"Hello, brother," murmured Charlotte Holmes to the man who helped her descend from the carriage.
The man, who had hitherto presented himself as Mott, groom and coachman to the Holmes family, half bowed.
They stood in the coach house behind the town residence that Sir Henry, their father, had hired for the Season. Charlotte's sister Livia had just been delivered to the front door. And the entire family, with the exception of Charlotte, would be setting out for the country in the morning, as it was nearly the end of July, a fashionable time to leave London.
"May I offer you some tea?" asked Mr. Myron Finch, her half brother, pulling off his driving gloves.
He seemed entirely unconcerned that she'd peeled back his secret. Then again, he had read the note she'd pressed into his hand when he'd helped her into the carriage earlier, requesting that he put the vehicle directly into the coach house after Livia stepped off. He might not have known that she wished to discuss his true identity, but he would have braced himself for something.
"Tea would be much appreciated," she said.
He showed her to a stool near an uneven-looking folding table. "I'm afraid I haven't any decent foodstuffs on hand. I'll be vacating the place as soon as I've taken your family to the railway station tomorrow morning."
"Not to worry. I have just the thing."
She opened her handbag and took out a small wrapped package. Having briefly lived on the edge of hunger earlier in the summer, after she'd run away from home, she never left Mrs. Watson's house without a supply of comestibles.
The package contained three slices of plum cake. "Shall I serve you a piece, Mr. Finch?"
"Certainly," he replied, echoing her elaborate politeness. "Let me light the Etna stove."
The Etna stove, made for travelers, was said to boil water in three minutes flat. Charlotte was content to wait in silence; apparently, so was her father's illegitimate son.
He was an unremarkable-looking man: his features neither handsome enough nor odd enough to attract notice. But as with most other seemingly ordinary faces, a closer study yielded interesting details: fine-textured skin, long lashes, a strong jawline.
"How did you think to hide here?" she asked, after tea had been made and served.
She occupied the only seat. He stood against a brick column, a dented tin mug in one hand, a piece of plum cake in the other.
"When we realized the kind of danger we'd put ourselves in, Jenkins and I agreed to go our separate ways."
There was a pause before he mentioned Jenkins by name, the first hint of deeper emotions. Jenkins had been his friend from school, and the two men had served Moriarty, a man of dangerous aims. Years later, they had left Moriarty's service together.
But Moriarty rewarded deserters with death. Jenkins had already met his. Mr. Finch, as of now, was still in one piece. But for how long?
"It stood to reason that two lone men would be more difficult to track down than two men traveling and rooming together," he went on. "For me, it would be better to disappear into the bowels of London. But where in London would I be safest? Where would Moriarty's minions be least likely to look for me?
"Moriarty preferred to bring into his service young men born on the wrong side of the blanket. The subject of our fathers came up from time to time—and I'd always said that I would never introduce myself to the man who'd sired me. Not even if I somehow became Home Secretary—or rich as Croesus. He would need to come to me, hat in hand.
"They believed me, because I was—and am—sincere in those sentiments. I decided to take advantage of that and tuck myself away in the last place they would expect."