It was a thick, drowsy day in September. The curtains were thrown back and the sashes raised to no effect, and Holmes had been stricken with a bout of indolence while I found myself restless. He had not stirred from the sofa in some hours, and I had fallen to pacing and wishing that my bank account was not so thin that it couldn’t bear up under the strain of a seaside holiday. The heat was nothing to what I’d endured in India, but at the same time it stirred up a sort of nervous expectation in my blood that made me long for some distraction from it. Holmes for his part was satisfied with lingering over the detritus of his most recent case, which he’d solved without leaving the room.
“A garden variety swindle,” he’d confided as soon as Inspector Forbes had left, his expression sharp enough to cut a man at the swiftness with which Holmes had provided an answer. I couldn’t help sympathizing, but then, it was not as if Holmes intended to claim credit for it. “The most intriguing feature was the bribing of the telegraph operator, which, I must say, did suggest a bit of daring on the confidence man’s part.”
I was about to reproach him for the cavalier way he’d dismissed Forbes when the page-boy knocked with a message. I passed it to Holmes with some eagerness, as I saw at once that it had been dispatched from the Diogenes Club and could have only reasonably come from Mycroft. Given the elder Holmes brother’s habitual lack of energy, he was likely passing along some intelligence or directing some case to Sherlock; simple fraternal affection would not have motivated him to extend an invitation to dine twice in as many weeks.
“Hullo!” Holmes said after a moment’s reading. “It seems your entreaties to the heavens have not gone unanswered, Watson. Here’s just the thing for us.”
“Oh?” I asked. It was hardly worth denying my mood, as he’d by that time demonstrated a keen knack for tracing my thoughts based on the merest observation of my expressions.
“You recall my companion from college, Victor Trevor?” Holmes started to his feet, and I surmised that we were to leave at once.
I considered the name as I traded my slippers for boots. “One of your very first cases, wasn’t it? His father was involved in the mutiny and destruction of the Gloria Scott.”
“Quite so,” Holmes agreed, all trace of sloth gone. “He awaits us in the Stranger’s Room. Mycroft’s made the arrangements, and furthermore indicates that it’s a matter of some personal delicacy.”
That gave me, I must confess, a moment’s pause. I was quite aware that while Holmes might vouch for me successfully with a king fearing blackmail or a minister fearing treason, for in those moments we were seen as a sort of specialized tradesman, with one essentially interchangeable for another but for skill, his only close friend from his youth might hesitate to speak freely before a stranger, no matter how intimate Holmes and I had become.
“Are you certain my presence will be welcome?” I asked.
He gave me a humoring smile. “My dear Watson, if matters lie as I suspect with him, your presence will be the exact grease the wheels call for. Come now, make haste.”
It wasn’t until we were walking toward Regent’s Circus that it occurred to me to ask after their correspondence. “Have you been at all in touch with him since he decamped for the tropics?”
“Not directly, no,” Holmes said. “But I’ve had news of him incidentally, through reports from the Terai tea planting and about its environs. He did well for himself there, married the daughter of an official of good name and character, then lost her in childbed. He had the reputation of a devoted father to the surviving infant and used the modest fortune he’d made to provide for her education and upbringing. The young lady would now be in the full flower of womanhood, which is no doubt why Trevor returned to his paternal estate in Donnithorpe a few years back.”
“Possibly she’s become entangled in an affair with some ruffian?” I offered.
Holmes laughed. “I’d think poor Trevor’s time in the colonies should have taught him how to handle that, given the fire he showed when we were young. No, Watson, I suspect something far more interesting is afoot.”
But what it might be was a point on which he was obliged to fall silent, for we had reached the front door of the club, and the club would have quiet in all rooms save one. Holmes led the way to the small, well-appointed parlor designated for what conversation the members could tolerate, and I was surprised to find it utterly deserted. With the windows open and a gentle breeze thus infiltrating the chamber, it should have been a most desirable perch. After a few moments, Mycroft was shown in with his guest, a man I hardly needed Holmes’s powers of observation to see at once must be none other than Victor Trevor.
He was a handsome man even now and must have been quite striking in his youth, but while he and Holmes were surely of an age, Trevor’s time under the unforgiving Indian sun had lined his face more deeply than befitted his years. His blond hair was shot with white, and his physique was that of an active man grown used, in recent years, to domestic comforts. His eyes showed the marks of recent care and sleepless nights, such as I had seen quite frequently in the faces of Holmes’s clientele.
“Excellent to see you again, my good man,” Mycroft said, extending his hand to me. I clapped it warmly, as I was already feeling more at ease from the promise of activity. “I’ll leave Sherlock to the full introductions, but no doubt you’ve heard of Mr. Trevor by now.”
“Quite,” I said, giving the man a short nod. His return was a shrewd, penetrating look, and Holmes smiled beatifically.
“I leave you in their capable hands, Trevor.” With that, Mycroft retired from the chamber, his gray eyes alight with merriment. No doubt he’d deduced what Trevor was about scarcely a moment after Trevor had introduced himself and was now leaving us to blunder after the conclusion in his wake while he retired to a peaceful luncheon.
“Trevor, may I present my particular companion, Dr. John Watson?” Holmes said genially. “Watson, my esteemed collegiate friend, Mr. Victor Trevor.”
There was a curious emphasis to his words that affirmed what I’d already guessed at, that he and Trevor had been on a rather more intimate footing than Holmes usually indulged, and for his own part Trevor seemed to relax, as if assured he was amongst fellow-travelers.
“Now, how may I be of service? I shouldn’t be far off in assuming this isn’t a social call?” Holmes asked, settling into one of the more comfortable chairs and folding his hands in that peculiar attitude he has when he intends to listen intently to whatever story a client is about to tell. I remained standing, and Trevor looked as if it was taking all his self-possession not to pace.
“There’s no other way to put it, Holmes,” Trevor said bitterly, shaking his head. “I’ve lost my wife, and my entire household’s in an uproar over it.”
It was gratifying to see Holmes’s elegant eyebrows climb almost to his hairline at that, given as he had been to understand that Mrs. Trevor had been deceased for some time.
“A recent marriage, then?” he asked.
“Less than a year, but not by much,” Trevor told him.
“I assume there were extenuating circumstances?” Holmes prompted, his expression one of utmost concentration. Trevor, for his part, flushed slightly when he looked to me, and Holmes clicked his tongue. “Watson is the very picture of discretion. He may be trusted to the same extent as myself.”
Trevor stalked from door to window, making sure we were not to be accidentally overheard or eavesdropped upon. He need not have worried; if there was anything the Diogenes Club prided itself on, it was the veil of secrecy drawn across it. Once he was satisfied, he returned to stand before Holmes, an appeal stamped on his fine features.
“My first marriage was one of duty and convenience. I had no intention of marrying again when my unlucky wife died delivering our poor babe, but as Hypatia grew older—”
“Excuse me, but Hypatia?” Holmes interrupted, straightening up in his chair. “I had it on good information that was your first wife, not your daughter.”
“Ah, yes. I named her after her mother. My wife was so fixed on the idea of carrying a son that we’d only ever discussed names fit for a boy.” Trevor’s smile was pained. “She’d settled on James, as it so happens. She didn’t live to hear that she’d been delivered of a daughter instead.”
“Thank you, and my sympathies,” Holmes said. “Please, do go on.”
“Yes, as I was saying, as she grew older, I saw that my Hypatia had inherited certain… inclinations, on which I’m sure I need be no blunter. I can only blame myself. Blood will out, as they say, and if I’d known as a young man what seems to be common knowledge now, with all these theories of continuance and selection flying about, I’d have been a great deal more frank with her in her early years.” Trevor took a moment to compose himself. “As it was, I had little fear of any unnaturalness in her, given the absolute staidness of her mother’s character and comportment, and so I did not warn her against forming attachments inappropriate for a young lady before enrolling her in Cheltenham.”
“She grew devoted to a classmate?” Holmes ventured.
“Inseparably so,” Trevor confirmed with a grimace. “Fortunately, the girl was of good stock and otherwise impeccable character, but for good or ill her family had not made allowances for her beyond an education. She was no object to fortune-hunters, but had no independent means.”
“You took steps?” Holmes steepled his fingers and rested the tips of them against his chin.
“I hired her as my daughter’s companion. An imperfect solution, obviously, but there was little else to be done for it; my girl would have her way in the matter. I hoped time and proximity might dissolve the infatuation, as they so often do in more common affairs.” Trevor’s broad shoulders slumped, and he finally lowered himself into a chair opposite Holmes. “After a year or so, when their fondness for one another had only deepened, it became clear that I needed to make a permanent arrangement, one which would secure both of their places in society should calamity strike.”
“And so you married the girl,” Holmes said.
“And so I married the girl!” Trevor cried, shooting to his feet again. His face darkened, and he shook his head. “What was it to me if people smiled behind their hands and muttered about piss-proud old men, so long as my daughter’s happiness and station were made safe?”
“Only now you’ve misplaced her,” Holmes said gently.
“Aye. My daughter’s taken to her bed with weeping, and the servants chalk it up to the scandal of a run-away stepmother,” Trevor confessed heavily. Holmes offered him a cigarette, and he gratefully accepted it. “The only bright spot is that Sophia being my lawful wife gives a certain force to official inquiries, if it comes to that.” Trevor looked at us sharply. “I sincerely hope it won’t, for reasons which I’m sure are quite apparent.”
“I will of course do everything in my power to help you, Trevor, but you must give me every particular you can,” Holmes said, and his countenance was as solemn as I’d ever seen. “The girl’s temperament?”
Trevor twisted his gloves in his hands and tossed his head. “Passionate. Noble, and honorable, and honest to a fault, Holmes—I’d never have permitted her to share a name with my Hypatia otherwise—but passionate!”
“I see. Please, tell me everything that happened before she absconded. Leave out no detail, no matter how seemingly trivial.”
We listened closely, Holmes with more animation than I, as Trevor catalogued Sophia’s movements the morning of her disappearance. To me it seemed the rote activity of a woman firmly fixed in her domestic sphere. She’d risen early, as was her wont, and taken breakfast with Hypatia while her putative husband had seen to his correspondence over coffee. She’d given orders for dinner, asked if the weather might be too warm for an outing planned for Tuesday next, and settled into her preferred spot in the parlor with the morning paper while Hypatia and Trevor had taken a walk about the family park. Nothing had been untoward about her carriage or speech, and all had been just as it usually was with the three of them.
Sophia had seemed untroubled when she’d gone into town on some previous engagement, the details of which both her maid and Hypatia had proved entirely ignorant, and then had simply not returned. Careful inquiries of her intimates and associates had turned up nothing, and she hadn’t been seen in any of her usual haunts. The only thing out of the ordinary at all had been a telegram received the previous month, as most of her correspondents favored letters and only resorted to telegram in cases of emergency. She hadn’t appeared vexed or alarmed by its contents and had gone so far as to assure them that it was nothing. Hypatia had searched for it among her papers to no avail after it had dawned upon them that Sophia was missing, the girl desperate and hoping for anything which might shed light on her darling’s extraordinary and uncharacteristic conduct.
“So the lady receives a message, carries about her business as if everything is perfectly right with the world for well on four weeks, and then bolts after reading the paper,” Holmes said, once Trevor finally finished. “This is what we have to go on?”
“Dash it all, Holmes!” The man laughed without mirth. “Precisely so! You can see why I’ve come to you.”
Holmes took him by the hand. “We’ve found solutions with worse beginnings.”
We left Trevor to continue making whatever private inquiries he felt prudent and returned to Baker Street with an appointment for a late dinner in the Stranger’s Room to share whatever either party had learned in the interim. I saw in Trevor the same dislike of idleness which so afflicted Holmes, and I was not at much of a loss as to how they’d found themselves friends in college. All that had been required was an introduction, and that had been so rudely supplied by Trevor’s terrier. What might not have become of the acquaintance had Trevor’s late father died with his crimes unknown? I did not voice the question, but nevertheless I could feel Holmes watching me closely on our walk back.
“How often these mysteries would be made plain by a thorough study of the minutiae of historical crime,” Holmes told me as we reached our apartments. He went straightaway to one of his clipping books and pulled it from the shelf. “There’s nothing like it to shed light on the modern world’s dim corners! The girl’s maiden name was familiar to me, and I formed the beginnings of a theory as soon as Trevor had clarified the event which precipitated her flight. With any luck, we can supply an answer quick enough that he can yet hush up the whole affair. Yesterday’s paper, if you’d be so kind, Watson?”
I hunted through the bric-a-brac of the past few days, confident I’d find the wanted item near the top of the pile thanks to Holmes’s recent languor. I laid hands on it almost immediately and began scanning it for anything of interest as Holmes turned to his biographical listings.
“One housebreaker caught in the act, two robberies which appear unrelated to one another, an incident with an unattended carriage, an assault on a publican by the sister of a favorite customer over an ill-cooked joint, and one thing which puzzles me exceedingly,” I reported, folding the page so that he might see the last at once. “Clearly some deviltry was meant, but it’s difficult to imagine the precise nature of it. What do you think, Holmes?”
“Ha!” he cried, his eyes shining. “The very thing, Watson, the very thing! Deviltry indeed, but of the best sort! Now all that’s to be done is to ferret out Mrs. Trevor’s hiding place and persuade her to make a clean breast of it. You see here what’s likely happened.”
He pointed imperiously to a pasted clipping in his book concerning the probable suicide of a cardsharp. The young man had been of good family, but his exposure as a cheat had led to disgrace and, eventually, his disappearance. He’d been last seen loitering on a bridge on a frightful night, and there had been some evidence come morning of a man having gone over the railing. His creditors and victims were to be compensated by the remaining family as a matter of honor, though it was imagined the final tally would prove quite a burden on their resources.
“The cardsharp would be none other than Mrs. Trevor’s oldest brother,” Holmes said as I finished reading it.
“So there’s a scandal in the family background,” I said. It was not entirely unexpected, things being as they stood now. In my experience, it took a great deal to budge a happy woman from her household. “But what has a suicide of some ten years ago to do with the contents of a man’s safe being burnt?”
“The man was a blackmailer,” Holmes told me, shaking his head impatiently. “Even if I didn’t know him by name as a scoundrel of the worst sort, it’s obvious from the account here in the paper. The house is intruded upon, but nothing is removed, only destroyed. No article in the entire place is touched except for the wall safe, the whole contents of which have been fed into the fire. The housekeeper, in a state, bawls for the police, and the owner, in a much worse state, bawls that no crime has occurred and sends them away again! What else could have befallen him but a victim with the nerve to act, or an avenger?”
“He’s got off lightly, if that’s the case,” I said, recalling the terrible beauty of the woman who’d ended Milverton’s reign as chief blackmailer of the kingdom. Holmes smiled a little at my shudder. It had perhaps been no less an act than the woman’s honor demanded of her, but the cold fury with which she’d cut down Milverton had proofed me against underestimating the fairer sex ever since.
“Perhaps,” Holmes said. “It will depend on what happens now that the sheep in his flock understand he has no power to shear them.”
“But what has the one got to do with the other?” I demanded. Holmes bestowed one of his knowing smiles which can be so irksome when curiosity pricks.
“I had the opportunity to look into her brother’s case almost as it happened,” he said, mollifying me with a touch of his hand. “And while I was sure that a man had indeed been plunged into the water that night, I’d have laid good money on it not being our young gambler but on a notorious blackmailer. There was talk, in calling it a suicide, of the recent death of a young woman with whom the cardsharp had been besotted. She’d been one of the drowned man’s many victims.”
“So Mrs. Trevor is linked not to a suicide, but to a fugitive murderer?”
“A fugitive, certainly, but only possibly a murderer. The pavement there was worn smooth as glass, and the guards against falling weak. Perhaps he attempted at the last to recover the recently deceased young lady’s property, and so committed manslaughter. Perhaps he insulted the source of his beloved’s torment, was attacked, and, in defending himself, accidentally became a homicide with some claim to self-defense. Perhaps they both went over, and it was only coincidence that a man matching the gambler’s description turned up in Pinkerton’s employ a year later and made something of a name for himself as the most implacable enemy of precisely this sort of knavery. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps!” Holmes paced the room, looking as pleased with himself as Trevor had lately looked miserable. “What is certain is that this upstanding citizen with an empty safe, against whom no crime has been committed, is the third such scoundrel to be put out of business in the last month!”
“The third!” I exclaimed. The timing was hardly lost on me, but I’d read nothing of any such attacks in the papers, and it seemed incredible that Lestrade had not been to see Holmes if there’d been a rash of such crimes. He hardly missed the opportunity to join us in a cigar and a glass of brandy on evenings when he thought he might catch Holmes in an expansive mood. It was occasionally a bit of a nuisance when we wanted the place to ourselves, but he was easily enough put off with the message that we’d dined out and weren’t expected for some time.
“This is the only one to have been reported,” Holmes said, chuckling at my surprise. “Presumably the others had either less fastidious or less respectable housekeepers. But it pays to keep an ear open to the troubles of the criminal element.”
“But Mrs. Trevor, Holmes!” I protested. “Surely you can’t think she’s mixed up in this! You can’t imagine she’d have fallen prey to blackmail and not confided in Miss Trevor. Any evidence of scandal could hardly help falling on them both, after all.”
“What I expect is that she received word from her supposedly late brother that he’d returned from America. Why he has come, we as yet lack the facts to speculate. But he has come, and his coming did not, by all appearances, take her by surprise. She betrays no attack of nerves, no sudden sense of relief. There are no unexplained expenditures or rendez-vous. So far as can be determined, she sends no reply. Things go on quite as they have for the previous year, until she opens the papers and sees that his adventures have involved the law. From this, we may suppose that she did not summon him and that he is not acting on her behalf or in her interests. She departs forthwith, notifying no one and communicating nothing. From that, we may suppose that she was thrown into a disarray. She can offer no suitable excuse. If she will not lie to the woman she loves and the man she must look on as a father, neither can she tell them the truth.
“How then should we expect a noble, honorable, honest, but passionate young woman to respond to such news as this? Remember that she’s got more than her fair share of daring, if she’s pursued her favorite to the point of agreeing to Trevor’s stratagem, but they cannot afford the sort of exposure which would come from her brother being discovered under such circumstances,” Holmes said, warming to his theme. “If she has half the temper Trevor attributes to her, no doubt she’s seized on some idea of sending her brother packing again, before he can endanger her little family. She’ll be hunting him down with this object in mind even now.”
“Astonishing,” I murmured, for Holmes does love to be praised for his sharpness. He colored handsomely, and I could not keep a smile off my lips.
“You flatter me!” he said, suddenly crestfallen.
“No more than you’ve earned,” I assured him. “Shall you want company in your search for the lady, or is this to be one of your solitary pursuits?”
I dearly longed to be present when he inevitably discovered Mrs. Trevor’s whereabouts, but given how often his inquiries at hotels and amongst boarding houses were carried out in disguise and with an abstruseness I could not mimic, I could not be surprised when he shook his head and guided me to the sofa.
“Your part will be to wait here, I’m afraid,” he said. “Calm Trevor if he comes, deflect any detectives who may turn up about empty safes, and, most importantly, do not be late to dinner!”
It was not long before my solitary vigil was interrupted by a handsome young woman in no small state. From the singular violence with which she rang the bell, I assumed it would be either Trevor or his errant wife who was shown up to the apartment. The lady had the same striking eyes and well-formed features as her father, however, and there was no doubt that it was Miss Trevor I was receiving from Mrs. Hudson when she opened the door.
“Where is she?” the young lady demanded, looking about the parlor. “Have you not found her?”
“Do I have the honor of addressing Miss Hypatia Trevor?” I asked, wishing Holmes had delayed his departure. The speed with which he could soothe a distraught woman was remarkable, when he cared to make himself agreeable. My own skill was that of a mere mortal, though perhaps a practiced one.
The lady blushed and did her best to compose herself. “You do,” she said with a curtsey. “And are you Mr. Sherlock Holmes?”
“Dr. John Watson, at your service,” I said. “I am merely Mr. Holmes’s chronicler, unfortunately. He has been engaged by your father, however, and he hopes for results in a very short order.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Miss Trevor sank into a chair near the window and put her face in her hands. When she looked up again, I could see tears in her eyes. “Has Mr. Holmes any idea of what’s the matter? Sophie would never leave like this without some good reason. She loves m—my father with all her heart. I know she does!”
“He has a theory, and he hopes to have positive news this evening at dinner, Miss Trevor,” I assured her. “Take heart!”
I offered what restoratives as I had on hand and befitted a young woman of her station, and soon her spirits were quite lifted.
“Mr. Holmes has solved many much stranger and more sinister cases,” I said. “He had quite a strong set of expectations for this case, as well. Your Mrs. Trevor is as good as found, I’m quite certain.”
“Oh, it’s very good of you to say, Dr. Watson!” she cried. “I’ve been beside myself since she went missing. Father was very grave and very cool, as he often is when there’s trouble, but I could see it pained him so! He was so confident that Mr. Holmes could do something, and that he’d be willing to help.”
I described to her Holmes’s goodness and cleverness. It did the job, and Miss Trevor soon had every confidence that Holmes could be trusted to bring her darling home safe and sound without embroiling the family in any further difficulties.
“Will you bring me with you to this club, Dr. Watson?” she asked. “Do say yes! I sent to my father to tell him I’d come to join him in London, but I’ve had no reply, and I could not bear it if you bid me go back to the hotel and wait for word!”
I could not but relent before so pathetic an entreaty. I could hardly help having tender feelings for the girl, as often as I’d ventured into danger and possible disgrace by Holmes’s side rather than face the agonies of separation and anxiety at his fate. I extracted a promise that she would observe the club’s rules most diligently, then settled into a late tea with my charming companion. Once she felt secure in Holmes’s powers of deduction and procurement, her customary charms returned in full force, and I was struck by how noble and pleasing her comportment was. It was difficult to imagine Mrs. Trevor having fled her company without serious cause.
I was ordering a cab, the appointed hour being upon us, when she stopped me. “If you please, Dr. Watson, it isn’t far?”
“A very short walk, Miss Trevor,” I told her.
“Then would you mind terribly if we went by foot instead? I fear my nerves are beginning to get the better of me. Oh! What if Mr. Holmes has found nothing? What if he’s found everything, but my dear So—stepmother will not return? What if he brings her with him?” She cast an appealing look to me. “Am I fit to be seen, Dr. Watson? I’ve been in such an abominable state since she vanished! My maid tried to stop me from leaving the hotel without a proper toilet. Why did I not listen?”
I took her hand gently and did my best to calm her. “We shall walk, if you wish it, and in my professional opinion you are quite fit to be seen. A bit of grief at such a parting does you credit, I think, and few such stepmothers would find fault with any but themselves over a pale face and teary eyes.”
I hoped, as we drew closer to the club, that I had not promised more than Holmes could deliver. The tenderness in Miss Trevor’s voice when she spoke of Mrs. Trevor touched my heart and reminded me that I, too, had once been young. It seemed an eternity since I’d attended Hayter on his sickbed or taken my careful leave of Stamford; it was so easy to forget that those had once been the most momentous tragedies to befall me! Miss Trevor’s youth, and the understanding nature of her father, had so far shielded her from the sorrow of such partings. I did what I could to comfort her.
She fell silent, as instructed, when we reached the door to the Diogenes, and drew herself up like a goddess. It was only the iron grip she kept on my arm that told me how acute her fear truly was. We were shown to Mycroft by a steward, and he grinned magnanimously when he saw my companion.
“This shall be quite a family circle, I see,” he chuckled. Miss Trevor started, and he waved her surprise aside. “In this one room, my dear lady, conversation is perfectly permitted. Though, of course, not too loud, if you would. Miss Trevor, may I present Mr. Paul Wilkes? Mr. Wilkes, your niece, Miss Trevor.”
“Niece!” she exclaimed, taking a harder look at him. “I thought I had met all of Sophie’s brothers!”
“I was… out of the country, miss,” Wilkes said, bowing low. “Pleased to meet you.”
“And I you, but please, you must tell me, is she with you?” Miss Trevor demanded.
“I was hoping to see her shortly, from the message I received from a detective,” he said. He looked chagrined, especially when he saw how she trembled at his answer. “I received no answer when I cabled to inform her that I was in London, and I thought until today that she had no intention of acknowledging me.”
I guided the poor girl to a chair, pressed a small glass of sherry into her hand, and counselled patience. Mycroft prevailed upon me for one as well.
“You’ve arranged this all very prettily,” I said, feeling a bit nettled by his good humor. We watched as Wilkes paid every kind attention possible to Miss Trevor.
“Well, a quiet day is a terrible thing, Watson,” Mycroft said, laughing. “If heads of state won’t oblige, sometimes we must amuse ourselves. Come, man, don’t scowl so! I’m sure Sherlock’s done very well for Trevor, and the only thing now is to make sure everyone’s properly fed and debriefed.”
Indeed, it was not but a few minutes before Trevor arrived to keep his appointment with a punctuality I often wished Holmes possessed. Introductions were made all around, and Trevor did his best not to seem too astonished at having acquired a new brother-in-law in such a manner or at his daughter having followed him to the city.
“You mustn’t be cross, father,” Miss Trevor said. “After everything you’ve done for us, I couldn’t bear to be a deadweight in such a crisis. You must forgive me for being of so little use on that first day.”
The look of disappointment on Sherlock’s face when he stepped into that parlor, I shall not soon forget. He had that expression of a man much delighted with himself and about to pull off a conjurer’s trick to general applause until he saw that the gathered company had already become acquainted and must know his business in advance. Forlorn as a peacock deprived of his feathers, he stepped aside to reveal the equally-chastened Mrs. Trevor.
“We’ve returned, as you can see,” he sighed.
Sherlock needn’t have doubted his audience. Trevor and Wilkes were both on their feet in an instant, and Miss Trevor flung her arms around her beloved’s neck and hugged her to her bosom.
“I really am sorry for all the fuss,” Mrs. Trevor said, after the hubbub subsided. “Mr. Holmes made me see that I ought to have been forthright with you both from the start. But, oh! It seemed like such a calamity!”
Mr. Wilkes had the good sense to take the blame on himself immediately. “If I’d known you’d seek me out, I’d have cabled an address, Sophie. I could have spared you that much trouble, at least.”
“What in the world could have been so important?” Trevor asked, looking from Wilkes to his wife, whose hands were still clutched firmly in Miss Trevor’s. I’d not have come between them for all the money in the world at that moment, so fierce was Miss Trevor’s mien.
“It was my fault,” Wilkes said, standing forth. “I had a spot of bad luck on a job. I’m in something of the same line of work as this gentleman here.” He pointed to Holmes, who smiled at the comparison. “The blackmailer I was up against came home a tick too soon for my tastes, and I barely had time to make it out of his house before I was discovered. His maid started up with the hue and cry about burglars, and it made the papers. I swear on my life, Sophie, the police don’t have a hand in and never will! I’m heading back to America tomorrow.”
“You were hired?” Mrs. Trevor asked. “By whom?”
“I’m certainly not such a maniac as to go about breaking into people’s houses and burning their correspondence for no reason!” Wilkes protested. “Granted, I’m never so keen on a case as when it’s blackmail, but it’s done within proper channels and all for the best.” I might have imagined the way his eyes went to Mycroft, it happened so quickly. “As for my employer, that’s of course confidential.”
“As it should be,” Sherlock said, with no small trace of irony.
Trevor turned a sober face to his wife. “You hoped to keep him from being discovered?”
“You’ve no doubt wondered why I never spoke of Paul before,” she said. “Well, there was an affair, an ugly one, and he disappeared.”
“My sister is being kind,” Wilkes said. “I fled the country after the presumption of my death. I ran afoul of a criminal gang, one which hounded the woman I loved into an early grave when she couldn’t pay what the fiends demanded for their silence. I swore I’d have my revenge, but I was little more than a callow youth at the time, and instead of revenge I had a narrow escape from death myself.” He smiled grimly at Mrs. Trevor. “My foolishness cost more than myself, however. I’ve come into a share in a gold mine in California, the legacy of an American socialite whose name I helped clear. I returned to sign it over to our father in the hopes of repairing some of the damage I caused to the family fortune. Given the dangers of my current profession, it wasn’t a task I wanted to delay. The Pinkerton Agency was kind enough to find employment in London and provide travelling papers.”
“And you spend your days hunting down scoundrels and parasites?” Trevor asked. There was some cast to his expression, I suppose, that Sherlock detected but which was invisible to me. The minute shake of his head was a clear signal, but what he meant Trevor to understand by it I could not guess, unless perhaps Trevor might be on the verge of confessing his father’s painful secret to his heirs.
“I’ve brought more such schemes to an end than I can recall, at this point,” Wilkes said firmly. “The decent and harmless have been freed from the yoke, and the truly venomous have been turned over to the police, their days of renting a burial plot for the evidence of their misdeeds at an end.”
“A useful occupation,” Trevor said, looking to Sherlock.
“Indeed,” Sherlock agreed.
“See, dearest,” Miss Trevor said quietly, hugging Mrs. Trevor to her. “You needn’t have separated yourself so drastically. Nothing can divide you from our affections.”
“A splendid conclusion!” Mycroft cried, clapping his hands. A small cotillion of waiters brought in the supper Sherlock had ordered, and I couldn’t help but be irritated at the slyness of the smile on Mycroft’s face as he watched the table laid.
“Come now, Watson,” he told me, when the bustle had isolated us from the others for a moment. “All’s well that ends well.”
“I feel somehow as if your brother has been enlisted to cover up some dirty business of yours,” I said.
“My business is the crown’s business, dirty or clean, and there’s no shame in being useful to one’s country,” he returned. “Besides, Sherlock’s done Trevor a good turn, just as I said he would. Now do sit down and see if you can’t cheer him up a bit. I’m afraid us all getting here before him has rather taken the wind out of his sails.”