May 30th, 1881
Joyous day! Oh, I hope my happiness does not jinx it! Like Daniel, Amelia has prophesied my fondest wish from my present discomfort (though unlike Daniel, her gloomier predictions are nonsense, and she is lucky I do not tell Ethan, for he would surely cast her into the lion’s den).
As you know, my stomach fares poorly these days, and rare is the morning I do not wake ill. Dear Ethan is so concerned he rarely leaves my side. No princess was ever so doted upon; he does not let me so much as lift a water glass to my lips, but takes everything upon himself. What I did to deserve such deep, abiding love, I shall never know!
I hated to burden him, though, so finally I asked to send for Amelia to play nursemaid instead, and he agreed – which she ought to consider! Ugh, but more on that in its own time. When she arrived, I told her my symptoms. Her immediate suspicion? I am with child!
There are no words for my elation – no sounds in any tongue fit to capture my rapture – yet Amelia was curiously grave.
“Why, whatever troubles you?” I asked.
“Dear girl,” she said, patting my hand, “are you certain you can handle this? You are not yet nineteen, after all, and a baby can be hard on a young body, to say nothing of a young mind…” She trailed off meaningfully.
I know she spoke out of true, sisterly concern, but it still peeved me. “I am not my mother,” I snapped, folding my arms. “Land’s sake, I expect you, at least, to remember that.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I just want you to know that, should you ever feel melancholy or nervous or in any way strange, you can always call on me for support. I will not judge, I will not talk. I shall only ever love and serve you.” She winked and twiddled the magpie coin on her necklace. “All for one and one for all, you know.”
Smiling, I touched an identical piece fastened around my wrist. It was Robert who found the strange, foreign coins at the seaside a few summers past. Peter had dubbed us five “Musketeers” long before, but having something to cement it was nice.
I only wish I did not have to bury Robert with his. But he would not want me to think on such sad things on this beautiful occasion.
I agreed not to tell Ethan until I was certain, but I could not help imagining his joy aloud. This turned (as my mind often does) to fawning over my beloved husband in general. Amelia soured at such talk, and it was only when I laughed about his tantrum on the veranda that she raised her head.
“He smashed something?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “In front of you?”
I chuckled. “Believe me, I had the same look on my face in the moment, but I’ve come to see the ridiculous side of it.”
Amelia was unmoved. “He might have hurt you, doing that.”
“P lease, he was not trying to.”
“Are you sure?”
I scoffed in disbelief. “Honestly, Amelia, this grudge has gone far enough! He’s a man of passions, that is all!”
“Passions that lead him to destroy your possessions,” she said, picking at her lip. “But do they make him destroy his own, I wonder?”
I folded my arms and raised my chin. “All I have is his, and all he has is mine.”
“There’s a ‘no’ if I ever heard one.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, you always do this!” I shook my head. “You are so paranoid, it’s no you wonder you have not…” I trailed off, remembering myself.
“Have not what?” Amelia said, arching an eyebrow.
“Forget it. It was insensitive.”
I sucked on my teeth. “Well,” I said in a small voice, “it is just that…Amelia, you are still young, and so very beautiful, and I am certain dear Robert would want you to be happy.”
Amelia chuckled. “Ah. This old tune.”
“I am sorry, but I worry for your future, as any true friend ought!” I said. “Life is not easy for widows, you know. And, well, sometimes I do wonder if some of your fears about me and Ethan might not be…misdirected.”
For a moment she looked angry, but her expression soon softened into shame, and she rubbed her forehead. “Oh, Lord, maybe you’re right. Things certainly have not gone according to plan for me, have they?”
“But they could, my dear, so very easily!” I said brightly. “You just have to put yourself out there again. It is admirable, the way you care for Aunt Esther, but she is still young, she can look after herself. Stick that closely to a husband, and you’ll have children in no time – which my dear auntie can hardly provide, can she?”
I laughed heartily, but Amelia’s smile was decidedly somber. “No, I don’t suppose she can. All the same, you know me. I hate to be rushed.”
“Well, I am here to help you at your leisure,” I said, dropping a curtsy. “You deserve to be happy, after all.”
She embraced me, pecking me on each cheek. “So do you, Christina. So do you.”
“It’s not much,” Annie mumbled, wiping off a chair with the edge of her apron, “but it’s home. Hope you don’t mind, we don’t have much to offer you.”
“Please, don’t apologize,” Pippa said. She pulled the red wool blanket tight and flapped one corner in illustration. “You have been to enough trouble on my account.”
“Too bloody right, we have,” Louis grumbled, but Annie hushed him and he retreated to the corner. Squatting down by the hearth, he pulled a basket into his lap and began shelling peas. At the table, Annie did the same, if only to avoid looking Pippa in the eye.
“My mother came to see me the day she died,” Annie began in a cracked voice. “Worse for drink as usual, but I s’pose I can’t blame her, looking back. Had a hard time of it, Mum did.”
“Why did she come here?” Pippa asked.
“Boots,” grunted Louis, spitting the end of a rotten pod onto the floor. “Last decent pair I had, too, had to work in last year’s, which were so cracked I might as well have gone barefoot.”
Annie looked guiltily down at her fingernails. “Mum needed money, only we didn’t have anything left. Rent day, you see. Mum wouldn’t hear it, though, started hollering and begging and just making a big scene. So I gave her Louis’ boots to pawn so she would -”
Her voice broke and she buried her face in her hands. “God, I gave them to her so she would go away! And she sure did, didn’t she?” She made a pained, spluttering sound, wiping her nose on her sleeve. It was Louis’ turn to look guilty now, and he set his basket aside and crouched down next to his wife, patting her on the knee.
“Did your mother usually come to you for money?” Pippa asked. “On any kind of regular schedule or route, that someone might have followed?”
Annie twisted her head uncertainly. “She came a fair bit, I s’pose, but not like clockwork or anything. Coulda been followed, coulda just been chance, like they said.”
“Last time we spoke, though, you mentioned something was different that time, something was strange,” Pippa continued. “What did you mean by that?”
“I dunno,” Annie sighed, “it’s such a little thing, probably en’t even worth you coming all this way for it.”
The hairs on the back of Pippa’s neck stood up. “Please, anything would help.” And if there were ever words that hummed with value, she thoughts, they’re, ‘it’s probably not even worth it.’”
“Well, did they ever find who gave her that neckerchief?”
“Neckerchief?” The images of the women spun through Pippa’s mind. Come to think of it, they were all wearing neckerchiefs, weren’t they?
“Yes, miss. Said she got it from a gentleman friend, you see.” Annie screwed up her nose. “Well, I say friend, but you know what that means. He seemed to have taken a shine to her, though I can’t say it was mutual. She teased the lad something fierce.”
“Did you ever meet this man?” Pippa asked.
Annie shook her head. “She just mentioned him in passing, when I asked about the scarf.”
“Don’t get too excited now, they don’t think it was Jack,” Louis said. “He were just some kid. They told us they questioned him and found nothing. Just a gimp boy looking for company, like most of her fellers.”
All the same, the thought latched tightly onto Pippa’s brain. “Do you recall what the neckerchief looked like by chance.”
Annie furrowed her brow. “Erm, cor, it was so long ago. White, I think…or was it yellow? Green? There was a rose on it though, definitely, or some kind of flower. As big as your fist, and red as blood.”
She returned to Baker Street in glue-thick fog. To her surprise, she heard the place before she saw it. Muffled shouting reverberated through the windows. She squatted by the door, stripped one stocking off, and tied it around her head to brace her ears.
“BLOODY SNEAK-THIEF LIAR!” Edward Nichols was screaming as she entered. His face was as red as bank leather, and he was dangerously close to the fire irons, yet Holmes kept smoking his pipe, watching the man with all the cordial disengagement of a childless adult at a Christmas pageant. Nonetheless, Pippa marked the distance between them on the floor and smirked. That’s three feet or I’m the Shah of Persia, she thought. You will never live this down, old man.
“Mr. Nichols, I assure you, Peter Spellman is the last person we would ever share information with,” Watson said. His soldier’s bearing was in full evidence, and he had one hand clapped protectively on the wing of Holmes’ chair. “I wouldn’t trust that man with my shoe size, much less with your address.”
But Nichols hadn’t walked across town in a thunderstorm to be turned away by something as feeble as truth. “I pay good money to keep you damn gawking monsters away,” he snarled, “only thing I could ever count on coppers for! Then today, not two hours after I boot you, my house is crawling with every muckraker from here to Shanghai, AND YOU’RE JUST GONNA SIT THERE AND TELL ME THAT’S A MYSTERY YOU CAN’T SOLVE?”
“Oh, I am certain even you could solve that one, sir,” Holmes said. “I’m afraid that you can simply no longer count on the police to do any of their jobs. Welcome back to the public’s default state of being.”
Joshua and Shekhar, who had been hovering exactly five feet away against the far wall, vaulted over the couch and caught Nichols’ fist before it was even in the air.
“Sir, stop and think,” Shekhar said, in his deepest, most soothing voice (Pippa kept herself from trembling, but it was a struggle). “Dr. Watson is a writer. Writers don’t like to share, it’s against their religion.”
The lullaby tone worked; Nichols started coming down, bristling but disoriented. “Religion?” he mumbled.
“Attention-ism,” Joshua supplied, winking at Watson.
“And I would bet Mr. Holmes gets a cut of all those stories,” Shekhar said, convincing as a demon, “so why would they invite the competition? You can’t sell a story everyone has already heard, so why would they give up so fast, hand it over to all their rivals as soon as you turned them away? Spellman broke a window to talk to your brother, you don’t think Dr. Watson has such mettle?”
Nichols stared at Watson, who tried to look devious. Pippa, the deviance expert-in-residence, was unimpressed, but Nichols relaxed. At last, a motive he could get behind. Honesty was a slippery bugger, and you never knew where it was hiding or what it wanted, but greed? Greed you could take to the bank, and most did.
The man turned to leave, saw Pippa, and threatened to boil over again. “What about this one, though?” he said. “You come from hateful stock, maybe you told them.”
“Mr. Nichols, do I look like the sort of person who would stoop to such a thing?” she said, before recalling her appearance and quickly untying the sock. “Besides, Mr. Spellman’s meddling has cost our investigation dearly, and I promise I’m too clever to think it would do anything else. I suggest you go home, invest in a blackjack, and give him a good crack on my behalf if he turns up again.”
Nichols fumed but, after visibly weighing the pros and cons of throttling one of the richest women in England, shuffled to the door. “Gonna cost you more than dearly if that happens, I promise you that,” he said, then stepped, cursing under his breath, into the early morning dark.
Joshua bolted the door. “Well, that was one for the books, eh?” he said with a cheery whistle. “I love it when they’re right on the razor’s edge, y’know, gets your gears going like that. Fuck me sideways, it’s better than coffee.”
“Language,” Watson said, but Joshua didn’t appear to hear him, and the doctor didn’t appear to expect him to.
“And you’re a natural, mate,” Joshua said, giving Shekhar an appreciative shove. “Talk yourself outta trouble often?”
Shekhar pointedly did not look at Pippa. “Sorry to throw you under the wheels like that, Dr. Watson,” he said, “it was simply the first thing that came to mind.”
Watson waved him off, looking worriedly down at Holmes, whose eyes were suddenly hooded. “Are you alright?” the doctor asked, with a gentleness that was at once familiar and deeply strange to Pippa’s ear. She had heard such notes between Folley and Oliver, of course, it was the background noise of her existence, but never passed from one man to another.
“Edward Nichols does have a private address, though, for the safety of his young brother,” Holmes said, as much to himself as to anybody, “and despite my flippancy, that is generally something Scotland Yard can be trusted to protect, for liability purposes if nothing else. It took some teeth-pulling to get it myself, even as part of an official investigation. Spellman has no such credentials, and may be the only man living who is more bothersome than I, so we can safely assume he did not charm it out of them.”
“Maybe he just followed us,” Watson said.
Joshua shook his head. “Kept an eye out for that, and you know it’s my specialty, sir. If Mr. Holmes didn’t see him, I would have.”
“Or Farrier leaked it to him,” Pippa said. “He’s investigating too, remember, he’s probably keeping an ear to the ground about how we’re going about it. If the police are the only ones with Nichols’ address, it follows that a policeman must have given it out, yes?”
“P therefore Q, but not Q therefore P, Miss Cotton,” Holmes said. Nonetheless, he stowed his pipe and rose up, looking less convinced and more in the mood for a show. “Farrier does work obnoxious hours, so I do not think we will cause him any distress by keeping him a while longer.”
“Didn’t you write that monograph last month,” Watson said, smiling slightly, “on the effects of sleep deprivation on patience and mental acuity?”
“Did I?” There was an impish twinkle in Holmes’ eye. “Dear me, I had quite forgotten.”
To Pippa’s surprise (and Holmes’ disappointment), they were neither the first nor the most distressing individuals to lengthen Farrier’s night. This time, the doors at Scotland Yard opened for them without question, the few men within too nervous to stop them. As they approached Farrier’s office, Pippa saw why. Three trim gentlemen in gray suits sat on a bench in the corridor, a bench she was positive had not been there before. Their faces were as drab as their clothing, and the beige briefcases in their hands were inexpensive, but when one of them cleaned his glasses on his handkerchief, Pippa gasped.
“It’s the Banshees!” she hissed to the boys, pointing at the embroidered corner of the cloth: six tiny black arrows bound by a gold crown. “Oh Jesus, he’s in for it now!”
“The who?” Shekhar asked.
“They’re Penwicke lawyers,” she explained. “The best of the best. They call them the Banshees because you only see them when you’re about to die.”
Joshua and Shekhar shrunk back at this, but Pippa flagged the men down as casually as waiters. “So what did Farrier do to drag you lot from the depths?”
Three heads turned in eerie unison. After a moment, the two on the far end looked away, while the one nearest Pippa stood up like a slide rule and gave the group a cold half-smile. Apparently, this was the closest the Penwickes could get to a “people person.”
“Felicitations and good evening to you and your household, Miss Cotton,” the man said, and Pippa had the distinct sensation she was being charged by the word. “Her Grace always appreciates the assistance of the duchy of Hallsbury, but does not require it at the present time. Miss Eddleson has the matter in hand.”
“Mattie’s here?” Pippa said, as the man refolded himself over the bench as neatly as a towel. “I thought she was abroad.”
“She was, madam, but Inspector Farrier elected to create complications,” the Banshee said.
Pippa raised an eyebrow. “And she elected to create a new hole in his head, is that it?”
“Miss Eddleson would never resort to violence in any circumstance.”
At that moment, Mattie’s voice reverberated through Farrier’s office door: “IF THIS HAPPENS AGAIN, YOU BLITHERING IDIOT, I SWEAR ON EVERY CIRCLE OF HELL, I WILL STICK A CURTAIN ROD UP YOUR NETHERS AND USE YOU FOR DRAPES!”
The door banged open, and Mattie and Farrier emerged. For the first time, the inspector looked cowed, though he straightened when he saw Pippa watching.
“Your passport, madam,” he said, holding out a thin booklet. “I would appreciate it if you’d stop making false accusations about my department. Accidents happen.”
Mattie snatched the passport with a hiss. “Accident, my eye. You signed the warrant in your own hand, you slippery tripe. I’ll have your head next time, and you know I can get it!”
She snapped her fingers at the Banshees, who filed out after her. Holmes and Watson, seeing Farrier was on the ropes, leaped in for the kill, squeezing into his office before the inspector could retreat. Shekhar and Joshua moved to follow them, but Pippa hesitated. She sensed something pertinent in the moment, like a fish catching the ripples off a shark half a mile away.
“Give him an earful for me,” she told the boys, “I’ll be right back.”
She caught up with Mattie at the end of the corridor. “What happened with your passport?”
Mattie snorted like a dragon. “He revoked it. That scuttling little dogsbody froze me out!”
“Oh, that’s not the half of it.” Mattie ticked things off on her black-gloved fingers. “Stopped my passport, froze my travel account, forced my ship to return to England, put out a warrant for my arrest! The man is lucky I didn’t give him a bloody good reason to arrest me the second we were alone in the room!”
“But how?” Pippa asked. “He’s just an inspector, how would he have the authority to do all that to a Penwicke? Surely the government wouldn’t let him go after their own.”
“The Penwicke Discretionary Support Agency is a private enterprise, neither directed by nor operating in conjunction with the government of Great Britain,” one of the Banshees said quickly. “Company interactions with public officials are and have always been no more privileged than that of any other group of concerned citizens.”
“Unfortunately, there are a few fools left who actually believe that,” Mattie sighed, “and it seems Farrier is one of them. I’d never pegged him among the suicidally stupid, but people surprise you from time to time.”
“Not often, though,” Pippa said with a frown. “Are you positive it was him? It wasn’t just a mixup?”
Mattie snickered and pulled several folded sheets of paper out of her passport. “See for yourself.”
They were four warrants, all signed in Farrier’s heavy hand. “Aiding and abetting…harboring a fugitive…embezzlement…homicide?” Pippa read aloud. “He thinks you’re involved in Father’s death too?”
“He claims he thinks nothing of the sort,” Mattie said, rolling her eyes, “says he didn’t sign any of them, hadn’t heard a word about it until I came barging in tonight. I had them checked though, the watermarks are genuine and the handwriting matches.”
“Perfectly?” Pippa asked, stacking two forms together and holding them up to the light.
Mattie’s lip twisted. “No, not perfectly. Thank you, Professor Forgery, but this isn’t my first day on the job, I know what a traced signature looks like.” She held a hand out expectantly. “Lord, children these days, no respect for the fine arts.”
Pippa handed the warrants back, but they slipped from her fingers and scattered over the floor. “Sorry, just asking,” she said as she scooped them up. “It’s just some strange things have been happening lately with the case.”
She told Mattie about the man at the window and the false Watson, and the woman’s face became pensive.
“Has Folley received any of my letters?” Mattie said at last, pacing up and down the hall. “I’ve sent her a few reports on my progress.”
“I’m not sure, but I can ask,” Pippa said.
“See that you do.” Mattie fingered her passport thoughtfully, then checked her pocket watch and grunted. “82 hours lost. Land’s sake, Pierce could be anywhere by now!”
She bustled off, lawyers in tow. Before she went out the door, and without looking back, she raised the warrants above her head. “I can also count, you know,” she called, “so whatever you’re plotting, plot it well!”
Pippa smirked, pulled the fourth warrant from under her long skirt, and nodded.
Farrier, full of sound and fury, confessed to nothing, yet Pippa was not troubled by this stonewalling as the team returned to Merrimore. She had more pressing questions now.
“Walton, where are my aunt and uncle?” she asked the butler after a fruitless search of their rooms. “Surely they haven’t been called back to Scotland Yard again?”
“No, Miss Phillipa, they went out with the children for the day,” Walton said. “Spending time with family is understandably their main priority – and Lady Hallsbury did request your presence,” he added pointedly.
“I was busy at Baker Street,” she mumbled. “And anyway, you can’t guilt me about ducking out when I’m doing it to save their lives.”
“Of course not, madam,” Walton said, as if he couldn’t guilt a goose into walking into the oven of its own accord.
“Have we had any mail from Mattie?” Pippa asked, glancing at the bare basket on the entry table. “Since she left, I mean?”
For a split second, Walton looked embarrassed. “Actually, madam, I intended to speak with Their Graces about that. There has been no mail at all since Lady Hallsbury’s arrest.”
“None?” Pippa repeated.
“Not so much as a loose stamp, Miss Phillipa. I sent staff to inquire at the post office, but they claim nothing has come.”
A cloudy thought drifted through her mind. “Maybe everyone’s just stopped writing to us. Worried about guilt by association and all.”
“I confess I considered that too, madam,” Walton said, “but the monthly bills have not appeared either. I am sorry I did not inform you sooner, but given the circumstances, I believed your family did not need to be bothered with such trifles. ”
“No, of course not. Thank you,” she said, trying not to sound bitter. Could someone be stopping our mail? The man on the trellis flashed in her mind’s eye. Surely he couldn’t manage that…but if he could, what else could he do?
Pippa went up the stairs, lost in thought, and only came to when she felt a cold breeze. It was coming from her bedroom door. Her cracked bedroom door.
She opened her the door and heard a crinkling sound. Her mother’s list was caught underneath the jamb. I swear I put that in my desk…
She edged cautiously into the room. At first glance, everything seemed normal, but after a moment’s search, oddities jumped out. A corner of the rug was turned. Her desk drawer was closed, but sat askew, jumped from its track. The bedclothes were slightly rumpled at the head, as if sat on. Her nightstand drawer was cracked open and – her heart stopped – so was the window.
She fumbled along the vanity for the heaviest object she could find (a silver hairbrush, which was hardly fearsome, but beggars could not be choosers), crossed the floor, and opened the nightstand with one finger. Inside the drawer was her parents’ photograph. The glass had been removed, as had the back, but the paper was thick and warped around the edges, as if it had been burned into the frame. Kneeling on the bed and raising the brush like a dagger, she rang Maxine’s bell and waited for someone to charge out of the closet or scuttle out from under the bed.
Mercifully, no one appeared except her maid. “Did you open the window?” Pippa asked.
“Did you move this?” She held up the picture, then the list. “Or this? Did you move anything at all?”
She saw her own fear reflected on Maxine’s pink face. “I…I’m not sure, milady. Has…has something been taken?”
“I don’t know,” Pippa said, “maybe? I can’t really tell.” She lowered the brush sheepishly, but fear gave way to embarrassment only briefly before becoming fury. I can’t tell? Me, I can’t tell? Please! Something rotten is going on here, and I can smell it. But what? Who? Is it on purpose? Are they just trying to mess with my head? Why?
Why is yet another person trying to tangle me up in their secrets?
Who the hell do they think they are?
The swirling rage pushed a switch somewhere in her mind. She bunched the list in her fist and raced to the stairs.
“Dr. Watson,” she cried, “do you have your stethoscope on hand?”
The knot of men at the foot of the stairs looked up in identical bewilderment. “In my medical bag,” Watson said, “but why?”
Pippa jumped the last five steps, which turned out to be a poor decision in slippers. She conveniently crashed into the receiving table, though, and, ignoring the pain in her knees, ransacked Watson’s kit until she found her target.
“I’ll cheat too, by God,” she said, wrapping the stethoscope around her fist, “if I am being doubly cheated against.”
She limped determinedly towards the study, her associates at her heels. “I feel obliged to warn you that illegally-obtained evidence is technically not admissible in court,” Holmes said.
“Noted,” Pippa grunted, taking George’s portrait down to reveal the wall safe hidden behind it. “How often do the courts hold to that rule?”
Holmes smirked. “Almost never.”
“Noted more.” She pressed the stethoscope cup to the safe door and spun the lock, listening carefully to the tumblers.
“No way that’ll work,” Joshua said, squatting down beside her and flicking the tube with his finger. “You’ve been reading too many books.”
“If you saw my marks, Tabak, you’d never accuse me of such an awful thing,” Pippa said, “but I still know what I’m doing.”
“Forgive my skepticism, but that is a Lillie safe,” Holmes said. “It would take a career criminal weeks to master the system, and somehow I doubt you have been exposed to such an education.”
At that moment, there was a loud click and the safe popped open. Holmes’ jaw did not drop, but he barely caught it on the way down.
“Your nephew is a winning houseguest, Holmes,” Pippa said breezily, “at least if you’re a twelve-year-old who wants her slingshot back.”
“So what exactly are we looking for?” Shekhar asked, as Pippa opened the safe and began emptying ledgers into his arms.
“My mother’s suicide note.” She scooped up a stack of loose parchment and handed it over her shoulder to Joshua. “ I don’t believe for a minute that Father burned it. At the end of the day, mine is an aristocratic family, and aristocrats cling to their paperwork even more tightly than they do to each other’s throats.”
“I can think of a couple embezzlers who’d disagree with you,” Joshua said, but nonetheless rifled through the pages with keen interest.
Shekhar, meanwhile, opened a ledger with one finger and seemed to immediately rue the wasted effort. “Destroying the evidence is the first rule of crime, isn’t it?” he said, looking to Holmes for confirmation.
“Just look, will you?” Pippa said, flipping through a packet as thick as her arm. “One of these has to be useful.”
“Hang on, what’s that?” Joshua took a leaf from her hand, folded the corner once, and picket at it. The front came away with a sticky sound. Sandwiched in between was a letter. “Reginald,” was written across the front in the same hand as the book list.
“Gotta be it, right?” Joshua said quietly.
Pippa nodded, heart racing. She ripped the letter open.
Please forgive me. You and your son did all you possibly could for my happiness. My weakness is my own fault, and believe me, if I could fight this off a moment longer, I would. But I cannot. All I can do is pray God will show me even half the compassion you and your family have.
Let me beg you for one last kindness: Let Pippa stay here with you at Merrimore. I know it is a strange request, but I know my husband, and I know how deeply, how terribly this will break him. No matter how he tries, no matter his love for the girl, I fear he cannot bear the burden of raising her alone, especially in light of my many sins. Please, for my sake – for Ethan’s sake, and for George’s – take good care of our little girl.
I also ask that you divest my books among my friends, as laid out below. I know it is awfully particular, but I suspect they will need particular comforts in the times to come. Please allow a poor madwoman her last foibles, dear father.
Leola Fairborough – The Fairborough family Bible
Amelia Dearborne – My private journal
Hessie Morgan – The Dagonet Ballads
Arlene Credge – Anne Evan’s Poems and Music
Cora Langhorne – All Quiet Along the Potomac
Helen Aubert – Under the Window
Eileen Brook – Laughable Lyrics
Valerie Collins – The Sentimental Songbook
Isabelle Habborlain – Sonnets and Songs of Proteus
Elise Doyle – Meynell’s Preludes
Nancy Howlett – Romances sans Paroles
Teresa Walsh – Une Saison en Enfer
Tell Pippa I love her, and that I am sorry. God willing, one day, she will understand.
Your loving, wretched daughter-in-law,
Pippa tried to focus only on the important parts, but her fists clenched in spite of herself. That’s it? “I love her and I’m sorry”? That’s all I get?
“Awfully long list, innit?” Joshua said.
“All poetry too,” Shekhar said, “that’s bound to mean something.”
“Not as much as the recipients’ do, I suspect,” Holmes said. Using his hand, he covered all but the first letter of each woman’s name. “It is an acrostic.”
“By Jove, so it is,” Watson breathed. “La hache vient.”
Pippa frowned. “The haddock comes?”
“The axe, Cotton, the axe comes,” Holmes sighed. “Thank you for being such a testament to the finishing school system.”
“There’s a prescient warning if I ever saw one,” Watson said. “Why French though?”
“Father pretended to be French,” Pippa said, “whenever he was with Folley.”
“Meaning this could be a sign that your mother knew about her husband’s alter ego,” Holmes said. “A powerful piece of evidence, if we can couple it with more definitive proof.”
“Did she will her friends any money? Any of the people on the list, does it say?” Shekhar asked. He was poring intently over a black ledger.
Pippa checked the note front and back. “I don’t believe so, it doesn’t say.”
“Any money would automatically belong to her husband, at any rate,” Holmes said, “and he does not strike me as the generous type. Why do you ask?”
Shekhar ran a finger down a page. “Well, there’s all these transfers to women. Around 20 pounds each, but it looks like he did it monthly, and there’s got to be two dozen names here at least.”
He spread the book out on the table and the group crowded around. Sure enough, women’s names filled the pages, going back to the spring of 1889. One name jumped out, and Pippa’s breath caught in her throat.
“Hold on, Kathy Drake,” she said, pointing to the entry. “That’s Jenny Drake’s mother. Jenny was a kitchen maid, she went missing around Easter in 1888. And there’s one for Eliza Beley, she used to work here too, quit out of nowhere. So did Bernice Coghill and Mary McMillain and Laura Wendell and…”
Spring 1889. He would have known about Father by then.
Pippa jumped back from the book as if scalded. “It’s hush money.” She felt sick. “It’s everybody Father attacked, them or their families. Grandfather found them all, but only to pay them off!”
“You don’t know that for certain,” Watson said soothingly.
“Oh, don’t I?” Pippa let out a mad laugh. “That doesn’t seem par for the bloody course?”
Tearing at her hair, she began brutally kicking the desk, punctuating each blow with a scream. “Would – it – have – killed – a – damn – one – of – my – damn – family – to – tell – me – a – damn – thing – in – my – entire – damn – life?”
Shekhar came up from behind, hushing her, and she quieted at his touch. “I know. It’s unfair. But we can’t change that now. We can only go forward.”
“No kidding,” Pippa snapped, “and here I was, banking on a time machine.” She took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Sorry. I just don’t know where ‘forward’ is from here. Who can we possibly talk to, and which of them can we possibly trust?”
Holmes rolled his eyes, despite Watson’s muttered warnings not to. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake, do you need a map to every clue? Because if so, your late relations have conveniently provided one!”
“Yes, of course,” Shekhar said sarcastically, pointing to the ledger, “we’ll definitely get all of them on the witness stand.”
“Come on, Holmes,” Joshua said, scratching the back of his neck, “no washer woman is going to cry rape against a toff, you know that.”
“A dead toff, perhaps,” Watson said.
Joshua shook his head. “Even more risky. The others might throw a living peer under the wheels to keep the mob happy, but a dead one? Then legacy is on the line, and that’s all the devils really have going for them.”
“Regardless, we should make an effort to convince them,” Holmes said. “In the meantime, it would be well worth our time to speak with Amelia Dearborne, the inheritor of Christina Cotton’s diary. If anyone can be trusted to tell us the truth about your mother’s life, Cotton, we can only hope it would be herself.”