[Narration by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Esquire]
I was, I will admit, initially unsure about the idea of Watson publishing tales of our adventures together in the 'Strand' magazine. I myself had no desire for fame or such, but I was swayed by the fact that I knew that this would provide him a most useful extra income especially as his work at the surgery was still sometimes variable. And I knew, despite his never saying as much, that he quietly resented the fact that I was so much richer than him. In truth I could easily have borne the cost of our accommodation myself but I had the sense not to say as much to him, for he was a proud man at the end of the day.
Similarly it would have been fairly easy to use my or my family's contacts to have secured a publisher for Watson's work. But I knew that in a city this size that sort of thing was bound to come out sooner or later, and that he would have been mortified by my actions. It would surely have damaged our friendship, perhaps irreparably. I was grateful therefore when the publishers Brett and Burke approached him having seen his story in the magazine and asked to include it in a compendium they were producing. The happy look on his face when he came back from depositing their cheque was wonderful.
Curiously it was Watson's venture into publishing which provided this small adventure, one which given the situation of the person involved could hardly be written up at the time. However I have made notes as Watson advised me and maybe one day the world can hear the curious story about Miss Aneira Archer, a lady who was most definitely not what she seemed.
The 'Strand' magazine had a whole range of things between its bright covers, none of which I had hitherto paid any attention as I found them mostly facile. I read Watson's stories of course even though I had already examined them thoroughly before he sent them in; this was because I dreaded that some stupid editor would try to amend or even 'improve' things as some of the modern generation seem wont to do.
That particular fine summer's day Watson seemed more distracted than usual and I knew that something was on his mind. And worryingly he did not yet feel able to tell me about it.
“Is it something that I can help with?” I ventured after dinner that evening.
He frowned, then sighed.
“It is Aunt Aneira”, he said.
I was surprised. I had thought that he had just one such female relative and that her name started with a J, although I could not quite recall it. He only rarely mentioned his family and I had noted that on the few occasions that he did it was always his mother he spoke of, never his clearly unlamented father.
“Your aunt is in trouble?” I asked. He smiled at that.
“No”, he said. “Miss Aneira Archer, who writes an advice column for the magazine. I have never met her as she lives in South Wales, but she was kind enough to send me a note praising my work when I started.”
Now I remembered, the one other thing in the magazine that I had noted. It was one of those 'agony aunt' columns which bedevil so many magazines, and I had thought it surprisingly well-written considering the fluff and bubble elsewhere in the magazine (a certain excellent writer of detective stories excluded, of course).
“She is in trouble, this 'Aunt Aneira'?” I asked.
“The owners of the magazine apparently wishes her to come to London for a series of events”, he said. “She has written to me asking if you can help her.”
I was puzzled.
“With the travel arrangements?” I asked. “Where does she live, pray?”
“The address on her letter was a place called Resolven, in west Glamorganshire”, he said. “Coal-mining country.”
“I would be delighted to help, friend”, I said. “Although your advice columnist does not seem to dispense information as freely as she dispenses advice.”
“She has a very good reputation”, he said. “When they did a survey of which bits of the magazine people liked most some time back, she came top.”
“Ah”, I said, “but that was doubtless before you appeared on the scene and started scribing the adventures of your brave, dashing and heroic friend.”
“Let us hope that she is not looking for lessons in modesty, then!” he quipped.
I shook my head at him. He really was getting quite catty in his middle age!
This case happened at a particularly difficult time in my troubled family life, to wit my sister's wedding. I got on well with Anna and I thought her prospective husband Mr. Bernard Thompson a sound fellow despite his liking for medieval English music, but the actual wedding would be attended by all her brothers, which meant meeting the likes of Mycroft, Bacchus, Ranulph and Gaillard without inflicting serious bodily harm on any of them despite the temptation. Mother had stated that she would be Cross (or as my sister put it, a Level Five) with any of us who marred the great day, so I would have to wear an uncomfortable suit and spend a whole day avoiding the lot of them. Ugh!
I did ask Watson if he wished to be invited. He looked at me as if I were quite mad!
In the event the whole affair passed off uneventfully, and I had the pleasure of learning afterwards that Mother had rounded up Bacchus and Mycroft over their attitudes towards me as of late and told them it was going to improve. But to show them that she was still talking to them she would read them her new extra-long story.
I think the criminal world calls that 'dodging a bullet'!
While all this was going on Watson had time for a further exchange of letters with the uncommunicative Aunt Aneira. One fact did however emerge; the magazine's reason for inviting her to London was that they were hosting some of their longest-term subscribers at an exclusive event when they would be allowed to speak to some of the famous names from the magazine, including of course Watson. He had shyly asked if I myself would come along and, much as I hated such fripperies, I felt unable to say no when I saw the hope in those green eyes. Maybe this Aunt Aneira just disliked these things even more than I did?
I was also distracted because John was unusually busy at work just then, indirectly because of someone we would shortly come across in person in another case. I will admit that our case some years back with young Mr. Stuart Billingsley, which had brought back memories of the ill-starred poor Lord Tobias Hawke, had affected me greatly, and that family seemed set for their ill-fortune to continue when Tobias' brother and successor Lord Theobald Hawke, then just twenty-two years of age, was diagnosed by John's friend Peter Greenwood with an incurable illness. It might be months or it might be decades, but Lord Hawke's time on this earth was definitely going to be curtailed, and the diagnosis affected Doctor Greenwood badly coming as it did after a run of difficult cases. He had to take a week off to get himself together (at John's request I made sure the surgery paid for that) and my friend was as a result even busier than normal. Incidentally this would lead to a renewal of my relationship with the troubled Hawke family not long after.