"There is no reply to the ignorant like keeping silence" - Turkish proverb
Mycroft's vociferous snoring was enough to rattle the hall-mirror by the time I returned to our suite. I paused briefly to see if my friend had managed to fall asleep in his disturbed state, but I found he was peaceful and still, Eve curled up next to him with one hand clinging to his dressing-gown's lapel. Smiling, I silently closed the door and took myself off to bed soon after.
The next morning appeared bright and clear, the sky a deep blue dotted with almost unrealistically white, puffy clouds set at perfect intervals throughout. Mycroft's reaction to seeing the coin Calhoun had found was considerably less sunny. Brother mine is the most unflappable man alive, but even I should be a bit on edge were factors beginning to add up to the sum of trouble in my department, especially business that concerned me personally.
We were discussing the possibility of his returning to London, and more importantly being safe in doing so, when Watson's door opened a crack and Eve slipped out, rubbing her eyes with Bunny's head, who was clutched in the hand that was not shutting the door behind her.
Mycroft hastily erased the worry lines in his forehead (for she would have caught them and never been satisfied until she learned what was wrong) as she hugged him good-morning.
I was about to tap on the door and tell Watson of my findings when a whirl of nightdress and squirming child suddenly twined around my legs. A dark glare met my own eyes, and she laid a finger to her lips, pointing.
"Oh…" He was still asleep, then. Good; as he was a light sleeper usually, if we had not yet woken him then it indicated he needed the rest. "Yes, of course, my dear, I shan't wake him just yet." I smiled as the girl beamed up at me, for it never ceased to please her that I could understand her lack of communication the best of the three of us; it saved both time and frustration for us all.
"Eve, run along and wash and pick out a frock for today," Mycroft spoke up, kindly but in a tone that brooked no argument, a sign that his mind was too full of theories and suspicions to have room for frivolities.
Our daughter nodded cheerfully but stopped in the doorway to look at both of us, her little mouth pursed in a gesture of thought.
"Mm…something very light, but you'll want a jacket as well," I replied in answer to the silent question. "You were wanting to have a look at those ships the resort keeps for us, were you not? And it will be windy out on the water despite the sunshine."
I received a brilliant smile that warmed the room more than the slanting sunbeam on the carpeting before the child vanished into the bedroom. When the door had safely closed behind her, I turned back to Mycroft. My elder sibling had resumed his facial resemblance of a pensive block of granite.
"Mycroft, I doubt that you would be any safer in London than you are here," I emphasized with a force that was, though I might not admit such to him nor would he acknowledge its truth if I did, quite heartfelt. "With no offence meant to your department, I would not think any of your employees are better at keeping guard over your safety or at discovering who is behind the twisted business, than I."
"You always were extraordinarily humble, Sherlock." I snorted as he folded his handkerchief, matching the corners precisely, to replace in his pocket for the day. "Not for those reasons, but for the fact that I should prefer the business to stay out of Whitehall and be focused upon me rather than on the entire department, I agree with you. However, I believe we both concur that it would not be prudent for me to devote my time to anything other than resolving the issue at hand. You shall have to do the legwork, which is as well since I have not the energy anyway to continually occupy your infinitesimal attention span."
"Agreed." I ignored the sleight upon my character and looked up as a drawer closed in Watson's bedroom. "Calhoun will of course furnish you with a list of the resort guests not native to England? That is the logical place to find the man – or woman – who dropped the coin."
"I shall ask him after breakfast. But Sherlock, I do not want you dragging Eve around on a criminal investigation," he warned, his face creased with a new worry wrinkle. "There is a very real underlying current of danger here, despite the fact that this faction, whoever they may be, has not yet aggressively attacked anyone."
I sighed and flipped the defaced coin aimlessly into the air, catching it before it struck the ground; we had had this argument ad nauseum already in just this first year of our parenthood. "You truly want her staying with you while you do paperwork for Whitehall, send telegrams to Trevor, and generally just wait to be shot at?"
I had put a toe over the invisible line, evidently, for the death-glare I was presented with was of such acerbity that I was thoroughly relieved when behind me Watson emerged slowly from his bedroom. He was smartly dressed as usual, and bore no signs of the previous evening's events other than the fact that he looked highly embarrassed, as if he would rather not have to face either of us. It is not often that my Watson will not look me in the eye for any length of time.
"Good morning, Doctor," my brother tossed over his shoulder as he regarded his appearance in the hall mirror (naturally he was wasting no time in going down for his meal). "Sherlock, bring Eve down with you, and mind she remembers a hat. I shall have that list of guests awaiting you with your coffee."
I waved in my brother's general direction as he left the suite, and wondered if he was being uncharacteristically tactful in leaving or if he merely wanted his breakfast that badly. Probably the latter, but it was of no importance. I turned to see Watson silently peering out the window at the pink-gold sun being reflected off the ocean, turning it a warm blue in the early light.
"Tell me, Watson, what do you make of this?" I did not immediately bring up the topic of the purportedly headless horseman, for which he was obviously grateful. He took the object readily enough and examined it on both sides, accepting my lens when I offered its use.
"The scratching is far too deep to be accidental," he suggested, half-heartedly shrugging off any further observations.
"Exactly, Doctor. These coins are used by non-native criminal groups, as an identification signal. Foreign affairs are, of course, my brother's métier – and therefore this coin, being found at the place where you saw that horseman, bespeaks of some deeper intrigue than we have thought until now. Whatever, or whomever, you saw last night, Doctor, it was more than a simple trickster wreaking havoc upon this neighbourhood."
His head shot up to look at me in astonishment. "Then you do believe me."
"Of course I believe you, Watson!" I exclaimed, slightly distressed that he would think otherwise but understanding how deeply his nerves had been rattled last night. "And that the figure appeared to you to be sans a cranium, I have no doubt. However, my dear chap, you will agree with me that we should seek different possibilities regarding its appearance before falling back upon the first candid observation and accepting the supernatural, correct?"
Watson smiled, for the first time since he had appeared. "Quite correct, Holmes. I admit in the light of this beautiful morning it all seems rather…silly."
"It would not seem so, to either of us, had you fallen and broken your leg as that poor stablehand," I answered pointedly. "But I do not believe you or I or the people in this resort are the target, not if this tell-tale coin's presence here is any indication."
"Mycroft." It was a statement, not a question, and accompanied by a worried frown.
"That is the most likely hypothesis at the moment. And now, my dear fellow, if you would fetch our little girl and come along, for we have much work to do. Oh, and Watson?"
He paused in the act of tapping lightly on Eve's door. "Yes?"
"I trust you will not be offended if I suggest we keep last night's incident a private matter? While I have no doubt of your sanity, sobriety, or your word, not every man who hears the colourful tale might," I suggested, and saw him nod once in mortification. "And," I then continued, in deadly sincerity, "I should hate to ruin one of my best summer suits by being forced to make someone recant his opinion of your strength of mind or character." Watson
When Holmes had said "much work to do," I did not realize just how much until over breakfast we received a dauntingly long list of foreign guests. We decided to split forces to cover more ground, I taking the first three guests on the list and Holmes going after the last three. The one remaining, Mycroft himself, quite surprisingly, volunteered to talk to, for he was going to take Eve out front to play with the other children. Calhoun informed us the last name on the list was a young woman who also had a small child and was out in the gardens nearly every morning just after breakfast.
We regrouped at luncheon to compare notes, what little there was of them.
After stating that his talk with the young Frenchwoman could be written off completely as the lady did not have enough brains to be a menace, the elder Holmes alternated between morosely consuming his luncheon and watching Eve pick at her sandwich, his watery eyes filled with concern and a bit of well-placed anger that I felt as well. Apparently our little one's morning had not gone pleasantly, for one unfortunate fact of childhood is a marked lack of understanding when one is different from others, especially in as noticeable a way as being bereft of speech, and their shunning of her was not a matter their parents saw the need to correct.
Our Eve was resilient and always had been, and Mycroft told Holmes and me quite proudly that she appeared to have taken the exclusion and the rudeness in stride, content to sit beside him the rest of the morning and sketch different objects in the garden; but now she appeared slightly depressed and indeed lonely, and much of Holmes's time at the table was spent in trying to cheer her up by any and all means possible (several of which were highly inappropriate, causing his older sibling no amount of embarrassment and gifting onlookers a free floor-show).
Just at present, I was trying to ignore the fact that Holmes and Eve were apparently sketching me, in a very unflattering caricature that was causing undue snickering from Holmes, and beginning to tell Mycroft of the only remotely suspicious man I had met out of my three.
"He's a German by birth, though he speaks English flawlessly," I reported, glancing over the scanty notes I had scribbled in my pocket-notebook. "Name, Gerhard Braun, light hair and colouring. About six-foot-three, very broad-shouldered, large hands, enormously strong,. He was single-handedly moving a packing-crate that was nearly as tall as I when I found him."
Holmes flicked an eyelash at me to let me know he was still listening despite his intent scribbling, and his elder brother did me the courtesy of telling me to continue.
"Apparently he is a new guest, only arrived yesterday morning." I glanced down to consult my notes. "He caught my attention first off, because he was wearing a large-brimmed hat that covered the upper half of his face – wearing it indoors, while he was moving that case into his rooms."
"Did he have some reason to hide his features?" Holmes interjected, his hand pausing over the drawing's nose with pencil poised.
I nodded, repressing a shudder at the remembrance of the first glimpse I had of the man. "He evidently was mauled by a large dog when he was a lad, Holmes, or at least that is what he told me. Severe tissue damage has left permanent scars on the left side of his face and neck and has damaged the eyesight in that eye. He is lucky, from what I could observe, that he can see out of it at all."
Eve's own little eyes were as round as her plate, and her mouth squiggled into horrified, sad line. Holmes patted her hand in comfort and, slyly grinning at me, added a ridiculous handlebar moustache to their horrible drawing, eliciting a giggle from his small protégé. "Do you believe his story?"
I frowned, thinking back to the encounter. "If he was lying, he was doing it extremely well," I admitted, somewhat abashed that I could not deduce more from the brief conversation. "The story he told me matched the injuries, and he seemed genuinely grateful that I was talking to him at all – I got the feeling that he receives rude receptions as a general rule and was appreciative I ignored the disfiguration to talk to him. Frankly it was rather pleasant conversation."
Holmes frowned darkly, though not at me in particular. "That story is also a perfect way to gather sympathy and credibility from kind-hearted people such as yourself, Watson," he retorted pointedly. "No one is above suspicion, no matter how good-natured he may appear."
I was completely unoffended by his innate cynicism and merely nodded, returning to my soup, smiling despite myself to see that he had succeeded in getting Eve to laugh silently at their awful sketch.
"Here, my dear, you must finish shading this in now," he said solemnly, and then grinned at the girl's enthusiasm before looking up at us. "I can only confess to having even less luck than you, Doctor," he sighed, finishing his tea and waving the waiter over for another cup. "The only person of any interest on that list was a rather intriguing woman named Ingrid Olsson. I ran into Mr. George out on the path, walking his hounds after breakfast, and he told me where to find the lady as well as the very interesting fact that she rarely emerges from her rooms other than in the evening or night hours."
Mycroft had finished his meal and was giving his brother a piercing look that signified his full attention. "Go on, Sherlock. While it is unusual, it is hardly grounds to suspect her of more than unsociability. You did the same thing as an adolescent. You had half the neighbours in your own age group convinced you were a vampire."
"My thoughts exactly, brother dear," Holmes sniffed injuriously, glaring at his sibling before I could exploit the opportunity to learn more about my friend's strange childhood. "Her appearance even furthered that opinion, for she is small and soft-spoken, rather unimaginative in appearance. No points of interest at first glance. However," he continued, diving into his pocket for a small volume he had evidently taken from the hotel's library and then handing the book over to me, "after a few minutes I remembered why her name seemed familiar to me."
Mycroft glanced at the volume as I placed it upon the table, and Holmes wriggled in his seat with a short laugh of triumph. "Yes, the same – she is a quite prolific scientific author in the fields of vegetation. Her series of books upon different types of rare fungi and molds were extremely valuable to me in my early days of learning to recognise obscure plant life, and with that common ground I was able to elicit more information from the lady than I had thought I might."
Eve raised a skeptical eyebrow, and I eyed the book with a wry smile, for Holmes was positively glowing about its merits. I would stick to "florid romantic fiction," thank you very much, and it appeared she was of the same opinion. Holmes did not notice the eye-roll she sent his direction, so enthralled was he with his fungus.
"We discussed at length the rare vegetation Calhoun informed me grows back in these woods," Holmes prattled on, checking off points upon his fingers and narrowly avoiding putting his elbow straight down into Eve's half-eaten sandwich. "The lady has been through these grounds many times in research for her newest publication, which she is writing here at this resort. Hence the emergence in the evening hours. And she did say she has seen signs in many places that there has been activity, human activity, deep within those trees and well away from the beaten path."
"She is here to write a new book, then?" I asked, finishing off my soup and setting down the spoon.
"So she said," Holmes alleged, tapping a finger upon his lips in thought. "She also told me that she is here to recover after the recent death of her husband, but that might also be a ploy for sympathy and to divert suspicion."
"Or it might be llegitimate grief, and I hope you behaved accordingly," I retorted severely.
Mycroft stifled a brotherly chuckle into his water glass as Holmes's ears reddened. "Of course I did, Doctor," he muttered, abashed. "Besides, she was dressed accordingly and her wedding ring was still in evidence. Those as well as other minute details with which I shan't bore you all seem to indicate that she is telling the truth, but again we cannot rule her out of the list of suspects."
"What list of suspects?" Mycroft demanded. "We have no real suspects, and you know it, Sherlock. Perhaps you are simply trying to find trouble where there is none."
It was a hollow suggestion; none of us including our concerned little girl was fooled, and so Holmes gracefully steered the conversation into less frustrating channels, meaning what the afternoon was going to entail.
Mycroft was still sorting paperwork and would be for some time, and Eve had been cooped up in his sight all the morning, so it was with great enthusiasm I agreed with Holmes that we needed to spend a restful afternoon along the beach.
Though at first I held misgivings about taking our girl aboard one of the large sailing vessels she seemed to be so fascinated with, Holmes was his usual insistent self and absolutely no help to my understandable caution. I stood not a chance against those two particular sets of pleading eyes, and so it was that an hour later we found ourselves moving smoothly through the sparkling blue water, the breeze whipping about and making our eyes burn slightly. The gulls' screaming beginning to fade behind us as we glided along, melting into a smooth silence broken only by laughter and quiet talk along the ship's deck.
Seeing that Eve was nearly glowing with excitement, looking over the rail at the foaming white wake we left behind (Holmes had waved off my concern but still hovered near her to ensure she did not lean too far over the side), I also began to relax, forgetting about the events of the previous night that had so rattled me.
We were not the only holidayers taking advantage of the sailing trip; I recognised a young family from down the hall on the floor that held our suite, as well as a couple of young ladies who were strolling along the rail, twirling their parasols. The Sage fellow we had met before appeared from somewhere, accosted Holmes, and launched into an animated private conversation, with which Holmes was obviously growing quite bored; he is never as good at hiding his exasperation with people as he believes he is.
Perceiving me looking at him in amusement, Eve shot me a wide grin and slid along the rail in my direction, pointing eagerly at a floating piece of seaweed that bobbed lazily alongside and then disappeared in the boat's wake.
I smiled and asked what she liked best about the ship, and watched attentively as she pointed at the billowing sails over our heads, then blew lightly against her hand and moved it back and forth.
"The sounds of the sails in the wind?" I asked tentatively, not being as good at understanding her sign-language as Holmes, and I was rewarded with a bright smile and a small hand stealing into mine. And I realised the breeze and the peaceful atmosphere as well as the affection of a child were doing more than any prescription ever could to relieve tension.
Said relaxation quite abruptly shattered, however, when I perceived Mr. George strolling our direction, with one of his enormous wolfhounds prancing along in front of him on a long lead.
I was about to scoop my daughter up into my arms but thankfully did not have to, as the poor fellow saw us before Eve saw them and firmly tugged on the lead, tipping his hat to me in apology before scooting the dog the other direction, away from us. Why he would bring the beast on board a pleasure vessel was beyond me, unless he truly cared for the brutes that much. I should have to keep an eye upon him and the monstrous dog, for Eve's pleasant trip would most definitely turn into a nightmare should the thing break loose at any time.
Holmes suddenly appeared at my elbow, blowing out a whistling sigh of immense irritation. "That fellow is beginning to annoy me, Watson," he muttered in an undertone as Sage walked toward the aft of the ship.
"In what way, Holmes?"
"He told me that he has been doing some investigation on his own," he answered dryly.
"Indeed." I brushed a droplet of water from my neck, where it had landed after a small wave had slapped the side of the ship below.
"He says that he has seen people about the resort at odd hours, people he does not believe are guests." His brow furrowing in thought, the detective automatically reached into his pocket for a cigarette and then froze when I glared disapprovingly at him and Eve tittered noiselessly. "I am inclined to dismiss his observations," he continued as if nothing had happened, folding his arms with a disgruntled sniff, "merely because he is trying far too hard to be helpful."
"Do you have any idea how cynical you have been today regarding every person you have met?" I posed the question, quite seriously. He winced, and I then realized it was not his boredom that was prompting this complete mistrust of humanity, but rather worry over his brother. "Sorry, old man…I was not thinking," I murmured, downcast.
He shook his head, clapping me lightly on the shoulder. "No, no, my dear fellow; I am just attempting to make sense of the whole affair. I will admit to being a bit on edge from – what the devil is going on?" This last was a near-shout, as a woman's scream pierced the peaceful air from somewhere up ahead, followed by raised voices, the booming barks of that enormous dog, and various eerie noises that did not at all sound like the workings of a smoothly-run sailing vessel.
Eve's eyes widened, and she wrapped her other hand around mine, holding it in both for physical comfort and looking to Holmes in turn for mental reassurance.
"Stay here," Holmes commanded quietly, and disappeared into the gathering crowd.
"I'm sure it's all right, Eve," I said soothingly, patting her head with my free hand and then kneeling down to be on her own eye level. "Nothing to worry about, my dear. Now, what would you like to do when we get back to the resort? Another riding lesson, perhaps, on one of Mr. Calhoun's lovely ponies?"
Our smart daughter was not to be taken in by my distraction, but she did make the effort to nod at my suggestion, flashing me a tiny smile.
As footsteps approached rapidly and then stopped beside me, a hand came down on my shoulder and I stood to my feet. Holmes's face was calm and betraying no sign of distress, but I who knew him better than he knew himself could see in his uneasy eyes that the mask was in place for Eve's sake, not mine.
"What is it?" I demanded.
He massaged the bridge of his nose for a moment as if in pain, and then looked at me over his fingers. "The ship's hull has broken, do not ask me how," he said flatly. "And…" He glanced down at Eve, who was at the moment thankfully distracted by a woman's very flashy pink parasol glittering in the sunlight, then continued in a quieter tone. "And we are taking on water rather rapidly, Watson."