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The Adventure Of The Creeping Man (1904)

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Rather curiously, our last case from Baker Street arose not long after I saw a most amusing sign outside a tavern in that busy thoroughfare:
'Gentlemen, do not forget that anniversary.
Bring your lady-friend, get 25% off.
Bring your wife, get 50% off.
Bring both, get 75% off.
Free ambulance to the hospital!'

That had been early summer and now, at the start of our last month in Baker Street, we were having another breakfast together (yes, he was still having most of my bacon, and no, that still did not mean that I was whipped, thank you very much!). I smiled over what remained of my own meal. Thirty years since we had first met, many moons ago in Oxford. His impossible hair was flecked with grey now, but it only made him look even more distinguished. And as untidy as ever, although that was more probably due to….

Damnation, he was looking at me with that knowing smile of his again! Trust my luck to end up with a mind-reader!

My thoughts were interrupted by the bell announcing the advent of visitors. This was not that surprising; it was Saturday, and at weekends we always had a late breakfast after sleeping in and…. and I was thinking of It again! Fortunately Sherlock was distracted by ringing back for a fifteen-minute delay whilst we finished our meal, which allowed me to drag my mind out of the gutter that it seemed so fond of whenever the blue-eyed genius was in the vicinity.

Our visitors, when they arrived, were both well-dressed ladies in their thirties, though one was clearly much richer than the other, judging from the fineness of her apparel. And also much more pregnant; four to five months, I judged. I wondered as to how they were related.

The answer came as something of a surprise.

“My name is Lady Ursula Bradstock”, the finely-dressed lady said, “and this is Miss Katherine Kelley. We have a somewhat unusual case for you, gentlemen, and we hope that you would consider taking it.”

Sherlock looked between the two women, and of course being Sherlock, he got it. Which was more than I did.

“Queen Alexandra”, he smiled, which cleared things up not at all. Both ladies smiled.

“I think that you tease your poor friend too much, just as in his stories”, Miss Kelley said playfully. “To explain, doctor, I am the mistress of Ursula’s husband, who in turn is the youngest son of Nathaniel, Earl of Bradstock. I had a son by Lord Thomas earlier this year, James, and he has promised to support him as he grows up.”

“And now I am expecting too”, Lady Bradstock, said with a smile, “although if you could not detect that, Mr. Holmes, this would be a short meeting indeed!”

I smiled. I understood the royal reference now; the public had come to love the Danish-born queen for the blind eye she turned to her husband’s frequent dalliances.

“The reason that we are here”, Lady Bradstock continued, “is our growing concern for my husband. I should explain at this point that the earldom is unfortunate – in my opinion, at least – to be afflicted with that the lawyers call 'selective inheritance'. The title goes to the eldest son as per usual, but the bulk of the estate around Stalwarton, the village where my father-in-law lives, can be willed to any direct male line descendant at the whim of the current holder or, if he has no descendants of his own, to any of his father. Furthermore, the estate has prospered greatly in the last ten years due to certain investments in gold and diamond mines in southern Africa, so there is much to inherit.”

“Can your father-in-law will it to any other family member?” Sherlock asked. Lady Bradstock shook her head.

“Tom has two older brothers, Daniel and George”, she said. “Daniel is twenty-eight, George twenty-seven and my husband twenty-four. Both my brothers-in-law are single, although both are courting young ladies. It is recent events which have concerned me, and when I found that they were also occurring during his time with Kitty, we decided to come to you at once.”

“I see”, Sherlock said. “Pray continue, please.”

“The estate also has some minor interests in Cornwall”, Lady Bradstock said, “and this spring my father-in-law decided to pay them a visit. You may remember that it was unseasonably damp around that time, and he returned with a chill, which he was unable to shake off for some weeks. I should not speak ill of the man who has been so kind to me, but I am afraid dear Nathaniel does tend to prevaricate, avoiding matters which are better dealt with sooner rather than later. Though we do not know for sure, it seems that he has not made any decision yet, which would mean that the bulk of the estate would be divided equally amongst his three sons upon his death.”

“But something has happened to prevent that”, Sherlock said shrewdly, “or make it less likely, otherwise you would not both be here today. What was it?”

Lady Bradstock looked at Miss Kelley, who took out a notebook and opened it.

“When Ursula told me, I realized that it had happened with me first”, she said. “June the twenty-seventh. It was just after the earl had fully recovered. Tom came down to London for the weekend.”

“Alone?” Sherlock asked. She shook her head.

“He came with his brothers, but they only stayed one night before travelling on to some business they had in Kent”, she said. “He was with me on Saturday after my performance – I am an actress, and this was at the Gaumont in Shaftesbury Avenue – and when I got back to my dressing-room, he was crawling all over the floor. It quite shocked me, but he refused to allow me to call a doctor, and after a night’s rest he seemed to have fully recovered.”

“What did he say was wrong with him?” I inquired.

“He seemed unable to stand, or even sit up”, Miss Kelley said. “It was most worrisome, but as I said, he seemed right as rain the next day, so we just thought it was something that he had eaten. His brothers had taken him to a new restaurant the night before – Argentinian, he said - and he had not liked it much.”

“I see”, Sherlock said. “What happened next?”

“The same thing happened exactly one month later when he was with me, on July the twenty-seventh”, Lady Bradstock said. “He was very bad, and so convinced he was dying that he told me all about Kitty and James, although of course I already knew. He did not mention the previous attack, or I would have come to you then. As with Kitty, he was perfectly fine the following morning.”

“Where was he at the time?” Sherlock asked.

“Visiting Tom’s brother George and his lady friend, Miss Barton-Jones”, she said. “She has a house in the village of Cleveley, not far from Stalwarton.”

Sherlock pressed his fingers together and thought for a moment.

“Was the next attack on August the twenty-sixth, by any chance?” he asked Lady Bradstock. She stared at him in shock.

“Yes”, she said. “How could you know that?”

“It seemed probable”, he said. “Where did it take place?”

“That was what prompted me to seek out Kitty, which was just as well”, Lady Bradstock said grimly. “It happened at the Hall, right in front of the earl. Poor Tom just collapsed in his chair, and had to be carried out.”

“And presumably he had recovered the following morning?” Sherlock asked.

“He was able to stand, but he was not himself”, she said. “His recovery was definitely slower than the month before.”

Sherlock nodded.

“I have two questions”, he said. “First, to you, Lady Bradstock. From your knowledge of the earl, would you say that he is at all superstitious?”

She looked surprised at the question, but nodded.

“He is rather”, she said. “There is this family curse which dates back to the Middle Ages, that the line will die out if there is more than one lord of Stalwarton with the same Christian name. A silly superstition, one might say, except the only time a lord of the manor tried to break it, he and his family were wiped out in the English Civil War. Upon the Restoration, the title passed to a cousin of his.”

“I see”, Sherlock said. “My second question is to you both, and may seem strange, but I have a reason for asking it. Has Mr. Thomas Bradstock been shaving any more of late?”

Both ladies looked understandably confused. The actress recovered first.

“Now that you come to mention it, he did seem to be shaving more often than usual”, she said. She looked across at Lady Bradstock, who nodded in confirmation.

“Do you expect another attack soon?” the latter asked anxiously. Sherlock looked at the calendar.

“Today is September the seventh”, he said. “Obviously the next attack should not happen until the twenty-fourth, which is a Friday. That gives us some time. Ladies, I need to know something else about Lord Thomas. Does he have any weaknesses, perhaps foods or drink that he is particularly partial to?”

“Fudge”, both ladies said simultaneously, before they both laughed. Miss Kelley gestured for Lady Bradstock to go first.

“He cannot get enough of it”, she said. “The local doctor has warned him about his weight, but unfortunately when he accompanied his father down to Cornwall, he brought back a ton of the dreadful stuff. But I have insisted he purchase a rowing-machine from London, and that he works out on it every day. He hides it all around the house, so preventing him from consuming it is nigh on impossible!”

“And there is a very exclusive chocolatier near to the Gaumont, which he loves to visit”, Miss Kelley confirmed. “It really is the devil’s work to keep him away from it.”

Sherlock’s eyes twinkled. I knew that look.

“On the contrary”, he grinned. “Fudge may well be what saves his life!”

Both ladies looked at him in astonishment.

+~+~+

A few days later, I was writing up some notes when a package came for Sherlock, Upon opening it he smiled, then came over to me and placed the paper bag he had extracted from it on my desk the open end towards me. Inside was a gentleman's hair-brush.

“I would like you to test that for me”, he said. “It is related to the Bradstock case.”

“What am I looking for?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“That would defeat the purpose of the test”, he said. “I know what you should find, but I would like you to test it and then come and tell me what you did find.”

I nodded, put away my notes and went to fetch my testing kit.

+~+~+

“Well?” he asked, once I had finished.

“The hair is from someone who is being constantly exposed to low levels of a mildly toxic chemical compound”, I said. “I do not think, based on the amounts present, that such a dose would be fatal, although it may be that the victim is particularly susceptible in some way or other. There may be other chemicals involved, but of too small an amount to be identified. With what I have, I can only be certain of the one.”

“That is enough for me”, he said grimly. “It is as I feared. We are fortunate that we shall be able to close this case before we leave.”

I looked at him in surprise, but clearly he was going to say no more.

+~+~+

Two days after that, it was Sherlock's birthday, his fiftieth. It would have been nice for us to have been able to move to our new home on that day, but because they were dependent on the cottage owner attaining his majority at the end of the month, the legal documents could not be signed off until then.

Sherlock, as usual, woke up as horny as always, and within minutes was coming inside of me, falling into me with a happy grunt. Then he felt my still-erect cock, and frowned.

“You have the ring on”, he said, clearly surprised. “Do you not wish to come too?”

I kissed him and reached over for the collar, which I only wore on rare occasions. I clipped it on and kissed him again.

“I have arranged with Mrs. Lindberg for our meals to be left outside today, and for no-one to be allowed up”, I said softly. “I want you inside of me for as much of today as is possible, and I want you to own me all day. I have always been yours, Sherlock, and I always will be.”

He seemed as emotional as I was feeling about this, and pushed against my prostate as he cuddled into my chest. I smiled and braced myself for a long, hard day.

We had a wonderful day, not just limited to the bedroom. It apparently was possible to walk around our main room whilst Sherlock remained inside of and half a step behind me, though when we both sat in the famous fireside chair, it creaked ominously, discouraging any vigorous action. Though Sherlock only had to shift slightly to hit my prostate and I moaned so loudly that they probably heard me through the thick walls! Eating whilst impaled was tricky, but worth it for the thrill of Sherlock trying to get me to break through the cock-ring.

Before anyone says anything, I should add that I did actually buy Sherlock a present as well, a gold locket with tiny drawings of the two of us that a professional artist had done for me. Though I only gave it to him at the end of the day, and he rewarded me by removing the cock-ring. Fortunately he possessed the foresight to hold back my orgasm and release it little by little, otherwise I might well have ruptured myself!

We finally went to bed that night, and slept wrapped around each other, content with our lot in life. All right, not just content but blissfully, serenely otherworldly happy. And so close to our own happy ending.

+~+~+

Five days later, Sherlock and I went to Paddington Station, where as planned we met Miss Kelley. The three of us then journeyed up to Oxford, from where we took a local train to the little market town of King’s Linton. The Forston, Milton and Wolfstown Railway did continue on to serve Stalwarton, but Sherlock did not want to go there just yet.

In the Grease Monkey Inn (honestly, modern pub names!), we met as arranged with Lady Bradstock.

“You are certain that this will work?” she asked anxiously.

“Quite certain”, Sherlock said. “Did you bring it?”

She opened her case and extracted a large box of fudge, which she handed over to him, and he passed onto me. I took it, and Miss Kelley then handed him her bag, from which he took an identical box.

“You are going to explain all this to us, Mr. Holmes?” Lady Bradstock asked.

“Of course”, Sherlock said. “Your husband is being poisoned, by his elder brothers.”

She stared at him in shock.

“What makes you say that?” she said at last.

“Tomorrow is the twenty-fourth, is it not?” he said.

“Yes?”

“Then that is when they will make their next attack on him. Except that it will go wrong.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. He sat back.

“Shortly, the doctor will be taking this fatal confectionery back down to Oxford, where he will test it at the laboratory before returning here”, he said. “The chemical in them is, I would wager, in itself relatively harmless. But when combined with a certain other chemical, the result on the person unfortunate enough to imbibe them both is dramatic. It involves two things; complete loss of bodily control, and rapid hair growth. Though I have not met him, I would wager that the earl did not take well to seeing his youngest son struck down in this way.”

“But the other chemical?” Lady Bradstock pushed.

“The doctor will bring his test results back this evening”, Sherlock said. “Unless they contain something very surprising, then the other chemical will also be fairly harmless. You see, it is the combination that has the effect – which brings me to the matter in hand. I would assume that your brothers-in-law would want to administer it away from your eyes, to be on the safe side, so one presumes it would be done when the gentlemen adjourn after dinner. Does your husband take port?”

“He hates it with a passion”, she said firmly. “He usually has lemon juice, which I suppose is quite sharp and would hide the taste of anything.”

“It will be difficult, but you will need to keep an eye on your husband today”, Sherlock said. “However, I do not expect anything to be tried until tomorrow.”

“Why tomorrow?” Miss Kelley asked. “And how did you know the date of the August attack?”

“It ties in with my question as to the superstitious nature of the earl”, Sherlock said with a smile. “Belief in werewolves, especially in country areas, is surprisingly strong, even amongst the nobility. The dates of the attacks were the last three Full Moons, and tomorrow night is the next one. I feel sure that Mr. George and Mr. Daniel have lost no time in reminding their father of that fact. Now, we will have some coffee, tea and cakes, although the doctor, regrettably for him, must hasten back to the city of dreaming spires and his tests.”

I pouted, and they all laughed. But Sherlock arranged a boxed whole apple-pie for me to take, so I forgave him.

+~+~+

When I reached the hospital (I had obviously had to eat the pie, to save carrying it around), I was surprised to find a second sample had been sent there for me to test, which I assumed must have been Sherlock's other chemical. Naturally I shall not disclose the names of the substances in question, save to say that Sherlock was (as ever) correct in his assumption. I would have wondered as to how he had obtained the second sample, but I knew better. Ignorance was bliss with some of the things that my man got up to. Many of them, come to that.

Still, he was mine, and I would not have changed him for the world!

+~+~+

The following morning, Lady Bradstock sent her carriage for us as agreed, and the two of us were driven up to Stalwarton Hall (for obvious reasons we left Miss Kelley to travel back to London, though Sherlock promised to telegraph her as soon as possible). The hall was a charming grey-stone building, not overly large for an ancestral home, set on a slight hill above a model village of some eleven identical cottages and a timber-framed inn, “The Stalwart”. The River Cherwell gleamed in the summer sun not far to the west, and it was hard to believe we were barely five miles from the hustle and bustle of Oxford, and the scene of our first meeting some thirty years ago.

Ouch!

Lady Bradstock herself came out to greet us and usher us in. Once inside we met the rest of the family, who were much as she had described. Her husband was young and smartly-dressed, definitely tending towards portliness (the fudge!) and had hair that was almost as bad as Sherlock’s. His two elder brothers both had the brown hair I could see in the many portraits in the entrance-hall, and neither looked that pleased to see us. We were shown into the earl’s room, where a gentleman in his late fifties or early sixties was sat by the fire.

“Mr. Holmes, Doctor Watson”, he said gruffly. “What brings you to our neck of the woods, gentlemen? I do hope you have not found any dead bodies lying around.”

“Not yet, Your Grace”, Sherlock said amiably, “though I am here in a somewhat unusual capacity.”

The earl looked at him in surprise.

“Please explain”, he said.

“In my line of work”, Sherlock said, “it is usual that I start with a crime, and then have to work out, as the detective novels mangle the English language in saying, ‘who done it’. Writers these days! This time, however, I have managed to prevent a crime.”

“This time?” the earl said sharply. “Here?”

“Indeed”, Sherlock said. “The wrongful disinheritance of a faithful and, above all else, healthy son.”

The earl’s eyes narrowed.

“You are referring to Tom and his problems, I suppose”, he said. “Harrumph! And what business is that of yours, sir?”

“If it involves a peer of the realm being duped, it becomes my business”, Sherlock said. “I would like to show you something, but I warn you now, you will not be pleased with it.”

He produced from his pocket the two bottles of chemicals I had brought back from the hospital the night before. He placed them on the table next to his chair.

“I will not bore you with long scientific names which will mean nothing to anyone here”, he said. “Let us call these simply Chemical A and Chemical B. The first is toxic, but not deadly except in much larger amounts than you see here, and the second is almost completely harmless. However, when they are imbibed at the same time, the combination of the two is anything but. The unlucky person who has the resultant mixture in their bloodstream loses all muscular control for a period of approximately twelve hours, and the growth of their body hair increases substantially.”

The earl raised his eyebrows, but did not interrupt.

“As with all poisons, the body works to expel it, most usually through the hair”, Sherlock said. “When she called me in on this case, I questioned Lady Ursula about her husband's so-called attacks, and quickly worked out what was happening. I asked her for his hair-brush with as much hair as she could, and the doctor tested it for me. Lord Thomas has been exposed to constant low levels of Chemical A for at least the past three months, it having been dosed into the fudge that he has a weakness for.”

Lord Thomas blushed.

“How did it get there?” the earl asked.

“It was injected by syringe”, Sherlock explained. “Which brings me to the less pleasant part of my visit. I am sorry to say that a few nights ago, whilst you were all sleeping, I employed the professional burglary services of one of the top men in his profession in London. He, or rather his superior, owed me a favour, and I cashed it in.”

Mr. Marcus Crowley's other favour, I remembered.

“Why?” the earl demanded.

“For two reasons”, Sherlock said. “Firstly, I wanted to see if Lord Thomas’ elder brothers had any of Chemical B in their possession. I struck gold, as the saying goes; my man found not only the chemical, but also syringes that were later shown to contain traces of that chemical. It was relatively easy for Lord Daniel and Lord George to dose their younger brother's lemon juice with Chemical B, and they were careful to always do it on Full Moon nights, suggesting to their father that perhaps all those stories about werewolves were not stories after all. The whole was aimed at making you, their father, doubt his suitability as an heir.”

“This is all lies, father!” Lord Daniel said hotly. “What proof is there? The word of this man?”

Sherlock turned slowly on him. The nobleman backed away.

“Well”, he said, his tone icy, “we shall know very soon.”

“What do you mean?” the earl said.

“I spoke with Lady Ursula yesterday”, Sherlock smiled, “and we set a little trap. After some consideration, we decided upon the crystallized ginger that her two brothers-in-law so preferred. There seemed a delicious irony in that they had tried to poison their brother through his favourite sweet, and that justice would come at them through theirs.”

“What justice?” Lord George demanded, looking very pale.

“Lady Ursula replaced the normal crystallized ginger at the breakfast table with sweets that had been dosed with exactly the same chemicals that you dosed your brother with”, Sherlock smiled. “So if you truly are innocent and it was all a practical joke, all well and good. But if you did try to poison him – then you should be about to have – sorry, doctor, but I am going to say it – a most hair-raising experience!”

The earl turned to his two elder sons.

“Is this true?” he demanded.

Their silence spoke volumes. Both hung their heads.

“I think that you both need to be away from here for a long time”, the earl said coldly. “My interests in South Africa need closer attention. You will go there. This week.”

Both men bowed their heads, and left without a word. The earl turned to Sherlock.

“How can I ever thank you?” he said.

“Thank Lady Ursula”, Sherlock smiled. “I think the doctor and I both agree that she is a most remarkable lady!”

+~+~+

We dispatched the promised telegram to Miss Kelley and returned that same day to resume packing. Mercifully we would not be losing contact with the Lindbergs, as we would be within an easy drive of Eastbourne and the Singers (and “Marseilles”!). We spent our last ever night in 221B, making love slowly and passionately.

The following morning, our bags were packed and stood ready by the door. Whilst we waited for the cab we had ordered to arrive, we both looked around the rooms that we would probably never see again. Despite the love I felt for the cottage on the downs, I still felt sad at leaving the scene of so many of our adventures.

“Our home”, I said, almost sadly.

Sherlock looked at his watch.

“The cab will be here in five minutes”, he said. “We should say goodbye to the old place.”

I was about to agree when he suddenly pulled me into a kiss, his tongue pushing into my mouth. I was feeling a little weakened as he had scented me after my shower that morning, and that always affected me so. He pushed me back against the door, and continued his assault.

I moaned in pleasure, then again as I felt his hand working inside my trousers and underpants. Those long fingers of his wrapped around my rapidly-hardening cock, and began to jerk me off. I was putty in those hands, and only his support kept me from collapsing to the floor as he jerked me towards an orgasm that left me breathless. He grinned at me, and wiped his hand on the inside of my underpants before withdrawing it.

“You have the worst timing!” I grumbled. “The cab-driver will hate us!”

“At least you can remember our last moments here with fondness”, he grinned unabashedly. “Or at least remember the fondling. Besides, I need to keep you on your toes, old man.”

“I am only two and a half years older than you”, I grumbled. “And why?”

He opened the door and picked up his bag. Most of our luggage had gone on ahead the previous day, and we each had only one bag left. Our personal possessions had gone then too, but even so, it felt a wrench to leave a place where I had been so happy. Even if the dust left by the maids sometimes made my eyes water.

“Because we have to spend this evening christening every room in the new cottage, remember!” he grinned, slipping away before I could say anything.

Then again, I suppose that there were one or two things to be said for moving house.....

+~+~+

The journey to the cottage seemed interminably long, and we finally rolled into Acklington Station, where the carriage Sherlock had arranged took us the remaining miles to our new home.

Our. Home. Such wonderful words. Two late middle-aged – not old! - men, one of whom had done so much good in the world. We deserved our retirement.

I smiled as we drew up outside the cottage. The old nameplate with the utterly unimaginative “Hill Cottage” had been replaced by a new one. Our new home, most appropriately, was “Elementary” (my choice, and I had scowled at someone when he had suggested “Dundetecting”!).

I had forgotten, or did not think to recall Mr. Jimmy Collins' warning that we would have three more adventures to enliven our golden years. Instead I looked across at the man that I loved more than life itself, and smiled. Good things did happen, after all.

+~+~+

Postscriptum: The earl kept his word, and his two oldest sons were dispatched on the “Cameroon” to the Dark Continent. It seems however that once again, a higher power decided on a rather greater punishment, for they went down with that ship off the coast of Liberia. The earl himself died soon after, and Lord Thomas succeeded to the title and the estate at Stalwarton, where he and his redoubtable wife continue to prosper.

+~+~+

Next, some vignettes from our early years at the cottage, leading up to the first of the three cases that would temporarily interrupt our halcyon existence there.