Dedicated to the memory of my father, Jack Lane, who passed away while I was writing this book.
Rest in peace, Dad.
And with grateful acknowledgements to: the lovely people from the Scottish Children’s BookTrust (who kind of gave me the idea of setting a book in Edinburgh without ever actually sayingso); the guys from the Book Zone for Boys in Ireland (who probably deserve to have a book setthere as well); Helen Palmer for mentioning Mary King’s Close; Polly Nolan for editing socomprehensively and sensitively; Nathan, Jessica and Naomi Gay for being so interested; and to
Jessica Dean, who made sure that this series of books got the highest level of visibility.
The small Chinaman held the needle in steady fingers and dipped the point in the bottle of inkthat sat on the table in front of him. Next to the ink rested the forearm of the sailor who wassitting in a chair on the other side of the table. It was huge – like a ham on a butcher’sslab.
‘You sure you want blue anchor?’ the Chinaman said. His name was Kai Lung. His face was linedwith age and the plait of hair that hung down his back was the colour of ash.
‘I told ya,’ the sailor said, ‘I want an anchor! Cos I live on a ship, an’ I work on aship, right?’
‘I could do a fish,’ Kai Lung said quietly. Anchors were easy. They were also boring. Heseemed to spend half his life tattooing blue anchors on the muscular forearms of sailors,sometimes with the name of their sweetheart beneath, inside a nice scroll. The problem was thathe seemed to spend the other half of his life turning the tattooed names of former sweethearts
into other things – barbed wire, flowers, anything that might disguise the underlying letters.‘I could do you a nice fish, maybe a goldfish with scales all the colours of a rainbow. Youlike that idea? Fish tattoo good for sailor, yes?’
‘I want an anchor,’ the man said stubbornly.
‘Fine. Yes. Anchor it is.’ He sighed. ‘You got any special type of anchor in mind, or justthe usual?’
The sailor frowned. ‘How many different types of anchor are there?’
‘Usual anchor it is then.’
He prepared to make the first mark with the needle. The ink would flow into the small pinprickin the sailor’s arm and stain the underlying tissue. The skin on the outside of the arm wouldfade, change and tan over the years, but the ink would always remain there, beneath the skin.With enough small pinpricks and enough different colours of ink he could draw anything – afish, a dragon, a heart . . . or a blue anchor. Another blue anchor.
The door burst open, pushed hard from the other side. It hit the wall, the handle on the insideleaving a dent in the exposed brickwork. A man stood in the doorway. He was so tall and so widethat there wasn’t much space on either side of him or above his shaven head. His clothes wererough and dirty. They looked as if he’d been travelling in them for some time, and possiblysleeping in them as well.
‘You,’ he growled in an American accent, looking at the sailor, ‘out!’ He jerked a thumbover his shoulder, just in case the instruction wasn’t clear.
‘Hey! I got an appointment!’ The sailor stood up, clenching his fists ready for a fight. Hetook a step forward, towards the doorway. The man who had pushed the door open stepped forward.The top of the sailor’s head barely came up to his chin. Without looking away from thesailor’s eyes, the man reached out with his left hand and took hold of the metal handle on theoutside of the door. He squeezed. For a moment nothing happened, and then with a sad heart KaiLung saw that the handle was bending and twisting under the pressure. Within a few seconds itlooked more like crumpled paper than metal.
‘Fair enough,’ the sailor said. ‘There’s other tattoo parlours around.’
The newcomer stepped to one side and the sailor pushed past him without looking back.
‘You lose me customer,’ Kai Lung said. He wasn’t scared of the newcomer. He was so old andhe had seen so much in his long life that he wasn’t scared of anything much. Death was an oldfriend by now. ‘I hope you bring me other customer to replace him.’
The man stepped back, out of the way, and another man entered the tiny front room of KaiLung’s lodgings. This man was smaller and better dressed than his herald, and he was holding awalking stick. A wave of coldness seemed to enter the room with him. A feeling swept over KaiLung, and it took him a moment to work out what it was.
Fear. It was fear.
‘You want tattoo?’ he said, trying to keep his voice from quavering.
‘I would like a tattoo on my forehead,’ the man said. His accent was American as well. ‘Itis a name, a woman’s name.’ His voice was calm and precise. The light from behind him put hisface in shadow, but in the meagre illumination from Kai Lung’s oil lamp the head of thewalking stick gleamed. Kai Lung thought for a moment that it was a large, rough chunk of solidgold, and he drew his breath in, amazed, but he suddenly realized what it was. The head of thewalking stick was carved in the shape of a human skull.
‘You want sweetheart’s name on forehead?’ Kai Lung asked. ‘Most people want sweetheart’s
name on arm, or maybe chest – near heart.’
‘The girl is not my “sweetheart”,’ the man said. His voice was still calm, still precise,but there was a tone somewhere deep inside it that made Kai Lung shiver. ‘And yes, I want hername tattooed on my forehead, near to my brain, so that I can remember it. Your work had betterbe accurate. I do not tolerate mistakes.’
‘I am best tattooist in whole city!’ Kai Lung said proudly.
‘So I have heard. That is why I am here.’
Kai Lung sighed. ‘What is name of girl?’
‘I have written it down. Do you read English?’
‘I read very well.’
The man reached out his left hand. He was holding a piece of paper. Kai Lung took it carefully,trying not to touch the man’s skin. He looked at the name on the scrap. It was printed in acareful hand, and he had no trouble deciphering it.
‘Virginia Crowe,’ he read. ‘Is that right?’
‘That is exactly right.’
‘What colour you want?’ Kai Lung asked. He was expecting the man to say ‘blue’, but he wassurprised.
‘Red,’ the man said. ‘I want it in red. The colour of blood.’
‘Stop it!’ Rufus Stone cried out. ‘You’re killing me!’
Sherlock lifted the bow from the violin strings. ‘Don’t be so melodramatic.’
‘I’m not being melodramatic – another few seconds of that and my heart would have leaped outof my throat and strangled me just to ensure that it didn’t have to experience that cat-squalling any more!’
Sherlock felt his confidence shrivel up like a dry autumn leaf. ‘I didn’t think it was thatbad,’ he protested.
. If you don’t know‘That’s the problem,’ Stone said. ‘You don’t know what the problem is
what the problem is, you can’t fix it.’
He rubbed the back of his neck and wandered away, obviously struggling to find a way to explainto Sherlock just what he was doing wrong. He was wearing a loose striped shirt with the sleevesroughly rolled up and a waistcoat that seemed to have come from a decent suit, but his trouserswere rough corduroy and his boots were scuffed leather. He swung round to look at Sherlock fora moment, and there was a kind of wild bafflement in his face, along with what Sherlockrealized with a sickening twist of his heart was disappointment.
Sherlock turned away, not wanting to see that expression in the face of a man he considered afriend as well as a kind of older brother.
He let his gaze roam around the room they were in – anywhere so that he didn’t have to lookat Stone. They were in the attic of an old building in Farnham. Stone rented a room on thefloor below, but his landlady had taken a shine to him and let him rehearse and practise hisviolin – and teach the one music student he had so far taken on – in the expansive atticarea.
The space was large and dusty, with beams of sunlight penetrating through gaps in the tiles andforming diagonal braces that seemed to be holding the triangular roof up just as well as thewooden ones. The acoustics, according to Stone, were marginally worse than a hay barn, butconsiderably better than his room. There were boxes and trunks stacked around the low walls,and a hatchway off to one side that led down, via a ladder, to the upper landing. Navigatingthe ladder with a violin and bow clutched in one hand was tricky, but Sherlock liked theisolation of the attic and the sense of space.
One day, he thought, I will have my own place to live – somewhere I can retreat from the worldand not be bothered. And I won’t let anyone else in.
Pigeons fluttered outside, blocking the sunlight momentarily as they roosted. Cold penetratedthe attic from the street, fingers of frosty air finding their way through the spaces betweenthe tiles.
He sighed. The violin felt heavy in his hand, and somehow clumsy, as if he had never picked oneup before. The music stand in front of him held the score of a piece by Mozart – a violintranscription, according to Stone, of a famous aria called ‘The Queen of the Night’s Song’from an opera called The Three Oranges. The black notes captured between the lines of the
staves were, as far as Sherlock was concerned, like a code, but it was a code he had quicklyworked out – a simple substitution cipher. A black blob on that line always meant a note that
sounded like this – unless there was a small hash in front of it that raised it slightly to a‘sharp’, or a small angular letter ‘b’ that lowered it slightly to a ‘flat’. A sharp or aflat was halfway towards the note either directly above or directly below the one he wasplaying. It was simple and easy to understand – so why couldn’t he turn the written musicinto something that Rufus Stone could listen to without wincing?
Sherlock knew he wasn’t progressing as quickly as Stone would have liked, and that irked him.He would have liked to have been able just to pick up the instrument and play it beautifully,first time and every time, but sadly life wasn’t like that. It should be, he thought
rebelliously. He remembered feeling the same way about the piano that sat in his family home.He’d spent hours sitting at it, trying to work out why he couldn’t play it straight away.After all, the thing about a piano was its relentless logic: you pressed a key and a note cameout. The same key led to the same note every time. All you had to do, surely, was rememberwhich key led to which note and you should be able to play. The trouble was, no matter how hardhe had thought about it, he had never been able to sit down and play the piano like his sistercould – flowing and beautiful, like a rippling stream.
Four strings! The violin only had four strings! How hard could it be?
‘The problem,’ Stone said suddenly, turning round and staring at Sherlock, ‘is that you areplaying the notes, not the tune.’
‘That doesn’t make any sense,’ Sherlock responded defensively.
‘It makes perfect sense.’ Stone sighed. ‘The trees are not the forest. The forest is all ofthe trees, taken together, plus the undergrowth, the animals, the birds and even the air. Takeall that away and you just have a load of wood – no feeling, no atmosphere.’
‘Then where does the feeling come from in music?’ Sherlock asked plaintively.
‘Not from the notes.’
‘But the notes are all that’s on the paper!’ Sherlock protested.
‘Then add something of your own. Add some emotion.’
Stone shook his head. ‘It’s the small gaps you put in – the hesitations, the subtleemphases, the slight speedings up and slowings down. That’s where the feeling lives.’
Sherlock gestured at the music on the stand. ‘But that’s not written on there! If thecomposer wanted me to speed up or slow down then he would have written it on the music.’
‘He did,’ Stone pointed out, ‘in Italian. But that’s only a guide. You need to decide howyou want to play the music.’ He sighed. ‘The problem is that you’re treating this like anexercise in mathematics, or grammar. You want all the evidence set out for you, and you thinkthat your job is to put it all together. Music isn’t like that. Music requires interpretation.It requires you to put something of yourself in there.’ He hesitated, trying to find the rightwords. ‘Any performance is actually a duet between you and the composer. He’s given you thebulk, but you have to add the final ten per cent. It’s the difference between reading out astory and acting out a story.’ Seeing the forlorn expression on Sherlock’s face, he went on:‘Look, have you ever seen the writer Charles Dickens reading one of his own stories to anaudience? Try it sometime – it’s well worth the cost of a ticket. He does different voicesfor different characters, he throws himself around the stage, he speeds up at the exciting bitsand he reads it as if he’s never seen it before and he’s just as keen as the audience to findout what happens. That is how you should play music – as if you’ve never heard it before.’He paused and winced. ‘In a good way, I mean. The trouble is that you play music as if you’venever heard it before and you’re trying to work it out as you’re going along.’
That was pretty much the way it was, Sherlock thought.
‘Should I give up?’ he asked.
‘Never give up,’ Stone rejoined fiercely. ‘Never. Not in anything.’ He ran a hand through
his long hair again. ‘Perhaps I’ve been going at this the wrong way. Let’s take a differenttack. All right, you approach music as if it’s a problem in mathematics – well, let’s lookfor musicians who write mathematics into their music.’
‘Are there any?’ Sherlock asked dubiously.
Stone considered for a moment. ‘Let’s think. Johann Sebastian Bach was well known for puttingmathematical tricks and codes into his tunes. If you look at his Musical Offering there’s
pieces in there which are mirror images of themselves. The first note and the last note are thesame; the second note and the second from last note are the same; and so on, right to themiddle of the piece.’
‘Wow.’ Sherlock was amazed at the audacity of the idea. ‘And it still works as music?’
‘Oh yes. Bach was a consummate composer. His mathematical tricks don’t detract from the music– they add to it.’ Stone smiled, realizing that he’d finally snagged Sherlock’s attention.‘I’m not an expert on Bach by any means, but I understand there’s another piece by him whichis built around some kind of mathematical sequence, where one number leads on to the next usingsome rule. It’s got an Italian name. Now, let’s try that Mozart again, but this time, as
them, and let them guideyou’re playing it, I want you to bring back those feelings. Remember
Sherlock raised the violin to his shoulder again, tucking it into the gap between his neck andhis chin. He let the fingers of his left hand find the strings at the end of the neck. He couldfeel how hard his fingertips had become under Stone’s relentless tutelage. He brought the bowup and held it poised above the strings.
‘Begin!’ Stone said.
Sherlock gazed at the notes on the page, but rather than trying to understand them he let his
gaze slide through them, looking at the page as a whole rather than each note as somethingindividual. Looking at the wood, not the trees. He remembered from a few minutes before whatthe notes were, then took a deep breath and started to play.
The next few moments seemed to go past in a blur. His fingers moved from one string to thenext, pressing them down to make the right notes, fractionally before his brain could send hisfingers a signal to tell them what the right notes were. It was as if his body already knewwhat to do, freeing his mind to float above the music, looking for its meaning. He tried tothink of the piece as if someone was singing it, and let his violin become the voice,hesitating on some notes, coming down heavily on others as if to emphasize their importance.
He got to the end of the page without even realizing.
‘Bravo!’ Stone cried. ‘Not perfect, but better. You actually persuaded me that you werefeeling the music, not just playing it.’ He gazed over at the slanted rays of sunlight thatpenetrated the loft. ‘Let’s stop it there: on a high note, as it were. Keep practising yourscales, but also I want you to practise individual notes. Play a sustained note in differentways – with sadness, with happiness, with anger. Let the emotion seep through into the music,and see how it changes the note.’
‘I’m . . . not good with emotion,’ Sherlock admitted in a quiet voice.
‘I am,’ Stone said quietly. ‘Which means I can help.’ He placed a hand on Sherlock’sshoulder for a moment and squeezed, then took it away. ‘Now be off with you. Go and find thatAmerican girl and spend some time with her.’
‘Virginia?’ His heart quickened at the thought, but he wasn’t sure if it was happiness orterror that made it speed up. ‘But—’
‘No buts. Just go and see her.’
‘All right,’ Sherlock said. ‘Same time tomorrow?’
‘Same time tomorrow.’
He threw the violin into its case and half climbed, half slid down the ladder to the upperlanding, then thudded down the stairs to the ground floor. Stone’s landlady – a woman ofabout Stone’s own age, with black hair and green eyes – came out of the kitchen to saysomething as he ran past, but he didn’t catch what it was. Within seconds he was out in thecrisp, cold sunlight.
Farnham was as busy as it ever was: its cobbled or muddy streets filled with people headingevery which way on various errands. Sherlock paused for a moment, taking in the scene – theclothes, the postures, the various packages, boxes and bags that people were carrying – andtried to make sense of it. That man over there – the one with the red rash across hisforehead. He was clutching a piece of paper in his hand as if his life depended on it. Sherlockknew that there was a doctor’s surgery a few minutes’ walk behind him, and a pharmacy just
ahead. He was almost certainly heading to pick up some medicine after his consultation. The manon the other side of the road – good clothes, but unshaven and bleary-eyed, and his shoes werescuffed and muddy. A tramp wearing a suit donated by a church parishioner, perhaps? And what ofthe woman who passed by right in front of him, hand held up to push the hair from her eyes? Herhands looked older than she did – white and wrinkled, as if they had spent a long time inwater. A washerwoman, obviously.
Was this what Rufus Stone had meant about seeing the wood instead of the trees? He wasn’tlooking at the people as people, but seeing their histories and their possible futures all inone go.
For a moment Sherlock felt dizzy with the scale of what he was staring at, and then the momentwas gone and the scene collapsed into a crowd of people heading in all directions.
‘You all right?’ a voice asked. ‘I thought you were goin’ to pass out there for a moment.’
Sherlock turned to find Matthew Arnatt – Matty – standing beside him. The boy was smallerthan Sherlock, and a year or two younger, but for a second Sherlock didn’t see him as a boy,as his friend, but as a collection of signs and indications. Just for a second, and then he wasMatty again – solid, dependable Matty.
‘Albert isn’t well then,’ he said, referring to the horse that Matty owned, and which pulledthe narrowboat he lived on whenever he decided to change towns.
‘What makes you think that?’ Matty asked.
‘There’s hay in your sleeve,’ Sherlock pointed out. ‘You’ve been feeding him by hand.Usually you just let him crop the grass wherever he happens to be tied up. You wouldn’t feed ahorse by hand unless you were worried he wasn’t eating properly.’
Matty raised an eyebrow. ‘Just because I sometimes likes to give ’im ’is grub,’ he said,‘there’s no need to make a song an’ dance about it. Albert’s the closest thing to family Igot.’ He shrugged, embarrassed. ‘So I likes to treat ’im sometimes wiv somethin’ special.’
‘Oh.’ Sherlock filed that away for later consideration. ‘How did you know I was here?’ heasked eventually.
‘I could hear you playing,’ Matty replied laconically. ‘The whole town could hear youplaying. I think that’s why Albert’s off his food.’
‘Funny,’ Sherlock observed.
‘You want to go get some lunch? There’s plenty of stuff goin’ spare in the market.’
Sherlock thought for a moment. Should he spend some time with Matty, or go and see Virginia?
‘Can’t,’ he said, suddenly remembering. ‘My uncle said he wanted me back for lunch.Something about getting me to catalogue and index a collection of old sermons he recentlyobtained at an auction.’
‘Oh joy,’ Matty said. ‘Have fun with that.’ He smiled. ‘Maybe I could go and see Virginia
‘And maybe I could hang you upside down from a bridge with your head under water up to yournose,’ Sherlock replied.
Matty just gazed at him. ‘I was only jokin’,’ he said.
Sherlock noticed that Matty’s gaze kept sliding away, down the road towards the market. ‘Goon,’ he said. ‘Go and pick up some bruised fruit and broken pies. I might see you later. Ortomorrow.’
Matty flashed a quick smile of thanks and scooted away, ducking and diving through the crowduntil he was lost from sight.
Sherlock walked for a while along the road that led out of Farnham and towards his aunt anduncle’s house. Every time a cart came past he turned to look at the driver, but most of themavoided his gaze. He didn’t take it personally – he’d been doing this for long enough that
he knew the success rate was around one in twenty carts. Eventually one of the drivers lookedover at him and called: ‘Where you going, sonny?’
‘Holmes Manor,’ he shouted back.
‘They don’t take on casual labour.’
‘I know. I’m . . . visiting someone.’
‘Climb aboard then. I’m going past the main gates.’
As Sherlock threw his violin up the side of the still-moving cart and clambered up after it,falling into a deep mass of hay, he wondered why it was that he still didn’t like admittingwhere he lived. Perhaps he was worried that people might change their attitude if they knewthat his family were part of the local land-owning gentry. It was so stupid, he thought, thatsomething as simple as inheriting land and a house from your parents could set you apart fromother people. When he grew up he would make sure that he never made social distinctions betweenpeople like that.
The cart clattered along the road for twenty minutes or so before Sherlock jumped off, callinga cheerful ‘Thanks!’ over his shoulder. He checked his watch. He had half an hour beforeluncheon: just enough time to wash and perhaps change his shirt.
Luncheon was, as usual, a quiet affair. Sherlock’s uncle – Sherrinford Holmes – spent histime balancing eating with reading a book and trying to move his beard out of the way of bothhis food and the text, while his aunt – Anna – spoke in a continuous monologue that coveredher plans for the garden, how pleased she was that the two sides of the Holmes family appearedto be on speaking terms again, various items of gossip about local landowners and her hope thatthe weather in the coming year would be better than the one that had just passed. Once or twiceshe asked Sherlock a question about what he was doing or how he was feeling, but when he triedto answer he found that she had just kept on talking regardless of what he might say. As usual.
He did notice that Mrs Eglantine – the manor’s darkly glowering housekeeper – wasconspicuous by her absence. The maids served the food with their customary quiet deference, butthe black-clad presence who usually stood over by the window, half hidden by the light thatstreamed through, was missing. He wondered briefly where she was, and then realized with aflash of pleasure that he just didn’t care.
Sherlock finished his food faster than his aunt and uncle and asked if he could be excused.
‘Indeed you may,’ his uncle said without looking up from his book. ‘I have left a pile ofold sermons on the desk in my library. I would be obliged, young man, if you could sort theminto piles depending on their author, and then arrange the individual piles by date. I amattempting,’ he said, raising his eyes momentarily and gazing at Sherlock from beneath bushybrows, ‘to catalogue the growth and development of schisms within the Christian church, withparticular reference to the recent creation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsin America. These sermons should prove very useful in that respect.’
‘Thank you,’ Sherlock said, and left the table.
Uncle Sherrinford’s library smelled of old, dry books, mildew, leather bindings and pipetobacco. Sherlock felt the quietness as something almost physical as the door closed behindhim: an actual pressure against his ears.
Sherrinford’s desk was piled high with loose papers of various sizes and thickness. Some weretyped, some handwritten in various different styles; most were bound with ribbons or string. Ashe sat down, not without a tremor of nerves, in Sherrinford’s creaking leather chair, Sherlockrealized with a sinking feeling in his heart that the piles were taller than he was, andblocked his view of the rest of the library. This was going to be a long and tedious task.
He set to it. The process was simple on the face of it – take a manuscript from the nearestpile, find out who wrote it and when and then place it on one of a number of separate piles onthe floor behind him – but of course it wasn’t as straightforward as that. Some of thesermons didn’t have an author named anywhere in them, some weren’t dated, and some had