“Agatha told me there’s a joke among the servants that it is impossible to wake him. She’s also locked up the beast of a dog to make sure I am not disturbed,” he answered, eying the top of the fence.
“Shhh! I shall explain in the fullness of time.”
He was up the fence before I had time to reply, so I made haste to follow him. When we landed behind a tall shrub, we stopped to catch our breath and don our masks.
“Holmes, if you’ve been courting a woman on top of all this…” I started to say as he extracted his tool kit and made several selections.
“I wanted information, Watson. It was a most necessary step, and I learned a great deal from talking with her.” He held a glass cutter up to the moonlight.
“Good heavens, those talks!” he exclaimed with a quiet chuckle and a shake of his head.
“You’ll tell me about them later,” I said dryly.
He smiled mischievously at me as I handed him his mask. We nodded silently to one another and then proceeded to creep through the garden until we reached the greenhouse. Holmes cut a small circle in the glass and unlocked the door from the inside. We tiptoed inside and he led me through several rooms until we reached what was unmistakably Milverton’s private study. There was a strong odour of tobacco smoke and a fire blazed in the fireplace, casting enough light to reveal the layout of the room. A bay window with a curtain in front of it stood between the fireplace and a large, green safe. To the opposite side of the hearth was a door leading to the veranda.
Holmes immediately went to the safe and got to work. I decided it would better I secured our means of escape, and so approached the door to the veranda to unlock it. I was surprised to find it was neither bolted nor locked, a fact which startled Holmes as well when I silently called it to his attention. But we had not long to linger on this puzzling detail.
Holmes turned his most intense focus to opening the safe while I kept a wary eye on the door. As I watched him apply his various instruments to his task, I felt both a thrilling sense of adventure and satisfaction as I considered the breadth of victims that would benefit from our success. The sight of his beautiful hands twisting and flexing in their efforts added an element of arousal to my admiration, which made the next twenty-five minutes very pleasant indeed. I held my breath when I finally heard a click and he swung the door open. He reached in, extracted the letters that lay on top of the pile and attempted to read them by the light of his lantern.
Suddenly, we heard footsteps just outside the study door and the doorknob began to turn.
My heart stopped.
“Quick!” Holmes hissed at me, and we both darted behind the window curtain just before Milverton entered his study.
Holmes grasped my hand and squeezed it reassuringly as we watched Milverton slowly promenade about his room, in deep concentration on a document he held in his hand. My hopes that he would not be in here long were dashed when he exchanged his shoes for his slippers and lit a cigar. At this point I was prepared to ambush the creature, pin him down and let Holmes do with him what he wanted. But we kept still and waited.
Milverton checked his watch and looked impatiently at the door to the veranda. I thought he might have had some idea of our presence until I saw the dark figure of a woman approach and tap on the glass.
“You’re late,” he said with irritation when he opened it.
There was no reply from her as she followed him into his room. She wore a hooded black cloak that kept her face hidden in a shadow.
“So, miss,” he said, “your letter stated you had some letters belonging to the Countess d’Albert. I hope they are worthy of my time as your late visit is going to cost me a restful night.”
“Well?” he said in consternation. “Let’s have a look at them.”
With both hands the woman pulled the hood from her head.
It was Mary.
I gasped. Holmes immediately clamped his hand over my mouth.
“I have no letters, Mr. Milverton,” she said with icy calm.
“Then why are you wasting my time and at this hour?” he demanded.
“I am here,” she said with great resolve, “because I love, I have loved, and I am going to love.”
He stared at her incredulously. She held her head high and squared her shoulders.
“This love,” she continued, “is stronger than you, it is bigger than you, and it is far more valuable than twice the lot of your vast riches.”
The conviction in her tone increased with every word.
“Your lack of heart, lack of humanity, lack of soul have rendered you the most hated man in this great city. It is not enough that you have built this frigid prison by creating tragedy for those who have never done you any harm, but that you enjoy bringing about their ruin and still more the cursed rewards. You are not a man. You are a monster.”
He laughed, but there was palpable fear behind it.
“Surely you are mistaken, madam, for I am only running a business that profits on the mistakes of others. They are the creators of their own destruction. I simply capitalize on the remnants,” he said. “Now, if you do not leave the premises this instant, I shall be forced to call on my servants to remove you forcefully.”
She moved closer to him.
“I have seen firsthand the effects of your ‘business,’ and am here to tell you that it is no less than the devil’s hand that guides you.” She drew a small pistol from her cloak and pointed it at his chest, “And you shall harm no more.”
She fired two shots into his massive body. He lunged at her. I took a step forward and was once again restrained by Holmes’s powerful grip.
She calmly stepped backwards as he toppled forward and continued to shoot until her gun was emptied of bullets. She stared down at his gaping, bloody corpse for a moment with her lips pursed in an expression of defiance. She then pulled her hood over her head and hurried to the veranda, opening and closing the door quietly behind her.
As shocked as I was, there was no time to lose, for the sound of servants’ footsteps came loud and clear. Quick as a flash, Holmes slipped out from behind me and ran to the open safe. Together we emptied it of its letters and documents, and threw every last one into the fire.
And then we ran. Never have I run so fast in my life, for the sound of our pursuers was close behind. When we leapt to the fence we had climbed to enter the estate I felt a firm hand grab my foot.
“Now I’ve got you!” said a burly male voice.
Holmes, who had climbed the fence with his usual lightning speed, reached down and pulled me in the opposite direction. I managed to wiggle my foot free of the man’s grip and topple over the fence after Holmes. We did not stop running for nearly a mile when we stopped, listened and heard nothing but silence.