Authors' Note: Welcome back! Thank you once again to all who read and/or reviewed The Forfeit Daughter. Your kind and thoughtful words were a joy to read, and encouraged us to continue with our increasing storyline for Holmes and Watson. Indeed, I would at this time recommend strongly that all new readers go to The Forfeit Daughter and read that first. This can be read by itself, but TFA and this story are parts of a much larger tale...and its always best for clarity's sake to start at the beginning. :) Now just this once, we are breaking our rule about adding notes at the beginning rather than at the end of our chapters. Why? To give you, the reader a heads up on a couple of changes. :) We, as you will notice, have switched perspectives from the first person (Watson) to a more general third person stance. This was done, as it is a more character driven piece, and this perspective is more useful for exploring the characters' inner thoughts. However, that said, we will be returning to Watson witin this story, albeit briefly...for there will be a mystery, and we need Holmes's Boswell to record it in only the way he can. :)
So sit back, enjoy...and on with the story. And as always, feel free to leave us a review. We love to hear from you!
An Unforeseen Occurrence
Chapter One: Crossing Paths
October 20th, 1888
"This is completely intolerable!" Holmes paced around the ornately decorated waiting room of the St. Albans train station, sitting down one moment only to rise to his feet and pace again. "We conclude another case, and have been travelling all day, to get within shouting distance of home and relaxation, and then this! I've half a mind to seek out a cab to drive us the rest of the way there...hang the expense," he exclaimed, tapping his cane on the ground irritably for effect. "How hard is it to ensure that tracks are kept cleared and in good working order for oncoming traffic?"
Watson sighed, and nodded, irritated and annoyed himself, but finding he was too exhausted over the last case, an interesting mystery of murder, betrayal, and a mythical hound, to voice much protest of his own. "I don't think either of us is up to driving all that ways, Holmes," he agreed tiredly. "Mary is going to be rather put out, especially since I sent her a telegram promising to take her to dine this evening."
Holmes pointed his cane at Watson. "Put not your faith in princes or railway switchmen, Watson," he told him. "Both will invariably leave you undone." He cast a quick glance around the room they were in. "The paint in this place is really quite hideous."
Watson quirked a bemused eyebrow at his friend. "I'll keep that in mind," he replied to the first part of Holmes's statement, before gazing around the apricot room to confirm the second, long used to his companion's constant random declarations. "Yes...well, I don't suppose people stay long enough to notice usually," he mused, pulling out his pocket watch to check the time, noting it was near tea time.
"Makes no odds, Watson...a waiting room should be made as pleasant as possible, considering people are doomed to linger in the damnable things." Holmes sat down again, his cane tapping rapidly on the tiled floor with increasing impatience.
"Holmes...since we are stuck here for the foreseeable future," Watson started, ignoring Holmes's remark while trying to ignore the annoying tap of wood on tile, keenly aware that his friend's mood, which was coming down from the elation of such an interesting case, could become increasingly black if his mind was not occupied with new stimulus, "why not go into town and get something to eat. I could use a stretching of my legs after being cooped up for the last few hours...and it's just about tea time."
He didn't look particularly enthusiastic, but Holmes stood again. "Very well...anything is better than being cooped up looking at these four walls for heaven knows how long," he acquiesced, immediately scooping up his leather bag, and striding out of the room.
His partner sighed, and shook his head in bewilderment, before following him out hastily. "Good, and if we could just stop by the post office...I need to send a telegram to Mary," he continued as soon as he had caught up with Holmes outside the station.
The taller man nodded sharply, hefting his leather carry-all. "Of course. I'm sure this place must have one somewhere." With another sigh, he set off again at a rapid pace.
The grey clouds on that late October afternoon covered the sky, but they were hung high and, for the moment at least, there seemed little chance of rain. Walking briskly down the pleasant main street of St. Albans, Watson spied what appeared to be the local inn, named The Bull and Finch, as well as the usual types of shops and stalls one would expect in a town the size of this one, before at last laying eyes on the familiar sign that announced the Post Office.
"I'll just be a minute," he assured Holmes as they reached the door, and opening it, he turned back around to run head first into a duo of short bodies dressed in matching dark suits with bright red heads.
One small, disgruntled boy looked up at him and sniffed as he blocked the way out. "Excuse me," he said in a tone that was almost accusatory.
The identical boy nodded, adding, "Pardon us."
Watson rubbed his stomach from where the run in had forced his bag to smack him in the abdomen. His eyes widening in surprise and recognition, he opened his mouth to reintroduce himself to the boy, but as he did so a familiar looking young woman dressed in a plain dress of rich black ran up and addressed the twin boys from the shadows of the gloomy, windowless post office, her attention firmly focused on her young charges. "Matthew! Andrew! What did I say about running?"
Catching sight of the young woman's face, Watson's smile only widened as her voice gave him final confirmation to the lady's identity; his own, it seemed, was still unknown to her as she remonstrated the boys, her grey eyes firm. In front of him, both boys flinched as one in the doorway, before turning around to her with conciliatory looks.
"But...you just ran, Helen," the one who had accosted Watson pointed out quietly.
"And you specifically told us...no running," the other agreed, giving her a reproachful look.
The young woman shook her head with a sigh. "Exactly...and now look what you've done. You've probably bruised this man at the very least with your dashing about."
Andrew opened his mouth to argue, but, catching her firm look, sighed with a "Yes, Helen."
Her gaze turned to his brother, who held out for a few more moments, before nodding in reluctant acquiescence.
Watson watched the familiar family dynamics unfold before him, as she motioned for the boys to turn around, thereby directing their attention to him once more. "Now, apologize," she instructed.
Andrew glanced at his brother, before turning and regarding the man in the doorway more fully, his brow furrowing at the sudden case of déjà vu he received from the man's face.
"Sorry, for running into you when you were standing in the doorway, sir," Matthew mumbled, his eyes firmly on his feet.
After being nudged in the ribs by his brother, Andrew nodded. "Yes, sir...sorry...but do we know you?" he apologized and asked all in one breath.
Helen groaned, and barely refrained from bringing her hand to her head in mortification. Taking a step further, she came further out of the shadows of the store to chastise her brothers once more, the light from the doorway illuminating her face.
Though he, himself, had seen her recently in his professional capacity as a doctor, it had been two months since the events in which Watson had come to know the young woman and her two young charges.
Their story, one that he'd been dictated to never reveal under the strictest penalties of the law which he had titled The Forfeit Daughter…a story that was currently locked up in his strong box back at Baker Street under lock and key, was indeed a most tragic one.
Her father, their actual client, had come to Holmes and himself one night in late August to help find out who had marked him and his estranged daughter for death and, indeed, stop their intended plans. Holmes had managed to accomplish the first task, however, was too late to prevent the second in its entirety. Arthur Thurlow and his wife Ellen now lay in Marylebone Cemetery with his entire estate passed on to his sons and daughter, who had not only inherited them, but was now trustee over their inheritance, as well as inheriting quite a sum on her own.
This was the woman who now stood before him clad in a simple black gown symbolizing her state of deep mourning, and the two twin boys, who were also dressed in dark suits that outwardly showed their grief.
"Miss Thurlow," he exclaimed. "How delightful to see you again."
Helen's forehead crinkled in surprise at the mention of her name, before she peered into the open doorway at the gentleman there back lit by the light outside, before she recognized her addresser.
"Dr. Watson?" she breathed, as her brothers moved out of the way, thankful the attention was off them at last. Watson took her hand in greeting, and smiled, as she continued, "It is good to see you as well. But may I ask...what brings you here?" Her eyes flicked to his bag. "Are you visiting someone in St. Albans?"
Watson sighed and shook his head. "Returning from a case, our train was delayed, and Holmes and I are on our way for some tea after I send a quick telegram," he explained, as Helen glanced to where Watson had briefly indicated to see Sherlock Holmes standing over by a shop window with an intent expression on his face.
Turning back to the man in front of her, she smiled. "Well then, if you are delayed, then I insist you accompany us home for a meal. There will be later trains, and our home, I would like to think, is more comfortable a waiting place then the St. Albans train station. Besides, it is, after all, the least I can do for the two men who saved my life."
Watson started to protest, but upon feeling his stomach churn in hunger, nodded. "I think that would be very kind of you," he accepted. "I just need to send a quick telegram before we go."
"Of course, I shall extend the invitation to Mr. Holmes while you do so," she agreed with a nod, and as soon as Watson had walked inside, she motioned for her brothers. "Go tell Mr. Reggie to have the carriage ready. We'll be leaving as soon as Dr. Watson returns."
The boys nodded in synch. "Yes, Helen!" they chorused, and took off for where the carriage and driver were waiting.
"And no running!" she called after them, shaking her head with a sigh, already knowing it was too late to stop them.
Turning back to where the formidable detective was still scanning the window across the street, she bit her lip nervously, before squaring her shoulders, and making her way over to him, still finding him a little intimidating, but refusing to show it.
Holmes scanned the articles in the window, testing his powers of observation regarding when and where the rather impressive array of pipes on display in the tobacconists had been created, as well as making note to stop by there on their way back from tea to pick up a pouch or two of their Cavendish Gold Flake, which for some reason was getting hard to find in London.
"Miss Thurlow..." he said quietly as the handsome young woman approached from behind him though never moving his head from scrutinising the tobacconist's stock. "Not someone I had expected to see. Good afternoon." Finally turning, he inclined his head politely at the daughter of his recently demised client.
Momentarily pausing at his seeming uncanny precognition of her arrival, before realising he had merely observed her in the window pane's reflection, Helen Thurlow came to a stop next to him in front of the window, and returned the nod with a smile, only the rather firm way she was holding her purse any sign of her underlying nervousness. "Good afternoon, Mr. Holmes. I had the great good fortune just now to run into Doctor Watson at the Post Office, and I understand you have been waylaid?"
He made a sour face. "Yes...British Railways excel the best of Highwaymen in that regard." His eyes washed over her, taking in the deep black of her mourning, causing his jaw to tighten at the reminder of his failure in her father's case. "You are looking well considering. How long has it been now since last we spoke, two months?"
"Yes," she answered with a small sad smile. "A lot has transpired in that time." She fell silent for a moment in retrospection, before collecting herself and meeting his gaze once more. "You too, look well, if a little tired, if you don't mind me saying. Dr. Watson said you were returning from a case. Successfully, I hope?"
"Indubitably, yes..." he confirmed with a quick nod, before breathing a long suffering sigh. "No doubt, you shall be reading Watson's sensational account of it soon enough."
She gave him a humour filled look. "I suppose I shall. However, until such time as it is published, I have invited you and Watson to have tea with my family and I at the house so that perhaps I might hear it from the Oracle's mouth?" she flattered im. "It seems a pity that you should have to pay for food, when I live close by...and it is the least I can do."
"The least you can do for what?" he inquired, arching an eyebrow, before nodding. "Ahh...you mean your father's case? No need. As I told you that sad day in Baker Street, Miss Thurlow, you owe me nothing for the outcome of that most unfortunate turn of events. The money you insisted on giving me in payment was donated in your name to the Greater Ormond Street Hospital for Children. However...your invitation is most generous, and I, like my colleague, would be most happy to accept," he agreed, his eyes sweeping over the main street once more. "I hadn't realised you had moved here, Miss Thurlow."
She gave him an affirming nod. "Yes... we have a nice home just outside the town. After the will was read, I consulted with my brothers and we decided the house in Belgravia was simply too full of memories to stay. We had all had happy times there, but my father's death outweighed them all, and we could not continue to live there without being constantly reminded of it. So, we let it out to a wealthy American couple and moved here to The Twin Birches, the house he left my mother and I. I had expected it to be a comfortable cottage…but my father had made good on his belated generosity in many respects, and the Birches turned out to be a manor home, furnished and completely modernised in every possible way." She shook her head slightly, still a little awed at her father's actions.
"It is rather large in my opinion, but our new position rather dictates that we should have not only room for ourselves, but room for large amounts of company." She frowned, remembering the mourning state the house was in. "Not that that will be occurring any time soon. But still, we brought our cook, housekeeper, and butler with us, from Belgravia, as they are like family...and, of course, my mother lives with us as well." She smiled a little, her eyes glancing over at him, before returning to the street. "I personally rather enjoy the garden, though the best of it is gone now with winter nearly upon us."
"It is a pleasant part of the world," he agreed. "I'm sure the gardens would be most becoming in the spring and summer...is your home far?"
She shook her head, as a large, well appointed landau with two jet black horses pulled up to the front of the post office, and the two boys hopped out. "Just a fifteen to twenty minute ride," she assured him, as one boy disappeared inside the post office to check on the doctor's progress, and the other joined his sister.
Holmes looked down at the boy, who looked back even as he addressed his sister. "The carriage is here, Helen," he stated the obvious, still staring at Holmes.
Helen quirked an eyebrow at him, and nodded. "So I see, Matthew," she replied, obviously amused. "Matthew, you remember Mr. Sherlock Holmes, don't you?" she introduced the man she was speaking to.
Matthew bobbed his head in a slow nod. "Yes, you saved our sister's life, didn't you?" he almost accused.
"Yes, Master Thurlow," Holmes replied, his manner solemn.
The young boy took this in, before adding, "But not our Papa's."
"Matthew!" Helen flinched, and placed a hand on her brother's shoulder immediately to stop him from saying anymore, bestowing a most apologetic look on the detective.
Holmes, if he was perturbed by the words, did not show it, and merely nodded slowly once more in confirmation. "That too is correct, Matthew," he agreed quietly.
With a sad sigh, the child turned his eyes to his sister, before returning them to the man who had saved her. "Well," he uttered with a frown, sounding and appearing like a diminutive grown up, "it was good of you to try…though I miss Papa…and Mama too, of course." Helen's hand squeezed his shoulder gently, as she saw her brother's bottom lip start to quiver, all still feeling the effects of their father being taken only two months previously. At the reassuring gesture, Matthew looked up at his older sister. "Is he to return to the house with us for tea, Helen?" he inquired.
"Yes, Matthew. Mr. Holmes," she reminded him of his manners, while replying with a smile, before glancing around with a frown, "will be returning with us for tea…and where is Andrew?"
"He's in the post office," he answered, returned his eyes to their guest. "Thank you for saving Helen, Mr. Holmes," he continued smoothly without any pause.
Holmes raised an eyebrow. "You're quite welcome, Matthew."
"I suppose it would be all right to have you back to tea," the boy pronounced, quickly turning and sprinting back to the carriage.
Holmes watched him for a moment, before turning back to Helen. "It appears official sanction has been received," he observed.
She gave him an apologetic smile. "So it would seem," she agreed. "Mr, Holmes, I'm dreadfully sorry about…" she began, only to be halted by Holmes's raised hand and the shake of his head.
"There is no need to apologise for a bald statement of facts…only true friends and children may be relied upon for such honesty," he said, though the slight crease of his brow now that the boy was gone was evidence that his failure to save Arthur Thurlow troubled him still. "I only wish that I could change those facts for your brothers' and, indeed, your sake."
Helen regarded at him closely, perplexed by how a man who was purported to have such a legendary rein on his emotions, could obviously still feel things so keenly. However, before she could dwell on it further, Holmes had straightened, and his face reformed itself into a mild smile.
"Your stewardship of them and the family estate goes well then?" he queried, starting to move towards the carriage after picking up his bag again.
"Yes," she replied, keeping pace with him easily. "Once I had the books properly audited…there was as you might imagine quite a bit. My father was a much wealthier man that even I imagined him to be, and a remarkably shrewd investor. Apart from the firm, its subsidiaries, and his liquid assets, he owned properties across the Americas, the West Indies, Africa, and India." She shook her head with a sigh. "All going well, my brothers will be exceedingly wealthy young men come their twenty-first birthday. Apart from my new positions as President of both my father's Charitable Foundation and Arts Benefaction Fund, it is my job to make sure their future is secure by working with the directors of Balfour & Thurlow to see that the firm and my brothers' inheritance is kept safe, as well as, to see that they learn the good values that will ensure they don't fritter either their wealth or their lives away, and learn instead the ideals of hard work, generosity of spirit, respect, and compassion."
"A most admirable set of lessons." Holmes nodded approvingly. "Although I'm sure that dealing with ins and outs of business life is less taxing then that the latter."
She paused and gave him a wry smile. "You are as perceptive as ever, Mr Holmes," she agreed with a soft chuckle, glancing over at the carriage. "I don't seem to remember ever being that lively as a seven year old...nor as cheeky."
"No...None of us ever do." His tone was wry, as he opened the carriage door for her. "I am pleased," he noted, as he glanced in at the velvet upholstered exceedingly comfortable interiors of the new carriage, "that you have become a lady of independent means. Your friends will no doubt be driving down to you. What with your societal position restored to you and your mother."
She gazed at him for a moment. "I have a few loyal friends from school who have always remained in contact with me. But yes, I have received several invitations that this time I will be able to accept...now I have the means that is. However...there are people who relish attending as many functions to which they are invited as they can, and people who pick and choose for whatever their reasons. I'm afraid I have never been one for a preponderance of large gatherings...so, even without the restraints placed on me due to being in mourning for my father, I most certainly will be picking and choosing. But thank you...you not only saved my life...you in essence gave me one back again. I shan't forget it." And with that, she climbed into the carriage and took her seat.
He stepped in after her, taking a seat opposite. "Really, Miss Thurlow," he said, placing his bag between his legs, his face hidden but an earnest edge to his voice that seemed to beg of her to end the subject, "there is no need for further thanks. Watson and I are glad only that you and your brothers are safe, together, and rebuilding new lives for yourselves."
Her keen grey eyes gazed at him speculatively, but after a moment she nodded, just as the door on the opposite side opened and in climbed the twin of the boy sitting next to Helen, followed closely by Dr. Watson.
After both had taken their seats, Watson beside Holmes and Andrew beside Matthew, Helen leaned out the carriage window, and instructed the driver to move out. Settling back into her seat, she turned to the older man with a genial smile. "Did you manage to send your telegram, Doctor?"
Watson smiled back, and nodded. "Yes...and hopefully just in time too. Thank you, Miss Thurlow."
Andrew and Matthew resumed staring at Holmes, who looked back from the window at them, returning their gaze unblinkingly as the carriage started for their home.
"Watson..." he said after a moment, "perhaps the boys might enjoy hearing you recount our adventures with the hound of the Baskervilles." He paused, flashing a tiny smile at the boys. "Your...adventurous...style should suit them admirably."
Helen blinked, and frowned in puzzlement. "Hound? Of the Baskervilles?" she inquired. "As in Baskerville Hall?"
"Just so, Miss Thurlow," Holmes replied still not breaking eye contact with her brothers. "Sir Charles Baskerville of Baskerville Hall in Dartmoor...or rather, the late Sir Charles Baskerville, at least by the time we came to be embroiled with the family's affairs."
She nodded slowly. "Yes, I had heard he had died...the new Baron is an American, is that not so?"
Holmes shook his head. "Not precisely, no...Sir Henry is an Englishman by birth, but has spent a great many years in North America, chiefly Canada and has become inured in their ways. He is not a bad sort at all…if somewhat unwell at the moment thanks to recent events. However, now that his succession to the title and estates of the Baskervilles has been assured, he should do quite well in bringing the fortunes of the place along thanks to his modern agrarian mind set...wouldn't you say, Watson?"
Watson nodded in agreement. "Quite so, quite so."
Helen raised an eyebrow in curiosity, but before she could inquire further, Andrew piped up. "So what happened?" he asked, breaking both his and his brother's unofficial staring contest with Holmes who sat back a smidge victoriously.
Watson smiled, and leaned forward towards the curious boys. "Well, it all started when a Dr. Mortimer left his walking stick when he came to call at Baker Street..."
The carriage ride passed quickly as Watson spun his tale, abbreviating it to leave out the longer parts as they only had a short trip, but by the time he was finished, both boys' eyes were as wide as saucers, and their attention was riveted on him.
Helen, however, was taking mental notes, and had a long list of questions to where she felt there was a significant leap in reasoning, while Holmes stared out the window the entire time, except for a few moments. Twice when he glanced at the raconteur, his somewhat pained expressions letting Watson know that he felt he was 'embellishing' the tale somewhat, and a few times when noting his hostess's facial expressions at certain points, seeing her mind working over several of his conclusions in her head.
As their transport neared its end and the tale came to a stop, Andrew shook his head silently, before glancing at his brother for his reaction.
"That was a corking tale!" Matthew breathed. "Wish our family had a hound like that...he could sleep in our bedroom." He turned earnestly to his sister. "Can we have a hound, Helen?"
His sister's eyebrows rose quickly. "A hound? Whatever for? You have three cats, a hamster, and a turtle."
Matthew leaned forward. "Yes, but we don't have a hound. A hound could help protect us! No one would ever attack our family again with a hound like that," he argued, nudging his brother for his support.
Andrew nodded adamantly. "Oh yes! No one is scared of old Mr. Peepers! Or little Mr. Beans! But a hound! Oh please, Helen?"
"Please?" Matthew added for choral effect.
Helen's face wavered for a second under the barrage, her inexperience at handling the boys still telling. "Hounds are a lot of responsibility..." she started, trying to ignore twin sets of pleading brown eyes.
"We're responsible!" Matthew exclaimed. "We look after three cats, a hamster, and a turtle!" he reminded her.
"The housekeeper looks after your three cats...and I end up feeding the hamster and turtle," she reminded him in turn.
"But cats are different...they mostly look after themselves. We would have to look after a hound," Matthew pointed out, as the carriage slowed, its wheels grinding through the gravel, to a halt. "At least until he can look after us...we would have to train him to be fierce and rip horrid people's throats out like Hugo Baskerville's."
"A most compelling argument," Holmes said wryly from the corner of the carriage, a small smile playing about his lips at the boy's words.
Helen's arms, however, folded over her chest on that particular point. "There will be no ripping of people's throats," she stated firmly. "I do not care how horrid they are. And as for getting a hound...I will consider it, when I see your next progress reports from your tutors."
Andrew groaned, and turned his head to look out the window and upon seeing they were home, opened the door and hopped out, just as the sun made a rare appearance through the grey clouds above. Holmes opened the other door, and stepped outside onto the gravel that lined the long, curved, tree lined driveway leading up to the white Tudor manor home, turning to look around at the fine grounds of The Twin Birches, so named for the pair of large birches that stood in splendid isolation in the heart of the beautifully manicured front lawn.
To the right hand side lay wide rose gardens, that were meticulously landscaped but which gave the impression nonetheless of being a wild, magical kind of place as they rambled off down on little hidden pathways filled with shrubs, discreet water features, and sculpted bushes towards a private wood, which from the occasional glint from the sun, seemed to indicate a pond or small lake within its environs. To the left of the house, there was more lawn, with the singular extravagance of a grass tennis court, beyond which lay a much larger expanse of parkland.
Helen appeared in the doorway, and smiled at the detective as he took in the grounds the house was set in. "Welcome to the Twin Birches, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson," she announced, seeing Watson appear from where he had disembarked on the other side as he moved around to join his friend, as well as catching Matthew's profile as he dashed after his brother into the house.
Turning back to her, Holmes held out his hand to help her out. "It is just as you said...they are particularly fine gardens, Miss Thurlow," he said of the beautifully landscaped topiary and statuary filled precincts.
Sliding her gloved hand into his, she descended to the ground, and with a smile of thanks, released it. "Thank you, Mr. Holmes. I find them very peaceful, and a good place to catch up on my reading when the weather is fine." She turned to regard them both. "Now, you both must be tired and hungry. Please, come inside," she entreated, before leading the way into the house, and after taking one last look at the gardens, the detective followed her and his partner inside.
They were greeted at the door by the butler, whom Helen handed her hat and coat to, and who both Holmes and Watson recognised from 12 Belgrave Square and the service of Arthur Thurlow
"Good afternoon, Miss," Goodwin greeted her, glancing at the men who followed her in, and bowed his head to each in turn. "Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, how do you do, gentlemen. Welcome to Twin Birches."
"Thank you, Goodwin," Holmes replied with a light smile. "I hope you're enjoying your new surroundings?"
"Thank you, yes, sir," the butler agreed, taking both the tall man's coat and Watson's. "It is somewhat quieter than London, it must be said." Pausing, his eyes turned downward, as he was circled once by Matthew and Andrew Thurlow in the act of chasing each other around the hall before darting into the sitting room. As the servant raised his head once, Holmes noted that he still retained that same stoic expression both he and Watson recalled of Goodwin's time looking after the boys at Belgravia, before the man finished with a tight smile and a barely repressed sigh, "But still lively enough."
Watson bit back a chuckle at the dark haired butler's long suffering, as Goodwin hung up their coats and turned his attention back to his young mistress, who had re-emerged from the sitting room where she had followed to admonish her twin brothers. "Will you be requiring afternoon tea for yourself and your guests, Miss Thurlow?"
"Yes, thank you Goodwin," she replied, pausing as she caught sight of the look on one of her guest's faces.
Holmes's eyes perused the interiors of the renovated manor home, which now that both visitors had had a moment to observe, were clearly in a state of deepest mourning. The reflective surfaces in the wide wood-lined foyer, and no doubt the rest of the house, had been covered in black, all brightly coloured objects or paintings removed or covered, and the clocks had been stopped at the hour of death as per tradition, and not at the hour the papers and government would have had the world believe Arthur Thurlow had departed this world in a carriage accident…but rather the true hour of his murder.
Helen glanced at Goodwin quickly, before inquiring, "Would you be so kind to bring it to the garden? It is still quite warm outside, and the sun has just made an appearance." She turned to see if this met with the approval of her guests, her eyes falling most particularly on Holmes.
He nodded slightly, the light crease in his forehead having returned and a certain tightness to his smile that told of his ongoing guilt, his answer reflecting a relief to be away from such obvious reminders of a house in grief. "That would be pleasant, thank you."
Watson nodded in agreement. "Sounds lovely."
She gave another nod to the butler, and once the men had divested themselves of the rest of their outerwear and bags, led them through the foyer and into the exceedingly large, tastefully decorated dining room also lined in oak. At the end of the room lay a pair of glass doors through which they followed her to the stone balcony-like porch that ran the length of the house and that looked over the large back garden, which was full of hedges, trees, and flower beds and centred by a beautiful marble fountain, clearly based on the one that lay in the heart of the Piazza Navone in Rome with its anthropomorphic depictions of the four great rivers of the world.
"I can see why London would hold little attraction for you at this time of year," Holmes observed, his piercing gaze taking in the surroundings. "Your father's taste was, despite everything, quite fine."
A tiny smile formed on her lips in agreement. "I still go into the city at least once a week to check on the books at Father's business and how the new general manager is getting along, as well as meeting with the directors of the Foundations to look over requests…and I had a few orders I needed to finish." Her smile grew a little sheepish as she revealed she had not yet stopped her seamstress work. "I still have a client or two that I've agreed to keep designing for. It was hard work when times were difficult, but I enjoy sewing all the same, and found that I did not wish to give it up just yet. But all the same, yes, most of my time is spent here."
Watson followed her to a table set near the stairs, pulling her chair out for her to sit down, and after pushing her back in, sat down on one side of her. "And how is your mother?" he inquired, noting her absence.
It had not been long after the funeral of Helen's father, when Watson had received a short letter from the young woman asking if it would not be inconvenient to make an appointment with him for the next day. He had telegrammed back immediately that it was completely all right, and indeed, that he would be delighted to see her once more. Would eleven o'clock for an early luncheon at a tearoom he knew by Kensington Gardens do?
The next morning at precisely eleven in the morning, Helen Thurlow was seated across from him in the comfortable and cosy surroundings, and proceeded to explain that her mother was in fact much recovered from her long melancholy, but at times, continued to worry her. The matron's mind would often drift away in the middle of a conversation, or she would take walks and forget where she was meaning to go. Twice, she had found herself in the garden with no recollection of how she got there. Yet, except from these instances, she had flourished after their whirlwind move to the Twin Birches. Her conversation moved well beyond simple quotations of nursery rhymes and poetry, and she was now once again an active participant in her own life, much to the joy of her daughter and adopted grandsons.
She had finished her update with a request that she be allowed to come by in a week's time with her mother for a consultation, and, all going well, make him their consultant family physician in London. "She trusts you," she had explained. "We both do, and I can think of no one better to oversee the health needs of our family." Pleased, he had gladly accepted her offer.
And indeed, the subsequent appointment had gone extremely well, albeit this time in a consulting room in King's College Teaching Hospital that he had borrowed from an old friend. Alice Thurlow had arrived with her daughter at the same punctual hour, and had been a most charming and astute patient, stating her own needs and problems as she saw them, and listened carefully when he'd proscribed her a trial plan of action and some medicines that he hoped would be able to ease any other minor problems she was currently having.
Her daughter had been true to her word, and not only made him her mother's physician but the family one as well. He had seen the elder Thurlow twice since then before being called away on a variety of cases with Holmes, once with her daughter accompanying her and once, surprisingly, on her own, which she had explained was a test to herself to see if she could accomplish such a feat…one they had both agreed was a victory to herself and her recovery.
Back in the present, and smiling a little more brightly, Helen replied, "Much better, Doctor. I think the country air has done wonders for her melancholy. I cannot begin to tell you how she and I appreciate all you have done for her."
Holmes turned and looked at his friend and partner. "I did not realise you were Mrs. Thurlow's physician, Watson."
His colleague appeared a little embarrassed, as he pulled out his cigarette case. "Yes...Miss Thurlow contacted me a couple days after the funeral. After several years without medical care, and her mother improving so rapidly, she called on me on behalf of her mother to make sure all was proceeding well…that there was no danger in a relapse," he explained, before turning back to Helen. "Her condition is continuing to improve...that is marvellous news indeed."
Holmes sat down at the table to listen, as Helen nodded. "I am sure she would have been glad to see you, Doctor, but she is visiting an old friend in Cardiff this week." Sitting back in her chair, she noted Watson's look of pleased surprise before turning to gaze at her guests. "She wanted to test herself once more, Doctor. And indeed, has taken several trips to London since the last one she made to see you, and has managed for the most part extremely well. This made her take heart enough to accept one of her old school friend's invitation to stay a fortnight. However, I am sure you have many tales of your own to tell. So Dartmoor? You seem to have been most busy indeed since we parted."
"Oh yes," Watson enthused, his mind returning to the case that had kept him busy the better part of a month. "But before the affair with the Hound, we had been embroiled in a singular case of the Greek Interpreter, and then the mysterious treasure from India and the Sign of the Four."
"Yes," Holmes agreed with a quick nod of his head, glancing over at Helen. "India has been to the forefront of events of late."
She gave him a wry smile. "Seeing as it is a volatile part of the Empire...as well as being full or mystery and promise, I suppose it is only to be expected," she replied. "But treasure? And a sign of four?"
"Actually, it's the Sikh symbol for the number four...and...well, let me start at the beginning..." Watson explained, just as Goodwin and a maid appeared with a tray of sandwiches and cakes as well as a tray containing a pot of tea and five china cups.
"Saved by the tea bell," Holmes observed of the interruption.
As if on cue, the twins arrived, skidding to a halt in mid run at their sister's look and walking the rest of the way, before taking their seats at the table. Watson gave Holmes a huffy if good natured glare at his remark, as Helen reached over and began pouring the tea, while Goodwin and the maid retreated soundlessly.
"Doctor, please continue," she entreated, as the boys helped themselves to large platefuls of cake and sandwiches. Watson smiled, and with a gleam in his eyes began to tell the tale of Miss Mary Morstan, the Sholtos, and Jonathan Small and his little aboriginal helper.
Holmes alternated between watching the seemingly endless and rapacious appetites of the small boys both for food and Watson's storytelling, and maintaining a mildly resigned look at Watson's style in recounting the tale of vengeance, honour, and greed.
"I fear..." he added at the end of this particular retelling, gazing at his friend over his tea cup, "that Watson's storytelling, as exciting as he always makes it seem, might be even more excessively emotional and overwrought then usual in this case, thanks to his own unique emotional involvement with one of the main protagonists."
Helen's eyebrow rose slowly, as she turned to Watson.
The doctor flushed a little at his friend's comments, but smiled happily at their hostess. "Yes...well, Miss Mary Morstan has, since the events I just outlined to you, done me the singular honour of agreeing to be my wife."
Helen could not help but be overjoyed for the older man. "Congratulations, Doctor!" she enthused, as the boys eyes met their counterpart's and grimaced. "A joyous announcement indeed."
"I venture to say your audience isn't as impressed with that as they were with the Hound, Watson," the detective commented, glancing at his friend and then the boys, while smiling into his tea.
Andrew shook his head with a show of disgust on the subject of romance that only a young boy could. "The story was excellent...but marriage and all that mushy lovey stuff...ugh!"
"Yes..." Holmes sympathised, as he finished his tea, and placed his cup and saucer down on the table, "I quite agree."
Helen's head turned to the tall man. "You are not a subscriber to the romantic side of life?" she inquired, taking a sip of her tea.
Andrew quickly finished his tea, and catching his brother's eye, rose from the table. "Helen may we be excused? We're off to the tree house." He turned his gaze to the doctor. "Would you like to see where we have our adventures?" he asked.
Watson eyes rose up with surprise, but nevertheless, found himself agreeing, though mostly due to the fact he did not want to get caught in what he was sure would be quite the debate on the nature of love and marriage from his confirmed bachelor friend. The boys grinned, and a moment later, led him down the steps and all three had disappeared into the garden.
Helen's brow furrowed, as she watched them depart. "I do hope they behave themselves."
"Oh, I'm sure we can trust Watson not to lead them astray," Holmes deadpanned.
She chuckled, and turned to face him more, her grey eyes evaluating him subtly. "Now, what was I saying? Oh yes...so you do not agree with romance or marriage, Mr. Holmes?"
"In answer to your question, Miss Thurlow, romance is for some a necessary part of life, for the continuance of it..." he began, nodding his head in affirmation to her silent query of another cup, "and pleasurable in part for those involved I'm sure. However, I have never found it to be so for me. Love and marriage are, by and by, distractions that the more rational cerebral man does not really need in his life."
She sipped her tea, and considered his words a moment before replying. "So, you do not think the two things could co-exist? That one can live with just pure logic alone?" She shook her head, her tone respectful but disagreeing. "I cannot agree with you there. I think love is strength. It allows for a person to do remarkable things...yes, it can be distracting...if you let it. But in the end, I firmly believe that the power and intensity of such feelings can be channelled to do remarkable things as well."
He smiled a little, her answer almost precisely what he'd expected. "With all due respect, Miss Thurlow, as a member of the gentler sex, you would be inclined to believe so. Love has many forms...most of which, as you say, can be quite remarkable, but romantic love is, for the most part, inclined only to make a man's head woolly and preoccupied...and I cannot afford such divertissement in my line of work."
Helen quirked an eyebrow at his almost condescending tone. "You feel because I am a woman, that I am inclined to such opinions? On which evidence to you come by this? Do you not think a person's opinions are more founded on their experiences than by their gender? And...may I ask...how would you know this? Have you been in such an experience to have it occur? Watson is in love, and yet he has successfully helped you on at least two cases while in this state. Even now, he seems happy to me...not distracted."
"Watson..." he corrected, calmly dealing with her barrage of questions, "amiable and intelligent fellow that he is, is always distracted, Miss Thurlow. His kind heart and gentle ways make it impossible for him not to be. He is the softer side of our partnership, and adds much to our dealings with our clients. But it is I who provide the focus, not he." He paused for a moment. "As a human being, you are inclined to your own singular opinions of course, but you are also as a woman inclined to inform that opinion via your nature, which is by and by, gentle and nurturing and aimed towards the softer emotions. Women are, for the most part, built that way. It is not for nothing that romance as a genre was built around and aimed towards women, Miss Thurlow."
Reaching for his cigarette case in his pocket, he sat back, and regarded her as he drew it out and opened it. "Do not misinterpret me, Miss Thurlow," he said sincerely. "I am not denigrating the concept of romance as a whole or those that desire it. I am merely saying, it is not for me or those that wish to emulate the work I do…" He held up the cigarette case. "May I smoke?"
"Of course," she replied immediately, having listened carefully to his arguments, her head cocking to one side slowly. "So, you feel that to be a master in the art of detection, you must in essence...give up or distance yourself from all such emotions? Would it not be better to find a balance? Forgive my bluntness, but like my late father I have a habit of speaking my mind, and your stance is rather intriguing. A balance is what is usually advocated in most philosophical frames of thought. To deny something completely is found to be just as much a mistake as indulging too much."
"I concede your point, Miss Thurlow," he agreed, lighting his Woodbine and drawing on it. "Moderation, as the great Greek philosophers all maintained, is everything, but the fact remains that even were I so inclined towards romance the way that Watson so clearly is...I have never met anyone who stirs that inclination to the point where I would wish to pursue it." Crossing his legs, he leaned back and blew a gentle trail of smoke into the air.
Her expression became politely intrigued. "Never?" she queried with a tiny smile. "I suppose I can not fault or debate you on that, seeing as I am in the same situation as you in that respect." She reached over and poured herself another cup of tea, raising the pot toward his cup in inquiry, "More, Mr. Holmes?"
"No thank you," he replied with a slight shake of his head, watching as she replaced the teapot to the table. "There has never been one in your life that you would have wished to court you?" he inquired.
She shook her head, a light smirk on her face. "No...even if I had had the means in the past, I am afraid I am a little choosy in my criteria. That is not to say I am opposed to the idea of falling in love...I am just not a woman who likes to rush into anything. What if the brief initial attraction was to fade, and I found myself bonded to a man I had absolutely nothing in common with?" She added some milk to hers cup, before stirring it, and sitting back once more. "I suppose I have a fear of being locked in a marriage with someone with the intelligence of a walnut," she added.
Holmes chuckled a little at her words. "I greatly appreciate your hesitancy, but is that not what the courtship period is for? To ascertain suitability in the long term?" He took another long inhale of his cigarette. "Or have I been rudely misinformed?"
She flashed him a quick smile. "Oh yes, if done correctly. Though a great deal too many people these days seem to rush into matrimony…waiting only a couple of months after meeting. Some because the intensity of their emotions leads them to such an action...others because there has been no one better that has presented themselves, and loneliness holds sway. I suppose, they fear the other will find someone new, and wish to cement the deal as soon as possible." She gazed at him evenly. "It is of no matter with me...no one has asked, I am too busy to feel lonely, and even then, I do believe my constant questioning would put the most lovelorn man off soon enough."
"Miss Thurlow…" he countered, flicked his cigarette ash over the stone railing, "feminine chatter apart, any man put off by the all too rare occurrence of a woman's intelligent questioning, is a man insecure in his own skin, and therefore not suitable for any woman, least of all a capable one like yourself."
"Thank you," she replied with a gentle smile and slight incline of her head. "For the compliment as well...even if it was somewhat left handed towards my gender as a whole." She sighed softly in amusement, as she took a sip of her tea. "Though I do have a feeling we will end up agreeing to disagree over the subject of love and its unattractiveness." Her tone was wry, though the glint in her eyes showed that she was not the slightest bit disappointed in that, her enjoyment of the debate alone obvious. "I must come up with some more detailed arguments for the next time we meet...whenever that should be."
He inhaled, and swept his gaze around the gardens. "Oh I'm sure it shall be soon enough, Miss Thurlow. I don't doubt that now Watson knows your precise location, his position as a consultant for your mother, and your excellent tea time repast, he will prevail upon us to stop at St. Albans to visit you on our way to and from certain events and even cases, every time we leave London," he concluded, his eyes watching a small fountain's water play.
"You are both, of course, very welcome to stop by any time you are need of tea or mildly interesting conversation," she returned, finding she was quite pleased with their conversation, for in truth her mind hungered for an intriguing conversation or two.
He took another deep draw of his Woodbine, before glancing at her, a trifle surprised to find himself relatively comfortable in her company, and more relaxed than he had been since being forced to disembark early from his train. "Then undoubtedly, we shall discuss this and a few other points arising over time. Though now...perhaps we should endeavour to rescue my colleague from the undoubtedly fiendishly clever machinations of your young charges," he suggested, rising to his feet.
With a quiet laugh, she placed her cup down on the table and joined him. "Of course," she agreed, noticing the air had started to chill, and pulling her shawl a little more tightly around herself. "I'm sure they've since made him walk the plank at least twice by now."
Extending her hand to the stairs with a friendly smile, she led him down into the garden, as the dipping sun turned the sky a glorious shade of rose and iris hues around them.