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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.

Chapter Text

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.

Lyndale nodded.

"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."

"Those burglars!"

"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."

I nodded.

"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?"

"That's right."

"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.

I turned.

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.