The Crack in the Lens
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Copyright 2006, 2010 Darlene A. Cypser

Chapter 1

A young man leaned against one of the piles of the pier and watched the passengers disembarking from a steamship. If someone had asked him later in the year, there is little doubt that this young man would have said his life began that spring day in 1871 and ended in the winter some months distant. But his mother would have disputed the former claim, and many, both friend and foe, would come to deny the latter. His true date of birth, by his mother's reckoning, was some seventeen years behind him.

Right now he was wishing his brother Mycroft was here. It would be a grand spot for the game. Even Sherrinford would do. Sherrinford wasn't very good at the game, but it was always fun to best him at it. But neither of his brothers was here and he was left to make his own observations and deductions.

The man coming down the gangplank now was a prosperous owner of coal mines, the young man surmised. Though he was well-dressed by the standards of the merchant class, but he never quite managed to entirely shake off the coal dust which still coated the soles of his shoes. Would an examination of his fingernails show it there as well?

The coal merchant was followed rapidly by a tall man with sharp eyes and a critical stare. His coat was of good material, but well-worn. The elbows had been patched, and the sleeves, especially the right sleeve, had been worn quite shiny. A wad of foolscap covered with pencil scribblings stuck out of his left pocket. He was a writer, an essayist, the young man concluded. The foolscap was undoubtedly some spontaneous critique of the shipping industry that had come to him on board.

If his brothers had been there one of them would have crept away and asked the men their occupation to confirm their speculations. If he could have managed it, he would have done it himself. But he was in sight of his parents, and his father had decided ideas about the behavior of seventeen-year-old soon-tobe- gentlemen. The young man knew that interrogating strangers was not among them. Even staring at the people coming down the plank was a stretch of what his father considered proper, but he could always claim to be admiring the ship. He knew his father would approve of that.



Chapter 2


Before Sherlock could apply the bow to the strings again, Sherrinford burst into the sitting room. Sherrinford took after his father in build if not in spirit. He was tall and broad with dark, wavy hair like his father, but despite his father's example he was a kind-hearted, jovial sort. Even the two years spent running the manor had not hardened him into the stern businessman his father was.

Now, Sherrinford, who was as a rule a casual dresser, stood before the window of the sitting room more smartly dressed than Sherlock could ever remember seeing him. He nervously checked his attire, tugging at cuffs and collars, as he stared out of the window. Then he ran his fingers up through his hair and sighed.

Sherlock smiled as he saw his chance, and said firmly, "That's ridiculous."

Sherrinford startled, then stood up to smile at his younger brother.

"I hadn't noticed you there," Sherrinford said. "Still up to your old tricks, I see. With Mycroft in London and you in France I'd become accustomed to being alone in my thoughts. How did you know what I was thinking?"

"Oh, come now, Sherrinford. When the young squire-to-be of Mycroft Manor is all dressed up and waiting for his carriage in the mid-afternoon with a worried look on his face, it doesn't take some great detective to determine that he is courting some young woman and needlessly worrying that her parents will not find him acceptable," Sherlock said.

Sherrinford laughed.

"It does sound absurdly simple when you put it that way," he said.

So who is this lucky lady you are courting?" Sherlock asked.

"Amanda Courtney. I don't think you've met her before, but you might remember her brother, Roger," Sherrinford said.

"Oh, yes, fond of racing horses, isn't he?" Sherlock asked.

"Yes, and due to inherit their stables, too," Sherrinford replied with a laugh. "I dare say they'll be breeding a different kind of horse when he takes over."

Sherrinford glanced out the window again.

"Is it really so ridiculous?" he asked.

"What, that her parents might find you unsuitable?" Sherlock responded. "Quite ridiculous! You are a handsome, well-mannered, intelligent man who's destined to become squire...."

"But what of the ages?" Sherrinford asked.

"What of them?" Sherlock asked.

Sherrinford laughed. "With your smug deductions, I begin to assume that you know everything."

"Hardly," Sherlock responded.

"She was a debutante last season."

Sherlock raised his eyebrows and whistled.

"Now don't you...." said Sherrinford wiggling a finger at his brother.

"I was just thinking that she was closer to my age than yours," Sherlock said.

"But you, sir, have some years of schooling ahead of you," Sherrinford said.

"Quite so, and with no fortune, in no position to take a wife," Sherlock chuckled.

"Too young and saucy, too," Sherrinford said.


Chapter 14

"But Master Sherlock!" cried Tessy.

"I will be gone all day, Tessy," Sherlock said firmly.

"What of thy lessons?"

"I've had enough lessons this week, thank you," Sherlock said.

"But the professor, he'll tell the squire," she cautioned.

"Yes. I suppose he will. I'll deal with that when the time comes. My parents return tomorrow. Until then I refuse to be manipulated by that man," Sherlock said. "I am going shooting on the moors. I will be gone all day."

He took the bundle Tessy had prepared, and left her standing in the kitchen biting her lip. Sherlock rode along the moor road beyond the gill and down a lesser used fork. Then he broke away and headed south where the brush was thick and the game was good. It wasn't long before he had a brace of birds tied to his saddle. Then he decided to sample some of the food Tessy had provided. He chose a thick patch of bracken, and settled down upon their curly leaves. After having eaten some he lay back and watched the sparrows flitting back and forth across the sky.

He thought of Moriarty. Never before had he met a man who seemed so good and simple on the outside, who was so evil and complex down deep. Now they had reached an impasse. One must give way. Sherlock felt ill-equipped to handle Moriarty alone. He might parry his attacks once and again, but he feared that all the while the professor would be planning the coup de maitre. He wondered where it would all lead, as the wind whistled across the moor and the clouds danced on by. In the warmth of the summer sun Sherlock fell asleep. While he slept, he dreamed. In his dream a waterfall roared past him. He was lying on a ledge next to the thundering gorge and felt the spray wet his face. Then there was a flash of light and he sat up awake. The waterfall was gone, but his face was wet with the falling rain and thunder rolled across the moors.


Chapter 16


Then Amanda and Sherlock came upon a bare spot of ground between booths where a man had set up a small folding table. The man had a pea and three thimbles. He placed the pea under one thimble, rearranged the thimbles a few times, and then challenged the growing crowd to guess which one contained the pea. The game soon progressed from guesses to wagers. One man won a few bets and then lost one and decided to back off. Another man joined in and won a few games and decided to rest on his winnings and watch. The thimblerigger coaxed others into the game. Sherlock was watching the crowd rather than the game. It was a mixed crowd of high and low, tradesmen to toffs. Amanda touched his arm and he looked over at her.

"It seems so easy to spot. It is the one to the left," she said.

Sherlock whispered in her ear, "No, the middle one."

"You are right!" she said.

"Definitely, the left one this time," she asserted.

"No, the right," he said.

She squeezed his arm.

"Correct again," she said. "You should place a wager."

"I'll do better than that," he said, pushing back his top hat and stepping forward as the thimblerigger was inviting new wagers. He was looking for a young, well-dressed mark. Sherlock knew he fit the part. The thimblerigger encouraged him as he came forward. The first few rounds were simple as the pea stayed put and Sherlock won a few shillings. But he knew his role well and showed increased excitement and increased willingness to wager more as he continued to win. Finally he bet a florin, laying it upon the table for all to see. The thimblerigger once more inserted the pea into the thimbles and slid the three thimbles around each other then tapped each one in turn and invited Sherlock to point out the pea. Then Sherlock frowned and looked puzzled.

"It's not there," Sherlock said.

"What?" asked the thimblerigger.

"You see," Sherlock said, slapping his left hand over the florin and picking it up, as his right hand quickly ran across the three thimbles shaking each one before the thimblerigger could intercede, "I can see through those thimbles and there isn't a pea under any one of them."

"What d'you mean it's not there?" the man said.

"Because," said Sherlock, keeping an eye on the man to his left as he held up his right hand with pea in it, "it is here."

But before the thimblerigger could object, a signal in the crowd caught his eye and he folded the thimblerig table shut with a slam and hurried off. As he disappeared a constable wandered through the disbursing crowd wishing the ladies and gentlemen good day.

Sherlock offered his arm again to Amanda and they walked on through the fair.

"Why did they all run away?" Amanda asked.

"Because the constable was coming. Thimblerig is a cheat. Mycroft taught me the secret when I was quite small. You need to watch the man's fingers, not the thimbles. He slips the pea out of one and places it under another very quickly. I learned the trick myself, you see."

"And very skillfully!" Amanda said with a laugh.

"They were more concerned about the florin. They wanted it. I used that as a distraction. I was really at a disadvantage with the crowd behind and beside me rather than in front. So it was easiest just to take it out altogether. It was a bit risky because one of the shills was to my left and I've heard that they sometimes carry knives."

"Knives! Do you think he might have attacked you?" Amanda asked looking horrified.

"I think it is less likely with this particular crowd," Sherlock said.

"But you took the risk?" she asked.

"Well, I was trying to impress a pretty lady," Sherlock said with a smile. "Besides I spotted the constable ambling through the crowd a long time before they did. His timing was perfect."

"You said one man was a shill. What is a shill?" Amanda asked.

"A certain number of people in the crowd, four, I think this time, are in league with the thimblerigger. They place bets and stir up interest, but they also protect the thimblerigger. It was one of the shills who spotted the constable and alerted the others," Sherlock explained.

"So that's what you were looking for in the crowd, the shills!" she said.

"That is precisely what I was looking for," Sherlock affirmed.

"You are so clever!" Amanda said.

"But please don't mention this to my father. He caught me doing that once when I was younger and was quite angry with me. He claimed I was creating a spectacle, and that a gentleman doesn't create a spectacle," Sherlock said.


Chapter 22

Sherlock studied harder, concentrating with all his effort to distract his mind from his final encounter with Violet. From the professor he received no word of praise. A raised eyebrow was Moriarty's only reaction before he increased Sherlock's assigned work. Sometimes after Sherlock had been kept through tea, the squire would call the professor into his study to inquire as to the reasons therefor. When his tutor would return with the hint of a twinkle in his eye, Sherlock knew that the extra time had been attributed to some false dereliction of duty on Sherlock's part. But still Sherlock worked on in silence.

Sherlock knew that there was no argument that he could make now that would salvage his character in his father's eyes. Either he had to manage to continue this silent war of wills until he was actually accepted into the university or else he must find some way to impeach Professor Moriarty's character. No theories would be enough. Sherlock needed proof.

Hastings had said something about a publication. Perhaps there was something Professor Moriarty's room that would provide a clue. Sherlock watched the professor carefully for several days. He studied his habits and found a time one evening when the professor was occupied elsewhere. Sherlock opened the door to Moriarty's room quickly and closed it cautiously behind him.


Footsteps came into the room and stopped. He heard the sound of a chair creaking and then another sound of something being taken out of a drawer.

"I'd suggest you stand up, Master Sherlock," Moriarty said in his softest voice. "I believe that you will find that position much less cramped." Then there was a click, the click of a pistol being cocked. "Oh, and I don't suggest you try to make a run for it."

As Sherlock stood up he saw the professor sitting in a chair across the room calmly pointing a gun at him.

"Ah, that's better," said the professor. "We seem to have underestimated each other again. But if you plan to take up a life of crime I suggest that you learn to be a bit more careful in your searching. It was obvious to me that someone had been in here looking for something. I suspected the servants. Thieves among the help are not that uncommon. But then that maid apologized for having knocked things about while she was dusting, so I let it pass. I should have realized it was you, and that you were not as submissive as you had been acting. You've done a good job of acting the obedient student recently. I must grant you that."

Sherlock did not move or speak. He thought of the distance to the door. Professor Moriarty could surely get a shot at him before he got there, if he dared.

"Now kindly come over here and hand that slip of paper to me," Moriarty cooed.

"Oh, don't pretend," he continued. "I know you have it stuck in your shirt. And don't think that I'll hesitate to shoot you if you head for that door."

"You can't shoot me," Sherlock responded defiantly.

"Oh, can't I? It would be a terrible accident if I caught an intruder in my room, shot him in my fright, and it turned out to be my charge. I had a student who had an accident once...." Moriarty said sweetly. "Of course, I wouldn't have to kill you, though that's more efficient. There are ways to maim or disfigure a man so he'd wish he were dead. I'd still be able to get the paper from you and your father still would believe you were at fault. But let's not speculate. Just come here and hand that paper to me."

Sherlock walked slowly across the room.

"Close enough. Give it here," Moriarty said reaching out his hand.

Sherlock drew the paper out of his shirt. He paused a moment and then handed it over to the professor. Moriarty glanced at the paper and smiled.

"You were right to remind me of this letter," Professor Moriarty said, then tossed it into the fire where it curled and burst into flame. "I should have taken care of it long ago."

"Of course, I could still shoot you. The intruder story would still hold," Moriarty continued.


Chapter 25


"Violet!" he cried in desperation. He could no longer see Violet or her horse at all. All he could see was white. Moor and sky merged in every direction. The grey of the sky and purples and golds of the moor had all faded to white. Obstacles rose up before them unexpectedly and Gale whinnied in protest when Sherlock still ordered her forward. She halted. At Sherlock's appeals she merely shook her head and snorted. The fog of the horse's breath mingled with the flakes for a few seconds before vanishing. Gale pawed at the ground and refused to go further. Sherlock shouted Violet's name repeatedly but there was no answer but the howl of the wind. He had lost her. Sherlock shivered as the wind cut through his coat. He had not noticed the cold before.

He dismounted and brushed the snow from his hair and coat. He leaned against the horse's heaving body for warmth. He had lost all sense of direction. Even the horse's hoof prints had rapidly filled with snow. He shivered again and sneezed, and knew he must seek shelter. He called out once more for Violet. Then laying his arm upon the horse's shoulder, he turned her around and urged her back the way they had come. Gale moved slowly and reluctantly and Sherlock hugged close to her. He searched in vain for some landmark, but all the world was a shrieking wilderness of white. If the sun had shone, however faintly, through this blizzard Sherlock would have rejoiced. But the lighting was diffuse and seemed to be growing more faint. They wandered about blindly stumbling over rocks, and scraping their legs in shrubs, without determining where they were.


Chapter 31


Jonathan shivered and stoked the fire, but it was no earthly chill that made him shiver. It was near dawn and he was glad that he would soon be relieved of his lonesome duty. After the first two nights Jonathan had expected almost anything. But the long silent night had struck Jonathan as more ominous than the eerie nights which had preceded it. Sherlock had lain still all night, too still for Jonathan's liking. Thrice before he had stolen to the bedside with his candle. Now again he could not resist the urge. His candle flared with new life and he tiptoed toward the silent form upon the bed. Sherlock was a ghastly sight by candlelight. He was as near a corpse as Jonathan could imagine (having been too young to remember his own father's death). Yet Sherlock breathed and Jonathan was relieved.


©2010 Darlene A. Cypser