"There is also," the widow added as if in afterthought, "the fact that my husband refused to come here. He was terrified of snakes and they were known to hide in the cool of the well on hot days."
"Nevertheless, one was the last thing he saw in this world." Geoffrey pointed out with an uncharacteristic diffidence.
"It was, despite the strangeness of Old Joe's story." She confessed. "The serpents of Britain are all small, and the accounts hold it was a large one that was glimpsed in the grasses." Her brow furrowed in a moment's consternation. "Though perhaps it would not have been out of place here by this old Roman relic."
There was a moment in which all three players in the game regarded each other. Ulla was the fortunate one: She was well out of it.
"Your Ladyship is aware that the missing jewels are a concern for a few people." Geoffrey said quietly. "Not the least being those who hold the Woodrow Estate."
"That I am aware." She answered as unruffled as Hazel Bradstreet when faced with a brood of Sooty Boys. "But I am unconcerned as to their worries. They were not the original estate-guards, Mr. Lestrade."
Clea had been watching Geoffrey the entire time the widow gave her little paragraph. Restless as always when forced to sit still, his little finger had been idly stirring about the rusted pins (she thought he was facing an undue risk for lockjaw). At the last sentence, he stopped stirring; his dark eyes went up and she privately winced as they went through the woman. Geoffrey, bless his heart, could not fully control the intensity of his gaze on people. His eyes were just too dark, a little too large, and they moved quickly.
"They weren't." He repeated back to her.
"No." Lady Woodrow folded her hands into her lap. Behind the veil of black lace gloves her skin was oddly browned. "They lost their post when my father died. My husband was persuasive in who would be responsible for the execution of the estates after that point."
"Are the jewels a dowry, Mrs. Woodrow?" Geoffrey had picked up on what Clea had already realised: She did not mind being called 'Mrs. Woodrow' but her title was a source of annoyance.
"They were at one time." She explained. "I am not surprised you were not told the entire story. My husband and I are fifth cousins."
Geoffrey managed to control his wince; not from long-distance inbreeding; it was his experience that family trees with interlocking branches could get vicious with the distribution of property. "I am not here on official business, you realise?"
Her look was silent and skeptical.
He sighed. Clea sighed with him—silently. She didn't blame the woman for not believing him, but her demeanor was a bit high-handed. No one liked to be doubted.
Geoffrey controlled himself to the extent that he moved his hands completely away from the pins, and set his hands upon the hat in his lap where they could be put out of mischief. She wondered if this was the same look he adopted when people tried to get him to do things that had nothing, positively nothing, to do with his duties.
"How may we be of service, Your Ladyship?"
And there it was. He would mouth her hook, but she wasn't going to get his audience for free. He had proven that when he gave her title back.
She accepted that firing shot. "If you have some sway with Mr. Baynes, try to persuade him to find the entire truth of the matter."
Geoffrey didn't blink—a sign he was truly surprised. "What of Mr. Holmes?" He asked softly. "He is not hindered by the limitations of the police."
Clea wondered if Mr. Holmes would ever know the massive and infinite concession her husband had just given to his favor. Mostly likely…no.
"Mr. Holmes?" She repeated, as if Geoffrey had just pulled an unpleasant name from underneath his cufflink. "Mr. Holmes is not working through the official channels."
"That is quite true." Geoffrey answered in the same voice. "I can promise to keep my eyes open—but what if I see something of which you would disapprove?" There was something hiding, coming to the surface with those words…and with his expression.
Geoffrey rarely, rarely displayed his temper before women. He wasn't built along such lines. Common consensus put him as indulgent to their feminine whims the same way he indulged children. Clea knew it wasn't that simple (Geoffrey was more complicated than he realised). But here…he was showing not so much of his usual patience and it was before their ersatz hostess.
And…the widow appeared to know exactly and precisely to what he was referring. It was a single moment going backwards like a pin withdrawing from flesh—a harsh prick with radiating pain, but specific in origin.
"It is a risk, Mr. Lestrade." She answered him strangely. "A risk that I shall take."
Geoffrey nodded once. "I promise no more than you."
Alone again, Clea watched her husband vent his temper on a handful of well-aimed pebbles into the forest canopy.
"I don't understand." Clea said as softly as she could. "Why did you look to the well? You as good as accused her of throwing a curse against her husband into the water."
"That's exactly what I did." He whispered back.
"They're not like us, Clea. You say something and you can find yourself in the hot water. As long as you don't use words to talk with…you can do whatever you want. If I'd said anything she would have been forced to deny everything just to save her face."
"You're right. I truly don't understand." She squeezed his hand. "That's not how I was raised to be."
"Thank God for that." He swore. "That would have been like cutting the wings off a bird." He subsided into mutterings that she could not fully discern. "Fools." He said at last, and so softly she could barely understand him.
"To whom are you referring, dear?"
"No one in particular…no one by name." He grumbled. "She doesn't want Mr. Holmes' help because he's not her people."
"Dear…" Clea stopped, and her hand on his wrist stopped him from tossing further bits of the path into the forest. "Now I really don't understand."
"She went to me because I'm safe." He said with no little bitterness. "Mr. Holmes is only from a family of country squires. I don't have the stupidity required to go against her. He's below her in the social scheme of things, but he's high enough that he can move with impunity throughout any circles—low to high. He's fearless, and he's got purpose, and her late husband, who took the rights of the jewels from her, is the one who hired him!" He toed a pebble; it went flying into the undergrowth. Birds took wing. "But as for me…I can't convince her that he'll come to his own judgment on the case…and come to think of it, that might be the worst thing to say to her."
"She's got a guilty conscience about something." Clea agreed. "She might have known that her husband was not long for this world, if he kept making enemies like our table-guest of the other night."
"Good Lord, if that isn't the truth." He sank back, panting slightly from the exertion of sending a storm of geology into the atmosphere.
"Now that you've sent back a cloud of reverse-aerolites, dear…" Clea cleared her throat. "What history do you share with that woman?"
He grimaced to the point his eyes nearly squeezed shut. "What a mess." He announced. "I don't like to think about it."
"I rather got that impression."
"She was the owner of the missing Komodor…the case I was on when we were…" He strangled around the euphemism. "Engaged."
"Oh." Clea said faintly.
"She wasn't helping us because she didn't want us to know that the old, dead Komodor we'd found was really hers…she'd been faking the age of the dog for years and keeping him in the shows…when he was stolen, he died of old age and they stole your father's Komodor to fake up the ransom."
"Oh, dear." Clea summed it up. "And she didn't want to cooperate?"
"Even when I was talking to her…I…" He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned back on the pillar. "Clea, that dog was her life for a long time…I suspected that she wasn't allowed to have any other dogs once Champion died…she took such good care of him…and when he died, she wouldn't even take the body of the dog and have it buried. That dog had been her companion for about twenty years…and she was willing to let him go to the skip once he was no longer alive."
Clea swallowed. "I don't know what to say…except that I am sorry."
"Well, I paid the Constables to bury the dog by the river…least I could do for my own battered-up conscience." Still annoyed—he looked positively sulky—he picked up another rock, noted it was an agate, and automatically put it in his pocket for their sons. That seemed to calm him more than anything. "But that wasn't the worst of it." He said at last.
Here it was. Clea braced herself but kept her lips shut.
"She was afraid of her husband." Geoffrey told her heavily. "When she saw that I knew…she became an enemy. She's never forgiven me for seeing her afraid."
Clea managed to swallow. "Geoffrey…"
"I think I've been trapped." He whispered. "You wouldn't believe the books in her house…I daresay she's read all of them…she's patient as the grave and she's thoughtful. She's thrown me into the same soup-pot as the rest because…"
"Because there's a chance you'll solve the case, and it won't be in a way that gives you any credit or thanks." Clea finished.
"Yes." He said flatly. "She knows enough about procedure that I can't refuse her request for help—indirect though it was. There's Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, and now two police inspectors, but only one of them ought to be here! I'm the happenstance and can you imagine explaining this to the court? How am I to convince anyone this is just a coincidence?"
"We should have gone to Brighton." Clea said without thinking.
There was a moment of shocked silence with the chirr of a wren in the background.
They started laughing at the same time.
"Oh, no." Geoffrey wiped at his eyes when he could get his breath. "No, not Brighton. Nick would be trying to dig up an entire tidepool and we'd lose Martin to the library!"
In a better humor, he offered his arm. In a better humor, she took it.
They made their way back to the main. "What will you do?" She wanted to know. "I for one am content with the length of our visit. We could go home any time."
"I doubt our sons would agree, but I agree we need to get the little one back to us. Much more of a delay and she'll think she's a Bradstreet."
"Heavens." Clea exclaimed.
Geoffrey stopped talking so quickly—and walking—that Clea nearly swung off his arm.
"What is it?" She wondered.
He didn't answer at first, but kept walking—much more slowly than before. Clea couldn't see past the curve of the field.
"They're planting the apple trees by the walnuts." He said softly. "What idiots."
"Don't they listen to their gardener?" Clea wanted to know.
"I think our old driver is the gardener. I can see him smoking up his pipe like a chimney from over here!"
Clea had another thought. It led to another.
"Oh…dear…" She stopped.
Geoffrey stopped too. "What is it?"
"Geoffrey…you said that apple trees die when planted near walnuts."
"Yes." He looked at her strangely.
She didn't trust herself to speak, just looked at him.
He stared back. A cog turned in his head, striking a spark behind his eye.
He lifted his head slowly, and stared back across the lawn.
"Oh…" Was his very faint answer.
"I just wonder, dear…"
"…what they're adding to the hole to help the trees along?" Geoffrey supplied in a nearly-calm voice. "Minerals, no doubt…a few metals…?"
"Let's keep walking." Clea cleared her throat behind her cloth.
Neither of them knew what to say for another hundred yards. By unspoken consent, they were walking back using the widest possible path.
Clea's mind racketed through the small bits of information it had collected since their arrival. The animosity between the dead man and his living wife. The loss of her protectors with the family jewels. The loss of equity into the Arbors. The signs that all was not well with finances.
A woman may own her own property, but it was one thing to make it a legal right and another to let it happen. Clea's marriage began almost the year when women had gained that right…but too many of them didn't even know what they owned; their fathers, husbands, even brothers and sons controlled it all.
If the Woodrows were fifth cousins, then the Lady Woodrow had some legal right to the possession of the jewelry. All that was rendered worthless when her husband put his own fellows in charge of the estate.
She thought of the smiling, charming and utterly untrustworthy Meredith at their table. His teeth had flashed, his eyes had shone, and he had been against Mr. Holmes from the start…but afraid of him. Afraid enough that he transferred his bile to her husband because of past association.
She had a feeling that His Grace might know a bit more about the circumstances of Sir George's death than he wanted people to know about.
Geoffrey had said the little bronze snake of their sons' experience wasn't from here…Lady Woodrow as much as said the same thing…
Clea could think very quickly. She didn't often think of snakes, but she was thinking of them now.
Martin had shown her that book about the reptiles of Great Britain. With a shudder she had sent it on, knowing he could find a nice audience with his father.
The picture had been grotesque, but…
And the author of the book…
And the snake's introduction to the island by the Romans…?
She sneaked a look at Geoffrey. He was a little pale, his eyes unfocused as he tried to walk and think at the same time. She didn't blame him for looking so.
"We ate dinner with a man who will get away with murder." She whispered behind her glove.
He squeezed his hand upon her shoulder.
"He will, Geoffrey! You can't be convicted of murder by frightening someone to death, can you?"
"That I'm not certain." He confessed in a like voice. "I know that it is very hard to convince a court without hard evidence that a person is trying to overstrain a weak person's heart…planting a Greek snake into an old Roman folly won't work. He'll argue that he was just trying to add an authenticity to the relics or something like that."
"Either way, the man is dead and the jewels are missing."
"Missing…but I have a feeling they'll be…turning up…in a few months." Geoffrey paid the doomed trees a significant look. "As soon as the gardeners uproot those dead apples."
"But what does he hope to gain?" Clea hissed.
"That I don't know, but he seemed certain that he would get it…blast." Geoffrey swore under his breath, which was just as well. Clea never blinked at his language, but she was willing to slap it out of him if someone else heard him.
"Baynes. He's coming this way."
Geoffrey drew her to the edge of the fountain and they waited for the big man to puff his way up the path.
"Have a pleasant walk, gentlefolk?" He chuckled—but gently. Clea had that effect on people.
"One last turn before we head back to London." Geoffrey did not bother to hide his relief. "Any progress?"
"I was hoping you would tell me." The Inspector said ruefully. "I'm told the unfortunate widow came out of her mourning enough to chat with you."
"We've met before, on another case." Geoffrey answered in a voice as bland as cooked carrageen. "I suppose she needed my reassurance that I wasn't involved."
"Yes…though she did say some queer things. Not that I pay great stock to what someone in grief says."
"Did she now?" Baynes answered just as casually.
"Yes…I hope her nerves are well."
Baynes fidgeted. His red face grew the redder, and he played with his hatbrim a moment. "I daresay she's better in her husband's absence, if you know what I mean. He was a cold one, begging the pardon of Mrs. Lestrade. Cold and…well…some might say cruel."
"And she was married to him." Geoffrey mused. "I won't waste my pity on him then."
"Queer things, did you say?"
"I don't know how serious it ought to be taken…" Geoffrey hesitated. "Something about the well at the old Roman folly."
"Yes…it seems our angling friend liked to go there and hang about the well." Geoffrey shrugged. "She would prefer that not become common knowledge…one gets the impression that Lord Meredith is turning a bit eccentric in his head."
"You don't say." Baynes said slowly. "I can't say that surprises me either. When he's not here he's off in France. But it looks like he might be staying here for a good bit."
Clea was amused that Mr. Baynes had forgotten her presence.
"Is he favoring Lady Woodrow?"
"More like taking liberties if you catch my understanding. He was one of the original executors of the estate before Sir George changed it all over to his people." Baynes rubbed at his chin. "This is a nice business." He snorted. "You have to wonder what Mr. Holmes will make of it."
"Now that," Geoffrey smiled from ear to ear, "is what I do wonder."
Mr. Holmes was perched upon one of the stone gryphons guarding the main entrance steps, loading up his pipe. Dr. Watson was sitting by the steps with his bad leg extended. The boys were clustered about him like little chicks and chattering like squirrels. Between the three were several large paper scrolls with dark blue patterns of pigment.
"It's called Gyokatu, Dr. Watson." Martin answered politely. "The Japanese art of fish printing." Taking Watson's expression for puzzlement, he added, "It was founded about thirty years ago so the anglers could keep a permanent record of the fish they'd caught."
"I…I can see that." Watson cleared his throat. "Did you kill the fish, Martin?"
"No, sir. If you're quick you can print them before they have a chance to raise a fuss. But it helps if you've got another pair of hands to hold the fish down." Martin hesitated. "I had to practice on carp for the longest time."
"They're very difficult." Nicholas chipped in. "But I think catfish are the most difficult. They like to bite."
"No, I think pike are the worst." Martin contradicted rudely. "Pike want to bite. There's a difference. Remember when Uncle Robert caught a pike that was being swallowed by another pike at the same time?"
"Oh, yes. Poor Uncle Robert." Nicholas sighed.
Holmes had been puffing furiously at his pipe during this exchange. "Why 'poor Uncle Robert' if I may inquire, gentlemen?"
"The others wouldn't let him count it as two fish." Nicholas explained. "Because it was technically, two fish on the same hook."
"Or the duckling." Martin pointed out. "It was in the stomach of the first pike."
"What a shame." Watson said with feeling. "I'm fond of the ducks myself."
"It was awfully angry, Dr. Watson." Martin confessed. "It was a week before it would even let Nicholas get near it."
Watson was increasingly out of his depth. "The fish?"
"No, sir. The duckling." Nicholas said as if that explained everything.
Watson took a deep breath. "There was a duckling inside the stomach of the fish…"
"The first fish."
"Yes, thank you; the first fish. And it was still alive?"
"It was a very big fish. And it'd just been swallowed." Nicholas clarified.
"But very angry." Martin reminded them.
"I quite sympathize." Watson brushed his mustache furiously and tried to ignore that Holmes' face was well hidden within a quickly-created smokescreen. "Whatever happened to the duck?"
"Oh, Aunt Elizabeth has her. It's a hen, so she lets it eat the snails in her garden."
Watson rallied bravely. "These are fine pieces, gentlemen. What medium are you using?"
"Water-colour, sir. We toss the powder on 'em and they sort of do all the mixing when they thrash about."
"Well I shall be pleased to keep these." And Watson did appear to be telling the truth. He paused to admire the images with a smile. "I believe I have a frame large enough for the big one."
"Ah, Lestrade." Holmes noted. "Are you preparing to leave?"
"We only gave ourselves a few days, Mr. Holmes." Geoffrey told him calmly. "If you don't mind my saying so, you seem to have your work cut out for you."
"Perhaps." Mr. Holmes murmured. It was not…quite…a refusal or an agreement. He turned his long neck and puffed in the direction of the busy gardeners. "I shall be certain to give Lord Meredith your farewells."
"You do that." Geoffrey passed a long, long look with the detective, and Clea had the intuition that the men knew exactly what they were saying to each other.
"Now what?" She asked as they waited for the train.
"Now what, which?" He asked as the boys played a ferocious game of tag on the platform. "The case or our plans for the bonfire?"
"Either or, silly." She slipped her hand to his waist and leaned upon his strength. The train was coming slowly.
"I don't envy Mr. Holmes." He said at last. "He knows full well what's happening…and if I know him, he's going to ensure some sort of justice is going to occur to our friend the Viscount." He coughed into his sleeve. "I'm well out of it."
Two weeks later, Clea hummed to herself over the breakfast-tray. She took care to do so lightly. Her husband cared little for the high notes after a boisterous night.
"Chipper, aren't we?" He rasped from his tilted perspective off the table.
"You have a day off, and the newspaper is missing its usual woes and misprints." She dropped the paper roll before him.
He made a face. "I don't think I can read anything that small." He apologized.
"Have some tea first."
He did, without attempting the balancing-act of the saucer first. "Is there toast?"
"Two inches to the left, dear."
"What in God's name was that stuff Bradstreet brought around?"
"No idea. Hazel warned me about it."
"God. My head feels like my bowler must've after it was knocked through the Regatta."
"Hazel says a breakfast sets you arights better than any medicine."
"Good for her." Geoffrey examined the toast for the best side to bite. "What's the news?"
"Oh, nothing much. A few sewing-circles are giving a quilt to the Queen…"
"She lets people with sharp things near her?"
"It's a very special and historical sewing-circle, dear. The women have to be at least ninety years old to qualify, and be a widow or sister of a soldier to some foreign war I've never heard of…but anyway, they're old ladies and they probably couldn't kill anyone with a needle!"
"My tailor says he killed a man with a hatpin."
"And chloroform. If that's the case, why haven't you arrested him?"
"It happened abroad about sixty years ago, and besides, he's a Messianic Jew. I think he's been through enough." Geoffrey closed his eyes; it seemed to help him get the teacup to its destination.
"Well in other news, it would seem Mr. Baynes is being promoted."
"Thank God." Geoffrey said with feeling. "What monstrous perpetrator of depthless crime did he—no, wait. Let me guess." Geoffrey leaned back, eyes still closed. "He actually did find the Devil walking around at night and brought him in. He always said he would. Bloomin' showoff."
Clea cleared her throat. "Not precisely. That tip you gave him about the well…"
One eye opened. That was quite an impressive trick. "Yes?"
"He managed to get permission to dig it up." Clea put the paper down. "It would seem there's quite a cache of Roman artifacts at the bottom…pots…pans…a brass mirror…interesting bits of jewelry…" Both eyes were open now. "And seals for some sort of wine-making business." She frowned slightly. "Mr. Baynes of Scotland Yard was quoted as saying, "No crime is too old or unforgotten for the eye of the police."
"He said that? That doesn't sound like—wait a moment. Wait just a hoe-chopping moment! No dead people in the well?" Geoffrey wanted to know.
"I…I can't say. The paper says something about 'some peculiarities'…"
"If it's the Times, there's bones. That's one of their favourite ways of getting around an order of silence from the police." Geoffrey gulped down the tea and poured a fresh cup. He was laughing, quietly. "There is a god of justice." He announced.
"I'm not certain I understand you, dear."
"Baynes. Baynes is getting promoted because he found an old Roman dig…probably an ancient act of murder in it…" He was laughing harder now. "Lady Woodrow's family history comes to the fore after all! My word, the man must be chewing on some of those bent pins right now."
"Now I really don't understand."
"Baynes is a prideful man, ma-mel. He wanted to rise on his own two hands without any help from anyone else…that's why he was arrogant enough to try to work alongside Mr. Holmes instead of against!" Eyes sparkling with mischief, he waved the toast at his wife. "The Lady Woodrow is going to be out of hock now that a Roman dig is found on her site…without the squeezing blackmail of Lord Meredith, and Baynes, poor fellow, has been promoted so he can supervise the securities of the dig!"
He was so tickled he forgot to eat. "That whole area was a Roman settlement…once they start on one site, they're going to look for others…and you just wait until someone notices one of those planted Greek snakes are slithering around! Joys and raptures, diggers scampering like squirrels…Lord Meredith's little crime is going to enforce the suitability of the site for Lady Woodrow…! We're going to see a renaissance of business at the resort; money's going to change hands, not a penny of which will be going to the Viscount. The Viscount, I'm betting you a pound to a penny, was counting on Lady Woodrow's penury to give in to whatever horrible demands he would be making of her—probably marriage in the bargain--and Mr. Baynes is going to have his hands full for the next five years!"
Clea thought it over. "Is that Mr. Holmes' idea of justice?" She asked sharply. "A man is dead, and the killer may not profit, but he still goes free!"
Geoffrey sobered a bit, but his eyes were still very much alive upon her. "Mr. Holmes has his ways, dear. I guarantee you he won't end there. It's just a form of justice we'll never know about." He finished his toast in greatly improved spirits. "Thank God he's an amateur." He said for the thousandth time since their marriage. "Can you imagine what he would be like if he joined the Yard? My mind quivers."
Clea thought of the man, and his strangeness. She thought of Lady Woodrow, who had been trapped between the various greeds and cruelties of two men all her life. Geoffrey had seen it for what it was, but had been bound within his duties to overlook it.
But he hadn't…exactly. He had quietly stepped out with a few nudges of information to Mr. Holmes' direction…and now look what happened.
Clea picked up the teapot. "Do we have time for another cup before the walk in the park?"