Sherlock Holmes: The Reddening Sun 4
I glimpsed little of Holmes for the remainder of the week. Each morning his breakfast sat across from me untouched and he had already swept off to attend to his business, according to Mrs. Hudson. Whenever he stopped in for a change of clothes, sometimes dressed in a skillful disguise, he spared enough time to apologize for his constant absence and then sped away once more. Though his progress interested me, I occupied myself with readings and walks to pull my mind from it. My partner always shared his findings with me in his own time. Any prompting from me would only put him off.
Finally, upon the following Monday, he slowed his pace enough to converse with me. He caught me coming back from an evening stroll and I barely stepped on the stones of Baker Street before I was accosted by a stranger. The encounter frightened me, for the scoundrel dressed in rags and hunched his shoulders in a formidable stance. I prepared myself for a quarrel.
“Watson,” my friend's familiar voice sounded from the mouth of the man.
“Good God, Holmes,” I said with a jump. “I dare say your costumes become more impressive.”
“We must retire to our rooms at once,” he said in a grave tone. “There is much to discuss.”
“You have acquired answers?”
“It would be more accurate to say I have discovered more questions, but it is too sensitive to speak of on the street. Pray, step upstairs and I will follow closely behind.”
Once the fire before my chair warmed me, a flourished removal of his attire revealed the familiar demeanor of my companion. The thrill of an investigation lightened his features as always, but a frustration crept into the glee.
“There are many avenues down which this case has taken me that I never expected to traverse,” he said as he paced.
“And you are no closer to solving it?”
“On the contrary, every clue draws me nearer to the solution, but farther from apprehending the guilty parties.”
He settled into his seat to address me. “Mr. Tom Bradford’s secrecy runs much deeper than the small account given by Miss Mortimer. She knows little of the man she plans to marry.”
“He is a criminal?”
“At the very least, he is entangled with men who are. On my first day out, I went on to Wembley myself and befriended many of the workers at this Mollohan Inn. My only objective was to coerce information about our young fiancee when I had the good luck of happening on Mr. Tom Bradford myself. As Miss Mortimer assured us, he is a beguiling sort of man with perfect manners. I had never come upon a stableboy of such standing. Using the affable conversation to filch out the information I needed, as you have witnessed me do many times before, I found Mr. Bradford delighted to divulge about his coming marriage. His affections for Miss Mortimer seem absolutely genuine. Yet my inquiries suddenly took a new turn when I observed that he had a foreign mud on his boots. I recognized the hue of brown from a certain clay found in fields farther to the east. When I referred to this, his friendliness faded and he sidled away without another word.”
“You angered him?” I asked.
“I think not. This seemed to be the sort of daze that Miss Mortimer described to us. She believed his mind to be completely absent. Upon my own observation of the phenomenon, I formed my own diagnosis. This seemed to me to be a retreat of the heart. The daze is used to conceal despair.”
“At the mere reference to mud on his boots?”
“At the mention of his time outside of Wembley, to the east. A tragedy befell him while he was away. I hope that once I learn of the events that sadden him, I will also have in my hand the answers to Miss Mortimer’s mystery.”
“Forgive me, Holmes,” I said, “but there must be more to your story. You’ve been gone quite some time and nothing in your testimony thus far accounts for your ominous bearing.”
“Indeed, there is more. I proceeded to inquire about the stolen horse, or anyone that might have spotted a steed loaded with three or four sacks. No horse had been taken from the stables, for that would certainly make for good gossip and there was none. Therefore, Mr. Bradford acquired this horse within the confines of the law. He covered his tracks well, for no one recalled seeing him, his horse, or his bounty.
“Disappointed in my lack of progress, I finally ventured to ask the innkeeper if he heard anyone talk of a reddening sun, such as the boy mentioned in his riddle. A gruff, unpleasant fellow that reeked of whiskey intercepted me and wondered what I knew about such a thing. His intentions seemed too hostile for my liking, therefore I assured him that I was friends with our dear Mr. Tom Bradford and had heard the words from his lips. This enraged him and he stormed from the inn, though I was not about to lose sight of my one and only clue thus far.
As I hid myself, the ruffian burst into the stables and confronted our poor chap, Bradford. The man shouted for a time about being discreet before Mr. Bradford got a word in. He accepted his reprimand gracefully and the goon left with no violence breaking out, fortunately. The paths of both men following this interaction interested me very much and this would have been an instance when I would have valued your company, Watson. As the ruffian stalked off in one direction, Bradford hurried another and I needed to choose which one might lead me to a more fruitful end. Presuming that Bradford’s destination would be Miss Mortimer’s home, a more predictable course, I kept to the shadows behind the ruffian.
“He eventually descended into a den that I have encountered before. Many criminals have been born in this sanctuary. It appears as a broker to the unsuspecting observer, yet it turns good men to villainy. One might enter with the idea to ask a small, nefarious favor and emerge a felon. When our client hailed from Wembley, this den crossed my mind, but I had no evidence to connect her tale to it. Learning that Bradford correlated to this broker of crime, many new possibilities opened up. As is almost always the case, I am offered too many outcomes and must narrow them down.
“I would not dare set foot inside as myself, and certainly not until the ruffian from the inn cleared the area. I waited two days before wandering in as a penniless rogue. Unfortunately, even with my disguise, anyone who enters must be vouched for by a known associate, and I could not implicate poor Mr. Bradford any more for fear they may take rash action. Without anyone to defend my honor, I was tossed out on my heels with nothing to show for it.
“Finally I dropped in on Miss Mortimer at her home. The estate is small, but elegant. She keeps a respectable stead with a marvelous view of the countryside. According to her, no new developments had arisen since she last spoke to me. Mr. Bradford still spent much of his time at the house, though he was not there during my visit. As you may have gathered, all my efforts in Wembley were proving less than rewarding and I planned to return here a humbled man.
“Miss Mortimer saw me into her study to speak and this is where my investigation finally brought me information of value."
To be continued in The Reddening Sun 5...
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber