I married Mary Morstan in January of 188-, shortly after the turning of the year. It was not a fashionable time to wed, but we had neither funds nor inclination for fashion. We moved into a tidy house in an unfashionable area, appropriate for a young physician and his wife. Consulting room and dining room on the ground floor, drawing room and bed-chamber on the first floor, maid's room and optimistic nursery on the second floor. I earned enough to provide us with a maid of all work and a part-time cook. Mary seemed happy; her parents were pleased.
I encouraged Mary to spread as many lace doilies as she saw fit. Damn Holmes anyway.
Holmes, for his part, set fire to the Baker Street lodgings. That spate of ill humour concluded, though, he accepted my marriage with no more than his usual bad grace, and merely showed up every day or two to demand entertainment; but even that declined as the weather heated and the criminal class stirred. I did, I confess, not infrequently join Holmes on his adventures.
As summer cooled into winter, Holmes retreated into his studies, declaring he would write a monograph on rail tickets or cigarette ash; indeed, during the whole month of November, I only saw him on those occasions when I called at Baker Street.
Therefore, when I opened the door to Holmes on a cold March night, it was quite ordinary. My maid had the evening off, so I performed my own necessary chores. I stood aside, waiting for him to push past me with his accustomed energy, but he did not. "Holmes? Are you all right?"
"No," he said. He doffed his hat and stepped inside while looking past me.
I shut the door behind him. "By God, man, tell me!"
"I do not know how," he said. At that, I took his elbow and ushered him up to the drawing room. If he had reached the point where he admitted to himself that he was unwell, then he was very ill indeed. He sat on the sofa and stared into the fire without once meeting my eyes. I removed his gloves and chafed his hands between mine to warm them.
Mary entered the room. "Ah, Mr. Holmes, I guessed it might be you. Is everything all right?" she asked. "You didn't take his coat, John."
"Yes," Holmes said. "The maid is not at home. That is crucial." He pulled away from me and rubbed his eyes.
"Holmes, please," I urged him.
"I find--" Holmes did not complete the sentence, but looked at Mary. "Mrs. Watson," he said.
"I'll leave you alone," Mary said, sweet woman.
"No! Far better for you to stay. If I must--you must stay, Mrs. Watson." Holmes started up, out of his seat. "I will explain."
But he did not. He stared at Mary as if lost. "Holmes," I said again.
"Yes, I have gone too far to discontinue," Holmes said, softly. He pulled his scarf from his neck and dropped it to the floor, followed by his gloves. Mary reached out her hand as he unbuttoned his coat, but Holmes turned away and faced the fire. I caught his overcoat as he dropped it.
Then, Holmes stripped out of his jacket, and before I could react, his waistcoat. He shrugged his braces from his shoulders and removed his shirt entirely. "Holmes!" I shouted, conscious of the modesty of my wife. Mary pressed her handkerchief to her mouth.
Holmes stood, bare to the waist, entirely indecent in my drawing room. Once I recovered from the shock I realized what he was showing me. His stomach was swollen grotesquely. He could not even button his trousers; once the support of the braces was absent, he had to hold his lower garments up with his hand.
"Let me see," I said. Such a large swelling, so quickly grown--for I had seen him in the boxing ring only three or four months ago--could only be a mortal affliction. "Were you injured?" It was a foolish question, but it was a doctor's question. I knelt and palpated the swelling and found it firm and regular.
"I'm neither injured nor ill, Watson."
I ignored such a preposterous statement, as I would ignore his cocaine ravings. My friend was intelligent, frighteningly so, but not always rational in the way of ordinary men. "Is there pain?" I asked him.
Holmes grabbed my hand where it rested on his stomach. "I am not ill, Watson. Listen to what I am telling you and take in all the facts, even the ones you ignore, even the ones your entire life tells you cannot be true. Use all your intellect, untainted by what you have learned. And look at me. Everything you need to know is here in front of you. I am not ill."
I looked into his eyes and saw desperation.
"Look at me for once, Watson," Holmes said.
I looked at Holmes, looked at his body. His limbs were wiry and strongly muscled, his skin pale and fine, though scarred. He bore knife scars on his ribs and chest, and white needle points along the veins of his arms. He bore no hair on his chest, though a few dark marks, not unlike a sailor's tattoo, gave that impression. His skin was brown on hands and face. He bore faint, sparse stubble on his upper lip; he was not a hairy man apart from his forearms.
His throat worked as I examined his body. I found him in good flesh, neither thin nor fat. His nipples were enlarged, I noted, concerned that could be a symptom of his abdominal disorder. There were finer, older scars hiding in the pale skin of his chest. A white line under his right nipple turned sharply and curved along the line of his ribs. There was the gunshot wound I had cleaned and sewn, healed to a jagged star. The swelling began under his stomach and extended down to the pelvis. I palpated the swelling as far as I could while leaving his trousers in place. "Holmes, we should retire to my consulting room. This is not the place."
Holmes let out an impatient breath. "Just see me, Watson!" he said. Mary gasped, suddenly, and sat down. "Your wife understands me. Can you? Please, Watson."
I shook my head. I could not imagine what he wanted me to see. I saw a man, my friend, whose body was quite familiar to me, with a terrible distortion that I could not diagnose without time and tests. I felt slight movement in his abdomen, as of gas, and guessed this might be an intestinal disorder, perhaps even cancer. His stomach was swollen much like a woman's in the middle progression of pregnancy. I remembered all I could of the anatomy of the abdomen and tried to guess what organs might be affected.
"I see why you insisted on my presence, Holmes," Mary said. She sniffed and pressed her handkerchief to her eyes. "Yes, thank you. I am quite sure of my husband."
"Mary?" I looked at her, my hand still resting on Holmes's stomach.
"Oh, John," she said.
"You disappoint me terribly," Holmes said. His voice was cold. I believe he did not mean it in jest.
At that, he let his trousers fall to the floor, and I reacted perhaps not as quickly as I should have. "Holmes!" I cried. "For heaven's sake!" I pulled his trousers back up, my wife half gasping, half laughing behind my back, before I realized what I had not seen; before I realized, in fact, that Holmes was not exposing his membrum virile to my wife, for he did not have one.
Thus, when I realized at long last that my intimate friend Sherlock Holmes was not a male, I was kneeling in the most compromising of positions, my hands inside his clothing. I released him at once. His trousers fell to the floor again. My wife laughed at me. "Oh!" she cried. "Oh, John, you blind man!"
Holmes breathed heavily. I averted my face and looked at my wife instead of him. "Mary, how could I have guessed at such a thing?" I asked her.
"Yes, how indeed," Holmes said bitterly. "How can such a monster as myself exist?" I heard him pull his clothing into place.
Mary stood, all laughter gone. "Please, Sherlock, you must--" She reached out to him; he drew himself stiffly away.
"Do not, madam, imagine because I am not a male, I am necessarily a female," Holmes snapped.
"Your belly argues otherwise," she said, but did not press him further.
"You are pregnant," I said, simply to say the words aloud.
"Lacking a more suitable word, I yield to the diagnosis, Doctor Watson." Holmes picked up his shirt.
"Has the baby quickened?" Mary asked.
"Yes," I said, realizing what I had detected in his body. Not the movement of gas, but the movement of a child. I sat back on the carpet of my drawing room, my back against the sofa. "By God, Holmes! How did it happen?" I looked at him again and found I could not think of him as female. I certainly could not imagine him in a position--in a pose--in the arms of a man. Lying under a man, good God! Impossible.
"Despite your husband sharing quarters for several years with such a creature as myself, my condition has nothing to do with him, madam," Holmes told Mary. His tone was still as cold as I had ever heard from him.
"I understand fully," Mary said.
"I do not think you possibly could. Are you aware of the existence of sodomites?" Holmes asked. "Those men with an affinity for other men?"
He appeared to be asking me. "Of course," I said. I was a doctor, after all, and a soldier; I had witnessed my share of rendezvous under the Afghan moon. It was hardly the conduct of an English gentleman, but very little of soldiering was gentlemanly.
"They take me for one of their own," Holmes said. He twisted his mouth into something like a smile. "I am far more unchaste than you think me." His eyes raked over me as if I were some dog on the street. I could bear it no longer.
"Holmes, please do not blame me for my inability to guess something so far beyond everything I know!" I shouted.
"I shall blame as I like! I shall be angry as I like! I shall continue on my course!" Holmes roared in return.
I found my strength and pushed myself to my feet, carelessly bracing myself with my wounded arm. The bolt of pain only angered me further as I crossed the few steps to Holmes. "Then why come to me, if only to pity and berate me for my shocking ignorance?"
Holmes planted his feet and held his tongue, piercing my soul with his fierce dark gaze.
Mary touched my back. "Because, of course, he wishes us to take in his child and pass it as our own, John," she said. I unclenched my fists. Holmes lifted his chin.
I did not ask Holmes to confirm her deduction. In that moment, I could not bear to hear his voice. Her voice! A woman's voice, though he denied any feminine quality. My thoughts whirled around the essential pronoun.
"Again your wife out-races you. Another instance and I shall think badly of you."
"Oh, stop it! Come into my consulting room. I need to examine you." I gestured downstairs. "I assure you my wife will be present to ensure I do not take any liberties with your person."
"No, indeed. I have said all I intend to say tonight." Holmes donned his waistcoat over his loose shirt and pulled his jacket on over all. As he wrapped himself in clothing, his condition disappeared into nothing more than woollen layers. He put on overcoat and scarf and was a gentleman again. Without another word, he showed himself out.
I sat stiffly on the sofa. "Oh, Mary."
She lighted beside me and took my hand in hers. "I prefer not to feign a pregnancy," she said. "I am no liar. If we simply take the child in, we need not make excuses."
"Oh, Mary." I folded over, quite overcome, and rested my head in her lap. I did not know what to think; I thought a thousand things at once. Mostly I thought of my mad, stupid, wilful blindness. A medical man. I was a medical man.
"In fact, society will assume it is Holmes's natural child... and they will be perfectly correct," she mused, stroking my hair.
Sleep eluded me that night. I finally collapsed over my medical books, much as my dear (female!) friend was wont to do, as if I could absorb the information through my skin.
I resolved myself to visit Holmes alone the following morning. I walked. I needed the cold air on my face and the old ache of my shoulder to clarify my mind. I scarcely knew what etiquette demanded of the situation; I had lived with him in the greatest intimacy and never suspected that--that he was a woman? No. I could not think of Holmes as a woman, neither as a lady in a silk gown and diamonds, nor a working woman in brown stuff and bonnet, nor a fortune-telling gypsy, nor a gay girl lifting her skirt for shillings in the square. Nothing fit him.
I imagined him in Queen Victoria's crown and widow's weeds. That fit slightly better; he might don that as a disguise, or for a masquerade. I arrived at Baker Street as confused as I had begun. My former landlady answered the door with a pin loosening from her cap. Clearly Holmes was in a temper. "Mrs. Hudson," I greeted her.
"Mr. Watson," she sighed. "I'm glad to see you." She showed me inside, and I saw the cause of her alarm as I ascended the stairs. There was a broken teapot on the floor outside Holmes's room--a cheaply produced item, for Mrs. Hudson was no fool--and a brown stain down the stair. A cream cake was perched atop the bronze statue of an eagle in the hall.
I knocked. Mrs. Hudson retrieved the cream cake and retreated down the stairs. Holmes did not answer. "Holmes," I said. "Please, I must speak with you."
I waited. Holmes unlocked the door. "Come in, then," he said, in his soft, un-womanly voice. He wore his ragged dressing gown--a garment not aged, as one might think, but destroyed by contact with sulphuric acid in one of Holmes's experiments--pyjamas stolen from my wardrobe, and slippers. The distension of his abdomen was clearly visible once my eye knew what to seek.
His rooms were covered by his usual mess. A stack of letters sat on his desk; ordinarily I would peruse them, interested in his work, but this was not an ordinary visit, and I did not feel entirely welcome.
Holmes sat by the fire and stretched out his legs on the ottoman. I sat in the chair beside him, setting my hat, gloves, and cane on the floor beside the chair. "We would accept and love your child," I said.
"Yes, I know," Holmes said. He took up his tobacco pouch and filled his pipe.
"I never thought you a monster," I said. "An enigma, a contradiction, an eccentric, but never a monster."
Holmes did not respond. He looked away.
"I have so many questions! I consulted my books but they're sadly lacking." I leaned forward, but Holmes was impenetrable. He smoked without acknowledging my presence.
So I waited. I looked into the fire and breathed in the tendrils of Holmes's pipe smoke that surrounded me. Only after he finished his pipe did he speak. "There are a thousand methods to end a pregnancy. I took none of them. I told myself, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, until last night I felt the child move, and I discovered my weakness. Now I find the process quite impossible," Holmes said.
"I am glad," I said.
"I am not." Holmes frowned. "I have no time for this nonsense. I have always striven to transcend my physical body."
"How did you do it?" I asked. "How is such a transformation possible?" I still saw Holmes's flat, manfully muscled chest in my mind's eye.
"Through effort and daring."
"Does your brother know?" His elder brother, Mycroft Holmes, was the only man in the world Sherlock acknowledged intellectually superior to himself.
"Of course. How could I hide from such a penetrating eye?"
Holmes smiled. "When I was born, my good parents thought I was a female, and my physique did not disprove that hypothesis. I'm informed I was a tolerably handsome girl. I had black ringlets, you see. Large eyes. Small, dainty feet." Holmes kicked off his slippers and examined his feet. They were far from dainty now, callused and scarred, the nail of the second toe of his left foot blackened and loose. "Oh, yes. Could you?" Holmes swung his foot into my lap.
"What did you kick?" I asked. I tested the nail and found it free of the bed; therefore, I ripped it away and tossed it into the fire, quenching the small spit of blood with my handkerchief.
"In the battle of flesh and iron, I have discovered that flesh invariably loses," I told him. I found a plaster and iodine in a table drawer, where I had placed them during my residency in these rooms, and dressed his wound.
I looked at Holmes carefully while he refilled his pipe. His hair seemed more lustrous, I thought, and his cheeks were fuller. He was well-fleshed, if not yet plump. Holmes continued, "I was convinced, from an early age, that I would grow up to be a man. My mother told me I would become a woman and I refused to believe her. I stole my brother's clothes--"
"A lifelong affliction, then," I said. No part of my wardrobe was safe from Holmes's depredations.
Holmes sniffed. "Necessity. Both you and my brother possessed far more clothes than you ever needed, and I not nearly enough. Thank you," he said, removing his foot from my lap. "I lived in India for my first thirteen years. We had little contact with English society, yet my parents insisted that we live by English rules, no matter how stifling and ridiculous we found them. When I was eight, my mother died, and at thirteen, my father followed her. My brother was twenty-one and assumed my guardianship. He was well aware of my--" Holmes stopped here and waved his hand.
"Convictions?" I asked.
"My deformity. The error in my makeup. Mycroft believed me when I told him I was male in every other regard. And so, on the boat from Bombay to London, we booked passage as two brothers, and Mr. Sherlock Holmes learned to be a boy. I gave up my black ringlets with relish."
"What name did you receive at your christening?"
"I cannot recall," Holmes said.
"Then I do not wish to recall."
"So you learned the art of observation... by learning to be male?" I asked.
Holmes inclined his head. "I knew how to be a child, free and wild. I had been given the instructions for womanhood by my mother. I learned the rules of manhood on my own. Some are exceedingly odd, my dear fellow."
"But your body? You cannot tell me you can change that through will alone."
"Oh yes, my body." Holmes sneered. "Short stature I could not alter. But the trappings of girlhood, that daintiness and delicacy men like you so prize--"
"That is not what I see in Mary," I objected.
"And yet she is dainty, and pretty, and light. Those qualities are easily altered through physical activity. Sun browned and coarsened my skin. As I developed my musculature through fighting, running, and riding, I lost any girlish softness."
"I examined you, Holmes. You have done much more."
"I have," Holmes said.
"How did you do it?"
"What did you do to your bosom?" I nearly shouted.
Holmes smiled in triumph at my outburst and answered: "A topical application of a cocaine derivative and an excellent set of knives."
I recoiled. "You--"
"Cut myself open and remade my body. More than once, in fact. I did not remove all the tissue in my first attempt. As for the rest, a solution of bull's testicles, regularly administered, has had an acceptable masculinising effect. I cannot copy your luxuriant moustache, but neither do I draw stares. Not for that. I appear to be what I am: A healthy, unfettered, vigorous--"
"Short," I said.
Holmes paused, his mouth open. "--man in the prime of life. You have recovered from your shock, I see."
"I shall never recover from this shock. I have decided to brush the dust from my boots and continue as a changed man."
He re-lit his pipe and blew a smoke ring in a thoughtful manner. "I thought you would discover me," Holmes said. "Surely, I thought, in such close quarters, I would make some error, betray myself in some way."
"Your eccentricities are so legion that I did not think to question the essential matter of your sex," I said. "I once stood in the room speaking to you as you were bathing and never saw. Nothing seemed amiss. I had no reason to peer beneath the water like Ahab looking for the whale."
"You would make a better detective if you were less polite."
"You're a marvel, Holmes. But you are showing," I said, looking down at his stomach. "In a matter of a fortnight or two, your condition will no longer be concealable. What do you plan?"
"To stay in my rooms until the entire ghastly business has concluded." Holmes struck his belly with his thumb.
"Mrs. Hudson is not so blind. I assure you, you will be found out. No, I believe I have a plan. Lie down before the fire."
Holmes raised his eyebrows but obeyed. I looked around for water, tea, some sort of liquid; I discovered a vase containing a wilted opium poppy and cast the flower aside, using the water to bedeck Holmes's brow with dew. I then pinched blood into his cheeks. "There. Now you look feverish. Attempt listlessness."
"I see," Holmes said. He closed his eyes and languished on the carpet.
I crossed to the door and opened it. "Mrs. Hudson? Holmes is unwell! Please call a carriage."
Holmes maintained an excellent impression of a febrile faint during the coach ride and all the way up the stairs to the nursery. We kept an extra bed there--and the old crib Mary's mother had saved for us, for we were hopeful, ever hopeful.
Holmes glared at me. Before the fire, Gladstone snored loudly.
"Are you ever going to speak to me again?" I asked. I set a nightcap on his head and tucked his unruly hair under the brim. Ringlets, indeed.
Mary smiled and poured Holmes a cup of tea. "Sugar?" she asked.
"He takes it very sweet," I said.
"I! Am not! Ill!" Holmes roared.
"Well done. You're playing your part perfectly. Now, I'll take a house by the sea. Bournemouth is lovely this time of year. Sea air will cure your debilitating chest infection in, at an estimate, four months."
Mary handed him the tea. "I will go mad," Holmes said.
"You've gone months without a case before. Mrs. Hudson will forward your letters. Perhaps you'll discover a new hobby."
"Hobby!" Holmes spat back. "Prison!"
"I can teach you to knit, embroider, paint, and play the piano. I am also qualified in botany, history, grammar, and use of the globes," Mary said.
"Excellent, Mary. Holmes is well up in geography but sadly deficient in knowledge of the heavens."
Holmes thrust himself back against the pillows and covered his eyes with his arm. "Torturers," he breathed.
We moved quickly, from necessity. I did not know how long Holmes could remain concealed in the nursery, whether from the necessary activities of our maid or his own restless peregrination. Mary packed our clothes and I packed my study, paying particular attention to volumes concerning gestation, parturition and the complications thereof. Mary arranged for the maid to stay at the London house and keep it aired. I might, after all, need to return to London to see a patient. A four-month holiday in the country would be a strain on our finances, but I felt no compunction in drawing upon Holmes's. I was thoroughly aware of his current state of affluence.
I then travelled to Baker Street to pack his clothes and essentials, and advance Mrs. Hudson the rent. Mary called on her friends to let them know she would be leaving town. These chores complete, we were prepared to leave for Bournemouth in the morning. I tapped on the guest bedroom door. "No entry!" Holmes cried.
"This is my house," I said, opening the door. I found Holmes sitting before the fire, dressed as I had left him in pyjamas and nightcap, but pressing a handkerchief to his eyes. "Oh," I said. I closed the door behind me.
"I am not distressed. My body has turned against me in the most ridiculous of ways." Holmes sniffed, angrily, and started up from the chair. He blew his nose. "Three months ago I desired oranges with a passion that overwhelmed me. Last month I could not eat a meal without fish. I have not been able to tolerate alcohol since this miserable condition began. Now I weep without cause. Four months, Watson? I cannot stand four minutes!" Holmes cast the handkerchief into the fire, or tried to. It fluttered limply onto the hearth.
"My dear Holmes," I said. I walked the few paces to his side and took his arm in mine.
Holmes gripped my hand. "But now that I have resolved to carry on, I must exercise patience and nurture the child well."
"You're a man of great will."
"I am not a man," Holmes said, looking at me under his lashes.
"Are you doing this to torment me? You tell me you are a man, then not a man, then a man again, and now no longer a man? Please, enlighten me, so that I know how to act!"
"Act as if I am your friend."
"Whether you are my female friend or my male friend makes a considerable difference."
Holmes scoffed. "Etiquette. Do you know that in India, there is a third sex called hijra? They begin life as boys and dedicate themselves to the goddess Bahuchara Mata by cutting off their sexual organs. The Queen, in her wisdom, has outlawed their practices as indecent."
"I'll thank you not to insult the Queen under my roof," I said.
"I did not insult the Queen. I mentioned her wisdom."
"There was a tone, Holmes."
"I heartily apologize." He scrubbed his face with the sleeve of his pyjamas. "My brother told me of the third sex after my own transformation. I was utterly ignorant as a girl. Told nothing, hidden from everything. I had everything to learn. I stuffed my memory full at random before I learned to--ah, Watson, I'm rambling."
"Please, I wish to understand."
"I am without focus. My mind feels soft and swollen. I'm terribly hungry. You dine at seven; what time is it?"
"Six-thirty. I'll bring up a tray."
"A third sex, and I am a fourth. Perhaps there are more. Clear your mind of preconception, Watson!" Holmes called after me as I fled the room.
I watched Mary undress for bed. Her long hair spilled over her white shoulders like honey. She released the busk of her corset and sighed with relief, breathing deeply as she hung the corset from the hook beside her petticoats. "Why do you wear stays?" I asked her.
Mary turned and smiled. She has a crooked smile, made uneven by her crooked teeth, but it is all the more beautiful for its unpractised, natural qualities. "Because I wish to look as well as I can," she said.
"But we're married now. You have ensnared me with your beauty. You are quite free to join the Rational Dress Society," I said.
Mary stepped up to the bed and took my head in her hands. "I can see when Holmes possesses you. I believe your hair turns darker. I wish to look well, just as you wish to look well, and we both wish our house to look well, so that we keep a respectable appearance and you continue to earn money as a physician. How many of your patients would come to a house run by a woman in trousers and headed by a Bohemian?" She kissed my forehead.
"Ah yes. We ordinary people do not have the freedom of Holmes."
"Holmes created his own path."
I took her hands in mine. "You must tell me if this is too difficult for you. I feel as though no man has ever asked so much of his wife."
"John!" she laughed. "Don't be absurd. I am prepared to bear your children; surely I can help your friend bear his."
"I intended to offer you a respectable home, not scandal and subterfuge."
"In fact you offered me fistfights, black magic, and Holmes in a false beard. I still accepted. Deduce me," she said. "What is my attitude toward a little adventure?"
"Mary, you angel," I said.
"No angel. A mortal woman, through and through."
In the morning I carried Holmes to the coach as I had carried him down the stairs from his rooms. He flopped limply in my arms, playing illness better than a stage actor. I had to lift Gladstone into the coach as well. The dog was nearly as lazy as Holmes.
I treated him exactly as if he were one of my pneumonia patients. I tucked warm rugs around him and checked his pulse. The disgusted looks he gave me were entirely un-needed, I thought.
"I'm hungry," Holmes said. "I must have food immediately."
"We had breakfast not an hour ago and the train station is twenty minutes away," I told him.
"There is a living creature inside me and it demands sustenance!"
Mary snapped open her large travelling bag and withdrew a small parcel wrapped in paper. "I have had some experience of women in a delicate condition," she said, handing the parcel to Holmes.
"I am in no sense a woman," Holmes growled, but he took the parcel, which proved to be a pie.
"But all those with child I have previously known have been women," Mary said. "My statement was precise and accurate."
Holmes eyed her askance, eating the pie.
Mary continued, "I have so desired to know you better, Mr. Holmes. What a chance this shall be!"
"I did not desire to know you at all."
"Holmes!" I cried. "If you cannot be polite to my wife I will leave you by the side of the road like the sack of old clothes you resemble!"
Holmes choked on the pie. He laughed, lips closed, hand clapped over his mouth.
"I understand. Emotions run high when you're in this state." Mary leaned forward and patted his knee.
Holmes coughed and glared at us both. Gladstone pillowed his head on Holmes's shoe.
Once we transferred to the train, Holmes fixed Mary with a calculating gaze. "Holmes," I said.
"I believe Mrs. Watson is entirely capable of defending herself from the feeble attack of an invalid," Holmes said.
"He has already accused me of a mercenary interest in your purse. Can he do worse and yet remain truthful?" Mary asked.
I took her hand. "Please, Mary, for the love of God and all the angels, do not challenge him, for he will take up the glove despite your sex."
"As he should. I am not afraid."
I resigned myself to disaster. I kissed Mary's hand, only praying that divorce would not ensue. Holmes, wrapped up well and stroking Gladstone's head absently, regarded us both.
"You have been married for a year," Holmes said at length. "You are clearly physically enamoured--"
"Holmes! Some decency!"
"Decency, of course. How thoughtless of me to mention copulation to a married woman."
"Holmes--" Was this, then, why Holmes disdained the company of women? Was he so wholly incapable of curbing his tongue?
"I never dreamed you were so sensitive, old man. You blush like a convent girl. Your wife is not nearly as retiring." Holmes kicked my foot. "I exposed myself to you, body and soul, and you baulk now?"
"My husband and I couple every other day," Mary said.
"He would deduce it if I did not own it," Mary said. "Yes, Mr. Holmes, our marriage is a success in this regard."
"You fear you are barren," Holmes said.
"Yes." Mary sounded quite calm.
"You were delighted at my exposure, not as disturbed as you should have been. Yes, I should have seen this before. You will overlook my scandalous nature because you want a child so very much, and the nearest thing to Watson's child is mine. Perhaps even superior."
"No, you are wrong in that last," Mary said.
"But not in the rest."
"Not at all. But I am afraid, Mr. Holmes, that John's child would be far handsomer than yours; also cheerfuller. But I am content with a plain, morose infant if the alternative is no infant at all."
"Handsomer?" Holmes's hand clenched on Gladstone's ear. Gladstone emitted a muffled grunt.
"Far handsomer," Mary said, squeezing my hand.
"His hair is nearly red!"
"His features are regular and his teeth are excellent. He is tall and manly. Then, of course, there is his fine moustache. My husband is several grades handsomer than yourself, Mr. Holmes."
Holmes's nostrils flared and he threw himself back into the seat. I realized, to my very great amazement, that Mary had won.
I loved her more than ever.
The remainder of our journey was very pleasant, though Holmes spoke Latin in his sleep.
I took a cottage in the village of D--, near Bournemouth, with a high garden wall so that my friend could take his exercise unseen. Directly upon arriving, he decided to polish his skills at fencing. When I reminded him that he was an invalid, and that his cries and whoops carried across the countryside, he gagged himself with his scarf.
I retreated to the kitchen, where Mary was preparing dinner with the help of Mrs. Beeton's vast Book and Gladstone was stretched out beside the stove, oblivious and content. Mary was a novice in the craft of cooking; she had been a governess, after all, and that was not among her duties. We did not feel we could risk a maidservant in this country house and hired a charwoman from the village instead.
"He seems more animated," Mary said.
I kissed her. "I see that dinner is this handsome fowl."
"Yes. I'm boiling it; the method seems simple and quick. I quite fear Sherlock's stomach if I'm wrong."
The layout of the cottage was thus: On the ground floor, a dining-parlour to the left of the front door and the drawing room to the right. Behind, the kitchen and servant's bedchamber. On the first floor, the largest bedchamber sat to the right, over the drawing room, while the bedroom to the left was constricted by the linen closet. With some regret, Mary and I took the smaller room. Holmes would chafe enough at his confinement without my attempting to place him in a small room. A chimney rose from each front room to the corresponding bedroom above, with the kitchen chimney providing additional heat to the larger bedroom. The kitchen communicated to the back garden through a simple door sheltered by a large overhang. The back garden contained the outdoor water closet, shed, and abundant rose garden. The cottage lacked plumbing entirely, water being provided by a well. The furniture was at least ten years old, but well enough made to admit no complaint from our party.
After he tired himself fencing, Holmes tested the water with his microscope, having insisted that we bring as much of his apparatus as possible. "Ah," he said. "Quite safe. I see no sign of Salmonella, and the cesspit seems well constructed." He took a drink, rolling it around his mouth with great care. "No excessive metals or other contaminants. Well done, old man, you haven't poisoned us."
"Bravo! Health and long life!" Mary cried from the kitchen.
I stood in the parlour door, incredulous. "Are the pair of you colluding to laugh at my expense? Joining together like a gang of common criminals?"
"Please, Watson, were I a criminal, I would be a very un-common one." Holmes tossed back the water and pushed past me into the kitchen. "Dear Mrs. Watson, please do not reduce me to gnawing on calf-skin volumes for my nourishment."
"There's bread and butter. Dinner will be ready when it's ready."
Holmes glanced into the pot. "Fourteen minutes," he said. I heard rattling and entered fully into the kitchen to rescue the stock from Holmes's attention. "Where is the bread knife?" Holmes asked, looking into the cupboard.
"It's by the bread," I said. I cut him a slice. The landlord had provided us with a small but entirely satisfactory supply of foodstuffs. We would receive deliveries of food from the local merchants. We had everything we needed here, so that we could stay in perfect seclusion.
Holmes grunted. "My brain is failing me. I blame the child. I shall be an imbecile by the time I deliver." He snatched the bread from my hand and spread it heavily with butter.
"You'll recover," Mary said.
I posted a notice of my availability for medical consultation, but as there was a physician in residence of long standing and rather cheaper rates than I, as a Londoner, could offer, I soon found myself utterly without occupation. I began to feel some share of the restlessness which daily so overwhelmed my friend. I became engrossed for a time in Mary's ongoing culinary education. She, however, found Holmes more useful.
"Sherlock!" Mary cried one morning. On the counter beside the oven was a brown and rock-hard pan of scones. "Come tell me what I did wrong!" I was startled to hear her cry so loud. At home, she was soft and low of tone.
Holmes bounded down the stairs two at a time. "Oh! Currants, Mrs. Watson. A shocking waste of currants!" He prodded the stony pastries like they were specimens for dissection.
"Tell me what I did."
"The egg. Six eggs arrived this morning, four were consumed during breakfast. Two each for you and your good husband, none for me due to this damnable child." Holmes twisted his mouth. He had eaten a fried egg the previous day and had only just exited the kitchen door before purging it from his stomach. He continued, "After the interruption of the butcher boy, you resumed your labours, saw the single egg remaining in the rack, and thought you had used the other in the batter. You did not know that I had particular need of the albumen of an egg, and that I'd abstracted it from the kitchen one hour and twenty minutes ago. What a pity. Perhaps we could contrive a bread pudding from the remains."
"Perhaps I could mash it with milk as a salve for your offended digestion. It would make a creditable infant food."
"Humph!" Holmes sounded affronted, but then said, "Yes, what an excellent idea." He slid two scones into a bowl and poured fresh milk over them, retreating then back up the stairs with a spoon. I remained in the kitchen.
"John, if you watch me, I shall ruin dinner as well as tea," Mary said. She wiped the counter tops with a clean cloth.
"I'm sorry. I don't know how to enjoy peace and quiet, it seems."
"Why not write up stories about Holmes from your notebooks? They're marvellous, and he could hardly object. The newspapers have half the facts wrong and don't know anything of his methods. They think he is a magician. Then you could sell them to some magazine and this holiday would turn a profit."
"How mercenary," I said.
"How practical," Mary contradicted.
Shortly after our arrival, we received a call from Sir Walter Grey, local squire. "Is it true you have the famous Sherlock Holmes among your party?"
The man himself was secreted upstairs. "Yes, he's the reason for our presence here. He contracted an infection of the chest that required immediate removal from the London air," I said. The lie had become so natural it felt like the truth on my lips.
"Well, we'll soon have him springing from his bed! Sea-air is healthier than any other," Grey said. "Will you journey to the sea to bathe? The water cure is capital!"
"I hope so. But Holmes is suffering a great deal, and I do not like to move him yet."
"He is sure to get his rest in a village like ours. No criminals to disturb him!"
"We shall see," I said. I had my doubts. Holmes found interest in corners I would never have dreamed to inspect.
No more than two weeks into our retreat, I noticed a curious succession of small boys outside our front garden gate. They would turn up, look at the first floor window, sigh, and depart. After the fifth such child, I put my notebooks away and climbed the stairs to confront Holmes.
I found him sitting on the floor, un-tucked shirt billowing over his open trousers in a slovenly manner, looking at a collection of weeds tagged with small paper labels spread out on the floor. "You are in confederation with the children of the neighbourhood," I said. "What are you about?"
"Why, I have a case," Holmes said. "A trivial case, but interesting nonetheless, due to the limitations of my movement. The case itself it not the thing, you see, but rather the methods of deduction." He tried to stand, but overbalanced and fell backwards. It was the first time I had seen him both ungraceful and sober in all the years I had known him. I reached down and pulled him upright without a word.
"Anything I'd be interested in?" I asked.
"Not a bit. It's all brain work; no shooting, no ladies, and an utter lack of explosives." Holmes bent awkwardly and picked up the bunches of weed.
"Ah, so you have the children doing your investigating for you."
"Efficient, invisible, useful, and cheap. Young boys can go anywhere. I certainly did," Holmes said.
But one day later, a girl of fifteen and a boy of ten knocked on the door of the cottage, their resemblance marking them as brother and sister and their clothes marking them as a tradesman's children. "Our Sarah has a drawing for Mr. Sherlock Holmes but she's not to come near him because our mum says she has a weak chest and Mr. Sherlock is infectious," the boy said. The girl curtsied, looking a little abashed.
I took the folded paper. "Ah. Very wise, your mother. What's your name?"
"Eustace Miller and my pa is the innkeeper and our Sarah is the best artist in the county!"
The girl curtsied again.
"Well done. Ah--what does Holmes owe you?"
"Our Sarah wouldn't ask for money to such a great man when there's a criminal running around, our pa would never hear of it and we're very well off besides!" Eustace said firmly.
"I do apologize. Thank you, Miss Miller, Master Eustace. I'll see that he gets it."
Sarah curtsied for a third time and both children left. I unfolded the drawing as I took it upstairs. A wall, on a long strip of paper, showing every crack, every splash of mud, every weed.
Upstairs, I found Mary sitting with Holmes, examining a fresh set of plants. Rose branches this time. "Yes, yes, I heard, give it to me," Holmes said.
"So, tell me about the case," I said. I gave Holmes the drawing.
"It's rather interesting," Mary answered as Holmes examined the paper. "A horse was stolen, from a poor man who certainly could not afford the loss. A tragedy for his family. Mrs. Smith told me about it and I told Sherlock." Mrs. Smith was the charwoman. "Sherlock organized the local boys to find clues, and one found this bit of rose leaf in the horse's bucket, and another found a weed in the footsteps in the stable. Sherlock then had the boys collect samples of corresponding plant from the gardens in the area, and we're examining them for their similarities in growth state, parasitism, and colour."
"We know the house, and now we know the man. It is the younger Broadwood, not the elder. Look at the length of stride clearly evident in this drawing. Watson--John--give my compliments to the Millers, Miss Sarah is indeed an excellent artist. Find Squire Grey. Confronted with authority, the young man will confess. Hooker the carter will need that horse back by morning if he's to continue his rounds." Holmes sighed with contentment and took up his pipe. "I do wish I could see the resolution of the case."
"We'll be sure to tell you all about it," Mary said. She stood. "I'll just get my hat, John."
"Mary, this is no place--"
She smiled and stroked my arm, then walked past me into our room, where she donned her hat and coat. I retrieved my own hat and coat without further protest. I knew when I was defeated.
The conclusion of the case took place exactly as Holmes had predicted.
The younger Broadwood burst into tears. "I only wanted to marry Miss Maggie! She wouldn't have me! I thought--I thought--"
Miss Maggie Hooker stormed over. "You thought to beggar us so I'd have to come to you? I won't 'ave you because you're an idiot! And a cad! And a drunkard besides! Don't never come near me again!" She shoved Broadwood savagely, causing him to sob afresh.
Squire Grey shook hands with me. "Thank Mr. Holmes for me. Thank him kindly! To think he could work this out from his sickbed!"
"Only too happy," I said.
"You were wrong about the ladies and the explosions," I told Holmes later. "There was a lady and an explosion, both."
Mary and I were invited to dinner at the Squire's house the following Friday. Holmes stayed home with an improving book. Three weeks later, he discovered the location of a prized silver thimble from the laying pattern of the family hens; a fortnight afterwards, he began a series of experiments on the growth of the roses in the garden. I was relieved that he found so much diversion in the country.
There were, of course, long periods of indolence between intellectual labours. I occupied myself in rereading my notebooks, after Mary's excellent suggestion; Mary, of course, had the work of cooking and mending. Holmes would pace the house and rose garden, barred from the front garden by the increasing bulk of his body, complaining of the changes in his balance and constitution, if he could not be tempted by violin or book.
On one such morning, Holmes was thrashing on the sofa, attempting to attain relief of the aching in his back. I placed a pillow under the small of his back and another under his neck, but he did not declare himself comfortable until he was well tucked up with shawls and Gladstone snored across his knees.
Holmes rested a hand on his stomach beneath the coverings. "I can feel the child," he told me. "It turns somersaults."
"It's very small," I told him. "It has room, even in your body."
Mary opened her work-box. Within, she had the start of a set of baby-clothes. "I do wish that I could ask my mother for the family christening dress," she said. "But perhaps I can, once we return, and we could have a portrait made."
Holmes watched her sew with the concentration he normally reserved for his experiments. "Isn't that tedious?" he asked her.
"Quiet," Mary said. "Absorbing. I think of the baby with every stitch. When I sew for John, I think of him. It becomes quite pleasant, in fact."
"Extraordinary. I could never bear to learn female skills. I found no pleasure in them, rather torture."
"I cannot imagine you as a girl," Mary said.
"Wild," Holmes replied. "I was uncontrollably wild. A savage beast, according to my governess. She was not as competent as you; I scared her off the continent entirely. I was born in India, you see."
"Ah. I did wonder how you managed your transformation in secret," Mary said.
"Young Miss Holmes died in India; young Mr. Holmes arrived in England. My father was always convinced I would be murdered, so perhaps I proved him right. I ran away at every opportunity. My father called Mycroft home just to watch me and attempt to curb my spirit."
"I know very little of India, but it seems a vicious place for a child."
"Nonsense. There are thousands, millions of Indian children, and it's a perfectly fine place for them. I always hoped to blend in. I darkened my skin with dust, I bound my hair in a turban, I traded my English dresses for the clothes of a Punjabi boy, but it never worked. In his youth, Mycroft could track a mouse through a cornfield." Holmes sighed and shook his head. "I was never afraid of the unknown when the known was so terrible."
"Did they mistreat you?" Mary asked.
"Not at all; or rather, they tormented me hourly in the guise of care. My mother put me in a corset at six to train my figure," Holmes said, his mouth twisted into a ghastly sneer. "I was bound up in stockings and laces and skirts and forbidden to run or jump or shout. When I cut off my long hair, my father bought false hair, stifling and heavy as an iron helmet. Yes, I was most cruelly mistreated! A daily beating would have been preferable."
His voice was highly agitated. I leaned over and squeezed his foot in its soft slipper, the only part of him I could reach. Gladstone bestirred himself enough to lap at Holmes's hand. "Calm yourself, game-cock. You couldn't go back now if you tried."
Holmes took a deep breath. "No. Quite right. But when I think of the time wasted, it drives me to distraction."
"There are also women who chafe at such restriction," Mary said, her fingers still busy on the fine white cloth. "Suffragettes; Mrs. Bernhardt; Mrs. Nightingale; Mrs. Adler. My friend Alice who wears a bicycle costume with bloomers from morning to night."
Holmes frowned at her. "And you, Mrs. Watson, who never learned to cook, and who was not forced to work for a living, but rather chose that path; no need to confirm my conclusion, I know I am correct."
"Perhaps," she said.
"How interesting. I'm a boxer, did you know that? I suppose Watson hasn't regaled you with seedy tales of blood and gambling."
"No, though I wish he would," Mary said.
"There are female boxers as well. I would not like to go up against one. They fight in the least sportsmanlike way possible."
"This is inappropriate for the drawing room, Holmes," I said.
Holmes sat up. Gladstone grunted in protest. "Watson, if you dare tell me what is appropriate conversation one more time, I shall rip off your arm and beat you to death with it, pregnant or not." He flung himself back onto the sofa, glaring at me.
"And yet you so often need reminding," I said, not the least bit threatened by him.
"Kindly tell me as many blood-soaked stories as you like. My appetite for penny dreadfuls is my secret shame," Mary said. She smiled at us both.
Two months into our retreat, we received a new caller: Mrs. Irene Adler. Or perhaps it is Lady Irene, or another name entirely; much about her is obscure. I answered a knock at the door and found her in elegant travelling costume on our doorstep. "Is he dying?" she asked.
"How lovely to see you, Mrs. Adler."
"And you, Dr. Watson. I hear you have married. My congratulations."
"Thank you." I stood aside, letting her into the cottage. "He is not dying. He needed a change of air. He will recover fully, I believe."
"Is he awake? May I see him?"
"No, indeed, and I would have told you as much had you written to me first." I could not risk company who knew Holmes well.
"Of course you would. Unfortunately, I don't take no for an answer," Adler said, and she stamped her heel upon my foot with considerable force. I cried out in pain and fell back onto the sofa; thus, I was quite unable to follow her as she ran up the stairs, and was limited to limping after her and praying that Holmes was safely in bed.
He was. Adler sat on the side of Holmes's bed and held her hand to his forehead. "You barbarous woman. I should throw you out at gunpoint," I said. I wiggled my toes inside my boot to test for breakage.
"You are welcome to try," Adler said. "I worried about you," she said to Holmes.
"Yes, I'm afraid I was careless," Holmes said. With a sweeping gesture, he thrust the bed-covers back, exposing his gravid state. He sat up, holding his belly.
I may have groaned. All our efforts, come to naught by one of Holmes's caprices.
"She already knew, old man," Holmes said.
"I knew and Watson did not?" Adler looked at me with a broad grin, showing her excellent teeth.
"I could have been a great actor," Holmes said.
"This may shock you, Doctor, but I have had carnal knowledge of Holmes." She rested her hand on Holmes's thigh. Holmes raised his eyebrows and shrugged at me. "I took careful note of what was and was not present. How did this happen, you silly goose?" Adler asked, turning back to Holmes.
"I met a boxer with very poor aim." Adler laughed. Holmes continued, "Unfortunately, I was too drunk to realize he'd given me a left hook when I expected an uppercut, and now I am elephantine and unable to work."
I pressed my hand to my forehead. "You have done nothing but work since you arrived. Just because you've not dived out of any windows or broken any skulls, that doesn't mean you've been idle."
"He does not understand our guild," Holmes said to Adler.
"Oh, for heaven's sake. I'll be in the drawing room. Scream if she tries to kill you," I said, and retreated downstairs.
I retrieved my notebooks and paged through to look for a new case. With a baleful look upstairs, I decided on the curious case of the Russian noble, although with the delicacy of the case, I thought I had better make him Bohemian instead. I would not, though, change Mrs. Adler's name. I didn't believe for a minute that it was her true name and the world deserved fair warning.
But as I began to reread my notes, I heard voices echoing down the chimney that connected the drawing room to the bedroom.
"--inside you," I heard in Adler's flat American tones. "In the great detective. How I wish I had planted that seed in you. I would fuck you with my--"
That was more than enough. I blushed a livid red and hurried out into the garden.
Adler departed without staying for dinner. I attempted not to notice how self-satisfied Holmes appeared. It was entirely indecent.
"Holmes, I don't want her in my house again," I said after dinner. "She's dangerous."
"So am I."
"But I like you," I said. "I don't like her. I have my wife to think about, and, well." I gestured to his belly, our growing child. He was vastly expanded, unable to wear his own clothes any longer. I'd had to travel to the city to procure more voluminous shirts and trousers, which Mary had altered for him; he looked like a drawing of Humpty Dumpty in a child's story-book, or perhaps Mr. Pickwick given a full head of hair.
"Family life makes you unbearable, Watson," Holmes said. "I now prefer your wife."
"Don't bring Mary into your work!"
"She brought herself. This role of lord and master doesn't suit you. You exercise imperfect control over your chattel."
"Mary is not my chattel!" I shouted.
"Unable to master the fairer sex!"
"There is nothing fair about you!"
Holmes boxed my ear, a stinging, echoing clap. I recoiled, shocked.
"Oh," Holmes said. "And I felt so very contented. You funny little man! Do not think you can master me, order me, confine me, or insult me in that impudent way. Now leave me to my work." He rested his hands on his belly. His black eyes blazed. I found I did not know how to reply. I retreated, holding my ringing ear.
I found Mary at the top of the stair. She had heard all.
"I hardly know what happened," I said.
"Try again in the morning," she replied. "He will be less volatile then."
But I listened to Holmes's angry violin all night.
In the morning, in fact, Holmes seemed subdued, almost ashamed. I found I felt the same. I found the courage to speak first. "Holmes," I said. "When I spoke to you last night--"
His eyes narrowed, but he did not reply.
"It was not from--" brother to sister, I nearly said. I tried again. "It was from host to guest."
"Ah," Holmes said.
"Well. You were entirely within your rights, then."
"Yes, well. Bygones."
"Bygones." Sherlock turned his attention to his tea.
"I am laying you out once you deliver, though," I said.
"Mm. Take your best shot."
I managed to butter my bread before the argument bubbled up in me again. "Besides! Adler tied you naked in the hotel with the key between your legs. She could have been your undoing! I cannot imagine how you weren't exposed!"
"Constable Clark politely looked aside," Holmes said.
"And you still accept her into your home and your bed!" But I had forgotten myself; I glanced at Mary, ashamed. "Forgive me, Mary."
"She fucks like a sailor just sailed into port," Holmes said. I closed my eyes in despair.
"How? I admit I do not quite understand how male and male or female and female fit together," Mary asked, or perhaps I had fainted, and was experiencing a fever dream.
"If I tell you over breakfast, I'll make you a widow. Come, Watson! " I felt Holmes take my wrist and slap my hand vigorously.
I closeted myself in the drawing room all day, ignoring Holmes and Mary's tête a tête in the kitchen. I could not stop Holmes; I had come to terms with that long ago. Mary's willingness to listen, though, I was quite unprepared for.
Dinner was small and pleasant. Holmes reported that the child was sleeping quietly and praised Mary's new mastery of gravy. I related an amusing story of a patient with a wandering eye I had rediscovered in my notes. Mary resolved to tackle curry next, which pleased me but not Holmes. The child rebelled at spices.
After dinner, Holmes played for us, before complaining of fatigue and retiring early. "An excellent idea," Mary said, taking my hand.
In our bedroom, in the grey light of the half-moon, I asked her, "Are you conspiring against me with Holmes?"
"Conspiring, yes, but never against you, John." She kissed me; and then she climbed into my lap, and then--I cannot write it.
I will write that I love my wife dearly. I will write that Holmes smiled and winked insufferably for much of the following week. That is all. Too much, in fact.
Three months on, Holmes seemed far too large. I interrogated him as to the exact timing of the conception.
"November, you goggling goose. I am quite sure. A year after old Blackwood died," Holmes said, waving his pipe at me.
"But how can you be sure? You drink, Holmes. You drink a great deal. I've seen you lose days--weeks! How can you be sure?"
"I am sure."
"But how can you be sure?"
"Watson, had you ever been penetrated by a man, I am quite sure you would know it on the following morning, drunk or not," Holmes said. He placed his pipe in his mouth. "I have never been taken advantage of in my various drunken stupors. I refuse to list the signs and signifiers for your greedy ears."
I dropped back into my chair. "This is not idle curiosity. Eight months gone is entirely a different case to nine."
"I cannot trust you to bathe, shave, know what day it is, understand the rules of etiquette, or know that the earth goes around the sun--"
Holmes grunted. "I endeavoured to forget that! Now I shall surely recall."
"I most certainly do not trust you to time a pregnancy, not even your own!"
"Goodness. What a villain I am."
"Please do not be offended with me again."
"No. I do so love you, Watson. I can never be angry long." He blew smoke at me. "I am absolutely sure," Holmes continued. "I bleed when the moon is waning gibbous. The time of the month changes but the phase of the moon does not, not since I was twenty. I release an ovum, then, when the moon is waxing gibbous. On the full moon..." Holmes paused, sucking on his pipe. "Then I am rampantly horny, raging for a good hard fuck." He rolled the Rs around his mouth and spat them out in a cloud of smoke.
I swallowed at his crudeness. I did not like to think of him in the throes of desire. Not Holmes, with his magnificent brain.
"Have you never noticed that about the female sex, Watson? That onset of hunger and desire? I met my boxer on a full moon in November. Younger, almost a boy, slim, very clean of line and limb. He had a black eye and red knuckles. He approached me and I encouraged him, using the subtle signals of our ilk. We shared two bottles of wine in the moonlight before he submitted to my lustful desires. He thought I wanted to bugger him; he was willing, but he was relieved to find it was the reverse. I think he might have known my name. I don't recall his."
"Lies," I said, my voice rough to my ears.
"Then I do not wish to recall. I leaned against the wall with my trousers still on and let him take me, in his clumsiness and youth. I may have noticed that he did not use the servant's entrance. I may not have cared, in my unholy lust. I rode him twice--no, three times--dripping with sweat and covered in his vital fluids."
He paused to smoke. His eyes were dilated. I could not have stopped him for the world. "He saw my naked body, I believe, but he was too drunk to understand. I left him before morning. When I saw him next, he sidled up to me and said, 'I can't remember half what we done, guv'nor, but I would surely like to try that once again.' I shooed him back to his young friends. I have no attachments," Holmes said. He blew a smoke ring that wreathed his face in a growing halo, then faded around me, seeming to disappear into my clothes. "And in December, waning gibbous, I did not bleed."
I inhaled sharply, shaking off his spell. "Yes," I said, my voice as rusty as if I had not used it for months. "Eight months, then."
"Precisely." Holmes bit down on his pipe and heaved himself out of his chair with both hands. He waddled to the kitchen. "It is a low carriage, that is all. Tradition says that indicates a son."
I listened to him hack at the loaf of bread. I desperately wanted a cigar.
As Holmes increased, so did the sheaf of pages that told the story of our meeting and first case. I marvelled again at the difference between the broken man I had been, invalided home from the war, and the man I was now; this difference, I am sure, was due to the vitality of Holmes.
He read my manuscript in secret. I would never have known, save that he left notes: "Change my physical description. I wish to be tall." I would think this vanity except, of course, that he frequently went about in disguise. It would be a great advantage if the criminal classes were looking for a tall man in their midst, rather than short. To those ends I described his phiz as thin and hawk-like, and he seemed pleased enough.
I asked Mary to proof my document with some trepidation, but she only corrected some minor errors in my spelling, and told me it was wonderful. I did not ask Holmes for his approval; the fact that the package of papers was successfully conveyed out of the house and onto the mail coach was acquiescence in itself.
Holmes still refused to let me examine him. "I am perfectly fine. When I need attention, I will ask for it." But I did find him listening to the baby with my stethoscope; rather, Mary did, and I found them both listening to Holmes's naked belly, transfixed by this secret internal sound. "The tiny heartbeat is faster than mine, but follows nonetheless. Not in time, but not out. It reminds me of the music of India," Holmes said.
Mary smiled at him. "You must teach the child to be musical."
Holmes stroked his stomach. "Do come in, Watson. Come hear your son."
I moved fully into the doorway. "You cannot know it is a son."
"I dearly hope it is a son. I cannot imagine what my aberrant physiology would do to a daughter." Holmes winced. "He's kicking. Cease this insolence," he said, poking his stomach.
To my delight, I saw movement from inside Holmes's body, pushing back against his hand. "An elbow, I think!" Mary cried. She leaned close and touched Holmes's belly as well.
"Yes, his feet are pointing down, judging from the--" He grunted. "Force. The young villain."
I sat on the bed. Holmes took my hand and placed it on his stomach. "Exercise your paternal authority," he said.
My eyes raked over his body, taking in as much as I could. A livid red stretch mark lashed down his abdomen, but I could do nothing about that. His colour was good. The shape of his abdomen was firm and round--and then I felt a strong movement from the child, and my mind emptied. I imagined I could feel the tiny outline of the hand through layers of skin and organ and fluid. There, the head, and there, the line of the spine, there the legs crossed and frog-like. Thin now, but becoming fat, preparing for entry into the world.
"He is restless. He feels his confinement. He is your blood, Holmes, I do not think he will listen to me," I said.
"You will have certain advantages over him you do not have over me."
I leaned in. "See here, young... child. Your behaviour is intolerable. Kindly allow Holmes to rest so that he may resume the task of feeding and nurturing you."
"Excellently done. Most patriarchal. Entirely useless, he has just punched me in the stomach."
Mary stroked Holmes's stomach, up and down, until her hand rested beside mine over the baby's head. "Shush now," she said.
The baby kicked violently. Holmes groaned. "Mercy," he said. "Please, bring me my violin."
He sat cross-legged at the head of the bed and played the baby to sleep. Mary reclined at the foot of the bed and I sat beside her, quite content.
My story, "A Study in Scarlet," was accepted for publication immediately, for a frankly startling amount of money.
"We were distressed to hear of the illness of Mr. Holmes. Please convey our best wishes for his health and recovery. For your part, we would be very pleased to receive more stories of Sherlock Holmes," I read out.
"Yes, but less of yourself next time, and no more Mormon stories, please," Holmes said. "My adventures are far more interesting."
"Are there any more demands?" I inquired acidly. "Shall I make you a great lover as well? Shall I devise a pirate story, or let you rescue a princess?"
"No, in fact; I am rather taken with the idea of my own Boswell. Tell the truth," he said. "Show my black moods and eccentricity so that people can no longer claim surprise."
"The truth, but not the whole truth, of course."
"I think that we have both learned that your sense of discretion is more finely honed than my own."
I agreed fully. "I think you secretly want to be discovered and exposed. You would be the scandal of the age, a new Chevalier d'Eon."
"No, indeed!" Holmes cried. "Am I a Wilde, content to quip for my dinner? I must have work, or I rot."
"I see. And yet, this reckless intemperance is ingrained in your nature."
"Were it not, you would not have a ripening son, and your stories would not have a readership," Holmes said. "The stories of your patients are only just amusing enough for the dinner table."
"You cannot be certain the child is a boy," I said.
"Of course I can," Holmes rejoined.
As July turned to August, I became anxious. I took any excuse to touch Holmes, checking his temperature and pulse with my forefingers, leaning close to smell him for infection or the sweat of sickness. "Holmes, I need to examine you," I said for the thousandth time at least.
Holmes reclined in the shady garden seat, in loose shirt and bare feet, eyes closed, fanning himself. The day was unusually hot, easily eighty degrees, and he felt it exceedingly. "I know my physiology far better than you, my dear fellow. I am as healthy as a yearling bull."
I supposed I could have wrestled Holmes to the ground, or stifled him with chloroform, but I did not think he would soon forgive me for such an intrusion on his person. "I understand your unwillingness, but I do not find it rational," I said. Still, I brought a basin and cloth from the kitchen, and squeezed cool water over Holmes's throat and stomach. My disapproval did not preclude me from helping him so far as he allowed.
Holmes sighed and unbuttoned his shirt, his eyes still shut. The vast mound of his stomach sat round and still; the child was asleep. His nipples were engorged, but there was still no swell of breast beneath. His self-surgery appeared to be complete. He had gained some flesh, beyond the necessary bulk of the abdomen, so that his ribs and the muscles of his chest were well hidden; still, though, when I attempted to perceive Holmes as female, I failed. I saw him only as a man in an unusual medical state.
"I should like to dig a pond and remain there like a frog for the rest of this stifling season," Holmes said. I bathed his forehead and brushed water through his thick hair.
The kitchen door opened behind us. "Sherlock," Mary said. "The butcher boy is due. You must come inside."
"Damn the butcher boy," Holmes muttered, but he opened his eyes. I stood and grasped his hands, pulling him to his feet, but he leaned on my arm and rested his cheek on my shoulder. "Carry me. I am far too somnolent to carry myself."
"If you are too ill to walk upstairs, you are too ill to refuse a physical examination," I said.
Holmes growled and stood upright. I did walk him upstairs, though, with my hand beneath his elbow. I was very afraid for him.
I woke up. I did not know why. The room was perfectly black with no hint of sunrise. Mary slept beside me, her breathing soft and regular.
I closed my eyes.
Then I heard a sound. Yes, indeed, a voice. "Watson, I need you," a familiar yell, but not as loud as Holmes normally managed. I climbed out of bed and felt for the matches and candle by the bed.
I stepped out into hall before I lit the candle, preferring not to wake Mary if I could help it. Holmes's door was closed fast, but I could hear him breathing heavily. "Holmes? I'm coming," I said, opening his door.
There was a heavy, animal smell in the room. Holmes's eyes flashed as the light from my candle crossed his face; he was kneeling at the foot of the bed, holding onto the iron bedstead. His long nightshirt was sodden and clung to his legs. "Good God, is the baby coming?" I asked.
Holmes nodded. He grimaced and did not speak. I found and lit the oil lamp by the door, then the candle at Holmes's bedside. "This is the end of nonsense," I said, kneeling behind him.
"I'll offer you none. This feels wrong--" He stopped as the contraction gripped him.
There was fluid soaking the bed, but I could not tell how much was blood and how much water. "Mary!" I shouted. I picked up Holmes's shoe and threw it across the hall at the door to our bedroom, where it bounced with a satisfying bang. "We need you!"
Holmes groaned loudly. I pulled up his shirt and put my hand to his bottom but could not feel the baby's head, only quite startlingly ordinary female parts. I palpated his abdomen and located the head easily, in the correct downward position, ready to be born. I pictured the risks: Haemorrhage, over-long labour, misplaced cord.
Mary emerged. "John?"
"I need light! And water!"
"Oh!" Mary ran into the room and lit the other lamp. "I'll get the lamps from downstairs. Sherlock, are you all right?"
"No!" he shouted.
I held the candle closer to the bed and did not see blood. "I can't tell. I need more light, as fast as you can, please."
I felt the contraction ripple through Holmes's abdomen. He cried out. "Watson, I shall be torn apart!"
"Not so far, old man." I rubbed his back. "I don't see any blood. Simply the curse of Eve."
Holmes bared his teeth at me, panting.
Mary returned with two lamps held carefully upright in her hands. "Oh," she said as she lit them. "No blood. You frightened the life out of me."
"My medical bag, please. It's in--"
"Yes, I know, John." She crossed back to our room, kicking Holmes's shoe out of the way as she ran. She returned with my bag and said, "I'll bring up some water and put the kettle on to boil. Don't worry, Sherlock. I'm told it's always like this."
Holmes groaned. He rested his head on his forearm. I timed his contractions with my watch and found the labour well progressed. "How long did you wait before calling me?" I asked him.
"As long as I could. It started this morning." He lost his breath at the end from another contraction.
I cleaned my speculum with white spirit and rinsed it when Mary returned with the water. "Now, you must trust me, Holmes," I said.
Holmes nodded. Mary wet a cloth and wiped his forehead. I inserted the instrument by touch; Holmes growled and said, "Help me take this off, this is--" I did not hear what it was, for his voice was choked off again. With Mary's assistance, he tugged his nightshirt off and allowed me to see his body.
Now he seemed female, quite entirely female, as I evaluated the stage of delivery. "Soon," I said. "But there is no blood, your colour is good, the child seems well placed, and the pain is ordinary."
Male above, female below, like Hermaphroditus in reverse. "Ordinary," Holmes said.
"Yes, ordinary! Your body is rearranging itself to admit the passage of a child. Of course it will hurt! But not for long. A few hours, I should judge." I relented. "Morphine is considered safe," I said.
Holmes sighed and rolled onto his side. "You might have said so earlier."
"You only called seven minutes ago," Mary said. "Can you stand? You should be more comfortable if I can remove this mess."
"I'll help you," I said. I assisted him to stand, his arms around my neck and chest, bent almost double from the regular contraction of his abdomen. Mary removed the soiled blankets to the floor and spread the bed with an oilcloth and a clean sheet; then she knelt and cleaned Holmes's legs.
"This won't do," Holmes said. He grunted against my chest as his body seized. "Take off your clothes."
"I beg your pardon?" I said.
"You, Watson. This process has been quite unequal." He gasped and continued. "You have seen too many of my secrets. Take off your clothes."
I helped Holmes back to the bed. He rested on his side, glaring angrily at me, his arms wrapped around his abdomen. I looked at Mary.
"Off!" Holmes shouted.
"Oh, for heaven's sake! You're only delaying the morphine," I said, as I pulled my pyjama shirt over my head. "You have seen me nude a great many times! You never respected the privacy of the bath," I nearly shouted, unbuttoning my pyjama trousers. "Here. A naturist birth. You are the most absurd creature, Holmes." I knelt, feeling draughty and ridiculous, and retrieved the morphia and syringe from my bag.
I gave him a small dose, to avoid as much harm as possible to the child. There was a small risk with morphine that the child would emerge sleepy and sedated. Holmes had refrained from his usual vices of alcohol, morphine, and cocaine during his pregnancy, so I would not have to give him the monstrous doses I had become accustomed to. Holmes sighed with relief and said, "Yes, I can still feel it, but I no longer feel like I shall shortly die."
"Good," I said. I felt for the position of the child.
"Sit up," Mary said. "Here, lean against me." She sat against the headboard. Holmes willingly crawled into her arms. Mary passed her eyes over me with evident amusement, but made no comment.
"The mouth of your womb is normally tightly shut," I began to explain.
"Yes! I read your books as well. I know what is happening. No more impudent discussion of my womb; I do not wish to hear it."
"You're doing very well," I said, and in fact said very little else but that during the next few hours.
As the night greyed into dawn we felt a change; the shape of Holmes's belly altered and his grunts seemed more focused. Holmes knelt on the bed, Mary beside him, myself behind him, and with a great many howls, he bore down and pushed the child into the world.
"A boy," I said. "A well formed boy!" I rubbed a cloth over his face and listened to his chest for the crucial first breath. He took it. He was alive!
"Holmes! A boy!" I cried again as the baby wailed.
Holmes, prostrate against the mattress, said "Splendid," without much enthusiasm.
Mary, to my very great astonishment, stripped out of her nightgown and used it to wipe the baby clean. "One more push, old man, to expel the placenta, and then you're done," I told him. Holmes moaned piteously but followed my instruction.
Then the four of us, exhausted, soiled, and nude, rested in the golden glow of the morning light. I may have slept. I opened my eyes to find Holmes examining the infant boy as he lay curled on Mary's breast. "John," he said, "I do hope his head will not always look like this."
I laughed; then I pulled his thighs open and checked him for bleeding. "Insolent lout!" Holmes cried, slapping me away.
"What an excellent doctor I am," I said, still laughing, or perhaps one might say giggling. "Such a great doctor that I can bring a man to child-bed and he emerges unscathed! You aren't even torn, Holmes."
"I shall have to burn these bedclothes and buy new. I have no notion how to clean them in secret," Mary said, and sighed. "And the boy has excused himself. So much to do!" She stood with the baby in her arms and her hair falling across her shoulders. She was sublimely beautiful.
Holmes was already asleep again, his work complete.
I was despatched to the village for more milk and sugar. Holmes, of course, lacking any breast tissue, was unable to feed the child, but we were fully versed in the most modern, scientific infant formulas.
When I returned, I found Holmes dressed in a clean night-shirt, resting in our bed, and Mary sitting beside him, fully dressed, with the baby. I sat beside her and touched the baby's cheek. I was amazed, again, at the smallness of newborns.
"What shall we name him?" Mary asked.
"Sherlock," Holmes said. "An excellent name."
"I would prefer to be slightly more discreet," Mary said, smiling.
"Hamish," I suggested. My full name is John Hamish Watson.
"No, dear, indeed," Mary said.
We all regarded the baby. He was a healthy size, roughly seven pounds, with the characteristic misshapen head of the newly born, a great deal of brown hair, vague blue eyes, tender pink skin, and very little else in the way of distinguishing features. He had a full complement of limbs and digits and a cleanly cut umbilical stump. "Plato," Holmes said.
"I refuse," I said.
"Isaac," Holmes said.
"Of course. Or Antoine."
"We are not French."
"For Lavoisier," Holmes said impatiently.
"My father's name is Aloysius, but he is certain not to approve of our adoption of a foundling child," Mary said.
"Mine was Hamish. I don't see what's wrong with it."
Mary only smiled at me. "I'd rather not, dear."
"If he is a foundling, name him Moses," Holmes said.
"We are not Jews, either," I said.
"It occurs to me..." Mary said. "My great-uncle Horace, my favourite relation. He is the reason I insisted on having a profession. He used to tell me stories of his travels in Europe and North America. He was an actor, not entirely respectable; my father only allowed me near him because he was a valetudinarian and, my father thought, past all corrupting influence. He was a lifelong bachelor. He must have been a lover of men, now that I understand about that sort of thing; he died when I was fourteen, so I never had the chance to ask. He would find this entire situation a delight."
"Delight! An excellent emotion," Holmes said.
"Horace Watson?" I said.
"Horace Hamish Watson," Mary replied.
"No," I said. "Horace Morstan Watson."
"Horace Sherlock Watson," Holmes interjected.
"Holmes, his origin is meant to be a secret, you imbecile," I said.
When Holmes emerged from bed, he leapt into action once again--quite ill-advisedly. "I am offensively weak!" he shouted at me when I ventured into the garden. He lifted two rocks in his hands, over and over.
"Sit down before you collapse," I told him.
"Never again!" Holmes declared.
I stopped his action with a sharp rap to each wrist, so that he dropped the stones. In return, he nutted me. We grappled across the garden like schoolboys. He was, in fact, much weaker since his confinement, but his dirty tactics left me face-down in the dirt with his knees strangling my throat and my shin pinned in his arms. I expected any moment to feel his teeth in my ankle, but instead he rolled off me, panting. He held both hands to his shrinking but still prominent belly.
I wiped the dirt from my moustache. "If you have harmed yourself, I have no sympathy whatever," I said.
"I must begin a strict regimen. Heaven only knows what my enemies have been doing in my absence." Holmes tucked his hands beside his head and attempted a handstand from his supine position; he got as far as bringing his knees over his head before I rolled to my feet and grabbed his ankles, trapping him in a curled pose. "Watson, you annoy me," Holmes said.
"That is my role in life, I confess. You must rest or risk damage." I stepped backwards, forcing him to uncurl.
"Holmes, I love you dearly," I said, which at least held his attention. "You have just given birth. You are still bleeding. Yes, you tried to hide it, but I am a doctor and I know how the body works. Your organs are cramped and disordered. You must be gentle with yourself or infection and injury may result."
"I am no delicate English rose," Holmes said.
"As you have told me, over and over again. And I repeat: You are human."
There was a very queer look on Holmes's face. I felt him relent in my hands, and relax upon the ground. Rather than picking him up, I reclined beside him and placed my hand over his heart. He covered my hand with his own. He was hale, vital, his pulse strong and slow.
"I did wonder, from time to time, whether your concern was on behalf of the child, or me, or of overweening medical curiosity," Holmes said.
"The child is a stranger, newly arrived from an unknown land. You are Holmes," I said. "You are quite right. The pregnancy did rob your mental faculties." I rubbed his chest.
Holmes closed his eyes. "I am bleeding, yes, in a way. It has turned to brown muck. Quite disgusting, but normal."
"Yes," I said, satisfied. I rested my head on my arm and basked in the August sun. Before long, Holmes's head lolled to one side. He was asleep. I carried him inside to the sofa.
By September, Holmes was able to fit into his customary wardrobe. We walked to the village arm in arm. "What a lovely place this is," he said.
"Yes. A pity you weren't able to enjoy it."
"I'm enjoying it now."
One of Holmes's small helpers saw us. "Mr. Holmes! Is that Mr. Sherlock Holmes?"
"It is," Holmes said.
But another child elbowed the first. "It never! Look at the picture!" They consulted the magazine.
"Our ruse may have backfired," I said to Holmes.
"Nonsense! This is the precise reaction I intended."
"But he paid me to collect weeds. A whole shilling!" the first boy said.
"The other one could be Holmes. He's taller," the second boy said.
The first boy cuffed him across the head. "That's Dr. Watson!" They scuffled briefly.
"Good heavens, boys! How can I solve this conundrum? I am who I say I am, but how am I to prove it?" Holmes asked them.
The boys looked at him carefully. "What kind of dog do I have?" asked the first boy.
"A prime ratting terrier, wire-haired."
"What does my father do?" asked the second boy.
"He is the dry goods merchant."
"How old am I?" asked the first boy.
"Eight--and your birthday is in March."
"What's my name?" asked the second boy, wide-eyed.
"Oscar Taylor," Holmes answered.
Both boys gasped. "Mr. Holmes!" They both ran to the public house, crying "Mr. Holmes! Mr. Holmes is here!"
Holmes smiled at me. "I shall enjoy this," he said.
When Holmes was able to travel, we secreted the baby in a basket and moved into the city of Bournemouth. We took rooms in a hotel, aired the infant in public, and, most importantly, christened him.
"You will be the godfather, Holmes."
"I don't believe in any such--"
I cut him off with a vicious pinch to the ear. "Holmes. You are coming; you are behaving; you are vowing to look over this infant; or God help me, I shall visit upon you such tortures as the Empire has never seen."
Holmes looked at me. "My dear fellow!"
"Do not try me."
"Mary!" Holmes cried.
"Oh, I will help him," Mary said.
"I see," Holmes said. "I am pressed like a grape. Let me put on a tie."
So, to my very great joy, Holmes stood beside us as we christened the child Horace Hamish Morstan Watson. He promised to walk with the child and help him. It felt very queer to stand before the church with the secret of Horace's birth concealed between the three of us, but in the end, what did it matter? He had three parents to care for him rather than two. He was an extraordinarily lucky child.
Then we returned to London. It was the first week of September and the air was turning crisp. I found my house very clean and pleasant, well kept despite our long absence, and made Elsie the present of a sovereign for her troubles, the last draught on Holmes's funds.
It was time to part.
Holmes held Horace in his arms. If he had baulked, I could not have blamed him, though of course it would have been a great upheaval of our plans.
"Well, then," Holmes said, finally, and handed Horace to me. "Well. Better you than me."
He donned his hat and departed.
I did not know how long it would be until I heard from Holmes again. As it turned out, it was only twelve hours before I received a message from him.
There was a knock at the front door in the black hours before dawn. I heard and responded from my bedroom at the same time as the maid. "Go back to bed, Elsie," I said quietly. "No doubt it is a patient. Listen for Horace if he cries."
"Yes, sir," she said, and retreated upstairs.
I unlocked the door and found a veiled lady without. A hired coach waited in the street. "May I help you?"
She offered me a handkerchief. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes sends his regards and asks that you treat this poor boy." It was my handkerchief.
"Of course," I said. I ventured out to the coach in my dressing gown and slippers. "What has happened?"
The coach door was open. A man stepped out, carrying a young man in late adolescence. It was clear, even in the darkness, that he was bleeding profusely from his arm. "You should have brought him to hospital, not to me!" I said.
"Please," the lady said.
"Bring him inside as fast as you can!" I ran to the man and raised the boy's arm over his head to attempt to stem the flow of blood.
The boy was very pale. He was bleeding from a knife wound high up on the inside of his arm. I cut away his clothing, instructing the attending man to hold his arm high.
"John," Mary said. I did not turn away from my patient. "How can I help?"
"I need silk, as fine as possible. Silk thread. I must repair the damage or this boy will lose his arm."
Mary found the silk suturing material as I sponged away the blood with white spirit and cleaned out the wound. The boy was unconscious. A blessing for him, as it would spare him pain, but a bad sign medically.
She set needle and thread beside me on the table. "Soak it well in white spirit while I wash my hands," I instructed her. I kept a quantity of strong soap and boiled water in my surgery for this purpose. I had seen the effects of proper hygiene in the field in Afghanistan and believed fully in the precepts of antisepsis.
Sewing the boy's wound was messy work, but I worked quickly and neatly and the boy still breathed by the end, so I considered the job well done. "I see Sherlock was right," the lady said. Her servant gathered up the discarded clothing as I cut it from his body.
"If infection sets in he will lose the arm. But I have done my best," I said. I cleaned the blood from the wound, dressed it, and looked for other injuries. He seemed unmarked. "He's young and strong. If he lasts the night, he will live." I knew this much from war.
"He will live, then," the lady said.
"Pardon me, but are you friends of Sherlock Holmes?" Mary asked.
"Indeed. I go by Georgiana." He drew the veil from his face.
"Oh, dear GOD!" I cried. I sat down behind my desk.
Georgiana raised his painted eyebrow. His massive servant frowned.
"It is not a condemnation," I assured him quickly. "But if I cannot tell male from female, it does rather lead me to question my skill."
Georgiana smiled. He wore cosmetics like a female, but his face bore the unmistakeable masculine stamp. "The young man is the Baron of S--," he said. "You see I could not bring him to the attention of the authorities. Exposure, disgrace, and ruination would result." He stroked the young man's hair back from his forehead and spoke to his servant in French.
Mary also spoke in the same language. "I'm asking Bruno to carry him to our bed, John," she told me. "I am quite awake. It's past four o'clock."
Georgiana left the boy with us. We took turns sitting with him, but he did not wake all day. Holmes stopped by at dusk. "The man who stabbed him is dead," Holmes told me. "He fell off a building."
I looked at him. "Is this a confession?" I asked.
"No, indeed. I would have preferred to catch him alive. As it is, I had to track down his hiding place on my own." Holmes produced a large packet of letters from his inside pocket. "He was a blackmailer. He was in the process of stealing the young man's letters, and his watch to boot, when the lad caught him."
"In a molly-house?" I asked.
"In a salon where gentleman of like interests meet one another," Holmes said, with precise delicacy.
"Oh, I see. You were a guest, therefore it was quite genteel."
Holmes sniffed. He glanced inside the open letters, one by one, and then carefully burned them.
"Forgive me," I said. "There's no shame in gentlemen meeting each other. I'm too used to treating the subject with schoolboy levity. The young man was searching for love, and that is not at all funny."
Holmes held up a letter as it burned. "Yes, perhaps. I was searching for a well-salted pickle, though, to add savour to my mutton."
I laughed, too loud; I stifled myself to avoid disturbing the boy in the bed. Holmes splayed his legs and wagged his knee lasciviously as he lounged by the fire. "I was too long in the country. I ache for a firm hand and a firmer rod."
"Mind your tongue or I'll tawse you myself. This is a sickroom, Holmes."
Holmes smiled sardonically. He carefully laid the last two letters on the fire. "It should be safe to return the Baron to his home. He was waylaid by a ruffian and treated by a respectable doctor. Any further details are concealed by discreet tongues, ashes, and the grave."
"Very well. Once he wakes up, then." I checked my watch. "Will you dine with us?"
"Dine?" Holmes's stomach roiled audibly as he spoke. "Ah, yes. I suppose one must eat at least once a week."
He was back to normal, then.
Elsie called us up to the sick room as we concluded dinner, Holmes and Mary and I lingering over the wine. "Dr. Watson, the young man is awake."
Both Mary and Holmes were interested in the Baron's well-being, but I left them outside the door as I checked his vitals. He was very pale indeed, and his pulse weak, but his temperature was good and the knife wound showed no more than usual inflammation. There was no smell or discharge to indicate infection. "I'm Doctor John Watson," I told him. "You're Lord S--, I believe? You were stabbed, but you will recover."
"Doctor...?" he breathed. He looked around the room with confusion. "Where am I?"
"My house. My bed, in fact. We'll soon remove you home."
"My apologies," he said. He seemed to regain more of his senses. "Yes... yes, I am Lord S--. Who... how did I come here?"
He tried to sit up. I pushed him firmly down. "If you raise your head above your heart, you may faint. You lost an enormous amount of blood and it will take three to four weeks to fully recover. For now, it is essential that you rest."
Holmes, it seemed, had reached the end of his patience, and opened the door. "Ah! Young Billy. I told old Georgiana to bring you here, for I knew I could trust my intimate friend. Your letters are entirely safe."
The young man's eyes widened. His pulse leaped against my hand and he fainted dead away. "This is why I left you outside, Holmes," I told him. I lifted the Baron's legs onto a pillow. Mary provided me with aromatic vinegar and I revived him again.
The Baron's eyes fluttered open again. "Sir, I think you have the advantage of me," he said weakly.
"Sherlock Holmes, fellow wearer of the green carnation. You're entirely safe. Georgiana is a lifelong friend." Holmes patted the boy's cheek. "I'll send for your carriage."
The Baron possessed a large four-wheeled carriage, a great deal of footmen, and a worried sister, all of whom save the carriage and horses poured into my small house. I was able to exercise enough authority to keep the Baron from walking out, though, and we carried him home in the extraordinary manner demanded by his condition: Resting on his back, with his head in Holmes's lap and his legs raised to the level of my shoulders. I could have positioned us in the reverse, of course, but from the look on the young man's face when he gazed upon Holmes, I thought he would rather enjoy my friend's lap.
I promised to return daily to examine the wound and received payment significantly in excess of what I would have charged him. In all, a highly satisfactory case, and I told Holmes so.
"Excellent," he replied. "I shall send you all my disreputable acquaintances."
I was at work in my consulting room when the maid knocked. "Mr. Mycroft Holmes to see you, sir," she said.
"Yes, of course, show him in," I said, but when she turned, Mycroft Holmes's vast bulk already loomed behind her.
"Kindly dismiss your maid," Mycroft Holmes said. He seated himself by the fire. I had met him only twice before, but I knew enough to be wary of him, and to follow his demands.
"Mr. Holmes likes his privacy, Elsie. One hour. Do what you like."
"Yes, sir," she said, bobbing nervously. She left.
Mycroft Holmes was the only man Sherlock would concede as more intelligent than himself. He did look the part. His hair was an iron grey, oiled severely back from a large dome of forehead. Unlike Sherlock, he was enormously fat. As a doctor I would judge him unwell, if not actively suffering. Between his florid complexion and his short breath, I would not be surprised if he had frequent palpitations of the heart. "Doctor!" Mycroft Holmes said sharply. "Cease your diagnosis."
"Do excuse me. Sheer habit in my consulting room. May I offer you some tea? A sherry?"
"I presume you came to see the child," I said.
"Certainly. You are nearly family. A moment, please, while I locate my wife."
"She's in the drawing room, of course," Mycroft Holmes said irritably.
Mary was in the drawing room with Horace, working on a tiny bonnet. "Would you join us in my study, dearest? Mycroft Holmes has called."
"Of course. I am on fire to meet him," Mary said, dropping the bonnet and gathering Horace into her arms.
Mycroft Holmes tapped his lower lip when we entered. "Your maid is too honest. She oils your books and straightens your pills. She has a secret. A natural child, her shame. When my brother calls she nearly shatters with nerves. Keep her; she will never cheat you, and you may pay her nothing."
"We may double her wages, then," Mary said. "It is so good to meet you, Mr. Holmes." She passed Horace into Mycroft Holmes's arms.
Mycroft Holmes examined Horace briefly. "Yes, he has the Holmes eyes. His colouring will darken. He will not resemble you."
"How fortunate that we are not lying about his provenance," Mary replied. Mycroft Holmes cast a sharp eye over her. "Only lies of omission," she amended.
"I see you are fully aware of my brother's unique condition."
"I was present at the birth."
"You are an acceptable mother." Mycroft Holmes handed Horace back to her. "You are offended. Don't be. It is a compliment. I have arranged for a substantial sum to come to your sole control, Mrs. Watson. It will pay for a first class education for the child. Room and board will be provided if necessary. Say nothing, Dr. Watson," he said, looking at me. "You are a gamester and unreliable with money. The child must want for nothing. If I die without issue, as seems likely, he will be my heir. Whether he is heir to my work as well, we shall see."
"Or your brother's work," I said.
Mycroft Holmes snorted throatily. "Solving petty crimes. What a waste. Still, as a girl he was far worse. An embarrassment. As a man, he is a credit to the family name, even if he is wasting his full potential."
"Sherlock has helped a great many people," I said.
Mycroft Holmes looked at me. His eyes were black and bottomless, not malevolent, but cold. "Just so," he said. "Congratulations on the birth of your son, Doctor, Mrs. Watson. I take my leave. I doubt we will meet again."
"You are quite welcome here," I said.
Mycroft Holmes left without a further word.
"I believe we have survived the Inquisition, Mary," I said.
"You will learn more pleasing manners or I shall box your ears," Mary whispered to Horace.
Some few days later, I visited Holmes at Baker Street. I found the door locked. "Holmes! It's Watson."
I heard a brief pause behind the door, which doubtless indicated Holmes was extricating himself from some arcane and dangerous experiment. "Don't you have a key, old dog?" Holmes said through the door as he unlocked it.
"Not on me. And I fear what I may walk into, from long experience," I told him. I found Holmes in his dressing gown and nothing else. I closed the door securely before I showed him the letters I had brought. "Billets-doux from the Baron. Two of them." I fanned the letters between my fingers.
"Two letters in three days?"
"He is quite desperately in love with his gallant rescuer."
"How unfortunate," Holmes said, but he took the letters. "Does he expect a reply?"
"He hopes for one. I am happy to carry it; I see him daily. He's healing well."
Holmes set the letters on his desk, beside the face-down portrait of Mrs. Adler, and dropped his dressing gown. He stood in front of the mirror mother-naked.
"I see you have overcome your shyness before me," I said.
"My hips have spread. Do I appear male to you?" He frowned intently at his reflection.
I drew closer, resting my hand on his strong shoulder. "You do not seem female." I could see the rounded curve of his belly, though, quite different from the hard ridges of muscle he had had before the pregnancy. The angry red lashes of stretch marks crossed up the seam of his abdomen.
"My trousers do not fit well. I'm no longer so lean." He shifted, cocking his hip to the side. The thick black curls between his legs hid any external sign of his female organs. He was rounded in the hips, but not Rubenesque by any yardstick. I had seen young men with much finer, fatter bottoms than his.
"You appear male," I told him, quite honestly. "A man with a deeply unfortunate amputation and some unusual scars, but male. Even from this distance."
"We both know you are no judge."
I sighed and slapped his naked backside. "Put your clothes on, you preening Narcissus. Go make love to your admirer."
Holmes picked up his dressing gown. "I never make love. I find, fuck, and flee."
"Maybe you should change your game. Marriage is wonderful," I said, crossing my hands over my heart like a music hall actor. Holmes rolled his eyes as he tied his belt. "But you have had such a difficult road, my dear friend; I want you to find happiness."
He took my face in his hands. "As long as I have you to cluck over me, how could I be discontent?" He kissed my lips.
"Call on the Baron," I told him.
"Yes, yes, all right," Holmes said. He patted my cheek.
When Horace learned to walk, I summoned Holmes immediately to show him my son's achievement. Horace raced from chair to my knee to Gladstone's stolid face with wild abandon. "Only a year old!" I said proudly.
"Ah," Holmes said. We both watched Horace as he came to rest at my feet, engrossed in the shine of my shoes. "How long is my interest meant to last?"
"Some twenty to forty years," I said.
"Well, I'll leave you to it." Holmes grimaced and clapped me on the shoulder. "There's been a wonderfully intricate murder on Fleet Street. I'm going to examine the floorboards."
"I can't join you. I have patients this afternoon."
"Very well, then. I'll borrow your wife," Holmes said.
"You shall not, sir!" But he had already left me, bounding up the stairs to my bedchamber. "Holmes! You may not!"
Thus I was left holding the baby as Holmes and my wife shouldered past me. "I'll be home in time for dinner, John," Mary said, pinning her hat into place. She kissed Horace's cheek.
"I forbid it!"
"Goodnight, John!" Mary cried, disappearing down the stairs.