The Forfeit Daughter
One: A Repellent Client
It was a dreary and rainy late August night in 1888, and I had been attempting to catch up on my writing for the last three-quarters of an hour while Holmes played his violin. At first, it had been rather soothing, and I had managed to detail a rather interesting case that I titled 'A Scandal in Bohemia.' However, any such comfort was soon swept away when the violin's chords began playing with ever increasing volume and speed. In fact...it had become rather jarring.
I must admit, part of me wondered what had gotten Holmes into such a foul mood, but the more irritated half won the internal struggle, and, glaring up at him, I asked, "I say, old man! Could you perhaps play something a bit quieter?"
The playing stopped instantly, the bow lowering from the strings of the instrument.
"This..." Holmes replied tersely, "is Paganini...one does not play it quieter, Watson. One plays it from the soul."
"Very well," I replied, placing my pen down on the journal. "And what, if I may be so bold, has gotten your soul into such an uproar this evening?"
"In a word, Watson...boredom," Holmes exclaimed, as he walked to the window. "It's as if the entire city of London has declared a moratorium on crime. My mind is crying out for work!"
My brow furrowed at his words, concerned at what had caused his black mood. "Holmes, old man, I am sure that a case of significant merit and import will present itself shortly. A city this size cannot be quiet for long." Though I hoped my words were comforting, I knew that such statements from him usually ended with him either receiving a case or turning to the cocaine bottle that sat on the mantel. I found myself hoping that a crime would occur, if only to prevent the latter from happening. "I thought you were currently busy with a case that Lestrade presented to you. Has that been concluded?"
"It never began," he huffed. "It was little more than a petty burglary...a cursory examination of the facts quickly revealed that to me. Lestrade assumed because it was a dignitary's house and there were papers missing from the safe that it was some grand political plot..." He breathed out a long sigh. "I found the papers dumped in the park across from the house three minutes after leaving the scene of the crime...it was purely a financial operation. Petty theft and burglary, the police can handle on their own." He shook his head with disgust. "I have not had a proper case since April...look at the trees, Watson! It's August, damn it! Autumn!"
I felt another surge of sympathy for my companion. Holmes's mind was a veritable engine needing constant stoking as a steam engine required coal. "I am sure a client will walk through the door soon," I assured him, and as if in some answer to a prayer there was a knock on that very door.
Holmes glanced at the closed entryway, and then at me with an expression of mild surprise, before putting down his violin and bow as he turned to face the door more fully. "Enter," he called out.
The door opened, and in wandered a rather put out Mrs. Hudson. "Mr. Holmes...there is a man downstairs who wishes to see you. I've explained to him that it was late, but he was most insistent."
Holmes's eyes lit up almost instantly. "Show him up, Mrs. Hudson. Show him up at once!"
The older woman sighed, and, muttering about keeping insane hours, moved back the way she had come, only to return a moment later with a tall, red-headed, well built man with a large moustache and dressed impeccably in evening wear.
"Mr. Holmes?" he asked rather gruffly, betraying a slight West Country bias both in speech and in manner. He did not stand on ceremony as he looked around the room. "I wish to speak with Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"Then, sir," Holmes said, remaining where he was, with his hands clasped behind his back as he observed the newcomer, "your wish has been granted, for I am he."
The two men eyed each other closely. "Are you indeed?" the man asked.
"I am..." Holmes replied, before his tone took on a more acerbic quality which indicated that he had already decided that he was not favourably disposed towards the newcomer. "This is my home...and you might be?" he queried, reminding him of his manners.
"Ah...yes..." the man started to say, as he took off his dress overcoat, causing Holmes to raise an eyebrow at the man's brazen assumption. After draping it over a chair without so much as a by your leave, he stalked forward towards my companion with his hand outstretched. "The name's Thurlow…Arthur Wendell Thurlow."
Holmes eyed the man's hand as if it were covered with grime. "How do you do?" he returned coolly, and moved over to his chair. "This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson."
"How do you do?" I replied, rather fascinated by the man's manner, before standing to fill his empty hand in a vain attempt to cover for Holmes declining to do so. His grip was excessively firm in the style of a man determined to show his dominance.
"Pleasure," he said brusquely, glancing at the detective again.
"Now that the pleasantries have been exchanged," Holmes announced, seating himself by his desk. "To what do we owe your presence here amongst us, Mr. Thurlow?"
"Right," Thurlow replied, unceremoniously seating himself in a chair opposite and flicking the tails of his claw hammer dress coat back behind him as he did. "I'm a straight speaking man, so I shall come straight to the point, Mr. Holmes." He leaned forward, and looked my colleague right in the eye. "I am a hunted man."
Holmes raised one eyebrow, which was his only physical reaction. "Indeed?" he said quietly. "And what gives you that impression, Mr. Thurlow?"
"There's no impression about it, man! This is a fact! As good a one as you and I are born!" Thurlow suddenly and rather violently asserted. "I am being hunted down by some heathen savage."
If Holmes was bothered by being yelled at, he showed no sign as he gazed evenly at the red-headed man. "And you know it is a heathen savage precisely how, Mr. Thurlow?"
The question gave the big man pause, and for the first time there was hesitation in his face. "I know..." he said slowly, as he reached into the inside pocket of the coat he had discarded, "...because of this, firstly." He pulled out a long bladed, curved knife. "Do you know what this is?"
"Yes..." Holmes breathed, sitting forward, and holding out his hand, his eyes finally returning to an interested state. "A Khukuri."
"Khukuri?" I asked, knowing obviously it was a type of knife but oblivious to all else.
"Yes," my friend concurred with a nod, before turning to explain. "It's a most effective weapon and tool, native to Nepal and Northern India, thought to be descended from the Kopis knives carried there by Alexander the Great's ancient invading army. It is carried with great distinction by the Ghurkas of Her Majesty's army."
Not for the first nor last time in my life, I shook my head at Holmes's breadth of knowledge.
"See?" he continued, leaning towards me and showing me the sharp indentation near the hilt of the blade like jagged tooth. "This is the Cho. It has a religious rather than functional significance, and is a dedication to the goddess Kali, representing a piece of her genitalia. It gives the knife functionality, makes it 'live' if you will." He turned it over admiringly. "It is widely regarded as one of the finest pieces of weaponry in the world. And from the looks of the work on the hilt and the script on the blade itself, it belongs to a man in official service, possibly a bodyguard to an important personage in northern India...near Agra or Kanpur...some such area."
Thurlow for the first time looked mildly impressed. "Aye..." he agreed with a nod, his accent coming out a little more strongly. "That's correct. Most probably from just outside Kanpur."
Holmes's hazel eyes looked up at him. "I presume you came by this when it was used on you either as a warning or an out and out attempt on your life?"
The other man nodded. "I found it embedded a good two inches into my desk at my place of work today. No one in my offices has the slightest idea how it got there. Took me a good fifteen minutes to pry it loose. It was a warning all right…damn savages want me to sweat. They want me to know they're coming for me."
"So..." Holmes sat back, fingering the point of the blade. "You clearly know the identity of your attackers. Why not go to the police rather than seek our aid? Ask them to seek them out and hunt them down?"
Thurlow's face visibly darkened. "I've no wish to bring the authorities into this."
Holmes and I exchanged brief glances immediately. "Mr. Thurlow, " Holmes said briskly, "who are you, and what exactly is it you do?"
Our visitor sat back. "I am the chairman and General Manager of Balfour & Thurlow, Ltd.," he said quietly.
My eyes widened. "You're that Thurlow?" I exclaimed. "The Asian Import/Export business?"
"Yes," he affirmed with a nod. "That's us."
"I read about it in The Times, a few months ago!" I breathed. "You and your partner, the late Mr. Balfour, are widely celebrated for the success of your venture, and how rapidly you managed to build up your business from nothing to such profitable heights. Holmes," I continued, "Mr. Thurlow here is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. His company supplies goods to virtually every reputable firm in the country, running from clothiers through pharmaceutical manufacturers."
"Indeed?" Holmes nodded quietly. "And I take it that during the course of this extraordinarily rapid and celebrated building process, you managed to step on a few toes?" He lifted the blade into the air. "And it is your reputation that you seek to protect...as much as your life."
Thurlow caught Holmes's rather caustically amused tone and raised his chin. "Yes," he snapped rather shortly. "It was probably that damnable article that most likely brought them down on us in the first place."
"Savages who read The Times?" Holmes's humour only grew. "How fascinating. Perhaps, Mr. Thurlow, rather than us trying to piece this story together, you should go back to the beginning and inform us how this came to pass?"
Thurlow eyed us suspiciously. "Am I to understand that you are to take my case?" he demanded uncouthly. "I've no wish to spill my guts and my past if you're not to be a part of this."
A note of exasperation crept into Holmes voice. "Mr. Thurlow, I hardly see how you have any choice in the matter. You seek our help, as you seem to have no recourse to the authorities and few other options. You may seek out another private detective, if indeed you can even find one. And we do not take cases without all the facts available to us. Now, either you are completely honest with me, or we shall say goodnight." He leaned forward once more and handed Thurlow back his blade.
Looking at the shining metal glinting in the fire and lamplight, the businessman took it gingerly, and with a slow exhale of breath, some of the overbearing arrogance seeped out of him. "Very well," he agreed, his voice with a definite sour note. "You shall know it all."
Holmes settled back and intertwined his fingers, waiting for the story to unfold.
"I served in India nearly thirty-five years ago now...when the subcontinent was only unfolding to us." Thurlow looked into the fire with a faraway gaze. "The place was wild and wonderful...so many opportunities for a man to make his fortune." His face hardened, and with a nod to himself, he continued, "And I was determined to do so. I was an officer...but had dragged myself up to that position, and had spent my entire army service being looked down on by my more well-heeled or well-bred colleagues…all except Hamish Balfour, another Captain in my regiment. He alone was my friend." His voice took on a most quiet tone at that. "When our service came to an end, he and I decided to take advantage of some of the connections we had made and set out to make and secure our futures...and to do so as quickly as we could."
"You wished to show your former army colleagues up," Holmes observed.
Thurlow nodded in agreement, as he sat back again. "Them...and others. Along with a local merchant named Dupresh Rai, we began our operations out of Amritsar. Hamish had some connections in Scotland with people desperate for Asian goods, tea, spices, silk, and the like, and we began to find ways of supplying them cheaply whilst turning a profit."
Holmes nodded before prompting, "Only after a little time...you found your profit margin wasn't healthy enough. At least not for what you wanted it to be."
"The money was coming in," Thurlow agreed, "but not fast enough...not enough...I wanted more. I needed more…so we diversified our business."
"Diversified?" I asked with a frown.
Thurlow's eyes turned to me with a look of pure defiance. "Drugs, purloined gemstones from various internecine wars...and...slaves," he explained without a hint of remorse.
My countenance darkened immediately. "Slaves?" I repeated, glancing at Holmes, whose only response was a "Go on."
"India was still, at that time, in the process of being conquered." He smirked and paused. "I beg your pardon, civilized is the more widely used term, isn't it? In any event, there were still large parts of it not quite under British control, and a great many wars going on between competing Rajahs looking to gain power in the uncertainty of the time." He inhaled as he continued to think back. "A great many raids and battles went on, and the ruling kings had to fund their wars without bankrupting their treasuries…there was also a great demand for cheap labour in North Africa."
I couldn't help but snort my derision in his direction. "Cheap labour my foot," I said in annoyance. "You mean the slave trade, sir, and you know it."
"Yes, Dr. Watson," Thurlow agreed with a calm nod. "I do…and I know what you must think of me, but while I accept the ill of it, I remind you that this great Empire of ours was built on the back of such a trade to the Americas and to Africa, as distasteful as it might be for you to hear it."
I bit my tongue, holding back a retort, and knowing all too well the official history of such a heinous trade. Thurlow's eyes remained brazenly on me, and I quickly found myself coming to the same level of dislike for the man that Holmes's earlier assessment had brought him to.
"How hypocritical is the world we live in," he observed to me. "It's your sort of reaction, Doctor, that is forcing me to come to you and Mr. Holmes, because, as you no doubt see, in the light of the aftermath of the American War between the States, slavery and slave running is regarded with less tolerance then once it was. Society is quick to shun what once made it rich and prosperous when it no longer suits them. Yes, I hid my former connections with the trade, and no one, not even my family, knows precisely how I made much of my fortune," he told us. "Yes, I know what I have done is wrong…and I have no wish for it to become public again, especially in light of the many bleeding heart do gooders who ignore what benefits they themselves have accrued from such practices through the society they live in and choose only to vilify people without the slightest understanding of the situation that existed at the…"
"Please!" I stood up in annoyance, unable to bear any more of his self justification. "Your actions were barbaric and un-Christian, and I for one…"
"Watson, Mr. Thurlow," Holmes's voice cut across me and our visitor both with quiet efficiency. "Might I remind you both that we are not here to debate the ethics of Mr. Thurlow's past, but rather to deal with the problems of his present?"
"Problems, if you ask me, that are on his own head," I said, seating myself reluctantly once more.
"That's as may be," Holmes acceded. "But he is here as a prospective client, and we should do him the courtesy of at least hearing his story till the end before rendering our judgment on whether it is a fit case for us to take."
I nodded in silent agreement, folding my arms and glowering somewhat.
"Continue," Holmes instructed to Thurlow, who nodded and did just that.
"Beyond Kanpur, there were two such kings…Rajahs, as I say, who had had a long standing feud. With the flood of English guns into the region, the feud quickly escalated to become an out and out war." He shook his head. "Bitter it was…and bloody. The British establishment declined to intervene, preferring that both these strong warlords wipe each other out before they stepped in."
"To mop up and overpower the victor no doubt," Holmes observed.
"Precisely, Mr. Holmes," Thurlow agreed. "And as such, they turned a blind eye to just about everything that went on."
"Thereby making it easier for you to move the 'spoils of war,' as it were, without any particular problems," my colleague said again, garnering another nod from our guest.
"After one particular raid on an enemy caravan, an emissary of Jehan Shurapak, one of the Rajahs, contacted us, and told us that apart from a great consignment of jewels and silks, he had taken a large number of hostages, mostly women, from the household of Anand Mahindra, his rival, as he moved them to safety from his headquarters to his summer palace. These were refined women of great education, beauty, and training from his household service and harem. Women that would fetch a great price in the slave markets of Marrakech." He paused, while I fought back another wave of disgust. "So Arthur, Rai, and I talked it over, and we took a great gamble…Jehan's asking price was huge, but we took it and put our futures on the line, mortgaging what we had for the undertaking."
He looked into the fire in the hearth. "So we rented a cargo ship, with a captain who had a track record in such things, and took hold of our consignment of merchandise, bringing them on board and intending to stow them in the hold."
"Merchandise!" I exclaimed, unable to hold it in. "What kind of a man would treat a woman so? Those were human beings! Ladies, sir!" I continued in heated outrage.
He looked back at me. "Indeed they were, Doctor, one amongst them in particular…and had I known what it was I was taking on, you would not have seen me near them for dust."
Holmes sat forward a little, sensing we were getting near the meat of the matter.
"The women were piled into the bowels of the ship along with the other goods we had purchased, and we set sail..." His brow furrowed a little. "We decided, Hamish and I, to travel with them; as so much of ourselves was tied up in the transaction, it seemed foolish to leave it to others. During the journey, the women were released in groups to serve as maids above decks to make the journey more comfortable and to give them air and sunshine." His eyes returned to the fire.
"Needless to say, it is a long journey from the coast of Eastern India to Marrakech, and during the course of the voyage, some of the women…caught the eye of the men aboard."
I stood once again in disgust, part of me knowing what was coming, but nauseated all the same. Saying nothing, and receiving an understanding look from Holmes, I walked to the window and stood looking out.
"One of them caught mine…" Thurlow continued, unperturbed by my reaction. "She was a beauty," he breathed, "even amongst the gems we had, she was a jewel. Such pride and grace, her brown skin flawless, her almond eyes like twin pools of chocolate, her lips…"
"Your point, Mr. Thurlow," Holmes said, sensing my increasing discomfort behind him.
"That night shall live long in my memory, we were nearing the end of the voyage, and I knew I would have to sell her on. Balfour would agree to nothing less. She was the pride of our stock, and yet I did not want to let her go, not without…not…I…" he faltered, his words drying up, and even from where I stood across the room I could hear his ragged breathing.
"You raped her," Holmes said quietly, sitting back. "You took her by force…a Rajah's daughter…a princess."
I turned and glanced at Holmes as quickly as Thurlow looked up at him.
"How did you know she was…?" he began, even as Holmes waved it away.
"It was not hard to deduce from what you said previously. How you spoke of her," he said quietly enough, though his eyes were hard as he looked at our so-called client in front of us. "Nor is it hard to construe that such an act did not end well."
"I did not know…" Thurlow said, suddenly looking haunted. "I had no idea who she was. The other women protected her identity, either through her order or…"
"Should it have made any difference, Mr. Thurlow?" Holmes's voice interrupted, taking on the hard quality of his eyes, much to my approval. "Should it have made any difference who she was, what rank, or what caste she was?"
Thurlow's shoulders slumped, and for once his eyes did not meet either of us. "No…I suppose not, Mr. Holmes," he exhaled. "It was after that I realized how far I had fallen as a gentleman and a human being…I vowed that this would be my last such venture. Unfortunately, the vow came too late."
I folded my arms, waiting to hear what happened.
"My estimation of her as proud was not amiss…" the red-headed man said. "A Rajah's daughter, like any princess, is a proud woman..." He stood up and moved to the fire. "She was a symbol for her family and her people. After the...event...occurred, she must have deemed herself defiled, her pride and dignity destroyed..." He stared into the low flames in the hearth. "When the next morning arrived, just as the Port of Marrakech was sighted...she was found dead in the hold, having taken a knife from the serving table and killed herself during the night rather than live such a life subject to men like me."
He looked back at Holmes. "It was only then that her true identity was known…in the keening and wailing of her companions over her dead body, in their cursing and spitting at my men, in the vengeance that they called down on our heads…." he trailed off.
"Vengeance that, it seems," I said with no little satisfaction, "is being visited upon you now."
"Yes…" he agreed, as he looked at me. "And no doubt rightfully so. But I have a wife and two young boys…and a business to run…and I am in no hurry to pay for the sins of my youth. And…" He paused again. "There is not only myself to consider in this act of vengeance. There are others too in peril."
"Others?" Holmes inquired quickly. "Who?"
Thurlow gazed at us both for a moment, and continued on with his story. "After I had a meeting with the captain and Hamish, we decided we had to press on. We had too much to lose. So her body was disposed of in the usual custom...her remains were sent overboard. The other women from the party were sold on, as were the other goods we had taken with us…and between the women, the jewels, and drugs we had brought, we made a fortune…in one transaction, we were all richer then we had ever dreamed possible, and we channelled it into taking over several smaller import-export firms in Britain, turning it into Balfour & Thurlow, and going legitimate. With our colleague Rai still operating and expanding in India and beyond, we were able to establish an axis, and our wealth grew rapidly, dealing solely in legal items, while no one suspected us in the disappearance of Rajah Mahindra's daughter.
"You see," he said. "We had operated in India along with many other aspiring traders. The numbers and names fluctuated constantly with hundreds of men seeking their fortunes. We did work for both Rajahs, as did the other myriad of traders. Mahindra's search for his daughter was hampered by that, as it was by Jehan's emissary who sold us the women, and the only man who knew our real identities, being killed in an ambush just days after we had left for Marrakech. Caught up in the long running war as Mahindra was and with so much confusion over what had happened, all exacerbated by the British army moving immediately into the kingdom to 'establish a protectorate' after Mahindra and Jehan had fought themselves to a bloody standstill, it would have been impossible for a long time to put energy and resources into the search for his daughter…" He inhaled and shook his head. "I suppose it was inevitable that eventually he would find some leads, some hint of a trail…he must have finally pieced it together, thanks to that Times article, and all that talk of the one great transaction that made us, as Hamish would love to hint about and never keep quiet about while he was alive. He must have figured out that we were in the right place at the right time…and that such a transaction would've made us enough money to expand the way we did."
"But surely," I said, "her father, Mahindra, would be an elderly man now. This must have been some…"
"Thirty years ago," Thurlow finished with a nod. "Almost to the day. I was twenty and five at the time…and yes, the Rajah is in his eighties now."
"And yet, he is still powerful and vital enough that his arm can reach halfway across the world for his revenge?" I asked in surprise.
"No…" said Holmes quietly, catching me unawares. "Not half way across the world, Watson." Taking a newspaper off the neat pile on his desk, he opened it, turned to a specific page, before folding it over, and handing it to me. "The third paragraph down, second column."
"The society pages of last Friday's Times?" I queried, and then my eyes widened as I read aloud. "An eminent guest to London, a close friend of her Majesty and respected member of Indian society, His Highness Raj Annand Mahindra and entourage have taken an entire floor of suites at Claridges in London. The duration of their stay is unknown." I looked up at Holmes and then Thurlow.
"A close friend of her Majesty's?" I repeated quietly.
"Aye," said Thurlow, his accent escaping him again in his resignation. "As you can see, I am not the only one to have made headway in the world. And you can see why making allegations against him would be…awkward."
Despite my dislike of the man and the feeling that this was in part only justice, I nodded mutely in agreement.
"You spoke of others being in peril," Holmes reminded the man, steepling his fingers again. "I have yet to hear about them."
Thurlow nodded his red-haired head and reached into his dinner jacket, this time producing a piece of paper that looked to be from a book. After taking it, Holmes glanced over it, and then promptly handed it to me without a word. My assumption on receiving it was proven correct -- it was indeed from a book…the Good Book, in fact. It was a page from The Holy Bible, ripped unceremoniously and without respect from the Old Testament, and there highlighted and ringed were the words.
if any mischief follow, then though shalt give life for life,
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
"Exodus: 21 – 23-25…As you can see, the heathen savages defiled a Bible to make their point," Thurlow growled. "It was driven into the desk via this knife."
"Frankly, Mr. Thurlow," I said looking up from the page, "in comparison to some of the acts I have heard of this evening, this…" I held up the page, "hardly comes near the top of the scale in heathen savagery." My eyes met his, and we held a mutual glare until Holmes once again intervened.
"I take it therefore, Mr. Thurlow," he said casually, "that the like for like point made in this message to you refers to a life other than your own…a payback in kind…which would leave me to believe that they intended to take not only your life, if that, but the life of a child of yours?"
I blinked, not having thought of that. I was, up to that moment, heavily inclined to advise Holmes that I wished nothing to do with this case. That Thurlow had sown the wind, and should reap the whirlwind in kind…what happened to him would in my mind only be just, for, as a white man, he would never stand trial for what he had done in India and be found guilty. It had not occurred to me that there would be innocents involved. My glare turned to a quizzical frown at the man, whose eyes dropped from mine completely.
"Your sons?" I asked.
"Perhaps," he mused with a nod. "They are but seven years old…fine boys, good young lads, the type I have longed for all my life. I fear for them but also…" he trailed off again, his hands clasping nervously.
"Also?" Holmes prompted impatiently.
"They are not my only children," he disclosed almost reluctantly, causing me to frown and wonder what else this supposed bulwark of our business world had sunk to in his time, his tone telling me that it could not be good.
"You have a daughter," Holmes concluded, surprising us both once more. "Older…a young woman?"
Thurlow got over his surprise enough to nod. "Yes…I married three years after returning from India. A Miss Alice Pembridge…a beautiful, intelligent, loyal young woman of a better class of family then mine…well accepted in society, but impoverished. My wealth was the only thing, I'm sure, that allowed her family to give us permission to wed. I loved her…" He frowned to himself. "I did…but her family was as bad as all those officers I had once served with. They looked down on me, sneered at my manners and my attempts to better myself…it eventually took its toll on us. In addition, there was the issue of children."
The knuckles on his hands whitened as he spoke.
"I wanted sons…I needed them!" he ejaculated forcefully, as if justifying something to himself. "We had a child, a girl…Helen…a good girl, a pretty thing, very bright and intelligent for a girl. But I had a business, and Hamish was a bachelor with no chance of that changing…I needed someone to take over and run the business I had taken such risks and pains…sweated blood…to build! We tried for several more years, but it became clear that Alice could not bear any more children. Helen, our daughter, was fifteen and her mother in her mid thirties."
"So you left her…and your daughter," Holmes concluded over his fingers.
"Yes," he admitted, looking up at him. "I divorced her."
"You divorced her!" I exclaimed, shocked once more. "Because you could not have a son, you put her aside for inability to bear you an heir…you did not even let her divorce you to help her keep her good name?"
"I had no time to waste on niceties!" Thurlow barked. "I had a growing empire of my own, and like any ruler had to take the expedient and best route for the future. Besides…Alice did not wish to divorce me. She…" He paused, his guilty look returning. "She loved me still. I put her aside, and married again soon after to my current wife, Ellen.
I turned away in disgust at this point, vowing not to look at the man again as he continued, "We had a son straight away, Barnaby…we lost him three years ago. He died of pleurisy at the age of six." He paused for a moment in reflection. "By that stage though, Ellen and I also had had the twins…Matthew and Andrew."
"I see…" Holmes said from beside me. "Well then, your first wife and daughter need to be informed of this threat. It seems, given the nature of what has occurred in the past, it is your daughter who will be most in danger. She and her mother must be brought to safety as must your younger family," he concluded, as he rose to his feet. "Where are they? Might they be brought to your home?"
Our visitor remained silent.
"Mr. Thurlow?" Holmes prompted, with his gaze fixed on him. "I asked where they are?"
"I…" His eyes remained on the ground. "I am unsure."
My vow lasted no longer than that, and I spun back to face him. "Unsure?" I declared. "How can you be unsure? Are they travelling?"
"I don't know," he replied, glancing only at the fire. "I lost touch with their whereabouts some time ago."
Holmes and I exchanged yet another look, and he sat back down again, leaving this next part to me at seeing the look on my face.
"Mr. Thurlow," I said in utter exasperation. "How can you have lost touch with them? Surely you must know of their whereabouts in order to support them?"
His silence spoke absolute volumes, causing me to stare at him and wonder about the make up of this man before us.
"You cut off your own daughter?" I breathed. "A child?"
"You don't understand!" he snapped, standing and moving to stand by the fireplace to stare into the dying fire. "I was all set to give Alice a large settlement that would keep her and Helen more than comfortable when her family and friends got involved, sniping at me, threatening me with lawyers and the like, baiting me, and smearing my name…so I fought back, I took them on, took on lawyers of my own and won!" His tone was defiant, but it lasted only a moment though, before it modified. "I have not seen Alice or Helen more than twice since then."
I shook my head slowly. "So you disowned your family…cut them loose to fend for themselves…merely to spite hers?" I breathed in disbelief.
"Alice had her precious family and friends," he muttered sullenly with the air of a spoiled child. "She was a good mother. I knew Helen would be fine."
I stiffened, and clasped my hands behind my back, my eyes and tone like ice. "Mr. Thurlow, sir…I tell you this honestly and directly, for all your desire to be accepted as an English gentleman, it is plain to see why such an acceptance has never come to pass. In all my years both as doctor, soldier, and colleague to Mr. Holmes here, I have never come across such a patently selfish and morally bankrupt man as yourself…and if were not for your wives, both present and past, and your three innocent children, I would say 'Goodnight, sir,' and ask you not to darken this door again!"
I nodded my head firmly, and then caught Holmes's rather surprised and admiring look. With a sniff, I nodded my head again in reply, and with a small smile he returned it and looked back at Thurlow, who had taken my words without reaction.
"I believe, Mr. Thurlow, that we are in agreement about taking your case…if not for you, then for the sake of the innocents in your family." He stood up again. "Beyond proving the Rajah's malicious intent towards you, and discovering how it was he was able to plant such a message in the heart of your business premises without his hand being seen, our first step is to secure the safety of your wider family," he stated firmly. "Return to your wife and sons, but first…" Holmes reached into his desk and took out a small note pad on which he hastily scribbled a name and address, which he tore off and handed to Thurlow. "Go to this address in Watford and ask for this man, Bill Fagan. Tell him Mr. Holmes sent you, and ask him for five of his best men…offer to pay them well…and bring them home with you."
Thurlow looked up from the paper to Holmes. "Hired men?"
"Bodyguards," Holmes confirmed. "Seeing as you do not wish to bring the police into this, and without your testimony as to what happened in the past, we cannot apply to Scotland Yard for protection for you…hired men will have to do. They are…rough mannered," he admitted, "but well enough behaved not to scandalize your wife and servants, and they are very, very good at what they do." He paused for a moment and turned his head to address me, "Watson, take your pistol and go with Mr. Thurlow, will you? It is best that he is not left alone."
Despite my loathing for the man, I put aside my personal feelings and nodded as Holmes turned back to his desk. "Of course, Holmes," I replied.
"There is no need," the other man spoke up. "I am not alone…my young secretary, Mr. Harry Hant, is waiting in my carriage outside."
Holmes considered this without turning around. "Good…nevertheless, I would be happier if Watson went with you," he asserted. "In the meantime, I will begin the search for your first wife and daughter." He looked back over his shoulder at our new client. "Might you know if they still used the name Thurlow, or did your wife revert to her maiden name of Pembridge?"
Thurlow looked up slowly from the name on the paper he had returned to staring at. "To the best of my knowledge she retained my name…Helen was still a Thurlow, after all," he responded quietly, and reached for his coat, sliding it on as he saw me go to fetch mine from across the room. "How will you start?"
"Some discreet enquiries should be more than enough to uncover them, unless they have gone to ground or left the city…" Holmes answered with a shrug. "I will have them come here. One useful part of your having lost touch with them is that it makes it less likely that your prospective assailants know their whereabouts either. However, as they have been here since last Friday, I suggest they probably have been making their own enquiries and are making headway; therefore the sooner we locate them and bring them to safety, the better."
"Do you intend that we should all be kept safe together?" Thurlow asked him curiously, closing his coat.
"I do," my colleague replied shortly.
"I…am…unsure how my wife…Ellen," he clarified almost nervously, "will take to having Alice and Helen in her home."
"That, Mr. Thurlow …" Holmes turned back to him with a short exhalation of air, "is entirely your own problem. Good evening, and I will see you again as soon as I have located your daughter." With that, he sat down and turned away, dismissing him and leaving me to head out as protector in chief on our latest case.
Authors' Note: We, the authors, wanted to say a couple of things just in case. The timeline used for this story, for there will be others, is Baring-Gould's official timeline. Yes, we know there is another out there too…but I have not had time to research it fully, and if it turns out better, then we will be changing any clashing dates. Just something to keep in mind. I also wanted to say why Holmes has hazel eyes (mostly because they may be another color, but I'm having a hard time finding the canon reference…and we have researched the canon, never fear. :) ), my reasoning is that it is a dedication to the Late Jeremy Brett, who had hazel eyes, and for me (and my co-writer) he will always be who we see when we picture Holmes.
Thank you so much for reading, and we welcome all reviews. Aeryn (of aerynfire)