Silence from Transylvania
6,205 Silence from Transylvania and Hawkins the Solicitor
If you had ask me, in July 1888, how things were in and my life, I would have said things were chugging along all right. That is what happens in life when you enter in a sleepy spell. It is only afterwards, after something stirs you and ruffles feathers, that you realize you had dozed off for a year or two. You were stagnating and you did not even know it. If you were to ask me, now, how things were on and before the day in question, I would say the times were uninspiring, even depressing, at 221b Baker Street.
Holmes despatched me on minor errands. More often than not, he invent errands to be shot of me. Mrs Hudson occasionally put my speed, muscles, and observational acuity to the test when she needed a loaf from the baker. Holmes dabbled with banal cases. The stolen jewels turned up, misplaced rather than stolen. The missing husband ran off to escape his atrocious wife – Holmes wished him luck. The murder without a body solved itself: no body, no murder. While my investigative employer grew bored and fiddled himself half to death, I combatted the coughs, sneezes, and sexually transmitted diseases of London. Holmes and I were bored in equal measure. I, having duller perceptions (according to him) coped with my boredom better than he.
These were days before the Devil let lose.
I held a metal bar above my head with five stone weights on either end. A small voice came up from my kneecaps. ‘Mr Omes said you’d be ere, Mr O, and e weren’t wrong. E never is.’
‘How do you know I’m Mr O?’
His mouth opened but he thought better of mentioning my face. ‘Mr Omes said e wants you at Baker Street, if you can spare the time.’
I lowered the bar to my thighs and said to the lad, ‘Hold this.’ It was supposed to be a joke. The lad’s hands barely went round the bar. ‘Step a bit closer,’ I said. ‘Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Tight grip. Ready?’ He nodded his head and I let go. Lucky the floor was solid or he would have gone through it.
After a wash, I dressed and found the lad loitering outside, waiting for a copper from me even though Holmes had already given him one. ‘Any idea what it’s about?’ I asked. He had none. I gave him a copper and he cleared off.
I made my way to Baker Street, from the German gymnasium where I usually ended up on my days off. Approaching Baker Street, I saw Watson hurrying from the opposite direction. He seldom hurried unless food awaited. When we met, I said, ‘Something must be up. Any clues?’
‘According to His Lordship, I wouldn’t know a clue if I tripped over one. It had better be important.’
Mrs Hudson opened the door before Watson had a chance to insert his key. She had a bamboozled expression. ‘Mr Holmes is entertaining a young lady! I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.’
Watson said, ‘Sherlock has entertained possibilities and suspicions, but he wouldn’t know how to entertain a young lady. Is she pretty?’
‘I should say she’s very pretty indeed.’
‘Did she give her name?’
‘Something odd. Not Eskimo. Nina. That’s it. Nina Barker. Shall I…’
‘No need,’ I said. ‘Doctor Watson and I will investigate.’
‘Eskimo?’ I asked Watson as we climbed the stairs.
‘Probably used her Innuitition.’
Getting his joke took me the best part of a week.
Holmes’ visitor stopped short of screaming when she saw my face. Had we been alone in the dark, she would have gone all the way. I smiled to put her at ease. My smile, such as it is, made her tighten her grip on the bag on her lap.
‘Allow me to introduce O,’ said Holmes. ‘O is the sole member of my security staff. He used to be a very fine soldier. Much decorated for bravery. Aren’t you, O?’
‘I once ate two rations of beef stew. That was brave.’
Mention of military service seemed to explain my exotic visage to the lady’s satisfaction. She let me hold her hand for half a second, but I dared not shake the thing lest it came off at the wrist.
‘Sorry about the face,’ I said, by way of further assure that I was human and could speak. I added, to show her that I could form complex sentences too. ‘If I’d known Mr Holmes intended introducing such an attractive lady, I’d have worn my other one.’
I got a smile from her as reward for being clever.
Her smile melted my scars
’And this fine fellow is Doctor Watson. The doctor’s assistance is invaluable, especially when medical issues are involved.
‘How do,’ said Watson, still pink-faced from the stairs, touching her hand as I had done.
‘And this, gentlemen, is Mrs Mina Harker.’ Ah! The letter he snatched from me on the day Arthur Doyle invited Holmes and Watson to the theatre! I wondered why, instead of asking me to do it, he had replied to that one himself. No doubt the answer would come to light. ‘…Now that we’re all here, tell us your story, Mrs Harker, please do.’
She composed herself, cleared her throat, and patted down her skirt although it needed no patting.
‘I sought your help, Mr Holmes, because I’m concerned about my husband, Jonathan. I’m not the kind to panic or seek help at the first sign of trouble. I pride myself on my independence. However, the time has come … Jonathan and I had planned such fine things. Quite ordinary things, really: stability of income, a son or daughter in a year or two, a little brother or sister. The future seemed sunny for us. We were so happy. Then, Jonathan’s employer sent him abroad. That, in itself, must be thought of as good. For our future, I mean. Johnathan is highly thought of, you know. He thought that one day he might be offered a partnership.’
‘And, who is his employer?’ asked Holmes.
‘His name is Hawkins. He’s a solicitor. Jonathan is a solicitor too, recently certified. His experience is limited, but he is a very good solicitor.’
‘I’m sure he is. Hawkins sent your husband to where, precisely?’
‘Transleithania,’ said Holmes, who never missed a chance to show off his knowledge of, and guesswork, concerning exotic pronunciation.
‘Do you know the place? I’d never heard of it.’
‘Not intimately, Mrs Harker. I know it to be a historically troubled region. It’s no longer a principality, but has been incorporated into the Empire of Austria and Hungary. May I ask, in what capacity has your husband gone there?’
‘As Mr Hawkins assistant and estate agent in the purchase of a home in England for an European aristocrat.’
Watson let his xenophobia show – not for the first time since I had known him. ‘As if we don’t have enough blooming foreigners. Why here? Why not take his holidays at home?’ Watson’s question was rhetorical, but Mrs Harker said she didn’t know.
‘Though crudely expressed, Doctor Watson does make a valid point,’ said Homes, who went on to push Mrs Harker to think harder. ‘The reason for buying a property might cast some light, but you say you’ve no idea, Mrs Harker?’
‘None at all … In the first letter he sent, after finally arriving at his destination, he did write at some length, and with a sense of amusement, at his host’s gardens. Quite the botanist, as Jonathan put it. That might have something to do with it.’
‘I doubt the earth’s as good for growing things there as it is in England,’ said Watson. ‘I’ve heard of an English country garden, but never a Transylvanian one.’
Holmes had an alternative in mind. ‘Botany may have less to do with it than politics. Since the Russians won the war and held onto Crimea they’ve been threatening to push west. The aristocrat’s homeland is first in line to be over-run. There are fears that, before this nineteenth century becomes the twentieth, the Russians might have advanced as far as the French border.’
‘Surely not,’ said Mrs Harker, whose day-by-day encounters were never with folk who spoke of politics or wars.
‘He’s scare-mongering. It’ll never come to that,’ said Watson.
‘Our Transylvanian aristocrat will certainly hope it never comes to that; but first he’d hope the Russians don’t make it to Bucharest. Is your husband a politically-minded fellow?’
Mrs Harker did not seem to know. ‘I … We don’t talk about those thing. Domestic politics, but … No more than average.’
‘No urgency,’ said Holmes, concluding the topic. ‘No doubt the aristocrat’s motive for buying a property here will become clear in due course. Did Hawkins coerce your husband into going to Transylvania, or did he go willingly?’
‘Willingly, Mr Holmes. He’d doubts at first, the journey being so far, and Jonathan depending on the English-speaking skills of his host. But he saw the opportunity. We both did.’
‘So, Mrs Harker, your husband is doing rather well for himself, and sets off on business, but also on something of an adventure. Did you and he think of it as an adventure?’
‘Johnathan did, but not me. He’s like that, much more adventurous than I am.’ The expression on her face changed as an idea dawned. ‘Do you think that his spirit of adventure might have got him into some kind of trouble? I didn’t think of that.’
‘Pure speculation, dear lady. As yet we know too little. The future looks rosy; there’s an adventure afoot. What could possibly go wrong?’
‘That’s just it. Just about anything could have gone wrong. Jonathan has been gone for much too long. At first, I received letters from him. Mr Hawkins did too. Naturally, the contents of his letters to each of us differed, but, lately: nothing. I’ve heard nothing from Jonathan for four weeks, and neither has Mr Hawkins.’
‘I take it you’re in frequent contact with Hawkins?’
‘Yes. But I…’ She couldn’t find the words to express what she wanted to say, and concluded with a sigh.
‘You suspect some manner of foul play?’
‘I don’t suspect anything, Mr Holmes, because I have no information to direct me one way or the other. In short, I don’t know what to think. This is why I’ve come to you. Jonathan seems to have fallen off the edge of the world and left no trace. I don’t know where else to turn.’
Holmes turned to me. ‘Mrs Harker doesn’t know where to turn. Where would you turn, O, if you were a lady whose husband had vanished abroad?’ This was the kind of question Holmes tended to ask in order to buy time. The longer I stretched my answer, which he would not listen to, the more time he had to think.
‘Putting myself in the position of a lady, and a beautiful one at that,’ Mina Harker blushed, ‘…doesn’t come easy, but I’ll do my best. At first, I’d consider turning to the police, though it’s not the kind of affair they handle. No; it’s not a police matter; there’s been no crime. A consulting detective? I’m not sure I could find one competent enough for the job.’ I glanced at Holmes; I had been right about him not listening. ‘A ministry of government that deals with foreign affairs perhaps? What about the Transylvanian embassy in London? Is there one? Have you explored that line, Mrs Harker? Am ambassador for the country in question?’
‘I have not, Mr O. I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s a wonderful idea, though. Do you think so, Mr Holmes?’
‘Hmm?’ Mention of his name brought Holmes back to the room. ‘…Quite. Yes. The name of the aristocrat, Mrs Harker?’
‘Mr Hawkins forbids me to say. Confidentiality, apparently.’
‘Recourse to confidentiality is a cloak to cover sins. Do you know the name of or whereabouts of the property he intends to purchase?’
‘Mr Hawkins didn’t say.’
Holmes massaged his chin with a forefinger and thumb. Then, he turned to Watson. ‘What do you think, Doctor?’
They played this game often. Far from wanting to know what Watson thought, by asking his opinion, Holmes offered Watson the opportunity to say something gentle to put the client in a less anxious state of mind.
‘My guess is that some natural event, such as foul weather, has disrupted the postal link between here and there. I don’t know a great deal about the folk of Transylvania, but I believe they’re still inventing the wheel.’
His facetious comment got a smile out of Mina Harker, a very fetching smile too.
‘And, what, then, given foul weather and wheel-inventing folk, would your advice to Mrs Harker be?’ asked Holmes.
‘My advice is to go home, sleep well, and wait for normal services to resume. Would you advise that too, Holmes?’
‘No, Watson, I would not,’ he replied, to the lady’s dismay. ‘Doctor Watson may be correct, but I doubt it. I want to know, firstly, is there a date, even an approximate one, on which his employer, Mr Hawkins, expects your husband to return?’
‘No,’ said Mrs Harker, shaking her head adamantly. ‘Jonathan said maybe three months, perhaps longer. There’s no way of knowing.’
‘You admit that your husband is not overdue?’
‘He’s not overdue, but his letters are.’
‘Are they? Did your husband specify how many letters either you or his employer should expect to receive from him in say a week or a month? … As a kind of reassurance. An agreement, such as: expect two letters a month. If the fist arrives but not the second, and still not the second when the third is due, you may suspect that my business is not going to plan and enquiries are called for.’
‘Nothing of the kind was agreed upon, Mr Holmes. But why would Jonathan send letters, then stop?’
‘There are numerous reasons. Only a percentage of letters reach their destinations. Apart from having received no communication from him, have you any other cause for concern?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I mean what I said. Apart from the cessation of letters, have you any other reason to be worried about him.’
‘Isn’t the silence from Transylvania reason enough to worry?’
‘For a young wife missing her husband, it certainly is. For launching an investigation, it certainly is not. Let me put it this way, Mrs Harker: I detect criminals. Where a crime is committed, or suspected, I employ my considerable skills to solve the issue. As you can see, it starts with an actual or suspected crime. How do we conjecture a crime? It often begins with an accusation. How do we assess the validity of an accusation? Evidence. And so, Mrs Harker, what I’m asking is that you think doubly hard. Have you any evidence that a crime has been committed? A moment ago, you mentioned a lack of information, inferring that there is no evidence. Yet, is there something you might have overlooked?’ Poor Mrs Harker looked overwhelmed. ‘…Is there anything else, apart from the silence from Transylvania, that causes you to be concerned about your husband’s wellbeing?’
‘No,’ she said, then changed her mind. ‘Yes. The letters.’ She retrieved them from her bag. ‘I brought these in case you needed to see them. I think you may. I’d hoped you wouldn’t. Some sections are…’ she blushed again, ‘more intimate than others. I’ll show them to you if I must, because Jonathan’s wellbeing means more to me than my modesty.’
She offered the bundle to Holmes, who put his hands behind his back. ‘I’m a man of the world, Mrs Harker. Believe me, nothing in anyone’s letters would shock me, least of all in yours, I’m sure. Nevertheless, your modesty is, at present, paramount.’
She smiled him a modest thank you.
‘…Nevertheless, I may need to read them later. For now, perhaps you would be kind enough simply to tell me what it is about the letters that concerns you.’
‘Well, it’s just that … they were normal enough in the beginning. But, towards the end – I mean, his most recent. Well, Jonathan seems to increase in distress. At first, I thought him bored and lonely. I did like to think that he missed me terribly.’
‘I’m certain that he did,’ said Holmes.
‘I would, if I were him,’ said Watson, and suffered another of Holmes’ glances. He could cut through frozen butter with those glances.
‘Please continue, Mrs Harker,’ said Holmes.
’In the most recent letter, there’s a kind of panic. And he does say some awfully strange things.
‘May I see?’ said Holmes. ‘Just that one letter, please.’
Mrs Harker untied the blue ribbon and passed the letter to him.
Holmes read it, letter in one hand and chin in the other. He had to release his chin to turn the pages: there were three. At the end of the third, although his face gave away nothing, he placed his chin-hand in a pocket and uttered a thoughtful, intrigued, ‘Mmm.’
‘What is it, Holmes?’ asked Watson.
Holmes spoke instead to Mrs Harker. ‘Has your husband, at any time in his life, suffered from mental illness?’
‘No! No! Of course not!’
‘Were you to approach the police, they would ask the same. In fact, it would be one of their first questions.’
‘Do you think I should go to them?’
‘Good heavens, no. They wouldn’t treat it seriously.’
‘That’s what I thought. Do you think Jonathan’s mad?’
‘It’s not my area of expertise. I would stress, however, that the man, or woman, who is not, at one time or another, at least a little mad, has probably not lived as fully as he or she might.’
I found myself wanting to snatch the letter from Holmes to read for myself. Mrs Harker had her eyes on the letter, keen to have it back. She pleaded, ‘Can you help me, Mr Holmes?’
Holmes thought about it, but not for long.
‘Very well, I’ll do what I can.’
The lady on the sofa sighed with relief.
‘But not immediately. Let’s wait a while and see if another letter turns up. Now, go home Mrs Harker and, on doctor’s orders, sleep soundly. You can do nothing more. I shall speak, in due course, with Mr Hawkins.’
Mrs Harker returned all her letters but one unceremoniously to her bag. ‘You can find him at…’
‘I know where to find Hawkins, Mrs Harker.’
Holmes opened the door, said he would be in touch, and shooed the lady out with such authority she forgot to ask him to return her letter. When the front door had closed, he went to the window and watched Mina Harker as she walked away.
Watson sat on the chair Mrs Harker had been sitting on by the fire, the best chair in the room. ‘I’m glad something has pricked your curiosity, Sherlock. What does the letter say?’
‘The man is clearly delusional.’
‘That’s not what you said to his wife.’
’Nor does it contradict what I said to his wife. I told her that we all suffer spells when our mental health is less robust than usual. It may be anything from an off day to a lost week. The human brain has a remarkable capacity for healing itself.
‘I can’t remember you telling her that. Share, why don’t you, the letter’s contents and allow me to make up my own mind. I think I’m better placed than you to assess if a man is delusional.’
‘You think that do you, Watty? If Jonathan Harker is not prone to bouts of mental instability, then the Transylvanian diet is most likely to blame and I’d do better to interview his doctor rather than his employer.’
‘Looks like he’s not going to show us the letter, O.’
Homes re-read the letter, making several mmm noises in the process.
Watson said, ‘If the explanation is so mundane as food poisoning, I fail to see why you’ve taken an interest. Could it be you’ve become so bored that a pretty woman has become an interesting diversion?’
‘Don’t be silly, Watty. Listen to this.’ He read from Jonathan Harker’s final letter to his wife.
‘ “I have the most frightening dream. It has recurred on I know not how many nights. This isolated castle may well have something to do with the ideas that enter my head. Each morning, I find myself weaker than on the morning before. Each morning, I am at a loss to know whether it’s a dream or a real event.” What do you make of recurring dreams, Watty?’
‘I suppose they can. Interesting that the aristocrat lives in a castle.’
‘ “Three fulsome women attempt to seduce me. They never speak, but they do moan. I want to resist, but I cannot. They want to take more from me than the obvious. It is as though they want to eat me alive.” ’
‘Probably fed up with cabbage pie.’
‘ “The dream ends when the master of the house, who is clearly master of the women too, intervenes. I am terribly shaken, Mina. I do not know who frightens me more, the three buxom women, or…” ’
‘Buxom, eh? And didn’t you say fulsome a moment ago? I think Mr Harker’s dreams tell us that he needs reunited with his wife, and pronto.’
‘The master of the house, we may assume, is the aristocrat. Listen to this,’ said Holmes. ‘ “I do not know who frightens me more, the three buxom women, or Count Dracula.” …So, now we know the aristocrat’s name is Count Dracula. I wonder why Mrs Harker didn’t tell me, since she has read it, probably a dozen times.’
‘Must have slipped her mind,’ said Watson.
‘More likely she didn’t tell me because of a sense of loyalty to Hawkins. Odd, though. I wonder why Count Dracula might frighten him? I should have taken the other letters. You’ve travelled, O. What do you know about Transylvania that Watty and I may not?’
‘I’ve never been to Transylvania.’ The image of an ancient gypsy woman entered my mind. Much wrinkled. Ominous. ‘Superstition,’ I said. ‘The people are superstitious. Fortune telling and the like.’
‘Strigoi,’ said Holmes. ‘In eastern myth, the Strigoi are troubled souls who rise from the grave. They can transform into animals and become invisible.’ He went to his bookshelf and scanned the spines.
‘Isn’t strigoi a dish like lamb stew,’ said Watson
‘Gulyas,’ said Holmes.
‘Gulyas. Gul, meaning shepherd, and yas, meaning meat.’
‘They’re not cannibals, Holmes; that’s beyond the pale.’
‘They don’t eat the meat of their shepherds, you fool. The shepherds eat a dish made from their sheep. Gulyas. The dear lady need not concern herself. Her husband has probably been blighted by a bad lamb stew.’
‘Shepherd’s pie. Mmm. Ham and eggs.’
Mrs Hudson knocked on the door and opened it balancing a tray containing Holmes’ dinner.
In search of food of our own, Watson and I left Holmes ignoring his dinner, but reading an encyclopaedia that contained an entry on Transylvanian cuisine. I would be surprised if he realised we had gone.
At the behest of his pretty wife, Holmes and Watson set out to interview Jonathan Harker’s employer, Hawkins the solicitor, south of the river on Waterloo Road, with me in tow. My job, when we went out in daylight more-so than at night, involved making heads turn. When they did, they saw who walked a step in front of me: Holmes. Indiscreet fingers would point. There is Sherlock Holmes. Isn’t that Sherlock Holmes? That is how Holmes saw it. In truth, most of the finger pointers said, look at that poor man’s face, or bloody hell, and Holmes went unrecognised.
The morning, and the cab ride, were pleasant enough. Bobbing along, listening to the pair of them bickering, reminded me of entertainment provided by argumentative starlings fighting over a crust of bread.
‘Why are there three of us, Sherlock?’ said Watson. ‘I don’t see why you couldn’t have gone on your own.’
‘On your own with O, then. I’ve a life of my own you know. I’m not your assistant, as people too often think.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Watty.’
‘What’s ridiculous about it? I…’
‘You always accompany me on these…’
‘You take me for granted.’
I heard silence for half a minute before it started again.
‘Not like you to change your mind,’ said Watson.
‘I haven’t changed my mind. What gave you that impression?’
‘No evidence of a crime. Food-poisoning you suggested.’
‘No evidence of food-poisoning either. What would you have me do, ignore the plight of a woman clearly suffering at the hands of unscrupulous solicitors and deceitful foreigners?’
‘You can’t fool me, Sherlock. You’ve no evidence that Hawkins is unscrupulous or that Count Dracula is deceitful. You’re up to something.’
‘Solicitors are born unscrupulous. That’s why they become solicitors. And I’ve never known a foreigner who wasn’t deceitful.’
I stopped listening to them and looked out of the window. In my opinion, only Jonathan Harker’s letter made the case interesting, and if the letter to his wife came from a man who suffered from nothing more than food poisoning and bad dreams, then the case had no inherent interest. Holmes would not stick at it for long, not without a corpse – preferably one with a knife in its back. Corpses with knives in their backs are the best kind; you can bet against suicide … I had learnt that from Holmes.
We reached our destination and disembarked. ‘I’ll wait here and enjoy the air,’ said Watson outside the building that housed Hawkins’ office.
I’d seen that rebuff often. It always got Holmes’ back up.
‘Don’t be childish, Watty. You could stand there for hours.’
‘It’s a nice enough day. I’ll take a stroll.’
‘As you wish,’ said Holmes. He pushed the door open with such force it shuddered against the wall. I entered behind him, steadied, then closed it while giving an apologetic look to a started clerk.
‘I am Sherlock Holmes. I demand to see Mr Hawkins.’
‘Is he expecting you, sir?’
‘I very much doubt it. Announce me.’
‘Yes, sir. One moment, sir.’ The clerk hurried off, up the stairs. Holmes drummed his fingers on the desk until he returned. ‘…I’m sorry, sir, but Mr Hawkins says you need to make an appointment.’
‘Does he indeed.’ Holmes made for the stairs. I followed. The clerk made to intervene, but I raised a cautionary palm and he backed down.
Hawkins may have been tall. I saw only his head – long and narrow with large, broad spectacles and white hair sticking up in a fright. The rest of him, apart from fingertips with inky nails, hid behind and under a vast table almost the width of the room. The inky fingernails gripped the edge of the table like the talons of some bird of prey. Hawkins: a head with talons. It is true of heads that despite moderate variation in shape and lumpiness, they are all basically the same size. Not so the head that constituted, so far as I could see, nine-tenths of Hawkins. I suppressed a desire to approach him, take a tape from my pocket, and measure him from chin to crown – he may have been a previously undocumented species.
He did, however, speak English.
‘I see you’ve found your way here. You may just as easily find your way out. Make an appointment and I’ll be happy to see you.’
‘You will see me now, sir. I’m in no mood for games.’
The big-headed bird of prey signed. ‘Very well. Please be brief. How may I help you, Mr Holmes?’
‘I hope you can indeed help me,’ said Holmes. ‘You are aware of my reputation as an investigator of crimes?’
‘Your reputation precedes you. Are you presently engaged in investigating a crime? Is that why you’re here.’
‘I am here on behalf of Mrs Harker. She is concerned, as you are aware, about the cessation of communications from her husband, your employee, in Transylvania, as, I am sure, you are too.’
‘Yes. Most alarming.’ Hawkins neither looked nor sounded alarmed. He looked and sounded almost asleep. But solicitors, in their offices, are often like that. They wake up for arguments in court. ‘Mr Harker’s silence is inconvenient, but hardly a crime.’
‘We place items of value in a safe to prevent the crime of theft. Prevention is the preferred option. If Mr Harker has not been the victim of a crime, I would like to ensure that it stays that way.’
‘I see that Mrs Harker made quite an impression on you.’
I almost heard Holmes’ molars scraping. ‘I won’t take much of your time, Mr Hawkins. All I request is the address of the property at which Jonathan Harker is staying while in Transylvania, which I believe to be the home of Count Dracula. I would be grateful if you could also provide the address of the property the Count sought to purchase.’
Behind his table, behind his spectacles, Hawkins’ eyelids blinked a very slow blink, as if they had decided to go to sleep but changed their minds with half the journey remaining.
‘To what end do you require this information?’
A corner of Holmes’ mouth twitched – a bad sign.
‘I require the information in order to ensure, if I can, Mr Hawkins, that no crime has been committed and that no harm has befallen your employee. Surely that’s in your interest.’
‘Indeed it is, but I’m afraid I can’t help you as much as you would like, Mr Holmes. The purchase property in question is a matter of client confidentiality, as is the contact address for Count Dracula. As for Mr Harker in Transylvania: the agreement stipulated that he would indeed be Count Dracula’s guest. I must say, I’m disappointed that Mrs Harker saw fit to disclose his name.’
‘Mrs Harker disclosed nothing. I have a wide range of means for discovering what I need to know. I understand that client confidentiality means a great deal to you. Nevertheless, I am sure you agree that Jonathan Harker’s wellbeing is paramount. These, as I have already said, are things I need to know in order to make sure that no harm has come to him.’
‘I’m sure your motives are impeccable. Have you evidence indicating that harm might have befallen him?’
‘Evidence that would impress a judge: no.’
‘Then, I apologise, but I cannot help you.’
Holmes’ face had a darker shade than when he entered the office. Sometimes my job involved protecting not him but others from him.
‘If I understand your reasoning, Mr Hawkins: you cannot provide the information I need because of client confidentiality. However, you may provide the information if I present you with evidence that Harker is in danger, or has already come to harm.’
‘But Harker is a very long way away, and any use I might make of the information might come too late to help him.’
‘In which case, you, sir, would be partially responsible for the harm due to withholding of the information.’
Holmes almost jumped clean out of his coat. ‘My God, man! Bolting horses and shut gates have nothing on you. Don’t you care about what may have befallen your employee?’
‘Client confidentiality must take priority.’
I intervened. A spoon of sugar usually achieves results that hammer and nail cannot. Holmes had never been much use with spoons of sugar. ‘Of course client confidentiality must take priority, Mr Hawkins. Mr Holmes and I fully respect and admire your professionalism; you’re quite correct … Something to go on, then, for Mrs Harker’s sake, before we thank you again for your time and leave. Can you assist us in any way?’
I thought he had gone asleep with his eyes open. Then he moved an inch, and moved back the same inch, as if, having moved to fetch something, he changed his mind.
‘No.’ Hawkins said. ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t help you, save to say that the client in question, whose name, Count Dracula, another divulged to you, not I, considered several properties for purchase in England. One of the properties may, or may not, be in the area of Whitby. Were I to seek clues, I would begin at Whitby. Of course, I’m not a detective and I might be incorrect.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, believing him to have marked the area, if not the exact spot, with an X. ‘Thank you, Mr Hawkins.’ I looked at Holmes, hoping that he would have the decency to thank the man too. I could have hoped my life away.
‘Indeed,’ said Holmes. I confess there were many occasions when he displayed the manners of a boor and the good grace of a boar. ‘Before I take my leave: have you any idea why this European aristocrat wants to set up home in England?’
‘I do not, Mr Holmes. Do you?’
‘Were I to guess, I’d suggest his reason is the instability of the Alliance between Austria and Romania? A new Kaiser?’
‘You may be correct.’
‘Has the Count indicated to you an approximate or preferred date of arrival on these shores.’
‘He has, but that too is confidential. I can, however, tell you that a servant or servants will arrive ahead of him to prepare for his arrival.’
Not a word passed between us until we had been back in Baker Street for a good ten minutes. It took Holmes that amount of time to consult his extensive reference library and discover whatever he sought. He could have done it in less than a minute, I am sure, but an article on atoms in a medical journal borrowed from Watson distracted him. As a man of science, atoms fascinated Watson. And the possibility of particles smaller than atoms, and inside atoms, fascinated him even more. Holmes only put the journal down when the doctor bellowed, ‘Sherlock, this is preposterous!’
‘What is, Watty?’
‘This silence. It’s childish.’
‘Silence? I heard nothing! I could play the violin if you wish.’ Smirking, he tossed the possibility of atoms aside and located a folded map of England from a shelf. He spread the map on top of everything else that littered his table and put his finger on Whitby. ‘Look here, Watty. The first abbey. Founded in six hundred and fifty seven.’
‘Benedictine. Once you enter the monastery, you’re there until you die.’ Aside, Holmes added, ‘and they say travel broadens the mind.’
‘I suppose, when you have God, your mind’s broad enough,’ said Watson. ‘They had God in those days but not atoms. How can you believe in atoms, Holmes, when neither you nor anyone else has ever seen one?’
Holmes replied instantly. ‘Because of Hawkins and Mina Harker.’
‘I’ve never seen an atom, not one detached and isolated from its neighbours. And I’ve never seen Jonathan Harker. Why should I believe that Jonathan Harker exists?’
‘He might not.’
‘He might not, indeed, Watty … but there is sound evidence that he does, and so it is with atoms.’
‘You think Jonathan Harker is an atom?’
‘Don’t be silly, Watty. Hand me the magnifying glass.’
Watson did so. Holmes scrutinised the Whitby area. ‘Sadly, Henry the eighth polished off Whitby Abbey during the dissolution of the monasteries. There’s nothing now but ruins.’
‘At least you and the Count won’t be neighbours,’ Watson remarked; Whitby’s half the length of England from London. ‘…A count is equivalent to a Duke in English money, isn’t he?’
‘Earl. Although there’s some assimilation of Earl and Duke: minor royalty administering geographical areas on behalf of the monarch. An earl is senior to a viscount and junior to a marquis.’
‘The female form of duke is duchess; I know that much. But what’s the female form of earl? I’ve never heard of an aristocratic female called an earless. A member of the aristocracy of that rank would presumably be deaf … Earless: ear-less. See?’
‘Indeed. Most clever … An English form of countess never evolved, Watty. Although, if one had, I’m sure it would have fitted you perfectly.’
‘Countess Watson. No. I don’t like it. Watson’s too common a name. I wonder if there’s a countess Dracula, and a brood of little master and miss Draculas.’
‘I shall make a few preparations, then travel to Whitby,’ said Holmes. ‘While I often progress faster working alone, you may join me if you’re free. The coastal air will do you good. We’ll stay at a place I know at Robin Hood’s Bay. We can take the London and North Western and complete the journey by coach.’
‘I don’t know, Sherlock…’
‘I’m not talking about making the journey tomorrow or the next day. I told Mrs Harker we would wait and see if another letter arrives. You like trains,’ said Holmes, and folded the map as though the fact that Watson liked trains settled the issue.
And it did.