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Chapter 6 - Lift Up Mine Eyes To The Hills by A.J. Hall

John crested the final hill-top and saw the view unroll below him. No need to speculate what the Devil could have meant by offering Christ all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. The exposed sands of the bay were banks of gold in the evening sun, the rivers and creeks which ran between them curls and trickles of molten silver.

Sherlock’s text – RETURN WHEN CONVENIENT. NO NEED TO HURRY. ALL WELL. SH – had not caught up with him until he’d been sitting, in a misguided sacrifice to childhood nostalgia, in the queue for the ferry at Ferry Nab.

He’d taken Sherlock at his word, taken the long way home through Claife Heights, Tarn Hows and Grisedale, and now felt blessedly at peace with the world. He found Sherlock back on the bench where he had been on the first morning. This time, Sherlock was busy squinting up at the inn sign and taking bearings with a orienteering compass. He had two maps side by side on the bench; the OS Landranger John had used for the Helvellyn ascent and a venerable, framed inch-to-a-mile sheet of the same area, which John had last seen screwed to the bar wall.

“Bet our landlord loved you nicking that,” he observed, letting his shadow fall across it when Sherlock showed no other signs of responding to his presence.

“He did, actually. Especially when he saw me carrying this.” Sherlock indicated the Poems of Francis Thompson, which pinned down the Landranger map against the light breeze. “Imagine the frustration of having set a puzzle which no-one recognises as one, let alone tries to solve.”

“A puzzle?” John didn’t bother raising the I see you broke into my room and made free with my possessions angle – at least it showed encouraging signs of renewed interest in life. Though, yet again, it was a sad commentary on what his life had become, when he could use “Too apathetic to burgle my bedroom” in all seriousness as a diagnostic tool.

“Yes.” He jerked his thumb at the sign. “It’s a rebus.”

“I thought you said it was a colobus.”

Sherlock sighed. “Not the monkey, John. The picture. It’s a coded message. The existence of the code, of course, being flagged up by the mismatch between the inn name and its sign.”

John squinted up at the sign in his turn, but it conveyed nothing to him except, “You can’t find sign-painters with a decent grasp of primate taxonomy for love nor money these days.” Good mountains, though.

“And where does the German courier package come in?”

Not a good question, John realised from Sherlock’s suddenly shuttered look. “Sorry. None of my business. OK.”

That provoked a startled jerk of Sherlock’s head, as if he had been mentally steeling himself for more persistence. After a moment he said, rather stiffly, “Not connected. That was another case altogether.” A pause. “One where it turned out I was completely wrong. Had been completely wrong. Most of my life.”

“I’m sorry?” He’d have expected the stones of Loughrigg Circle get up and dance before he’d expected to hear those words from Sherlock’s lips.

“You heard, John. I’m not repeating it, so if you were hoping to record it for a ring-tone I’m afraid you’ve missed your chance.”

Actually, if I wanted your voice as my ring-tone – and, God, come to think of it, yes – “I was completely wrong” wouldn’t be my phrase of choice. Even for the novelty value.

John blinked, aware his heart was pounding very hard indeed (“Even harder than on Helvellyn,” memory reminded him) and that the quality of Sherlock’s scrutiny had changed; become intense, focussed, almost – puzzled? No, that was the wrong word. Speculative, though.

To cover his confusion, he said, “So, about the inn-sign. What’s the solution?”

“Um? Oh. I’ll tell you over dinner. I’ve reserved our table for 8.00pm. I thought, as it’s our last night here, we’d better make it a good one. “

“Our last night?” The pang of regret was real but fleeting; some part of his sub-conscious had known this couldn’t last. Doubtless that had prompted him to linger over his return to the inn that day.

For a moment, it almost seemed as if Sherlock felt regret, too. “Lestrade called earlier. You know the Kew girls’ boarding school murder?”

Vaguely, John recollected a paragraph or two in the morning paper. The deputy headmistress, found stabbed behind the sports pavilion. He nodded.

Sherlock waved his hand. “Anderson’s cocked up the forensics, Sally’s away on a course, Lestrade’s ulcers have flared up again, and ever since the Sun traced the body’s links to West London ceremonial magick groups through Facebook they’ve been making his life a misery with ‘Satanism at St Trinian’s’ headlines.”

John nodded. Business as usual, indeed. With a vengeance.

“Obviously, her religious practices don’t have the slightest bearing on the case. As I told Lestrade, what they really need to know is whether the headmistress visited Rome in the last three months, and why they sacked the last games teacher.”

“Obviously,” John agreed. He looked down at the maps. “So, have you finished here? If we’re off in the morning, I’d better go and pack.”

“You can take yours. I’m nearly done here. It was the old map I should have been using all along. The answer was in the past. Seems to be the popular trend at the moment.”

Had he imagined that wistful note in Sherlock’s voice? Nothing could be decoded from his expression. John paused for a moment, waiting for a word, but Sherlock had turned back to the compass and the map, and didn’t seem to notice. He left him to it and went inside.