He should have thrown it in the fire the second after he’d read it, for it was tainted with the devil’s touch, full of the disease of apathy and legally more than a little on the periphery of ethics. But he was addicted to it now, this odd correspondence that had grown between them, flowering like a mushroom into something thick and plump and sometimes worth having if the occasion afforded it. The paper it was written on was thick and heavy, like the cotton type used for official government documents and could well have been from such a supplier, the ink equally bold and solid, every stroke of every letter made with a confidence that one rarely found in people who were not great leaders. Then, of course, she was a leader of her own mind and increasingly of history itself as she murdered her way through one country after another, a secretive hired gun that left political mayhem in her wake. She had no qualms about her work, claimed she slept well every night and possessed no regrets over any of her actions. This was a source of fascination for Mycroft who, with the slightest perceived notion that he may have offended another in an unknown degree, would toss and turn and bemoan his words or decisions for years, the guilt occupying every thought until he managed to bring the world into karmic equilibrium once again, usually through an unnecessary apology.
The guilt over these letters was insurmountable, however, for he did not wish to stop receiving them and he did not wish for Lestrade to know about them, and it is this that causes that periodic sleepless night full of pacing and the occasional wheeze as stress gets the better of both his soul and his ill lungs. Thankfully, the latter problem has been alleviated thanks to their current time near Bath, the clean country air scrubbing inner organs and even their skin into a polished perfection that no surgery could muster. Every breath he now took was without effort and filled his veins with sparkling molecules of oxygen, giving him a feeling of health and vigor that he couldn’t possibly experience in London with its poisoned Thames and crowded streets, the facades of every house stained black with coal.
He could not give up his cane, however, which was always with him, for those unexpected periods of vertigo would still assail him even here and he would lean heavily on his cane for balance more than true physical support. This morning it was propped against the empty chair next to him, conspicuously absent of Lestrade’s messy bulk, a small trail of crumbs left behind on an empty, flowered plate imported recently from France via his cousin Emigene, who was also absent from the breakfast table, and in fact had never shown up for the repast at all.
He was alone and free to take out the scrap of paper he now had memorized by heart and he took it out from the pocket of his silk dressing gown anew, cup of coffee steaming in anticipation of his rereading of it. The paper, long sueded and the words softened by his handling of it, lay flat before him like a loaded pistol ready to find a target. Possibly a heart.
July 2, 1903
How beautiful Greece is this time of year! So many white sands and miles of blue ocean! The people here are friendly enough, and treat a single French woman alone as an amusement, a novelty. The shopkeeper in town begs of me to date her brother, and he is solid and handsome enough, but sadly a good man, and ah, we both know…I am not the sort who deserves a good man.
I have heard you have escaped to Bath, that place of Romans, and here I am among the Greeks. Quelle coincidence! Ah, alors, I am not so convinced of that either, for we are both brought together by the Fates, are we not? We are both intertwined in a drama that is both beneficial and detrimental to us both and yet we indulge it. You will be my end or I will be yours or perhaps the Fates will simply tire of us both and walk away, leaving us alone. We can hope, yes?
Do watch over your dear Inspecteur for ennui is a terrible disease and can do all sorts of damage to a person’s mind and health, though it sounds as though your wild cousin is making up for it in her own dramatic entrances and exits. Are you free of her yet? I imagine she is the sort who can rarely stay in one place–How I can relate!–and unlike you I am feminine enough to have more empathy for her need to get away and create her own life on her own terms. However, I am in agreement that this wanderlust of hers has little to do with the advancing of science and les etudes anthropologique–To abandon a daughter of that age is an irresponsibility and great damage can be done, as the girl is also as intelligent as her mother, at least on paper from your descriptions. There are a great many dangerous influences that can visit an impressionable girl. Some dangerous but beneficial, perhaps. I have heard whispers of certain meetings, but I can tell you no more than this at present. I am a social scientist of a type myself and do not give out half truths.
As for the assassination of Queen Draga, I am sorry to say that I had little to do with that, and am annoyed that I was not employed by Dimitrejivic, for I can assure you it would have been more subtle. Ah, there is a great disquiet in the world, mon ami, a world of those who are very rich and those who are not and who are increasingly noisy about eating some of that cake. It seems poverty is becoming unacceptable even among the poor. The masses are again recognizing their power. All we can do, for now, is watch. And wait.
How are the medicinal baths and how often do you indulge in them? I hear they are as soothing and healing as the Dead Sea itself, and considering how many sickly Englishmen and women flock to them every summer and put their swill into them I should advise you against such company. I have heard some of the more ignorant believe the Baths can cure syphilis–Quelle horreur!
Best to enjoy the pastoral landscape as you English are so fond of doing at the same time you are destroying it. Breathe in the air filled with flowers and pollen and a simple, clean life! It can end so quickly, that world. And it will, when you must take leave to your Quarter Session in August. I shall be in Sudan when you hear of me next, mon ami, and do not worry, your letter sent to the usual address will find me bien sur.
Tout ma vie, toute ma couer, etre bien
“She is an insufferable brat!”
Mycroft stuffed the letter from Irene Adler into his pocket, heedless of how it wrinkled it. Lestrade hadn’t noticed, and was instead on his usual tirade as of late, a crisp piece of a paper in hand that had the letterhead from the Bathroyal Society of Young Ladies printed in a bold black that seeped through the back of the correspondence. It was tossed in front of Mycroft, who tutted over the now predictable contents. He shook his head and handed the small letter back to Lestrade who paced the large windows of the breakfast room like a caged lion. “It’s rather silly for her to be boarding there anyway, it’s literally a short walk from this estate and frankly, the exercise would do her good.”
“You can’t walk evil out of you.”
“She is not evil, Gregory, she is merely a girl.”
“You haven’t met many sixteen year old girls, have you?”
“East End unfortunates are another matter entirely, Gregory, and you cannot place Ingrid in their company. She is merely a young woman afflicted with an insurmountable amount of intelligence who has had no parental guidance whatsoever in her young, albeit privileged, life.” Sighing once again at Lestrade’s continued fuming pouting as he stared out the large window onto the back of the Holmes estate and its rolling hills, Mycroft picked up his cane and left his seat at the breakfast table to join him. He placed a pale hand on Lestrade’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze of reassurance. “We shall have a chat with the headmistress later about the issue. Ingrid being too rude to her teachers and being an influence on the younger students has been an ongoing problem and Headmistress Yearwood’s request that she not remain boarding at the school is a fair compromise.”
“Bah!” Lestrade exclaimed. “The girl doesn’t need to learn the finer graces of a bloody boarding school, she needs what we can’t possibly give her and that is a damned mother! What influence can we possibly give her? Your flighty cousin has been here for five years now, her care for the estate minimal and she is simply occupying it as a squatting lodger who hasn’t paid one cent in rent and leaves her child to roam free and wild with no social upbringing whatsoever.”
Mycroft shook his head. “That is unfair, Mrs. Healey has tried…”
“Mrs. Healey is your elderly cook who has had her fill of raising other people’s problems and it is unfair to foist yet another on her in her advanced age! Have some sense, man!”
He tried to protest but Lestrade would have none of it. “Five years we have watched this problem stew, Mycroft. Five long years. Your cousin Emigene is nothing but a world renowned harlot, and I dare you to try and argue otherwise. We have no idea who Ingrid’s father is…”
“I’m assuming someone of the Norwegian nobility as she has travelled to that region often in the past…”
“We have no idea who her father is,” Lestrade repeated. “and as far as we know her mother is the mattress for every noble blooded science minded moron the world over, and it matters nothing to her to have a new fancy man to fund her research every year. Who is it this time? Some fellow in the Highlands with a suitable lab and family stipend? She’s abandoned her daughter and all the problems of her growing into womanhood upon us and not given a damn about the consequences, not the least of which is being prevented from boarding at her school as she’s too bloody miserable to deal with on a twenty-four hour basis. Read between the lines, Mycroft, the Headmistress is tired. She needs a break from Ingrid’s constant challenging and her sour attitude. The girl is work, Mycroft.”
“She is far easier to cope with than Sherlock’s mad shenanigans,” Mycroft primly reminded him. “Or have you forgotten that difficult work as you put it so easily?”
Lestrade was having none of it. “Sherlock is mad. He has a reason for being the way he is and he is being treated quite well for it.”
Mycroft raised a brow. “I shall have to pass along the compliment to Dr. Watson.”
“Perhaps we can throw Ingrid to him in the bargain.”
“We tried, remember? It did not go well.”
Indeed, Ingrid was so adept at debate and well researched on Dr. Watson’s methodology that he found it impossible to diagnose her let alone treat her, and his only advice to the two men was to ‘Handle her carefully and whatever you do, do not turn your back on her for she’s a clever little wench and has nothing wrong with her save the ego and the ability of an angry King set upon conquering. There is little feminine about her, and I would dare say her faerie looks are well deceiving…She holds all arguments like a man and defends as such, and if she were allowed to become a defence lawyer I daresay no one would swing at the gallows.“
“She is family, Gregory. There is nothing I can do about that.” Mycroft tapped the tip of his cane impatiently against the clay tiles of the breakfast room. “And your coat is going on again! Where are you going now?”
“For a walk,” Lestrade snapped.
“You just got back from one!”
“And now I will take another as there is nothing at all else to do in this damned fresh aired paradise! Perhaps I’ll get stung by a bee on the way back, or get challenged by a bleedin’ badger, or trip over a hell’s own hedgehog, the list of potential perils are endless!”
“You are being childish.”
“I am bored, Mycroft. Nothing does my head in more.”
With that he stormed back outside again, his hulking form stumbling over patches of clover, thick dew clinging to his wool trousers and along the hem of his grey trench coat. He was as out of place on the horizon as a tiger sleeping among the patches of moss and Mycroft had to force himself to turn away from the large window and its display of pastoral beauty and ruminate, not for the first time, that surely he was better off selling the Holmes estate and finding some other, more alien clime with bustling life and terror within it fit to keep Lestrade happily distracted solving murders and himself free of bronchitis.
The problem of his cousin Emigene had been an ongoing one since she had moved into the Holmes estate five years ago under the pretence of taking care of how it was run in his absence while he was busy in London. The agreement had been a spoken one, and as she was part of the Holmes family clan on her father’s side, and leaving a vast estate near empty was hardly agreeable to the scant amount of servants or anyone wishing to visit, she had been offered room and board free of charge so long as she presided over it with the expectations one would have for a Holmes. She’d failed at the attempt, miserably, with one scandalous affair after another, a child out of wedlock in tow that she had never disclosed to Mycroft and who sadly was all manner of talk in the local villages surrounding the estate.
But the harsh tongues were soon quelled by Emigene’s harsh, overbearing manner and her intense intelligence which had garnered her a doctorate in the new field of anthropology. She could silence the worst society lady bully with a mere glance, pinning her detractors hard beneath her long nose. She entertained no apology for her lifestyle, nor for the fleeting way she approached motherhood which seemed to involve leaving Ingrid for long periods of time alone on the massive estate with naught but Mrs. Healey and a couple of servants for company and in truth would have forgotten about her own daughter’s education had Mycroft not firmly reminded her of its necessity. “She can read books,” Emigene had said, waving the issue off with the back of a pale, thin hand. “All she will learn in school is how to keep her hand down and hide that she knows the answers. Schooling can’t keep up with a girl like her. Let her be free, take her own path and see where it goes.”
Unfortunately, Mycroft had seen his fair share of what happened to young ladies who followed such advice and they often ended up in his courtroom on charges of prostitution, infanticide, theivery and worse still, afflicted with syphilis or pox, so he had laid down the one law upon his niece that she most certainly must go to school and if her mother didn’t like it she was not welcome to stay at the Holmes estate.
Emigene had found her loophole, however, and the last few years as her own education reaped accolades and she was a well sought after lecturer in France, Hungary and Russia, she spent much of her time abroad, bringing back books and influences that were strange indeed upon young Ingrid. Now sixteen, the girl had grown into a young woman, wild and angry, fluent in Russian and fond of sullen moods and intense arguments. She was still at school this morning, a blessed reprieve that would soon be wrenched from them as she was no longer permitted to board there and thus she would remain for the bulk of her time at the Holmes estate, brooding in windows and bathing the entire place in a grey, sombre pall that matched her permanent foul mood.
His own reflection was broken by the appearance of Sherlock walking across the garden area to the far left of the field, where the greenhouse pavilion was located. He enjoyed spending his time there amongst the various flora and had named many of them and chatted with them as though they were living people, which in his ill mind they probably were. The conversations he’d had with the flowers were predominantly positive, however, and Mycroft saw no harm in allowing Sherlock his happy delusions, rare as they were. Bath had always been a complicated place for him, with memories of their unpleasant childhood invading upon the present, but the gentle calm of the place had been healing and Dr. Watson himself saw no harm in the extended vacation from Holloway, and had promised to visit a week from now to check on Sherlock’s health and to avail himself of free food, room and board at a very prestigious country estate in Bath. His latest book, The Hound of the Baskervilles, had given him ample fame in London and after a slew of further short stories based loosely on Sherlock’s continued nightmarish delusions, he had to wonder if the populace itself were mad to press him so fervently to continue on with them. He had toyed with the idea of killing off his protagonist despite its success for it was wearing on him to be ignored for his more scientific work in exchange for the royalties in the rags his fiction was printed in. That they proved more lucrative made him moan over the state of English education.
Lestrade was no longer visible, sucked into a veil of mist that covered the mossy hills in a thick blanket that was as fresh as cleaned flannel and offered a strangely comforting damp. He’d been heading in the direction of the village, so perhaps he was going to visit the new bakery there. Their cook, Mrs. Healey, told them the old baker had finally retired, as in he died, not by any terrible means, mind, but simply due to old age and older habits. He was fond of drink and it had pickled him into his 87th year before he finally expired, his elbows deep in sourdough and his face plunked in flour. At first the local authorities had thought he’d suffocated in his bin, but his foul liver proved to be the true culprit. Mrs. Healey, oddly unempathetic, had been very happy at the thought of a new baker as she’d found his methods medieval and tasteless, and hated having to resort to his bland pies and grainy textured breads when she herself ran low on supplies for baking. “They don’t make them like that in London, not any more. I know it for a fact, I do. The bread is fine and white and glows like bleached bone. Smells almost floral and not mank, like his. He sold bricks that the poor would shun. Twenty odd years of those rocks we’ve had to put up with. I know it’s uncharitable of me, and I know I will find some punishment for it by the great Spirit, but even He can’t disagree with what’s true. The man made mortar not bread. There’s a young and fresh lad there now, handsome and knows how to work a proper dough, I can tell. We’ll be spoiled now, and you won’t be missing London one whit!”
Why Mrs. Healey thought he would miss London was always a source of question for him, and he imagined the quiet life in the country was heavily prejudiced towards the idea that the bustle and hurry of big cities were where real life happened and not in these mossy areas of quiet, sunshine and friendly walks. He did not miss the filth and misery of London, visible at every turn, half dead urchins and stinking, crowded streets, all manner of peddler selling his wares, pickpockets at the ready to steal every coin. There was no such thing as a ramble in London, for one always had to have a purpose in mind and to get there quickly, do one’s business and then return with equal speed, and repeat this process over and over for the course of one’s career. Lestrade had it far worse, having to dive headfirst into the London muck as he did daily in his investigations, pondering over corpses fished out of the Thames, and not fishing for pickerel as he would here. But while Mycroft enjoyed the respite, Lestrade had a much harder time finding the means to properly relax and it often took a couple of weeks before the man would heave a sigh and stare up at the sharp, cerulean blue of the country sky and properly doze in his chair beneath it, becoming at last one with the scenery. He would gain weight by August, his muscular frame threatening to wither into dough, and then, as September beckoned and Mycroft was to head back to London, he would gleefully jump wholeheartedly back into the mire where he would trawl out murderers and the dead with his usual frenetic glee.
For Mycroft the estate was a mixed blessing. The lingering memories of a childhood spent in tense silence lest he upset their volatile, neglectful father who took the task in name only sometimes assailed him at odd moments, triggered by objects and shadows within the hallways, locked doors that remained so even now when he was an adult. He could see his mother even now, here in the breakfast room, gazing out the window in empty catatonia, encased within a world of her own that no one could penetrate. Down the long corridor past the large, marble encased front foyer, was his father’s study, a large library encasing the walls that opened into a massive window and a set of glass doors that led one directly into the greenhouse pavilion. His father had an odd love for plants, an influence of an uncle, and that relative was long gone before either Mycroft or Sherlock’s arrival. In his own history, the estate had always been mostly empty and threatening to become ruins, but that had not always been the case. There were stories of vast balls being held there, large suppers and dignitaries from all over the world admiring the vast array of exotic plants in the pavillion, rich botanical enthusiasts of all nationality, accompanied by wives and children, the estate a constant revolving door of guests and their bulk, every room often filled, the place like a palace with myriad servants catering to its cleanliness and the care of those beneath its roof. Perhaps his father had enough of such parties and constant company, for he hated the smallest noise to interrupt his time in the study, and would often erupt in rage that would end in a slap across his mother’s face, or a belting on Mycroft’s back. He rarely touched Sherlock for he barely acknowledged the boy’s existence, and besides, it wasn’t long after Sherlock was born that their mother’s illness truly began to grip her, and not even their father’s abuse could reach into the complex tapestry of faeries and monsters that became her inner world.
“Mr. Holmes! Have you finished your breakfast? Tch, look at this, Mr. Lestrade has hardly touched his bacon and there’s only one bite out of that scone. Wasteful! Mind you, the bacon is burned and the scone is not much better. I’ll have a word with that maid of ours, she’s young and stupid and can’t scrub a pot without leaving black in it. Jenny! Jenny get in here and clear up this table! The scandal of it, the way we can’t find decent servants these days.”
A rail thin girl wearing a simple maid’s uniform walked into the room, gave Mycroft a shy curtsey, and then began clearing the table, much to the shock of Mrs. Healey, who gave Mycroft an exasperated look. “You don’t acknowledge the master of the house, girl, you are to come in silent like a mouse, do your work and leave! Oh, Heavens, what am I to do with you! Come on, come on, clear it up, it’s one table and only crumbs, should only take less than a minute!”
Mycroft wanted to protest but had to catch himself for he was not back in London at 221B Baker Street, with its modest lifestyle and no delineation between classes. Mrs. Hudson had often reminded them both that she was no servant, and the freedom that came without them was not lost on either Mycroft nor Lestrade. Here, though the days were lazy and filled with the most incredible blue skies and beauty, the very notion of privacy was frowned upon. What furtive glances and the occasional affection that could be indulged had to be fiercely protected from prying eyes and suspicion, and it was this that sometimes made him long for London’s vile filthy streets and crowded populace. No one cared what one did in London so long as rent was paid. The denser the population, the more it left one alone.
Here, he felt like one of those exotic plants in the pavilion. Always on display and always under fussy scrutiny for aphids.
He supposed he shouldn’t be so uncharitable, for it was Mrs. Healey who had encouraged his education, after all, and was the primary reason he had been able to escape the Holmes estate and his father and all the madness that resided within it. He often wondered if he could have been more of a help to his younger brother who had been left behind and pangs of guilt often assailed him at the thought of the abuses Sherlock must have endured in those cold, never ending halls and gold painted ceilings. Mrs. Healey often assured him that she had kept a close eye on him through the years, but she had her own duties to perform and Mycroft knew as well as anyone that all it took was one second of a misstep and the most vile tragedies could weave into one’s life like a hidden cancer. A horrid slap here. A witnessed argument there. The long, cold nights without comfort, without speech, without human closeness to bring a child out of a nightmare. Loneliness, unbearable and weighty.
How much did Mrs. Healey and her small entourage of maids she had hired know about his relationship with Lestrade? Mr. Healey, the groundskeeper, rarely ever stepped foot into the estate and spent the majority of his life outdoors and then retiring to the small cottage down the lane that had been provided for them. Mycroft wasn’t sure if he’d ever had a conversation with the gruff, silent man who was always covered in a layer of soil If his wife had suspicions, she never voiced them and always treated Lestrade with all the respect of a visiting guest and friend of the family, formal and with that touch of distance that had been so ingrained in her original training for service. They did not share a bed here, but had an adjoining room where the door was left opened. There was little by way of intimacy here, and perhaps this frustration was what was irking Lestrade so deeply, his passions for crime and science were forced into a quiet barely above a whisper, where furtive glances and the odd kiss on the cheek when they were confident no one could witness it had become the norm. The Holmes estate had never been a place of affection, Mycroft had often argued when Lestrade balked at these yearly visits. It was nothing more than a two-dimensional realm of past riches, a ghost of wealth and power. Every soul turned to thin paper within it.
But the grounds were beautiful, and Sherlock did thrive here with its bland outlook and oppressive quiet and overly eager eyes upon it, and certainly Mycroft’s lungs heaved sigh after sigh of relief as the guts of London were coughed in black phlegm out of them, and if it meant their passions had to be put on hold for a couple of months until their return to the frantic life of Baker Street, then so be it.
Light footsteps ran across the marble foyer, and there was some grumbling in the deeper recesses of the estate, and Mycroft paused at the window as he watched Sherlock converse with a daylily. He could hear a massive set of keys jangling and the harsh words of Mrs. Healey as she spoke to her maids, three of them in all, who were now clamouring into the front foyer with quick feet that sounded like the hooves of deer on stone. “Oh, Heavens, what’s this now? We got no warning of this! We’re not prepared! Betsy, get that tea cart ready and you, Jenny, stop looking like a statue and get moving, get one…no, two…rooms at the ready, the guest ones on the second floor. I know damned well they aren’t dusted and have been locked for years, silly girl, so open the windows, change the bedding and get scrubbing! I want a fire at the ready in that hearth! Don’t just stand there, go, go, go!” Mrs. Healey’s fretting was palpable. “Oh dear, dear, they have trunks, four of them in all…No, there’s six! Oh heavens, I hope there’s enough in the larder for all this lot. Two more heads, no servants from the look of it…What vagabonds are these? Those are fine linens, but not made from around here, they look too bleached and light, like cotton. Oh, the easy way they walk! They smack of Americans! Oh, heavens! The Spirit save us!”
Curious, Mycroft left the breakfast room to enter the front foyer adjoining it and was met with a confused disarray of young maids running in all directions, busily opening windows and quickly dusting the vast central staircase before suddenly lining up, with Mrs. Healey, flushed and with a pat of flour on her cheek, her hands clasped primly in front of her. Jenny opened the heavy front door with some difficulty and Mycroft fought the urge to help her (for Mrs. Healey would be scandalized by such charity) and what greeted him was a sight of such surprise he nearly fell over in shock and joy.
“Mary!” HIs eyes widened as he took her in, the soft cotton of her dress far too thin and betraying travel to much warmer climes. “Harriette!” He bundled them both into his spindly arms and he was surprised at the softness of the cotton muslin they wore, no heavily starched lace nor was there the hint of a corset beneath their dresses. He pulled back, red faced, as though he’d discovered some terrible secret, but neither woman seemed to recognize his embarrassment.
“We’ve just returned from Florida,” Harriette demurely explained, her thick, soft brown hair piled high on top of her head and held loosely in place with various precarious pins. Mary sported a far more daring, short look, her hair shorn to the nape of her neck and puffed out in a bowl shaped halo around her elfen features. “I know we should have warned you of our arrival, but Mary felt it would be better to surprise you.”
“And that she has,” Mrs. Healey muttered behind Mycroft.
“We had so many adventures in America!” Mary exclaimed, her dark eyes wide with untold excitements. “We can’t wait to tell you all about them!”
“It’s certainly been a whirlwind,” Harriette replied, with significantly less enthusiasm.
The servant girls under Mrs. Healey’s silent instruction were already loading the various trunks and suitcases up the grand stairs to rest in hastily readied rooms. Mycroft noted there seemed to be a tremendous amount of such belongings, as though Mary and Harriette had uprooted all of their possessions and dropped every bit of them on his doorstep.
“As I wasn’t expecting you, the drawing room won’t be ready for guests, but the breakfast room should do just fine for us--Mrs. Healey! Can you have a tea cart brought in for our esteemed guests? This is Miss Mary Oakes and Miss Harriette Turner, they have just returned from America where they were…”
“...We’re part of a philanthropic society in New York, doing lecture work and expanding upon the virtues of metaphysics. Perhaps you’ve heard of us? The Metaphysical Morass Of The Masses Society?”
“No,” a paling Mrs. Healey nervously replied, “I don’t believe I have.”
“We’ve become quite influential in America,” Mary continued, her chin held high, her cockney accent traded out for a more metropolitan one. Mycroft had to bite down on his smile. You couldn’t keep the actress out of Mary and her current fiction was set to be very entertaining.
“We have been delving into the world of that which cannot be seen with the naked eye and honing in on our scientific expertise upon it. Harriette, here, has become quite the pupil of several mediums within the Chicago district and has been very active in the metaphysical community in her increasing ability to converse with other dimensions.”
Mrs. Healey crossed herself at this. “Well, that’s very interesting, I’m sure. I’ll make my leave now, if you don’t mind, Mr. Holmes, and I will have Betsy bring up your tea with some fresh scones.” Then, after giving the two women a long once over. “And...And how long can we be expecting your guests to stay?”
Mycroft raised a brow at this, and gave his beloved companions a warm smile. “As long as they would like. Please, let’s go into the breakfast room.”
“Where is Inspector Lestrade?” Harriette asked as they walked into the glass encased room, the rolling grey clouds outside laying upon the scene like a comforting blanket. Mary sighed in happiness as she ignored the heavily laid out breakfast table with its various tea cups and sweets and shining cutlery and plopped heavily onto one of the various settees placed along the floor to ceiling windows. A parasol clanged to the floor next to her, and she kicked off her tiny white shoes, revealing cotton stockings that matched her dress to perfection. She tucked her stockinged feet under her muslin skirts and leaned on the windowsill, as perfect a portrait of female dreaming as one could witness.
“I’m right knackered! That train trip is one hell of a bore, nothing but trees and sheep all the way up here. Can’t believe we’re stuck back in Jolly Ol’ England after all that. Here, I knew you was a judge and all, but I never would have thought you’d own a bloody castle!”
“It’s an estate,” Mycroft corrected her. “And it is hardly indicative of wealth as the money is very old that runs it and a good portion of this building isn’t inhabited. It’s been in my family for nearly two hundred years, and I doubt very much it will continue to be for another decade let alone a millenium.”
Mary sighed against the glass, frosting it. “We was set to have a big house. Proper mansion, pool, alligators in the moat, the lot. We did real good in the Americas, didn’t we, Harriette? Got lots of cash built up with the plays and then the lectures and then the whole spirtist thing that Harriette here has got a good head for. I writes the scripts for those, I do, she’s been a right good tutor that way. Sang for our suppers in the rough months. But we had it all, didn’t we, Harriette? Had that house ready to be built and we was going to be Queens of the Marsh.”
Mycroft frowned and Harriette’s voice was stern when she replied to the unspoken question.
“Queens of the Marsh, indeed. We lost it all. Well, not entirely. We are the proud owners of about six acres of swampland that can house nothing but mosquitoes, alligators and flamingos. Building a property on the scale we wanted to is impossible, even a shack would sink into it.”
Mary pished at this. “Oh, don’t be such a bitter bitch about it. Bad investments happen, we’ll get the money back somehow.”
“It’s the ‘somehow’ I worry about.”
“Inspector Lestrade has taken a walk into town, and as for your unfortunate turn you are always both welcome here at any time. As you can see, the estate is mostly empty, so a breath of life within it is hardly a difficulty. Only...The townspeople here are a tad, well, conservative, and there are not as many freedoms to enjoy here as one might have in London. I’m afraid you may find the quiet stifling.”
“This ain’t permanent,” Mary assured him. “We just got to get our heads on right and our feet back on.” She tapped at the glass with a well manicured, perfectly clean fingernail. A feat for someone whose personality was as close to the earth as Mary’s. “You got a witch on your property.”
On the grey horizon, past the arboretum and Sherlock’s conversation with the lilies, a thin, wispy creature roamed the mossy hills. As it approached its long hair whipped across her elfen face which was unsmiling, her steps heavier than her slight body suggested she could stomp. She wore thick black boots suited for gardening or marching to war, and from the way she approached the latter was the better use.
“Ingrid,” Mycroft said, his happy spirit instantly falling. “My cousin’s daughter.”