Vain Shadow
Author: Steven Wyatt

Chapter 22
Bad News, Iím Afraid


It’s blood that stains dawn’s rose fingers here,

A darker hue than Laertes’ son ever knew,

The rusting vines droop heavy with dead,

The rising sun makes Ares’ harvest clear.


Sherlock frowned and fiddled with his pencil. Clumsy opening. ’ What about ‘blood besmirches’? Hmm… ‘Blood besmirches dawn’s rose fingers here.’ Better. And ‘the rising sun’, that wasn’t right, that didn’t say it…‘the reluctant sun’, perhaps? ‘The reluctant sun makes Ares’ harvest clear.’ So –


Blood besmirches dawn’s rose fingers here,

A darker hue than Laertes’ son ever knew,

The rusting vines droop heavy with dead,

The reluctant sun makes Ares’ harvest clear.


That last line still needed something…‘Grim harvest’? No, two syllables. ‘Bitter harvest’? And was Ares the right deity? He struggled to recall. Christ’s seemed far, far away and long, long ago.

Sgt. Dennison coughed in self-announcement at the door.

Sherlock closed his notebook quickly, adopting a military demeanour as if he had been sketching out battle plans instead of poetry. Wouldn’t do to let the men think…no. He looked up at the sergeant, the thug’s face patient, an indulgent and disconcerting understanding in the tea-brown eyes.

‘You sent for me sir?’

‘Yes, come in Sergeant, thank you for coming so promptly – ah, Scotch? How are the men?’

‘Thank you sir, very nice, your health – the men are well sir, thank you, glad to be back in billets. May I offer congratulations on their behalf as well as my own? We are all very pleased, Captain Holmes.’

‘Oh, well – thank you Sergeant, I must say…I – but it’s only acting captain, of course, I’m sure Captain Miles will be…you know…’

‘Let’s hope so, sir.’

‘Once he’s had a good rest, had a chance to…’

He fell silent, embarrassed. Captain Miles would not be returning. Poor chap, thought Sherlock. Who’d have thought he was so highly-strung under that calm surface?

He hoped he would be able to cope better. It felt strange to be a captain, even if only acting, when all the captains he had known seemed so much older. Strange, exciting, intimidating…

‘What was it you wanted to see me about, sir?’

‘Oh yes, of course – Four Platoon – where are we now with that?’

‘Five casualties in all, sir – Perry killed, Babbitt discharged – we’ve made Tanner up to full corporal, sir, he’ll do well – Scott home but not serious, Tolman and Lafford walking wounded at Lady Finsbury’s in Saint Polly.’

‘Not too badly knocked about then, Tolman and Lafford?’

‘No sir, concussion of course, cuts, bruises, nothing serious.’

‘Hmm. It’s Tolman I’m concerned about. No way we could wangle a Blighty for him? Or leave? He’s not due leave, is he?’

‘Well, no sir, they only came over in May, he hasn’t done his time yet.’

‘I’m trying…I’d like to get Tolman home. I thought perhaps with his injury, if we could swing something with the MO.’

‘May I ask why, sir?’

Sherlock lifted a letter from the table. ‘I’ve had this from – where is it? Millbridge – Tolman and Lafford are both Millbridge lads aren’t they? – a letter from a Miss Lafford, Miss Ruth Lafford.’

‘That’ll be Lafford’s sister, sir. I understand she and Tolman are engaged.’

‘Quite. It’s bad news, I’m afraid.’


‘Tolman’s mother died on Wednesday. Pneumonia.’



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