43w, 5dWriting Gold
43w, 5dThe Writer's Group
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43w, 5dThe GREAT and POWERFUL TRIXIE
43w, 5dGeneral Stories and Discussion
43w, 5dSherlockian Mysteries
40w, 15hTwilight's Library
31w, 3dSt. Xavier Bronies
17w, 5dCompleted Story Compendium
In the morning, we left just after sunrise for the train station, where we purchased round-trip tickets all the way to Manehattan. This would allow us to travel the line freely wherever Trixie or her mysterious botanist led us. There were suitable stops at the gardens at a quarter to nine and ten-thirty, and Trixie would have to leave by the noon train in order to arrive on time for her show. We took the earlier of the two trains. As he had promised, Holmes explained his "ah-ha" moment to me as we rolled through the countryside north of Fillydelphia.
"Consider the problem, Watson. There is an original painting within the gallery, and a forgery without. Trixie desires to get the original out and replace it with the forgery. She could attempt to swap the paintings, but then the magical connection that must be created between the two items is too large to maintain through the drag field. She could attempt to teleport them directly one at a time, but then the energy requirement to pull them through the drag field is too great."
"A seemingly impossible dilemma," I commented.
He smiled, and continued. "Now, add to this the knowledge that it is easier to teleport an item back to a location it has recently been in. I would wager, in fact, Watson, that it might not only require very little energy, but might release an amount of magical energy in some way equivalent to the mechanical energy that was required to move it from its starting point. The idea presents an intriguing approach for an investigation into the possible conservation of all energy, magical and mundane."
"Never mind all that," I said. "What about the painting?"
Holmes tsk-tsked and shook his head sadly. "The problem with physicians is that you always think concretely, never abstractly. Very well; I will state it physician-style for you: You have a painting on the inside, and a painting on the outside. Magic, if we may anthropomorphize it, regards these paintings as nearly equivalent to each other, wherever they may be at the moment. Also, it takes almost no energy to teleport a painting back to a point where it recently was. Now, you saw a painting – presumably the forgery – carried into the museum, and we must end up with the original teleported out of the museum. What steps must come in-between these events?"
"Well," I said, picturing it in my mind, "the forgery is carried into the museum. It could be recalled to the outside of the museum, because that can be done without the larger – what, magical cross-section – and because it was recently outside the museum. But if magic 'sees' the two paintings as interchangeable, that means the original can now also be teleported to the outside equally easily."
"Precisely!" Holmes cried, slapping my side with a hoof. "There's hope for you yet, Watson! By bringing the forgery into the museum, our Mr. F. himself made it possible for Trixie to teleport the original out!"
I could not share his enthusiasm, because I had nearly convinced myself that Holmes had let his resentment of magical crime carry him away, and that Trixie was innocent. Even were she guilty, I believe I would rather have remained deceived and let her escape with the painting, than see Holmes develop this mania further. Apart from that, I wanted her to remain innocent. For that was how I thought of her, disagreeable and world-weary though she was. Her focus and dedication were, in their own way, as pure as any maiden's virtue. She had been cursed with a gift that she did not know how to express. Her repeated failures to do so had twisted her, but never shattered her faith in the importance of doing so, as an extended stay in the royal dungeons would.
The Royal Botanical Gardens are vast, and asking to meet somepony there would be only slightly more specific than asking them to meet you in downtown Canterlot. There are separate gardens for different types of trees and shrubs, garden styles of various nationalities, different habitats (woodland or field, acidic or alkaline soil, marsh, and pond), and flowers organized by taxonomic family, color, season of blooming, and native origin. There are even sections for agricultural crops. It was early autumn, so the flower gardens were largely bare, and there were not so many visitors as I had seen there on my one previous visit.
[Based on the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario, + the National Arboretum in DC.]
I half-expected Holmes to produce a string of logical deductions narrowing in on the spot where the meeting would take place, based only on the decorations on Trixie's hat. Instead, he found a secluded spot among a cluster of rhododendron bushes that were out of season, with a view of the entrance gate nearest the railway platform.
"But, Holmes," I said, "I can't make out faces from this distance. I hardly think we can rely on her to wear her pointy hat."
"Fear not, Watson. I have a collapsible telescope in my bags. She may anticipate observation, but magicians never think of technology."
As Trixie would almost certainly arrive on the ten-thirty train, if at all, and we did not want to attract attention, we roamed the gardens for an hour like honest tourists. I was drawn to the massive grove of crapemyrtles densely covered with bright pink flowers, but Holmes insisted on seeing the bonsai collection. He made a little speech, which I did not fully understand, about finding the lower limits of detail at which aesthetics were still possible. He also mentioned ink-wash paintings and haiku. I gathered that he wanted to make beauty and art more efficient and controllable, which I felt was missing the point. But I admired his ability to lose himself in botanical observation and the theory of art, as though we were not preparing to spy on a dangerous criminal in under an hour. To his disciplined mind, if there were nothing to be done about it until then, it would turn its attention to other matters, and that was that.
Some five minutes before the next train, we returned to our observation post and Holmes retrieved and extended his telescope. He need not have brought it; Trixie stepped off the train with the gigantic rectangular wooden box trailing behind her. She checked her other luggage at the station, and then took a roundabout tour of the gardens, following a circuit through the most-populated areas, always with that enormous box bobbing behind her like an overgrown pet.
"Perhaps she forgot to arrange a meeting spot?" I suggested.
"A mare whose profession requires the utmost attention to details others cannot even perceive? Preposterous!" Holmes said, though he did not offer any alternative explanation.
Eventually she settled in a remote spot in the middle of a few weeping willow trees, given some privacy by the drooping branches – though not enough to defend her from Holmes' telescope. She leaned the box up against a tree. Then she opened her small saddlebag and laid out a thin blanket – I could tell it was something delicate, like silk, by the way it drifted to the ground – and weighed down its corners with some of the many fallen branches lying about. She set up a tea service in the center of the blanket – three cups, I noticed, not two – and waited, with a hopeful smile. It was by this time a quarter to eleven, and the sun was high in the sky.
"Should we seize the painting now, Holmes?" I asked quietly.
"If you are prepared to shoot her from behind first," Holmes said. I believe he was joking. "Otherwise, I do not recommend the attempt. We will have more luck wresting it from her customer. He is likely to be a tall, thin stallion. The third place setting is for somepony of less importance."
The night before, I had been irritated at my companion, both for contemplating taking advantage of Trixie's infatuation, and for his reluctance to do so. I may have been suffering some conflicting emotions myself. I was still a trifle miffed, so I determined for once not to immediately gratify Holmes by asking him to explain his deduction, but to wait and force him to explain himself, if he wanted my admiration. As the minutes dragged on, however, it became apparent that he was not going to.
"All right, Holmes," I finally said. "You win. Why a tall, thin stallion?"
"Have you been puzzling over that all this time? Because that is the type of pony she inspected most carefully during her circuit of the gardens."
We waited, and Trixie waited. Her smile faded as the hour passed and the sun rose toward noon. Her mysterious botanist, or botanists, had little time left to make their appearance. She began to pace back and forth irritably.
"I am going to be especially cross at our botanist if his tardiness causes us to lose our quarry!" Holmes whispered.
It was nearly noon, and I saw the smoke of the approaching train in the distance. Trixie rose and began thrusting teacups and blanket back into her bag. Then she stopped, lowered her horn until it touched the grass, and pawed the earth like an angry apple-bucker from Appaloosa. She looked around the little clearing, and called out something three times – a name, I think; I could not make it out from this distance – first questioningly, then angrily, then with a pleading look. Then she took the cups and blanket back out gently, set up everything just as before, and sat back down under the noonday sun looking very dejected. We heard the whistle for final boarding, and the train departed.
"Incredible," Holmes said. "This meeting must be very important indeed."
But apparently it was not important to our botanist, for another hour came and went, as Holmes and I took turns viewing through the telescope, with nothing to observe other than the careful folds in Trixie's mane coming slowly undone as she sweated under the mid-day sun. I was taking my turn when she suddenly leapt to her feet, kicked the tea-set off of the blanket, and viciously trampled kettle and cups into fragments.
"Holmes!" I said, bumping him with my shoulder.
Holmes grabbed the telescope, took one look, and immediately opened his saddlebag and took out, to my astonishment, my revolver, which he began strapping to his pastern. "I am sorry, Watson," he said, "but I could not rely on you to use it."
Then the big box went down – Trixie had knocked it over with one kick of her rear legs – and Holmes raised the revolver. I lunged forward, bit his foreleg, and clung to it, dragging it down. Holmes screamed in pain and kicked me in the face with his other foreleg. I let go and fell to the earth. A deafening shot exploded above my head.
I staggered to my feet and looked in horror out into the field, expecting to see Trixie lying bleeding on the grass. She would have been, if Holmes had aimed at her – he is an excellent mark, even at that distance and with a strange pistol. I saw no sign of her, but I thought I heard her galloping away over the ringing in my ears. I picked up the small telescope and trained it on the base of the willow tree. Fragments of wood lay where Trixie had shattered the box into pieces and ground them into the grass while I struggled with Holmes.
We turned to face each other, both snorting. I felt a trickle of blood run down my nose, and pawed the ground. I glared at him in disgust, and in challenge. For once in his life, he looked away in shame.
"I... I only meant to scare her off, Watson. Don't look at me like that."
He removed the gun and returned it to my saddlebag. We walked out slowly to survey the devastation, Holmes limping slightly.
I dreaded seeing shreds of dark canvas blowing about the grass, but there were none. Mingled with the bits of plywood that had once been a box were fragments of glass and a few trampled hollow brass rods. I poked them with my hooves, then looked up at Holmes in confusion.
Holmes, too, seemed perplexed. He made a full circuit around the tree, scanning the ground carefully, stirring the debris up with one hoof. He snuffled at the shreds of tea leaves spilling out of a crushed tin. Then he sat down and began to laugh a sick, hacking laugh.
"Holmes!" I said. "Get hold of yourself! What is all this?"
"If I am not mistaken," he said, "it is the remnants of some prop for a magical performance."
"But, then, where is Luna's Starry Night?"
He looked up and grinned at me as if I had made a joke. "In the museum, where it has been since Trixie returned it to the curator."
"But... what about the forgery? The mesmerism?"
Holmes pointed a hoof at the small pile of tea leaves on the ground before him, already dwindling as the slight breeze carried bits away. I walked over and sniffed it.
"Rooibos," I said in amazement.
He rose to his feet. "Sometimes the simplest explanation is best, Watson. I have fired a pistol at a mare whose only crime was wishing to have tea with me." He shook his head ruefully. "And to think that I risked harming a national treasure, for the sake of a mere painting."
"But it was impossible for her to retrieve the painting without a counterweight!"
"Impossible? I have said that when you have eliminated the impossible, the truth must be among what remains. But when you have eliminated the possible, you must expand your conception of what is possible. There was no counterweight. Just the sheer force of an indomitable and desperate will." He carefully folded up the silk blanket – the only thing that had survived Trixie's rampage – and packed it away in his bags. I never did find what became of it.
"Then why the charade? Why pretend to have stolen a painting? Why not simply invite you to tea?"
Holmes chuckled. "Because she knew it would not work. You know how I feel about attention from admiring mares, Watson. Other stallions pursue mares. I pursue criminals. To attract my interest, she had to pretend to be one."
He kicked the fragments of wood lying at his hooves. "What a mare, Watson. What a mare."