Chapter 92: Stepping Lightly

Yorkshire Dales [photo by Ed O'Keefe]
After an excellent dinner, Holmes and I enjoyed a walk upon the Yorkshire landscape. The evening air was most refreshing; for a short time I stopped thinking about London and Gareth Williams entirely. But Holmes brought me back to the reality of the case when he said, "Apologies for the quiet, Watson. Overloaded at the moment."

"Physically?" I asked.

"Mentally," replied my friend. "Too many trains of thought running. Can't talk with all this going on."

"Don't worry about it, Holmes," I said. "Your silences don't alarm me anymore, unless they go on for weeks and involve cocaine."

Holmes emitted a sound midway between a grunt and a chuckle, and we kept walking. As a medical man, I was appalled when I found out that my friend was a cocaine user, and the intervening years had hardly dulled my aversion. I knew he failed to appreciate hearing about it from me, and perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned it at all.

"'Tis my antidote for boredom," Holmes said at last. "My current problem is quite the opposite. Please don't fret, Doctor! Cocaine was the furthest thing from my mind, until you mentioned it."

I strode along with him, enjoying the scenery and the air, and wondering what was going on in his remarkable brain. Was he looking at other ways in which the pieces of our puzzle might fit together? Was he still trying to work out whether to tell Fred about Gareth? Was he trying to decide what to do about Hughes? Or was it something else altogether? I couldn't begin to guess, but I knew he would tell me when he was ready. I also knew he wouldn't say another word until then.

So we walked along without speaking, just listening to the birds and the wind in the trees. And about half an hour later, my companion began to talk.

"This certainly beats the sound of Baker Street," said he. "There's a restorative quality in the atmosphere; it is so quiet and calm. We needed this, and we'll probably need more of it before we're through.

Yorkshire landscape [source]
"Tomorrow," he continued, "I have another long meeting scheduled with Fred. You can join us for all, or some, or you could just have a cup of coffee with us and leave us to it. It's stressful, but you're welcome to as much or as little as you wish."

"I like to know what's happening," I replied. "And it will probably be more stressful for you than for me. I'm looking forward to meeting Fred, and perhaps I can be of assistance somehow."

"Suit yourself, Watson," he answered. "Just don't feel obliged to sit through the whole meeting."

"Understood," I said. "I will excuse myself if and when I've had enough.

"Now that you're speaking again," I continued, "may I assume you are no longer overloaded?"

"Good deduction," he replied. "You are definitely learning."

"Can you talk about what was happening?" I asked.

"A bit," he replied. "I was trying to gauge how much to tell Fred, if anything. I was trying to decide how much to tell Hughes, and where, and when. I was mourning Buckingham Slate and Scott Robinson, and chiding myself for having made such a horrible blunder. I was also trying to determine whether we have all the pieces in the right places, or whether they might actually fit together better in a different way.

"In short, Watson, I was trying to answer too many questions, and sort out too many emotions, and eventually I ground myself to a halt.

"The thing to do, I decided, is to meet with Fred as scheduled, and as usual. We can tell him you're here for a bit of a holiday. There's more truth in that than he needs to know. I won't say anything about Gareth to Fred. I won't say anything about him to anybody else, either, for as long as it seems wise to hold my tongue. When the time comes to speak, I will know it.

"That last bit is hypothetical, Watson. My confidence in my ability to read complex situations and react properly took a heavy blow when we lost Slate and Robinson."

"I don't think you bear all the responsibility," I said. "You told Slate more or less exactly what was going to happen, and he made his own decision."

"But I shouldn't have put him in that position," replied my friend. "I can't let the mistake debilitate me, but I do need to learn from it."

The Dent Viaduct [source]
"What have you learned from it so far?" I inquired.

"To step lightly," said Holmes. "To step very lightly."

"I can sit with you and listen to Fred," I offered, "and not say a word about anything, especially Gareth. And I think you have made a good decision not to contact Hughes immediately, nor to tell him everything we know. But I do have one request."

"And what is that?" asked my friend.

"Will you still talk about the case with me?" I replied.

"Yes," replied Sherlock Holmes with a hint of a wink. "Of course I will still talk about it. But only with you, Watson, and only in private. We're stepping lightly now, remember?"