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The Adventure of the Vatican Cameos

Chapter Text

Holmes was gone from the bed when I awoke. For a second or two, I wondered whether I ought to take that as a bad sign, an indication of regret or embarrassment on his part.

Before I could dwell too much on the matter, however, he appeared in the doorway, already shaved and half-dressed, and carrying a water jug.

He gave me a small, unreadable smile.

"Good morning, Holmes," I managed, discovering my voice to be rough with sleep. I cleared my throat. The sound was followed by a short silence.

How does one behave when waking for the first time in the bed of one's dearest friend?

Holmes placed the jug on his dresser. "I'll just leave this here for you, shall I?" he said with brisk efficiency, and I realised that he was as nervous and uncertain as I was.

He disappeared again, as abruptly as he'd come. Upon reflection I was relieved to be left alone, and thus spared the awkwardness of dressing in front of him—even if it were something I'd often done before without a second's thought.

We breakfasted in silence, which was not unusual in and of itself. It was Holmes' habit to scan through all the newspapers at high speed, while I contented myself with reading the Times in detail.

I did precisely the same thing this morning, but I could not help glancing up at Holmes every so often. The whole world seemed turned upside down, but at its centre was the same Holmes I'd always known. I was reminded of a line, vaguely recalled, from a poem I'd once known: all things are changed save thee, my love.

I did not voice the thought, not least because the word 'love' seemed a little precipitate.

When the maid came to clear away the breakfast things, she also brought the post. Along with the letters was a telegram, which Holmes opened first.

"Ha!" he exclaimed. "Here's a thing, Watson. Mr Gregory Lyndale will call on me at 11 o'clock this morning, if it be convenient to me." He glanced at the clock on the mantlepiece. "Well, it's ten past ten now, and I am at home and have already finished all my newspapers, so I suppose we may say it is convenient to me. Quick, Watson, hand me Who's Who."

I did so, and he continued speaking as he leafed through that heavy tome.

"The Lyndales are one of England's more well known recusant families, I believe. That is to say, one of those Catholic families of the gentry who managed to hold on to their land and wealth through the Reformation and since then."

I knew what the word 'recusant' meant, but I also knew better than to interrupt Holmes when he was in full flow.

"Yes, here we are. JP for Lancashire, educated at Stonyhurst, residences in London and Lancashire. Married, widowed, has issue—son and two daughters." He paused for a second, clearly absorbing all the details on the page, and then closed the book with a snap. "And he wishes to see me about a theft, according to his telegram."

He said that without very much enthusiasm. Burglary and robbery are commonplace, and usually best tackled by the police's brute force method of going through their long lists of known recidivists. Why, we'd even had a spate of burglaries in our own neighbourhood recently, including an attempt on Mrs Hudson's kitchen door, without Holmes being able to put his peculiar talents to use at all.

"Well, we cannot speculate any further until this Lyndale provides us with the facts of the matter," said Holmes.

He laid aside Who's Who, and I rose to put the book away, for I had learnt from experience that Holmes would leave it lying there untidily for days. When I turned away from the bookshelves, it was to find him watching me closely.

"Watson—" he began, and then stopped.

His lips were pressed together in a thin line, whether from discomfiture or merely because he was deep in thought, I could not tell. In fact, I had no idea at all what was passing through his mind.

It was quite possible he was working out how to diplomatically express his regrets at having been led last night into a situation he had no desire to see repeated. On the other hand, it was equally possible he was looking to me for reassurance that I wasn't thinking precisely that.

I would have reassured him immediately, had I known just how to put it. Gushings of undying devotion seemed a little inopportune, not to mention potentially embarrassing for both of us. Nor did I wish to appear completely dissolute or licentious by announcing that I'd be quite willing to repeat the encounter, no strings attached.

We had done very little talking last night; indeed, we had communicated extraordinarily well without needing any words at all. Now, however, Holmes was at the far side of the breakfast table, and looking his most inapproachable.

We were interrupted—fortunately or unfortunately—by a knock at the door: the return of Mrs Hudson's new girl, who'd forgotten to ask whether we'd be in for lunch and dinner. By the time I'd dealt with her, Holmes was—or appeared to be—deep in a newspaper he'd already read.

Our visitor Gregory Lyndale arrived within the hour, accompanied by a gentleman in a cassock, who was introduced as Monsignor Pinet, recently arrived from Rome. Lyndale was a large, portly man. He had a face made to be jovial, but this morning it was cast in lines of worry. His companion appeared a great deal more sanguine, and after shaking our hands he quietly took a seat, allowing Mr Lyndale to do all the talking.

"It's quite a simple matter, on the face of it," Lyndale began. "My family owns a pair of cameos, of historical significance and also of considerable monetary value. They have been replaced by fakes."

He paused, but Holmes said nothing. I knew it would take more than that to interest Holmes, and Mr Lyndale seemed to sense the same thing, for he went on:

"It is the circumstances of the theft that render it particularly mysterious. The exchange was made right under the noses of a crowd of at least fifteen people."

Holmes' eyebrow flickered at that, in a tiny motion certainly perceptible only to me.

"Do go on," he said.

"Well, perhaps I should allow Monsignor Pinet to tell the story, since it's thanks to him that we even know there is a story to tell."

Monsignor Pinet gave him a slight bow of acknowledgement, and cleared his throat.

"I am an amateur of cameos and other objets d'art," he began, in the overly pompous voice of a man who is savouring being, for once in his life, the centre of attention. "I was aware that Mr Lyndale possessed two particularly fine cameos. They are quite well known in the field, and feature in numerous catalogues and pamphlets. I was a guest at Mr Lyndale's house last night, and I intended to request a viewing soon after my arrival. In the end I did not even have to ask, for the cameos were on permanent display in a glass cabinet in the salon in which we were to spend most of the evening. As soon as I entered the room I had the opportunity to admire them, indeed to remove them from the cabinet and examine them in detail, for Mr Lyndale was kind enough to allow me to do so."

At this point he performed once more his odd, seated bow in the direction of Mr Lyndale, who nodded in acknowledgement.

"Mr Lyndale had provided a magnificent buffet dinner in the adjacent drawing room, and for the next few hours I circulated between that room and the salon. There was music, conversation, cards, and so on."

"But there was certainly a crowd present at all times in both rooms," Lyndale interjected.

"I had arrived at half past seven," Pinet went on. "At around half past nine, thinking to take another look at the cameos before I left, I approached the cabinet again. A glance was enough to tell me they had been replaced by copies."

On this dramatic note, he paused.

If he expected Holmes or me to exclaim in amazement, he was disappointed. Instead, Holmes murmured, "What a coincidence that the theft should occur precisely on the night when someone was present who could instantly detect it."

Monsignor Pinet's eyes widened. He looked as though he were trying to decide whether the comment should be taken as some sort of subtle insinuation against himself.

Mr Lyndale did not seem perceptive enough to notice such subtleties.

"A fortunate coincidence for us, Mr Holmes," he exclaimed.

"Quite," said Holmes, neutrally. "Monsignor, was your expertise known to some of your fellow guests before your arrival?"

Pinet shook his head emphatically.

"I only arrived in England two days ago. I'm here professionally, you understand, on official business—auditing Church accounts. Since my arrival, I've been staying with the Franciscans in Wembley, several of whom are regular visitors to the Lyndales' home, hence my invitation. Although I knew Mr Lyndale by reputation—" Again, he bowed obsequiously towards Lyndale. "—I was not acquainted with him before last night, nor with any of the other guests, besides those Franciscans I came with."

Lyndale's harried expression had deepened into a frown.

"You both speak as though your suspicions were principally directed at my guests," he cried.

While Pinet exclaimed and protested that nothing could have been further from his mind, Holmes said calmly, "It would be helpful to know whom you yourself suspect, Mr Lyndale."

"Surely the servants—" He broke off, shaking his head and looking chagrined. "Oh, I don't know what to think! All of my servants have been in my employ for several years at least, and I am extremely reluctant to point the finger at any of them."

"Quite so, Mr Lyndale," said Holmes, which meant nothing at all, and then changed the subject. "What did these cameos look like, precisely?"

"I have the fakes with me," said Lyndale. "And here is a page clipped from a collector's pamphlet depicting the originals."

The cameos were about two inches in diameter, of delicate pale cream shell carved in relief on a dark brown background. The caption in the pamphlet indicated one of them to be a reproduction of Raphael's Madonna and Child. The other was also the Virgin Mary, but done in a Greek style.

To my inexperienced eye the fakes seemed entirely convincing. I should never have suspected anything amiss, had I not had the picture of the originals to compare them to. Admittedly, the work was rather less precise, and the details a little blurred.

"The originals were carved in sardonyx shell," Pinet explained. "These are in the much more inexpensive carnelian shell, treated to make the colour resemble that of the sardonyx."

"They were given to my grandfather by Cardinal Montserrati in the 18th century for services rendered to the Church," Lyndale added.

"Were they indeed?" Holmes murmured, still studying the cameos closely. After a moment he looked up. "Well, gentlemen, I must say your case intrigues me. I will call on you at home at three o'clock this afternoon. I suppose the police have already been through your salon with a fine toothcomb?"

"Oh yes, they were very thorough indeed," said Lyndale, with the satisfaction of the honest citizen who sees the forces of the law in the enthusiastic performance of their duty.

I saw Holmes suppress a grimace. As he put it, heavy-footed, clumsy-fingered policemen were the last people he wished to see at a crime scene.

"Very well," he said. "Perhaps you could prepare a list of guests and servants present yesterday evening, in advance of my arrival?"

He accompanied our two visitors to the front door, and returned looking extremely thoughtful.

"Three o'clock, Holmes?" I asked as soon as our visitors had left. "You have other plans for between then and now?"

Holmes was already pulling on his overcoat. "I intend to get a haircut, Watson. I suggest you do the same."

I put a hand to my head, frowning. It was still at least two weeks until I was next due a haircut, and his suggestion left me perplexed.

Holmes tutted his tongue at me. "Our barber is a Roman Catholic, Watson. Surely you have noticed this?"

I was obliged to admit that I had not.

"And London's Catholics are not particularly numerous, and surely as gossip-prone as any other group. I'm sure I can learn something from him about a family as prominent in society as the Lyndales."

.. .. ..

"Indeed I do know them," said Mr Willis as he set to work on Holmes' hair. "Not that I ever exchanged a word with any of them, o'course, but I sometimes see them at charity fetes and the like. The father's a widower, but he has two daughters and a son, all grown up."

"Married?" Holmes prompted.

"Well, the son's not married yet, but he's the only son, so he won't be too long about it, I expect." Mr Willis chuckled to himself. "He's not much of a lady's man, poor chap. Always seems to be blushing and stammering, whenever I've seen him. But the whole family is very well-heeled indeed, so I don't suppose he'll have too much trouble getting hitched."

I was in the next chair across, having my hair cut by Mr Willis' assistant, and in the mirror I saw Holmes raise an eyebrow.

"Indeed," he murmured. "And the sisters?"

"The younger sister's not married yet either, but the older one is." He moved around to the other side of Holmes' head. "She married a convert, and I expect you know what they say about converts, Mr Holmes."

I didn't know what they said about converts, but Holmes nodded his head wisely.

"Under his influence, she has become very hardline, very strict," Willis went on. "Doesn't get on with the sister and brother, I hear."

"Really? Most interesting."

Willis beamed. "Glad to be of assistance, Mr Holmes. I suppose this is for one of your cases, then?"

Holmes nodded. "Mr Lyndale has recently been a victim of theft," he explained. "You will certainly be able to read all the details in the papers this evening."

Willis' eyes widened, and he looked so excited I was glad he was no longer wielding a pair of scissors around Holmes' ears.

"I shall make sure to do so, Mr Holmes."

A few minutes later we stepped out onto the pavement, several ounces of hair lighter than when we had arrived at the barber's.

"Mrs Hudson is expecting us for lunch," I said hopefully.

To my delight, Holmes was not yet so caught up in the case that he refused to waste time on something as frivolous as regular meals. He was silent and distracted over lunch, however, eating little and saying less.

Neither of us alluded to the events of the previous evening. The only words we exchanged were about the cameos, and I was just as reluctant as he seemed to be to change that state of affairs. It was cowardly of us, perhaps, but I was rather grateful that a case should have intervened at just this time.

.. .. ..

The Lyndales kept a townhouse on West Eaton Place. At three o'clock that afternoon we were shown into a magnificent, marble-floored entrance hall, and thence to the library, where Mr Lyndale awaited us.

The list of people present in the house the previous night had been drawn up as requested. It began with Lyndale himself, his daughters, son and son-in-law, and two guests of the family, a Mr William Huntington and a Mrs Catherine Tyndrum. Also invited had been two Franciscans and Monsignor Pinet, four members of the Winston family, and a couple, Mr and Mrs Armstrong. The household's complement of servants consisted of a butler, a footman, a cook, a parlourmaid, two maids-of-all-work, and additionally the cook's niece, who apparently came in to lend a hand on such occasions. The Lyndale townhouse was on the large side: they were clearly extremely wealthy.

"Perhaps we may start in the salon where the theft occurred," Holmes suggested.

The son, Nicholas Lyndale, was already in the room with a young man who turned out to be one of the people featured in our list of reception guests, namely Mr William Huntington. The two young men were sitting in armchairs by the window, deep in conversation, forgotten novels lying open in their laps.

"So this is Mr Sherlock Holmes," Mr Huntington exclaimed upon our introduction, his rather grave, sober face transformed with delight. "Very pleased to meet you, sir. And you, Dr Watson. I am an enthusiastic reader of your stories. Delighted, sir!"

The younger Mr Lyndale greeted us much more quietly, shaking us each by the hand with a few murmured words. He did not blush and stammer, as Mr Willis had suggested he would, but perhaps that was because we weren't young ladies in search of a husband.

"We were planning to go out riding in the park, father," he said in an aside to Mr Lyndale the elder. "Unless you need us here?"

I wondered whether Holmes would say he wished to interview each member of the family in private, as he sometimes did, but after a few minutes' conversation with young Lyndale and Huntington, he turned to the cabinet and bent to examine the lock.

Later that evening, in fact, we had an interesting conversation about Mr Huntington and the younger Mr Lyndale—but I get ahead of myself.

"The cabinet was locked at the start of the evening?" Holmes asked.

"I locked it myself after showing Monsignor Pinet the cameos," Lyndale confirmed. "And it was found locked when we discovered the fakes at the end of the evening. The housekeeper keeps the key with those of all the other drawers and cabinets, in the pantry."

"It's quite an antique, I take it?" Holmes asked, stepping back to view the cabinet in its entirety.

"Oh, a few hundred years, I think."

"And the lock has never been changed?"

"Well, not in my lifetime, at least."

I knew Holmes was thinking of the scratch marks that, on a newer lock, could have indicated that it had been picked. This lock was so old and scratched that surely even he could not deduce anything from it.

After a minute he turned away from the cabinet and cast a quick, searching glance around the rest of the room.

"I suppose this is the other room that was occupied last night?" he said, indicating the adjoining drawing room visible through an open pair of double doors. It struck me that with the doors open, the cabinet was visible from a good part of the drawing room, as well as from the entirety of the salon in which it stood.

In the drawing room, we met the owners of some of the other names on the list. Mrs Catherine Tyndrum, a widow almost out of mourning, was clearly a particular friend of Mrs Spencer, the married daughter of the family. Mrs Spencer, her husband and her friend were sitting with Georgiana Lyndale, the unmarried daughter of the house.

"Mrs Spencer and I spent most of the evening on the sofa in the salon," Mrs Tyndrum said. "I'm sure we would have noticed anyone opening the cabinet."

One did not need to be a detective or a medical doctor to deduce why the two ladies had chosen to spend the evening in such a sedentary fashion: Mrs Spencer was clearly in a condition which must have prompted her family doctor to advise her to exert herself as little as possible. I judged her confinement to be due in less than two months.

Holmes asked a few more questions about exact times and locations during the previous evening, and then announced that he would like to interview the servants. I ended up with a notebook full of scribbled answers, and no very clear idea of the conclusions Holmes might have reached from all of it.

By the time he had finished, the dinner hour was approaching. Before we left, Holmes arranged with Lyndale that the latter would call for us the following morning, and take us to meet the other guests present on the night of the theft.

In the cab on the way home I perused my notes, eager to complete them while the details were still fresh in my mind. I could hardly keep everyone straight in my head, so many people had we seen or heard about today. I made out a careful list of those we still had to interview tomorrow: the Winston family, the Armstrongs, and the Franciscans friars.

After a while I noticed that Holmes was reading along with me, upsidedown. He raised his head when I laid down my pen.

"What is your opinion on the matter so far, Watson?"

"It seems to me to be the impossible crime! There are far too many witnesses, and even an expert lockpick cannot do his work in the blink of an eye."

He grinned at me. Gone was the aloof, unapproachable marble sculpture of this morning, and in its place this high-spirited, keen-edged fellow, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.

"Yes, it is rather a puzzle, isn't it? Almost insoluble, wouldn't you say, Watson?"

From his manner, I was quite sure that he was already beginning to see his way clearly through the murky fog of facts, but try as I might, I could not yet follow in his footsteps.

.. .. ..

We arrived back at Baker Street about an hour before dinnertime. I closed the sitting room door behind me, and hung my outer clothing on the coatstand, then stepped aside to allow Holmes to do the same.

Without design, we found ourselves standing in almost exactly the same configuration as we had been yesterday evening, just before I kissed Holmes for the first time.

Our eyes met. Holmes' face was grave now, with a hint of uncertainty in the lines around his eyes. I ventured a smile, and was rewarded by a twitch of Holmes' own lips.

As we stood there looking at each other, I became quite sure that Holmes' mind and mine were running along the same lines, two leaves caught up in the same current. The tension which had been sitting in the pit of my stomach all day melted away. I could see laid out before me, quite clearly, the path the next few minutes would take us on. All we had to do was work out how to begin.

Holmes broke the silence first.

"Perhaps this time I might hang my coat up first," he said dryly.

My hesitant smile turned into a laugh. Yesterday his coat had ended up in a crumpled heap on the floor.

"An excellent idea," I said.

He stowed everything quickly and tidily—coat, hat, gloves, umbrella—and then turned back to face me. For a second or two we stood there, still awkward at the last. Then Holmes moved, and so did I, and we were kissing.

Holmes' lips and cheeks were still cold to the touch, but his tongue was warm as it reached for mine, and his hands on my waist pulled me closer to him.

I decided it would not be inappropriate at this point to suggest retiring to the nearest bedroom.

.. .. ..

I lay sprawled out across the bed with my eyes closed. Holmes was a warm presence beside me, his shoulder rubbing mine. I could hear his breath slowly evening out, and feel the warm brush of it on my cheek. I too felt pleasurably exhausted, my limbs and eyelids heavy.

After a few minutes, the mattress shifted beneath me. I heard the click of Holmes' cigarette case, and then the sound of a match being struck. I opened my eyes. Holmes was sitting up in the bed, looking down at me with an affectionate half-smile. His hair stood up in disheveled tufts, his cheeks still flushed, his collar askew. He held out his cigarette case to me, but I shook my head. I simply wanted to drink in the sight of him like that.

I watched through half-closed eyes as he settled himself back against the pillows and began to blow smoke up towards the ceiling. His gaze grew softer, and a thin line appeared between his brows. It was clear to me that his mind was back on the case again.

"What do you make of Monsignor Pinet, Watson?" he asked after a little while.

"He seems to derive a great deal of satisfaction from having his hobby be the centre of attention."

"Indeed. And it's an odd coincidence that a person with such knowledge as his should have been there precisely on the night of the theft." After a reflective pause, he added, "Still, for the moment there's no particular reason to suspect him of anything but an overestimation of his own worth."

I hid a smile. Holmes himself could be quite conceited at times, and it was only the fact that his conceit was well-founded that separated him from the pompous fools of the world.

I waited, knowing better than to address Holmes while he was deep in thought. Sometimes he would fall into a brown study and not emerge for hours. This time, however, he stirred after only a few minutes, and shook his head impatiently.

"I find myself frustrated by a lack of information. I haven't yet met most of the potential suspects."

"So you don't suspect any of those you've already met, then—the family and close friends?"

"I don't think they're guilty of theft, if that's what you mean."

It seemed an odd way to put it, and I raised my head to see his face more clearly. I could not read his expression.

"And yet your suspicions are aroused?" I prompted.

"It's not a particularly happy family, is it?" Holmes said instead of answering. "No love lost between the two sisters, for a start."

We had only spent ten minutes or so in the company of Mrs Spencer and her sister, Georgiana Lyndale, but even I had had no trouble detecting that the cordiality with which they addressed each other was a very thin veneer indeed.

"They seem to be two extremely different people," I said more diplomatically.

Holmes fell silent. So did I, wondering what else he might have noticed that I had not. Maybe someone had secret gambling debts, or some other reason for desperately needing a large sum of money?

"Young Lyndale's friend Huntington struck me as a gambling man," I said. "Though Nicholas Lyndale himself didn't."

Holmes snorted.

"They irritated me, those two," he said shortly. "Indulging in one of those noble, platonic affairs which make me extremely impatient."

"Oh?" I said, for I had not noticed anything of the sort between them. Indeed, I was not even quite sure if he meant what I thought he did. "You mean to say—?"

He leant across to the bedside table and stubbed out his cigarette with a vicious jab.

"I mean they convince themselves that what they have is not that nasty, sordid, physical kind of love as between other men, but rather something pure and noble... no doubt dressed up in some kind of hogwash about Greek ideals. Sublimating vile carnal desire into wholesome, brotherly love."

That seemed rather harsh to me. I wondered whether some particular experience in Holmes' past made him speak like that, or whether it was just a general opinion. I could not tell. Indeed, it was only a few days since I had even been certain he had such a past.

I myself had once been involved with a fellow—another medical student—of the noble and wholesome school of thought. We were friends, and something more, for six months. Every mutually satisfactory night we spent together was followed on his part by remorse and a resolution never to succumb to temptation again. He had been dismayed when I suggested we should part amicably, but I found it difficult to go on as we were. Noble self-sacrifice and self-denial had never appealed to me. He was a very pleasant fellow to spend time with, and my heart had gone out to him, unable as he was to accept and be reconciled with his own nature.

That was something to attract commiseration rather than condemnation, and the same was true for Lyndale and Huntington. If, indeed, Holmes was correct in his characterisation of their relationship. Some people struggled with their desires, but others, perhaps, did not feel any. For them, surely, the platonic ideal was not only a second best. As for Lyndale and Huntington, if they truly felt as Holmes said, then I felt as sorry for them as for my old friend.

"I quite agree that what you describe is hogwash," I said mildly. "But mustn't each man find his own way of surviving in this world?"

Holmes smiled ruefully, his frown softening. "You are the voice of empathy, as ever, Watson."

Holmes was the voice of empathy quite as often as I was, but I did not point that out. Nor did I try to prolong the conversation. I was curious about what might have made him speak so, but did not wish to push him on the subject, this fledgling thing between us still too new and raw. "We should get up," I said instead, looking at the clock on Holmes' bedside table. "Mrs Hudson will be serving dinner soon."

That was when Holmes surprised me by bending his head for one last kiss before he rose.

After dinner, Holmes wrapped himself in a blanket and took a seat by the fire, looking set to remain there for the next few hours. Despite his own rule about not theorising before he had all the facts, I was quite sure he was thinking about the case.

I sat down at my desk to sort through some papers relating to the case Holmes had solved just two days before, concerning the peculiar goings-on in a series of riverfront warehouses. The task of tying up the loose ends usually fell to me, especially when one case rapidly succeeded another. When Holmes was in the middle of a new case it had his undivided attention.

Whenever I raised my head from my work I could see Holmes curled up in his chair, gazing into the fire, clearly deep in thought.

After an hour or so, my work was done. I gathered up the papers and put them in the safebox where Holmes kept his most confidential documents.

"I'm turning in, Holmes," I announced.

It was early yet, but then we had gone to sleep very late the previous night.

Holmes murmured good night without raising his head, and I quietly left the room. Under other circumstances, I might have wondered whether the possibility of sharing a bed that night was something that had crossed Holmes' mind as it crossed mine, and what that meant if it did or if it didn't. I was spared from such doubts, however, by the knowledge that Holmes would certainly stay up late into the night, deep in thought about the case.

.. .. ..

The next morning I found signs that Holmes had retired to bed at some point for at least a few hours' sleep, late as the hour must have been.

Over breakfast he read through his stack of newspapers, as usual, while his toast grew cold. As usual I ate it before it was too late, and replaced it with another slice.

Holmes had risen and started reading long before I had, and I was still on the Times' Letters to the Editor when he laid aside his final newspaper and glanced at his watch.

"Lyndale should be here at nine. I just hope he leaves the house before his daughter's elopement is discovered."

I dropped the marmalade spoon with a clatter.


"I speak of the younger daughter, Georgiana, of course," Holmes went on calmly. "Though it is possible she won't act today, but rather tomorrow or even Friday.

"And you said nothing!"

"What should I have said? She is twenty-three years old. In fact 'elope' was a poor choice of word on my part. She simply intends to marry without her family's approval, which is surely no one's business but her own. At least, it's certainly not mine." He took the spoon from where I'd dropped it by the butter dish, and began to spread marmalade on another slice of toast. "However, I would find it convenient were she to wait to disrupt the whole household until after her father has taken me to visit everyone I wish to see."

"My goodness," I said, my head spinning. Now that I had overcome my initial shock, I quite agreed it was none of our business, and wished the lady well, but I could not help wishing some solution were possible with a happy ending for all parties involved. Every party suffers in family estrangements.

I said as much. Holmes raised an eyebrow, no doubt detecting the suppressed emotion in my voice.

"Family drama bores me, Watson, except insofar as it provides a motive for crime."

I knew that was not true, for human nature in all its manifestations fascinated him, whether or not crime was involved. But he often affected disdain for family ties, which sometimes made me wonder whether the life of his own family had been chequered by drama in his youth.

I myself was not ready to dismiss the trauma of family estrangements so easily. I had seen my fair share of it, culminating when my brother was expelled from the University of Edinburgh for drunkenness beyond the usual limits, quarrelling and theft. Our father had not spoken to him until the day of his own death, and my only consolation had been that my mother had not lived to see the scandal.

I rose from the breakfast table, trying to shake off the sudden oppression that had overcome my spirit. Holmes' gaze followed the movement, and I realised I had moved more abruptly and betrayed more of my feelings than I had intended.

"I suppose you're right," I said casually, "and we can do nothing but wish the young lady well."

Lyndale called for us at nine precisely. If his daughter were indeed in the middle of running away to be married, he did not seem to be aware of it.

Our first port of call was the Franciscans. They had a new church and a half-built friary on the far side of Clapham Common. It was their first site in London since the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, Holmes informed me on the way there. I knew nothing about friars and friaries, but I presumed Holmes had had some exposure to Catholicism on his mother's side, through his French grandmother.

Two members of the Franciscan congregation had been present at Lyndale's dinner, but one of them was absent from the friary when we arrived.

"But Father Garner is available," suggested the friar who'd greeted us. "He's in the church, playing the organ. You can find your own way, Mr Lyndale, I'm sure."

We crossed a wide paved yard, the sound of organ music growing stronger all the while. We stepped through the church door, and were greeted by the booming thunder of one of Bach's cantatas. Holmes' face brightened. He can be rather Baroque himself at times.

My own taste in music runs along different lines, and I looked around myself as we waited, enjoying the music without letting it take over my mind. The church was considerably more ornate than those I was familiar with: decorated with the trappings of Popery, as my father would have said. We could not see the organist; he was presumably hidden away somewhere up in the choir loft.

The music was building to a crescendo now, the church's vaulted interior filled with the deep, rich, almost discordant booming of the pipes, all powerful unending notes as only an organ can produce. I glanced sideways at Holmes, who had his eyes closed. He opened them only when the final, lingering echoes died away, leaving the church in silence.

Lyndale raised a hand in a gesture of greeting, and I realised that the organist must—perhaps through some complex set of mirrors—be able to see us from his lofty perch.

A few moments later a man in a brown habit appeared at a small door towards the back of the church and directed his steps towards us.

"Pleased to meet you both," he said as soon as Mr Lyndale had introduced us, with a cool smile that made it impossible to tell whether he truly was pleased or not. "Of course, I would be delighted to answer a few questions."

Father Garner was a man of medium height and build, with a detached, self-contained manner that somehow made his presence more imposing than it otherwise would have been. He brought us to a small room lined with books, a cross between a library and a study, and had one of his fellow friars bring us tea and biscuits. I got the impression he occupied a senior position among his brothers.

"Monsignor Pinet has been here since last Friday," he said in response to Holmes' first question. "We have a small guesthouse and often host visitors to the diocese."

"This is Monsignor Pinet's first visit to England, I believe?" Holmes asked.

Father Garner nodded. "That is correct. However, he's certainly not an impostor, if that's what you were thinking, Mr Holmes. I met him once before in Rome."

Garner had managed to do that rare thing: to throw Holmes off balance. Holmes covered it very smoothly. I expect I was the only one who noticed.

"What a peculiar suggestion," he said mildly.

Father Garner gave us a small, superior smile. "It has occurred to me how peculiar it is that the theft should occur on the very night that someone was present who could instantly detect it. Were I in your shoes, Mr Holmes, I would have a particular interest in Monsignor Pinet."

It was very astute of him, and I could not help feeling admirative, despite the obnoxious manner with which he had delivered the observation. It seemed almost purposefully designed to awake irritation and opposition in the heart of all listeners.

"How irritating that such a supercilious man should produce such sublime music," as Holmes said later.

Now, he met Garner's coolness with coolness. "And when precisely did you and your fellow friars first learn of the monsignor's interest in cameos?"

Garner shrugged. "I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but I believe the subject first arose when we arrived at Mr Lyndale's residence."

As Garner spoke, my attention was caught by a tiny movement in the corner of my eye: Lyndale shifting in his seat. He looked uncomfortable, and I could not help but wonder why. Was Garner lying? His own face and manner were impenetrable, but Lyndale was more transparent.

Holmes asked a few more questions about the evening, and the other guests who had been present, but I could tell he was merely providing misdirection. He had already got what he wanted from the conversation, though what that might be, I could not tell.

On the way out of the friary, along a cool stone corridor, Holmes caught my arm, pulling me to a halt and drawing my attention to a large, dark painting hanging on the wall.

"A reproduction of El Greco's Adoration of the Shepherds, I believe, Watson."

"Oh?" I said, turning my attention to the painting willingly enough, though I was not familiar with the original.

Out of the corner of his eye Holmes was watching Lyndale and Garner, who had drawn ahead of us. Garner was murmuring something to Lyndale, who looked taken aback.

"I wonder if Father Garner has asked for permission to call on Mr Lyndale tomorrow morning," Holmes murmured. "I believe they have some minor business matters to discuss."

"You think they're conspiring together?" Were they on Holmes' list of suspects? A man of the cloth, and the very gentleman who had hired us?

"On the contrary, Watson," Holmes said jovially. "On the contrary!"

He dropped my arm, and in a few swift steps he had caught up with the other two. I was forced to hurry after him.

"What a wonderful organ you have," he was exclaiming when I joined them. "It's a Henry Willis, I believe?"

Lyndale seemed distracted as we left, but he pulled himself together long enough to suggest lunch before we called on the Winstons and the Armstrongs.

The three of us ate together at the Criterion in Piccadilly Circus. Over lunch, Holmes refused to speak of the case at all. He engaged Lyndale in a conversation about the organ music of Pachelbel, and then, when Lyndale proved to have little to say on the subject, moved on to recent events in the Sudan.

"Most concerning, most concerning," Lyndale said. "I have some interests in the area."

Holmes murmured something noncommittal. "Your son mentioned he was just down from Oxford," he added. "I suppose you'll be involving him more and more in your affairs."

Lyndale gave us a rueful smile. "I would like him to take an interest in the family estates, investments and so on, yes. And he will do so one day, I'm sure, though just now he's speaking of touring the Continent with his friend Mr Huntington." He gave a small laugh. "I was just the same at his age, of course."

"You also have many business interests here in London, I understand," Holmes said, and though his tone was casual, something in his posture told me the question was not.

"Yes, of course." Lyndale picked up the bottle of wine. "Another glass, Mr Holmes?"

In the afternoon we called on the Winstons and Armstrongs, two almost indistinguishable wealthy, middle-aged couples. The Winstons had land in Somerset, as I'd learnt by consulting Who's Who before we set out, and the Armstrongs had land in Cumbria. The Winstons were related to the late Mrs Lyndale. The Armstrongs had come over with William the Conqueror, more or less, but their wealth came via Mrs Armstrong, whose father had been in the tobacco trade.

I already knew all that before we arrived, and I did not feel particularly further enlightened by the time we climbed into the carriage back to Baker Street. The Winstons and Armstrongs had not been able to tell us anything of interest, except to reassure us that it seemed entirely impossible anyone should have touched the cameos, given the crowd of people who had been present in the salon the entire evening.

"My head hurts," I complained as we climbed the steps to our front door, Lyndale's carriage pulling away behind us. "There are too many witnesses in this case."

"There are rather a lot of them, aren't there?" Holmes said mildly. "One might almost think the case had been specially designed to make your head ache, my poor Watson."

I shot him a dark look.

"Tomorrow, however," he added brightly, "we shall have the opportunity to speak to what I hope will be most informative witnesses yet, in Limehouse."

"Limehouse?" I echoed, thinking over my notes. "Father Briggs, the Franciscan we didn't see at the friary? Isn't that where he works?"

"Precisely. I expect great things of him, Watson." On that cryptic note, he started up the stairs.

.. .. ..

We were just finishing dinner when Mrs Hudson came into the room, accompanied by the new maid, who was blushing and hiding behind her mistress.

"Young Doris would like to see you, Mr Holmes," Mrs Hudson announced.

Before Holmes could reply, Doris herself took a deep breath and burst out, "Someone's been at the back window, sir! And the back door too."

"I can't see anything amiss myself, Mr Holmes," Mrs Hudson said, sounding apologetic. "But Doris insisted, and what with all these burglaries recently..."

Holmes rose to his feet. "Let's see what this young lady's sharp eyes have spotted," he said, earning him a look of overwhelming pride from the young woman in question.

We all trooped downstairs and along the back corridor. The back door gave onto a small yard behind the house. It was hemmed in on all four sides by buildings, but the only windows which overlooked it directly were those of 221b. A small plane tree grew in one corner, and a narrow passage connected it to the mews which ran behind the row of houses.

"Stay inside, all of you, if you please," Holmes instructed us when we reached the back door. "Watson, hold the lantern for me, will you?"

He began by kneeling to examine the deadlock. I held a pocket-lantern to light his work, and watched him peer through the key-hole and scratch at its brass plate with his fingernail, before turned to the door casing to examine the striking plate. There were two other locks on the door, of different designs, which received a similarly close examination. His final objects of study were the door jamb and hinges.

Next, he took the lantern from me and moved on to the kitchen window, leaving us inside. It was barred, and he spent little time there. The higher windows in the same wall were, I thought, too easily visible from the mews and neighbouring buildings. Holmes seemed to agree, for his next step was to crouch to examine the ground around the back door.

Finally, he straightened.

"Well, they certainly seem to have had a pretty good go at it," he said cheerfully. "They spent almost three hours here."

Mrs Hudson gasped and put her hands to her mouth.

"Never fear, Mrs Hudson," I said. "Had they been here ten times longer, they still wouldn't have managed to get in."

Indeed, the idea of anyone actually managing to break into our building was absurd. Holmes, expert lockpick that he himself was, had seen to that.

"You may all come out into the yard now, if you like," Holmes told us. He waved me over to the kitchen window.

"You see an attempt to loosen the bars, Watson, which Doris noticed. No attempt to saw through the bars, though, which suggests they hoped they could accomplish their purpose in as unobtrusive a manner as possible, removing the bars and replacing them on their departure, when they found they couldn't get through the door."

"Surely they couldn't think we wouldn't notice our things missing?" I objected.

"Ah, but I did not say their purpose was burglary, did I, Watson?"

Instead of being annoyed and disquieted, as I was, Holmes seemed intrigued and almost pleased by something. Before I could challenge him on this, he turned to Mrs Hudson.

"I don't suppose anyone noticed anything amiss this afternoon?"

"I've been out all day," she said. "And it's the maid's day off, you know."

"So it is," said Holmes, sounding thoughtful. "So it is. And where have you been today, Mrs Hudson, if you don't mind my asking?"

"I've been out in Chiswick, at the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society. My sister received two tickets for the flower show from a friend."

"Who was prevented from going by some last-minute impediment?"

Mrs Hudson's eyes widened. "However did you know that, Mr Holmes?"

"A lucky guess, my dear Mrs Hudson," Holmes cried. "Now let us go back inside, before we all catch our deaths in the damp night air."

After a quick examination of the front door—"Nothing of interest," Holmes announced—and a half crown for Doris, Holmes and I returned upstairs. I hadn't wanted to speak in front of Mrs Hudson and alarm her unnecessarily, but as soon as the sitting room door closed behind us I said with a frown:

"Three hours is a very long time for a common burglar to spend on just one house, don't you think?"

"Yes, it's quite clear they targeted this building."

He dropped into his favourite armchair, and reached for his pipe. He did not seem quite as concerned about the matter as it would surely have warranted.

I folded my arms and frowned down at him. "Holmes, if you have any theories about who they were, and what precisely they wanted, then I should like to hear them."

"My dear Watson, my theories are not yet fully formed," he demurred, with a wave of his hand. "But tomorrow will bring new developments in the matter. I guarantee it."

He refused to say anything more on the subject.

We spent the evening reading by the fire. The hour was still early when Holmes caught my attention by laying aside his book and standing up to bank the fire for the night.

He turned to me. The sharp angles of his face were softened in the firelight, his dark eyes fixed on mine. He stood looking at me for a long moment, and the breath caught in my throat.

"Come to bed, Watson?" he said quietly.

So I did.

.. .. ..

Later, we lay in rumpled sheets, warm and sated. After some time, Holmes sat up to light a cigarette. It seemed this was a habit of his, afterwards—or so I had observed on the previous occasions we had indulged.

Three times already. My goodness. After four years teetering on the brink, it had finally come to this.

Why now?

Two nights ago we had come home at the end of a perfectly ordinary evening, and started down this path, as simply and easily as though it were always meant to be.

Could it always go on being this simple between us? I feared not. The world was a complicated place, with rocky currents to navigate. But Holmes seemed to want this as much as I did, and I clung to that thought like a lifebelt.

I drifted off to sleep with Holmes a warm and comforting presence beside me.

.. .. ..

I woke the following morning to the sound of Holmes humming to himself. He was sitting up in bed, leafing through one of the scrapbooks he kept in a pile on his dresser. He had twitched open the curtains on the window by his bed, to let in just enough light for him to read by. Through the gap I could see blue sky, and the upper branches of the plane tree out in the yard.

As I came further awake, I recognised what Holmes was humming.

"O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde groß?" I said with a yawn, sitting up. "Bemoan thy grievous sin?"

He looked surprised, as though he had not himself realised what he was unconsciously singing. "We heard the music yesterday on the organ at the Franciscan friary. What a thing to be singing under these circumstances." He gestured at the two of us, the rumpled sheets and the traces of the previous night.

A chill ran through me. "I don't think there's any grievous sin here," I said sharply.

He raised an eyebrow. "Neither do I."

"Oh." I relaxed.

"I meant rather that the theme is in disaccord with my feelings of—of contentment, these last few days."

"Oh," I said again. My heart leapt in my chest.

He turned away to swap the scrapbook he held for another from the pile balanced precariously on his bedside table.

As he leafed through the pages, I watched his face. A small frown line had appeared between his brows. His gaze was fixed on the scrapbook.

This was the first time we had spoken, even obliquely, about what we were doing here.

Holmes obviously had some experience in such activities. That much had been clear from the very first night. But was it the brief, anonymous, hurried kind? And was that his preference? Or was he open to the idea of something more permanent? Something more multifaceted, for want of a better word?

I had been thinking we might just go on like this without ever discussing the matter, but this seemed like a good opening for a conversation.

"In the past I've known men who saw things otherwise," I said cautiously, hoping that confidences on my part would prompt similar confidences on his. "Men who were made miserable by their own inclinations."

Holmes paused on one page to scribble something in the margin. "Hardly surprising, given the world we live in. It is more often the case than otherwise, I fear."

That was frustratingly generic.

"You haven't ever felt the same way yourself?" I prompted.

He laid aside the scrapbook. For a moment he sat staring into the distance, his gaze thoughtful. Then he glanced down at me.

"I've never worried much about my immortal soul," he said slowly, "but I find myself strangely reluctant to risk yours."

The conversation had suddenly taken a much more profound turn than I had expected. I had simply wanted to know whether he might be inclined to carry on sharing the pleasures of the bed for the foreseeable future.

I swallowed, somewhat overwhelmed by the fondness in his voice. "I'm not the slightest bit worried about my immortal soul," I said stoutly. "I refuse to believe it is in danger."

He smiled faintly. "I wholeheartedly agree. But I find it surprisingly difficult to be rational about anything when it comes to you, my dear."

He said it so simply it took my breath away.

"I—I feel the same way," I managed to say.

Holmes threw aside the sheets and sprang from the bed. "Come along. It's already almost seven, and I want to be in Limehouse by eight.