We took a cab as far as the Highway, and then walked down towards the river. I knew these streets around Limehouse Basin well. We had had occasion to explore them many times, including just one week previously on our most recent case.
We walked briskly along past a row of riverside warehouses. The wharves were busy at this hour of the morning, teams of dockers loading and unloading shipments from the barges that lined the river. We turned into a small alley leading up away from the docks, lined with high brick buildings that seemed almost to meet over our heads. Holmes came to a stop beside a weatherbeaten wooden door.
One small plaque said Limehouse and Poplar Boxing Club, another read St Francis' Soup Kitchen. Inside, the smell of food permeated everything, over-boiled but hot and filling. A collection of handbills pasted on the wall by the door advertised everything from an under-eighteens boxing tournament to a lecture on the principles of vaccination against rabies by the Limehouse Philosophical Society. An open door on the left of the hallway led to a large dim room filled with long wooden trestle tables. It was early yet, and the room was almost empty. Only a few men sat at the tables closest to the windows, reading old newspapers or talking quietly. On the wall hung a large crucifix, and dotted about the room were effigies of the Virgin Mary, the saints and so on.
A man knelt by the stove in the far corner, shovelling out the grate. He climbed to his feet at our entry, brushing soot off his hands and knees.
He was a big burly man, and I could easily imagine him holding his own in the boxing ring against the East End toughs. He was not wearing friar's robes, but there was a dogcollar at his neck.
"Father Briggs, I presume?" Holmes said.
He looked at us curiously. "That's right."
Holmes introduced us. "May we take a few moments of your time?"
"Of course. Father Garner told me to expect you and to answer any questions you might have about that evening at Mr Lyndale's." He wiped his sooty hands on a cloth. "You'll excuse me if I don't shake hands."
He led us through the room to a small office-like space that seemed to double as a storage room, filled with wooden crates and canvas sacks, the few pieces of furniture groaning under stacks of religious pamphlets and sacks of potatoes.
"A fine building you have here," Holmes commented. "Have you been established here long?"
"About ten years now. It was an endowment from a group of charitable gentlemen. Including Mr Lyndale, whom you know, of course."
"Most of the buildings along this wharf belong to the Lyndale family, I believe?" Holmes commented. This was news to me.
"So I've heard," Briggs agreed readily. "Indirectly, in many cases, perhaps." He moved some crates off two wooden chairs and gestured to us to sit down. He himself leant up against the desk. "Now how can I help you, gentlemen?"
Holmes leant forward. "Do you happen to know a man named Joshua Wilcott?"
I was not foolish enough to let my surprise show on my face, but surprised I was. Joshua Wilcott was one of the key figures in our last case.
Father Briggs shook his head in apology. "You're out of luck, I'm afraid, gentlemen. I do know Joshua Wilcott—he'd been working here as an odd-jobman one or two days a week—but he was arrested just ten days ago."
"I'm sorry to hear it," said Holmes, as though he were not the very man who had put Wilcott in gaol. "How did you come to employ him, by the way?"
"It was on the recommendation of Mr Lyndale, through his man of business." He gave us both a puzzled look. "Father Garner told me to answer all of your questions, but I'd assumed you'd be asking me about that evening at the Lyndales when their cameos were stolen."
"Of course," Holmes said smoothly. "Did you notice anything unusual that night?
Father Briggs shook his head. "It was the first time I'd been in the house, so I'm not sure what was usual and what wasn't. I don't generally go to those social events. I was only roped in because another friar was ill."
"You don't know the Lyndale family well?"
"I don't know the Lyndales at all, besides seeing them in the congregation at Mass at the friary. With the exception of the younger daughter Miss Georgiana, that is. She takes an interest in our work here and has occasionally spoken with me about it."
Holmes asked him a few more innocuous questions, but nothing interesting emerged from the answers, as far as I could tell. Holmes thanked him, and we left the soup kitchen.
"What on earth?" I burst out as soon as we were out of earshot.
Holmes grinned at me, relishing my reaction.
I put a hand to my head. "But if those warehouses belong to Lyndale, why on earth did the fact not come up in our last case? And what does it mean that Lyndale indirectly employed Wilcott, the chief instigator of the warehouse robberies and arson attacks?" My head was aching. "Not to mention that it seems Lyndale's man of business helped Wilcott to a job that put him in the perfect position to stake out the warehouses."
Holmes' eyes sparkled. "It seems poor Mr Lyndale has been the victim of two crimes in a row. What a coincidence."
We had reached Ratcliff Highway on foot by now, and Holmes hailed a cab.
"Now a quick trip to see Lyndale," he said as we climbed in. "After that I suggest a quiet afternoon in."
When we arrived in West Eaton Place, Father Garner was just leaving the Lyndale residence, looking eminently pleased with himself. He gave us a curt nod and swept past us, already hailing a cab.
"How interesting," Holmes murmured, watching Garner's departure.
"Do you suspect Garner?" I asked.
"Not of theft."
It was almost exactly the same response he had given me two days earlier, when I asked him if he suspected any of Lyndale's other guests. I was beginning to feel Holmes thought there was a lot more to this case than the theft of two cameos.
Holmes marched up the steps to the Lyndale's townhouse and rang the bell. We were shown into the drawing room. Lyndale appeared after a moment. He greeted us warmly, but there was something superficial in his welcome. He seemed bothered and distracted, and I wondered to what extent that was connected with Father Garner's visit.
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" he asked, smiling vaguely at both of us.
Holmes said mildly, "I thought you would appreciate an update on my search for your valuable cameos."
Lyndale's eyes widened. "Oh! Of course, of course. I am most anxious... Please sit down."
We both took a seat, and Holmes gave Lyndale a succinct account of our visit to Limehouse.
"Joshua Wilcott?" Lyndale echoed when Holmes asked him if he knew the name. "It doesn't ring a bell."
"It seems he was recommended by your man of business."
"Then you'd have to ask my man of business, I'm afraid. But he's away at the moment, unfortunately, making a tour of my estates. He may be gone several days."
"Does he generally make recommendations in your name without consulting you?"
Lyndale waved a dismissive hand. "This fellow you speak of was probably some deserving case, out of work and needing a helping hand... My agent knows he can always use my name for such good causes."
"Not such a deserving case as all that," Holmes said. "Wilcott is now in gaol."
Lyndale blanched. "Oh, really?"
"You may have heard of the Cable Street case? A series of arson attacks and warehouse robberies."
"Yes, I, ah—in fact I have some indirect interests down that way, I believe. Like I said, it's my agent who takes care of all that." He looked at his watch. "Now, if that's all, gentlemen—? Believe me, I greatly appreciate your work on my behalf. But if you don't mind, I have some business to attend to."
Holmes raised no objection. He appeared perfectly satisfied.
When he first opened his mouth after we left the house, however, it was not to speak of Lyndale, but of another subject.
"That boxing club this morning reminded me I haven't been in the ring in months."
"Father Briggs looked like he often took a turn in the ring himself," I said thoughtfully. "Boxing club, soup kitchen, tournaments, lectures... it seemed like a busy place. Though I wonder if all those statues are really necessary."
"They weren't to your taste?"
I had been brought up in a very plain way myself. "My father would have called them the trappings of Popery."
"I suppose you were raised on Foxe's Book of Martyrs?" said Holmes with a smile.
It was something of an exaggeration. My parents' home did indeed contain a copy of that eulogy to Protestant martyrs, but I couldn't say I recalled ever having opened it.
"I suppose you were raised on the Oxford Tracts," I said, with a smile of my own.
"My parents were very High Church, yes. My mother was something of an Anglo-Catholic, in fact."
I had intended it as a joke to counter his. I hadn't expected to actually receive another crumb of knowledge about my friend, to add to the tiny amount of information I had hoarded up.
He rarely spoke of his family. I knew his people had been country squires on the south coast somewhere, but the estate had been lost somehow, and both he and his only brother lived in London, supporting themselves. I had never heard anything to indicate that his parents were still alive.
"Mostly she liked the music, I believe," Holmes added thoughtfully.
"Was she musical?" I ventured.
"Quite, yes. Not only religious music, of course. She played piano, and the violin."
"That's how you came to play the violin?"
"Not really, no. By the time I was old enough to hold a full-size violin, hers had been sold off along with the piano and the rest of the house." He flagged down a cab. "Back to Baker Street, shall we?"
When we had left Lyndale at his home in West Eaton Place that morning, I had not expected to see him again that day, but he called to Baker Street shortly after seven that evening.
He refused all offers of a drink, looking uncomfortable and awkward.
"I have something of a very delicate nature to say to you, Mr Holmes. I'm sure I can rely on your discretion."
"That goes without saying," Holmes replied.
Lyndale cleared his throat. "The fact is, my daughter Georgiana has eloped, this very afternoon. And it is now clear to me that she was behind the theft of the cameos, in order to finance her, ah, her departure from the home. She left a note explaining her actions."
We had met Georgiana Lyndale only once, at the Lyndale residence the day after the cameo theft. I remembered only a rather quiet girl, and a clear antipathy between herself and her sister. And Holmes had predicted her "elopement", of course. But a thief? I was amazed.
"Do you have this note with you?" Holmes asked.
Lyndale looked embarrassed. "I'd like to keep that private, Mr Holmes. It contains details best kept within the family... the ragings of a poor upset child against her family. I'm sure you understand."
Holmes did not press him. "Was she in such need of money?"
"She has—had—an allowance of her own, of course. But I suppose she felt the need for something more, to launch her married life, since she knew herself to be acting, I'm sorry to say, without the approval of her family." He shook his head, the very picture of a discarded, hurt parent. "Her, ah, prospective husband is not a particularly wealthy man. In fact, he already has a wife and two children to support."
I raised my eyebrows at the implication of bigamy.
"The gentleman in question is divorced, I presume," Holmes said.
"And a Protestant, no doubt?"
"Indeed," Lyndale said. "A man several decades older than her. A railway engineer of some kind, I believe."
It struck me as a little odd that Lyndale was sharing so much detail with us, but Holmes did always invite confidence. It was one of the characteristics that made him so successful at his chosen profession.
"I see," said Holmes, in a voice that sounded sincere to Lyndale, but that told me he didn't believe a word the man was saying. "But that doesn't explain how she committed this impossible act, the cameo theft, under the eyes of so many witnesses."
"One of the servants or even one of her siblings may have been complicit in the theft... out of misplaced loyalty to or sympathy for Georgiana, of course." He shook his head. "I am resigned to the fact that we will not soon learn the truth, nor recover the cameos. Perhaps one day, I hope and pray, there can be a reconciliation between Georgiana and her family, and she will tell us all. But for the moment, we can do nothing but stop the investigation."
"Stop the investigation?" Holmes echoed, his tone deceptively mild.
"Well, yes, of course." Lyndale gave him a puzzled look. "There can be no further need for enquiries."
"You don't wish to recover the cameos? I expect I could track down the jeweller or dealer Miss Georgiana will have sold them to."
"Oh, no! When I think of the embarrassment and pain any further investigation would bring down on the family... her sister, her brother, myself. No, no, it is impossible. The investigation must stop."
"It's your decision, of course, Mr Lyndale," Holmes said.
"Thank you, Mr Holmes, for all the efforts you had undertaken so far. I'm only sorry it was all in vain, and that things should have turned out like this."
He rose to his feet, and we followed suit. After Lyndale had taken his leave of us, I sat back down by the fire, shaking my head in dismay.
"I hope she knows what she's doing," I said. "A young woman cut off from her family is wholly reliant on her husband."
"Indeed." Holmes sounded thoughtful.
I shot him an accusing look. "You saw all this coming, didn't you?"
Holmes smiled ruefully. "Not exactly. It is frustrating when some minor details come to pass in a different manner than one had predicted."
"But you did foresee her elopement. Not that it's really accurate to call it an elopement. Her marriage, I should say."
"Yes, indeed," he said. "And I also foresaw Mr Lyndale telling us to abandon the case." Ignoring my cry of surprise, he went on, "I must admit, however, that I didn't expect the two to be connected. I'm impressed. Lyndale took advantage of an unexpected event. A very adaptable man."
"So you don't think Miss Lyndale stole the cameos?"
"Certainly not. She is guilty of no crime worse than wanting to marry a divorced man, and outside her church."
I thought for a moment. "In fact, now that I think about it, the whole idea is ridiculous," I pronounced. "There are many other items of value in that household, more easily disposed of, not least many less distinctive pieces of jewellery, I'm sure."
"The same is true for every potential thief. What sane thief would steal the cameos, instead of the silverware or jewellery?" He was seated in the armchair opposite me, and now he leant forward, his eyes intent. "Something else is behind this, Watson. Something smells. I believe a scandal is being covered up which could rock the financial fabric of London City."
I stared. "Holmes, tell me what you have in mind."
He sat back, looking smug. "It's quite simple, Watson. We are confronted with an impossible crime—therefore the crime did not occur."
"The cameos... were not stolen?"
"I'm quite certain they are still in Lyndale's possession." He smiled at my gasp of surprise. "Lyndale thought he would fabricate a clever little 'impossible crime' to attract my attention and allow him to control our movements. He kept us away from home while his men tried to break into Baker Street, assured that we would be away with Lyndale all afternoon."
"Precisely. Lyndale's plan was not a bad one. I'll admit the business with the cameos could have held a certain intellectual interest, had it been a true crime. But it was all in vain, since his men didn't manage to break into Baker Street, even with a whole afternoon in which to do so at their leisure."
"But if he doesn't have what he wanted, why stop the charade? Or—" I cast my mind back over this afternoon. "Did he feel you were getting too close to the truth?"
"I believe so."
"But... what is the truth?"
Holmes rose from his chair and went to the safe. He drew from it the green folder in which I had filed the documents pertaining to our previous case, the Cable Street robberies and arson attacks. He spread out the papers on the table, and we both bent our heads over them.
"My theory is insurance fraud on a grand scale, with several prominent businessmen and public figures involved," Holmes said. "But what exactly is in these papers that Lyndale does not want anyone to see?"
I had been through the papers before when I filed them, and as far as I remembered Lyndale's name did not appear anywhere in them. Even if he were the owner of some of the warehouses, and a beneficiary of the insurance payouts, that information did not appear in the documents I had. And yet there must be something incriminating in there. Perhaps something that the trained financial experts in the Fraud Division would find.
As Holmes turned over the papers, I asked, "But who was involved in the fake theft of the cameos? Not all the guests, surely?"
"Both the Armstrongs and the Winstons are involved in Lyndale's business dealings. Although that's only circumstantial evidence, certain elements lead me to surmise that they are involved in this business too. The Franciscans, however, are certainly not."
"No?" I wondered if he felt they were above suspicion because they were men of God, but that did not seem likely.
"No. Briggs is not involved, that much is certain. As for Garner, he is blackmailing Lyndale, and that would not make sense if he were involved in the original crime."
I was astounded. "So much for his vows of poverty," I exclaimed.
"I don't believe he's blackmailing Lyndale for money," Holmes said. "But nevertheless, your criticism stands."
So for what reason was he blackmailing Lyndale? Holmes was looking thoughtful, and I did not want to interrupt him.
Holmes abandoned the papers and sank into his nearby armchair. He lit his pipe and puffed on it as we sat in silence.
Darkness had fallen, and he was only a dim shadow now. I rose to draw the curtains and light the gas lamp. As I moved about the room, I turned over the details of the case in my mind.
"I suppose the main problem is that there's no proof against Lyndale," I ventured to say aloud.
So far only circumstantial evidence linked him to the Cable Street case, and there was nothing at all to link him to the attempted burglary at Baker Street.
"In fact, the blackest piece of evidence we have against Lyndale is that I'm quite convinced this cameo theft is a complete fabrication," Holmes said. "But wasting a consulting detective's time is not a crime, sadly."
I fell to thinking of Miss Georgiana Lyndale. Where was she tonight? Did she regret the estrangement from the rest of her family, or did she not care? My own brother had always insisted he was indifferent to our father's opinion of him.
As for my father, he had never told me what he thought about the estrangement.
He was a reserved, old-fashioned, proud man, much like my brother in that last respect. He had been considered a pillar of the local community: a country solicitor and a reader at the local church. He only came alive, in a quiet dry way, when he was indulging his interest in botany and zoology. I remembered him taking me for walks around our West Lothian home when I was a boy, pointing out the frogspawn and the different species of heather. My brother was already away at school by this point, though not yet at odds with our father.
My father had seemed pleased, after his own fashion, to see me take an interest in zoology and botany. I was sorry he had not lived to see me become a doctor. I did not do it for him, of course, but he would have taken a great deal of vicarious pride in it nonetheless.
He would never have said so, however. I don't believe I had a single word of praise from his lips in all the time we were both alive. My brother felt the lack more than I did, I knew.
Would things have been different, had my father been a different man? I might have asked the same of my brother, of course. Now it was too late. They were both gone the way of all flesh. Maybe things had been resolved between them in the next life, if not in this.
"Watson," Holmes said softly.
I blinked, coming back to myself. He had been following my thoughts on my face, of course. I smiled faintly. "Old regrets, old ghosts." My words turned into a yawn.
I noticed the fire had burned down, and reached for the tongs to put another log on the fire, but was interrupted by a yawn again.
"Now, Watson, you should be in bed," Holmes said.
In your bed, preferably, I thought.
I did not voice the thought aloud, however, because I wanted to do nothing but sleep, and I didn't know how to convey that without risk of misinterpretation.
I rose to my feet, and lit a candle at the gas lamp to take to my bed, while Holmes banked the fire for the night.
When I turned again to face him, he was standing by the door to his room, watching me. I wanted nothing more than to go to him and curl up beside him in bed.
Were we always to touch only with purely carnal intent?
Holmes was silent, his gaze fixed on me, his eyes in shadow. I wondered if he were thinking the same thing as I was. What words could express what I wanted us to be to one another that night?
I had hesitated too long, and the moment was past. Holmes turned away with a quiet, "Good night, Watson."
As I climbed the stairs to my own bedroom, my heart lay heavy in my chest. My little room seemed cold and quiet when I reached it, and as I set my candle down on the chest beside my bed, I could not suppress a sigh.
.. .. ..
The following morning I went out after breakfast to run some errands.
Upon my return, Holmes greeted me with a note in his hand. "You're just in time, Watson. I'm expecting Mr Nicholas Lyndale at any moment."
"Mr Lyndale's son?" We had not seen him since Holmes interviewed him at his father's house, the day after the business with the cameos.
I scarcely had time to doff my coat and sit down before Mrs Hudson announced Mr Nicholas Lyndale, accompanied by Mr Huntington.
Huntington entered first, followed by Lyndale, who looked as awkward and embarrassed as his father had the previous evening.
"How can we help you, Mr Lyndale?" Holmes asked as soon as they were seated. "Your note was not particularly explicit."
"It's, ah, it's about my sister." Lyndale hesitated. Fortified by an encouraging glance from Huntington, he continued, "You may have heard that she, she has left the family home."
"Your father informed us she was to be married, yes," Holmes said. "My felicitations."
Nicholas Lyndale was taken aback. "Oh... Yes. Of course. Thank you. I mean—" He stopped short, then burst out, "The fact is, Mr Holmes, we have no idea where she is."
"Surely the note she left contained some details of her intentions?"
"She left no note," Lyndale said.
"I see," said Holmes. "My mistake."
"We know only what she told her maid: that she has gone away to be married."
Holmes raised his eyebrows. "I believe Miss Lyndale is of age, and her own mistress? I understand from your father that the marriage won't be valid in his eyes, but it is valid under English law."
"Yes, that's true." He paused. "I'm worried about her. I'd like to be reassured she's all right."
"We know almost nothing about the gentleman in question," Huntington put in.
Holmes shot him a long considering look. "And what role do you play in this, Mr Huntington?"
Huntington flushed. I have rarely been in the position of being directly challenged about my relationship with another man, but I'm sure my reaction had never been so revealing.
"I'm here as moral support for Mr Lyndale," he said stiffly.
Lyndale shot him a grateful look. "Mr Huntington is my closest friend."
"Mr Huntington is in your family's confidence, Mr Lyndale?"
"He's in my confidence," Nicholas Lyndale said stoutly. "Georgiana knows William, and she knows I trust him as well as I would my own... my own brother."
I noticed he did not mention what the rest of the family thought. I wondered what they made of Huntington. Nothing in particular, perhaps. There was nothing unusual in a young man having one close male friend, especially in the school and university years.
"Will you help me find Georgiana, Mr Holmes?" Lyndale begged.
I expected Holmes to refuse. He rarely took on cases of this nature. Missing persons affairs were usually mere gruntwork. Moreover, I had formed the impression that he felt Georgiana had good riddance of her family. But to my surprise he said, "Perhaps. What can you tell me about this man she is marrying? Have you ever met him?"
"There's a soup kitchen in Limehouse, run by a Franciscan friar. Georgiana used to spend some time there, and I believe that's where she met the fellow."
I was surpised to hear Miss Lyndale had been visiting Father Briggs' soup kitchen. It was not something that ladies of her class, of any religion, generally did. They preferred to do their charity work at a distance. Visiting the poor on their country estates was fine, but they preferred to keep the urban paupers at a distance. Every fashionable lady in London had organised a bazaar or held a dinner party for charitable works, but few of them had ever ventured into the vast sprawling slums of the East End.
"The friar who runs the place allows a philosophical society the use of an upstairs room in the building. They give talks on various secular subjects, I believe. I accompanied Georgiana there once... something about steam engines. I only went once, but I believe she went often while I was up at Oxford. She mentioned a man she had met there, by the name of Smith, or something similar. He gave a talk about railway engineering, if I remember correctly."
Smith, a surname shared by tens of thousands of other Londoners. Very helpful. I noted it in my notebook nonetheless.
"She never mentioned him by name again, but I got the impression she was still seeing him." Young Lyndale shrugged. "I'm afraid that's all I have to go on."
"I will look for your sister," Holmes said, "but if she does not wish to see you, I won't pass on any information on her whereabouts."
Mr Nicholas Lyndale nodded. "I can't ask for more than that."
After Lyndale and Huntington's departure, I turned to Holmes. "Are you really going to track down Miss Lyndale? Can't we leave her in peace?"
"I have my own reasons for wanting to speak to her. But I'm certainly not going to set her family on her tail." He reached for his hat and coat. "Come, Watson. If you are ready let us leave at once."
.. .. ..
Our first port of call was Miss Lyndale's married sister, Mrs Spencer. Our visit was brief, and we left the Spencers' house in Montague Square with righteous anger and bitterness ringing in our ears.
Mrs Spencer had told us in no uncertain terms that she did not know where her sister Georgiana was, and did not wish to discover it.
"My father informed me of what happened yesterday evening, yes," she said coldly, "and of the irrevocable step Georgiana has taken. You seem to know all about our family affairs already, Mr Holmes, so I won't scruple to tell you that this business with the cameos is simply all of a piece with Georgiana's other regrettable acts. That man is clearly a horrific influence on her."
"That man", presumably, being the infamous railway engineer possibly called Smith.
"I have nothing further to say to you, Mr Holmes, and I believe my father has requested you to discontinue your investigation. We can only pray that Georgiana will one day repent." She rose to her feet. "Thank you for calling."
A dour-faced housemaid showed us out. Silently, we walked down the steps and into the square.
Which did she think was worse, I wondered. Stealing her father's cameos or marrying a divorcé? Not that Miss Lyndale had committed the first of those acts, but she was presumably on the brink of the second.
"Is Mrs Spencer involved in this business with the cameos?" I wondered aloud.
"Guilty of nothing but extreme inflexibility, I believe," Holmes said.
Mrs Spencers' inflexible attitude reminded me of my own father, not that he would have appreciated being compared to a Roman Catholic.
Holmes seemed unperturbed by our lack of success with Mrs Spencer. He hailed a cab and directed the cabbie to Limehouse.
As we arrived at the door that led to the soup kitchen, a crowd of people were streaming out into the street. There were all sorts: dockers, lightermen and bargemen, a handful of clerks from the nearby shipping offices, a pair of nuns, and vagabonds from the streets.
We followed the stream of people in the opposite direction, back to its source, through the door and along a corridor, and came to a small chapel attached to the soup kitchen, invisible from the outside. It looked like a service had just ended.
Father Briggs stood in the central aisle in a cassock and Mass vestments, speaking to two ragged old men. He looked up and caught sight of us in the doorway. He frowned, but once he'd finished his conversation, he came to join us in the corridor outside the chapel.
"We're looking for a Mr Smith who once gave a lecture here on the thermodynamics of steam engines," Holmes said after we'd exchanged greetings.
Briggs frowned. "If you're looking for Miss Georgiana Lyndale on behalf of her family, you may as well save yourself the trouble," he said bluntly.
I blinked, surprised. I had not expected Father Briggs to be sympathetic to her, much less for him to imply that he knew where she was, and had perhaps even aided her in her flight.
Holmes raised an eyebrow. "Because you don't know where she is, or because you'd rather not say?"
"Miss Lyndale is a twenty-four-year-old woman who can make her own decisions," Briggs said instead of answering.
"Even when those decisions take her away from the Church?"
I realised Holmes was provoking him, hoping to anger him into saying something of use to us.
Briggs gave him a hard look. "You don't know what you're talking about. Why don't you stick to what you know, Mr Holmes?"
"I know a little more than you think," Holmes said quietly. "In any case, I'm not here on behalf of her family, though it's true that her brother is worried about her. I'm looking for Miss Lyndale because I have a few questions of my own to ask her."
"This cameo business again?" Briggs said impatiently. "What a fuss about nothing."
"Representations of the Virgin Mary," Holmes said mildly.
"They're jewellery, not holy relics, and they won't feed a family sitting in a glass case."
For a wild moment, I wondered whether Briggs had stolen the cameos and sold them to fund his work here. But that seemed farfetched.
"My business with Miss Lyndale is not about the cameos," Holmes said. "I believe that if she knew why I wanted to see her, she would wish to speak to me."
I wondered if Lyndale knew who Mr Smith was and where his daughter had met the man. No doubt Lyndale could easily bring pressure to bear on Briggs if he wished. I did not know how the Catholic Church hierarchy worked, but I imagined Briggs could get into hot water with his bishop or with the Franciscan prior if Lyndale lodged a complaint against him. I doubted he'd been authorised to allow people like Smith to give secular talks on the premises here, for instance.
Briggs frowned, but said finally, "Very well. I shall contact Miss Lyndale myself, and if she agrees, I will send you her address."
Holmes nodded, seemingly satisfied.
.. .. ..
We returned to Baker Street in time for lunch.
"Mr Holmes, please tell me you've made some progress identifying those burglars," Mrs Hudson said as she served us lamb ragout. "I haven't slept easy in my bed since that night Doris found someone had been at the back window."
"Never fear, Mrs Hudson," Holmes reassured her. "That's all under control. They won't be returning to Baker Street again."
She sniffed, still looking doubtful. "I'd rather you told me they were in gaol."
"They soon will be, just not quite yet. They can still be of use to me, I believe."
Over lunch we both poured over the day's newspapers, which we had not had time to finish that morning. The lunch things had scarcely been cleared away when a boy called with a note from Father Briggs. Holmes unfolded and read it, then held it out so I could see the text.
Mrs Georgiana Smith is willing to receive you at her home in Camden Town, it read. He had enclosed the address.
"That was quick," I commented.
Holmes folded up the note, looking pleased. "I thought I could rely on Briggs." He glanced at his watch. "Ready for a trip to Camden, Watson?"
The address in Briggs' note led us to a respectable middle-class house in a row of other similarly respectable middle-class houses in Camden Town, just off the High Street.
A housemaid answered the door and showed us into the drawing room, where Mrs Georgiana Smith, formerly Lyndale, awaited us. As on the first time we had met, she struck me as a very reserved, self-possessed young woman. She sat with two small children, a girl and a boy, as neatly and soberly dressed as she was.
She rose to greet us, but the first words from her mouth were not a greeting.
"Mr Holmes. Dr Watson." Her eyes narrowed. "Did my father ask you to track me down?"
I had wondered if she had hoped her father would hold out the hand of reconciliation. It would have been my hope, under similar circumstances. But there was no hope in her voice, only wariness.
"No," said Holmes. "Your brother did. However, I am here on my own account, not his. You need have no fear, Mrs Smith."
The older of the two children cast us an anxious look and piped up, "Mama, what's the matter?"
She turned, bending to caress his hair. "Hush, darling, nothing's the matter."
She rang for the nurse, who came to take the children up to the nursery. As the children left, a man in his fifties appeared in the doorway. He had thick brown sideburns, and on either side of his nose were marks from the spectacles he no doubt wore to read engineering plans. Mr Smith, I presumed.
"Everything all right, my dear?" he said to his new wife, shooting us a suspicious look.
She held up her hand to beckon him into the room, and he came to stand behind her chair. She turned back to Holmes. "Why are you here, Mr Holmes?"
Holmes said in a reassuring voice, "I have not come to you today on behalf of your family. All that is none of my business. I'm here because of a case I have been working on for several weeks, concerning a series of robberies and arson attacks in Limehouse."
She remained very still, but her face had turned pale, and I could see she understood the reference.
"Mrs Smith, I'm afraid I need to ask you a personal question," Holmes said gently. "You have known Mr Smith for several years now. His children know you well, indeed are on intimate terms with you. He has proposed marriage to you before. Why have you finally decided to accept him now?"
Smith burst out, "I say! That's none of your business."
Mrs Georgiana Smith held out a hand to calm him. She looked directly at Holmes, her chin held high.
"I have always loved him," she said evenly. "Ever since we met, as you say, and that was several years ago. But it was... difficult to take the final step of leaving everything I had ever known."
"And what changed your mind? What pushed you to take that final step?"
It was clear she had been expecting the question. She did not answer, but turned her head away, her lips pressed tightly together. "It seems you already know the answer to that, Mr Holmes."
"I suppose it was when you realised your father was a criminal and a fraudster," Holmes said gently.
Smith winced, his hands tightening on the back of his wife's chair, but he did not speak. Mrs Smith's face was set in stone, her spine rigid.
"If you care about justice, Mrs Smith, will you tell me about it?"
"You're asking me to testify against my own father," she said in a low voice.
Holmes leant forward, his voice and posture urgent. "It's not just a matter of insurance fraud, you know. Three innocent men were seriously injured in those warehouse fires. Livelihoods were ruined."
"I know," she said. "That's why I—" She swallowed. "My suspicions were first awoken when I heard that Joshua Wilcott had been arrested. I knew who he was because of my work at the Franciscan soup kitchen. I knew my father was responsible for him being placed there, so close to the site of the arson attacks. And... I knew my father and his man of business were giving him direct orders. Some conversations I had overheard began to make a sort of horrifying sense."
She stopped short.
"Was Wilcott the only man you knew of who was involved in all of this?" Holmes prompted.
She did not answer immediately. Mr Smith's hand was tight on her shoulder. She put her own hand up to cover it.
"There were several other men," she said slowly. "My father's man of business employed them, but I know they were up to no good—I didn't know what exactly. They never came to the house, but I saw them at the soup kitchen, and I saw them with Joshua Wilcott. They didn't only speak of arson, but also of burglary. House-breaking. One was called Ozbitt, I believe. Another was called Parker."
At the mention of house-breaking, Holmes' gaze flickered briefly towards me. I noted the names.
Mrs Smith watched my pen move across the page. She was deathly pale now. "I cannot testify in court, Mr Holmes," she said desperately.
"I don't believe it will come to that." Holmes rose to his feet. "Thank you, Mrs Smith. You've been very helpful."
Mrs Smith did not call the housemaid, but showed us out herself.
"Your brother is concerned about you," Holmes said as we stood on the doorstep. "Your family wonders where you are."
"This is my family, here in this house," she said, but regret lay heavy in her voice.
"May I give your brother your address?"
She hesitated, then shook her head. "I ask you not to do so."
I presumed she did not want Mrs Spencer or her father to have her new address. I had not seen enough of Lyndale's true face to know how he would treat her, but I could well imagine Mrs Spencer's icy tirade.
Holmes nodded in acknowledgement. "If you ever want to communicate with some member of your family, please know you may do so under cover of our address. 221b Baker Street."
"Oh." She looked taken aback. "Thank you, Mr Holmes."
She offered us both her hand to shake, and we took our leave of her.
Out on the street, Holmes turned to me. "It's time to act, Watson. Do you take those two names to Lestrade at Scotland Yard, and have him bring the men in for questioning. I have no doubt they are recidivists and well known to him."
"Very well." I ventured to add, "I presume you think they're the men who tried to burgle us?"
"Quite. But you may tell Lestrade it doesn't matter whether he can get them to confess to attempted burglary at Baker Street or not. That's immaterial. They simply need to be off the streets and immobilised for the next twenty-four hours."
"As for me, I have seeds of information to plant in certain ears. You may tell Lestrade I shall see him at Scotland Yard at four o'clock this afternoon to explain the plan to him."
I smiled to myself at this high-handedness, hoping I would indeed find Lestrade to be available at the Yard.
Fortunately, Lestrade was there when I arrived. I passed on Holmes' request, and saw him carry it out, then waited with him in his office for Holmes' arrival.
Lestrade offered me a chair and a cigarette. "You say this is to do with my arson case on the riverfront in Limehouse?"
"But that's all sewn up! We've arrested the man responsible, Joshua Wilcott, and there's nothing more to it." Lestrade grimaced. "The business turned out to be a great deal less mysterious than it seemed at first sight. To be frank, Dr Watson, I regretted calling Mr Holmes in."
"It seems there's more to the matter than we first thought. Holmes speaks of a scandal to rock the foundations of London's banks."
Lestrade frowned. "I don't like the sound of that."
Holmes arrived at five o'clock precisely. "Are those men behind bars?" was his first question.
"They're sitting in the cellar of this very building as we speak," Lestrade confirmed. "Now what is this all about, Mr Holmes?"
"Inspector, I shall need you to send a constable to Baker Street at seven o'clock this evening. Let it be a stout, hearty man, who isn't afraid of a little rough and tumble. He is likely to be set upon with physical violence."
Lestrade's eyes widened. "You'll have to give me more to go on than that, Mr Holmes."
Holmes smiled. "It's quite simple. I have let it be known, through certain channels, that the papers from our Limehouse arson case will no longer be held at Baker Street. A constable will pick them up this evening and take them to be held securely at Scotland Yard."
"But what is in those papers?"
"That will be for the Financial Fraud Division to say. But I believe it's safe to say that it's insurance fraud on a large scale."
"A trap!" I exclaimed.
Holmes shot me a pleased smile. "Precisely, Watson. Tonight will be Lyndale's last chance to get hold of those papers, and I've made sure he knows it."
"Lyndale?" Lestrade echoed.
"Mr Gregory Lyndale, wealthy financier and owner of half the warehouses on Cable Street."
"What does he have to do with this?" Lestrade asked with a frown.
"We shall see in..." Holmes looked at his watch. "Three hours' time."
.. .. ..
Constable Boyle, as requested by Holmes, was a stout fellow with broad shoulders, taller even than Holmes himself. He set off from our rooms carrying a cardboard file folder under one arm. Holmes, Lestrade and I followed him at a discreet distance.
As the constable marched down Baker Street, nothing of note occurred. We lost sight of him for a few minutes when he turned into the narrow mews which ran behind the houses on Grosvenor Square. When we caught up with him, he had been set upon by two men dressed in dark greatcoats, their hats pulled down low over their eyes. One was armed with a cudgel, and had set about Boyle, who was defending himself with his own truncheon. As we came running up, the second man wrested the folder from Boyle's grasp and took to his heels down the mews, away from us.
"After him, Watson!" Holmes cried, and we took off in hot pursuit, while Lestrade went to Boyle's aid, blowing his police whistle as he ran.
The man we were pursuing did not seem to be in good physical shape and we soon caught up to him. I tackled him to the ground, and Holmes pinioned his hands to the cobblestones, relieving him of the folder at the same time—for all that it contained nothing but blank sheets of paper.
I could now see the man's face. It was Lyndale.
"Dr Watson," he exclaimed. "I protest!"
"It is a little late for that, Mr Lyndale," Holmes said mildly, as we hauled him to his feet.
"You cannot possibly treat a man of my position like this!"
"Your position, Mr Lyndale, is that of a man who has just assaulted an officer of the law."
Marching Lyndale between us, we returned to where we had left his accomplice at the far end of the mews. Boyle was sitting on the man, while Lestrade handcuffed his hands.
"Not too knocked about, I hope, constable?" Holmes enquired.
"Not at all, Mr Holmes," Boyle said cheerfully.
Holmes bent to look at the man who lay facedown on the cobblestones. "Your man of business, I presume, Mr Lyndale?"
Lyndale did not answer. He seemed shocked, as though he were only now realising the import of his actions. When he had embarked upon this insurance fraud, no doubt he had not foreseen that he would one day be doing his own dirty deeds in a London alley. I saw now that Holmes had taken away all his men, and simultaneously given him only a short amount of time to act, forcing him to do his own dirty work.
Lestrade's men had arrived by now, summoned by his whistle, and they relieved us of Lyndale. Our last sight of him was as he was loaded into the police carriage, still wearing the same dazed and dumbfounded expression.
.. .. ..
It was after midnight by the time we returned to Baker Street. We let ourselves in quietly, careful not to wake Mrs Hudson, and crept upstairs to the sitting room.
After I'd doffed my hat and coat, I still felt keyed up after the chase, too tense to go to sleep. Restlessly, I moved to my desk, shuffling some papers into a semblance of order.
"Watson." There was an edge to Holmes' voice I had heard only a handful of times before.
He stood by the fireplace, lit only by the faint red glow of the embers. I could feel his gaze on me. I stepped forward to stand before him, and he reached out to cup my cheek in one hand.
"Watson," he said again, his voice barely above a whisper. "Will you—"
I leant in to kiss him. His lips were warm under mine, his hands firm as he cradled my head.
"Bed," I said, swallowing around the impatience in my throat that threatened to overwhelm me.
I tugged him into his room, where we shed our clothes as quickly as possible. I pushed him down onto the bed, and he pulled me with him, laughing softly as our limbs tangled and twisted in a clumsy dance. I laughed too, leaning down to kiss the smile from his lips.
His glorious body was spread before me, long and pale in the soft glow of the gas lamp. I ran a hand lightly down his flank, feeling him shiver under my touch.
His head was tilted back, his thin lips open. I could hear his breathing, soft and urgent in the quiet room. My own heart raced at the same galloping rhythm.
He surged up to meet me, and we rolled together, so that he lay above me, one hand entwined in mine, propping himself up on the bed. The look of focus on his face was exquisite, a small line of concentration between his brows as he studied me.
Then he bent down to kiss me, and we came together, hips pounding, striving for climax, until we both spent in one glorious moment.
After some time I opened my eyes to find Holmes looking at me the same way he had ten minutes earlier, warm and appreciative, almost wondering. I raised my eyebrows, posing a silent question.
He obliged me with an answer. "I was just thinking how comfortable you are in your own skin. Uninhibited."
I laughed, my cheeks heating. "I wouldn't say uninhibited. You make me sound like some kind of wanton."
"Unashamed, then," he suggested.
"Certainly that. What is there to be ashamed of?"
For a moment he did not reply, but went on stroking my bare forearm lightly with the tips of his fingers.
"I quite agree," he said finally.
"Why not be comfortable with the way God made us," I said firmly. "At least in the privacy of our own beds. If we cannot be at ease there, where can we be?"
He smiled and leant close to kiss me, long and slow and appreciative.
.. .. ..
A few weeks later, Holmes paused in the middle of opening his post to show me a letter.
"This is from Monsignor Pinet, in answer to a note I sent him to request he clarify one small detail."
"Oh?" I looked up, interested.
Lyndale, Armstrong and Winston were under investigation for insurance fraud. They were not currently in gaol, because people of their class generally did not suffer imprisonment, at least not while under suspicion for that type of crime. But I had faith that justice would eventually be done. Besides that, we had not received any news of the case in recent days.
"Yes," Holmes continued. "The Monsignor confirms that he told Father Garner of his interest in cameos upon his arrival in London, several days before the party where the theft took place. I think we may assume that Garner had mentioned this casually to Lyndale, thereby allowing Lyndale to construct his elaborate plot."
"So Garner was not involved in the theft?"
"No. But when I asked him whether Lyndale knew in advance that Pinet had an interest in cameos, he must have put two and two together on the spot, and decided to lie to us, and go in for a spot of blackmailing instead." He folded up Pinet's letter and returned it to its envelope. "A minor point, but one always likes to tie up loose ends."
"But the blackmail?"
"It's over now, and we can't do anything about it. I don't believe Garner was blackmailing Lyndale for money, by the way. Men like Garner are usually beholden to rich donors like Lyndale. I expect Garner liked having things the other way round for once."
I frowned. It seemed unsatisfactory, but there was nothing we could do.
Holmes looked at his watch. "Now, I hope you don't mind, Watson, but we shall have to vacate our rooms for a few hours this morning. I have offered Mrs Georgiana Smith the use of our sitting room. A neutral ground, if you will, where she can receive her brother.
"Oh! Of course."
"I believe this must be Mrs Smith on the stairs now," Holmes added, at the sound of footsteps.
Mrs Georgiana Smith was unaccompanied. Holmes offered her a seat, and Mrs Hudson brought tea.
"Thank you, Mr Holmes, Dr Watson. It's very kind of you," said Mrs Smith, smiling at both of us.
Soon, footsteps on the stairs heralded the arrival of Nicholas Lyndale.
As he entered the room, Georgiana rose to her feet and looked at him warily. Before he could say a word, she burst out, "I'll tell you now, Nicholas, I shan't listen to anyone telling me to repent, or insulting my husband."
Her brother blinked, taken aback. "I'm not. I mean, I won't. I mean—But you must see this from Father and Sarah's point of view."
"I have followed my heart," Georgiana said flatly. "I don't believe God will judge me harshly for that. I would have thought you of all people would understand, Nicholas."
Nicholas Lyndale went red. "I don't know what you mean."
Georgiana said, more gently, "I mean that God loves you too, Nicholas. And—and everyone else you love."
"I don't disagree, Georgiana," Lyndale said awkwardly, holding up both hands as though to ward her off. "And I will never tell you to—to repent or anything like that. But—" He paused. "No, nothing. I've nothing to say."
This was followed by a silence. Holmes picked up his hat and gloves.
"Well, I promised you the use of our sitting room, and here we still are, occupying it. Come along, Watson."
Lyndale had been staring at his feet, but now he looked up at us. "No, wait, Mr Holmes, Dr Watson. I have something here I thought you might like to see."
He drew a small pouch from his pocket and opened it. Inside lay two cameos carved in sardonyx shell. The creamy white figures were fashioned in exquisite detail, standing out in relief against the deep, rich brown background. They were beautiful. I would certainly not have spotted the difference from the fakes as easily as Monsignor Pinet did, but now that I knew it, the true cameos were unmistakable.
As Father Briggs had said, they weren't much use to humanity, but then the same could be said of any jewels.
"A parcel addressed to my father arrived at the townhouse a few days ago," Lyndale explained.
I knew that he was very well aware his father had been responsible for the theft. As he returned the cameos to his pocket, I wondered what effect that would have on a young man, to know his father was a criminal. It was a scandal that would haunt the family for the rest of their lives.
"Come along, Watson," Holmes said.
Mrs Smith shook her head. "No, that's all right, Mr Holmes. Perhaps..." She paused, looking at her brother, then took a deep breath. "Nicholas, perhaps you could come with me to meet your brother-in-law?"
.. .. ..
As we sat by the fire that night, I wondered aloud, "Do you think Mrs Smith will be happy?"
"Why not? Many people are." Holmes closed the book he had been reading and looked up. His gaze was directed into the distance. "My own parents' marriage was a very happy one, I believe. Not that a young child can truly understand such things, but in my memories it is so."
I considered this. Had my parents been happily married? I did not think so, but as a child I had never been able to tell, and it was no clearer to me now in hindsight as I looked back with the wisdom of adulthood.
I thought I could be happy with Holmes—if he felt the same way.
"For Mr Nicolas Lyndale, however, it will be otherwise, I fear," Holmes added thoughtfully. "He will not escape marriage."
"No." I thought of young Lyndale and his great friend Huntington—the love of his life, or a boyhood passion. Who could tell? "Perhaps marriage can bring him happiness nonetheless. After all, many people are drawn to both genders, you know."
Holmes smiled. "I know. I'm looking at one such specimen now."
"Well, yes," I said, suddenly feeling shy. I had never distinguished between men and women, both different but equally fascinating. Holmes' gaze was on me, and I felt rather as though I were pinned under his microscope.
"And what about you, Watson?" he asked quietly. "Do you expect to marry someday?"
"I did expect it. When I was a young man, I assumed I would marry a charming young lady. But now..."
"But now...?" he echoed. His voice had been quiet, but in his gaze I saw the importance he accorded to my words.
Since we embarked on this affair a month earlier I had been holding back, unsure what Holmes wanted, and unwilling to speak unless he did. But now I saw he had been doing the same thing. One of us had to take a leap of faith. "Perhaps I've already found what I was looking for."
Holmes stilled, his gaze fixed on my face.
"Holmes," I said, gathering my courage. "What are you looking for?"
Holmes' eyes were bright. "A marriage has many facets," he said slowly. "You are already my trusted companion, my esteemed colleague, my right-hand man. The most gloriously handsome man I know. My deepest desire. My dearest friend. In short, everything. I want you to be everything to me."
My heart swelled. "I want that too."
He held out his hand, in the space between our armchairs, and I reached out to clasp it in mine.