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give his father, Sherlock lost no time in hurrying into the shrubbery. 


There, with spirits freshened, and thoughts a little relieved, he had taken a few turns, when he saw Captain Watson passing through the garden door, and coming towards him. It was the first intimation of his being returned from London. Sherlock had been thinking of him the moment before, as unquestionably sixteen miles distant. There was time only for the quickest arrangement of mind. Sherlock must be collected and calm. 


In half a minute they were together. The "How d'ye do's" were quiet and constrained on each side. Captain Watson meant to walk with him, Sherlock found. He had just looked into the dining-room, and as he was not needed there, preferred being out of doors. 


Sherlock thought he neither looked nor spoke cheerfully; and the first possible cause for it, suggested by his fears, was that Captain Watson had perhaps been communicating his plans regarding Molly to his brother, and was pained by the manner in which they had been received. 


They walked together. Captain Watson was silent. Sherlock thought he was often looking at him, and trying for a fuller view of his face than it suited him to give. And this belief produced another dread. Perhaps Captain Watson wanted to speak to him of his attachment to Molly; he might be watching for encouragement to begin. 


Sherlock did not, could not, feel equal to lead the way to any such subject. Yet he could not bear this silence. It was most unnatural. 


Sherlock considered — resolved — and, trying to smile, began, "You have some news to hear, now you are come back, that will rather surprise you." 


"Have I?" said Captain Watson quietly, looking at him. "Of what nature?" 


"Oh! The best nature in the world — a wedding." 


After waiting a moment, as if to be sure Sherlock intended to say no more, he replied, "If you mean Miss Donovan and Miss Adler, I have heard that already." 


"How is it possible?" cried Sherlock, turning his glowing cheeks towards him; for, while he spoke, it occurred to him that Captain Watson might have called at Miss Thompson’s, to see Molly, in his way. 


"I had a few lines on business from Mr. Hudson this morning, and at the end of them he gave me a brief account of what had happened." 


Sherlock was quite relieved, and could presently say, with a little more composure, "You probably have been less surprised than any of us, for you have had your suspicions. I have not forgotten that you once tried to give me a caution. I wish I had attended to it, but —" (with a sinking voice and a heavy sigh) "I seem to have been doomed to blindness." 


For a moment or two nothing was said, and Sherlock was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till he found his arm drawn within Captain Watson’s, and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low, "Time, my dearest Sherlock, time will heal the wound. Your own excellent sense — your exertions for your father's sake — I know you will not allow yourself…" 


Sherlock’s arm was pressed again, as Captain Watson added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the warmest friendship…" And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, " Abominable scoundrel! She will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for Miss Donovan. She deserves a better fate." 


Sherlock understood him; and as soon as he could recover from the flutter of pleasure, excited by such tender consideration, replied, "You are very kind — but you are mistaken — and I must set you right. I am not in want of that sort of compassion. My blindness to what was going on, led me to act by them in a way that I must always be ashamed of, and I was very foolishly tempted to say and do many things which may well lay me open to unpleasant conjectures, but I have no other reason to regret that I was not in the secret earlier." 


"Sherlock!" cried Captain Watson, looking eagerly at him, "are you, indeed?" — but, checking himself — "No, no, I understand you. Forgive me. I am pleased that you can say even so much. She is no object of regret, indeed! And it will not be very long, I hope, before that becomes the acknowledgment of more than your reason. Fortunate that your affections were not farther entangled! I could never, I confess, from your manners, assure myself as to the degree of what you felt. I could only be certain that there was a preference — and a preference which I never believed her to deserve." 


"Captain Watson," said Sherlock, trying to be lively, but really confused — "I am in a very extraordinary situation. I cannot let you continue in your error; and yet, perhaps, since my manners gave such an impression, I have as much reason to be ashamed of confessing that I never have been at all attached to the person we are speaking of, as it might be natural for a man to feel in confessing exactly the reverse. But I never have." 


Captain Watson listened in perfect silence. Sherlock wished him to speak, but he would not. 


Sherlock supposed he must say more before he were entitled to his clemency; but it was a hard case to be obliged still to lower himself in Captain Watson’s opinion. He went on, however. 


"I have very little to say for my own conduct. I was tempted by her attentions, and allowed myself to appear pleased. An old story, probably — a common case — and no more than has happened to hundreds of young people before; and yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding. 


“Many circumstances assisted the temptation. She was the daughter of Mr. Hudson — she was continually here — I always found her very pleasant — and, in short, for” (with a sigh) “let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last — my vanity was flattered, and I allowed her attentions. 


“Latterly, however — for some time, indeed — I have had no idea of their meaning anything. I thought them a habit, a trick, nothing that called for seriousness on my side. She has imposed on me, but she has not injured me. I have never been attached to her. And now I can tolerably comprehend her behaviour. She never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal her real situation with another. It was her object to blind all about her; and no one, I am sure, could be more effectually blinded than myself — except that I was not blinded — that it was my good fortune — that, in short, I was somehow or other safe from her." 


Sherlock had hoped for an answer here — for a few words to say that his conduct was at least intelligible; but Captain Watson was silent; and, as far as Sherlock could judge, deep in thought. 


At last, and tolerably in his usual tone, Captain Watson said, "I have never had a high opinion of Irene Adler. I can suppose, however, that I may have underrated her. My acquaintance with her has been but trifling. And even if I have not underrated her hitherto, she may yet turn out well. I have no motive for wishing her ill — and for Miss Donovan’s sake, whose happiness will be involved in her good character and conduct, I shall certainly wish her well." 


"I have no doubt of their being happy together," said Sherlock; "I believe them to be very mutually and very sincerely attached." 


“Irene Adler is most fortunate!" returned Captain Watson, with energy. "So early in life — at three-and-twenty — to have drawn such a prize! What years of felicity, in all human calculation, she has before her!  Assured of the love of such a woman — the unscheming love, for Sally Donovan's character vouches for her lack of ulterior motives; everything in her favour — equality  in every point but one — and that one, since the purity of Miss Donovan’s heart is not to be doubted, such as must increase Miss Adler’s felicity, for it will be hers to bestow the only advantages she wants. One would always wish to give a spouse a better home than the original, and to be able to do it, where there is no doubt of true regard, must, I think, make one the happiest of mortals. 


“Irene Adler is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Everything turns out for her good. She meets with a young woman at a watering-place, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment — and had she and all her family sought round the world for a perfect wife for her, they could not have found her superior. 


“Her aunt is in the way. Her aunt dies. She has only to speak. Her friends are eager to promote her happiness. She had used everybody ill — and they are all delighted to forgive her. She is a fortunate woman indeed!" 


"You speak as if you envied her." 


"And I do envy her, Sherlock. In one respect she is the object of my envy." 


Sherlock could say no more. They seemed to be within half a sentence of Molly, and his immediate feeling was to avert the subject, if possible. Sherlock made his plan; he would speak of something totally different — their relations in London; and he only waited for breath to begin, when Captain Watson startled him, by saying, 


"You will not ask me what is the point of envy. You are determined, I see, to have no curiosity. You are wise — but I cannot be wise. Sherlock, I must tell you what you will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment." 


"Oh! Then, don't speak it, don't speak it!” Sherlock eagerly cried. "Take a little time, consider, do not commit yourself." 


"Thank you," said Captain Watson, in an accent of deep mortification, and not another syllable followed. 


Sherlock could not bear to give him pain. Captain Watson was wishing to confide in him — perhaps to consult him. Cost him what it would, Sherlock would listen. He might assist Captain Watson’s resolution, or reconcile him to it; he might give just praise to Molly, or, by representing to Captain Watson his own independence, relieve him from that state of indecision, which must be more intolerable than any alternative to such a mind as his. 


They had reached the house. "You are going in, I suppose?" said Captain Watson. 


"No," replied Sherlock, quite confirmed by the depressed manner in which he still spoke, "I should like to take another turn. Miss Sawyer is not gone." 


And, after proceeding a few steps, he added, "I stopped you ungraciously, just now, Captain Watson, and, I am afraid, gave you pain. But if you have any wish to speak openly to me as a friend, or to ask my opinion of anything that you may have in contemplation — as a friend, indeed, you may command me. I will hear whatever you like. I will tell you exactly what I think.”


"As a friend!" repeated Captain Watson. "Sherlock, that, I fear, is a word — No, I have no wish — Stay, yes, why should I hesitate? I have gone too far already for concealment. Sherlock, I accept your offer, extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend. Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?" 


Captain Watson stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered Sherlock. 


"My dearest Sherlock," said he, "for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour's conversation, my dearest, most beloved Sherlock — tell me at once. Say 'No,' if it is to be said.”


Sherlock could really say nothing. 


"You are silent," Captain Watson cried, with great animation; "absolutely silent! At present I ask no more." 


Sherlock was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling. 


"I cannot make speeches, Sherlock,” Captain Watson soon resumed, in a tone of sincere, decided tenderness. "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other man in England would have borne it. Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Sherlock. God knows, I have been a very negligent lover. But you understand me. Yes, you observe, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice." 


While Captain Watson spoke, Sherlock's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able — and yet without losing a word — to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that Molly's hopes had been entirely groundless, a mistake, a delusion, as complete a delusion as any of his own — that Molly was nothing; that he was everything himself; that what he had been saying relative to Molly had been all taken as the language of his own feelings; and that his agitation, his doubts, his reluctance, his discouragement, had been all received as discouragement from himself. 


And not only was there time for these convictions, with all their glow of attendant happiness; there was time also to rejoice that Molly's secret had not escaped him, and to resolve that it need not, and should not. It was all the service he could now render his poor friend; for as to any of that heroism of sentiment which might have prompted him to entreat Captain Watson to transfer his affection from himself to Molly, as infinitely the most worthy of the two — or even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and forever, without vouchsafing any motive, because he could not marry them both, Sherlock had it not. He felt for Molly, with pain and with contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that could be probable or reasonable, entered his brain. He had led his friend astray, and it would be a reproach to him forever; but his way was clear, if not quite smooth. 


Sherlock spoke then, on being so entreated. What did he say? Just what he ought, of course. A gentleman always does. Sherlock said enough to show there need not be despair — and to invite Captain Watson to say more himself. 


Captain Watson had despaired, at one period; he had received such an injunction to caution and silence, as for the time crushed every hope; Sherlock had begun by refusing to hear him. The change had perhaps been somewhat sudden — Sherlock’s proposal of taking another turn, his renewing the conversation which he had just put an end to, might be a little extraordinary! — Sherlock felt its inconsistency; but Captain Watson was so obliging as to put up with it, and seek no farther explanation. 


Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material. Captain Watson could not impute to Sherlock a more relenting heart than he possessed, or a heart more disposed to accept of his. 


Captain Watson had, in fact, been wholly unsuspicious of his own influence. He had followed Sherlock into the shrubbery with no idea of trying it. He had come, in his anxiety to see how Sherlock bore Irene Adler's engagement, with no selfish view, no view at all, but of endeavouring, if allowed an opening, to soothe or to counsel him. The rest had been the work of the moment, the immediate effect of what he heard, on his feelings. The delightful assurance of Sherlock’s total indifference towards Irene Adler, of his having a heart completely disengaged from her, had given birth to the hope, that, in time, Captain Watson might gain his affection himself; but it had been no present hope — he had only, in the momentary conquest of eagerness over judgment, aspired to be told that Sherlock did not forbid his attempt to attach him. 


The superior hopes which gradually opened were so much the more enchanting. The affection, which he had been asking to be allowed to create, if he could, was already his! Within half an hour, he had passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name. 


Sherlock’s change was equal. This one half-hour had given to each the same precious certainty of being beloved, had cleared from each the same degree of ignorance, jealousy, or distrust. 


On Captain Watson’s side, there had been a long-standing jealousy, old as the arrival, or even the expectation, of Irene Adler. He had been in love with Sherlock, and jealous of Irene Adler, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other. It was his jealousy of Irene Adler that had taken him from the country. The Box Hill party had decided him on going away. He would save himself from witnessing again such permitted, encouraged attentions. 


He had gone to London to learn to be indifferent. But he had gone to a wrong place. There was too much domestic happiness in his brother's house — Greg and Mycroft were too blissfully in love — for much to have been done, even had his time been longer. He had stayed on, however, vigorously, day after day — till this very morning's post had conveyed the history of Sally Donovan. 


Then, along with the gladness which must be felt, nay, which he did not scruple to feel, having never believed Irene Adler to be at all deserving Sherlock, was there so much fond solicitude, so much keen anxiety for him, that he could stay in London no longer. He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all his faults, bore the discovery. 


He had found Sherlock agitated and low. — Irene Adler was a villain. —  He heard Sherlock declare that he had never loved her. — Irene Adler's character was not so desperately bad. —  Sherlock was his own, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if Captain Watson could have thought of Irene Adler then, he might have deemed her a very good sort after all.


Chapter Text

What totally different feelings did Sherlock take back into the house from what he had brought out! He had then been only daring to hope for a little respite of suffering; he was now in an exquisite flutter of happiness, and such happiness moreover as he believed must still be greater when the flutter should have passed away. 


They sat down to tea — the same party round the same table — how often it had been collected! — and how often had his eyes fallen on the same shrubs in the lawn, and observed the same beautiful effect of the western sun! — But never in such a state of spirits, never in anything like it; and it was with difficulty that Sherlock could summon enough of his usual self to be the attentive host, or even the attentive son. 


Poor Mr. Holmes little suspected what was plotting against him in the breast of that man whom he was so cordially welcoming, and so anxiously hoping might not have taken cold from his ride. Could he have seen the heart, he would have cared very little for the lungs; but without the most distant imagination of the impending evil, without the slightest perception of anything extraordinary in the looks or ways of either, he repeated to them very comfortably all the articles of news he had received from Miss Sawyer, and talked on with much self-contentment, totally unsuspicious of what they could have told him in return. 


As long as Captain Watson remained with them, Sherlock's fever continued; but when he was gone, Sherlock began to be a little tranquillised and subdued — and in the course of the sleepless night, which was the tax for such an evening, he found one or two such very serious points to consider, as made him feel that even his happiness must have some alloy. His father — and Molly. Sherlock could not be alone without feeling the full weight of their separate claims; and how to guard the comfort of both to the utmost, was the question. 


With respect to his father, it was a question soon answered. Sherlock hardly knew yet what Captain Watson would ask; but a very short parley with his own heart produced the most solemn resolution of never quitting his father. He even wept over the idea of it, as a sin of thought. While Mr. Holmes lived, it must be only an engagement; but Sherlock flattered himself, that if divested of the danger of drawing him away, it might become an increase of comfort to his father. 


How to do his best by Molly, was of more difficult decision. How to spare her from any unnecessary pain; how to make her any possible atonement; how to appear least her enemy? On these subjects, Sherlock’s perplexity and distress were very great — and his mind had to pass again and again through every bitter reproach and sorrowful regret that had ever surrounded it. He could only resolve at last, that he would still avoid a meeting with her, and communicate all that need be told by letter; that it would be inexpressibly desirable to have her removed just now for a time from Highbury, and — indulging in one scheme more — nearly resolve, that it might be practicable to get an invitation for her to visit Mycroft and Greg. 


A few weeks spent in London must give Molly some amusement. Sherlock did not think it in her nature to escape being benefited by variety, by the streets, the shops, and the novelty. At any rate, it would be a proof of attention and kindness in himself, from whom everything was due; a separation for the present; an averting of the evil day, when they must all be together again. 


Sherlock rose early, and wrote his letter to Molly; an employment which left him so very serious, so nearly sad, that Captain Watson, in walking up to Hartfield to breakfast, did not arrive at all too soon; and half an hour stolen afterwards to go over the same ground again with him, literally and figuratively, was quite necessary to reinstate him in a proper share of the happiness of the evening before. 


Captain Watson had not left him long, by no means long enough for Sherlock to have the slightest inclination for thinking of anybody else, when a letter was brought to him from Randalls — a very thick letter. Sherlock deduced what it must contain, and deprecated the necessity of reading it. He was now in perfect charity with Irene Adler; he wanted no explanations, he wanted only to have his thoughts to himself. It must be waded through, however. 


Sherlock opened the packet; it was too surely so. A note from Mrs. Hudson to himself ushered in the letter from Irene to Mrs. Hudson: 


I have the greatest pleasure, my dear Sherlock, in forwarding to you the enclosed. I know what thorough justice you will do it, and have scarcely a doubt of its happy effect. I think we shall never materially disagree about the writer again; but I will not delay you by a long preface. We are quite well. This letter has been the cure of all the little nervousness I have been feeling lately. I did not quite like your looks on Tuesday, but it was an ungenial morning; and though you will never own being affected by weather, I think everybody feels a north-east wind. I felt for your dear father very much in the storm of Tuesday afternoon and yesterday morning, but had the comfort of hearing last night, by Miss Sawyer, that it had not made him ill.

Yours ever, M.H. 


The letter from Irene was as follows:


If I made myself intelligible yesterday, this letter will be expected; but expected or not, I know it will be read with candour and indulgence. You are all goodness, and I believe there will be need of even all your goodness to allow for some parts of my past conduct. I know you understand the reasons for my secrecy regarding my engagement to Miss Donovan. Aside from my lack of candor on that subject, my behaviour, during the very happy times which I have spent with you, did not, I hope, lay me open to reprehension, excepting on one point.

And now I come to the principal, the only important part of my conduct while belonging to you, which excites my own anxiety, or requires very solicitous explanation. With the greatest respect, and the warmest friendship, do I mention Mr. Sherlock Holmes; my father perhaps will think I ought to add, with the deepest humiliation. A few words which dropped from him yesterday spoke his opinion, and some censure I acknowledge myself liable to.

My behaviour to Mr. Holmes indicated, I believe, more than it ought. In order to assist a concealment so essential to me, I was led on to make more than an allowable use of the sort of intimacy into which we were immediately thrown. I cannot deny that Mr. Holmes was my ostensible object — but I am sure you will believe the declaration, that had I not been convinced of his indifference, I would not have been induced by any selfish views to go on. Amiable and delightful as Mr. Holmes is, he never gave me the idea of a young man likely to be attached; and that he was perfectly free from any tendency to being attached to me, was as much my conviction as my wish. He received my attentions with an easy, friendly, good-humoured playfulness, which exactly suited me. We seemed to understand each other. From our relative situation, those attentions were his due, and were felt to be so.

Whether Mr. Holmes began really to understand me before the expiration of that first fortnight, I cannot say; when I called to take leave of him, I remember that I was within a moment of confessing the truth, and I then fancied he was not without suspicion; but I have no doubt of his having since detected me, at least in some degree. He may not have surmised the whole, but his quickness must have penetrated a part. I cannot doubt it. You will find, whenever the subject becomes freed from its present restraints, that it did not take him wholly by surprise.

I hope that — once you are convinced of there never having been an attachment on either side — the history of my conduct towards him will be forgiven by you and my father. While you considered me as having sinned against Sherlock Holmes, I could deserve nothing from either of you. Acquit me here, and procure for me, when it is allowable, the acquittal and good wishes of that said Sherlock Holmes, whom I regard with so much brotherly affection, as to long to have him as deeply and as happily in love as myself.

As for my continued public flirtation, it is, in fact, a most mortifying retrospect for me. I behaved shamefully. And here I can admit that my manners to Mr. Holmes, in being unpleasant to Miss Donovan, were highly blamable. She disapproved them, which ought to have been enough. My plea of concealing the truth she did not think sufficient. She was displeased by my behaviour at Box Hill; I thought unreasonably so: I thought her, on a thousand occasions, unnecessarily scrupulous and cautious: I thought her even cold. But she was always right. If I had followed her judgment, and subdued my spirits to the level of what she deemed proper, I should have avoided a great deal of misconduct.

Now, my dear madam, I will release you; but I could not conclude before. A thousand and a thousand thanks for all the kindness you have ever shown me, and ten thousand for the attentions your heart will dictate towards Miss Donovan. If you think me in a way to be happier than I deserve, I am quite of your opinion. Mr. Holmes calls me the child of good fortune. I hope he is right.

In one respect, my good fortune is undoubted, that of being able to subscribe myself,
Your obliged and affectionate Daughter,


This letter must make its way to Sherlock's feelings. He was obliged, in spite of his previous determination to the contrary, to do it all the justice that Mrs. Hudson foretold. As soon as he came to his own name, it was irresistible; every line relating to himself was interesting, and almost every line agreeable; and when this charm ceased, the subject could still maintain itself, by the natural return of his former regard for the writer, and the very strong attraction which any picture of love must have for him at that moment. 


Sherlock never stopped till he had gone through the whole; and though it was impossible not to feel that Miss Adler had been wrong, yet she had been less wrong than he had supposed — and she had suffered, and was very sorry — and she was so grateful to Mrs. Hudson, and so much in love with Miss Donovan, and he was so happy himself, that there was no being severe; and could she have entered the room, he must have shaken hands with her as heartily as ever. 


Sherlock thought so well of the letter, that when Captain Watson came again, he desired him to read it. He was sure of Mrs. Hudson's wishing it to be communicated; especially to one who, like Captain Watson, had seen so much to blame in Irene Adler’s conduct. 


"I shall be very glad to look it over," said Captain Watson, "but it seems long. I will take it home with me at night." 


But that would not do. Mr. Hudson was to call in the evening, and Sherlock must return it by him. 


"I would rather be talking to you," Captain Watson replied; "but as it seems a matter of justice, it shall be done." 


He began — stopping, however, almost directly to say, "Had I been offered the sight of one of this lady's letters to her step-mother a few months ago, Sherlock, it would not have been taken with such indifference." 


He proceeded a little farther, reading to himself; and then, with a smile, observed, "Humph! A fine complimentary opening: But it is her way. One person's style must not be the rule of another's. We will not be severe." 


"It will be natural for me," he added shortly afterwards, "to speak my opinion aloud as I read. By doing it, I shall feel that I am near you. It will not be so great a loss of time: but if you dislike it —"


"Not at all,” said Sherlock. “I should wish it.”


When he came to mention of Sherlock, Captain Watson was obliged to read the whole of it aloud — all that related to him, with a smile; a look; a shake of the head; a word or two of assent, or disapprobation; or merely of love, as the subject required; concluding, however, seriously, and, after steady reflection, thus, "Very bad — though it might have been worse.  Playing a most dangerous game. Too much indebted to the event for her acquittal. No judge of her own manners by you. Always deceived in fact by her own wishes, and regarding little besides her own convenience. Fancying you to have fathomed her secret. Natural enough! — Her own mind full of intrigue, that she should suspect it in others. Mystery; Finesse — how they pervert the understanding! My Sherlock, does not everything serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?" 


Sherlock agreed to it, but with a blush of sensibility on Molly's account, which he could not give any sincere explanation of. "You had better go on," said he. 


Captain Watson did so, but very soon stopped again, at Irene Adler's confession of having behaved shamefully, to say, "I perfectly agree with her. She did behave very shamefully. She never wrote a truer line." 


Sherlock knew that he was now getting to the Box Hill party, and grew uncomfortable. His own behaviour had been so very improper! He was deeply ashamed, and a little afraid of Captain Watson’s next look. It was all read, however, steadily, attentively, and without the smallest remark; and, excepting one momentary glance at Sherlock, instantly withdrawn, in the fear of giving pain — no remembrance of Box Hill seemed to exist. 


Captain Watson’s next words were, “She is a very liberal thanker, with her thousands and tens of thousands. — 'Happier than I deserve.' Come, she knows herself there. 'Mr. Holmes calls me the child of good fortune.' — Those were Mr. Holmes' words, were they? —  And a fine ending — and there is the letter. The child of good fortune! That was your name for her, was it?" 


"You do not appear so well satisfied with Miss Adler’s letter as I am; but still you must, at least I hope you must, think the better of her for it. I hope it does her some service with you." 


"Yes, certainly it does. She has had great faults, faults of inconsideration and thoughtlessness; and I am very much of her opinion in thinking her likely to be happier than she deserves: but still as she is, beyond a doubt, really attached to Miss Donovan, and will soon, it may be hoped, have the advantage of being constantly with her, I am very ready to believe her character will improve, and acquire from Miss Donovan’s the steadiness and delicacy of principle that it wants. 


“And now, let me talk to you of something else. I have another person's interest at present so much at heart, that I cannot think any longer about Irene Adler. Ever since I left you this morning, Sherlock, my mind has been hard at work on one subject." 


The subject followed; it was, in plain, unaffected, gentlemanlike English, such as Captain Watson used even to the man he was in love with, how to be able to ask Sherlock to marry him, without attacking the happiness of his father. 


Sherlock's answer was ready at the first word. While his dear father lived, any change of condition must be impossible for him. Sherlock could never quit him. 


Part only of this answer, however, was admitted. The impossibility of Sherlock’s quitting his father, Captain Watson felt as strongly as himself; but the inadmissibility of any other change, he could not agree to. 


He had been thinking it over most deeply, most intently; he had at first hoped to induce Mr. Holmes to remove with Sherlock to Donwell; he had wanted to believe it feasible, but his knowledge of Mr. Holmes would not suffer him to deceive himself long; and now he confessed his persuasion, that such a transplantation would be a risk of his father's comfort, perhaps even of his life, which must not be hazarded. Mr. Holmes taken from Hartfield! No, he felt that it ought not to be attempted. 


But the plan which had arisen on the sacrifice of this, he trusted his dearest Sherlock would not find in any respect objectionable; it was, that Captain Watson should be received at Hartfield; that so long as Mr. Holmes’ happiness — in other words, his life — required Hartfield to continue Sherlock’s home, it should be his likewise. 


Of their all removing to Donwell, Sherlock had already had his own passing thoughts. Like Captain Watson, he had tried the scheme and rejected it; but such an alternative as this had not occurred to him. He was sensible of all the affection it evinced. He felt that, in quitting Donwell, Captain Watson must be sacrificing a great deal of independence of hours and habits; that in living constantly with his father, and in no house of his own, there would be much, very much, to be borne with. 


Sherlock promised to think of it, and advised Captain Watson to think of it more; but Captain Watson was fully convinced that no reflection could alter his wishes or his opinion on the subject. He had given it very long and calm consideration; he had been walking away from his steward, Bill Murray, the whole morning, to have his thoughts to himself. 


"Ah! There is one difficulty unprovided for," cried Sherlock. "I am sure Bill Murray will not like it. You must get his consent before you ask mine." 


Sherlock promised, however, to think of it; and pretty nearly promised, moreover, to think of it with the intention of finding it a very good scheme. 


This proposal of his, this plan of marrying and continuing at Hartfield — the more Sherlock contemplated it, the more pleasing it became. Captain Watson’s evils seemed to lessen, his own advantages to increase, their mutual good to outweigh every drawback. Such a companion for himself; such a partner!  


Sherlock would have been too happy but for poor Molly; but every blessing of his own seemed to involve and advance the sufferings of his friend, who must now be even excluded from Hartfield. The delightful family party which Sherlock was securing for himself, poor Molly must, in mere charitable caution, be kept at a distance from. For the poor girl herself, though, it seemed a peculiarly cruel necessity that was to be placing her in such a state of unmerited punishment. 


In time, of course, Captain Watson would be forgotten, that is, supplanted; but this could not be expected to happen very early. Captain Watson himself would be doing nothing to assist the cure — not like Mr. Moriarty. Captain Watson, always so kind, so feeling, so truly considerate for everybody, would never deserve to be less worshipped than now; and it really was too much to hope, even of Molly, that she could be in love with more than three people in one year.


Chapter Text

It was a very great relief to Sherlock to find Molly as desirous as himself to avoid a meeting. Their intercourse was painful enough by letter. How much worse, had they been obliged to meet! Molly expressed herself very much as might be supposed, without reproaches, or apparent sense of ill-usage; and yet Sherlock fancied there was a something of resentment, a something bordering on it in her style, which increased the desirableness of their being separate. It might be only his own consciousness; but it seemed as if an angel only could have been quite without resentment under such a stroke. 


Sherlock had no difficulty in procuring Mycroft’s and Greg’s invitation to Molly to visit them in London; and he was fortunate in having a sufficient reason for asking it, without resorting to invention. There was a tooth amiss. Molly really wished, and had wished some time, to consult a dentist. Mycroft Holmes-Lestrade was delighted to be of use; like his father, anything of ill health was a recommendation to him — and he was quite eager to have Molly under his care. 


When it was thus settled on his brother's side, Sherlock proposed it to his friend, and found her very persuadable. Molly was to go; she was invited for at least a fortnight; she was to be conveyed in Mr. Holmes' carriage. It was all arranged, it was all completed, and Molly was safe in London. 


Now Sherlock could, indeed, enjoy Captain Watson's visits; now he could talk, and he could listen with true happiness, unchecked by that sense of injustice, of guilt, of something most painful, which had haunted him when remembering how disappointed a heart was near him, how much might at that moment, and at a little distance, be enduring by the feelings which he had led astray himself. The difference of Molly at Miss Thompson's, or in London, made perhaps an unreasonable difference in Sherlock's sensations; but he could not think of her in London without objects of curiosity and employment, which must be averting the past, and carrying her out of herself. 


Sherlock would not allow any other anxiety to succeed directly to the place in his mind which Molly had occupied. There was a communication before him, one which he only could be competent to make — the confession of his engagement to his father — but he would have nothing to do with it at present. He had resolved to defer the disclosure till the shock occasioned by the deaths of the Moriartys and the discovery that the residents of Highbury had been harbouring a murderer in their midst had worn off. No additional agitation should be thrown at this period among those he loved — and the evil should not act on himself by anticipation before the appointed time. A fortnight, at least, of leisure and peace of mind, to crown every warmer, but more agitating, delight, should be his. 


Sherlock soon resolved, equally as a duty and a pleasure, to employ half an hour of this holiday of spirits in calling on Miss Donovan. He ought to go — and he was surprised to find that he was longing to see her; the resemblance of their present situations increasing every other motive of goodwill. It would be a secret satisfaction; but the consciousness of a similarity of prospect would certainly add to the interest with which he should attend to anything Sally might communicate. 


When he arrived at the Turners’, Sherlock was met on the stairs by Sally herself, coming eagerly forward, as if no other reception of him were felt sufficient. Sherlock had never seen her look so well, so lovely, so engaging. There was consciousness, animation, and warmth; there was everything which her countenance or manner could ever have wanted. 


She came forward with an offered hand; and said, in a low, but very feeling tone, "This is most kind, indeed! Mr. Holmes, it is impossible for me to express — I hope you will believe —  Excuse me for being so entirely without words." 


Sherlock was gratified, and would soon have shown no want of words, if the sound of Miss Turner's voice from the sitting-room had not checked him, and made it expedient to compress all his friendly and all his congratulatory sensations into a very, very earnest shake of the hand. Sherlock could have wished the garrulous Miss Turner elsewhere; but he was in a humour to have patience with everybody. He could not help being diverted by the perplexity of Miss Turner’s address to himself, resulting, he supposed, from doubt of what might be said, and impatience to say everything. 


"Thank you, dear Mr. Holmes, for coming. You are all kindness. It is impossible to say — Yes, indeed, I quite understand — dearest Sally's prospects — that is, I do not mean. — But she is charmingly recovered. — How is Mr. Holmes? — I am so glad. — Quite out of my power. — Such a happy little circle as you find us here. — Yes, indeed. — Charming young lady! — that is — so very friendly; I mean good Miss Sawyer! — such attention to Sally!" 


The visit proceeded in much the same vein, with Miss Turner doing most of the talking, without actually saying much of anything at all. Sherlock wished he could acknowledge that he was in on the secret of Miss Donovan’s engagement to Miss Adler, but he did not wish to cause trouble for Mr. Hudson by exposing his failure to keep the matter confidential. Though Sally knew he had been told of it, her aunt and grandmother did not.


Miss Donovan’s wish of distinguishing Sherlock, as far as civility permitted, was very evident, though it could not often proceed beyond a look. He was pleased, on taking leave, to find her determined to attend him out of the room, to go with him even downstairs; it gave him an opportunity which he immediately made use of, to say, "It is as well, perhaps, that I have not had the possibility of candour. Had you not been surrounded by your family, I might have been tempted to introduce a subject, to ask questions, to speak more openly than might have been strictly correct. I feel that I should certainly have been impertinent." 


"Oh!" cried Sally, with a blush and a hesitation which Sherlock thought infinitely more becoming to her than all the elegance of all her usual composure — "there would have been no danger. The danger would have been of my wearying you. You could not have gratified me more than by expressing an interest. Indeed, Mr. Holmes,” (speaking more collectedly) “with the consciousness which I have of misconduct, very great misconduct, it is particularly consoling to me to know that those of my friends, whose good opinion is most worth preserving, are not disgusted to such a degree as to — I have not time for half that I could wish to say. I long to make apologies, excuses, to urge something for myself. I feel it so very due. But, unfortunately — in short, if your compassion does not stand my friend — " 


"Oh! You are too scrupulous, indeed you are," cried Sherlock warmly, and taking her hand. "You owe me no apologies; and everybody to whom you might be supposed to owe them, is so perfectly satisfied, so delighted even — " 


"You are very kind, but I know what my manners were to you. So cold and artificial! I had always a part to act. It was a life of deceit! I know that I must have disgusted you." 


"Pray say no more. I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let us forgive each other at once. We must do whatever is to be done quickest, and I think our feelings will lose no time there. I hope you have pleasant accounts from Windsor?" 




"And the next news, I suppose, will be, that we are to lose you — just as I begin to know you." 


"Oh! As to all that, of course nothing can be thought of yet. I am here till claimed by Major and Mrs. Sholto." 


"Nothing can be actually settled yet, perhaps," replied Sherlock, smiling — "but, excuse me, it must be thought of." 


The smile was returned as Sally answered, "You are very right; it has been thought of. And I will own to you, (I am sure it will be safe), that so far as our living with Mr. Adler at Enscombe, it is settled. There must be three months, at least, of deep mourning; but when they are over, I imagine there will be nothing more to wait for." 


"Thank you, thank you. This is just what I wanted to be assured of. Oh! If you knew how much I love everything that is decided and open! — Good-bye, good-bye."


Upon his return to Hartfield, Sherlock found Captain Watson sitting with his father. After satisfying them both as to the particulars of his visit with Miss Donovan and the Turners, Sherlock invited Captain Watson to join him in a walk around the garden. 


“‘Captain Watson…’” that gentleman repeated, as they stepped out of doors. “You have always called me ‘Captain Watson;’ and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound. And yet it is formal. I wish you would call me John.” 


"Impossible! I never can call you anything but ‘Captain Watson,’” Sherlock replied, laughing and blushing.


Captain Watson — John — gave him a knowing look. “Does my military rank so intrigue you?”


Sherlock coloured further at John’s teasing words, embarrassed all the more by the truth of his supposition. "I will promise to call you once by your given name,” he said. “I do not say when, but perhaps you may guess where: in the building in which Sherlock takes John, for better, for worse."

Chapter Text

Sherlock grieved that he could not more openly acknowledge one important service which Captain Watson’s better sense would have rendered him, the advice which would have saved him from the worst of all his follies — his willful meddling in the romantic life of Molly Hooper; but it was too tender a subject. He could not enter on it. Molly was very seldom mentioned between them. This, on Captain Watson’s side, might merely proceed from her not being thought of; but Sherlock was rather inclined to attribute it to delicacy, and a suspicion, from some appearances, that their friendship were declining. 


Sherlock was aware, himself, that parting under any other circumstances, they certainly should have corresponded more, and that his intelligence would not have rested, as it now almost wholly did, on Mycroft's letters. Captain Watson might observe that it was so. The pain Sherlock felt at being obliged to practice concealment towards him, was very little inferior to the pain of having made Molly unhappy. 


Mycroft sent quite as good an account of his visitor as could be expected. On her first arrival he had thought her out of spirits, which appeared perfectly natural, as there was a dentist to be consulted; but, since that business had been over, he did not appear to find Molly different from what he had known her before. Mycroft, to be sure, was not such a quick observer as Sherlock prided himself on being; yet if Molly had been truly grieving, it would not have escaped him. 


Sherlock's comforts and hopes were most agreeably carried on, by Molly's being to stay longer; her fortnight was likely to be a month at least. Mycroft and Greg Holmes-Lestrade were to come to Highbury in August, and she was invited to remain till they could bring her back with them.


“Greg does not even mention your friend," said Captain Watson. "Here is his letter, if you’d like to see it." 


It was the answer to the communication of their intended marriage. Sherlock accepted it with a very eager hand, with an impatience all alive to know what Greg would say about it, and not at all checked by hearing that Molly was unmentioned. 


"Greg enters as a true brother into my happiness," continued Captain Watson, "but he is no complimenter; and though I well know him to have, likewise, a most brotherly affection for you, he is so far from making flourishes, that any other young man might think him rather cool in his praise. But I am not afraid of your seeing what he writes." 


“He writes like a sensible man," replied Sherlock, when he had read the letter. "I honour his sincerity. It is very plain that he considers the good fortune of the engagement as all on my side, but that he is not without hope of my growing, in time, as worthy of your affection, as you think me already. Had he said anything to bear a different construction, I should not have believed him." 


"My Sherlock, he means no such thing. He only means — " 


"He and I should differ very little in our estimation of the two," interrupted Sherlock, with a sort of serious smile — "much less, perhaps, than he is aware of, if we could enter without ceremony or reserve on the subject." 


"Sherlock, my dear Sherlock — " 


"Oh!" he cried with more thorough gaiety, "if you fancy your brother does not do me justice, only wait till my dear father is in on the secret, and hear his opinion. Depend upon it, he will be much farther from doing you justice. He will think all the happiness, all the advantage, on your side of the question; all the merit on mine. I wish I may not sink into 'poor Sherlock' with him at once. His tender compassion towards oppressed worth can go no farther." 


"Ah!" cried Captain Watson, "I wish your father might be half as easily convinced as Greg will be, of our having every right that equal worth can give, to be happy together. I am amused by one part of Greg's letter — did you notice it? — where he says that my information did not take him wholly by surprise, that he was rather in expectation of hearing something of the kind." 


"If I understand your brother, he only means so far as your having some thoughts of marrying. He had no idea of me. He seems perfectly unprepared for that." 


"Yes, yes — but I am amused that he should have seen so far into my feelings. What has he been judging by? I am not conscious of any difference in my spirits or conversation that could prepare him at this time for my marrying any more than at another. But it was so, I suppose. I dare say there was a difference when I was staying with them the other day. I believe I was not quite myself.” 


The time was coming when the news must spread farther, and other persons' reception of it be tried. Sherlock had it in view that Mrs. Hudson’s gentle reasonings should be employed in the cause of persuading his father that his marriage to Captain Watson would be all to the good. He resolved first to announce it at home, and then at Randalls. 


But how to break it to his father at last! Sherlock had bound himself to do it, in such an hour of Captain Watson's absence, or when it came to the point his heart would have failed him, and he must have put it off; but Captain Watson was to come at such a time, and follow up the beginning he was to make. Sherlock was forced to speak, and to speak cheerfully, too. He must not make it a more decided subject of misery to his father, by a melancholy tone himself. He must not appear to think it a misfortune. 


With all the spirits he could command, Sherlock prepared his father first for something strange, and then, in a few words, said, that if his consent and approbation could be obtained — which, he trusted, would be attended with no difficulty, since it was a plan to promote the happiness of all — he and Captain Watson meant to marry; by which means Hartfield would receive the constant addition of that person's company whom he knew his father loved, next to his sons and Mrs. Hudson, best in the world. 


Poor Mr. Holmes! It was at first a considerable shock to him, and he tried earnestly to dissuade Sherlock from it. Sherlock was reminded, more than once, of having always said he would never marry, and assured that it would be a great deal better for him to remain single; and told of poor Mycroft, and poor Miss Taylor. 


But it would not do. Sherlock hung about him affectionately, and smiled, and said it must be so; and that he must not class him with Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson, whose marriages, taking them from Hartfield, had, indeed, made a melancholy change. Sherlock was not going from Hartfield; he should be always there; he was introducing no change in their numbers or their comforts but for the better; and he was very sure that his father would be a great deal the happier for having Captain Watson always at hand, when he were once got used to the idea. 


Did his father not love Captain Watson very much? He would not deny that he did, Sherlock was sure. Whom did he ever want to consult on business but Captain Watson? Who was so useful to him, who so ready to write his letters, who so glad to assist him? Who so cheerful, so attentive, so attached to him? Would not he like to have him always on the spot? 


Yes. That was all very true. Captain Watson could not be there too often; Mr. Holmes should be glad to see him every day; but they did see him every day as it was. Why could not they go on as they had done? 


Mr. Holmes could not be soon reconciled; but the worst was overcome. The idea was given. Time and continual repetition must do the rest. 


To Sherlock's entreaties and assurances succeeded Captain Watson's, whose fond praise of him gave the subject even a kind of welcome; and Mr. Holmes was soon used to be talked to by each, on every fair occasion. They had all the assistance which Mycroft could give, by letters of the strongest approbation; and Mrs. Hudson was ready, on the first meeting, to consider the subject in the most serviceable light — first, as a settled, and, secondly, as a good one — well aware of the nearly equal importance of the two recommendations to Mr. Holmes's mind. It was agreed upon, as what was to be; and everybody by whom he was used to be guided assuring him that it would be for his happiness, and having some feelings himself which almost admitted it, he began to think that some time or other — in another year or two, perhaps — it might not be so very bad if the marriage did take place. 


Mrs. Hudson was acting no part, feigning no feelings in all that she said to Mr. Holmes in favour of the event. She had been extremely surprised, never more so, than when Sherlock first opened the affair to her; but she saw in it only increase of happiness to all, and had no scruple in urging him to the utmost. She had such a regard for Captain Watson, as to think he deserved even her dearest Sherlock; and it was in every respect so proper, suitable, and unexceptionable a connexion, and in one respect, one point of the highest importance, so peculiarly eligible, so singularly fortunate, that now it seemed as if Sherlock could not safely have attached himself to any other creature, and that she had herself been the stupidest of beings in not having thought of it, and wished it long ago. 


How very few of those in a rank of life to address Sherlock would have renounced their own home for Hartfield! And who but Captain Watson could know and bear with Mr. Holmes, so as to make such an arrangement desirable! The difficulty of disposing of poor Mr. Holmes had been always felt in her husband's plans and her own, for a marriage between Irene and Sherlock. How to settle the claims of Enscombe and Hartfield had been a continual impediment — less acknowledged by Mr. Hudson than by herself — but even he had never been able to finish the subject better than by saying, "Those matters will take care of themselves; the young people will find a way." 


But here there was nothing to be shifted off in a wild speculation on the future. It was all right, all open, all equal. No sacrifice on any side worth the name. It was a union of the highest promise of felicity in itself, and without one real, rational difficulty to oppose or delay it. Mrs. Hudson, with her husband at her side, indulging in such reflections as these, was one of the happiest women in the world.


The news was universally a surprise wherever it spread; and Mr. Hudson had his five minutes share of it; but five minutes were enough to familiarise the idea to his quickness of mind. He saw the advantages of the match, and rejoiced in them with all the constancy of his wife; but the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it. 


"It is to be a secret, I conclude," said he. "These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that everybody knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out. I wonder whether Sally has any suspicion." 


He went to Highbury the next morning, and satisfied himself on that point. He told her the news. Was not she like a daughter, as she was soon to be his daughter-in-law? He must tell her; and Miss Turner being present, it passed, of course, to Mrs. Stamford and Miss Sawyer immediately afterwards. 


It was no more than the principals were prepared for; they had calculated from the time of its being known at Randalls, how soon it would be all over Highbury; and were thinking of themselves, as the evening wonder in many a family circle, with great sagacity.