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The Adventure of the Buttoned Glove
by Penumbra


Title: The Adventure of the Buttoned Glove
Author: Penumbra
Author's Website: Strange Attractors (slash fiction masterlist @ livejournal)
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Pairing: Sherlock Holmes / John Watson
Rating: PG-13
Author's Disclaimer: Story copyright 2004.
I'm not ACD. Top hats make me think of naughty things.
Author's Notes: Commentary, feedback, and constructive criticism are heartily welcomed.
Hopefully very little canon mangling, although on occasion I'm adapting canon dialogue to my own purposes, both intentionally and unintentionally. Queen's English is what I learned, yet it has deteriorated into a semi-Californian melting pot; thus, all Americanisms and anachronisms and abuses of Brit-speak that linger in this slash pastiche are entirely mine. Mea culpa. Originally posted in the [holmesslash] Yahoo! group.



For some time now, I have been worried about what is to become of my immortal soul upon the occasion of my passing, for I will surely burn in Hell -- not for sins perceived by ignorant men and law-makers, but for being guilty of the most grievous sin of all: the perpetration of a lie through cowardice. This tale, this roman à clef, is thus my act of repentance, for the only things concealed are the names of the noblemen discussed herein. There shall be neither fictitious wives nor glossing over scandalous details in the name of propriety; it will be but the unmitigated, brave truth.

Yet I do get ahead of myself, it seems. Were Holmes here and permitted to read this account, he would undoubtedly exclaim incomprehensibilities, remind me that order is the fountainhead of lucidity, and implore me to start from the beginning; namely, with Inspector Lestrade and the buttoned glove.

It was one of those dreary, dun evenings our great city manages to produce with unfailing accuracy during its Novembers. Fog lay heavily on the cobbles of Baker Street, obscuring everything beyond the pallid spheres of the gas-lights and laying a damp chill upon one's spirit. Truly, it was an evening so dreadful it made me overjoyed at the prospect of spending it indoors with the papers and my pipe, and sympathetic to the plight of anyone venturing out into the gloom.

Presently, one such wretched figure emerged from the fog. It was a man of obvious vigour and agitation, somehow familiar yet unrecognisable through the impregnable haze. Regardless, I recognised the symptoms of his appearance very well, for surely one cannot co-habit with Sherlock Holmes without acquiring some of his knowledge.

"Holmes," I said, curious. "There's a very strange man on the street, and I daresay he is coming here."

"Undoubtedly, it is Inspector Lestrade's progression towards 221B you are observing, Watson."

Surprised, I turned to my companion. "What makes you say so, Holmes?" I asked, frowning. His seat offered no view of the street.

Eyes closed and head obscured behind the wreaths of blue smoke emanating from his nostrils and pipe, Sherlock Holmes was ensconced in his armchair, his legs drawn up and his long, white hands dancing a nervous tune on his knees. What tune it was, I could not hear, for the music was internal to the wonder inside his considerable cranium; it was as much an enigma to me as his knowledge regarding the identity of our apparent caller.

"My insight is entirely due to the wonders of the telegraph," Holmes replied and tossed a telegram in my general direction. "The good inspector was remarkably un-forthcoming in his missive, save for the hour of his arrival."

As Holmes' lissom frame uncoiled from the chair and he made a desultory attempt at straightening his collars, I idly reflected upon the injustices of one's existence. Surely, I had often mused, if there ever were a Purgatory on this God's Earth, it resided in the sitting room of our modest lodgings on 221B Baker Street. Its name was Sherlock Holmes.

My friend Sherlock Holmes, you should know, is a tall man of most singular, epicene mannerisms, of pointed ears and clear, hard eyes that not only see but observe the very state of your soul. My eyes often follow the lines of his narrow shoulders and that strangely regal, ramrod-straight posture his body insists on maintaining when upright; I track the nervous energy that his hands betray even when the rest of him stands in dead stillness. His skin is a sickly pale alabaster, glowing in contrast to the black void of his garments and hair; only the fevered red of his lips and the gleam of fire in his eyes interrupt the monochrome of his being.

That was my Purgatory: his existence and his very being. Holmes, this intractable man of deplorable habits and the allure of a martyr, was not only my sole companion in life, but also the provenance of the Devil and the dark desires that resided in me. Through the years of our acquaintance I had sought to banish these illegal, mortifying wants from my self -- alas, in vain. So I suffered in silence, grateful of this pain of his presence, for it was also my greatest joy.

An obviously vigorous tug on the bell-pull roused me from my sombre if melodramatic reverie. It also announced Inspector Lestrade's arrival and I descended to welcome him in.

"Mr. Holmes," the inspector greeted my friend as he preceded me into our sitting room. "I trust this dreary eve finds you well?"

"Whatever news of excitement you bring to us, inspector, it shall undoubtedly heighten my appreciation of Wednesdays," Holmes informed him as he took Lestrade's waterproof and steered him into the chair by the fire. "Chase away the chill first, Lestrade, and perhaps a dash -- MRS HUDSON! -- a dash of brandy would do you well? Or tea?"

A grateful smile graced Lestrade's countenance. "Much appreciated, Mr. Holmes."

"MRS HUDSON! -- ah, there you are, Mrs. Hudson. Please attend to the inspector's waterproof. And bring up some tea, at your convenience, if you please. Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."

As Mrs. Hudson was shooed out, I re-seated myself and sucked on my unlit pipe. The electric feel of Holmes' excitement relieved me greatly, for my friend had been in the doldrums for some time. Dearth in the need for his particular genius always had that effect on him, so knowing what it took for Lestrade to brave the fog -- a murder, perchance, or a case so odd it strained credulity -- I breathed easier. Holmes lived for such obstacles; the more curious the crime the less likely he was to eye his hypodermic syringe with set intentions.

A stout measure of brandy in hand, a cup of tea at his elbow, and a cigar clamped between his teeth, Lestrade turned to his attentive audience of two, one of which was fidgeting up a fury by the fireplace and the other, your humble chronicler, seated and attentive with a note-pad, a pen, and pipe at ready.

"I trust you have heard of the Lord Eddington case, Mr. Holmes," the inspector began. Holmes gestured impatiently towards the newspapers littering the floor. "Very well. Dr. Watson?"

In reply, I merely nodded, for my interest was greatly piqued. The papers had been full of the story: young Amos Eddington, the son of the late Lord Lucius Eddington, had gone missing the previous Sunday and had not been seen since. The police had resorted to trawling the Thames and questioning people as far away as Kensington, yet to no avail; his last known whereabouts placed him at his club's door, from which he had vanished with no trace.

"As you are familiar with the public details, I shan't bore you with them. I am utterly at my wit's end," Lestrade confessed, "for this case has me baffled like never before, Mr. Holmes. The facts point to conclusions that have been proved wrong; there is evidence that points to an entirely different set of facts; finally, there appears an abundance of characters involved, yet no clear suspect to investigate."

"The dramatis personae are, if I am not mistaken, Lady Eddington," Holmes interjected, referring to Lord Eddington's mother, "and Mr. Edward Cartwright -- the son of Lord Lucius Eddington's youngest sister and thus cousin to Amos -- as well as Lord Robert Marster and Lady Elenia Marster."

"The elder Lord Eddington has been deceased for some time now, correct?" I queried. The Marsters I remembered being family friends of the Eddingtons, people of impeccable character and place in the upper echelons of the high society.

"Quite so, Dr. Watson. Going on ten years now, Lady Eddington has been a widower. Lord Marster is beyond reproach, as is his wife; our young Mr. Cartwright has the capricious disposition of a passionate man, yet he is hardly a suspect. And then there is the matter of the glove."

Holmes' fidgeting hands stilled on the mantelpiece, where they had been arranging and re-arranging the varied knick-knacks occupying it to orders that eluded my sensibilities. He cast a sharp eye upon the inspector, as did I, for the newspaper accounts had mentioned nothing of a glove.

"The glove?" Holmes prompted.

"Found in the kitchen of Lord Marster's house on the very evening of Amos' disappearance," Lestrade explained. "Lady Eddington has identified it as one of hers, yet she claims the pair has been missing for several months and that she could not fathom how the glove turned up where it did. You, Mr. Holmes, seem to thrive on these things, so here we are."

From his pocket, the inspector presented a woman's glove to Holmes, who ardently seized it. As Lestrade and I watched, Holmes proceeded to fondle, tweak, tug, crumple, and measure the glove with his oftentimes-vexing yet characteristic attention to details quite unfathomable to either my eye or brain. Completing his scrutiny by sniffing the glove and inspecting it against the light of the fire, Holmes returned it to Lestrade with an imperious flourish.

"A fascinating object, my dear inspector," he uttered and flashed me one of his momentary smiles -- it was present one second, gone the next, with only a ghosting of white teeth remaining as my memento. "The glove was as it is, buttoned, upon discovery?"

"Yes, quite so."

"Very well. Pray continue."

Lestrade proceeded with a detailed account of his activities relating to the case, which I shall not re-iterate here, for the details are well known and amount to little but frustration for the venerable Yarder. And frustrated he was, I observed, as I scribbled down his words: he was twisting and turning in his chair and his hold on the glass was quite white-knuckled. Holmes, in stark contrast, had assumed his usual investigatory mien of apparent indifference, gazing alternatively at the inspector, the window, and one of his morning slippers that had taken seemingly permanent residence on the sideboard.

"...and so, Mr. Holmes," Lestrade concluded, "I've come to you for advice, for my progress seems to be temporarily stalled."

"Ah, the reputation of Scotland Yard once again hinges on yours truly?" Holmes ventured with a vague gesture of his hand and a sardonic tinge to his words. "How I wish you had sought me earlier, inspector, for I fear the trail may have gone cold in my absence."

Lestrade fidgeted again; he was not overtly fond of the occasions when a civilian excoriated his professional behaviour, even when said civilian was Sherlock Holmes himself. However, a person of intense intellect or unusual beauty -- a descriptor often attributed to Holmes in case of the former, and in my private thoughts, of the latter as well -- will be excused great many a thing that would otherwise scandalise polite company. Inspector Lestrade certainly took no permanent offence, having heard similar castigations from my companion in the past.

"Nevertheless, I should very much like for your eye to see what we have not," he implored Holmes as he stood up. His obsequiousness spoke volumes about the grave pressure he was under.

"Oh, very well," Holmes replied and clicked his tongue in what amounted to resignation on his part. "I should need to investigate the locales of the participants, as well as this pivotal glove again. Leave it with me, please."

"Certainly, Mr. Holmes," Lestrade said with obvious relief and laid the glove on the side table. "I'll send a carriage for ten o'clock to-morrow."

"Good evening, inspector."

Upon Lestrade's departure, my eyes were naturally drawn to the glove. I could sense Holmes' indulgent gaze on me as he subsided into his chair.

"A wonderful man, Lestrade -- the tenacity of an ox, as well as the brain of one. You know my methods, Watson. What do you make of the glove?"

I scrutinised the item in question. "A woman's glove, certainly, from her left hand. Expensive, though it has seen extensive use. The owner is obviously a woman of some means and taste, yet forgetful enough to leave it lying about."

"And?"

I shrugged, by now resigned to Holmes' superior vision when it came to minutiae. "That is all I see, Holmes. It is a glove, not a ledger of personal characteristics."

"Oh, Watson, come now! You disappoint me. In the narratives that you inflict upon the general public, you claim to be a student of my methods, yet you choose not to apply them even at this wondrous opportunity!"

Holmes' impassionate exclamation, though seemingly insulting, produced nothing but weary, sarcastic amusement in me. He is a man living in the constant torment of his too-keen senses and the power of his brain, which dictate that he should interact mostly with people more dim-witted and less perceptive than he -- an eternal frustration that is sure to drive any man insane. So I forgive him his outbursts, for they are merely convenient vents to that agitating madness with which he finds himself.

"What would you add to my observations, then?"

Holmes made a perfunctory gesture over the glove and glanced at me with that gleam in his eye that accompanies the supreme manifestations of his deductive intelligence. "A great deal, a great deal indeed. However, the point to remember, Watson, is that in addition to habits unbecoming of a proper lady, the owner has most peculiar and malleable hands."

"What, pray tell, do you mean?"

"All in good time, Watson. Shall I have the pleasure of your company to-morrow on this tiresome errand of Lestrade's?"

"Of course. In fact, I insist."

"Ah, my good Watson."

I barely heard Holmes' murmured words, for he had cast as affectionate gaze as he had ever managed in my direction; it promptly suffused me with warmth. Some of it must have transferred itself onto my countenance, for Holmes' eyes turned stranger still, their dark grey depths unfathomable yet riveting. I despaired, for whenever Holmes turned his scrutiny upon me, it had an embarrassing yet not wholly unexpected reaction on my body.

"I shall retire, then. Good night, Holmes," I said as I stood quite abruptly, cursing the weakness of my flesh. I received no reply from Holmes; he had already turned away, his mind in the world of his own making, one of deductions and logic.

***

I slept badly through the night, for I was plagued by mystifying, intimate dreams and the sound of Holmes' bow scraping against the oft-tortured strings of his violin. As dawn broke, my spirits were lifted by the clearing weather, yet not enough to banish the pull of insomnia upon my limbs.

"What do you make of this little mystery, Watson?" Holmes asked as we boarded our carriage. "Brentwood Hall!" he called out to the driver before ensconcing himself into his shawl, seated across from me and with a smile playing about his lips. It heartened me to see him in such good spirits.

"A true mystery, to me, as to why anyone should want to wish harm on Amos Eddington. By all accounts, he was a well-liked young man and few men of two-and-twenty years have acquired many enemies. The sole note of discord in the good characters of all involved seems to be the capricious nature of his cousin's temper."

"Ah, the young Mr. Cartwright," Holmes pronounced and flashed a sardonic smile as his eyes focused on points distant beyond my shoulder. "A rising star at Whitehall, if I'm not mistaken."

I snapped my fingers. "Holmes, you devil! I was certain the name was familiar, yet I could not place it. Indeed, secretary to Lord Hutchinson himself." Hutchinson, an old fox in the game of politics and a distinguished Cabinet Minister, was currently the leading candidate to become the next premier.

"Quiet me lest the word 'nepotism' fall from my lips," Holmes remarked with a tone so dry it would have cured plums; I nodded, for Lord Hutchinson's long-standing friendship with Sir Milton Cartwright, Edward's father, was well-known. "The rest of our assembled actors are no less impressive in their services to the Empire, which explains the extra-ordinary attention this simple disappearance has merited."

After a ride of about quarter of an hour, the carriage halted in front of Brentwood Hall, the home of the Marster clan. Upon exiting, we found Lestrade waiting for us. With little preamble, we were escorted into the house and on Holmes' request, to the kitchens.

"It's as we left it, Mr. Holmes, save for the glove that was found by the work table," Lestrade explained and pointed at a spot on the floor.

"As such?" Holmes asked and dropped the glove at the approximate location.

"Somewhat more underneath the table, but quite close, yes."

As if he had not heard Lestrade, Holmes fidgeted beside the glove, his eyes darting here and there. At one point, he knelt down and unceremoniously scooted his long frame underneath the tabletop, only to emerge on the other side to bend down further and study the floor tiles through his magnifying glass from a distance of a scant quarter inch. He proceeded to investigate the floor in this manner at several points; the inspector and I exchanged tolerant glances at the stream of whispered commentary and encouraging whistles and ejaculations that Holmes put forth during his probe.

"But, Lestrade," I ventured, quietly so as not to distract Holmes; "how can you be certain the glove is linked into this investigation at all?"

"I cannot be certain, but if there is one thing Mr. Holmes has taught me, it is to regard coincidences as anything but. The glove of the mother of the missing boy, appearing in the kitchen of his closest acquaintances on the very night of his disappearance? Surely quite strange a coincidence, Dr. Watson."

"I see your point," I replied, although some doubts still lingered. "So do you suspect the Marsters?"

"That was my first thought, but a valid motive is yet to surface, not to mention proof of involvement beyond a wayward glove." Lestrade sighed. "Perhaps you're right, Dr. Watson. Perhaps the glove has nothing to do with Lord Eddington."

"Oh, do not sell your instincts short, my dear Lestrade!" Holmes exclaimed as he stood. "The glove is of pivotal consequence in the matériel of this investigation. Did you, by any chance, notice these marks on the floor?"

"Chair marks, I presume?"

"Perhaps. They tell an intriguing tale hereabouts," Holmes mused and waved his long arm in an arc. "Alas, the floor has been swept not two days ago."

Lestrade shrugged. "As this is the sole kitchen in the house, we do need to allow for the Marsters to dine on occasion."

Holmes tutted, as if dining were an activity naturally subservient to his investigations. But before he could utter anything more, something caught his eye by the pantry door and he bent over so rapidly that for a moment, I thought he had collapsed. Instead, he had stooped to scrape something off the much-scrutinised floor into a small envelope.

"I am done here, inspector," he pronounced solemnly and put the envelope, along with the buttoned glove, into his pocket as he stood. "I would like to have a word with the cook and Lord Marster, if possible."

"Alas, Lord Marster is in Whitehall now, but Lady Marster has granted an audience."

"She will do. But first, the cook?"

Lestrade nodded. "Right away, Mr. Holmes. Smith?" The said constable nodded. "His lordship has graciously allowed us the use of his drawing room for the duration of our investigation. Shall we retire there, gentlemen?"

"A sit-down and a brandy -- splendid, Lestrade!"

We made our way to the sumptuous drawing room, which was decorated in dark leathers and the portraits of some seven generations of Marsters. Presently, the door re-opened and admitted the cook -- a woman whose girth fought to exceed her height. An apron was straining around her generous middle as if it were the sole thing keeping her proportions from becoming grotesque.

"Millicent Berker, sir," she said and curtsied with some difficulty.

"The esteemable cook of the household, I gather. Would you be so kind, Miss Berker, as to educate me regarding the configuration of your pantries?"

Had she been expecting a question, Holmes' was certainly not it. "Pardon me, sir?"

"Your pantries. Pantries, Miss Berker," Holmes repeated -- irritably, undoubtedly because he considered repetition a dullard's art. "How many are there and what is their internal organisation?"

"Well, two pantries, sir," she said in her lilting Yorkshire accent, obviously bewildered at the singular eccentricity of the gentleman addressing her. I could hardly contain my mirth. "One for dry goods, the other for the daily purchases of the market. The order is as it has always been."

"And how long have you been in the house?"

"Going on six years now, Mr. Holmes."

"Did you ever meet your predecessor? What was her name, if you know?"

"I did not have the pleasure of meeting Miss Wilbeforce, but some of the other staff -- Emily, the maid, at least -- have been employed by his lordship longer than I."

"Splendid," Holmes ejaculated and stood up to pace. "Thank you, Miss Berker; you may go. And Lestrade? Lady Marster, if you please."

As the cook waddled her way out the door, still gazing at Holmes with some perplexity, Lestrade sprang into action. Slipping through the side door, he returned not two minutes later with a tall, handsome woman of some five-and-thirty years. Her dress was a simple affair in dove grey velvet, sombre yet elegant; her raven hair was impeccably coiffed; her eyes were  shining with red-rimmed dismay.

"Mr. Holmes, so very good of you to assist us in this matter," she said as she offered her hand to Holmes; her voice held the hint of a Continental accent.

Grasping her hand, Holmes murmured his greetings and introduced me to the lady. I merited but a perfunctory glance, yet I was not affronted for one could say her manner was aloof towards all mankind. Taking a seat on the settee, she gestured towards Lestrade with one small, white hand.

"I do apologise for the early hour; it was entirely my thought to involve you in this matter. I hope I have not inconvenienced you. "

Holmes cast a sharp eye at Lestrade, who had the good grace to blush. "Not at all, milady," he said and sat down. "Pray, do tell the story as you have witnessed it."

The lady, though reticient in manner and appearance, proceeded not to mince her words. Her account was remarkably similar to what the papers had printed, yet her affection for the young Lord Eddington was palpable, as if he were the child she and her husband had never conceived. This observation of mine puzzled me, for the difference of ages between Lady Marster and Lord Eddington was scarcely a decade. However, when Holmes queried the lady as to her sentiments towards Lady Miriam Eddington, her reply caught my attention.

"Pah!" Lady Marster exclaimed and flipped open her fan with such violence I feared it would break. "That tottering nag, a fool unworthy of her husband's title. Why she dotes over that awful boy Edward Cartwright is quite beyond comprehension!"

This outburst somewhat stunned me, yet Holmes seemed as if it were exactly what he had been expecting to hear from the good lady. "You are not fond of the young man?" he queried.

Her ladyship fanned herself vigorously. "Certainly not! The boy has no manners to speak of; furthermore, I am quite convinced he was the sole culprit in poor Poppy's death."

Holmes' ears perked. "Poppy?"

"My husband's most priced foxhound, Mr. Holmes. A dreadful tragedy some ten years ago."

"Ah," Holmes uttered; I clamped my lips around my cigarette so as not to smile at his mien of dejection. "Milady, you have been most helpful in our case. I thank you for your time."

With a few additional pleasantries, Lady Marster sailed out of the room, her back straight and her fan clasped in a white-knuckled hand. As the door shut behind her, Holmes implored Lestrade to fetch the maid, Emily, only to have the inspector inform him that Thursdays were the maid's day of rest.

"A shame," Holmes said, frowning, and harrumphed. "Haste is of essence, but no matter. I shall speak with her at a later occasion, if you would be so kind to arrange it, Lestrade. Now, what of Lady Eddington?"

"I have requested an audience with her ladyship at one o'clock."

"Is there a doctor attending upon her?" I asked, for the sudden disappearance of an only son will certainly move the strongest of us.

"She is in remarkable spirits given the circumstances and has thus declined medical attention," Lestrade assured me as he stood. "Now, gentlemen, we must hurry lest we miss our appointment."

We lunched -- or rather, the inspector and I ate while Holmes inhaled his way through eight cigarettes -- at a restaurant around the corner before setting out towards Eddington Hall. During the short hansom ride, Holmes was remarkably quiet. Sitting back in the shadows, the only signs of liveliness on him were the steely glint in his eye and the faint grin that tugged at his lips; to Lestrade's intermittent attempts at engaging him in conversation, he did nothing but stare into a middling distance.

Eddington Hall is not the grandest hall that lines the great thoroughfare of Piccadilly, but it is certainly neither the most modest nor smallest. Since the death of Lord Lucius Eddington, Earl of Mayford and a man with a long and lucrative career in the East India Company, young Amos Eddington had assumed his father's title and lands. However, since all his uncles were accounted for -- two in India, one in the Americas -- changing the order of succession seemed to me very unlikely a motive.

A sombre groom whose livery was as impeccable as it was exquisite greeted us at the door. The room we were ushered into was equally lavish, replete with French furnishings and with a blazing fire chasing away the November chill. Our wait was only a few minutes, during which Holmes scrutinised the family portraits on the walls with rather more attention than their respective artistic values should have merited. However, before I could enquire as to the purpose of his study, the far door opened.

"Madam," Lestrade said and made a small bow as the lady entered. "So very kind of you to see us in this time of distress."

After Lestrade made introductions, the lady invited us to seat ourselves by the fire. The groom, Babish, re-entered with a carafe of excellent cognac, which warmed my insides to a remarkable degree as Holmes questioned the matriarch of the Eddingtons -- a formidable woman with the proportions and apparent constitution of the Rock of Gibraltar.

"Madam, could you, in your own words, please inform us of the happenings of the eight of this month?"

"The day Amos disappeared," Lady Eddington pronounced. Save for a faint quiver of her voice, no emoting was apparent. "A most ordinary Sunday for us. I occupied myself for most of the day with my correspondence, while Amos went to visit with Lord Marster and Edward retired to his room. After supper, Amos fetched his hat and overcoat, announcing that he intended to spend the evening at his club. Sunday is my card night, Mr. Holmes, so I did not notice he never came home until the next morning when the maid found his bed un-slept and alerted me."

"What game do you play, Lady Eddington?"

"Bridge, Mr. Holmes, with people I have played with for the better part of three decade. They are well above reproach, and regardless, they all arrived after Amos had parted." For the first time, a ghost of a smile appeared on Lady Eddington's lips. "Our evening was quite profitable for me, and therefore it ran late. I retired after half past eleven, if my memory serves."

"And where was Mr. Cartwright during the evening?"

"In his office on the first floor, tending to Lord Hutchinson's matters, I presume."

"Babish, the groom, has testified sending the page to deliver an evening meal of cold beef and beer to him at fifteen to nine o'clock," Lestrade interjected. "I have spoken with him, along with the hansom driver, who recalls the clock chiming seven o'clock bells when he let Lord Eddington out at the Boodle's Club entrance on St. James' Street."

At this point, our discourse was interrupted by the door, which opened with considerable force. In barged a young man of some five-and-twenty years, lean as whippet in appearance and clad in the latest fashion that young men of style prefer, right down to the purple borders of his frock coat. His chestnut hair flew wildly about his head, he was clean-shaven, and possessed a disturbing intensity to his eyes.

"Dear aunt, are you not supposed to be resting? I shall have to call Dr. Phelps soon," the young man chided, giving us but a passing glance as he came to Lady Eddington's side.

"The gentlemen are here to help us find Amos," the lady replied, regarding the boy with as much love as I have ever seen an aunt bestow on her favourite nephew. "Edward, you know Inspector Lestrade; Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, this is Mr. Cartwright."

"Sherlock Holmes?" Cartwright said, his interest suddenly on my companion. "The private detective?"

"Indeed," Holmes muttered, unruffled, as he met the young man eye to eye. It did not surprise me one whit that after a moment, it was the young man who had to avert his gaze. "A pleasure, Mr. Cartwright, I'm sure. Fortunate that you should be here now, for I wished to present some questions to you."

"Naturally, Mr. Holmes. Anything I can do to help to uncover my poor cousin's whereabouts, please, do ask."

Despite his eagerness to help, his account seemed to shed no new light on the matter. What was more interesting was young Cartwright himself, for he was somewhat as I had envisioned a young Sherlock Holmes to have been, save for the Bohemian tendencies that blunted the sharpness of my companion's more abrasive qualities. That tendency for sloth was replaced by ambition in Mr. Edward Cartwright; he fairly reeked of hunger and impatient cunning, and I did not for a second doubt his competence in whatever services he provided to Lord Hutchinson, for his brain was obviously as quick as his manner.

His account was brief, for he did indeed spend the evening with Lord Hutchinson's papers, not leaving his room until the morning to discover the house in upset over his missing cousin.

"Very well," Holmes said, lounging in his wingback chair with indolence that was borderline scandalous. For a moment, he tapped his fingertips together, thinking, as we all gazed expectantly at him; then, he sprang upright and regarded Lady Eddington with a keen eye. "I thank you, milady and Mr. Cartwright, for your time. Please, do not hesitate to call upon me should anything you deem relevant come across you."

Lady Eddington stood as well. "Please, Mr. Holmes, I implore you -- find my boy," she said, offering a slightly shaking hand to Holmes.

"I shall do my very best, milady," he replied, ignoring her hand. "Watson, Lestrade, let us go."

Babish delivered our hats and sticks to us and we were back out in the raw November air. The day had cleared during our visit to Eddington Hall, and I could somewhat discern the pale circle of the sun upon the sky. However, the particulars of the weather barely registered with me, for the excitement of the mystery had roused my good spirits.

"What now, Mr. Holmes?" Lestrade queried.

"Dinner, my dear inspector," Holmes proclaimed and took my arm. "Dr. Watson and I shall retire to Baker Street to nourish ourselves, and then I shall conduct some enquiries both into this matter and the properties of copper sulphates."

"So you have some inclination as to the whereabouts of Amos Eddington?"

"I have my suspicions and a theory that is passable," Holmes said, and pressed his finger onto his lips. "More information is needed, however, before this dark matter can be fully unravelled for you to see, Lestrade."

"You think we may find him alive?"

"Alas, I fear that young Lord Eddington may be lost to us."

"Holmes! Unless you are absolutely certain, please, do not make such pronouncements," I remonstrated, grasping at Holmes' arm with my free hand. My mood sank upon the solemn look he gave me.

"I never theorise on anything save the facts, my dear Watson; as things stand, I hold little hope."

"Well, for once, I do hope you're wrong, Mr. Holmes. Do let me know when you have news for me," Lestrade said and touched the brim of his hat. "Good afternoon, gentlemen."

After we bid our good-byes, we hailed a cab from the street. As we sped towards Baker Street, I leaned towards Holmes and tapped him on the knee. This jerked him out of his silent contemplation and he offered me a desultory smile, kind even in its preoccupation.

"Yes, Watson?"

"You are being more secretive than on most occasions."

"For valid reasons, I assure you, my friend. I cannot elucidate on motives that are still unclear to me, even when the acts of the players in this mortal play are becoming clearer."

"What will your next actions be, then?"

Holmes smiled again. "I daresay an evening with the chemicals beckons me."

"But what of the case, Holmes?" I implored of him.

"I have some facts but not all; the rest will have to await to-morrow to be unearthed. Little can be done at this moment except send off some investigative notes and, perhaps, mull the matter over a pipe."

Which was exactly what he did upon our return to Baker Street. We dined in amicable quiet, after which I settled down by the fire with my pipe and the latest volume of Clark Russell sea-stories. Holmes smoked two pipes before abandoning that trusty tool with an exclamation of disgust. After some further histrionics, he retreated to his chemistry tools and through the evening, a steady stream of mumbled observations regarding saltpeter, the whistle of the Bunsen burner, and the roiling racket of the retort were my music. I retired when the experiment proved to be a particularly malodorous one, leaving my friend to his single-minded studies of substances that could interest only a mind such as his.

***

When I awoke the next morning and went downstairs, Mrs. Hudson testily informed me that Holmes had already departed. I did not doubt her word or question her nettled condition, for all that remained of my friend was a steady stench emanating from his still-smouldering experiment on the side-table and a scrawled note that had been affixed onto the butter-dish by the ingenuous means of a dollop of blackberry preserves:

Watson --

I shall be gone for the morning. You would confer a great favour upon me by availing yourself for this afternoon; things are in motion and Joachim appears at the Hall.

Ever, S. H.

P.S. Please do not tamper with the experiment I have abandoned upon the side-table, for the contents are virulently toxic and I would very much see you unharmed upon my return. H.

With a laugh, I sat down for breakfast and then busied myself with correspondence until after noon, when I heard the downstairs door. Momentarily, Holmes stepped in, inexplicably swarthy in complexion and wearing a pea-jacket with a striped scarf about his neck. He was the epitome of a sea-hand fresh off the great ships and in evident good spirits.

"Ah, good afternoon, Watson! I shall be with you momentarily," he remarked and disappeared into his bedroom, only to emerge moments later with his normal pallor intact and in his usual black garb.

"How were your investigations this morning?"

"Quite educational, I am pleased to report," he said and made his way to the beaker of liquid still foaming away at the side-table. Lifting the beaker and studying the electric blue concoction with a keen eye, he grunted in a deeply self-satisfied manner. "Things are falling into their appropriate places, indeed they are, Watson," he pronounced with great volume and relish, even as he twirled the pernicious liquid in the beaker. "I trust you have had as profitable a morning as I?"

"So you have reached a conclusion?"

"Oh, yes. It all hinged on the copper sulphate, as I suspected." He turned, smiling with all his teeth and brandishing the noxious beaker as if it were the Sovereign's Orb. "I hold here a revolution in stain analysis. A triumph, Watson, a triumph!"

"For heaven's sake -- the case, Holmes, the case!"

"Ah, yes, the case," he uttered and set the beaker down, his smile turning devilish. "As I mentioned in my note, violas will be on my mind this afternoon. You are, I hope, joining me in a good measure of Brahms and a dinner at Marcini's?"

"Of course, it would be my pleasure, but Holmes -- the case?"

"Patience, my friend, for answers are forthcoming." Pausing to think, he pressed his finger on his lips. "Indeed, to that purpose and end, I might need your presence for a night-time jaunt into the bowels of London -- your usual sangfroid and possibly the good aim of your revolver, to be precise."

"It involves things quite illegal, this jaunt?"

"Possibly."

"Dangers, too?"

"I do hope not, but one rarely knows of these things," Holmes said with an indolent sweep of his hand that seemed to encompass the entirety of the great city around us. "As for the spirit of adventure, one can only hope, for I know such things excite not only your soul but your writer's pen as well."

Holmes' gaze implored me to reply in the affirmative in his request for help, as if there had been any possibility of me declining his plea. With admittedly over-enthusiastic an exclamation, I agreed to join him in both the concert and the adventures he had proposed. The warmth of his expression upon my answer made it seem very worth any possible discomfort or danger that might ensue; indeed, it had been clear to me for the longest time that I could do most anything on a whim, even face certain death, if Sherlock Holmes were at my side.

***

Through the concert, my attention persisted on wandering from the music to our present mystery, which confounded me evermore as I thought of it. Holmes refused to discuss the particulars thereof, insisting on silence during the recital and the topics of the Mercator Conformal Projection and Chopin's contributions to the pianoforte for discussion through dinner. Suggestions to otherwise fell unheeded upon his ears.

Upon our return to Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson greeted us at the door.

"Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson -- your timing is most fortunate. There is a young lady to see you."

"And messages?" Holmes queried of Mrs. Hudson.

"Two arrived in your absence. I do wish, Mr. Holmes, that you would cease to use the wretched street Arabs to conduct your affairs; the racket they make is quite appalling."

Grasping the proffered papers, Holmes graced Mrs. Hudson with his most charming smile, which invariably made our dear land-lady blush to the very roots of her silver locks. I stifled my smile, reflecting that the world did not lose only an actor, but also a play-boy, when Sherlock Holmes devoted his attentions to the pursuit of justice; his manner with women, when he chose to exercise it, was most charming.

"I do apologise for the disturbance, Mrs. Hudson, and you have my word that I shall chastise the lads when I next put my eyes upon them."

"Very good, Mr. Holmes," Mrs. Hudson replied, pleased.

As we entered the sitting room, I smiled, for Mrs. Hudson's estimate of the woman's age had been generous. She was fast approaching forty years, though she was as handsome as any girl of five-and-twenty; if not for her plain dress and simple, unassuming hat, I would have guessed her a noble-born, for her bearing was queenly and manner courteous.

"Emily Jones, I presume," Holmes greeted her and doffed his gleaming top hat before gesturing her into a chair. "I see that Lady Marster was kind enough to lend her carriage for your use," he added even as he glanced through his messages.

"Why, yes, Mr. Holmes, that is quite true, yet I fail to see how you have come to this observation."

Holmes offered her one of his quicksilver smiles before folding himself into the chair opposite her, quite indifferent to the conditions his contortions imposed on his best frock coat and trousers.

"The state of your boots clearly indicates that you took means of transportation beyond walking or the omnibus here, yet one assumes a person on a maid's salary cannot afford a hansom for any old journey through London." He made a vague gesture in my general direction. "This is my associate, Dr. Watson."

Miss Jones nodded to me and unearthed a cigarette from her skirts and set light to it. This surprised me, for smoking was not in those days considered an appropriate habit for the female sex, yet Holmes seemed not the least perturbed -- possibly due to the nicotine-yellow stains decorating the young woman's fingers, I deduced in retrospect.

"I have come at the urging of Inspector Lestrade, to whom you expressed your desire to question me. I do hope I can be of assistance in this dreadful matter, Mr. Holmes," Miss Jones said, and I was once again struck at the sophistication of her manner. "Please, ask what you may."

"You have been employed by Lady Marster for a number of years, correct?"

"Some fifteen years this winter, yes. I am her chamber-maid."

"And whereabouts in the house do you sleep?"

"In the maid's room adjacent to Lady Marster's chambers, although I fail to see how the fact bears any connexion to this tragedy."

"I'm merely attempting to orient myself within the house; I do apologise for my direct manner of questioning," Holmes said in his blandest tones. "How would you describe the young Lord Eddington and your contact with him on the day of his disappearance?"

Miss Jones frowned, the cigarette held expertly in her fingers seemingly forgotten. "Young master Eddington has been a staple of our household for some years now, although I could not give you an exact date. Since the unfortunate demise of his father, I feel he has looked upon Lord Marster for influence in all things male -- the art of hunting, et cetera. He is a frequent visitor, dining with us at least once per week. I personally find him a charming, well-mannered young man, albeit exceedingly shy of manner."

"Very good, Miss Jones, I applaud you for your view. Now, on the matter of the eight?"

"As was his habit, Lord Eddington appeared without prior announcement that day, in good spirits and wanting of a rubber of whist with his lordship. They retired to Lord Marster's drawing room while I attended to the lady in the parlour, for she wished to consult me on the seating arrangements for the winter dance."

"What time did Lord Eddington arrive?"

"I would put the time at half to two in the afternoon, at earliest."

"Thank you. Pray continue."

Miss Jones shrugged with elegance and put out her cigarette. "He and his lordship emerged from the drawing room in time for tea, after which Lord Eddington parted. That was the last of him that I saw." Her voice wavered at the last words, as if overcome by emotion. "He is a darling young man, Mr. Holmes. I do hope you find him."

"A hope, Miss Jones, that must never be abandoned," Holmes pronounced with all seriousness. "I thank you for coming here, for you have been of invaluable help."

As she stood to leave, our guest expressed her desire to help in any manner she could. Holmes added a few words of encouragement as he steered her out, after which he flung himself back into his chair with a satisfied air about him.

"She was scarcely a member of the working class," I remarked upon her departure. "I do wonder, what is her tale?"

"Oh, I suspect her tale is more wondrous than you can imagine, my dear Watson. It would also surprise me greatly if Jones indeed were her real name. A lady of such posture and bearing should have far more illustrious an appellation."

Holmes' humoured tone turned my head. "You sound as if you have already puzzled her mysteries to clarity. Surely, you do not suspect her of this crime?"

"Oh, quite the contrary -- her affection for young Eddington was genuine and no villainess speaks of her victims in the present tense of verbiage. Nay, she is a key player, but not our culprit."

This utterance of his confounded the matter in my head ever further, and I expressed as much to him. With a bark of amused laughter, Holmes regarded me, and there was a feverish glint to his eye. I recognised the look as that of a man possessed with wisdom beyond mere mortals -- not an unusual occurrence for Sherlock Holmes, I hasten to add, but disconcerting nonetheless.

"Later, my dear fellow, later, for we have a meeting with a gentleman," Holmes said and stood up with alacrity. He flicked open his watch and tutted at what he saw there. "Indeed, we must hurry lest we miss our mark. Your revolver is oiled and loaded, I gather?"

"It is so."

"Then, Watson, let us gather our hats and be off."

***

A short cab ride later, to my utter confusion, we once more found ourselves in front of Brentwood Hall.

"But heavens, Holmes, what are we doing here? Surely we cannot see Lord Marster at this hour, for they have most certainly retired for the night."

"The solution to this little mystery, it hinges on the kitchen floor, my dear Watson -- the kitchen floor, the maid, the art of painting, and, beyond all, the buttoned glove that erstwhile belonged to Lady Eddington; all we are presently doing is establishing a motive so that we may flush out the culprit. Thus, Brentwood Hall."

"But the items and persons you refer to seem of little importance to me, and offer no clue as to our present location," I objected. "Yet I have seen all as you have."

"Once more, Watson, you look, yet you do not see."

"But--"

Holmes hushed me to quiet before I could utter another word, and guided my eye to a-cross the street. His hand on my arm was firm and radiating of heat, thus so distracting that I failed to see our mark until the sound of the door caught my attention. A man had emerged from the building; he was recognisable from the numerous pictures I had seen of him, though he wore a long cloak and a battered billycock quite unsuitable to his position.

"Good Lord, Holmes -- that's Lord Marster, is it not?"

"Very good eye you have there, my friend. Indeed, our target for the night is Lord Marster himself." As he said this, a light brougham drew to a stop in front and Lord Marster climbed in. "Quick, Watson, lest we lose him!"

At Holmes' exclamation, we jumped to stand at the curb and hailed a hansom cab. With the added motivation of a half-sovereign, the driver whipped his horse into following the brougham at most considerable a clip. With a hearty, soundless laugh, Holmes wiggled into a comfortable position and we were off, clattering through a seemingly endless maze of cobbled streets.

Our ride took a long while and I was quite thoroughly confused as to its direction and destination that, by the time we disembarked, I knew we were close to the river only by the smell. Upon my query, Holmes informed me that we resided in Whitechapel.

"But what possible business would a man of Lord Marster's standing have here?" I queried, for our surroundings made me finger my revolver butt.

"I have an inkling, but we shall know for certain very soon. Here he is now, let us follow."

We tailed our mark through dingy alleys and wretched streets lined with slop-shops and gin-shops, with opium dens and other facilities of dubious purpose. At last, he turned into a cul-de-sac and knocked on a filthy door. A panel in the door slid open and after a few quiet words were exchanged, the door opened to admit him.

"We have reached our destination, it seems," Holmes remarked and imitated Lord Marster's peculiar knock -- two long, one short, one long -- upon the door with his walking stick. The panel slid aside again and Holmes doffed his hat. "Good evening. The gentleman who just entered your premises is a friend and he recommended we join him here to-night."

"Password," demanded a deep, gravel voice, though all we could see was the bright glare of the lantern.

"'Guinea' will do, I dare guess," Holmes said with a quirky smile and produced the aforementioned coin; "and I assure you, we are neither the law nor the press."

As the coin was nabbed from his hand, I balked at the levels of secrecy, for even opium dens employed ruffians only to eject unruly clients, not to keep out perfectly respectable ones. I laid my mind to rest when the door opened, for it seemed I would get my answers soon.

"Come, Watson," Holmes hushed and grasped my arm; "and I must implore you, do not be alarmed by anything you may see, nor do not exclaim your surprise. We are in grave danger if you do."

"You may count on me, Holmes," I whispered back.

The look Holmes gave me was overtly fond, yet somehow vulnerable. "Ah, how I wish your innocence should remain as it stands, my dear Watson."

Before I could query him on this odd statement, he hushed me to be silent again, and we went in. Upon passing the doorman -- a Scandinavian fellow with arms as big as hams and a scowl worthy of a pugilist -- we were relived of our coats and hats and directed towards a staircase. Disorientation set in as we ascended for the stairs lay in near darkness; a door opened for us at the upper end and I stepped in after Holmes, only to stop still where I stood.

"Holmes, what manner of a place is this?" I whispered, a cold hand of dread grasping at my heart.

"A private club, for reasons that should be plain to your eye, Watson," he remarked, unperturbed. "Let us sit down and observe."

Little of his words registered with my senses, however, for I was thoroughly preoccupied by the sight of the room itself. Lit with an assortment of gas-lights, it was indeed a gentlemen's club of sorts, although of a kind I had not visited before. In most of the ample leather chairs sat a man, often a pipe or a cigar clamped between his teeth, discussing matters unknown with the other men in his vicinity; others frowned over a game at the card and billiards tables. All this seemed ordinary enough and would not have merited my attention, save for the leathered sofa by one wall, which held two gentlemen embracing with intimacy beyond friendship.

Spurred on by this sight, I scrutinised the other men with a closer eye and saw their unusual closeness and the hands that lingered on knees and arms a moment longer than suitable in polite company. When Holmes steered me into a vacant chair and winked a boy in buttons over, I was glad, for my limbs felt watery.

"Whisky with soda, two, please," Holmes said to the boy, before glancing at me. "On second thought, save your gasogene the trouble. My companion needs his alcohol undiluted."

"'Is first time 'ere, sir?" queried the boy.

Holmes gave me a kindly, indulgent look. "His naivete in the ways of men is one of his charms, certainly. Now, run along and fetch us our drinks."   The boy bowed, gave Holmes an insolent, flirtatious wink, and hurried on his way. Upon his return, I had somewhat collected myself and could once again find my voice.

"Does this place not vex you, Holmes?"

"Nothing, save for the sky falling, holds the power of surprise over me, Watson. In this fair city of ours, every whim and preference can be catered to, given ample investigation of opportunities and means."

"Had you said this before to-day, Holmes, I would have scoffed at the thought, yet no more."

I relaxed after a moment, for the whisky was good eased my initial shock. I could think with rational means again, and where my thoughts led me was shocking, yet it should not have been; the sole thing that continues to perplex me even to this day about my existence before that evening was how I had survived as an unwitting monk, when my desires were so very obvious.

My closeness to Holmes had been an undeniable cornerstone of my existence, yet I had never dared to take my thoughts further than friendship. As I sat in that shadowed corner with straight whisky burning through my throat, I came to realise why my dark dreams had come to pass and how, at last, things had come to a head. That in the eyes of law what I was and these men around me were was criminal did not enter my mind then, and has not entered since -- for what is love, if not the most natural thing in a man?

I wanted not to watch the other men discussing or playing cards amongst themselves; I wanted to be one of them, so that I should take my companion's delicate hand and press it between mine -- not as a gesture of friendship, but as one of courting. I wanted to feel the wiry strength of his arm and his shoulder, hear the changing cadence of his breath as I would undo his tie and collar to see all the pale, perfect expanses of his skin, to touch him to show how much he meant to me and my poor, taxed heart.

There needed to be resolution regarding my Purgatory, I knew; it needed to be that night.

As if he had read my thoughts -- while of course he had not -- Holmes touched my arm. I jumped, only to be placated by his amused snuff of laughter and a nod towards the far end of the club.

"Our mark is active this evening, and a good acquaintance of a number of people here," he remarked; "it seems to me he is making enquiries of some sort."

Indeed, as my eyes found Lord Marster, he was conversing with a knot of men, standing amidst their comfortable group of chairs. The men were obviously familiar to him and of high class, for their dress was meticulous almost to the point of foppishness; neither Holmes' frothy cravat nor my white tie would have stood out in that company.

"His investigation seems not to yield much in the way of results," I noted as his lordship received a succession of shaking heads. "I do wonder, what is the information he is questing for?"

"Why, the whereabouts of young Amos Eddington, naturally."

This proclamation of Holmes' turned my head. "Why in the name of all that is holy would he come to this place to ask such questions?"

"It makes perfect sense, my dear Watson, if one assumes Lord Eddington was also a member of this rather exclusive club."

"Holmes! You don't think Lord Marster and Amos Eddington are--"

"Romantically involved?" he submitted, rolling the first R into a sharp, mocking sound. "Oh, yes, indeed they are. Observe the severe countenance his lordship inhabits, the urgency of his manner, and most importantly, the golden ring upon his ring finger."

"What of the ring? It seems perfectly ordinary an heirloom."

"It would be so, were it not the exact same ring I observed on Lord Eddington's finger in his portrait that resides on the wall of Lady Eddington's sitting room."

***

After this revelation, Holmes decreed we had seen enough and we made our way outside. A swift walk to the nearest thoroughfare yielded a hansom cab for us, wherein we both sank into silence. Holmes was in his usual state of preoccupation, brows drawn together below the gleaming brim of his top-hat, his chin resting on his chest; I noticed this with a passing manner, for I spent my journey observing not him but the turmoil that roiled inside me.

As we mounted the stairs at Baker Street and entered our sitting room, Holmes pulled off his coats, coming to stand in front of the fireplace in his shirt-sleeves and black waistcoat. I meandered over to the wicker chair, yet did not sit in it as I gazed at Holmes. He invited questions with the barest nod of his head.

"You have had Lord Marster's acquaintance before this case?"

"Oh, yes. I met him briefly some years ago, during that case with Lord St. Smythe; during my investigations, I was forced to take part in a social gathering at Brentwood Hall, where my alter ego was introduced to his lordship."

"Ah -- the case of the missing governess who had ran off with the statue! I recall you mentioning that incident, for it occurred while I was away in Scotland for my father's will."

"Quite so, and I applaud you for your memory, Watson. Yes, it was then that I met Lord Marster."

"And you have been in his presence since?"

"Alas, that was the sole occasion I've had the pleasure of his company."

"But if your contact with the man has been limited to a few courtesies years in the past, how did you figure him to be a," -- I hesitated, for it was hard for me to apply such close-shaving monikers -- "a sodomite? The man is married, to begin with," I added, racing away from the offensive word with further verbiage.

Holmes rapped his fingers sharply on the mantelpiece on which his arm was resting. His gaze rested longingly on the morocco case where his seven-percent solution resided. "Let me ask you this, Watson," he offered in a quiet voice; "do you not recognise another man of military history upon first meeting?"

Harking back to cases involving a varied number of Majors and Colonels, I could only reply in the affirmative.

"How is it, then, that you come to recognise them, even sans uniform?"

"There is a bearing and a gait; the handkerchiefs in the sleeves and the squint of a man used to gazing into the sun in search of the enemy," I ventured, shrugging; "the Devil's in the details, as you have so often taught me."

At this, he finally turned his gaze on me, and there was a mixture of affection and abstraction warring in the depths of his dark, piercing eyes. "Indeed. In these men, you see a mirror image of yourself -- your own bearing and gait. It is exactly the same innate knowledge with which I recognised Lord Marster's true nature in affairs du cœur."

It took a good moment or two before the importance of what Holmes was conveying became clear to me. When it did, I was forced to sit down, for my knees were dissolving under me and my breath exhaled itself in one big gust of surprise.

Later on, as I reflected upon the matter, it did not surprise me how he had kept a secret from me, for he was a consummate actor; it merely dismayed me that he had hid this thing from me. I knew of his substance use and of his cases that skirted good taste and laws of all kinds, yet he had not revealed himself one bit in this criminal matter of his heart.

But all that sprang to my mind later; in immediacy, all I was able to think of was that I had been as blind as a bat, for this revelation explained a great many things. His dismissive approach to the female sex; his derision of the softer emotions; his occasional misantrophy -- all had been the play-acting of a man with a secret. The truth came to me in a bolt of insight: he had been uncertain, of my reaction and of my judgement. As it was, he stood by the fireplace awaiting my reply, tense as a pulled bow and, to my admittedly prejudiced eye, as handsome as the Devil himself.

"For God's sake, Watson, say something!" Holmes barked as my silence stretched; the slap of his hand on the mantelpiece echoed like the report of a revolver. "Anything but this damnable quiet!"

Not a word could I manage, for all I could think of was that my friend, the celebrated Sherlock Holmes, was a deviate. In light of my own discoveries regarding myself, the coincidence struck me as a sign of a higher power playing games of amusement, and I had a reaction I found quite appropriate for it -- to wit: laughter. I threw back my head and let loose great soul-relieving hysterics that intensified whenever I glimpsed at my companion's direction, for never had I seen such a look of utter bafflement on Sherlock Holmes' countenance; he had, most obviously, expected dismay or horror in the stead of this overpowering mirth.

"I think, Holmes, that you are in the presence of one of the most absolute cowards in England," I uttered between my body-wracking chuckles. "Why, I should be put out like an old dog."

Still catching my breath from my laugh, I stood and came to stand in front of Holmes. I let him look at me, for I was enjoying what I had long since memorised. I knew the imperial tilt of his head and the scent of lime-cream and fine tobacco that lingered about him; the gleam of his hair and the lush shape of his lips, I had observed before. I craved new sensations: the feel of his smooth cheek and his fine bones and ivory skin under my fingertips. A most intoxicating, attractive man, he was to me; the substitutes of which I had availed myself over the years could not hold a candle to him.

"I have to confess I am in complete dark as to your meaning, Watson. Pray, why do you accuse yourself of cowardice, when such nomenclature is entirely unjustified?"

I smiled at him; I smiled at the eloquent and aloof shield that I knew he erected to hide both the scars of his self-isolation as well as his manic, all-consuming acumen. That moment, he was beautiful to me -- not for his exterior, but because of his fragile soul that I had, finally, glimpsed.

"On that day that I first laid my eyes upon you, Sherlock Holmes, in that dreary hospital laboratory, I knew there was something quite exceptional about you," I murmured, mesmerised by the immaculacy of his cravat knot. I longed to untie it. "However, what you have not seen in me during all these years of our acquaintance, my one exceptional quality, is that which I have never dared to tell you."

"But what--"

He got no further, for my hand had come to his neck and I had leaned in to press my mouth on his.

To this day, I am unable to account for that kiss, for my memory of it has deserted me in its entirety. I dimly recall the delectable curve of his lips and the savoury traces of hash tobacco and whisky and desire upon his tongue, yet I do not know whether we stood there for a minute or an entire eternity, devouring one another. But what I recall most is how the kiss swelled my soul; it felt as if I had reached out and touched upon the face of God Himself. What reservations I might have held as to my true nature, they vanished that moment.

At last, I was forced to draw back lest I lose consciousness from lack of air and sheer bliss. While I caught my breath, Holmes pressed his fingers to his lips, as if not believing what had taken place upon them.

"Oh. I see."

Never before had I witnessed his magniloquence reduced to mere monosyllables, and it brought a new smile to my face. "'Oh,' Holmes? 'I see?' Have I rendered the mighty Sherlock Holmes speechless?"

"You render me speechless from day to day, my dear Watson," he remarked, and there was a measure of his usual sinister amusement in his voice; "indeed, you drive me senseless on the occasion, yet rarely as much as you just have. I am, in a word, befuddled."

"Befuddled, regarding which matter at hand?"

"Befuddled as to why you should have...kissed me as you did," he said. I could well see how his sallow cheeks flushed at the last words, and how his eyes shaded to the dark passions I could feel stirring inside me.

"Did you not enjoy it, then?"

"That is not the question, Watson!" His gesture was pure frustration. "I am merely attempting to ascertain your motives."

"Ascertain my motives?" I repeated, somewhat amused by his addled state, for I did not know how much more pellucid I could make the facts than I had by kissing him. "I rather think I was being unambiguous, if not very articulate, in my demonstration."

"Quite so. However, Watson," he murmured, a faint smile gracing his reddened lips; "one could say that I lack the necessary frame of reference against which to judge your actions."

"Ah, I see. From this, I may infer that your, hm, homosexuality has hitherto been more of the theoretical, rather than the practical?"

Before answering, Holmes leaned his shoulder against the mantelpiece and stroked his head, as he was wont to do when reminiscing upon a matter; had he held a pipe, he most certainly would have been tapping its amber against his forehead.

"The practical matters have not been imperative in the past, for, as you have remarked on many an occasion, I have numerous other eccentricities from which to draw upon ways to pass my time," he said, lecturing through his vague smile; "however, this does not mean I have not conjectured on the practicalities privately. Somehow, you, John Watson, feature in those conjectures with alarming regularity. Often, even."

Deciphering Holmes' convoluted speech, while being severely distracted by the mere fact of his extreme proximity, took a good moment or two from me. When I did work to the kernel of his message, it made my heart skip one of its steady beats.

"Oh, my dear Holmes," I breathed, reaching for him. My fingers slid inside his high collar. "My conjectures are far simpler than yours, I think. I only wish to have you in my arms, undressed of these contraptions so that I may show you, not with words but with my actions, the entirety of what you have come to mean to me."

As I spoke, I had drawn Holmes close, and my last words were but a rough whisper against the smooth plane of his cheek. I burned inside, intoxicated with the need that coursed through my veins. It seemed to infect Holmes, for when I put my arms around him, he kissed me with the broad span of his desperation and want.

From that night onwards, to the present day and henceforth, deviancy was not a matter of theory alone to Sherlock Holmes, or to me. It was knowledge into which we have delved on innumerable occasion since I met this other Holmes that is not a reasoning machine, but a wicked, beautiful creature of fire.

My friend, the celebrated Sherlock Holmes, is a man of skilled, cold hands and a most nimble tongue. He has endless curiosity and astounding inventiveness to complement his lack of experience; he has few inhibitions regarding his body and a number of odd desires that never fail to make my blood burn. He hungers for this knowledge of my flesh as he hungers for any other thing that interests him: with intensity that leaves me breathless and a slave to his touch. What he learns he applies like a master of the art -- sometimes with too much cool efficiency for my preferences, but those instances are always off-set by the rare moment when he is screaming and senseless, scraping bloody furrows into my back as I taste and touch him.

Occasionally, I worry that we shall exhaust all variations in the art of carnal pleasure, yet I am heartened that such sad a moment is yet to occur. That occasion will, perchance, arrive and signal the end of his interest, for he is as fickle as he is cerebral in these matters.

In my darkest moments, I hope that before that day, I shall have the opportunity to render him to such a state of languor that when I speak of love, he will not have the strength to escape my words.

***

The following morning, for the first time but by far not the last, I awoke in Sherlock Holmes' bed. He himself had vacated it at some time during my slumber, yet I could still discern both his personal scent as that of our love-making in the beddings. I spent a shamefully indulgent minute or two inhaling those scents to my heart's content, before exiting in search of my erstwhile bedmate.

I found Holmes in the sitting room, smoking his morning pipe and sprawled in a chair with our breakfast in front of him. While slovenly in matters of organisation, Holmes is rather fastidious when it comes to his toilet and attire; thus, it was all I could do so as not to laugh when I saw the state of him. He was unshaven, clad in only his dressing-gown, and his hair stuck out from his scalp like that of a scarecrow's; if not for the friction provided by his dressing-gown, he would have slid onto the floor -- so lax and boneless was his epicurean posture.

"I should think Mrs. Hudson would be scandalised to come upon you in your present state, Holmes," I remarked, quite seriously, albeit with an irresistible smile tugging at my lips. I seated myself opposite him and pulled the eggs towards my plate.

"You deduce correctly, my dear Watson -- she indeed remarked on my unkempt habitus with an air of dismay as she came to set for breakfast."

"And with which explanation did you vouchsafe her? Surely not the truth?"

"Hah!" Holmes exclaimed, waving his pipe in the air. "That would have been a lovely scene, indeed."

"Yet truth is the highest of virtues, is it not, Holmes? You yourself have made a profession out of seeking it," I remarked as I cracked my egg with a knife.

"So you are of the opinion that I should have disclosed the truth to Mrs. Hudson? That the unfortunate state of my hair is entirely due to Dr. Watson's woeful inability to find the bed-post and his subsequent decision to make do with my pate as an adequate substitute in its stead?"

Holmes' voice was hoarse, possibly because he had spent a considerable portion of the previous night screaming into the pillows, yet the indignation was clear in it. And my culpability was undeniable, for I had indeed pulled at his hair here and there in the throes of my passion. However:

"Do not claim innocence in the matter, Holmes. May I remind you that it was you who rendered me to a state where one is liable to grasp any convenient object, regardless of ownership, lest one lose grip on consciousness altogether?"

At this pronunciation of mine, Holmes pouted in his habitual coquettish fashion and cocked his head. "Any port in a storm?" he ventured.

"I prefer to think of it as any anchor in a maelstrom, but yes."

"Because I am, as it happens, in a magnanimous mood, I shall disregard your torture of a perfectly decent metaphor. I also thank you for your views, for it is always singularly illuminating to be privy to your thought processes."

"I endeavour to please," I remarked, very nearly managing seriousness; "I can only hope that my insight is of assistance to you on occasion."

"Oh, I always value your insight, my dear Watson. Why, last night, you quite handily demonstrated how simple it is to render me to a state of sheer, hm, illiteracy or, at times, alarming coarseness."

I recalled our night and the occasions when Holmes had employed language worthy of sailors, before I had reduced him to mere atavistic animal noises -- a feat for which I held no small amount of personal pride, I should add. I could feel colour flushing my cheeks and it must have shown, for Holmes offered another puckish smile.

"Quite so. I might add that, beforehand, I did not understand the extent of your devotion, Holmes, for I dimly recall you imploring several gods and deities I had not heard of before."

"Indeed. One can quite grasp why the moods of men and women can be moved to murder or religion by this experience."

I laughed, sitting back as I picked up my spoon. "Oh, my dear Holmes, you say this, yet you have seen but a fraction of the possibilities. The appetiser to a dinner, so to speak."

He looked at me and I shivered where I sat. Of course, I had known him to be a man capable of great innuendo, and yet I wondered how Holmes -- the most innocent of men in regards of the carnal needs -- should have this gaze of a consummate sybarite that he then bestowed upon me.

"If that is the case, I shall look forward to dining with you to-night, Watson."

"Let us discuss other matters," I managed, and only barely so; "before I lose my last nerve and subsequently scandalise Mrs. Hudson when she arrives to collect our dishes."

"What outré scenario you have in mind, I cannot fathom."

"Merely a variety of things involving the settee and the belt of your dressing-gown, in the vein of numerous investigative forays into what said dressing-gown conceals."

Holmes set down his tea cup with rather too much force, for some of the liquid spilled on his fingers. I knew him to be a man of great, vivid imagination, and I could only guess at what my idle suggestion had sparked in his mind. What it was precisely, I could not tell; yet, one could clearly see that his nostrils flared and his eyebrows arched, and he inhaled with some unsteadiness. I was most amused by this newfound power over my companion.

"While I applaud your active mind, Watson, it also has the distinction of driving me to distraction," he remarked, and his voice was unnaturally level; "thus, kindly pass me The Daily Telegraph so that I may re-gain my equilibrium before Mrs. Hudson returns and indeed captures us in a compromising position."

"In flagrante delicto, as the Latin scholars and journalists would put it?"

"Oh, Watson, really!"

With that irritated ejaculation, he snatched the newspaper from my hands and thus, the remainder of breakfast was spent in near silence -- broken only by my intermittent chuckling, which resulted in some agitated paper-rustling on Holmes' part.

"Anything of interest in the news?" I asked after a while.

"Bah!" Holmes exclaimed by the way of reply and tossed the paper over his shoulder. In a stately manner of descent, the pages fluttered down onto the rug and settee. "The state of the official press is singularly deplorable; if it weren't for my private investigative overtures, no crime in this wretched city would get solved."

"How have your overtures fared to-day?"

Holmes gestured at a swatch of notes he had trapped between the creamer and a piece of toast. "One of absolutely no use, one quite informative in the matter of Mr. Kilborne's vanishing cook, and one missive from Lord Robert Marster. An exceptionally ordinary yield, in short."

"What does his lordship require of you?"

"With most elaborate turns-of-phrase, he has informed me that my presence at Whitehall at the hour of eleven o'clock would not be un-welcomed."

"Oh? You are going, I trust?"

"Of course -- I requested the audience. In fact, we both are going, Watson, for I would have you not miss this for the world."

"This visit is of importance, then?" I asked, for there remained some trepidation in my mind; after all, we were privy to the man's deepest secrets now.

"Why, it is the end to this mystery I endeavour to put forth come eleven o'clock."

I glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. "As it is fast approaching half ten, we must hurry. While I go in search of a clean collar, you, my friend, are required to tame your hair."

"I rather prefer it this way," replied he with a glint in his dark eyes.

"Indeed? If that is so, I shall re-arrange it back to its present state at first opportunity," I promised with a grin, before hurrying to my own ablutions. Holmes' laughter spurred my step all the way to my room.

***

In a refreshing contrast to the previous days, it was a bright morning with a nip in the air. The trees along the streets still clung onto some of their fiercely coloured leaves and the sky was a clear Robin's egg blue. Instead of calling for a cab, we chose to stroll through the bustling centre of London, arm in arm and a lingering, unsaid tension between us that was nothing short of delicious.

It was thus, in this most pleasant of moods and red-cheeked with anticipation, that we entered the stately quarters of the Foreign Office and were shown into Lord Marster's waiting room. We heard the clock strike eleven and then quarter past, before the inner door opened and a secretary showed us in.

"Good morning, gentlemen," Lord Robert Marster said from behind his massive desk. "I do apologise for the delay, as inevitable as it was. Please, be seated."

Lord Marster was a nobleman of some two-and-thirty years, more beautiful than handsome, with the slender build of a distance runner, the lush lips of his illustrious ancestors, and a high forehead above intelligent, large eyes of a most startling violet colour. His coal-black goatee was trimmed with minute attention to symmetry, as was his well-anointed raven hair that gleamed in the bright light. Yet, this seeming nobility of his visage was marred by a haggard look of misery.

"Matters of the state surely take precedence over us," Holmes remarked pleasantly as we seated ourselves. "This is Dr. Watson, my friend and partner in these matters."

After further pleasantries and with one of Sir Robert's excellent Havana cigars clamped between my teeth, Holmes leaned forward with intention.

"You are, as you have indicated, a busy man of the state, so I shan't trouble you any more than I need to. I have requested this audience not only to inform you as to the state of my investigations, but also to offer a word of advice to your lordship."

Lord Marster's delicate brows knitted. "Advice? Regarding what matter, precisely?"

"Regarding discretion, sir. You have grown complacent and thus risked the life of a young man, albeit indirectly." At Lord Marster's uncomprehending look, Holmes snarled with exasperation. "Please, sir, do not play the obtuse, when you most clearly are not. I speak of your affiliation with the Karneian Club and that ring you so brazenly display on your finger."

Never in my life had I seen a man turn so ghostly a white and with such abruptness. Lord Marster's features assumed this deadly pallor on Holmes's words and his cigar fell from his suddenly lax fingers onto the desk, where it extinguished itself upon the leather blotter.

"Mr. Holmes--"

My companion halted the croaked words with an impatient gesture. "Oh, worry not, Lord Marster, for already I keep secrets far deadlier than yours. It serves no interest of mine to ruin your fine reputation. I will not caution you to sever your relationship with Lord Eddington; I am merely advising you to go about it with circumspection lest it end in a scandal."

Blinking, Lord Marsters seemed on the verge of a nervous attack. To stave this eventuality, I sprang up and poured him a healthy measure of brandy from my hip-flask. After a mouthful of it, colour seemed to be returning to his cheeks, along with his facundity.

"I honestly do not know what to say, Mr. Holmes, except that I thought we already were discreet. Not discreet enough, it seems, for you seem to have discovered my darkest secret. I hesitate to ask you how you came about this information?"

"Merely with the aid of experience that allows me to see things others cannot," Holmes replied with a quicksilver smile. He leaned back, his finger-tips pressed together. "I come to you with this warning with the best of intentions, for the doorman at Pike Lane is not entirely reliable, and I am not the only one to deduce the purposes of the place. You would do well to share these concerns of mine with Lord Eddington."

"Quite so, quite so," Lord Marsters said, colour rising on his cheeks. "However, I note that you speak of Amos in the present tense. Am I to assume all hope is not lost in your investigations?" His tone was one of cautious hope; I saw the fevered spark of love in his eye.

"Fear not, Lord Marster; before the sun sets to-day, I will have this damnable case at its end."

"And Amos is..."

"Alive, I should think," Holmes finished for Lord Marster, who exhaled a great sigh of relief and joy, passing a hand over his high forehead. "I will keep you informed, sir."

"I shall forevermore be grateful of your help, Mr. Holmes."

Holmes stood and clapped his hat on with a smile. "All I ask of you, milord, is that you heed my warnings, and all shall be well. Ah! And I believe I have something of yours in my possession."

With that, and to my great amazement, he extracted the buttoned glove from his pocket and tossed it onto Lord Marster's desk. With that, he wished his lordship a good day and exited with me at his heel, leaving the peer of the realm staring at the glove with a look of utmost perplexity.

***

"Your flair for the dramatic shall one day be your undoing, Holmes."

Laughing heartily at my remark, Holmes grasped my arm as we stepped onto the curb. "Cab!" he bellowed; "and did you know, Watson, that Lord Marster dallied in the theatrical arts in his youth? I did not remember it, either, until I saw -- CAB! -- until I saw the streak of moustache-glue on his finger. Ah, here we are!"

As we stepped into the cab, I heard Holmes give directions towards Whitechapel, and off we went. "Moustache-glue?" I queried.

"Moustache-glue, indeed, for his goatee is a false one -- an exceptionally good and undoubtedly expensive work of grooming art, but false nonetheless. There were other signs of his past, too, yet I only saw them for I knew to look for them because of the glove."

At this seemingly disjointed narrative, I attempted to question him further, yet I received no reply save for an impatient mutter and a request to let him think in peace. I took no offence, for Holmes' reticience was well-known a factor to me; instead, I sat back and looked at him, for I finally had free rein to stare and admire the sharp, eagle-eyed, and finely crafted features of my companion.

"It is quite distracting, Watson, when you regard me in this manner of yours," Holmes remarked after a protracted silence.

"Hush," I admonished him with a smile. "Ignore me if you will, yet one needs to find ways to pass time."

"And I am a manner with which to whittle away idle moments?"

"Oh, the very best I can think of."

At that, Holmes' cheeks coloured pleasantly, and although he still remained quiet, there was a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. It remained there until we alighted from our hansom to meet Inspector Lestrade at the corners of two rather dismal streets that smelled of tar, filth, and the river.

"Good afternoon, Lestrade. I offer you my congratulations, for I see that you have had a strenuous if profitable morning of chase in the Covent Garden area."

The thin, rat-like features of the inspector turned into a sardonic smile. "Yes, we captured the Falstaff forgery master not two hours ago, although I really don't have the faintest of ideas how you should come to deduce that."

"The smudges of ink on your palm tell that you have written an arrest report today; the peculiar reddish mud clinging rather high up on your trouser leg points not only to an arrest conducted after a vigorous chase, but also to its locale," Holmes said with a distracted air about him, gesturing nervously with his stick. "Now, to matters at hand. You have your constables nearby?"

"Five of my best men await the whistle in the lodging-house you mentioned."

"Excellent! Now, criminals and lunch await for no man, so let us proceed."

After a short walk down one of the streets, Holmes stopped at the door of a squalid opium den. On his signal, Lestrade blew into his whistle and his constables stormed across the narrow alleyway and into the den. Sounds of scuffle and alarmed croaks of men were heard, until another whistle prompted Holmes to enter the building himself, with Lestrade and I close at his heel.

It was indeed most disheartening an affair, this den of despair. In the dark, I saw the manifold glowing red embers of opium-pipes and the listless bodies that clung to them; skeleton-thin men blinked in the lights that had suddenly permeated the gloom of the smoke-filled air. We passed all of this quickly enough for Holmes' direction was below ground. We found ourselves in a basement strewn with filthy hay, and upon a pallet lay a young man that had obviously been roused from sleep by the commotion.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked with a tremulous voice, shielding his eyes with a hand. "Who are you?"

"Lord Amos Eddington, I presume? We are with the police."

At that, the young man sprang from his pallet, only to throw himself prostrate at Holmes' feet. His clean clothes were in remarkable contrast to his surroundings and he appeared well-treated, yet his voice was as full of adulation as that of any wretched soul we had ever saved.

"Oh, thank you! Thank you, sir, and God bless you!"

Discomfited by this overt display of emotion, Holmes looked at me imploringly. Hiding my smile, I approached the young man and gently drew him upright, worried at the thinness of his body and the unsteadiness of his breath. A shot of brandy from my flask and a quiet moment later, he was sitting at the edge of the pallet with a calmer air about him.

"I do apologise for my outburst, sir, for I had abandoned all hope. Pray tell, whom may I thank for coming to my aid?"

"Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard was kind to do the footwork for us," Holmes remarked and pointed at the ceiling with his stick; upstairs, the rough barks of the inspector's voice could be heard as he directed his constables. "As for me, I am Sherlock Holmes, and the gentleman kindly attending to your well-being is my associate Dr. Watson."

Lord Eddington ran a shaky hand through his unruly hair and glanced at my companion with amazement. "Not the famous detective, surely? Mother has sent you to find me?"

"Not your mother; indeed, it was Lady Marster's thought to engage me in this matter. But the story shall wait a few more hours, for you, sir, are in dire need of a stout lunch and a hot bath. Let us be on our way. Watson?"

With Lord Eddington leaning heavily on my arm, we made our way upstairs and outside, where we found Lestrade waiting for us. The smile on his face eclipsed the sun in its radiance as he aided the young peer into his carriage and approached us.

"A remarkable affair, this was," he said; "but how on Earth did you come to find where he was kept?"

"As is the case with these things, often luck will do that which deduction cannot. It so happens I was visiting the lodging-house opposite this den in the course of one of my investigations -- Mr. Kilborne's vanishing cook, as it would be -- when I happened upon some ruffians dining there. They were discussing a captive they were guarding, in disgusted tones, for apparently the young man was prone to nervous sleeps, where he called for someone named 'Miriam.' I was seated in the next table and mention of his lordship's mother's name almost made me swallow my lunch down the wrong pipe.

"Afterwards, it was simply a matter of following the men and doing some discreet footwork, for nothing loosens the tongue like opium. That led us here on this lovely morning, which Watson and I shall take full advantage of in the form of a ramble through London and a luncheon at some respectable establishment en route. This is a worthy feather to your cap, inspector, and I thus bid you a good day."

We left the smiling Lestrade to shake his head beside his carriage, but it took me no more than four blocks before my measure became full. I pulled Holmes to a doorway and grasped his shoulders with, I'm afraid, rather too much force. He offered me a wry look.

"While your ardour is understandable, I do suggest we retire to more private a setting before you undertake any ventures towards my person, Watson."

"Oh, hush. I know you well enough to recognise when a clever lie falls from your lips. I have been most patient, yet I have received no explanations to any of these fantastic happenings, and this half-cocked tale you told Lestrade won't do. Do tell, Holmes, before my curiosity drives me mad!"

Holmes relaxed, smiling at my passionate plea and, with the casual affection he was occasionally capable of, adjusted my cravat. "I am so very sorry to have vexed you so, my dear fellow, for it was never my intention. I rather thought the matter was clear to you, for the details are ample."

"Ample, yet they still make little sense to me."

"In that case, you shall have my complete account of the matters at the earliest convenience. However, I should very much like to undertake one remaining matter in this business before delving into explanations; they will prove lengthy and so I would rather proceed with them in the comforts of our sitting room on Baker Street. Can you possibly wait another two hours? I promise I shall be all yours after that."

Relieved, I let go of Holmes and we continued. "I will give us two hours and the opportunity to return to our own chairs, certainly. But what is this one remaining matter to which we must attend?"

"After lunch, we shall pay one last visit to Eddington Hall, for I wish to address Lady Eddington and young Cartwright before I wash my hands of this despicable matter."

This was said with some vitriol, yet as I had promised, I held my tongue through our long walk and lunch. Holmes prattled animatedly on a variety of subjects, from Dunlop tyres to the work of an obscure Viennese alienist, and it was after this positively pleasant an afternoon that we came to the front door of Eddington Hall. We were ushered in and in a few moments, Lady Eddington and Mr. Cartwright joined us. The lady was most effusive in her praise of Holmes, while the young cousin stood by her side, his face livid with fury and uncertainty.

"I thank you for your kind words, milady," Holmes said with his most suave manner as he sat down; "yet I feel I cannot accept them before I have reached the bottom of this rather deplorable a case."

"I'm uncertain I follow your thoughts, Mr. Holmes. We have my son back, which concludes this episode, does it not?"

"In this matter, I have dealt with the greatest possible discretion -- not for your sake but for poor Lord Eddington's. However, your involvement, though obvious, still bears some discussion." At Lady Eddington's blank look, Holmes clicked his tongue as if he were scolding a schoolboy. "J'accuse, milady. Do tell the truth, for I am tired of lies."

I have to confess that at this oblique accusation of Holmes', my mouth gaped open like that of a fish as I stared at him. Lady Eddington fared no better, and thus it was Cartwright that sprang to words first.

"Who are you but a damnable scoundrel, to come here and accuse a high lady of the society of such a thing! How dare you, sir?" he exclaimed, all colour drawn from his face and his hand fisted with whitened knuckles.

Unperturbed, Holmes eyed the young man with contempt. "Oh, I know very well that the blame for this terrible deed lies on your conscience, Mr. Cartwright, yet I'd be remiss were I to omit her ladyship from these proceedings that, I might emphasise, are entirely private in nature."

"It was to avoid publicity, a dreadful scandal, that I did what I did!" Cartwright hissed and took a threatening step towards Holmes.

"I caution you against any further rash action, for my friend here carries a revolver in his pocket, and one cannot help but admire his prowess in marksmanship," Holmes remarked, wholly unperturbed.

"Threaten me, you will? By Jove, I shall have your head mounted upon my wall!" exclaimed the excitable young man.

"And a handsome trophy it would make, I daresay, yet I myself am terribly attached to it," Holmes said with alacrity and laid his hand on my arm that had moved towards my breast-pocket. "Oh, rest easy, Watson, for I will not have you waste lead where my knuckles would suffice."

To my surprise, Lady Eddington spoke up amidst this tenseness. "Sit down, Edward, you fool!"

With great effort, Cartwright obeyed and retreated to his chair. From its depths, he glowered at Holmes, and I held no illusions about his true nature; on that day, my friend earned a new enemy in a life rife with them.

"Mr. Holmes, I apologise for Mr. Cartwright's behaviour, for he is an excitable young man."

"Madam, I confess to possessing little experience in rearing offspring, yet kidnapping seems hardly a salubrious manner for one's nephew to whittle away his idle time. Any excuse you may make to exonerate him will fall upon deaf ears," Holmes remarked coldly and rapped his finger tips against the armrest of his chair. "How is Lord Eddington?"

"Upstairs, bathed and fed and asleep, and I can tell you, Mr. Holmes, that I have not had a happier day in my life. Oh, I know -- I did not speak up when it was my time to do so, but surely you understand that speaking would have doomed Edward to gaol. So disgusted was I with what he told me of Amos' life, of the terrible deviate he is, that my heart turned to stone. Never again, never, Mr. Holmes."

"We shall see. Your game is up, Mr. Cartwright, so would you care to make any remarks as to why and how you came about this secret of Amos'?" Holmes asked.

"You shall learn nothing from me, you wretch," was Cartwright's vitriolic reply. "Be off, and never return!"

"Edward, hold your tongue!"

As a prolonged family feud seemed to be developing, Holmes and I bid our hasty farewells and departed. As we hurried through the long, marble corridors of Eddington Hall, Holmes let out an explosive laugh.

"Ha! A lovely family, indeed. But fear not, Watson -- after this, Lady Eddington will keep her son as safe as if he were a gold bullion and this house the Bank of England."

"I'm merely glad that it is over with," I said, with heartfelt sincerity.

"Indeed. Now, Watson," Holmes said as we exited into the twilight; "let us retire to Baker Street. I shall fill your pipe for you, pour a good brandy, and oblige your earlier, ardent wish by recounting the simple steps of my reasoning."

***

"So if I am to understand correctly, Edward Cartwright kidnapped his own cousin?"

We were back in our sitting room, with a fire blazing by my tired feet and a tumbler of brandy in my hand. Holmes stood in his usual place of thinking, by the mantelpiece, and was sucking air through his unlit pipe. He nodded.

"Mr. Cartwright is obviously a man of great ambition and cunning; indeed, I had feared he had simply murdered his cousin, but it seems that his mind was not ruthless enough to drive him to that ultimate crime. Cartwright, you should know, has weaknesses of his own -- namely, gambling and opium. Some of the notes you observed arriving here were from my associates moving in those deplorable circles, and they know Cartwright well. For vices of the pipe, he often ventures to the Whitechapel area, where he has many friends due to, quite probably, his family's connexion with the East India Company.

"One of Mr. Cartwright's dockside acquaintances is a ruffian with expensive addictions, fortunately, and yesterday morning he recounted an interesting story to me to the tune of two guineas. This case, it all amounts to happenstance, for it seems that on an evening three weeks ago, Cartwright and company were hunting for a cheap pipe on Pike Lane and came across a familiar face."

"Lord Eddington, you mean?"

Holmes shook his head as he struck a match to light his pipe. "No, it was Lord Marster, our foolhardy peer of questionable desires. Mr. Cartwright watched him disappear into the premises of the Karneian Club -- the recherché establishment we had the pleasure of visiting, with some rather startling private consequences."

Holmes' mischievous smile was fairly infectious, and it ignited a small source of warmth inside me. "Indeed," I replied and gestured for him to continue.

"Mr. Cartwright stopped to consider the matter, only to see his cousin follow Lord Marster some minutes after. This, naturally, piqued his curiosity and undoubtedly he had little trouble in unearthing the true nature of the club. In the weeks before Lord Eddington's disappearance, Cartwright must have kept strict tally of his cousin's comings and goings, deducing a pattern of some sort. With the help of his associates -- who, incidentally enough, also run the opium den from which we recovered his lordship -- he orchestrated the kidnapping."

"But why? Why go to these lengths?"

"I assume you have heard the rumours of Lord Hutchinson's impending rise to premiership? For Mr. Cartwright to ride his coat-tails to greatness, so to speak, his reputation should be spotless; it wouldn't do to have a sodomite in the family, for a scandal would be the death-knell of his career aspirations. So, as young men of rash tempers are wont to do, he panicked and decided to nip the scandal in the bud.

"However, he did not account for his conscience, for it was obvious from the fresh state of the young lord's clothing upon discovery that he had been subjected to maternal care, albeit at a distance. I suspect Mr. Cartwright confessed his deed to his aunt after some sleepless night, yet Lady Eddington was either loathe to chastise the boy or risk the scandal; she made do with a compromise, imploring Cartwright to treat his cousin with respect, perhaps with the understanding that the situation was not permanent. My venture upon this point was successful, as you witnessed, yet we shall never know what, exactly, did transpire."

At this point, Holmes fell silent and looked at me expectantly through the curling tendrils of his pipe-smoke.

"The points that still remain unclear to me are," I said, ticking them off with the help of my fingers, "Lord Marster's apparently happy marriage and false goatee, your interest with their kitchen floor, and the confounded glove that started this all."

"Do not forget the mysterious maid and the configuration of the pantries in the Marster kitchen."

I threw my arms up in resignation. "At your leisure, my dear fellow, for in a hundred years, I surely would not see their importance."

"The false facial hair, the glove, and the pantries are all connected to the kitchen floor," Holmes said, quite calmly, as if this peculiar pronouncement was obviousness incarnate. "I have here a letter from a Mrs. Wilbeforce, former cook to the Marsters, in which she assures that during her tenure, the kitchen boasted three separate pantries. It merely confirms what I suspected upon examining the kitchen floor; namely, that a concealed place exists in the kitchen."

"Remarkable!" I exclaimed in my enthusiasm, glancing at the proffered letter from the former cook. "The markings on the floor tiling were then signs of something -- a hidden door, perhaps?"

"You scintillate, my dear Watson!" said Holmes, smiling. "Indeed, they were the kinds of markings a tight-fitted door will wear upon the floor over time, and in these grooved arcs I found my next clue: facial powder, designed to remove shine from a lady's cheeks or nose, as you are well aware. The glove found in the kitchen points to a woman as well, yet the glove was a curious bit of evidence. Yes, Watson, we finally come to the glove.

"Upon examination, many things can be seen from it, but the most salient point is that it was a glove made for the average female hand, yet it had been worn in a much larger hand. The fact that it was buttoned indicates that it had not been cast aside by someone coming in through the kitchen, for then it would have been fresh off the hand and thus unbuttoned; consequently, it had been dropped by someone who had dressed in the house and was exiting through the kitchen."

"You also mentioned that whoever was the owner of that glove had un-ladylike habits," I interjected.

"Indeed. The glove smelled of many things, but main scents I could determine were excellent whisky, Havana cigars and, pardon my directness, male ejaculate." At this, Holmes paused and offered a sardonic, pleased grin. "A most curious lady, this owner of the glove, especially since she is none other than Lord Robert Marster."

"Lord Marster! But it was Lady Eddington's glove!"

"Undoubtedly the pair was given to his lordship by Lord Eddington, perhaps as a prank that suited their game of disguise -- for I have no doubt that on the day of Lord Eddington's disappearance, it was Lord Marster who adjourned to the secret chamber heretofore known as the third pantry, changed into women's clothing, applied cosmetics and papier poudre on his smooth-shaven visage, and exited through the kitchen. The fact that he neglected to note the missing glove speaks of great agitation on his part; I may theorise that when he was to meet Amos at the club and the boy did not show up, he rushed home, donned his usual disguise and hastened to exit to query for Amos in whatever establishments they frequented together."

"Lord Marster, dressed as a woman," I said with a shake of my head. "Well I'll never. Why would he have this disguise, then?"

Holmes' smile was a warm, private one as he gazed at me with affection. "The love he shares with Amos Eddington is obviously of a forbidden kind, yet with one of them taking the female disguise, they have the freedom to frequent dance-halls and other such places, where one goes to romance. With the talents learned in the theatre, I daresay it was simple for Lord Marster to pose as the woman -- I, a mere dabbler in the art of guise, have assumed the female form on occasion in the interests of a case. On the night of the kidnapping, he undoubtedly queried as to Lord Eddington's whereabouts in whatever places they frequented as man and fiancee, as we saw him do at the Karneian Club, albeit in his normal attire, on the evening of our visit.

"The question of the maid arose first in conjunction with this business of disguise, for the petticoats and whale-bone corsets of current fashion require a dresser. I hazard to guess that Emily Jones, this most extra-ordinary of maids, was as much Lord Marster's dresser as she was his wife's."

"You have made enquiries into the maid's background?"

"Several, none of them yielding anything but disappointments, so my conjectures are based entirely on circumstantial evidence. However, the maid also handily answers the question as to how Lady Marster can be happily married to a man whose tastes in companionship run to his own sex."

"Could this maid Emily be a man in disguise?"

Holmes laughed and waved about with his pipe. "Heavens, no! Even when it would explain a thing or two as well. No, the simple explanation is that Emily is not a maid at all, but as much a companion to Lady Marster as Amos Eddington is to his lordship. Now, Watson, do not look so surprised -- even though some insist such women do not exist, they surely must, when men like us exist as well. Emily is quite possibly of high society herself, a lady who has taken the guise of employment in the house; alas, Lord Marster's choice in lovers does not allow this manner of deception."

"So you mean to say that the Marster marriage is, well, a sham?"

"Yes, but a happy sham -- as much is obvious, for it is one of kindred spirits. A brilliant scheme that I could not have designed better myself, for they are both above reproach because of it, yet free to attend to their proclivities."

His narrative thus concluded, Holmes fell silent. I sat quietly for a long moment, as well, for the myriads of threads in this mystery were still arranging themselves in my addled brain. At length, I shook myself out of my introspection, only to discover a faint frown marring the smooth visage of my companion.

"Why the look of consternation, Holmes? You solved the riddles and concluded the case with an ending that avoided unwanted scandal. What continues to trouble you so?"

Holmes' gaze turned to me, and I was surprised to see the glint of sadness in their dark, keen depths.

"You do, my dearest Watson."

This was not the answer I had been expecting. "Indeed?"

"This case has been a great failure to me -- not because of the events themselves, but because it has demonstrated how singularly myopic I can be when it comes to you."

"Ah," I uttered; indeed, rarely was it that anyone or anything had surprised him as I had on that self-revelatory evening. "Do not flagellate yourself so, Holmes. Every man is allowed his one spot of blindness."

"Bah!" exclaimed Holmes, gesturing in an agitated manner, as if the very mention of a weakness in conjunction with his name were a personal affront. "And pray tell, what is yours?"

"You are, Sherlock Holmes. You."

His hard face mellowed immediately at that, to something akin to confusion and warmth; when he spoke, it was obvious he was choosing his words with great care. "I could grow to be very fond of you, John Watson, if that is indeed possible on this God's Earth, for I am already exceedingly fond of you. It is this that scares me, for my line of profession allows no vulnerabilities."

Moved by this personal proclamation of utmost rarity, I stood up and went to Holmes, laying my hand on his wiry shoulder. Although he tried to suppress it, I felt the shiver of pleasure that ran through his body at my touch.

"I should like to think of my presence as a strength, not as a vulnerability," I said and pulled him into my arms, my lips at his cheek. "Even though you are invincible and immortal, Sherlock Holmes, while I am not, it shall be my sincere pleasure to stand by your side forevermore."

"I would have nothing less, my dear, dear Watson."

With that whisper, Holmes sought out my lips and kissed me with such reverence that it nearly moved me to tears. Apart from words of pleasure, little was said after that, for after we retired into Holmes' bedroom, I spent the night in a glorious expedition over the great detective's supple limbs and body.

***

The next day dawned with ominous clouds obscuring the sky and indeed, as we sat down to breakfast, the skies opened. I remarked on the weather, but Holmes offered no comment for he was engrossed in his morning mail.

"Inspector Lestrade has a marked tendency towards the meretricious," Holmes said, humoured, and tossed a telegram over the table at me. "Had he aspirations for a different occupation, he should make a remarkable poet of overt sentiment and little elegance."

Hiding my smile in my tea cup, I read Lestrade's telegram and could only agree with Holmes' sentiment; the inspector was, indeed, florid in his gratitude. "Decent of him to send his greetings."

"The inspector is a man shrewd enough to recognise that, perhaps, even I am not immune to the occasional word of flattery."

"Quite so. I know for a fact that a favourable word allows one quite unrivalled an access to you," I commented. With a suggestive smile, I leaned across the table. "'My bounty is as boundless as the sea,' as Shakespeare has it."

"Oh, good heavens, Watson! I despair," Holmes groaned and applied his knife to his soft-boiled egg with altogether too much force. "I am exceedingly grateful that save for your sensational accounts of my work, you have few aspirations regarding the art of letters. There are already entirely too many illiterate souls wallowing in the self-concocted quagmire of their own emoting."

"Perhaps my aspirations regarding writing are loftier than you imagine, Holmes," I mused and laughed at the look of utter consternation he offered me. "Have faith, my good man. The caduceus, not the verse, is what I have chosen."

"Should that not be the case, Watson, I daresay I would be lacking in faith, yet not in murderous tendencies."

"I must congratulate myself on the relative innocence of my occupation, then. As a detective, you are formidable; as a murderer, one can only conclude that you would be peerless."

Holmes twirled his yolk-stained knife in his hand as if it were a surgeon's finest scalpel. His smile was but sharp teeth, devilish and charming. "Indeed."

The rest of the breakfast was spent in companionable silence. The torrential outpour outside precluded any ventures outdoors, so for the morning, I retired to sit in the wicker-chair by the fire with a medical journal open upon my knee. The clink of test tubes and rustle of litmus paper behind me informed me that Holmes was intending to occupy himself with scientific experiments of the inevitably noxious kind; thus, I was relieved when a brisk tug on the bell announced the prospect of a visitor.

"Ho! I wonder, who ventures out in this deluge?" Holmes remarked, extinguishing the Bunsen burner as he stood. "Someone young and spirited enough to brave the elements and apply that vigorous a hand on the bell-pull, I daresay."

Momentarily, the door opened and Mrs. Hudson came in bearing a card on her silver salver. Holmes snatched it and whistled in surprise, before he tossed the card to me with a flick of his nimble wrist. "Please ask Lord Amos Eddington if he will be kind enough to step up, Mrs. Hudson," he said, before hurrying to exchange his mouse-coloured dressing-gown into something resembling a gentleman's coat.

Upon Lord Eddington's entrance, I observed that he appeared remarkably recovered from his ordeal -- a different man altogether in his dapper, dark-blue Chesterfield overcoat and with his wing collar that sparkled white. A few drops of rain glistened on his shoulders and on the hat he held in nervous hands; his unruly curly hair, tall and strapping frame, and wide-set, pale blue eyes gave him the air of an innocent Eros.

"I apologise for coming unannounced, Mr. Holmes, for I was uncertain on whether I should make the journey altogether in this weather."

"It is quite all right. You remember Dr. Watson? Ah, yes -- please, have a seat," Holmes said, gesturing at the wicker chair by the fire. "Now, there was something you wanted us to hear?"

"I have come with the intention of thanking you personally, not only for your miraculous rescue of my person, but also for the discretion with which you have dealt in this matter."

"Ah, you have spoken with Lord Marster?"

At this, Lord Eddington coloured a fetching shade of pink. "Yes, and it gladdens us both that Inspector Lestrade considers the case quite closed. The reputation of my name bears no import, but Robert's is of utmost consequence to me and I will do anything to keep his shield untarnished."

"As I have already told Lord Marster, you have nothing to fear from me, or from Dr. Watson," Holmes said, leaning forward to give emphasis on his words. "The secrets that I shall take to my grave are manifold, and yours is but one of them. However, I do suggest you query his lordship on the particulars of what I instructed him regarding prudence and conduct."

For a moment, the young man appeared puzzled and he looked from Holmes to me; indeed, I hazard to guess that Holmes' seemingly nonchalant attitude towards his preferences was the source of his bafflement. However, his gaze cleared quickly and from the small smile on his lips, I deduced that he had come to a conclusion of sorts.

"I shall take it up with him, although our circumstances are to change radically regardless: I begin my studies at Cambridge at the start of the new year." He paused and reached into his waistcoat pocket, pulling out something that he hid in his palm. "Since caution is to be our credo, Robert and I have decided that certain things need to be sacrificed. Hence, I would like to present you these, as mementoes of the deep gratitude I shall always owe you, Mr. Holmes."

With that, he dropped two rings into Holmes' palm. It was the same ring I had seen in Lord Marster's finger and its identical twin, both wide bands of gold with a large emerald at the centre.

"Heavens, Lord Eddington -- surely, I cannot take your rings!"

His lordship stood with a smile, ignoring Holmes' extended arm. "Pray keep them, sir, and remember that you shall always have a friend in me, and in Robert."

"But what of Mr. Cartwright?" I asked. "Even if he is never to face the assizes, he is guilty of a grievous crime against you."

"Regarding my cousin, mother has decided that he shall have to resign his post as Lord Hutchinson's secretary and go seek his fortunes on other continents, like my uncles have. There has been talk of Australia, so perchance he will uncover his happiness from within that land's red soil." Lord Eddington clapped his hat onto his head and gave a jaunty bow. "Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, I bid you good day."

As the door closed behind the young peer, I looked over at Holmes. There was a curious, small smile playing about his lips. "A quick-witted young man, this Amos Eddington. Nous verrons, he shall go far in life," he commented and stood to place the rings into the morocco case on the mantelpiece. "It took him no more than two looks to deduce why, exactly, he could trust us with his secrets and not worry one whit."

"One could get the sense that one has been initiated into a secret club with obscure codes and clandestine ceremonies," I remarked idly and eyed Holmes. "However, I daresay this club has far better perquisites than the latest periodicals and comfortable chairs."

"Alas, yet none of the quiet the Diogenes offers to reclusive souls."

"Ah, the Diogenes! No longer the queerest club in London," I exclaimed, smiling. "Knowing you as I do, Holmes, it would never strike me that you should be one for quiet. Quite the contrary, in fact, for just last night you--"

"Yes, yes, Watson," Holmes hastened to interrupt me. "I concede your point. There really is no need for you to continue that sentence any further."

"It was you yourself who has taught me the importance of applying evidence to bolster a conclusion," remarked I.

"Indeed, my dear Watson. One of my proudest moments."

With that, Holmes offered me one of his quicksilver smiles and retreated back to his chemicals. Listening to the re-commencement of his energetic investigations into the salts of copper, I leaned back in my chair, cracked open my journal, and revered the quiet contentment blooming in my heart.


~ Fin. ~


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