The rain had nearly stopped by the time they reached the village of Grendon and the house where Molly had grown up, and where her mother still lived. He’d been there once before, a few months ago, not long after the Sherrinford/Musgrave debacle, and the house hadn’t changed. Still quite undistinguished from the other residences in this thoroughly middle class neighborhood. For the second time, Sherlock found himself wondering that the unique creature beside him, his beloved, could have sprung from this thoroughly mundane environment. Of course, it had taken him an unconscionably long time to realize exactly how unique Molly was. It seemed irrefutable proof that, while he was very quick in most areas of perception, he could be slow to the point of idiocy in others – and some of them rather essential. It was always possible, Sherlock reflected, as he pulled the car into the drive, that there was more to Molly’s childhood home, too, than first contact had suggested.
However, as they walked in a minute later and Sherlock became immersed in this second contact -- ordinary furnishings, framed family photos and drab art reproductions; carpet and wallpaper well maintained but virtually screaming late 90’s -- he was once again struck by the banality of the place. Molly’s old room on the first floor was a little better, he knew, still featuring elements of her personality even after being purged of her belongings and made into a guest room. But all in all, it was… disappointing.
There being no sign of her mother, Molly called out, “Mum! We’re here!”
Her mother shouted from upstairs, “I’ll be down in… oh, good heavens. Molly dear, can you come up and help me for a moment? Tell Sherlock to have a seat, I’ll just be a few minutes, I’m sure… oh, good grief!”,
Sherlock couldn’t help rolling his eyes, and Molly chuckled and said, “Her zip’s probably stuck -- she always wears that dress to weddings. Make yourself at home and I’ll be right back.”
Home? Sherlock nearly exclaimed with distaste, but caught himself in the nick of time. Instead he said aloud, “I’ll go and take a look at your mother’s greenhouse, see what she’s been up to.”
“Good idea,” Molly said with approval, patting his arm, and then stood on tiptoe to give him a quick kiss. Her eyes twinkled, as though she knew exactly what he’d been about to say. Which she probably did.
As he watched her trot quickly up the stairs, caroling, “Coming Mum!” in reply to another bleat of motherly distress, Sherlock reflected that it had been a long time since he’d been able to put one over on Molly Elizabeth Hooper. In certain ways, she undoubtedly had the advantage now. He found it both intriguing and disconcerting, but could not but acknowledge the justice of it. Sauce for the gander, as it were.
A half smile on his lips (oh, that twinkle in her eye… not to mention the flash of those slim legs, and the delicious swirl of skirt against that pert backside...) , Sherlock turned and strode through the sitting room, the dining room, the kitchen, then out the back door, shutting it behind him and taking a deep breath of damp country air. His hand automatically went to the packet of Silk Cuts in his pocket, but then he discarded the idea -- she wanted him to quit, though she never said anything. If he had a smoke now, she’d know.
Instead, he started out across the wet lawn, toward the greenhouse.
The property had this one advantage: it had a very large back garden that bordered on open parkland, and at the back of the wide lawn was Mrs. Hooper’s greenhouse. It was a really magnificent structure, a red brick half-wall and porch surmounted by high framed glass, and fitted with Victorian finials and fleur de lys ridge cresting. It was, Sherlock knew, Mrs. Hooper’s pride and joy, and the first time he’d seen it, all those months ago, he’d been most impressed. She grew tropical plants, orchids and palms and the like, and the structure was big enough to serve as a sort of conservatory. Now, opening the door, Sherlock saw the small cafe table and several chairs where one could take afternoon tea, and slung across one verdant corner was a hammock.
There were also a couple of stools. One of them was beside Mrs. Hooper’s wide, well-equipped potting bench; the other, however, was in the corner opposite the hammock, and upon it, just at this particular moment, was seated a man, an older gentleman in a somewhat outdated suit, smoking a prettily carved meerschaum pipe that was coloured deep gold from much use.
Sherlock, halting just inside the door, stared in surprise.
But the old gentleman spoke first. “You’re Sherlock. Molly’s young man,” he stated with a kindly smile.
Sherlock approached, somewhat warily (and almost giving a ridiculous start at the sound of the door clicking shut behind him). But the stranger rose from the stool to extend a friendly hand, and Sherlock felt obliged to take it. Clearly the man was in familiar surroundings, and his grip was warm and firm.
“The name’s Bev,” the old gentleman said, taking his seat again and looking Sherlock over, head to toe. “I’ve been wondering if Molly would bring you by. She doesn’t come here as often as her mother would like, that’s certain. It seems you two have worked things out. I must say, I’m glad of it.”
“Are you… a neighbor?” Sherlock asked, feeling quite awkward.
“You might say so,” said Bev, with a jerk of his head to indicate the direction. “Just across the common, by the old church. But Amanda doesn’t mind me visiting when I like. It’s a pretty place, this.”
“It is,” Sherlock agreed, glancing around, but then fixing Bev with a frowning gaze again. “You’ve… known Molly and her mother a long time, I take it.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve known Molly all her life, bless her. Good job you’ve come to your senses and snapped her up. She was mighty unhappy at times when you couldn’t see her -- as it were.”
“See her,” Sherlock repeated. “Did she tell you that?”
“Didn’t have to. As I said, known her all her life. But that’s water under the bridge now, I take it.”
“Well… yes. We are engaged to be married. Sometime next year, in fact. We haven’t set a date but… we’ll send you an invitation.”
Bev grinned. “Oh, I’ll be there -- with bells on! Lord, it’ll do my heart good to see her so happy.” And then he shook his finger at Sherlock and said more seriously, “You just see that she stays that way, eh? Don’t forget what a treasure you’ve been given.”
“I… that’s my intention, certainly. To make her happy. As far as I am able, at least.”
Bev nodded. “Good. Best thing in life, you know. A good marriage. Children. All the little things that make a real home. True blessings from God.”
“Yeees. I… I expect so.”
“You’ll see,” Bev said, and winked at Sherlock. Then he got to his feet again. “You know Molly’s favorite flowers?”
Flowers. Sherlock glanced around, but then thought of Molly’s own well tended garden. “Er…. roses?”
“Well, she likes those, too, of course, but here, let me show you.” Bev walked past Sherlock, and rounded the potting bench, halting beside a rack of small pots, each filled with an array of lush, velvety leaves and bright blooms in shades from white to deep purple. “African violets!” the older man said, with a twinkle in his eye as he looked back at Sherlock. “Amanda’s always grown them out here, and Molly’s always loved them. She can’t grow them herself, though, not in that London flat. Not enough light, wrong exposure. A greenhouse window in that kitchen of hers might do the trick.”
Sherlock came over to look at the plants. “These seem excellent specimens.”
“Amanda always did have the knack of growing them.”
“So it seems.”
They stood in silence for a few moments before Bev said, “Well, I’ve got to be off. But you should take a look in that big notebook, on the bench there. Has all Amanda’s notes, and all the ribbons she’s won. She’s quite the star at the local garden shows.”
Sherlock took up the thick notebook from the collection of gardening tomes that sat between bookends at the back of the potting bench. Opening it, he glanced through some of its pages. Amanda’s careful records and observations were very precise, and her writing small and neat. And the collection of ribbons was indeed impressive.
After a minute or so, Sherlock looked up, intending to make a comment and say goodbye. But the old gentleman was gone, the greenhouse door still ajar.
Sherlock frowned. Closed the notebook and put it back among its companions, then quickly followed Bev from the greenhouse.
Or he thought he had.
But the man was nowhere to be seen.
Could he have reached the house so quickly? There was no evidence of it, only Sherlock’s own prints on the wet lawn, left when he’d walked out to the greenhouse. And glancing back beyond Amanda’s garden, there was no sign of an old gentleman crossing the common toward the distant steepled church.
Sherlock walked to the house and went swiftly in, only to encounter a scene of mild chaos.
“Oh, dear! Where can they be?” Amanda exclaimed, looking distractedly around the sitting room. “I know I left them down here somewhere!”
“She’s looking for her earrings,” Molly explained to Sherlock as she came to him.
“Molly, did you see--”
“I know!” Amanda exclaimed, suddenly straightening and raising an imperative finger. “They’re in the library!” She turned and headed in the direction of a closed door on the far side of the tiled foyer. “I took them off when I was in there on Sunday afternoon, making out a check for Martha Havisham’s daughter, she was selling tickets for a raffle that’s being held to raise funds for a new computer lab they want to install at her school -- though what they need with computers I have no idea, they should be reading books, not wasting time with games. But time marches on, I suppose. Yes! Here they are. Bear with me a moment while I put them on, and then we can be off.”
They had followed Amanda into the library, a room Sherlock was seeing for the first time.
“This was my father’s special room,” Molly said. “Mum had her greenhouse, and Dad his library.”
“Oh, yes,” said Amanda, peering in the mirror over the fireplace as she carefully put on her earrings. “It always gives me such a lovely feel to work in here, as though Daddy is watching over me.”
But Sherlock, who’d been taking in the oak desk with its comfortable chair, and the many books, suddenly felt a weird chill as he caught sight of an object displayed on one of the shelves.
In a stand that had been crafted to fit it was a meerschaum pipe. Prettily carved. Coloured a deep gold from much use.
Sherlock walked over to stare at it.
Molly joined him, saying, “That was Dad’s pipe, the only one I ever saw him use.”
Sherlock said, slowly, “Didn’t you tell me your father’s name was William?”
“Yes. William Beverly Hooper. His friends all called him Bill--”
“--but he was always Bev to me,” broke in Amanda. “And to all the family, really.” She gave a little sigh.
Sherlock straightened carefully and turned to Molly.
Her smile faded. “Why? Is there something wrong? Are you alright?”
He cleared his throat. “Yes. Do you have a picture of your father?”
“Of course. I’ll show you.”
She led the way out of the library and back into the sitting room, where that group of somewhat faded family photos hung in frames upon the wall. “Here,” she said, pointing to one of the largest. “It’s Mum and Dad’s wedding portrait. She was a beautiful bride, wasn’t she?”
“Yes,” Sherlock agreed absently. But he only had eyes for the groom.
Younger. But… no, impossible!
Or only improbable?.
Sherlock swallowed hard, trying to dismiss his certainty and failing utterly.
His heart was thudding perceptibly beneath his Belstaff. Beneath his stylish, bespoke suit. Beneath the Dolce and Gabbana dress shirt that had cost upwards of three hundred quid.
All of them ashes.
Vanity of vanities.
He must think. The implications….
Molly had placed a hand on his sleeve.
He looked down at her hand, and then up, into her brown eyes. Confusion was writ there. And concern.
He took a breath. Took her hand in his and swiftly bent and kissed it. Then forced himself to smile. “I’m fine,” he said, and feeling that his voice had been a little off, repeated, “Fine!”
“There, I’m all ready!” Amanda announced brightly, coming into the room. “So sorry to keep you both waiting. Molly, I have no idea what I would have done without you, the zip on this dress is just impossible, perhaps I can get it replaced, we have a very good tailor over in the village who might be able to do it for me at a very reasonable price. Are you two ready to go? We are running behind schedule, you know. You can always look at those old photographs later.”
“Yes, we’re ready,” said Molly, though she did not sound quite certain. “Sherlock?”
“Let’s go then,” he said, lightly. And he took her arm.
It was odd. The implications…
And yet, absurdly, the thing uppermost in his mind as they walked out to the car was the prospective purchase of a greenhouse window for Molly’s kitchen -- and that Christmas was just around the corner…