Chapter 1: The little bookstore
“It was a good day, Doctor Watson, isn’t?” The young man looked around him with a satisfied smile, happy that the shop was neat even if it had been a busy day. “Friday is always a good day, especially when the weather is good.” Standing tall, he ran the cloth one last time over the old oak countertop. Better.
Smiling at the clerk’s obvious pride in a job well done, Watson replied, “yes, Somerset, an excellent day! You are right, the weather was quite fine for the end of March,” as he turned the ‘closed’ sign on the door. “I was afraid that we were going to be deserted because of the departure of Jumbo, but it looks like our excellent clients don’t get over themselves for a pachyderm!”
“I’m a bit sad you know, I’ve been to the London Zoo once a year since I was a boy and Jumbo was one of my favourites, Doctor Watson!”
“Remember what we talked about, you don’t have to call me ‘doctor’, Mr Watson or sir will do!” How many times did I ask him to stop calling me that... Doctor... I am not worthy of the title.
Somerset grinned and shook his head at the recurrent admonition. Taking his coat from the coat rack, he walked towards the door. “Oh, one other thing, sir, you received a letter today, it’s right beside the cash register.”
“Perfect, thank you, see you Monday morning.” Watson’s mind fluttered towards the letter as he opened the door, absentminded. Is it him? No... It’s a bit too early, I only receive a letter every other week usually. The jovial tone of his employee suddenly broke his thoughts.
“Good night, sir!”
“Oh, yes, you too, you too... and Somerset, send my regards to your mother and thank her for the great pudding we had at lunch, the tin is still halfway full, I’m going to have a nice little addition for my tea for the next days!”
“I will! You know how she’s always worrying that you have no one to take care of you!”
“I don’t need a lot, Ms Jenkins come once a week for a good clean-up of my flat and clothes, for the rest I have simple tastes.”
“I know, but you know women, they care too much,” he chuckles fondly as he exits the shop.
The brouhaha from the street engulfed the little shop for a few seconds, then ended when the solid wood and glass door closed. The heavy locks in place, Watson walked around his little empire using his cane to confirm that everything was at its rightful place. Taking his time, as he tried to not rush for the letter immediately, he was more meticulous than usual. It can’t be him, it’s too soon. It’s probably just a publisher or a request from a client. One by one, he shuts down the various lamps thinking once more that it was a miracle that bookshops like this one aren’t burned to the ground more often. When everything was dark with the exception of one lamp, he eagerly checked the letter knowing immediately that it was from his dear correspondent. The beautiful penmanship, the heavy paper from Bohemia, his army identification number instead of his name. It was the mysterious man Watson has been communicating with for the last year and an half.
A bright smile on his face, he took the box with today’s income and his precious letter with him and followed a dark staircase until he reached the door of his small flat. His heaven in London’s craziness. His harbour.
Dropping the box on his desk, he reverently placed the letter on top of a beautiful wood box that already contained a few dozen others and, unable to stop himself, stroked the envelope gently. Coat and vest were removed before being placed carefully in his armoire to keep them clean. His warm velvet smoking jacket was better protection against the still cold weather, the purchase, a rare folly that he never regretted. He sat at his desk for a moment, and counted the day’s doings – one eye on the letter - and consigned everything in his ledger. It wasn’t a great fortune, but the shop was able to ensure a comfortable life, for him and his clerk, as well as a place to live. It’s already better than many of the men who fought with me. He gazed at his trembling hand, the legacy of a terrible wound he received in the last days of the Second Afghan war; and cursed the day that ended his surgical career. No hospital wants a lame doctor and just thinking about the hardship of having a private practice... No, it’s better this way. I am in the right place for me.
He closed his eyes for a second, he remembers how blessed – if a little bit surprised – he felt when he received a letter from his uncle’s lawyer. I always liked Uncle Howard, but to think that he chose me as heir! I don’t know what would have become of me if it hadn’t been for him. He picked up and unfolded the now fragile paper, always in a predominant place on his desk.
My dear John,
If this letter finds you, it’s that I am now with my dear Emma in paradise.
I am sorry that life and your duties to our great country didn’t allow us to talk often in the last years. I have followed your education and your career with great care, always proud of you as if you were my own child. Each letter from your mother or from yourself always a great happiness to me.
Recently, I heard about your predicament. The courage that you showed in front of the enemy to save your companions is a testimony of your strength of character and good upbringing. I know, however, that life after war is hard. Especially for a man of your talents that is suddenly unable to practice what he was meant to do. But, as Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world.” A chance for a new life is even rarer! The chance to do everything anew, to discover who we are again, to find a new path leading to a new world.
Having lost my only child to the Indian rebellion of 1857, then my dear wife a few years later, I have no one nearer to my heart than you. This is why, if you accept, I would like to give you my bookstore, the building as well as all the books inside.
You are a special man, my boy, and I know that from all this terrible ordeal, you are going to find yourself again. Helped by Shakespeare, Keats, Plato, Molière, Hugo, Dickens and all the others.
Know that I love you dearly and that the memories of your kindness were a joy to my tired eyes.
Your Uncle Howard.
P.S. If Somerset is still there, please keep him with you. He’s a good lad who takes great care of his widowed mother.
He laid aside the letter and stoked the fire in the stove. Fortunately, it was still warm from the last time he shovelled coals in it a few hours ago. The small stove was enough to warm most of the space – he didn’t keep it running all day long in summer when he used it only for cooking – and it was big enough to cook simple fare. Hungry and his affairs of the day in order, he opened the doors that hid a small kitchen. He was proud of the set-up in the little first-floor flat. The nook was fitted with a little basin and metal counter-top, an ice-box and a small pantry. It was nearly military like in the efficient way it was outfitted, which pleased him greatly. I am better than if I was living in a pension or sharing rooms with a stranger. The master of my own little domain! Unable to stop his mind wandering, he smiled as thought about the story his correspondent wrote about his landlady, a fantastic woman that ran her few tenants as if they were difficult children. But his affection for the old lady is clearly written all over his letters. Maybe I could find a place where... No! I’m better alone.
The idea of someone able to interfere in his affairs, that his secrets would be on display for anyone to find, was unbearable.
He knew that the people around him found it strange, but he was satisfied with his current lodging situation. He didn’t have enough money to have a live-in servant and, anyway, he liked to be alone. Somerset always teased me about the increasing number of female clients, as if it was my fault! Around the neighbourhood, the handsome ex-military man was getting attention from many women, spinsters or widows, without any of them able to retain his attention. He was polite and a bit of a flirt, always of good manner and with the purest of the attention, but it never went a step further with his clientele. To his sister Harriet’s dismay, to the exception of some discreet visit to some like-minded widows that she obviously doesn’t know of, Watson didn’t want or look for a wife.
His supper ready, a stew that his cleaning lady left for him when she came yesterday, he ate slowly while the kettle boiled. With is usual efficiency, he used part of the boiling water to quickly wash the few pieces of cutlery and the plate he used. Training as a field surgeon you do learn how to be self-reliant! He sighed as he closed the door of the makeshift kitchen, a bit tired. There, no more obligations. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day but the next few hours are only for me.
His tea ready, he placed it in a small coffee table near his comfortable chair. A book, the Fixed Period by Trollope, waited for him to continue its fantastic tale of the creation of a young republic. But, before sitting in his chair, Watson crossed the room and took up the letter. Unable to stop himself, he inhaled slowly the light perfume coming from the paper as he sat in his fauteuil. The mix of sandalwood, lemon and something else that he was unable to identify, brought an emotion that he was unable to restrain. It’s him... Him… I am ridiculous.
At last in his chair, he opened the letter and started to read. The only noise in the flat the low hisses of the coal and the deep rumble of the wheels and horseshoes on the street below.
For the sad story of Jumbo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo
The Fixed Period / Trollope https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fixed_Period
Chapter 2: An unusual friendship
Some of the letters between Watson and Holmes... Before going back to the action :-)
Note: The “Association for the Care and Well-being of Wounded Veterans” is a fictional association that pairs a wounded soldier with a correspondent. To avoid any “problems”, the letters are dispatched by the Association, maintaining the anonymity.
London, September 4th, 1880
I am writing to you under the patronage of the Association for the Care and Well-being of Wounded Veterans.
This is not something that I like to do. Writing letters or caring. But as someone dear to me asked me to do so, I will oblige. I am a man of my word.
As I am doing this only as a social obligation, do not feel the need to respond,
Netley Military Hospital, September 26, 1880
Thank you for your letter, receiving something in the post and therefore hearing the nurse say that she’s got mail for you, is the highlight of the day for any patient. Even if the letter is brief and to the point
I won’t be mad if you do not write back, I know that you have a more eventful life than mine and probably not a lot of time to write.
Which I have plenty of, obviously.
P.S. You said that you do not do ‘caring’ but you write a letter to avoid causing chagrin to someone dear to you. Your mother or your wife, I presume?
London, October 15, 1880
I realized as I posted it that my letter was rude, and I am sorry for it. Being rude is one of my more favourable traits so I cannot make a promise to always be polite, but I can try. If you wish to write back to me of course.
In fact, I do not know why I am replying to your letter. You and I clearly have nothing in common, I cannot fathom what we could write about.
Regarding the person that asked me to participate in this charade, she is my mother. I am not, nor have the desire, to be married.
P.S. I heard about Netley, I hope it is not as bad as they said and that you are going to have a full recovery of your left-arm injury.
Netley Military Hospital, October 30, 1880
I cannot hide that I was astonished to receive your letter.
I am sorry to say that you are wrong. We do have many things in common. We both have a mother that we respectfully fear, we are both bachelors, and we both know London.
I am not from London, but I spent a few years in your city for my education. If you do wish to write but do not know what to write a stranger about, talk to me about London. About the music, about what you are eating! Anything that crosses your mind, really.
The books or newspapers available here are horrible, you really can do no worse.
As you know, Netley is located in a beautiful setting, near the sea. But the installations are really subpar, I really do not know who came up with the floor plan. Neither practical or efficient. This is a hospital, not a hotel.
Regarding the fact that you are rude, I am going to reserve my judgement a bit longer if you allow me.
P.S. How do you know about my injury? I specifically asked the association to reveal no personal information.
London, November 11, 1880
It is one of my hobbies to have a perfect knowledge of London’s streets, alleyways and places of interest, but I do not know what I can really say about it. Except that the 1881 census numbers have been published recently, and London’s population is now at 3,830,297. Nearly a 600,000 increase since the census was last recorded. This is good news for my trade.
Regarding your shoulder, it rather evident when looking at your writing. You are obviously right-handed, but one needs the help of the other hand when writing, especially in a situation where you are bedridden. The oblique is more accentuated towards the end of the paper, caused probably by the sheet slipping away. Therefore, you can’t secure it with your left hand.
Being that incapacitated must be quite difficult for a doctor. You are obviously of brave stock, as I do not think that I could cope as well as you have in a similar situation.
I do not eat that much but when I do, I like food with Indians flavours. My landlady, God bless her, indulges me and constantly learns new recipes and has learned how to use aromatic spices most effectively. Otherwise, it’s mostly tea and scones.
Are they giving you good tea? I do hope that at least they are able to do so.
Netley Military Hospital, October 30, 1880
First, let me say that it is quite extraordinary how you know about my injury just by looking at my letter. It is really brilliant! I do not know what your profession is, but I hope that you have found a way to use your sharp mind.
And I presume that my comment about Netley gave away the fact that I was a doctor?
Remarkable, truly remarkable.
How is it possible to not know what to write about London, there is so much to say, to feel, to know! The city is like the heart of a gigantic beast, where each tentacle spreads in the surrounding boroughs. I love the way it changed all the time, the way the new replaces the old, the way the tide changes the Thames, the fog obscures everything creating a new scenery. If I had the talent and the occasion, I would write novels and poems about her!
I also love a good curry. One of our cooks spent time in India and created superb dishes when I was in Afghanistan. I am certain that with the immigration coming from India presently that many of their culinary traditions are going to grow roots in our good old England. Our Queen has developed such an affection for the country.
Sorry to say that the food here is truly bland, not fit for someone used to exotic spices! And do not talk to me about tea... the grey water they served here is horrible.
* 5 months later... *
London, March 11, 1881
I just received the most wonderful gift and I was eager to write to you about it! This is why I am writing to you sooner than my usual schedule. My brother, who as you know is an impossibly nosy man who works in the family business, just gave me the most wonderful gift. My own Stradivarius. My surprise was complete, I really don’t know why he suddenly decided to spend all this on me. It was my 30 th birthday, there is something about round numbers that cause irrational behaviour. Or Mother simply threatened to steal his cook. The man does create beautiful pastries.
Anyway, I really love it and the sound is really superior, but I am a bit cross that I will need to be civil towards my brother for the next few months at the very least.
I am a correct violinist, I think that I would love to show you the instrument one day. I know that we’ve decided early in our relationship to avoid anything too personal and that you did not want any visits while you are in a convalescent home, but will you tolerate a visit when you return to London?
But I should not say things like that. It is better like this, as I can not disappoint you with my horrible character if we never meet in person.
P.S. Thank you for that newspaper article, you are right, this is something really strange indeed. Find enclosed Dickens’ A Tales of Two Cities, I still cannot believe you have never read it!
Hasting Convalescence Home, March 26, 1881
I know it’s strange to call a friend someone that I will never meet, but I cannot find any other name for what you are to me.
It was your birthday? You should have said so. I wish you the best for the upcoming year. I am happy to know that you are only a few years younger than me. Is this strange?
Your brother knows and loves you a lot to give you such a nice gift. You should practice some pieces from that Russian composer you love so much, Tchaikovsky. You wrote about it with such enthusiasm a few months ago.
I would love to hear you play one day, of course, do not doubt it. One day, when I am back to my own self.
It is a promise, my friend.
P.S. Thank you for the book, now that I am able to walk outside, it is going to be a great joy for me to read under the sun.
London, April 30, 1881
I have received your April 25th letter, do not worry you did not scare me by calling me that. Your friend. I am so sorry that my lack of response causes you torment. I am deeply sorry that this letter took so long, I was unavailable, and I needed to think.
Is this what we are, friends?
I do not have friends; the concept is fairly foreign to me. I know that your opinion matters greatly to me, that I often think about you, imagining what your opinions are about this or that. My landlady is constantly teasing me because I am talking out loud to no one, when in fact I am talking to you.
Is it normal? Why is it easier for me to write to you or to talk to an impression of you than to talk to someone in front of me. They are all idiots, the lot of them. Only you, only you. I do not know what to say.
P.S. I think you are right. About that friend thing. I do not have friends, but I would be honoured to have one if that person is you.
Hasting Convalescence Home, May 10, 1881
Dear, dear friend,
Never doubt that we share a deep bond of friendship. The fact that we have never seen each other is irrelevant, don’t you think? Would you have ever talked to a wounded soldier if we had met in a park or elsewhere? I cannot be certain that I would have talked to you either! I am a simple man, with a rather boring life. Nothing to attract the attention of a man like you.
You never said so, but I realized quickly that we will not be circulating in the same circles, even if I found a way back to London. I know that I said that I would love to hear you play one day, I still do, but I am afraid that it won’t be possible.
Our particular friendship can only survive in this form.
It is what it is, and it must be enough, even if it is killing me to say so.
Your friend forever,
London, May 16, 1881
You are right, the old me would have surely walked by a wounded soldier without slowing my pace. But not now, not the new me, not the man that you helped me become.
Now, I could not stop myself, I am talking to all the soldiers that I see. I am learning about the war,life abroad, the duress of going away and the joys of the safe return. They talk to me of the camaraderie, the long days, the terrible nights. The joy of saving dozens of lives and the horror of taking one. Their looks about the eyes when they are thinking about their lost friends are heartbreaking.
All this, all these men, all the stories, are helping me to understand you better. They are constant reminders that I am the lucky one because the war brought you to me. This is egotistical I know, if I could I would erase your wounds and give you back your old life don’t doubt it, but a little part of me is thanking God because he placed you in my path.
You are right, I think that seeing each other would consume us and I understand your reticence.
But know that I would gladly burn my heart for a moment with you,
Hasting Convalescence Home, June 6, 1881
My lack of response in the last weeks was caused by something that is going to change my life, not by the fear your words created. I am sorry if the unusual delay alarmed you.
I have received the best news today and I am anxious to talk to you about it. A relative of mine passed away recently, an old man dear to me, and he left me the most astonishing gift! I won't go into details, as we are usually avoiding them, but let me say that he left me a way to sustain my life even if I cannot practice medicine.
As you know, the idea of what was ahead for me now that I am fit to go back to be a civilian, was quite stressful.
This is a bright and happy development, though I do regret that I was not been able to talk to the dear old man before his departure from our world. He was a kind man with a great mind. I believe you would have been much entertained by his stories.
So much to do now, but I know that in a few weeks, I will be returning to London.
My most sincere affection,
Chapter 3: A family affair
Mycroft and Sherlock...
“...And compared to the same quarter last year, we have been able to maintain constant good figures and an appreciative gain in our overall profitability.” Mycroft Holmes suddenly stopped what is turning into a monologue instead of his intended discussion about the family business. “Sherlock!” He waited a few seconds, looking at his younger brother who, at the moment, was gazing outside clearly more enthralled by the circulation on the street below and not focused on his monthly update on the doings of Holmes & Brothers. Impatiently, the older man shouted a bit louder, “SHERLOCK!”
Jumping from the window seat, the elegant young man smiled. “What do you want, brother dear?”
Exasperated, the businessman waved his hands over the documents on his desk. “Is it too mundane? Are you too snob to listen to a short summary of our family affairs?”
“No, you know that I am not judging people by their rank or fortune, you do it so far more smoothly than me brother dear, it’s just that...”, he smirked, knowing that his brother would not like his comment, “it is... utterly boring.”
Holmes frowned and spoke tartly in return, “may I remind you that your generous allowance is coming from these ‘boring’ numbers?”
“I know, I know Mycroft...” he replied more gently, “and I am absolutely grateful for the good work you are doing here.”
“The only thing that was asked of you is to listen once a month to what I have to say,” Mycroft scoffed, “before you go back to play at being a policeman! It’s Holmes & Brothers, after all, you know.”
“It’s ‘Brothers’ because of Father and Uncle George, not because of us!” He protested, “and for once and for all, I am not a policeman, I am a consulting detective and you know it, the only –“
“One in the world,” the businessman intervened, “you invented the title.” Smiling at his secretary who entered the room with tea, he waited for her to close the door on her way out before he continued in a softer tone. “What is it that troubling you, brother mine? You are usually more able to hide your impatience. You are particularly on edge today.”
“Nothing... nothing of importance...” Sherlock, his mind already elsewhere walked back to the window.
Shaking his head, Mycroft closed his files sorry to be unable to communicate better with his brother. Drinking his tea, he waited, knowing that his sibling would only talk when he wanted to. He knows that he can tell me anything, I won’t judge or condemn as long as he does not put himself in danger. As minutes passed by and he emptied his teacup, he murmured “You know, little brother, that you can say everything to me.” After Uncle Rudy, I think I can cope with anything! As Sherlock remained silent, he pushed a bit further. “Is this about your soldier friend? Are you ready to... see each other?”
Angrily, Sherlock closed the curtains to hide the view of the street, a street where his dear friend may be walking down at the moment without him knowing, “you do not know what you are talking about!”
“He is still reticent?” The older man knew that his brother’s correspondent was not inclined to meet in person. Who can blame him, if his feelings are the same as Sherlock, it could only lead to problems! “Have you tried to find him? You have the capacity and the available help from that detective you work with, it should be easy –“
“No, I won’t go against his wish.” Even if it is killing me. “Better to have only a friendship on paper, than to risk losing everything.” The young man turned on his heels and pointed to the papers on his brother’s desk. “Stop purchasing silk from that French importateur , he is stealing it from the Chinese cartel and that can only bring trouble.” His hat and coat in hand, he nodded and walked away.
Unaware of the elegant patrons of their store, even more unaware of the shy or sultry smiles in his direction, Sherlock Holmes remained lost in his thoughts. Once he finished the three flights of stairs – without being interrupted by any of the staff, nothing short of a miracle – he nodded at the man in charge of the door and walked outside the prestigious building.
The traffic on Kensington High Street was hectic, as usual, but he was grateful to be outside his brother’s scrutiny. Asking questions like that! Am I asking him about the fact that he wanted to have a relationship with his secretary?
He was still standing in front of the store, not knowing what to do, when a voice finally penetrated his mind.
“Mister Holmes? Do you want me to ask for Mister Holmes’ brougham, sir? Or I can get you a hansom cab?”
“No need, Branson, I think I am going to walk in the park. Thank you.” Flipping a coin to the young man, he turned to the right and walked in the direction of Kensington Gardens.
The fifty-minute walk went quickly for Holmes, lost as he was in his mind. The large expanse of Kensington Garden, the silhouette of the palace, the fountains, the Serpentine... All the beauty the wonderful park has to offer was lost to him. His eyes, usually constantly looking around him for clues of crimes and suspect behaviours, were looking down. The few words exchanged with his brother echoing constantly in his head. Each step syncopated with one word. Have. You. Tried. To. Find. Him? Have. You. Tried. To. Find. Him? Have. You. Tried. To. Find. Him?
The idea to just get on with it and search for the man was tempting! Since when I am listening to Mycroft! He knows nothing! As if it were possible for men like us to... A man like him, a military hero... No, better to stay a bachelor. I need to push away the urge to be happy, the urge to touch someone, of having someone wanting to...to touch me. No, it is him or no one. The idea of going to some discreet Turkish bath just to get relief was unimaginable! Having a friend, even if it is only on paper, is better than anything I could have hoped for. Who knows, if I repeat this enough times, one day I will believe my own lies?
Finally home, he was about to get his key when the young boy who worked with his landlady opened the door quickly. “Mister Holmes,” he ushered in an excited voice, “he is leaving!”
Frowning, Holmes entered the lobby and looked up the flight of stairs. Luggage and boxes were all piled up on the landing. “What is going on?”
“It is Mister Chadwick, he decided that he cannot stay here anymore!” Extending his arms to take his mistress’ favourite tenant’s hat, he smiled. “He paid for the whole month, but he won’t stay, even if Ms Hudson begged him to reconsider.” As the tall man started to walk up the stairs to his flat, the voice of his landlady became easily audible.
“But Mister Chadwick! You cannot go like that... I am going to talk to him! He is going to understand that a man in your position needs his sleep and must not be troubled by music in the middle of the night!” Sherlock was unable to understand the replies of the despicable man, but chuckled at his old friend’s retort with an outrageous cry! “I won’t let you talk against Mister Holmes! If you cannot deal with a LITTLE noise, it is probably better that you leave.”
The big rumble of luggage running down the stairs was the only thing that Holmes heard as he closed the door of his beloved 221b.
A bit later, he was at his desk writing a letter, a light knocks announced Ms Hudson. “Mister Holmes? Are you there? Oh! There you are...” She walked near the desk where she dropped her bounty. “Tea and scones, with honey and cream. Your favourite.”
Sherlock, knowing that he often did not deserve the old woman’s friendship, turned the sheet of paper to hide his words, “Ms Hudson, you are a marvel!”
A flush of light pink coloured the paper-thin cheeks as the lady protest, “no, no, it is only scones, nothing fancy.” Looking around, she chided the grown man as if he was her son as she realized her nice tidying up was already undone, “Mister Holmes... the mess you have made! A young man of your stature, so brilliant yet unable to get some orders to your papers.”
“Do not touch anything, Ms Hudson, I know precisely where everything is!” Closing his eyes, he extended his right hand until he grabbed a pair of tickets for the opera. “Like these two tickets for tonight’s opera!” With a flourish, he presented them to his dear friend, “for you!”
Laughing, she hugged him tenderly, “you are going with me, right?”
“If you wish, but you can go with a friend if –”
“No! That horribly obtuse man is gone, we need to celebrate!” Humming Mozart, she danced up to the door. “I need to get ready! Come and fetch me at 7:30.”
“I will, go rest a bit before our big evening.” Still smiling, he sat back at his desk and started to write again.
London, April 2nd 1882
My dear friend,
Don't you think that London in spring is marvelous? The trees back to their glorious shades of green, hyacinth and crocus all over the park’s bosquet... Everything bright and new.
My landlady decided it was time for a big clean-up of my rooms, and I often have to get away if I do not want to get smacked by a rolled carpet or a broom. I hate it, she cannot help herself and keeps changing my things from one place to another no matter how often I urged her to touch nothing!
It has been six months now since you returned to our dear London and I daresay that except for some melancholy of the excitation when you used to live in the army that sometimes slipped in your letters, you seem well established and quite satisfied by your new life. That fellow who works with you looks like a great capable young man, I am very happy to know that someone is there to help you.
I often think about you. Or more precisely, I always think about you. Scrutinizing the men on the street, in the stores, at the pub or restaurant, wishing that you were one of them and that I could just instinctively know who you by sight, like in one of those silly sentimental novels. Silly, I know.
I respect your choice to not meet and I understand all the reasons that could influence you towards this decision, but I still hope that one day fate is going to bring us together.
I will now stop whingeing as I have a wonderful bit of news! The other tenant, that horrible man I was writing about, has left! Probably exasperated by the constant noises coming from my flat. The idiot once called my violin a ‘noise maker’! Can you believe it? I can assure you that I am able to produce most excellent music. Good riddance, I hope that the room is going to stay empty. Perhaps I am going to rent it myself and turn it into an office of some sort, this way I will be certain that nobody without any sensible taste in music is going to ruin my day.
To celebrate, I am taking my superbly protective landlady at the Royal Opera House tonight.
I wish you the most wonderful week, my friend, and wait as always with great impatience for your next letter.
Folding the letter with great care, he sighed sadly.
For the first time, he felt that he wasn’t totally honest with his friend.
Chapter 4: Saturday
How is Watson spending his Saturday? And Holmes is intrigued by a small story in the newspaper...
At 7, Watson opened his eyes slowly, still astonished to have the right to stay in bed so late! 7 is far way more humane than 5 or 6! After the training at Bart’s, then the army, followed by the strict schedule of the military hospital, it was hard to break the habit even after more than six months. He turned on his side and sat on the edge of the bed, his feet looking for his slippers. He was straightening his bed when his hand felt something under the pillow. Yesterday’s letter, how reckless of me! Pressing the paper to remove a few wrinkles, he deposed it in the little chest with the others before turning the delicate key to locked it. It wasn’t that he did not trust his cleaning lady, but it was better to keep them from prying eyes. That woman does love to gossip!
His heavy robe keeping him warm, he tossed the fire and put the kettle on for his first tea of the day and his morning ablutions. A thick slice of bread with raspberry jam, an apple and a piece of cheese were easily put together and his morning fare was ready. As he waited for his hot water, his mind fluttered at the thought of his friend’s letter. Resisting the desire of rushing back to where he placed it, he was unable to stop the emotions from rushing in his heart. To think that you are here, near me... Why can’t I be courageous! We do not need to be public about it, we can be good friends in the eyes of everyone else. This is the most important, no? Being friends above all? But if his appearance caught me as well as his words... would I be able to be only friends? The memories of the only time he had been honest about his attraction for another person of the same sex pushed away any idea of bravery. What if he does not want the same thing? What if he thinks that I am broken and... lacking in a way or another? He seemed passionate in his tone and we are already far more than friends, but what if I imagined everything?
His tea ready, he sat at his little table to eat and focussed on the day in front of him. I have more important things to do, I cannot be daydreaming all day long.
A good shave and he was almost ready. Smiling with satisfaction at what lay ahead, he opened his closet to pick up a serviceable outfit and changed. Humming under his breath, he took a bag from under his bed and rushed down the stairs. The little room behind the bookstore was uninviting so early in the cold spring morning. Time to start a good fire in the hearth and to put some water on. With easy movements, born of days of practice as even on weekdays Watson is often down in the store hours before Somerset, he lit the coals and fetched water in two big kettles that are kept for warming water on cleaning day. His first task completed, the blond man spread the content of his bag on the desk after he removed all the papers and books already on it.
He was ready for the day.
It was gloriously late in the morning when Holmes opened his eyes, Mozart bright and cheerful music still resonating in his mind. It was a brilliant evening! Ms Hudson looked at least 20 years younger! After the opera, they went to a café for a late collation, then to a West End more or less clandestine dancehall. Chuckling at the image of his apparently-proper landlady dancing with ruffians and dock workers, he thought how little had changed since he met the woman ten years ago! She is still able to raise her legs high and to show the younger ladies how to dance the French Can-can, but her bad hip is going to be terrible this morning. The tall man was about to fall asleep again when noises coming from his main room intrigued him. She is better than me! Already at work! Grabbing his robe, he exited his bedroom to chide the woman but was surprised that it was only Tom.
Smiling widely at the older man, the young lad was quite taken by Holmes’ adventures, he greeted him cheerfully while opening the heavy curtains. “G’morning, sir!”
“Hello, Tom,” with a little smirk he asked. “I reckon your mistress is still asleep?”
“Oh yes, Mister Holmes, I tried to wake her, but she told me to...” The poor lad’s cheeks turned a bright red as he murmured, “to sod off!”
Laughing merrily, Holmes gave two shillings to the young boy. “Go to the Tea Parlour below to get a teapot of their best tea and half a dozen scones, do not worry they are used to it as I often asked them when Ms. Hudson is out of town.”
Smiling as Tom rushed to the door, he sat to read his newspaper. What is new in the world! Opening the Daily Telegraph, he shakes his head at the stupidity of the main news. That stupid elephant is now safe in New York, is that all? Really! Scrutinizing everything, even the main titles of the political section. The primary education is now free in France and obligatory, they are a bit late, but this is good news. Maybe the next generations will be a little less stupid. He was about to pick up the Times when something caught his eye. It was only a small paragraph.
Suicide of Sir Jeffrey! Found dead in a deserted office!
The shipyard’s owner, Sir A. Jeffrey, was found dead by a cleaning lady after business hours. The scandalous death is a strange end for the illustrious and well-established man. His family are sceptical about the whole affair and urge the authorities to do something. “It cannot be a suicide, Alexander was the best man I knew, a good Christian, successful in his business and proud of his wife and children.” A friend that suspected foul play said. DI Lestrade, from Scotland Yard, explained that Sir Jeffrey’s body did not have any marks or wounds and that a bottle – probably containing an awful poison – was found beside him.
Hmmm, Holmes frowned as he put down the newspaper, this is really strange . The idea disappeared to a small room of his Mind Palace as soon as Tom opened the door even as he juggled a tray that he carefully placed on a small table. “Tea, marvellous Tom!” The boy was turning around after a little bow when the Baker Street (now) sole tenant stopped him. “A few more things! First, please take that letter to the post, second,” he delicately wrapped two scones in a cloth. “This is for your breakfast and…” he winked, “you can officially keep the change on that little errand as it is already in your small front pocket, you little gangster!”
Knowing that he wasn’t really angry, Tom took the letter and the scones before he sprinted out of the room, “thanks, Mister Holmes!”
“AND BE QUIET AS LONG AS MS HUDSON IS SLEEPING!” He shouted as the door closed, most effectively waking up the old lady.
Three hours later, Watson was finally having a little pause as he locked the bookstore backdoor. The word is travelling fast! Each Saturday, more and more of them are coming... This is so sad, the amount of misery, but thanks to everything that is sacred that I can do a little for them. Drinking a strong coffee that had remained on the fire too long and was now awfully bitter, he sorted his instruments, bandages and poultices.
Everything started three months ago, he was acclimating well to his new life – even if he longed to practice his trade – and was walking leisurely in Holland Park when a beggar asked him for a penny or two. Stopping to get money from his pocket, Watson looked at the man benevolently when he realized that the man was a veteran. “My dear man, you should seek help, the Staff Officer of Pension must –“
“They want to put me in ‘ospital,” the man protested, “t’is my arm guv’nor, can’t do nothin’ with it.”
“If they want you to go to a hospital, it is to help you, my poor fellow.” Watson had replied, not understanding how a veteran of Her Majesty’s army can be reduced to beg to purchase food and pay for a bed. “It is not perfect, I have been there myself, but it is better to have care than –”
“You’re an officer, aye?” The soldier asked with a knowing look.
“Yes, but –”, Watson remembered the few times he saw the common room at Netley, where the simple soldiers were housed, and he understood the reluctance. And it was not the worse of the lot... Looking once more at the proud man, he suddenly knew what should be done. “Come with me, I… I am a doctor, I am going to check your arm and bandage it properly.”
“Got no money –“
“Free of charge.” As the man protested, he explained, “a little help from a fellow soldier to a fellow soldier.” Helping the man to grab his things, they walked back to Watson’s shop. As they turned on Argyll Road, the doctor pointed to his bookstore, “this is my place.”
“No, no, I can’t,” the soldier became suddenly agitated, “I canna enter by the front, I don’t want to cause trouble and, it is a posh street and all... I –”
“Do not worry,” Watson reassured him. “It is my place, I can do whatever I want. Don’t you think?”
“No.” The reluctant man said as he stopped walking.
“The back-door? Is it okay by the back-door?” The doctor proposed. As the proud soldier nods, he showed him a nearby alleyway. “Go down here and wait for me at the door with the Argyll Bookstore sign, I am going to open it for you in a few minutes.”
After a little doubt on how to proceed before his field training kicks in, the doctor was once more practising his art with the added satisfaction of helping another veteran. Grabbing a well-worn notebook, he asked, “What’s your name and regiment, soldier?”
Suspicious, the man mutters, “don’t want my name in no list, sir.”
Chuckling, he explained, “if I want to remember what I have done and how your arm going to be the next time, I need to write it down.”
“Next time,” the older man repeated, not believing his ears.
“Yes, of course, come back next Saturday at nine, I want to be sure that you are healing.”
“It’s Miller, doctor,” the soldier grumbled, “Suffolk Regiment.”
Getting up, he extended his hand in the direction of his first patient since he had left Afghanistan, “nice to officially make your acquaintance, Miller, I am Doctor John H. Watson formerly Captain in the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers.”
Miller was the first, the first of many. The next Saturday, he brought a friend, then another, and another until the word about the ‘doctor of the soldier’ was well spread among the homeless veteran population in London.
Without knowing it, that first soldier that Watson assisted, helped the ex-Captain in many ways.
But most of all, he was finally, a few hours a week at least, back to being a doctor.
Chapter 5: Terrible news
Watson’s world is at risk when he learned terrible news!
The number of ‘suicides’ is a source of worry for the Londoners…
A few weeks later, Watson was in the back of the shop, trying not to open the letter he had just received from his friend. The delays are ridiculous, the letter is stamped April 5 th , have been treated by the association a week later and just made its way back to London today, on the 22nd! It would be so much more efficient if we had each other’s addresses! He pondered silently. It’s been harder to remain calm, as the day unfolded, knowing that the letter was in his inside coat pocket. I should open the shipment we received from that Edinburgh publisher . He pulled out his cutting knife with resolution and was about to open the package when Somerset entered the room in a panic.
“Doctor, sorry I mean, Mister Watson, I just heard the most dreadful, really dreadful, news!”
Putting down the knife in his hands, the older man quickly asked, “it is not about your mother, Somerset, I hope?”
“No, no, sir, she is still fit as a fiddle, it just that Ms Cunningham just left the shop with the books we ordered for her and –“
“It wasn’t the right one?” Watson interrupted, “that is strange, I personally checked the order and –”
“No, no, it is not that, the order was as expected, and she was satisfied.” The clerk was uncustomarily frazzled, pressing his hands one on each other as to find comfort.
“Go on then, good man, what is going on?” His boss questioned. I am getting anxious now! Whatever this is, it appears to be serious!
“You know Homes & Brother? On High Kensington?”
“Of course, everyone knows the store! It’s only a few street corners away, even a blind man would know it!” Frowning and trying to find a link between the big (expensive) shop and Somerset’s attitude. “Oh no! Do not tell me that something happened!” The image of clients caught in a fire or a collapse of some sort sprung in his head.
“No, no, no one is hurt, sir!” Somerset quickly reassured his boss, “it is just that Ms Cunningham went there this morning and she saw... a banner!”
“Oh, a banner, that is something really frightful!” Watson joked, trying to calm his clerk. “Did she spotted a grammatical error in it?”
“The banner said that they are going to open a new department, sir, selling BOOKS!”
The older man, perplexed at the panic in his clerk’s voice, said calmly, “Oh, that cannot be good for us, but is this so bad? Above all, we want people to read, no?”
“Sir, it is not a library! They are going to SELL books!”
“It is true that it is really convenient to be able to get books at the same place as your other items...” Watson murmured, starting to work on the box in front of him. “But our clients are loyal, don’t you think Somerset?”
“Yes, sir, for now, but –”
“Maybe it won’t be that popular, we’ll see later.” The cheerful sound of the door’s bell cut the conversation abruptly. “You see, Somerset, customers!”
“DI Lestrade! London wants to know!” A journalist asked for the third time. Scotland Yard’s small hall was full of people, a mix of journalists, policemen, and nosy people.
“It was already tragic when Sir Jeffrey took his life, but a few days ago it was MP Davenport!
“And do not forget that poor young boy, James Phillimore! Dying like that, all alone! Think about his family! They deserve answers even if they are not as well-known as the other two!”
“Are you brushing this young man’s death under the rug because he was poor?” A journalist shouted as the others nod and murmured their support.
“God, of course, no! Each and every case are important!” Lestrade rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. Journalists are horrible, why do we have to talk to them, I do not understand. “These are not crimes, except under the eyes of the Church.” He sighed, “there is nothing to say, I know that suicides are upsetting... the idea that a loved one can commit that unspeakable offence against God is horrible, but it is only that, suicide.”
“But,” another one objected, “what can we say to the public, they need to be protected!”
“Just do not be stupid enough to attempt to take your own life,” he muttered strongly enough to be heard by the first rows of journalists. As his assistant, a man called Donovan, discreetly nudged his thigh, he spoke louder. “I know that people are worried, but I want you to convey that we take this matter seriously and we are one hundred per cent certain that there is no foul play here. Our best men are on the case –“
The Detective Inspector's speech was interrupted by a dozen of telegram delivery boys flooding the room at the same time, each screaming different names!
“A telegram for Mr Boddington from the Times!”
“A telegram for Mr Reynold from the Telegraph!”
“Mr Jones, a telegram for Mr Jones from The Illustrated London News!”
And so on in a cacophony of shouting boys and angry policemen who tried to stop them.
Lestrade, exasperated, finally shouts over the noise, “silence! What’s going on!”
With a little smirk, one of the journalists gave his telegram to Lestrade. It contained only one word. Rolling his eyes at Holmes’ impertinence, it can only be him. He shouted to the excited journalists to get on with their job and to not consider the telegram they received.
“But it is only the word ‘Wrong’, I do not understand?” Reynold questioned.
Sitting back in his chair, Lestrade motioned to the constables present to evacuate the room. God, I am tired of all his dramatic tricks. He doesn’t realize that one of the delivery boys was extending a hand in his direction until the adolescent cleared his voice. “What is this?”
“A telegram for you, DI Lestrade, no charge, everything is already paid for.” Just like that, the boys disappeared from the room as quickly as they all arrived.
Unfolding the small paper, the detective was not surprised to read, "You know where to find me. Sherlock Holmes.”
Later that afternoon, Watson was in the front of the shop helping a customer and trying not to think about Holmes & Brother, when a few men entered. They turned around, spoke to each other in a restrained tone, chuckling a bit. They were about to leave when the doctor was finally able to direct his client to Somerset to finalize the sale. “Excuse me, Sirs, can I help you?”
One of the men, an expressive man in his forties, smiles. “No, everything is fine, my good man, we were just... browsing.”
The eldest of the three chuckled. “Yes, simply checking out the competition.”
What? “Who are you, and what are you doing in MY shop!”
“Oh!” The tallest man said, talking for the first time, “you are the owner of this... quaint establishment.”
“Yes, John Watson.” Standing tall, he looked into his eyes, “and you, Sir, who are you?”
“I am Mycroft Holmes .” The man smirked knowing the effect his name was going to have on the small shop owner. “You may have heard about my establishment?”
“Yes, the place where you can find everything from baby’s gowns to suspenders!” Watson ridiculed. “Everything except culture!”
“Culture is as good as the people willing to put money in it,” the hateful man replied coldly. “And I am sorry to say that I am going to be able to sell for less than you and more conveniently.”
“A book is not something you can buy while browsing for a new perfume!”
“We shall see, we are planning a big opening in six weeks,” Holmes smiles benevolently before dropping the pretence, “please do not come. Come on, we have nothing more to see here. We can do so much better.” With a swift movement, the door was opened, and the three men were back on the street.
The client, her books in her hands, nods before walking to the door. “That man was really arrogant and ungentlemanly, Mister Watson, I will certainly not do business there!”
“Thank you, Ms Garner, have a nice evening.”
“Oh my God, Sir,” Somerset stepped quickly near his boss as soon as they are alone, “I cannot believe you talked to him like that! He is a powerful man, you know, I heard that he worked with the government on secret things!”
He may be working secretly with the government, but he is very publicly an asshole , Watson thought as he held back from uttering out loud many of the colourful curses he learned in the army.
That night, once more alone in his little flat above his bookstore, Watson took a moment to think about today’s meeting. I must be honest even if I tried to be brave in front of Somerset, this is terrible news. What is going to happen to him, to his mother that depends on his salary, if the shop loses too many clients? If I have to close it? What would happen to me? To all these men that are coming here for help? I would not be able to keep this building if the bookstore does not do as well as it does presently. I would need to find another place to live.
He was about to go to bed – the little chores of the evening done absentmindedly - when he realized that because of the day’s anguish he forgot to read his friend’s letter! Another reason to hate that man! Opening the letter quickly, he started to read. Dreaming about walking with him in London’s parks. He’s right, they are so beautiful in spring! Chiding silently the man for the careless way he maintained his rooms, knowing that his own military precision would not accept to exist in such chaos. That landlady of his is a pearl amongst women! Good for them, opera is a great night out! The section where the man talked about the way he was unconsciously looking for him strikes an identical cord for Watson. How he wished to have the courage of asking his friend for a meeting! Laughing at the tale of how the other tenant left, he imagined suddenly how life would be if he took the room. Living in the same place, under the sole scrutiny of a benevolent old lady... Maybe we could... But the tasteless jokes and remarks he often heard against queers from soldiers, professors, fellow doctors, his father... He seems so much braver than I, and I used to be in battle, on the front lines. Yes, he is so much braver than I.
Finally, unable to go to sleep, he decided to write to his friend. Only him, with his bright mind, can help me! He will know what I should do!
London, April 22, 1882
My dear friend,
Your letter arrived today, and it enchanted me, as usual. Some of the things you said will require a lot of reflection as they provoked questions that I do not know how to reply to.
I am writing about another matter completely because you have my trust and my most sincere admiration for your sharp mind.
As you know, I am the proud owner of a little business that in its present state, does well enough to ensure a good simple life for my clerk and me. I am sorry to say that this part of my life, my livelihood, in fact, is in jeopardy. Another businessman in the same field of mine wants to establish an establishment in the vicinity of mine. When my employee learned the news, he was panicking at the risk to my little business and I am afraid that he is right. What should I do, is it too late? I know that this concurrent is going to open in about six weeks... I do not know what to do.
I would hate to have to quit London or for the dear fellow who worked for me to have to find another place.
I need your help, my friend, what should I do to stop this terrible fate!
Chapter 6: A threat to the country!
Sherlock explores a threat to the country or, you know, the first meeting!
“Mister Holmes!” His landlady knocked at the door with a joyful flourish. “Yoo-hoo!” He is always happy when he receives a letter from his correspondent. “Mister Holllllllmes!”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming!” Opening the door to the somewhat invasive lady, Holmes protested. “I am in the middle of an experiment, Ms Hudson, you must stop interfer –”
“So, you do not want the letter you received a minute ago?” She showed him the envelope – similar to the ones his friend generally used - before putting the letter back in the fold of her frilly apron. “So sad, I thought that you were still good friends with him....”
Extending his hand with a frown, Holmes murmured, “letter.”
“Hmm? Sorry, did you say something, Mister Holmes?” Looking inside, she recoiled in horror! “What is that on my dining table, young man?”
“It is only a selection of fingers dropped in an acid solution, do not fret, the people are already dead, and they do not miss them. Letter?” After a second, he added a plaintive, “please?”
“Fingers! Acid! This is a mahogany table!”
“LETTER! Ms Hudson!”
“Oh! You are lucky that I like you!” She shoved the letter in his hand and spun on her heel before walking down the stairs to her own flat.
Closing the door with a sweet smile on his lips, Holmes quickly walked to his desk. His experiments clearly no longer of importance to his restless mind. With a swift movement of his hand, he slit open the envelope with an old poignard and sighed as soon as his eyes fell upon his friend’s writing. I wonder what he is going to say about the available room here, or how I clearly wish to meet him... His anxiety dropped rapidly as he realized that the letter was not about the possible future of their relationship but on a completely opposite subject! What? Someone is threatening him! He may lose his business! To his horror, the idea that his dear W may be forced to leave London was real! It would not do! Even if we never meet, the knowledge that he is in the same city, just the possibility that I am seeing him each day without knowing it, is everything!
Getting out his ink and paper, he started to write furiously. Hoping that the few schemes he was proposing would be a solution to delay or postpone indefinitely the threat. Above all, he offered his direct help! My friend, I have the ability needed to find information about that horrible man. Please give me your name and address, or at least gave me more details so I can help you. I will not tolerate that someone may push you away from London. After a more positive and warmer conclusion, he signed and closed the letter as the clock chimed. Oh! I have to go, or I am going to be late for my meeting with Mycroft! Ringing for Tom, whom he had asked to get the letter to the post office as soon as possible, he quickly dressed before leaving for the store.
“Sherlock?” His elder brother’s left hand was tapping impatiently on his desk. It is the same as last month, this is getting worse ! “SHERLOCK!”
“Yes, yes!” The impatient man walked back to the desk and dropped his tall frame onto a comfortable chair. “I am here! You can talk to me about benefits, inventory, human resources, and so on.”
Mycroft Holmes, a disgruntled moue on his face, watched his younger sibling with attention. “No. I won’t.”
“So, this is the end of this silly meeting, I can go?”
“No, you stay put and you are going to tell me what is going on.” I know, but I want him to say it! That whole lovesick attitude must ends! If he is not able to do so, I will!
“Nothing is going on, I am still waiting for Lestrade to contact me regarding these three murders, but he is stubborn." Sherlock replied, avoiding his brother scrutiny by looking at his elegant shoes, "otherwise, everything is fine.”
“I am going to believe you, little brother, this time. So, if everything is perfect except that you do not have any cases from the Yard, maybe you could do a little... errand for me?” Despite his effort, Holmes was not able to hide a slight smirk.
Humming without saying yes, Sherlock asked, “what do you want?”
“Oh! Next to nothing for a man like you...” He nods mockingly to his brother, “I want more information about a store, only a few street corners from here. I think it is the den of a rebellion movement. Dubious men, the type that should not be seen in this neighbourhood, are meeting each other often at that place. Using the back entrance, discreetly without being seen.”
“So, it is not something for Holmes & Brother but for you other... interests ,” Sherlock suggested, knowing of his brother’s involvement in the higher level of the government.
“I am just helping my country when I can, only with the little I can do of course,” the man replied coldly. “If you do help me, I will end this meeting right now and tell Mother that you are interested and eager to learn more about the business. She is going to be so pleased with you!”
Tempted by the idea of pleasing his mother without having to actually spend time in the administration of the store, he waited a moment before accepting. “Where is it, this shop of yours?”
“Only a few corners away, on Argyll Road,” using one of his calling cards, he wrote down the address. “Just do a little reconnaissance , nothing fancy. We just want to know if it is something serious or a philosophers’ guild.”
“Philosophers tend to be quite rebellious,” Sherlock deadpanned, taking the card. “You and your lot should read Engels’ papers.”
“We are, brother mine, we are... and we are worried.”
A light smile on his lips, the consultant detective walked in the direction of the little shop that was (maybe) threatening the whole country with seditious designs! This is probably a reunion for the alumni of Oxford graduates in Literature, Holmes silently laughed about the idea. But if it is the price for a bit of peace from my dear brother, I will gladly lose a bit of my time on it! The shop was nearby and after a few minutes, he was across the street, looking at the so-called den of rebellion.
Without being seen, he started to observe the small shop, committing each detail to memory.
It was a small place, not like some others which spread on the adjacent building, it was still only one terrace wide. The woodwork on the door and a big window were in dark wood, gleaming in the sun. It is well loved and cared for; this does not seem to be a temporary meeting place. The window display was beautifully done, an array of books and writing paraphernalia nicely exposed to tempt the eyes of the passerby. While he was observing, a few clients walked in and out, with and without a parcel in hand. Nothing seemed odd or threatening. Walking across the street, he decided that a little visit would not be that hard. Perhaps I could purchase a few rare books and send the bill to Mycroft.
He rolled his eyes at a little inscription over the door “Owner: H. Lambton, 1842”. Same owner for the last 40 years... This is ridiculous, I do not know who gave them that intel, but there is nothing wrong with that shop!
A bright ‘Good afternoon, Sir!’ resonated in the room as soon as the door closed. The young man stopped his work - he was replacing books on thick oak shelves, taking care to get them perfectly aligned – then turned towards Holmes. “How may I help you?”
Quickly, he became the perfect customer. “I am looking for a scientific book, do you carry them?”
With a bright open smile, the clerk nodded with energy, “Yes! The owner really likes everything that is scientific, especially concerning medicine and biology, what are you looking for exactly?”
“The title is ‘An elementary manual of chemistry’, by Nichols,” Sherlock replied, thinking quickly about the bibliography included in his last edition of the Journal of the Chemical Society. “It is quite recent, from an American publisher, Taylor, I believe.”
“I think we may have a copy, let me check.” Leading his client in the section dedicated to the sciences, he looked over the titles but sadly was not able to find it. “I am so sorry, Sir, let me check with the owner, we recently received an order of books from an American distributor, maybe a copy is still in the box.”
The detective walked around the shop slowly, looking at the books. A lot of novels, of course, how can people waste their time reading novels? Dickens does have some merit but... romantic drivel like Austen... He smirked at the numerous books on astronomy, how is it relevant to our life? This is ridiculous! His interested eyes spotted a German book about bacteriology that he had wanted for a long time when the clerk came back.
“Oh! Do you read German, Sir? I know it is a scientific book because of the illustration, but I know nothing else!” He pointed at the back of the store, “the owner is going to be with you shortly about the Chemistry book, he is checking the publisher catalogue right now.”
“Perfect,” after a last look at the beautiful edition of Untersuchungen uber die aetiologie der wundinfectionskrankheiter, he placed the book on the counter, “I am certainly going to take this one.”
“I am happy that you found something of interest, Sir!” He nodded as a little noise came from the back room “Mister Watson will be with you shortly! We can open your account in the meanwhile if you want?”
Like every time he heard a name starting with ‘W’, his heart somersaulted. I do not think my correspondent is an old man in his seventies... be reasonable! He chided himself, before looking back to the clerk. “Yes, we can. My name is... William Vernet, the address is 221b Baker Street.” He was lost in his thoughts, studying the beautiful books in display behind the counter when a warm voice, not belonging to an old man, resonated in the small bookstore.
“I am so sorry, Sir, we do not have Nichols book at that time, but it is scheduled to arrive in our next shipment.”
“Mister Vernet, let me introduce to you the owner, Doctor Watson.”
Holmes remained silent, looking at the man in front of him. No, it is not possible. The ‘W’, a doctor... The owner was supposed to be a serious old man! Quickly, his eyes registered everything! Rigidity in the left shoulder, military precision in the haircut, mid-thirties, new owner, not the same name as the one in the sign outside, but he kept it, sentimentality, family, inheritance, the few scientific and military books are new, he added his own interest, no, no, it cannot be. Oh Great Lord, finally. It’s him! His mind burst of happiness until the thought that Mycroft had something to do with their meeting dimmed his joy.
“Sir?” the young employee asked, confused, “are you all right?” Turning toward his boss, he showed the book that Holmes already chose, merriment in his eyes “look, Doctor Watson, you are not the only one in London who has an interest in the sciences!”
“Told him a thousand time to stopped calling me doctor, I am not one anymore!” Pushing away the effect that the glorious man’s gaze had on him, Watson chuckled. “But it is true that I still do try to keep up with the newest innovations, but I do not read German! You are better than me on that account, Sir!”
“Are you placing an order for Nichols’ book as well, Mister Vernet?” Somerset asked, clueless about the tension in the room.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Holmes mumbles softly.
Without a word, the young clerk wrapped the book carefully before handing it to his client, “here you go, it is 5 shillings, 10 p.”
Taking out a whole pound from his wallet, he deposited it on the counter, “on account for the other one.”
“Thank you, sir. I am going to write it down in your account.”
Watson was still silent, listening to the exchange without knowing what to say. I do not remember the last time someone had this effect on me! Either man or woman... What is happening to me! He was suddenly pulled from his reverie by the doorbell. Saved by the bell! “Oh, Ms Cunningham, how are you today?”
“MISTER WATSON!”, the lady protested as she placed her hand theatrically on her heart, “how could you tolerate that man in your shop!”
“What are you talking about? Mister Vernet is a new customer and –”
“Vernet? It is one of the Holmes brothers!”
Knowing that it is his time to go, if he does not want to kill the troublesome woman!, Holmes nodded briefly and walked out the door before Watson was able to say a thing! I am going to kill Mycroft instead!
If you want to read the books ;-)
Untersuchungen uber die aetiologie der wundinfectionskrankheiter. Koch, Leipzig, 1878.
An elementary manual of chemistry, Wm. Ripley Nichols, New York, 1880
Chapter 7: Tea?
What happened in the following hours?
Leaving the noisy woman alone with Somerset, Watson flew in the back store and sat at his desk. He was shaking, literally shaking. Unable to comprehend what had happened. His enemy’s brother, in his shop! As if it was nothing! Giving a false name, evidence if any was needed that he was here for no good!
The horrible feeling of having been played was enhanced by the doctor’s traitorous attraction to the beautiful gentleman! How could he have been so... how could it is possible that I... I found that, that man attractive, how could he have troubled me like that! We had been in the same room for less than five minutes. Furthermore, how could I still feel something more than a pure disgust at that spy’s treachery! He spread his fingers on the old wood of the working surface, thinking about all the time the original owner spent there, choosing books, solving all the little problems a shop owner dealt with each day. I bet uncle Hamish never had that kind of trouble...
Afraid of thinking about Holmes the younger, he chose not to name his feelings for what they were before he learned the truth: pure attraction.
This is ridiculous, I only met the man. I am not a young buck unable to restrain his ardour! A faint blush appeared on his cheeks as a wave of guilt replaced any idea he may have about his enemy’s grace and elegance. Even if he were not a Holmes, I have already the friendship of a perfectly sweet and intelligent man, how could I even fantasised about another! Thinking of his correspondent’s letters upstairs, he nearly rushed to his apartment to read them, to touch them. To be near him in the only way possible for the moment. To erase the memories of the previous encounter.
Unable to discuss the situation with Somerset, he remained out of the store until the end of the day. Reading papers, sorting his orders, trying – more than ever – to find a way to stay afloat when the new and shiny books department would open at Holmes & Brother. Above all, he was avoiding the discussion his employee will probably want to have with him. But, as if the young man knew that his boss did not want to talk about their visitor, he scrupulously stayed outside of the back room for the rest of the day, until it was time to close.
“Sir?” His voice, softer than usual, called for Watson’s attention. “I am ready to go; do you want to lock the door after me?”
Waking up from the near trance he had fallen into an hour ago, the doctor quickly stood. “Yes, yes, of course Somerset.” Following the young man up to the door, his eyes made a cursory scan of the counter and shelves. “Everything is in order, thank you for everything, it was... it was an odd day.”
Feeling that the older man was not inclined to discuss Holmes, he simply nodded. He will speak to me when he is ready and only if he thinks it is the good thing to do! But this is really horrible for that business man to send his younger brother in secret! This is so ungentlemanly! “Good night, sir, see you on Monday.”
“Good night, Somerset, wish you a nice weekend and good luck with your reluctant pupils tomorrow!”
Laughing, the agreeable young man shook his head, “I really do not know what I am going to do with them!” The affection for his young students was bursting in his voice! “But giving lessons to these unfortunate children, if it is a big challenge, is really important.”
“I know, Somerset, I know... You are helping them in many ways. You know, my uncle told me that you were a good man and I am really satisfied to know that you really are.”
“Thank you, Doctor Watson, it is, it is a really high praise coming from him... and from you.” If the compliment caused the industrious man to stutter a bit, they both stay silent about it as his boss finally closed the door and turned the bolt.
Following his routine, the shop owner turned down the lights one by one, checking one last time that everything was in its proper place, before taking the book containing the sales of the day as well as the content of the register and going up to his rooms.
When he seen it .
A paper, similar to the one they complete for each client. And a name, William Vernet. Liar! LIAR! Opening the box containing the money, he took a pound and – client form still in hand – he rushed outside.
A few hours before...
Holmes entered Baker Street’s lobby in a foul mood! That my brother, that meddling know-it-all, chose this afternoon to leave his beloved office! Right after he sent me on that little mission of his... He was giving his coat and hat to Tom, when Ms Hudson interrupted his internal rambling.
“Is everything all right, Mister Holmes?” She was really concerned, she was used to her tenant’s tempestuous temper, but today he was absolutely livid. “Did you quarrel with someone?”
“My BROTHER! Who else, Ms Hudson!”
“Humph, what did he do again?”
“He was not in his office nor in his club when I called on him!” His whole demeanour was adding an unspoken, could you believe that! “It is most inconsiderate to not be present when I want to argue with him!”
“Next time you want a nice argument with him, Mister Holmes, maybe you should send a calling card beforehand.” The old lady replied, with a little laugh. Wanting to change his spirit, she asked softly, “did you receive good news from your friend this morning?”
At her words, Sherlock’s complexion turned ashen, urgin Tom to come near him, he enquired feverishly, “the letter that I gave you, where it is?”
“I went directly to the post-office sir, it’s already on its way!” The young boy gleamed, happy of a job well-done.
“Thank you, Tom, thank you...” Distraught, Holmes nodded and gave a shilling to Ms Hudson’s diligent little helper before heading for his flat. Once inside, the door securely closed behind him, he closed his eyes and breathed. Alone for the first time since he exited the bookstore, he was finally able to think about what happened and how to fix that particular mess. I actually sent a letter helping him to destroy the family's business. Brilliant.
Later that evening, Ms Hudson was prepping everything for tea when the knocker resonated loudly. “Tom!” Where is that boy? It would never happen in Paris! “Tom! The door!” As the door vibrated loudly a second time, she removed the kettle from the stovetop and walked quickly to the front door. Maybe it is that inspector or a new client for Mister Holmes! Poor man, he needed the distraction. On the porch stood a man who, if he was not as tall as other, had all the stature of someone who should not be trifled with.
With a smile, she was always partial to beautiful young gentleman, she asked, “good evening, sir, how may I help you?”
“Is this Holmes’ residence?” Watson replies, hopeful that it was not a false address. As fake as his name!
“Certainly, please come in.” The old lady graciously opened the door to let the man inside. Spotting Tom, who was coming back from gossiping with his friend in the lane, she raised a finger. “Come here my boy! Where were you in the last hour, talking nonsense with Mister Holmes little friends, isn’t? Go up to his flat at once and check if he is receiving.”
“Yes, Ms Hudson!” Tom rushed to the first floor without acknowledging his mistress admonitions.
Chuckling, the landlady turned his attention on the man in front of here. “Are you a friend of Mister Holmes?”
“No,” Watson replied coldly, “not a friend.”
Ms Hudson was pondering if it was too nosy to probe if he needed the detective’s services when Tom returned.
“He said that he is sincerely sorry, but that he cannot see anyone tonight.” His crisp smile proof that it was not exactly what was said by the irritated (and sad) detective. “He said that maybe you can come back tomorrow, sir?”
The doctor’s anger raised a notch at being so easily pushed away when a furious voice came from the first-floor landing.
“I HAVE NEVER SAID THAT I WAS ‘SORRY’... I thought you were a brilliant boy, Tom, but you are an idiot, like all the others!” Holmes voice dropped as he starts to mocked “pfff, maybe you can come back tomorrow... As if!” With a theatrical movement of his dressing gown he charged back in his living room, closing the door strongly enough to shake the lobby’s chandelier.
“Oh my! My chandelier! Be careful young man or I am going to have to take the repairs from your rent!” She was still looking if the crystal pendants were still intact when she heard steps on the stairs. “No! Sir! You cannot go there, he said –” but it was too late, Watson was in front of Holmes’s door and – without any warning – he entered the room.
The detective turned on his heels to protest as soon as the door opened but was only able to stutter a feeble, “you... it’s you.”
“Yes, me, Mister HOLMES.” John’s temper was fighting against the beauty of the vision in front of him. The man, now out of his cloak and hat contrary to the first time he saw him, was stunning. Tall, thin but with vigour in the stance, he was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. His dark hair, carefully pulled back with product, was rebelling and started to curl at his nape, the heavy velvet of his gown was an invitation to touch, to caress... Watson! Stop this at once! Remember that you hate the man. That you hate that handsome bastard. “I am here to give you back your money.”
Entranced by the presence of his dear friend in his living room, Holmes struggled to get back to his senses! “My... money?”
“Yes,” with a flourish, the other man placed a pound on a nearby table, “your pound. I will not sell you Nichols’ book and, if you may, I would like to have the book on bacteriology back.”
“But, I wanted that book!” Sherlock protested, not prepared to partake from what will probably become the only souvenir of this meeting! “And you do not even speak German!”
Watson was about to retort when Ms Hudson pushed the door – which wasn’t closed all the way – and entered with tea. “Gentlemen, the tea is ready!”
The doctor, unable to talk harshly in front of a lady, smiled coldly and waited for her to go. Looking at Holmes, he frowned sceptically as the horrible yet so attractive man gently chided the old woman.
“Ms Hudson, I told you, you should not bring me tea in the evening.” He swiftly removed the heavy tray, “your hip is hurting you again.” Once the tray was down on a table, the slightly younger man looked under the cloche and sighed, “you surpassed yourself again, my dear friend, this look wonderful!” He knew the effort she was doing to find recipes that he loved and how she was aware that, when he was cross, he is only partial to sugary confections.
She patted his harm affectionately, and turned to look at John, “you know that this young man saved my life! He is the most wonderful human when he is in the mood to be!”
“MS HUDSON!” Holmes scolded, showing her the door. “Good night!”
Alone again, with a teapot full of aromatic Earl Grey, Holmes did the only thing an Englishman can do in such a situation. “May I offer you a cup of tea, Doctor Watson?”
The vision of gentle domesticity he just witnessed was hard to reconcile with Watson's bad opinion of the man.
Unable to speak, he nodded slowly and accepted the delicate cup.
Chapter 8: And now a note!
Holmes and Watson's tête-à-tête is interrupted by the police...
They were savouring their tea for more than 10 minutes when Holmes was able to summon the courage to speak and break the silence... even if he does not really know what to do! “Why did you come here if you do not know what to say or what to do? Your anger clearly got the best of you, and... for that, I am deeply sorry.”
“If I am civil enough to hide my anger for a moment, you should be polite enough to not acknowledge it,” Watson mutters, sipping his tea.
“Do not worry, you are quite good at hiding your emotions behind a passive mask, but,” with a slight smile he pointed to his visitor’s hand, “your fingers are holding that cup so tightly that I am afraid for Ms Hudson’s best tea set.”
Extending his arm, the doctor replaced the fine porcelain on the nearby table as gently as he could despite his exasperation. He was pondering if he should start the argument all over again or simply leave. What am I doing here? I should have left after I gave him back his money! “I think I should –“
“No!” Holmes protested, knowing what his friend – he is my friend even if he does not know it at the moment, isn’t he? – was going to say. “Don’t go, please. I apologise for the torment I forced on you since my visit this afternoon –“
Watson tried to get back to the reason why he was in Baker Street, “I am here only to tell you that your presence in my business was not welcome, now that I know who you are, and I do not want to see you there again.”
“I wasn’t aware of my brother’s intention of opening a bookstore inside his establishment and -”
Not listening, the doctor repeats quietly, but insistently, “I do not want to see you or your brother or any of Holmes' employees in my shop, am I clear enough? And, the correct word is ‘our’.” John added, coldly.
Nonplussed, Sherlock asked, “what?”
“Our establishment, it is Holmes & Brother after all.” Watson specified, not wanting to make it too easy for the younger man, even if he appears quite perturbed by the whole story.
“I have no implication whatsoever in the administration of the shop, believe me!” He smirked derisively, “to my brother satisfaction I can assure you, even if he often said the contrary.”
“So, I must believe that you were in Argyll Bookstore by... chance?” the doctor chuckles darkly, “I am not an innocent damsel, sir, to believe such a tale.”
Melting from the beauty of Watson’s deep laughter, Sherlock was not able to keep the truth from leaving his lips, “no, no, it was not by chance, my brother thought that you were hiding a felonious association.”
“That is enough!” Jumping out of his chair, the doctor was ready to go.
“No, no, I know it is not that... It just that people have seen strange men entering your establishment and –“ Holmes suddenly understood what was going on! Oh, I have been slow on this one. He is marvellous, I love him much more deeply now that I know more. The fact that he is perfectly adorable and strong at the same time is just a great bonus. In a dreamy voice, he explained, “you are helping veterans, less fortunate than yourself, aren’t you? Clandestinely from your backroom, every Saturday. This is why your neighbours are seeing ‘dangerous’ looking men in the alley behind your bookstore.”
“How –“, Watson cleared his voice, “how do you know that?”
Conscious that he was not supposed to know that much about the man, he improvised from what was right in front of him. “You are a doctor, your clerk called you Doctor Watson, but you are also a military man if I trust your demeanour and the new section of military books in your shop.” He smiles, unable to stop his eyes from showing the deepest affection, “you are a good man, Doctor Watson, righteous to a fault. The proof is that you came here to give me back a pound!” Sherlock, enamoured, was so afraid that Watson’s actual opinion about the Holmes family was going to bias his judgement if he was to simply tell him that he was his secret correspondent! I cannot lose him! “A doctor, unable to openly practice for whatever reason, owner of a little business but still with an ardent desire to help. It is the only outcome possible... You probably met your first patient in the street or in a park and the rest just... snowballed.”
“This... this... this is brilliant.” Watson stuttered. Impressed even as he ardently does not want to be.
“Oh,” Holmes smiled, surprised and falling even more in love, “that is not what people normally say.”
“No? What do they say, if I may ask?”
“Let’s just say that I am fortunate that duelling is no longer an acceptable way to end an argument,” Sherlock laughed, “except for a few rounds at the boxing club, it does usually end with one insult or another.”
“Regarding my... hobby,” Watson asked, knowing that his little clinic was in peril.
“I am going to tell my brother that there is nothing wrong in it, and to tell his... friends that they should not worry about rhat any longer.”
“So, it is true that your brother is also working for the government?” As if being the owner of one of the biggest shops in London was not enough! Without being able to restrain his curiosity, he adds, “and you?”
“Me? No, I am a consultant detective.” He smiled, happy to boast, “when Scotland Yard does not know what to do, which is often, they contact me.”
“But, the police do not work with civilians and –”
Not listening anymore, Holmes walked quickly to the window as he heard the noise of horses stopping. Somewhat peaceful at the idea of getting his mind away from the delicious man for a moment. Discreetly, he opened the curtain to watch the street where a Scotland Yard issued vehicle stopped in front of 221b. “Yes, finally...” he murmured, “something new!” Without paying attention to what his guest was saying, the detective murmured “I am sorry, Doctor Watson, but I must go.” The grown man was ebullient, unable to push down his enthusiasm. Ooooh, this is marvellous!
“Yes, of course, thank you for the tea.” Thanking him for the tea, am I crazy! The git is looking outside instead of paying attention to me, “I am going, and I hope that we will never cross paths again!” Taking up his hat and coat, that he left on a chair while Holmes was pouring tea, he rushed to the door. His hand was on the knob when the door was suddenly opened by the woman in charge.
“Oh! You are leaving, sir?” Looking inside, she spotted her tenant, who was now reading a book and trying to look as disinterested as possible. “Mister Holmes! It’s DI Lestrade for you...” She stepped aside to let in a grave grey hair man. With a nod, Watson walked out without saying a word.
“Holmes!” Lestrade was flustered, unable to understand what he was doing in Baker Street when he swore that he wouldn’t ask for the detective’s help!
“Yes?” Closing his book with a snap, the detective asked languidly, “you need something Lestrade, may I offer you tea?”
“Damn your tea!” At Ms Hudson indignant little scream, he quickly excused himself, “Sorry, sorry, Ms Hudson. I am sure the tea is delicious, as usual.” He turned to Holmes, playing nervously with his notebook, “you know how they never, ever, left a message?” The DI announced, removing his hat to ran a hand through his hair, “this one did.”
“Lauriston Garden, some poor kid found her an hour ago.” It was already late, and the day was far from over. The exhaustion was clearly visible on the man’s face. “Will you come?”
“Do you have anyone with a medical background on your team?” Holmes replied, trying his best to not look too eager.
Shaking his head, knowing that the proud detective would not be happy, Lestrade sputtered, “Anderson.”
“NO! Not him, he hates me, you know that!”
The DI was a foot outside the flat when he tried one more time, “WILL YOU COME?”
“Yes, yes, but not with you, I am going to follow in a hackney.” Lestrade, satisfied, rushed down the stairs to go back to the crime scene.
“Oh! Ms Hudson! Isn’t it marvellous! A new victim and now a note!” All the excitement contained in the thin man exploded at once. With a flourish, he replaced his robe with his jacket and coat, grabbed his hat and cane before giving the elderly woman a big joyful kiss. “The game is on, Ms Hudson!”
He was calling a hansom cab when an idea sprung in his already alert mind! Yes, this is going to do nicely!
Watson was walking down Baker Street, furious about the whole affair! I should not have been there tonight! This was an ill-advised action, too emotional, not something a former Captain of Her Majesty’s Army should have done! His undeniable attraction for the damn man, the awkward yet strangely comfortable silence when they drank tea, the warmth of the flat nothing like the coldness any of the Holmes’ family residences must have! It was cosy, like the office of an erudite and curious man. I would... I would like to live somewhere like this. He frowned, troubled by where his thoughts were leading him. The only thing I should feel about that man, his family and his world, is disgust! If Mycroft Holmes had been honest, the opening of his bookstore would take place in a month, I must find a way to stop it! To do something! I hope my friend is going to have a plan because, right now, I have no idea...
Lost in his thoughts, he never heard the loud order that a driver gave to his horses as a cab halted next to him. Watson’s instinct kicked-in for a second as his entire body readied for battle before he started to walk again, knowing that it was not an attack or anything of that sort.
Until he hears a voice.
“Doctor Watson! A word, please!”
Turning on his heel, he faced Holmes. If the man was glorious in the cosiness of his interior, he was now magnificent. His eyes, transfixed by the possibility of a chase and the challenge of a puzzle, combined a thousand colours. Many of them unknown to the most talented artists of the day. Mesmerized, John remained in place, unable to move. Hesitant, unable to understand what was going on inside of him, he sighed, defeated for a moment. “What do you want of me, Holmes?”
Everything, forever. “You are a doctor, you were a soldier, many times on front line... You have seen horrors, I am certain, that no one can imagine.”
It wasn’t really a question, but Watson nodded sadly. “Yes, enough for a lifetime.”
Offering a hand to help the doctor into the cab, he smiled, “want to see more?”
Without knowing precisely why John jumped in and settled beside the mad man.
The brother of the man who wants to destroy the new life he made for himself in London.
The man who stirred feelings that should be reserved for his beloved friend.
This is it. I am fit for Bedlam.
I am not working this week so I have a lot of free time lol
Next week, the schedule is going to go back to one chapter a week...
Are you still with me? Let me know what you think or if you have any ideas for the next instalment in this series.
Chapter 9: I think I am going to need something stronger than sherry
Watson receives a letter from his friend.
A week later, Watson was sitting at his desk holding a letter from his friend. Unsure about what to do. This is ridiculous! How could I feel anything else than exhilaration and joy at the idea of opening a letter from him! The thrill of the last days causing him an array of emotions, too complex for him to analyse. But his burgeoning friendship, is it friendship?, with Sherlock Holmes was nagging him as if it were something shameful. As if he were betraying his dear friend. Enough! And the London mark is from May 12, never has one of his letters reached me this quickly, in only seven days, this is a sign!
Steadfast, he opened the letter.
London, May 12, 1882
My dear friend,
The news you wrote to me is terrible! The idea that you could be in the obligation to close your business, to leave London is unbearable. It pleases me immensely that, in that moment of uncertainty, you are turning your eyes toward me to ask for my help. If I am estimating the delay correctly, you have until July 1st to find a way to correct the situation. Let me say WE have because I want to assist you in every way possible.
Is the threat real? Are you certain that the concurrent establishment is going to be better than yours? It is really hard for me to imagine, as I have infinite confidence in the quality of the service you are offering.
If you do perceive that for one reason or another, the new business is going to be more fashionable or on the other hand, will lower their prices in order to put you out of business, it is not too late. Some subtle changes can be made to appeal to fashionable people, but I do not think those are the kind of clients you would like to deal with. They are usually too proud for their own good. Perhaps you could make a deal with your suppliers to get more affordable rates, to be able to give a better retail price to your clients?
I am so sorry that I cannot help you more, it is really hard for me without knowing the specifics. I do hope you might reconsider your earlier decision regarding our meeting face to face. Think of it as a special crisis meeting if you want.
Also, I have written to you a few times about my dreaded boring brother, but I must admit that he is an astute businessman. I can ask him to meet you for tea if you wish.
Otherwise, the only thing I can say is to learn as much as you can about your ‘enemy’! Know your business from top to bottom to be able to turn quickly on your heel if needed, keep your employee informed about everything, he seemed like a brilliant young man. Also, try to keep your customers on your side to avoid any defection.
If you accept my proposition, please return me the day, the hour and the address of a meeting at your convenience.
His fingers spread over the letter; tears pooled in the corner of his eyes. My friend, how could I have forgotten you in the excitement of the last week. You are there, willing to help me as far as you can! You are, even if it is only on paper, the best friend that I have ever had!
Closing his eyes a moment, he tried to push away the wave of guilt that engulfed all his thoughts since he had met Sherlock Holmes. I shouldn’t have visited his rooms that night! I shouldn't have followed him! He looked once more longingly at his friend’s words while his rebellious mind supplied That first night... and all the other times!
The thrill of that first adventure, so similar to the one during his days in the army, was constantly with him! That incredible rush of adrenaline, the feeling of literally saving a life! The idiot would have taken that damn pill even if he had claimed the contrary! He clearly needs me! London as he had never seen it, dark, sombre, disturbing but above all, magnificent! The vibrant images keep appearing in his mind, urging him to describe its beauty in writing for everyone to read! For everyone to know the duality of their beloved city.
Now, I must reply! He feverishly took a sheet of paper and his fountain pen in hand before he carefully loaded it with ink. Can I talk about this to him? He may be uneasy that I have a new... a new, God, is he really my... friend? It cannot be! So quickly? And, if it is so, I am allowed to have more than one friend, am I not? Of course, the idea that what was really troubling him were the unfriendly feelings he was harbouring for the beautiful man! But he did not dare to think about this. Holmes told me that he was doing everything possible to stop his brother’s project. This is positive, and my friend can only be satisfied with the outcome. No?
London, May 19, 1882
My dear friend,
Thank you for your most useful suggestions. I had the same notions on some points and I have already started to implement them. I will overlook your other excellent ideas and see what I can do! I am so relieved to know that you are on my side, even if it is only in mind.
But I think I have good news on this account, even if nothing is set at the moment. The peril to my little business may soon become a thing of the past. Let me explain. The day I sent you my request for help, the owner of that new player came to my shop, to gloat and evaluate if I was a menace for his endeavour. He was truly the most despicable man that I have ever had the misfortune to meet. The glorious example of today’s cold businessman.
In fact, I think he is the very kind of man who belongs in your brother’s club, if what you told me about him is true!
A few days later, I was waiting for your reply to my plea for help while starting to organise a form of repost when another man entered my shop. It was the first time that he granted us with his business but look like a patron that could be good for our business. The pride of welcoming such a worthy new customer was cut short by a horrible realization: he was the brother of my nemesis! Unable to control my anger, I ran to his place to confront him.
But something that I cannot yet understand happened. He was not as I thought he was. He confided to me that he was not involved in his brother’s business, that he was sorry for my shop and that he did not know about his brother’s scheme when he came to my place of business. He was investigating something not related to my problem as he is a kind of detective. A brilliant one, really, he is able to analyse everything and everyone. A bit like you did in these first letters, you remember?
His name is Sherlock Holmes, you may have heard of him. That means that you now know that my future competitor is the prestigious Holmes & Brother store. But, as far as I know, the younger brother does not live the life of an excessively wealthy young man, his lodging is full of warmth and cosy but nothing fancy, he does not have any domestic help but only a good woman that I suppose cares for the building as a whole and not solely on him.
I left, after we drank tea civilly, and was on my way home when he interrupted my walk by asking me to join him on a case. Without thinking, I was quickly on my way to a crime scene, evaluating the cause of death of a poor woman. It was extensively related in the paper, the woman was found dead in a decrepit building, the last of these horrible fake suicides. I was there my friend, could you believe it!
We have seen each other a few times for different cases since then. It is nice to be in the middle of the action once more, even if it is a strange situation. I think we have developed some form of friendship, though from what I have observed of him, I do not think he has a gift for friendship. Like you in fact, maybe I am so
Watson suddenly stopped, the pages in front of him disappeared, the letters becoming a flow of unreadable waves. Unable to understand how he was so blind; he opened the precious box holding all of his friend’s letters and unfolded them all, one after the other. Looking for clues, for evidence of his stupidity.
It was everywhere, in innocent sentences which, if they were saying nothing tangible, were clearly about the same man. Mycroft Holmes, so much like the brother he described him so often; That quick-witted way in which he described my injury without me saying a thing about it; Even that good old lady, who cares for him so much... I’ll put my hand in the fire if it was not Holmes’ landlady. She mollycoddled the man too much!
And the ultimate bit of proof, at the bottom of each letter since the second missive. That flourished H.
Shaking, he dropped the sheets of paper on his desk, which was now covered in his correspondent’s elegant yet rushed writing, and slowly walked to a little coffee table to pour himself a finger or two of sherry. The uncertainty vanishing as quickly as it appeared, he was certain now that his anonymous correspondent was Sherlock Holmes.
Closing his eyes, he considered the last week, when he has seen Holmes nearly daily. The way the young man seemed to quickly attach himself to him was a surprise to everyone around them. Lestrade and the others from the Met actually said so loudly. Surprised that Holmes, who had always worked alone, now has an ‘assistant’. He often felt the young detective’s gaze on him, as if he was longing to talk. To say something important.
Does he, with his superior mind, know who I am? I was personally troubled by how quickly he became essential in my life, as if it was the reunion of two old friends or of two souls. Only one question remained. Is it a coincidence or is all of this just a part of an elaborate plan too complex for me to comprehend?
"I think I am going to need something stronger than sherry" Taking the letter he was writing, he dropped it in the fire.
Because, Doctor John H. Watson is brighter than Meg Ryan :-)
2019/07/10: Sorry about the delay, work and rl are AGHHHHHHH!
2019/07/15: I am going to send the new chapter to my beta tonight!
Chapter 10: An elevator ride
Sherlock is finally able to confront his brother!
That same day Watson finally understood the truth about his correspondent, Sherlock’s elusive older brother was back! As soon as he received the information, the detective removed his robe to put on his coat and rushed to the door. Finally, this matter of threatening Watson’s bookstore is going to be closed for good! As if we need a bookstore in our shop! It was probably only to provoke me!
Ms Hudson, smiling as usual, was in the lobby talking to the scruffy adolescent who brought the message about Holmes’ return. “Mr Holmes,” she sighed, shaking her head, “that friend of yours does not want to accept a good meal. This is so sad; this young man is too thin! I have plenty of leftover from dinner.”
Giving a bonus to the adolescent who was a part of the team he called his ‘irregulars’, he ruffled his hair playfully. “Jack, go ahead, Ms Hudson is one of the best cooks in London! You have worked hard and deserve a break.” I have been informed less than 15 minutes after his return! It was a well-spent few pounds! The government should do the same, my little friends are superior to any of their well-paid spies! Knowing that his young associate was in good hands, he jumped in a hackney.
It took only a moment before the cab stopped in front of Holmes & Brother’s shiny window display. Not looking at the effort the staff had put into Her Majesty’s upcoming birthday decorations, he rushed up the stairs until he reached the top floor. With a small nod to Mycroft’s secretary, the woman deserved a medal! He opened the office door without knocking. “You have been avoiding me, Mycroft!”
The older Holmes, who was clearly waiting for him, did not look at all surprised at his outburst.
“Not at all, brother mine, I was only at our parents’ house. Mother was quite sad that you weren’t there.” A sibylline smile appeared on his usual thigh lips. “Something important, a case maybe, kept you in town?”
“I hadn’t been informed of that little family reunion, brother , and you know it!” Exasperated, he sat in a chair in front of the big desk. He was still angry about the way he messed with his personal life before leaving London and was not planning to let it go. His incessant meddling must end!
“So, am I to understand that you were looking for me?”
Not buying his innocent look for a second, the younger Holmes snorted. “I asked you to not put your nose in my business. I know that as your nose is bigger than average it may be hard, but for the hundredth time, stop interfering!” As Mycroft opened his mouth to protest, Sherlock smacked the top of the desk, petulantly “Do not play dumb with me, it does suit you marvellously, but I do not have the time right now! I said that it is enough! I am able to take care of my private life without you!”
Hardly able to hide a smirk, the businessman stated, “I know that you said that many times... but you clearly aren’t able to do so.” Extending his hand, he poured a golden liquid in two beautiful crystal cut glasses. “Whisky?”
Rolling his eyes, the detective took the offering. “I am going to need more than that to get through the mess you put me in! Why did you invent that story about opening a bookstore?”
“Be honest, it is not all bad as you are finally aware of who is your delightful... pen pal.” It had been so easy for Holmes to asked one of his contacts to discover the name. It only took the guts that Sherlock did not have. The fact that he worked and lived g so near was a nice surprise! Finding a clever yet annoying way to bring them together has been easy and, if he were honest, the most fun he’d had in months. And now that I have discreetly pulled some strings for their mail to go a bit more efficiently...
“You spoiled everything! Your little game about opening a bookstore in the shop was idiotic! He probably still thinks that I am a part of the –“
“Sherlock, I have told you over and over again, do not call Holmes & Brother a ‘shop’.”
Rolling his eyes at his brother’s pedantry, the lovesick man exhaled slowly after he drank his whisky. “To think that I wrote him a letter with ideas on how to defeat you! I cannot believe it, as if everything was not already more complicated with me being... who I am.” Who WE are if I am lucky! “You blew the little chance I had, he is going to think it was all a pile of lies and hate me and -”
“By Jove, it is not like you to be so easily defeated!” Thinking about the reports he received about his brother’s relationship with the good doctor, he was not able to understand why he was feeling so disgruntled. “From what I know, Watson has accompanied you on many occasions, he even killed for you.” He paused, looking at his sibling. “This is evidence no? The man is clearly enthralled by you.” Drinking the last drop of the blazing alcohol, he summoned a bit of courage and asked, “did he agree to the image you have made in your mind? Do you think he could be a suitable... companion?”
Letting go of any pretence, the detective directed his gaze toward his brother. His eyes usual sharpness was toned down by an emotion the businessman did not remember having ever seen since his brother quit the innocence of the youth. “Mycroft, he is perfect. Above and beyond all the qualities that were underlined in his letters.” It was barely audible as if he was afraid to lose everything if he talked aloud. “He is courageous, with a strong moral compass, intelligent,” he frowned at his brother’s sarcastic eyebrow, “not like us – nobody is like us! – but his emotional intelligence and his knowledge of many subjects that I never cared about is astounding. Above all, just having his presence near, has helped me tremendously.” Extending his hand, he waited for a second serving before he spoke again. “It is as if seeing things through his eyes has helped me to see better, he brings light where I can only see grey and darkness.” Under his brother’s scrutiny, he swallowed his drink to hide the choking of his voice.
“And, for the rest...” Mycroft inquired, trying to ask a delicate question without actually asking the question directly.
“For God sakes, Mycroft!” The bright pink of his angular cheeks and his sudden agitation were all the reply the older Holmes needed.
“Perfect, good, right.” He cleared his throat a bit, looking anywhere but his younger brother. “I am happy for you. Just need to do one more step –“
“What can’t you understand in ‘he hates me’!” Sherlock was now pacing in the vast office, the sound of his agitated steps absorbed by the thick carpet. “And, anyway, even if he was harbouring any kind of feeling for me, for me as Sherlock HOLMES, he is going to probably torture himself because we nearly declared ourselves in those letters.”
Mycroft chuckled, “only you could find a way to cheat on yourself.”
“Stop mocking me, this is all your fault! It was going slow but we were getting there and –“
“Do not be delusional, Sherlock, at the pace you were going, you both would have been old men! It was excruciating to watch.”
Tired of the emotional turmoil, not wanting to expose even more of his heart, he suddenly turned the table on his brother and tilted his head innocuously. “Since you are now a specialist of matters of the heart, have you been able to summon up the courage to talk to your delightful Miss Anthea?” It was not a nice nor prudent thing to say but enough is enough!
Rising from his chair, Mycroft haughtily protested, “you are not allowed to talk about her like that! She is a wonderful woman, eager to learn, respected by her team and able to solve any problems that came up her way!” His admiration for the young woman who, impressively, was already in charge of many details in the administration of the store (as well as beautiful and respectable) was obvious, “and it is Miss Worthington to you!”
“Oh... so you do call her by her first name. That is nice to know, when should we expect a happy announcement?”
“I, you should not, I... I...” The elder Holmes’ confusion would have been funny if it were not sad. Bidding a stern look, he raised his chin higher. “This is not your business.”
“Don’t you think this is a bit rich coming from you?” Without adding anything else, Sherlock nodded and left the office. I have things to do and a messed-up situation to correct! “And removed these damned banderols about the upcoming bookstore!”
A few hours later, Mycroft Holmes finally closed the last document and signed the last letter. I can go home now. Uncustomarily, he was somewhat uneasy at the idea of going home. Alone. Always alone . The words his brother said, his light teasing about Miss Anthea, were creating havoc in his mind. This is silly! I just need time! I am always a bit... melancholic after a sojourn to Musgrave. It is all the happiness, it is unsettling! I am perfectly fine alone; in fact, it is tiring having someone that constantly fusses around you. The constant demonstrations of love and friendship their parents were incessantly showing were hard to deal with. Perpetually touching each other, listening with great care as if the other voice was a lifeline and the source of gospel. The attentions, the little ridiculous gifts, the doe-eyes as if they were still honeymooning. And now with Sherlock acting like a lovesick puppy! As if one needed someone to be happy, it is... preposterous!
He was still lost in his thoughts when Anthea entered the office with a gentle knock. “Sir, I am leaving in a few minutes, do you want me to post today’s letters?”
“Yes, thank you, Miss Worthington.” He smiles at the woman, a pearl that he was proud to have at his side, even if many men in his position preferred having a man as an assistant. It is ridiculous, a woman is as capable and even more! They are masters of multi-tasking after all! “I would like to take the opportunity to personally thank you for the excellent work you did while I was away. I know that some directors are... not enthusiast at the idea of having to communicate with you when I am unavailable, but they all have no other choice now, except than accepting that you are worthy of all the trust I placed in you three years ago.”
Holding her papers, the young secretary tried to remain as calm as possible at her mentor’s compliments, a man she has admired and respected since her first days in his employment. “Sir, it is my honour to work by your side and to help as much as I could. The confidence you put in me is a constant source of pride for me.” Her voice faltered a bit, the emotions she rarely dared to consider is getting the best of her. “Do you need something else, Sir?”
“No, miss, see you on Monday morning.”
Quickly, the woman walked out of the office, trying to calm the erratic beat of her heart.
After a moment, when he could not find any reason to delay his departure, he finally picked up his coat, umbrella and hat. He was about to walk down the stairs when someone called out to him.
It was George, the lift operator, “Sir! Do you want to take the lift? Just for you, I will go directly to the main floor.” He knew that his boss was not a regular user of the mechanical elevator and he always thought that though Mister Holmes was a modern man, he did not like the idea of being confined in a small space.
Looking at the old man, Holmes sighed. “You are right, George, it has been a long day and if I can avoid the stairs and everyone, I will be at home more quickly!” Alone, his stubborn mind supplied, allllllll alone.
With a big smile, his employee opened the articulated door, proud of the cleanliness of what was his whole world eight hours a day. The brilliant copper, the luxurious green velvet, the ebony, everything was spotless. “Here you go, sir, a direct trip to the Main floor!”
“Thank you, George, this is really nice of you.” Holmes was once more lost in his memory when the lift suddenly halts in a bang between the third and fourth floor. “What is that my good man, did you touch something?”
“No, sir, nothing!” Panicked, the elderly employee pressed again the control for the Main floor, but the lift did not budge. “Something is wrong, may I press the alarm?”
“Of course, of course,” this is ridiculous, I have been in that lift twice maybe thrice and now... “it is not your fault George, but this is a bit humiliating to be stuck in my own lift!” Laughing at the stupidity of the situation, he sat on the little banquette. “We have nothing to do but wait, my dear man, come here and sit.”
“Oh, sir, no... I cannot do that. The rules are clear, lift operator cannot use the banquette.”
Frowning, Holmes surveyed the man in front of him. “Really, that’s mean that you are staying up all day long. Isn’t it a bit too much at your age?”
“We have a chair in the basement, Mister Holmes, do not worry.” George protested, not wanting to look as if he was unfitted for his job, “we can sit on it when the lift is not in use or when it is our break.”
“This is not optimal,” Holmes muttered before adding, “but this is an unprecedented situation and an order. Please join me on the banquette or I will have to keep you company and stand up!”
With a polite smile, George gingerly sat on the posh velvet-covered settee. “I hope it won’t be too long, if I may sir, my wife is going to worry.”
Usually not a big fan of casual conversion, he asked nonetheless, “you have been married for many years?”
He laughed, “many and more and more! 38 years!” Beaming, the man was clearly proud of his marriage. “My wife is perfect, so perfect. She stopped working a few years ago, the poor thing, it is too difficult to work in a kitchen at her age.”
Knowing that the woman, even if she worked hard all her life, probably does not have a pension, he asked. “You cannot stop working, I presume, in order to support her?”
“It is okay, I do not mind. The family for whom she worked let us stay in a small apartment as a token of appreciation of all the years she spent in their household.” He smiled the secret smile of people who have seen a lot, “you know it is not bad that I am not in the flat with her all day long... it is good to have an occupation, this way we are always happy when we are together!” He laughed again merrily, happy about the perfect woman in his life and the beautiful girls she gave him. “The girls are both living outside London and want us to join them in their village, but I do not want to. I love London..." He winked, "maybe when we finally grow old!”
“You are a lucky man. George, finding and keeping the perfect companion.”
“But you, sir,” the older man stopped, suddenly shy. “I remember that you do not have a wife?”
“No, I do not.” Holmes sighed, feeling his usual coldness fading away.
Nodding with a little smile, the operator looked at his boss knowingly. “I recognize that tone, Sir. You do not have a wife, but you have found who you want!”
“How dare you –”
“Sorry, I went too far!”
“Where are the maintenance crew, we’ve been sequestered for nearly half an hour now, this is unacceptable!” His agitation was now clearly visible.
“I am really sorry, Mister Holmes, I... I... won’t lose my job, would I?”
Feeling bad, the younger man stepped in front of the control panel and pressed the emergency button again. Without looking in the direction of the banquette he mutters, “it is I who should be sorry. I asked for you to sit with me, started the conversion... It is not your fault.” He paused, still avoiding the curious gaze of the man behind him. “You are... you are right. There is someone that I... that I like very much.”
“Excuse me again, but does she know? You are quite a catch, a rich intelligent man. With a certain air of grandeur and elegance. Any woman would be proud to have you at her side!”
With a small sad smile, Mycroft murmured as the sound of the alarm resonated around them, “that is the problem, she is not like any woman.”
“Ohhh,” George cleared his voice, pushing away a chuckle, “this is the sign.”
Finally letting go of the emergency button, Holmes turned to look at the old man. “The sign?”
“That she is the one, sir, and if my old age teaches me something is that when you have found the one, you must do something!” Proudly, Holmes was about to protest that it cannot be that simple when the elevator finally moved! “God had mercy; it is running again. So sorry for the inconvenience, Mister Holmes.”
Still thinking about what the man said, Mycroft murmurs automatically, “It is really not your fault, George, do not worry.”
“But, that is another sign, Mister Holmes, time to do something about that lady of yours." Knowing that he was talking too much again, he chuckled as he returned to his post near the elevator control panel. "This is your business! But I forgot which floor you wanted. It was the Main floor, right?”
Finally coming to terms with what he needs to do, Mycroft replied assertively. “No, George, no... I changed my mind. Second floor, please, Jewellery department.”
ohhhhh Mycroft, you little rascal!
Chapter 11: A new little friend
It's Saturday, a day after John realized that his correspondent was in fact Sherlock Holmes!, and the secret surgery is open.
Opening his eyes carefully, Watson quickly shut them out. Ohhhh, my head! You drank too much my dear fellow! The realization that Sherlock Holmes was in fact his dear friend, the man with whom he shared so much, doubts and joys, for nearly two years strikes him forcefully all over again. It seems that w e shared everything except anything that was important! Still angry but most and foremost confused, he jumped out of the bed without acknowledging the pain in his head or his heart. Have to be ready for real-life; I am already running late, and Saturday is not a day to be... stupidly melancholic! Quickly, he dressed while making his tea, trying to catch up on his tardiness.
Finally able to open the back door of his now not so improvised surgery, he smiled at the few men already in line, recognizing a few familiar faces among newcomers. I am going to need help soon; word of mouth is working too well!
“Good morning gents, sorry I am a little later than usual!”
“Hey boys, the Captain drank a bit too much!” One of his regulars teased, spotting Watson’s tired eyes and not in his usual pristine appearance.
“A bit of dancing around with the missus, we know yer reputation, doc’!” Another laughs, and it is quickly followed by salacious jokes and catcalls.
“Hey, be quiet rascals, there’s a kiddo here!” One of them said, interrupting the raucous.
“And you know, if we are causing trouble to the doc’, he won’t be able to do what he’s doin’, so shut-up!”
“Don’t be so hard on them, Miller, life’s hard and it is okay to have a little fun!” Pointing to the child that was hiding behind the old man, he asked, “who’s your little friend?”
“That li’l devil?” He pushed the young teen in front of him, “don’t know, he just showed up.”
“Who are you, where is your family? Do you need a doctor?” As the boy remained silent, Miller slapped him on the back of the head with a bit more energy than the small frame required! “Stop that, Miller, he’s just a child! Come inside, we are going to talk.” The men in line grumbled a bit but Watson quickly served them all a good cup of tea and they started chattering again about their exploits and the destiny of the British Army. Once inside, the doctor motioned his new patient in the direction of a chair. “Sit down, my boy, let me examine you.”
Stretching his small form, he protested, offended, “‘M not a boy, doc, I’m a man!”
“Of course, sorry about that mister...?” Patiently, he waited for a reply.
“Jenkins, doc, Matt Jenkins.”
“Where are your parents, Matt, even if you are a young man you need a place to sleep and a warm meal every night at supper?” Watson asked, with an innocuous tone, not wanting to scare the adolescent.
“Got no one, doc, my parents died when I was 10, I am 14 now.”
The fact that his voice didn’t falter crushed the doctor heart. “And who takes care of you?” Watson knew that the life of orphans and poor children was better now that in Dickens’ years, but life was still harsh!
“Me, doc, who else?” He stopped a moment and added, “and mister Holmes.”
Taken aback, Watson probed, “Holmes? Sherlock or Mycroft Holmes?”
The lad’s snort of derision quickly turned in a bad cough, “certainly not that cold bastard!” He looked at the older man like he was crazy! “I’m talking of Master Sherlock o’ course.”
“I do not like the sound of that cough, young man, remove your coat and shirt!”
Not wanting to obey the doctor, he shook his head vigorously! “Now you are talking like him, it’s him who told me to come here to get better –“
“HE told you to come to my shop?”
“Yes, he said that you are the best doctor and free.” Looking at Watson he frowned suspiciously. “You are free, right? And ‘m not going in the poo'house!”
“You won’t, do not worry, I just want to help –“
“I won’t go to Canada either!”
“What?” Watson searched the little stash of food he kept in his office until he found what he was looking for. He offered a chocolate bar to the young man as well as a cup of tea as he replenished his own. “Why do you talk about Canada?”
Making contact with the doctor's eyes, he murmured, “I do not want my balls to freeze and fall off!”
Spitting out his tea, the doctor blinked. Such a language at such a young age. “Yes, it's cold, but not that cold... But why are you afraid of Canada?”
“The gov'nment, they send people like me there to work as slaves! Tom told us that he was captured and about to go on a ship when 'is mum found him!” His little fists were curled tightly in indignation. “They told him ‘is mum was dead! She wasn’t dead, she was in a workhouse!”
He read about such stories in the paper but knowing first hand was something else! He knew that the life in the street was not easy and overzealous benefactors disguising themselves under the cloak of religion or benevolence, often separated children from their parents under the pretence of offering a good life abroad. A life of hard work and, Matt was right, it was often barely disguised legal slavery. Watson pushed his disgust away, it wasn't useful at the present time and focussed on his small client. “I am not going to contact anyone; I just want to be certain that you are all right. Can I assess you, now?” Mollified by the hot tea and the chocolate, he softly nodded and removed his shirt. “You are far too thin! Are you eating enough lad?”
“Yes, since I started to work with Mister Holmes, I have enough money to eat and Ms Hudson always got something for us.” The affection and admiration for the older man were obvious.
Chuckling, Watson asked as he reached for his thermometer, “and what are you doing for him, running errands? Open your mouth please.”
Matt muttered around the thermometer, eager to explain his work. As soon as the instrument was out, he proudly shouted, “I am a detective!”
“Oh, a real detective,” Watson replied dismissively as he wrote the temperature in his book. A little high, but nothing catastrophic .
“Yes, doctor, like if I see something fishy, I send a message to Mister Holmes, or, sometimes, he asked me to watch a home and told him when someone going to be there. We are a few dozen, so if we need to find a special carriage or boat we split and it’s easy.” Boasting, he raised his head high, “I received a black-eyes one time, and another time there was a knife and –“
A bloody KNIFE! Furious about the risk Holmes’ little friends were taking remained silent for a moment, breathing in, breathing out. After a moment, he allowed the boy to put his shirt and coat back on.
“Doctor, am I going to die like my mum?” The delicate voice of the adolescent, not yet completely out of his youth, asked quietly.
“No, Matt, do not worry. It is only a bad cold. You must take care of yourself,” hating the fact that he had to ask, he continued, “do you have a warm and safe place to sleep?”
“Yes, sir, and if need be, I can sleep at Baker Street. Anyway, Mister Holmes was worried and asked me to come home until I am feeling better.”
“At Baker Street?”
“Yes, doc, Ms Hudson turned her basement flat in a place where we can go when we do not want to be in the street, if it’s raining cats and dogs, or if we are not feeling safe.”
“Okay then, I want you to stay at Ms Hudson until you are feeling better, okay? Doctor’s orders.” His gratitude towards the old lady was mixed with his irritation towards Sherlock Holmes. How dare he puts the lives of these young boys in danger! “And, most importantly, you are not working for Mister Holmes until I tell you so!”
“But, I do not want charity, doc! I am able to work and –“
“I said no! I am going to write a word to Holmes about this, so do not worry.” With a small pat on the back and a recipe for a herbal tea that should help him recover, his new little client left to return to Baker Street.
It was finally the end of the day. The last veteran, with an ugly ingrown nail, left a few minutes ago and Watson was doing a little clean-up. With the departure of his own little army, his thoughts returned in the direction of Baker Street. The tale of how Holmes used children as spies, the way he probably risked their lives, was upsetting him! But on the other hand, he offered them the shelter of Baker Street, and he seemed to pay them enough to be able to eat well... I do not know what to do! He cannot be a bastard and a saint at the same time, can’t he? And regarding the business of Holmes' store selling books, I must talk to him. I must tell him that I know and will see the rest!
Taking out a sheet of paper and envelope from the stationery kit in his office, he pondered his words a moment before writing a short letter.
London, May 20, 1882
My dear friend,
Thank you for your most useful suggestions. I had the same notions on some points, and I have already started to implement them, but I think the destruction of my little business is not a problem anymore.
I think that you are right and that it is time for us to meet. If you are agreeable, we can meet on Saturday the 3rd at 3 o’clock. I will wait for you at the Bandstand in Kensington Garden.
If you change your mind and do not wish to see me at the moment, I understand.
Your friend, always,
Closing the letter, he delicately glued a stamp before putting it aside. Using another sheet of paper, he quickly wrote a note, chuckling sadly at the duplicity of the whole affair.
London, May 20, 1882
A young man, Matt Jenkins, appeared at my shop this morning among the few veterans that I helped. He told me that you gave him the information on where to find me. We are so talking about that later! But for now, I can confirm that his health is not in danger and that he is suffering only from a severe cold. He needs rest, hot food and hydration. I gave him a recipe for herbal tea, if your lodger can help him with that it would be quite beneficial. I told him to stay out of harm’s way for a complete recovery, please let him know that it is also your desire as he seemed anxious to please you.
I hope that you were able to solve the case of the disappearing tiara in a satisfactory manner and that it was as intriguing as you suggested when we last saw each other two days ago.
Doctor J.H. Watson
Rushing upstairs to change his shirt, not as pristine after hours with many patients, he took up his coat and his letters before heading to the door. The letter to his ‘correspondent’ was promptly dropped in a mailbox, keeping the other note in his pocket he started walking in direction of Marylebone.
This one is going to be delivered in person.
A bandstand, like in Good Omens :-)
But the one they used in GO was too far away, to Kensington Garden it is! (That bandstand as been moved to Hyde Park a few years later.)
Probably 2 chapters to go!
2019/08/09: I was wrapped in my GO drabbles... sorry!! Going back to Sherlock right now!
Chapter 12: Ms Hudson, dancer extraordinaire!
Watson runs to Baker Street to deliver a message to Holmes but ends up learning more about his fantastic not-his-housekeeper instead!
Ms Hudson opened the door quickly, happy to see the beautiful doctor. She was quite taken by him since he started to work with her favourite or more precisely now, sole, tenant. “Doctor! Sorry to say, but I do not think that Mister Holmes is home yet.”
“Do not worry, Ms Hudson, I am only here to give him a message.” Holding the envelope, he extended his arm, “could you please?”
Smiling, she placed the message on a delicate silver tray. “Now that it is done, doctor, do you want to share tea with an old lady?” As Watson hesitated, she continued with a knowing gaze, “I understand this is not exactly a correct thing to do, but I think you are not a man that has lived by following every didact of ‘decent’ society...” Without looking back, she turned and entered her flat, leaving the door open.
Curious, wanting to know more about the strange woman as well as her even curious tenant, Watson followed under the guise of learning more about his little patient.
The inside of the flat was like walking inside a Parisian parlour, the opposite of Holmes’ rooms. Gobsmacked, the doctor remained silent while the custodian of Baker Street prepared tea. It was a feminine décor, with gilded lamps and brocades adorned with pink and cream flowers. But, what was the most extraordinary was that every surface was covered with pictures or drawings of dancers, of shows in cafés or theatres, of men. Oh my God, were they her... lovers? Spotting a familiar face among the dancers, in different costumes and showing sometimes a bit too much for Watson’s comfort, he realized that it must be her. Ms Hudson! She used to be a... a... cancan dancer!
“I taught Céleste Mogador,” she enunciated the foreign name in a perfect French, “the danseuse who popularised the French Cancan!”
Surprised and feeling a bit guilty, Watson quickly put down a portrait of what looked like a twenty-something Ms Hudson in a harem costume. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have –“
“Taratata!”, the landlady protested, waving her hand dismissively, “come here and sit. The tea is ready!”
Not knowing what to say but too curious to stay silent, her guest safely asked, “you used to live in Paris?”
“Yes! The best and the worst years of my life!” She sighed longingly, clearly lost in her memories. “I was just a young girl, in a small town near the Loire, living in the countryside with my parents but, one day, a theatre troupe came to our village and... I had to follow them! You know the feeling?”
“Like a young man subjugated by a military parade,” Watson suggested, with a little understanding smirk.
“Yes! That’s it!” She laughed, happy that the young man didn’t look scandalised by her tumultuous life. “I started small, then I became quite popular! Cafés and theatres were fighting over me! As well as men… The fact that I learned English with my uncle helping with all these young men coming from London.” She winked as the doctor blushed. “After a few years, I married an English aristocrat, the good money I made welcome enough to ease any social faux-pas. I stopped performing, he did not like the idea of his wife on a stage for other men to gawk at, and I became a reputable dance teacher instead. For a while at least.”
“This is quite an extraordinary tale, Ms Hudson!” Drinking his excellent tea, Watson was flabbergasted by the idea that the respectable woman in front of him used to be a performer, and had been married to an aristocrat!
“It was wonderful at first, we were friends with many of the Grande Horizontales - it is how they called the most beautiful demi-mondaines at the time you know? - We’d go to great balls, to tea parties, at Longchamp...” Suddenly, a sadness felt in her eyes. “Yes, it was perfect at first, we were blissfully happy for many many years, but -”
Knowing that it was probably the reason for her presence in London, Watson put down his cup. “You do not need to say anything, Ms Hudson, but know that you are talking to a friendly ear. I am a soldier and a doctor, I have seen many things. Nothing you can say can change the good opinion of you I have developed in the last month.”
“My husband, you see, wanted a child. A boy would have been perfect, but after years and years without a child, even a girl would have been as good.” Melancholically, she placed her hand on her stomach and murmured, “we never know if it was him or me but, after I turned 40 it became a fantasy to think that it could happen.”
“He didn’t want to adopt?” Watson guessed, “I got the feeling that you would have been a wonderful mother!”
“No, hélas, it was his own or nothing. He became... he was always angry, drinking too much, pushing away my friends as if my lifestyle before I met him was the sole reason for our predicament. He was making reckless investments, endangering our financial situation. It was… not plaisant.”
“What happened? Did he,” not knowing how to suggest that her husband was violent toward her, “acted ungentlemanly?”
Chuckling at the euphemism, she raised her chin high, “he became the worst bastard I have ever known!” The fierce dancer, used to the ruthlessness of the artists, appeared for a moment, “I tried to leave, many times, but I... I knew things.”
“He wasn’t a criminal, but his reputation wouldn’t have survived if all the things I knew were to become public. Above the fact that he was married to a dancer, the mix of shady deals on horses racing, financial manipulations, and many more things that I didn’t know at the time!”
He understood quickly. “So, he wanted to keep you near!”
“He kept me inside, letting me out only when my absence would have raised questions, and refused my pleas for divorce.” A soft smile appeared on the delicate lips. “Until...”
“Until?” The doctor asked, enraptured by the whole story.
“Until I met Sherlock of course!”
Watson was about to urge her to continue her story when Tom knocked softly at the door of the salon. “Ms Hudson, Doctor Watson, sorry to disturb you.”
“Tom, what is wrong?” She asked softly yet firmly. Watson, still enchanted by her tale, was watching the old woman carefully. Her affection for the young boy and Sherlock Holmes was obvious, and what about the youngsters she helped by keeping a place for them in her basement. Yes, she would have been a wonderful mother.
“Nothing wrong, ma’am, just to tell you that Peter is sleeping. The drink you made helped him and he stopped coughing and with the games and books Mister Holmes gave us, we have plenty of things to entertain us.”
“Perfect, Tom, thank you so much you have been a great help today.” Eyeing the man beside her, she asked with a devious light in her eyes, “do you know Mister Holmes whereabouts?”
“He went to the store yesterday and argued with Mister Mycroft, so he wasn’t in a good humour for the rest of the day,” the perceptive adolescent chuckled, “but he left with that inspector this morning.” His eyes bright, he added animatedly, “Peter told me they found two dismembered –“
“Shush, now! Go relax with the others and you may have the tin of biscuits in the butler’s pantry.” Ms Hudson waved him away and sighed, “these boys, they are all going to kill me one day, my poor heart! What were we talking about! Ah yes,” her eyes softened considerably, “my dear boy.” Watson didn’t have the time to go further than My dear boy? What the – that Ms Hudson chuckled. “No, he is not my son, but it is as dear to me as any child.”
“You said that your situation was... dire... until you met him?” He felt as if he were intruding into private matters, but he was so deadly curious to know more about the man who was becoming the most important part of his life.
“I remember as if it was yesterday! My husband and I were at Longchamp for the first Grand Prix de Paris, in 1863. I was standing beside him, smiling and silent, until he left with friends to inspect the horses.” She closed her eyes, the reminiscence of her husband's hard look, his silent threat to stay put, the dolorous impression on her arm, disguised as an affectionate embrace, everything was so far away yet still so present. After a deep breath, she opened her eyes again. “I was there, alone, angry but so afraid, on the verge of crying when I heard a young voice.” She refreshed the tea, feeling better now that she was up to the moment her saviour appeared in her story. “You know how his voice is, Doctor Watson, imagine him nearly 15 years younger. It was soft, velvety yet manly.”
“I have an idea of the effect,” Watson chuckled, “what did he say? Was he already abrasive and sarcastic? Deducing everything?”
“He told me that if I want help to get out of reach of my violent husband, he was ready to help.” The image of the young ethereal young man, already tall at the age of 18, sprung in her mind. “He was so beautiful, still is of course, so young and innocent. Shaking in righteous anger!”
“What did you do? You really put your faith in the hands of a child?”
Pressing a hand on her cheek, as if she wanted to contain her emotions, she giggled, “I did, isn’t it marvellous! I was alone, so afraid, without any friends or family to help and I decided to trust an adolescent!”
“It’s true to say that he usually makes a strong first impression,” the doctor acknowledged. “What did he do, tell me?”
“He walked away, promising to come back really quickly, and I felt lost without him as soon as he left. As if my soul had already surrendered entirely to him, it is quite ridiculous when you think about it.” She turned her gaze toward a picture Watson didn’t saw when he was perusing the room, it was of a younger Ms Hudson – in her late forties – and of a young Sherlock Holmes. They were standing neared a magnificent horse. “My husband was back at my side, holding me painfully close to him when he returned. Eyeing him with disdain, Sherlock deduced him relentlessly until policemen, who were standing discreetly nearby, had to hold him back or he would have attacked the young fool!”
Always partial to Holmes’ brilliant deduction, Watson pressed a little, “what did he say?”
“Oh, I cannot remember everything! Even today, I could not understand how he was able to read all that from his cravat and the newspaper stub in his pocket! But he said everything that I already knew as well as really horrible things that I wasn’t even aware of!” She concentrated a bit before she started to speak unhurriedly, “Something about embezzlement, fraudulent property titles, the wife of a well-known politician as mistress, awful things like drugs and human trafficking –“
“And his horrible treatment of you, also, my poor Ms Hudson,” Watson interrupted.
“He knew that it wasn’t important,” she patted the doctor’s arm, “you know a wife is merely the property of the man.”
“What happened, how came you to be here then? And the owner of a building in central London?” He knew for weeks that it was that the old lady wasn’t the housekeeper, that she was in fact the owner of the building. And not in need of any money as her strange way of renting her rooms demonstrated, he laughed silently to himself.
“His brother, who was with him on his European tour, made him sign a lot of papers right before his prosecution, under the promise of a good lawyer.”
“And today? Where he is, still in prison?”
“Oh, no, silly man! He is dead of course!” Her peal of laughter resonated in the small salon, as if they were discussing a new novel or a juicy bit of gossip.
“Dead! What happened?”
Unaffected, she replied, “a few days after he ended up in prison, he was found dead in his cell.”
“That is horrible, even if he was not a nice man, do you know how –“
“Sherlock told me something about how horses' people don’t like cheaters.” She smiled serenely as if the death of her husband was a nice memory. “This is the picture you were looking at! It is Sherlock, me and Corsaire, the stallion who won the course that day after my husband’s horse was disqualified! My young friend put a lot on it - he saw him in the paddock and loved his name - and we made good money! This is how I was able to leave Paris, and with the little money that was left...”
“This is a wonderful tale, Ms Hudson! And you kept in touch with the Holmes’ brothers since that time?”
“No, not really, I had my past to exorcise and Sherlock, he... he had to go through a rough patch on his own. Mycroft, from time to time, wrote me a note about investments. He contacted me four years ago and asked me if I was ready to have his young brother as a tenant if a flat was available. I replied quickly, happy to help, that I would love to have him at Baker Street.” She laughed, “ obviously 221b quickly became available as my tenant received a big promotion in Manchester!”
“I cannot say that I am surprised.” Watson was laughing as well, knowing that Mycroft Holmes probably pulled a few strings. “I am happy for you both, you know, I think he really loves you and, sorry if it sounds discourteous, I think that you love him as you would if he were your own son.”
Using a darling little handkerchief, she wiped a few tears. “You are a good man, Doctor Watson, I am so happy that my Sherlock found you.”
Something in the tone she used clearly indicated that she wasn’t talking about how he was helping him on his cases! He cleared his voice, to try to hide his embarrassment when she shook her head, placed a hand on Watson’s forearm and smiled. “Do not fret, doctor, you are among friends, and I have seen a lot .”
“The... the situation is not that simple, Ms Hudson, and –“
“Oh, poppycock! Stop torturing the poor man and yourself, and tell him that you know that he is the correspondent he has pined for the better of two years and that you are also in love with him!”
I was supposed to write a nice discussion between Watson and Holmes but... Ms Hudson took control!
August 23rd: I am behind my ordinary schedule again... Sorry!
Chapter 13: An unfortunate incident
Holmes returned to Baker Street, unaware that Watson was there with Ms Hudson.
Ms Hudson!” Watson cried, shocked by the old woman, “don’t say… things like that!”
“And the sooner the better, we are all tired of seeing him moping around every time you are going back to your shop,” she added seriously... before adding a wink that looked completely out of place in her respectable face.
“We cannot, I, I…”, he knew that his particularity – he refused to call it a deviance – was accepted more openly in certain circles, but in the army and in the medical field, it was something else. Something that may be accepted as a quirk but shouldn’t stop a man from marrying and becoming a good husband. Going to the Jermyn Street Turkish Bath once a month may be fashionable amongst a certain crowd but… How could I be so certain that it is right and the only life that I want and be so tortured at the same time!
“Oh, twaddle, stop torturing the poor man and tell him already that you know who he is and that you return his feelings!” Lifting her hand to stop his protestations, the poor man really thinks we are all stupid, not unlike Sherlock, they do go wonderfully so well together, she continued, “do not be so uptight about this, Doctor.” Her voice now warm and motherly as if she was able to read his doubts, “you are amongst friends here and nobody is going to judge you.”
Sitting straight as a rod, the ex-soldier extended his hand to place his teacup on the table before getting to his feet. The fact that Ms Hudson used his own words to mollify him, friends, unable to calm his uncertainty. “Thank you for your hospitality, Ms Hudson, I think it’s time for me to –“
“Do not leave like that, Doctor Watson,” the owner of the little realm that was Baker Street replied sadly, “I often talk too much, one of the traits that my late husband hated, I am so sorry if I offended you by my comments… or because you now know of my story and find me beneath-“
“Never, Ms Hudson, never, you are a Queen amongst us.” He kissed her hand lightly, “to have the courage of starting everything over here, in a foreign country, the wonderful way you constantly care of these young boys and -“ he corrected him just in time before letting the first name of the man he dreamed about escaping his lips, “…and all the people that you love and are under your protection.”
Unable to stop herself, the woman who once had Paris at her feet, hugged the man that her son in everything except bloodline wanted for a companion, and fiercely murmured in his ear. “You are one of them, you know doctor Watson, one of the people I love. You are a good man and my Sherlock, I know he adores you.”
John was about to object once more that it wasn’t that easy when a call resonated in the building hall after the main door was loudly closed.
“Ms Hudson! That letter, when is -!” The voice was suddenly replaced by the sound of a metal object falling on the floor and broken glass, “MS HUDSON!”
Quickly, the old woman opened her door, “Mister Holmes! What have you done!”
“It is your fault, Ms Hudson, who puts a vase on a small table in an entryway… It was bound to happen!” Walking carefully to avoid the crystal shards and the small silver tray that was now on the floor, he tangled Watson’s letter in front of her eyes. “That! That is important, Ms Hudson, not a hideous vase!”
Smiling in her mind, the woman looked at her tenant, frowning questioningly. “Yes, dear, that is a letter.”
“Ms Hudson! Do not play with me, NOW is not the time!” After a pause, he sighed, “the letter, it arrived when, how?” He already knew that it was delivered by hand, no stamp, handled by only one pair of hands, his doctor’s handwriting… “Please?”
“Oh, that good doctor of yours came an hour or so ago I think.” Kneeling to pick the remains of the beautiful vase – once a gift of a Russian duke – she eyed Watson who was still stunned, inside her flat. Thankfully, he was hidden by the angle of the wall.
Not realizing that he was near, the detective helped the old lady to stand. “Do not do that, Ms Hudson, it is my fault… I am going to take care of this. And you can go to the store to choose a replacement of your liking.”
“How kind of you, dear, thank you.”
Once all the big pieces were thrown away, the water mopped up by a sleepy Tom, Holmes ran upstairs to read the letter. Chuckling, the landlady called softly, “you can leave now, Doctor, the path is clear.”
His ears a bit red, Watson flew from Baker Street without knowing why he was so afraid of seeing Holmes. Soldier, indeed.
Up in his rooms, Holmes feverishly opened the envelope. It was Watson, but it was a banal message, nothing personal. Even less passionate than the letters he sent me previously about cases! Calling me Mister Holmes! How cold it is in comparison with ‘My dear friend’, how I long for him to call me simply Holmes... or Sherlock. Reading the small letter all over again, he smiled lovingly. It is so nice of him to take care of young Matt like that. I must talk to Ms Hudson and Tom about that herbal tea he suggested. He stopped and rang the bell impatiently.
After a light knock, the door opened to a still heavy-eyed Tom. “You called, Mister Holmes?”
“Yes, good boy, one thing or more precisely two.” Nervously, still febrile after the reception of the unexpected letter. This is ridiculous, this is not a love letter… this is a medical ordinance! he asked, “is Jenkins doing better?”
“Yes, sir, Ms Hudson made the special tea the doctor recommended, and he spent the afternoon sleeping.”
“Perfect, and the games and books were useful?”
“Oh yes, we played all together and read when Matt was sleeping to be sure that he followed the doc’s orders.” The poor adolescent was barely staying up on his feet.
"Perfect, then, go to bed! It was a big day,” Holmes, satisfied with Tom’s report, opened the door.
“But don’t worry, sir, he’s doing well,” the young boy confirmed once more, yawning as he walked down the stair, “he was still sleeping when the doctor was with Ms Hudson for tea.”
For tea, here! Oh, for God sakes! “Ms Hudsssssssssssson!”
After a long night of Holmes’ pleas for information about his friend where Ms Hudson repeated word for word the doctor’s visit, Holmes was alone, far away in his mind palace. He was trying to make sense of everything the cunning woman said or, moreover what she didn’t say, when the door opened to an alert and well-rested Tom.
“Mister Holmes, an express for you!”
Back instantly from his near-trance state, his robe billowing as he jumped quickly to get the message. “Thank you, Tom, everything is alright with our little tribe?”
“Yes sir, we all ate breakfast and most are now outside doing errands or surveillance.”
“And Jenkins?” Holmes asked as he read the missive. It was a possible client with the most extraordinary tale. “How is he faring this morning?”
“Better, he coughed less last night. Still sleeping now.” Walking into the room, he took the tray that he laid for the man hours before, “need more tea?”
“Yes, please, but not urgently, I need you to deliver a message first.” Ruffling the adolescent’s hair playfully, he smiled. “It’s going to be a nice day Tom!” Rushing to his desk, he wrote down a quick letter.
Watson, someone is coming to Baker Street this afternoon to talk about a case that looks quite extraordinary. Come as soon as you can if convenient.
p.s. If inconvenient, come all the same. It is a 8 at least!
He could have never imagined how dreadful the case was going to be.
Seven days later, still under the shock of what happened, he absentmindedly accepted his post from a worried Ms Hudson, a letter from Watson dated May 20th on the top of the pile. Opening the letter with trembling fingers, tears silently dropped from his eyes on the paper. His precious friend’s words dancing around him.
If you are agreeable, we can meet on Saturday the 3rd at 3 o’clock.
A meeting. Finally, his wish was granted! No more lies, a world of possibilities. But it was too late.
It’s too late, it is impossible for us now. Who could… love someone who nearly caused his death! Coming back from the war to risk his life in a dark alley. All because of me. Letting the letter fell on the floor, he dropped onto his chair, tears now streaming down his cheeks, his hands still red from Watson’s blood. Curving himself in a tight ball on the sofa, he closed his eyes.
Two weeks or so after the event, the artificial night in his rooms gave way to a brilliant light, suddenly pushing away any chance of slumber.
“Get out, woman!” Holmes grumbled, a hand in front of his eyes to push away the sun. “Close the curtain and go way.”
“No, that is enough!” the old woman shouted, as she fussed around the rooms to collect the dishes and the dirty clothes. Not many, as her tenant was still dressed in the same robe she put him into when she forced him out of his bloodied clothes and that he exclusively survived on tea. “I am out of teacups and your flat stinks as much as an army baraque in the middle of a heatwave.” Opening the windows one by one, she hummed happily.
“I WANT TO BE ALONE!!” Holmes cried, with a broken voice.
Huffing, the landlady grabbed the detective’s syringe kit, “alone with that I presume? I thought that your brother took it when he came?”
“As if I would give him everything in my possession,” the young man mumbled, still angry about his brother’s intervention.
“I do not understand, Mister Holmes,” turning motherly eyes on her tenant, she repeats tenderly, privately, “Sherlock. He is alive, he is getting better. It wasn’t serious.”
“It could have been, they could have killed him, I cannot… How could I live if -,” his eyes suddenly hard, he murmured coldly, “I nearly got him killed.” Shaking at the thought that his friend could have died, he let go a quiet sob before he found himself engulfed in his dear old friend’s arms. "I would have killed the bastard, you know Ms Hudson, if... if he... if he was no more with us."
“There, there, and that inspector of yours would have hidden the body with the help of your brother,” hugging him tightly, she waited for his spasms to stop. “You are loved, my young friend, by many, never doubt it!” Stretching her arms to push Holmes away for a moment she smiles, “and by Doctor Watson above everyone!”
Closing his eyes, suddenly shy of being comforted like a child, the detective mumbled something about meddling and delusional old women.
“We know more than you think, young man,” she said, thinking about her regular conversations with Ms Holmes, “especially the hearts of young people!”
“Anyway,” he walked away, trying to summon his body to act more… less… more manly! “Any frivolous ideas that I may have had towards Doctor Watson are certainly not welcome right now and it is better for me to –“
“Have you read today’s fare, dear friend?” She interrupted, as she pointed to a pile of newspapers and magazines.
“Why?” Frowning, he shuffled the pile, reading the headline with disinterested eyes, “it is not the usual papers, The Strand? as if I –“ Opening the magazine with a smirk, the first expression outside of sadness in days, he froze as he read the journal editorial. "The date, Ms Hudson! Today's date?"
"It's the 3rd, mister Holmes, do you have anywhere to be?" Satisfied and proud of her little scheme, Ms Hudson left a gobsmacked Holmes and called for Tom. We are going to need plenty of hot water, he certainly must take a good bath before he leaves Baker Street for his rendez-vous!
Finally... Sorry for the long delay!
Chapter 14: Kensington
The day of the meeting...
Holding the magazine as if it were a precious talisman, Holmes looked at his pocket watch, ready to go. Only 2 o’clock! How is it possible for the time to pass so slowly! The meeting with Watson was only one hour away and the wait, now that he was certain of his decision and nearly absolutely positive that his friend’s feelings match his owns, the inaction was killing him! Maybe I can go directly to the bookstore and… No, no, 3 o’clock at the bandstand, not before! It is my turn to follow his lead without question. The other way around did not work that well the last time. Closing his eyes as a wave of shame engulfed his thoughts, he slowly inspired until the feeling left him. I should not doubt about my dear Watson, the message is clear, he is neither disgusted nor afraid of what happened and wants to see me! And I did not lose his… affection.
Opening The Strand for the umpteenth time, he read the Editor’s column again.
To my great surprise, I received by express three days ago, something so wonderful that we had to find a place in that issue. In fact, it was curiously the only request the author asked that we confirmed his contract before and published the first chapter before June 2 nd .
I am enjoining you to read and enjoy the first adventure of ‘The Detective and the Doctor’, an extraordinary story of adventures, crimes and friendship. If it is well received, the writer is eager to live and write more adventures! Yes, live, because to our own amazement and the confirmation of Scotland Yard’s best officers, the story is true!
The author, a courageous captain who wants to remain unknown to the great public for the moment, visited us yesterday. Laughing about my concern about his arm that is in a sling at the moment, he explained that it was nothing. “It is superficial and nothing serious except for the distress it caused to my companion when the event occurred. The amount of blood always spectacular in that kind of wound. I will never forget the pain in the eyes of my friend as it is the perfect echo of the one my own eyes will show if something similar happened to him. But the pleasure of being in his company, as well as the great adventures that await for us far, outweigh any inconvenience. But for both our sake, we are going to protect each other better from now on, whatever what may happen.”
As you can see, dear readers, these stories will certainly reflect the epitome of the military strong virile friendship, forged in adventures and peril!
Georges Newnes, Editor
His hands trembling, he turned to the first chapter of his friend’s story. A Study in Pink. He chuckled at the sensibility of all this, that pink dressed opera singer really made an impression! He already knew by heart the few pages of the story first instalment. Our first case, the first time he learned to know me as the real me. Watson admiration for his new friend was clear to whoever was reading the story. The romantic way he described Holmes, the way the doctor reacted to the detective’s deductions, with surprise and awe. The instantaneous friendship between two men that society would keep apart. It was all there, between the lines and in plain sight.
The brilliant mind, the acerbic humour, the elegance of movement that even our greatest swordsman would envy… Never have I felt such a pull toward another being.
The innuendos leaning towards more than a platonic relationship were clear to anyone who is looking for it. And did Holmes look for it! His final doubts pushed away by Ms Hudson – who spotted the same cues – and by his brother who, now officially engaged to the competent Miss Anthea, now considered himself a specialist upon everything on matters of the heart.
As if, the detective muttered, annoyed as usual by his brother’s interference.
“You know, brother mine, walking around your flat is doing nothing to calm your nerves, but everything to irritate ours.” Mycroft Holmes’ sibylline voice interrupted his younger sibling’s introspection.
Surprised, as he was certain that his brother as left ages ago, the young man snapped, “what are you still doing here, Mycroft!”
“I’m offering you my support, of course, little brother.” With a nod, he thanked Ms Hudson who was refreshing his tea. “We are both really happy about the new development but a bit worried that –” He was looking for a polite way to say that he was afraid that Sherlock will find a way to ruin everything, but Ms Hudson quickly shushed him.
“I am sure that everything will go splendidly!” She hugged her friend tightly and murmured in his ear, “I am going out with a friend and will spend the night there. You are going to have the place to yourselves… I will tell Tom to remain in the basement rooms with the others.” She playfully patted his cheek and winked. “I am so happy for you!”
More stressed than before at the idea of being all alone with Watson, John, Sherlock looked at the clock.
“It is the moment, brother, if you want to take a stroll up to Kensington Garden, or maybe we can use my --”
“No, no,” he quickly protested, the idea of being all cooped up with his brother for the few minutes of the ride was unbearable, “I am going to walk.” Slowly, he rolled the magazine and placed it reverently in his inside pocket, walked over to Ms Hudson, who was holding his hat, he kissed her softly on her cheek. “Thank you for everything, Ms Hudson.”
Pressing her hands on the young man’s chest, she straightened his coat lapels, “there, it is perfect. You are always so elegant, he is going to fall into your arms… Good luck, my dear friend.”
Under the scrutiny of the old lady and his brother, Holmes walked out of his flat with a resolute look on his face. Into battle!
“Are you sure that I can leave you for the afternoon, Somerset? I do not know if I am going to be back in time to close.” The bookstore was supposed to be closed as it was a Saturday, but Watson decided a few weeks back to keep it open Saturday morning to help the business and therefore moved is little makeshift surgery on Sunday. But today, he was so restless that he did not close the shop at noon… Looking around, the usual flow of clients coming in and out of the shop was a nice return to normalcy now that all the nonsense about the Holmes bookstore was over, Watson was satisfied with the additional income.
He knew that all his fussing about leaving the control of the shop to Somerset was not the real reason, he had immense faith in the younger man’s ability and common sense and has often done so in the last months to follow Holmes, it was the purpose of his absence that was worrisome! Maybe it is not a good idea, he has refused to talk to me since that unfortunate Garridebs’ affair! He is so stubborn! Does he not understand that without him… without him, life is not worth living. A stubborn man himself, he was unable to push away the idea that if the detective was finally accepting to talk to him and look in his eyes, he would know that he is now essential to his happiness. I hope that he read my story… He personally delivered The Strand the night before to be certain that Holmes got the magazine, adding at the last moment a little note for Ms Hudson, asking her to be sure that he got it.
He sighed profoundly, trying to calm his nerves.
Thinking that he was the source of anxiety, the dutiful clerk protested softly, “no problem, sir, it is not the first time! If a client has a request that I cannot fulfil, I will take note of everything and let you know.”
“And if I am not there at 5 o’clock…”
“I am going to take the cash up to your flat, close all the lights and lock the door,” the young man replied promptly, a light smile on his lips.
The doctor, knowing that he was an idiot, chuckled, “Apologies, Somerset, I have the utmost confidence in you!”
“Go to your meeting, sir, and do not worry about me.”
Shaking his head, the doctor murmured, “it is not you that I am worried about my good friend!”
Knowing without saying a thing what it was all about (he read The Strand and was not an idiot!) he closed the discussion by pushing his boss toward the back of the room. “Go get ready, sir, let me know if you need help with something because of your arm and bring him with you, it is going to calm you!”
Laughing and finally giving it, Watson objected with a chuckle, “if I needed a valet, you will be my first choice Somerset! But thank God, I was shot in the right arm. At least this time having a Devil’s hand is a blessing!”
Half an hour later, he was ready. Looking in the mirror he was satisfied with his appearance, even if he knew that it was not possible for him to compete with Holmes’ elegance. That should do. His best day clothes, a warm light grey suit completed by a bright white shirt, his arm immobilized in a silk scarf in a colour that suited his cravat, shining shoes… Combing his hair one last time, he took up his light greatcoat and his bowler hat and left his flat.
It was a bright and glorious day, as London can surprisingly – to anyone except the Londoners – create at the end of Spring; as an introduction of the summertime that will soon follow. Watson was walking resolutely in the direction of Kensington Garden, holding a leash in his left hand. The black Scottish terrier was constantly checking on his master, happy to be outside. “Yes, you are a good boy. I should find you a name, don’t you think? No medal, no collar… What kind of master you used to have!” The dog was a new addition to his little household, a gift from Miller who found him wandering alone in Regent Park. The poor dog was in a poor condition but was a nice little project while Watson was resting. He fed him good food and brushed out his hair until it was back to a bright and shiny black.
When it was evident that Holmes had pushed him out of his life, he did not visit and returned his letter without opening it, the small dog remained at his side as he wrote the story of their first adventure. Hoping to find a way to convey his affection and that he was not ready to end their association even before it had officially begun! It is better for him to be there! The git, I won’t let this go at the first obstacle! Chuckling at the dog, who was smelling every tree in the path, he chided the little rascal, “we have somewhere to be, Dog, I cannot be late! And please, be as charming as possible. I think I need all the help possible!”
Turning on the left at the end of the path he finally eyed his goal, the bandstand.
Oh Great Lord, I am here.
Looking at his watch, he confirmed that he was right on time with a few minutes to spare. Slowly, he headed in the direction of the kiosk, trying to see if Holmes was already there. He was nowhere. A few minutes later, defeated but proud, Watson raised his head, surveying the happy Saturday crowd. Family, friends, lovers… I would be his if he wanted me, without a doubt, without a blink. But I am not asking as much, I just want to be a part of his life. Come on Holmes, my friend, my wonderful friend, do not do that to me, to us.
Pigeons flew around him as the Big Ben of the House of Parliament ringed 3 o’clock, effectively blocking the noise of someone walking behind him. As the sound of the bell finally stopped, the lovely deep voice of Holmes vibrated in Watson's ears, restarting the heart he did not know had stopped weeks ago.
“My dear Watson, my friend, I am under the impression that it is not a surprise to you that I am the same man whom…” Unable to contain his emotions, he squatted delicately near the dog to hide his turmoil, “please present me to the new addition. What is his name?”
“I have no idea, my dear friend, I was waiting for your input as it is an important decision.”
“My input? Aren’t you mad at me?” Rapidly, he stuttered, “I did not know I swear! Not about the shop, not about you being my correspondent, it was not a big scheme or anything and -” Holmes was petting the dog as if his future depended on it, eyes fixed on the cute animal.
“Yes, I know that my dear pen pal and you are the same.” He thought fondly of the dozens of letters they had exchanged. “It was good, the years where you were only a dream, a ghost of a friend. It was what I was needed… But after all that time, I was feeling better. I needed something real, this is why I… I fell so quick for you I think.” With amorous eyes, he murmured, “my detective extraordinaire. You were both, the dream and the reality. The real version of the man in the letter. The blood and warmth to his ink and paper.” Suddenly shy, he closed his eyes, “If… if you are captive of the same sentiment, I am offering myself to you. I could not live without both versions of you in my life.”
Holding his hand toward Watson, Holmes smiled with watery eyes. “Would you help me?”
“Yes,” extending his left hand he pulled and murmured, “I will always be there for you.”
Trembling, Holmes was unable to believe that his panicked and selfish state after Watson was hurt could be forgiven. “I am so sorry, so sorry Watson.” Not wanting to let go of the doctor’s hand, he gently patted his injured arm to justify their proximity. “How are you faring, dear friend, the truth?”
“It was only a scratch, after a few days I was able to go back to work.” Shaking his head in the direction of the terrier, he chuckled, “and that little tornado helped me change my mind. A little gift from heaven this one.” Becoming serious, he locked his eyes onto Holmes’ and courageously continued, “you know I do not regret that wound as I have seen the loyalty and love you feel for me.” After a pause, as Holmes remained silent, he added, “am I wrong, my sweet friend, if so just –“
“No,” discreetly caressing the inside of Watson’s palm with his thumb, he repeated, “no, you are absolutely right.” Finally letting go, he walked back a few steps. “Ms Hudson is going to be out for the night and I presumptuously asked her to lay a light supper in advance…” Afraid of being to forward, he bowed his head, wishing to still have the protection of his new furry friend. “Is this arrogant to –“
“No!” Watson cried, before correcting himself as Holmes’ face fell, “I mean, yes!” Chuckling he gave the leash to the detective, “I am following you.”
Walking, not so slowly now, in the direction of Lancaster Gate, Holmes suddenly stopped. “I got it!”
“What is it, my friend?”
“His name,” getting down to take the small dog in his arms he patted his head. “ Kensington seems like the perfect name, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Perfect!” Kensington Garden, the place where the rest of our life begins!
Putting down the dog, they laughed as Mycroft Holmes’ carriage stopped a few meters away, waiting for them.
For once, the detective was happy for his older brother’s meddlesome tendencies.
I changed the number of chapter, this one was getting too long and it was a nice place to cut.
(And yes, the bandstand and 'Dog'... my little tribute to GO)
The light banter dropped as soon as they entered the small carriage. The enormity of what they were going to do falling upon them, even if they both had no doubt whatsoever. Kensington, feeling the silence but reluctant to sit still, constantly jumped from one side to the other.
The small distance between the park and Baker Street was covered in the matter of a few minutes. The stillness and lack of conversation, unlike when the detective decided to shut down everyone around him while on a case, was not heavy but simply… intimate. As the horses turned on his street, Holmes grabbed the doctor’s hand without looking and asked gravely. “Are you sure my friend? I would not think any less of you if… if you do not cross that threshold with me. Nothing would change except for the fact that you know for sure know who your correspondent was. I will contact you for my next case, we will continue to run like madmen against criminals and laugh at Scotland Yard’s general lack of intelligence while drinking a tremendous amount of tea. We remain friends, above all.” He paused, letting his words sink in for a second. “But if you do come in, right at this moment, I will never be able to let you go.”
Turning his hand slightly to hold the other one with his fingers, he murmured, “do not worry, Holmes… Even if in my situation I may have more to lose, I am unable to think of anything not worth losing to be able to live with you.” The resolution in his voice was slightly tinted by a little shakiness, but his strong hold on the detective’s hand never faltered.
Stuttering, the younger man asked, amazed, “to… live with me? You are not jesting… With me at Baker Street?” His eyes were full of hope and doubt at the same time.
Wanting to help the younger man to relax, the doctor replied with a mocked seriousness. “Of course, your landlady is a wonderful cook and I heard that a room was available at a sensible rate.” Chuckling, Watson imagined Ms Hudson’s joy at the news.
“But,” Holmes protested with a glimpse of mischievousness, happy as he never thought possible for him to be, “I play violin in the middle of the night, and I often remain silent for days.”
“You play wonderfully and, if you choose wisely the pieces, perhaps it will going to help me sleep as I am subject to nightmare…” he replied, his face becoming solemn.
The vision of the doctor engulfed in his arms while falling asleep brought a soft smile on the face of the man who allowed himself to be seen above emotion, “I will push these bad dreams away, do not worry.”
“I know you are going to –“ Watson was about to used Holmes’ given name when the driver – who stopped in front of 221b a few minutes ago – knocked on the roof lightly. It is better, the first time I call him Sherlock is not going to be in Mycroft Holmes’ carriage! “We are here,” he said instead, taking up Kensington in his arms who was now anxious to get out.
“Yes,” Holmes said, “home.” And never had a word sounded so much like a promise.
Fumbling as he opened the door with his key, he was more nervous than he was letting on, Holmes could not believe what was happening! My friend, my Watson, my… John is here! Here with me. Finally, they were in the lobby, the chandelier’s gas uncustomary low for that time of the day. Something to do with romance, probably. The absence of the usual light noise from Ms Hudson’s flat or the joyful energy of Tom were also an incongruity. As appreciative of the space his old friend had left them, he missed the comfort that normality brought. Removing his greatcoat and hat, he placed them at their usual place before extending his hand to get Watson’s hat. “Are you in pain, my dear Watson, do you need something?”
“I am a bit tired but otherwise it is not throbbing, do not worry.” He turned and presented his back to Holmes, “but ... could you please helped me out of my coat.” His voice was quiet, soft, but for the detective, it was a beacon to what was going to follow.
“Of course, of course…” Slowly, he placed his strong elegant hands on his friend’s shoulder and let the coat slip off the doctor in one swift move. The satisfaction of hanging it beside his, though it was not something new as Watson had visited frequently in the last months, brought a burst of joy that the detective did not see coming. He is here, it is going to be his home as well as mine. Together… How could I be lucky enough to earn –
“Shhhhhh,” the doctor murmured as he used his left hand to soothe his friend and dared to gently press against the other man’s shoulder. “Stop thinking too much, everything is going to be perfect, we both deserve it, don’t you think?” Without realizing, he started to move his hand, not really a caress but as someone may try to calm a nervous horse or a young child. Trying again to find something to change what was going on in his friend’s mind, he asked, “do you think that Ms Hudson left us some of her delicious scones? I am rather peckish now.” He laughed at his own doubts, finding them a bit silly now. “I was so nervous that I could not eat my lunch.”
“Oh, of course! And your arm, I am not very good at all these social –”
Shaking his head, Watson smiled lovingly, “I am not a visitor anymore, remember, but a tenant just like you.” Dropping his hand, he timidly slipped it between the taller man fingers. “Are you ready to let me in my new home,” after a slight hesitation he continued, “Sherlock.”
Eyes widened by the surprise and the warmth he felt at being called by a name only his close family used, he nodded and led the man who represented everything up the stairs. Using a voice that would have been a gift for any of numerous guides at the British Museum, he nervously explained little facts about the place. “You know, it is precisely 17 steps from the ground floor to the first where my, our, flat is.” Once in front of the door of his rooms, he motioned his hand vaguely in the direction of the floor above. “The second bedroom is somewhere upstairs. But it is only large enough for a medium, no, a small, really small bed and a desk. And a chest of drawers to put…” he frowned, unable to find a reason why his John could want to go upstairs, “… necessities.”
Opening the door with a flourish, he sighed happily at the vision of the food Ms Hudson had laid for them before leaving the house. God bless the woman! “You know this space, you have visited many times!” Seeing the room with new eyes, he innocently tried to make room for the doctor possessions as well as removing anything that was laying on the floor and may be dangerous for Kensington. “Here you go, a whole shelf, just for you.” Getting a big cushion from the settee, he deposed it ceremoniously in front of the fireplace, “and a special place for our, your , little companion.”
The question mark in the ‘your’ clearly audible, Watson put Holmes at ease rapidly. “ Our dog seems really happy in his new home!” A bit relieved and happy that he was not the only apprehensive one, he chuckles, “don’t worry about the shelves, we’ve got plenty of time, my friend, and I do not have many things. a military habit of mine probably.” Looking at how easily the dog jumped on the cushion, if only life was that easy for humans , he laughed, “seems like he’s already feeling at home!” Boldly, he forsakes his usual chair and walked to the settee to sit comfortably, minding his injured arm. “The rest later, my dear Holmes, I am still a bit tired.”
“Of course! I am going to start the tea.” Turning towards the table, he checked that the water Ms Hudson left in the insulated jug was still hot before pouring it on the fragrant tea leaves.
“You are quite a domestic man, my dear fellow,” Watson teased from his sitting place. His arm, not feeling that bad finally, was resting on a cushion graciously placed by his host.
“Any Englishman is able to make tea, Watson!” The tall man objected as he let the tea steep under a tea cosy. “My dear old friend left us fresh fruits, scones, a variety of nuts and cheese… Quite a feast!” Fussing around, he finally poured out two cups of tea and dressed a plate with a variety of food. “Here you go, I hope it was not too long and that you arm is –“ Realizing that Watson was looking at him intensely, Holmes stopped talking and nearly dropped his plate. He placed his bounty on the coffee table and, stuttering, he asked, “is… is everything alright my dear Watson? Are you… are you in any pain?”
“I am perfectly well and in need of only three things.” His lips formed the most perfect and sweetest of smiles, “First, I want you to call me… John.” Instantly, Holmes mouthed the name reverently, silently, and nodded. “Second, I need you beside me, on this settee.”
The detective promptly obeyed and gauchely dropped beside his friend. As John, John , remained silent, he cocked his head and asked, “and third?”
“And finally, I need to kiss you.”
Both men stayed immobile for a moment, one flabbergasted by his audacity, the other one thrilled by it!
Holmes, unable to believe the chance he had that his friend was able to gather the courage to ask for what he only imagined, was unable to resist. Licking his lips, he leaned and replied to his friend’s request. His heart beating faster and faster as the kiss deepened. The soft pressing of their mouths, constantly moving and unable to settle, the most perfect dance. The firm touches of their hands, anchoring them by pushing them together, the proof that it was not a dream. How could we have lived before this moment? We were incomplete without knowing it. Watson’s right hand, on his own accord, climbed the tall man’s back until it lay on his nape, stroking the base of his neck as unintelligible words escaped his lips.
“What did you say, dearest?” Holmes asked, even though he found it difficult to pull away from his beloved’s lips.
“I wanted to know what your hair felt like without all these products… fashion is such a shame,” the doctor murmured, chagrined.
“A bunch of unruly curls, I am sorry to say,” Holmes laughed quietly.
Dreamily, Watson’s fingers caressed a few loosened strands, “what a sight it must be…”
“I will wash it off later if you want,” the brunet promised before going back to the kisses. The constant onslaught on his senses kept intensifying, without waning. The odours so clearly Watson, a mix of tea, gunpowder and books, as well as all the exquisite sounds that kept coming from the doctor were instantly stored in his Mind palace for later analysis. The moment was too glorious to lose a second of it thinking! Unable to resist, he tentatively breached his lips, tempting Watson by gently running the tips of his tongue upon the other man upper lips while subtly trying to open them.
“Are you trying to go all French on me, my friend,” the doctor chuckled as he happily complied.
“Je ferais tout ce que les Français sont reconnus pour... si vous me laissiez faire mon amour,” Holmes replied in a perfect French. (note: I would do everything that the French are known for if you let me, my love.)
“Oh God, this is so unfair, Pashto is really less… eloquent in an intimate setting.” Opening his lips at last, he passionately mixed his tongue with Holmes’, revealing in the sensations. Forgetting his wounded arm, he tried to push away his friend’s coat but winced at the painful feeling.
“John, do not exert yourself too much, my dear,” suddenly aware of how quickly everything was going, Holmes kissed Watson’s forehead. “We have all the time in the world, all the time…”
Watson dropped his head at the crook of his lover’s neck, contented by the perception of his breathing and the steady rhythm of his heart. Smiling softly, the detective cautiously wrapped the doctor’s injured arm with his own and turned just enough to be able to kiss the top of his friend’s head. Smiling when the only reaction to his ministrations was a satisfied sigh.
Finally, exhausted by the emotion of the last weeks and helped by the nearly closed drapes that chased the sun away, they both fell into a peaceful slumber.
And yes, one more chapter... Plus an épilogue.
Chapter 16: The night is falling on London
221b at night aka 2k of sweet nothing...
The room was surrounded by darkness when Watson woke up, an anxious Kensington whining for the door at his feet. He disengaged himself from the arms of his lover and pet the dog, murmuring “poor boy, we completely forgot you…” Once he was certain that Holmes was still asleep, it looked like the poor man had not slept at all since that unfortunate last case. He walked to the door and called gently, “Kensington, come here, we are going out.” Knowing that following his master was the thing to do, the intelligent dog silently trotted in his footsteps before rushing down the stairs.
The night was out, and the halo of the nearby lamppost was shining through the front door’s little window. In the dim light of the lobby he was able to read the hour on the small clock on the console. It is later that I though, it’s already past midnight. We slept for nearly five hours! Seeing the reflection of his ecstatic face in the decorative mirror, he smiled even more. This is what it feels like then, being happy. More than happy. It is perfect. The sound of the little dog scratching the door brought him back to his important mission. “A moment, little fellow, a moment…”
The doctor was trying to put his coat while keeping Kensington from woofing excitedly, “yes, yes, I know! Give me a minute, the damn coat is –“ when the surprise of seeing Tom leaving Ms Hudson’s flat stopped his mumbling. “Tom?”
Hiding his bounty (a tin of cookies) behind his back, Ms Hudson’s young employee asked demurely, “do you need help doctor Watson?”… right before he quickly dropped on the floor at the sight of the dog, “you’ve got a dog, doctor, you are so lucky!”
Smiling at the teen’s enthusiasm, Watson quickly saw possibilities. “He is going to stay here now, if Ms Hudson allows it of course, perhaps you’d like to assist us in caring for him?”
“Of course, doctor, what’s his name?”
A burst of love spread in the man’s heart as he remembered Holmes christening the dog. “His name is Kensington.”
“Like the castle and the garden, a bit weird, if I can say so without offending you.”
“None taken,” holding the leash towards Tom he asked, “are you available for a walk? The poor boy needs to go out.” As Ms Hudson helper shouted a resonant ‘yes’, Watson chuckled before frowning seriously. “It’s dark outside, you are not to go further than the next corner, understood?”
“Yes, doctor! But don’t tell Ms Hudson that you saw me, she told me to remain in the basement with the others tonight.” Not realizing that Watson cheeks were rapidly turning a bright pink, he asked eagerly, “can I go now?”
“Of course, of course,” thinking about the man who waited for him upstairs he smiled, “you can even have him for the night if you want…” he winked, “and I won’t say a thing about the cookies.”
“Thank you, doctor! We are going to take great care of him!” Opening the door, he ran out in the deserted street, and Kensington happily bounded after him.
Holmes was still asleep when Watson entered the living room.
The tall detective was now spread on the side where his friend had been a few minutes before, with a little frown as if he was indignantly criticizing the man who was not there anymore. As if his body yearned for Watson’s presence. Covering him with a warm shawl, the doctor silently walked toward the detective’s bedroom. His joy at the intimacy of his action, as it was the first time inside his friend’s private room, was one more piece of evidence that he was doing the right thing. That he was in the right place. Smiling, he assessed the many pictures, anatomical charts and strange collection of items that created Holmes’ universe. The room was furnished principally with an armoire, full of wonderful suits and strange undercover costumes, a small vanity, a bookshelf for his more precious books as well as a big bed.
Turning his eyes away from the bed with a little emotion, he found what he was looking for, a small basin and a fair amount of water. He relieved himself in the modern bathroom fitted on the second flood before going back downstairs but did not want to run a full bath. Maybe another day, I would love to take a bath in the privacy of a home… Sighing at the idea of taking a bath with Sherlock, he turned his attention to the contents of the small vanity and smiled at the obviously expensive line of products. The soap, a luminous mix of lemon and sweet pea, smelled wonderful. It smells like him . Carefully, he closed the door loosely, lit a lamp and poured water in the basin before removing the scarf that held his arm in place and his cravat. Boldly, it was too late to go back anyway, he removed his coat and rolled the sleeves of his shirt well above his elbow.
First, he took care of his wound, a little box on the table contained everything that he needed. After using a clean cloth near the basin, he lathered the soap and washed his face, his hands and arm – as far as possible without wetting his shirt. Not liking the feeling of the oil in his hair, reminding him of many weeks without a proper wash when he was in the army, he boldly decided to wash it. I want to touch his and him to touch mine!
He was leaning above the basin and about to lift the water jug with his left hand when a sleep roughened voice stopped him.
“Let me help you, my dear friend? I am happy to assist you.”
The sight of Holmes, who was looking deviously handsome leaning on the door frame, nearly stopped Watson’s heart. For the umpteenth time in the last few hours, the thought that he was unbelievably blessed to be able to see the man under the genius persona sprung in his mind. “Holmes... Sherlock, my dear friend, you startled me!”
A little pout on his lips, he protested, “you abandoned me, Watson, I had no other choice except to search for you.” He chuckled tenderly, “and I found you here, in my bedchamber. How forward of you my dear friend, I - ”
“I am sorry, I… I just wanted to… to clean a bit and…”
Raising his hand to calm Watson’s doubts, he bowed to drop a small kiss on his lips. “I am delighted to find you here…” Eyeing his position near the vanity, he grabbed the jug and offered, “let me help you.”
Using his good hand, the shorter man leaned over the basin, offering his neck. Pushing his collar further down with one hand, Holmes delicately wet Watson’s sandy hair. Keeping his left fingers on the nape of the man he loved, he switched the jug for the castile soap. Dropping it a few seconds in the water to get a lather on his hand, he then gently proceeded to massage his beloved, cleaning one strand after the other before giving a good rinse, until he felt that the position was too straining for his friend. “Here you go, you are going to be able to sit my dear.” Holding his arm, he pushed him toward the edge of the bed. “Please, sit…”
“Holmes… Sherlock… I”
“Shhhh,” the taller man replied, placing a finger on the doctor’s lips, “do not worry. I only want to help you with your toilette.” Choosing a soft flannel, he dabbed it in clean water before kneeling in front of John. Wordlessly, he removed his lover’s shoes before sliding under his trousers to detach his socks from the garters. The intimacy of the movement, the closeness and the warmth of the detective’s hands troubled the doctor to the core. Unable to protest anymore, he simply murmured his friend’s name…not even aware of what he was pleading for. Rolling the hem of the trousers, the taller man gently started to clean his lover’s foot. Lifting one foot after the other, he cleaned and massaged, before giving a small kiss on top of each of them. Holding Watson’s gaze, he smiles at his obvious interest. “Should I go further, my dear friend, I am not as good as an employee of the Savoy but…”
“Oh God, yes, anything.”
Now striding the doctor, he effectively removed his vest and shirt. Carefully, he guided the right sleeve over his bandage, kissing the newly dressed wound. “So sorry my friend, to think that –“
“Stop that,” John murmured, capturing his mouth, “I told you that it is fine.” He was about to push him on the bed when his Sherlock laughed.
“No, not fair…" the man chuckled, "I want your hand in my hair also.”
“True. You talked to me about curls, I am deadly curious now. But I think we used all the water.” Keeping his breathing as regular as possible in his state, Watson sat back on the bed, his back now up to the bedhead. A delectable temptation, his trousers only hiding him from his lover heated gaze.
Summoning every ounce of courage, Holmes detached himself from the bed and started undressing. The blatant desire in his friend’s eyes as well as the bulge steadily growing under his front, removed his last doubt. Slowly putting away every item of clothing - one by, gracious Lord, one - he continued without a word until he was in underwear. Turning to look at the jug, he realized that the water was insufficient. Too sad that I cannot only ring for it! But on the other hand, I prefer to keep my delicious John to myself… Ms Hudson is such a flirt! Walking out of the bedroom, he grabbed the supplementary provision he kept outside of his bedroom for his experiments. He drained the water in the basin, and he serenely proceeded with his ablutions.
Hiding under his calm demeanour the furious tattoo of his heart, he methodically washed his body, nearly caressing himself without realizing it, silently screaming for more. Each droplet of water excruciatingly tempting. The cleaning of his hair always more complicated than the rest, the thickness of the curls rebelling against the treatment, he washed and rinsed many times until they were pristine and lustrous.
Turning toward the bed, he shuddered at the heat in Watson's eyes and defiantly pushed down his pants.
“And now?” The detective asked, falsely brave as he stood naked in the dimmed light. His pearlescent body magnificent as his arousal became even more evident now free of its confinement.
Holding the blanket open, Watson whispered with a voice laced with love and desire, “now, you come here.”
Yep. A chapter without any plot whatsoever. Next chapter, the conclusion of that little Victorian capsule.
Update: Sept 31st: Working hard on Fictober, so sorry for the delay on this one!
Chapter 17: The first day
The first day of the rest of their lives.
“Shush, sleep my love…” Sherlock, awakened because of the agitation of his bedfellow, tried to calm the ex-captain who was still cradled in his arms despite his agitation. Soothingly caressing his back and holding him near, he murmured, “it’s over, don’t worry, you are with me…” The deep rumble of thunder, probably the cause of the nightmare, was starting to fade as the storm was drifting away from London. Gently stroking his blond hair, the detective let out a sigh of contentment as John peacefully returned to sleep after he arranged his wounded arm more comfortably. The idea that the man of his dreams, the companion he longed for for years was here in Baker Street, was almost unreal! How is it possible to be so blessed? His mind racing with thousands of sensory inputs and unable to go back to sleep, he conscientiously synced his breath with John’s until he enjoyed the calming effect and, for once, didn’t need any incentive to remain in bed! We both need to rest, last night was… eventful. Thinking about how willing and pliant John has been nearly gave him the desire to wake up the tired man. Later… We have the rest of our lives, but it’s true that it was really the most exquisite night.
The sound of John’s moaning brought him back from his musing. This time is wasn’t whine of terror, memories from war and horror, but clearly a nice dream. Smiling, he turned on his side until he faced the still sleeping doctor. Careful not to startle him, Sherlock placed small kisses on his shoulder and his naked torso, his right hand sliding between his waist and the mattress to hold onto the smaller man. As John remained lost to the world, he dared to let his other hand slide towards the opening of his untied drawers, irresistibly drawn to the wonderful gift John presented to him the night before. Listening to the doctor, who was still lost in his dream, the detective pressed his hand down over the offered manhood until he was able to comfortably wrap his long fingers around it. The angle wasn’t perfect but, if the increasing sighs and deep moans dropping from John’s half-opened mouth was an indicator, it was good enough. My John, my darling, I want to wake up like this each morning until we are old… Until death does us apart. Peppering littles kisses all over his neck and cheeks, Sherlock never realized that his lover was finally awake until the other man agile left-hand followed the same path of his as a devious smile brightened his still sleepy face. “You can’t play without me, my dear friend…”
“I think I am hungry,” the detective announced thirty minutes later, frowning at the inconvenience.
“This is something new. You, hungry?” John teased, hugging the man with his good arm, before complaining theatrically, “but I don’t want to leave the bed!”
“It’s Sunday, we have all the time –“
“By Jove!” John jumped out of the bed, offering a nice view to his devoted friend as he tried to keep his untied drawers up. “Sunday! My soldiers! The clinic!” Rushing to looked at his pocket-watch, he became calmer when he realized that it was still early. “I’ve got one hour and a half, thank God, I was afraid that it was too late!”
“I’m going to ask Tom for water… Give me a second.” Gloriously naked and looking eminently edible, Sherlock stepped out of the bed as well, crowning John’s pillow head with a small peck before he took up his robe.
Helping the detective, the doctor gently closed the garment before he knotted the belt. Tight. “Now, I’m going to be able to dress without thinking about your sinfully rounded bottom.” After a small kiss and a daring clap on the said derrière , he grinned and shouted, “and ask him to bring Kensington back also, my fellow veterans really like that little dog!” Looking for his clothes, John was relieved that at some point during the night he took a few minutes to place them carefully on a chair, so they weren’t that wrinkled.
He had finished doing up his trousers and was now putting his socks back on when Sherlock returned to the bedroom.
“Hot water is coming; you are going to be able to wash yourself a bit and shave.” He opened a small case containing his shaving kit, thinking how delightful it was to be able to share such an intimate moment. “Tea is going to follow soon –“
John stopped the marvellous display of good hospitality with a deep kiss. “Thank you, love, you are the most precious man.” He slowly put his shirt back on, leaving it open as he waited for the water, unable to be efficient about the process. I just want to stay as long as possible! “So sorry to have to leave like this, but you understand –“
“Yes, I know, it’s important for you and for them.” He embraced him slowly from behind, stroking his still uncovered stomach, revealing in his proximity, on the heat coming up from him. After a few seconds, he murmured, “the number of them is growing, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” the doctor replied, saddened, “it is horrible that they have nowhere to go. I am afraid that one day it’s going to be too much for me, and if I am living here…”
“As you are now living here…” Sherlock rectified with an emphasis on ‘now’, “I do not want to be presumptuous but, may I suggest something?”
“Of course, my dear, of course, you and your brilliant mind…” Turning to face Sherlock, he asked, “what is it?”
“I know a wonderful doctor, who has some trouble finding a place and would be thrilled to help you with your soldiers.” He paused, wondering if he was overstepping. No, I know him, John is my wonderful open-minded correspondent.
“Who is it? Do I know him?”
“It is a… she . Doctor Molly Hopper. She graduated a year ago from the London School of Medicine for Women.” He hesitated before pleading for his friend. “She won’t be troubled by the roughness of your men, she often helped at the mortuary and –“
“I do not worry about the so-called fragility of women,” John laughed, “you should have seen the nurses and the cantinieres when we were on the front! They usually have a better stomach than many seasoned soldiers!”
“So, I can set up a meeting?”
“Yes,” he quickly stepped away as Tom entered the flat with hot water. The poor lad was nervous as Ms Hudson was really clear about the fact that he must leave both men alone.
“Tom! Thank you, my boy! I hope Kensington wasn’t any trouble?”
“Oh no doctor, he’s a sweet dog.” He placed the water jug near the basin as the puppy rushed to his master. “I am coming back with tea and scones in a minute.”
“Thank you,” John repeated as Tom left the room, his cheeks pink at the thought of the adolescent point of view on what was going on, playing with the dog to avoid his lover’s scrutiny.
“Oh… aren’t you beautiful when you are all flustered,” Sherlock teased, palming his flushed face.
“But,” the doctor murmured, “what does he feel about… all this.” Thinking about all the children in the basement, he panicked, “are you sure that it is… safe? Your reputation, my dear friend, my own… In the hands of children. The risk for their future as well as Somerset’s! We must be careful!”
“We will be careful outside, but here, it’s our turf, our home.” Lathering soap to shave John’s blond stubbles, he smiled. “Don’t worry love, these children have seen enough and aren’t judgemental like our politicians and peers. For them, we will be brothers in arms, best friends, family. And it’s going to be enough for them.”
“You are so good to your little comrades, of course, they can only approve of anything that you do.” The doctor chuckled, careful not to move as the detective’s blade started to slide delicately on his face.
“Yes, and they know how good you were to one of them, so you are now included in the group of selected adults they trust.” With a flourish, the detective, now barber, cleaned the beloved cheeks with a hot cloth before helping him with the rest of his clothing.
“Are you planning to stay in your robe all day long?” John chided now that he was completely dressed. Walking into the living room, he patted the little dog who was now sleeping peacefully in his bed.
“I don’t have a case; you are going to be out… Ms Hudson isn’t due before the end of the day.” He sat on the sofa with his tea and a plate of scones. He raised a brow seductively, “I will be waiting here for you, I don’t need to be dress if you are going to undress me as soon as you are back home.”
“I need to move my things here… you can join me at the bookstore in the middle of the afternoon with a wagon if you want to help.”
“Hmmmm… that is a good plan.” Looking around, he tried to imagine the flat with John’s things in it and was quite pleased with the idea. “I am going to make places for your books and a desk.”
“A desk?” The doctor laughed, “I need my own personal desk now?”
“Of course,” he pointed to the Strand on his desk, “you are a writer!”
“I am not a writer,” he shook his head, “it was only to get your attention and –“
“It worked, and the attention of the public as well…”
“But the shop! I have no time to –“, he stopped putting down his teacup and looking at the beautiful and loving eyes in front of him, “Somerset!”
“Somerset?” Sherlock asked knowingly, but not wanting to push him.
“Yes, I know you came to the same conclusion as I hours ago!” He laughed, now absolutely convinced of what he wanted to do. “That young man is brilliant, good with our clientele, and has a good eye for business. I can give him the apartment, he is still living with his mother, and name him manager!”
“What a wonderful idea! Plenty of time for cases, stories and frolicking!” Looking at the clock, he attached Kensington to his leash and gave it over to John along with his hat. “Time to do some good, Doctor Watson.” He kissed him softly before opening the door, “I am going to be there at 2 o’clock with a cold lunch and a few men from Holmes & Brother.”
“Perfect,“ with a last longing look, he walked down the stairs with Kensington in tow. It’s going to be a long day!
The detective was walking out of the bathroom, the luxury really pleasant after the strenuous night, when Tom shouted after him. “Mister Holmes! Your mother and your brother are here!”
Muttering, Sherlock walked back to his flat satisfied that for once he brought his clothes with him instead of simply walking out of the bathroom in his robe. “Could you please bring fresh tea, I think I’m going to need it!”
“I will, Sir, and with a plate of cookies.” He turned on his heel, shouting, “courage, Mister Holmes!”
Chuckling, Sherlock opened the door and entered the living room. “Mother, what a nice surprise!” After a customary kiss on his cheek, he nodded coldly. “Mycroft.”
“Oh, be more cheerful, my darling, we are here because your brother has wonderful news to tell you!” She was so excited that her sons were suddenly afraid for her health.
“Mother, are you alright?” Her older child asked, with concern.
“Yes, Mother, you are quite flush.” He turned to his older brother, “what have you done to her?”
“Nothing…” Sherlock sniggered, “ah! I know, you are finally betrothed to that secretary of -”
Standing up, Mycroft protested, “don’t you dare speak of Miss Wor –“
“- She’s an excellent choice, you are going to be perfectly happy together.” As a small knock resonated in the room, the detective concluded as he strolled back to the door to open. “Ah. perfect! My favourite biscuits, thank you, Tom.”
“I was afraid that…” Mrs Holmes said, shaking her head, “you always said such horrible things to each other.”
“No, I think it’s true that Miss Worthington is a gem amongst her gender and that, except for you, mother and my dear Ms Hudson, I don’t know of a better woman.”
“Thank you, brother mine, your… your acceptance is quite meaningful to me.” A clearly emotional Mycroft replied, hiding his feelings behind his cup of tea.
Waiting for it, the detective wasn’t surprised when his mother sighed. “Now, if you could find someone my dear, my life would be perfect. It is not a life, being alone like this. I wanted to help you find the perfect -”
“Mother,” he closed his eyes, trying to find the best way to close the subject for good, looked at his brother for help.
“Mother, what Sherlock wanted to say is that…you must realize that his… allegiance doesn’t side with ours.” Okay, that is not that bad.
With an elegant gesture of her hand, she pushed her son’s words away as if it wasn’t important. “Of course, I know that he prefers gentlemen, I am not a ninny! I have known for years!” She looked offended. “But even if you are a really beautiful, brilliant and energetic man, you have trouble with… feelings.” She chose a biscuit, leaving her sons to think a bit. “I knew that you wouldn’t ever give a stranger a chance, that you needed to know the fellow beforehand. To have respect for him. This is why I thought that Captain Watson was the best candidate –“
“What!” Both Holmes’ boys looked at their mother in awe.
“Mother, you know Doctor Watson?” Mycroft asked, as his voice came back before Sherlock’s.
“No, not personally, of course! But a friend of mine on at the Association, Doctor Stamford, talked to me about his friend - a brilliant field surgeon - that was alone in the hospital after a terrible battle.” She placed her hand over Sherlock’s, looking into his eyes. “The way he told me about his courage, his nice form, his valour, his dedication for his patients and his men...” After a pause, she pressed her fingers tightly, knowing that the discussion was painful for her secretive son. “His solitary life because of his… difference. His striking appearance in his uniform a loss to the fearer sex.” She shrugged her shoulders with a malicious smile, “so…”
“You organized everything!” Mycroft summarized in admiration.
“It can’t be! The Association for the Care and Well-being of Wounded Veterans do not know who is getting which veteran and –“ Sherlock tried to protest, “it’s anonymous!”
“Darling boy, give me a bit of credit. I am on the board of the association after all,” Mrs Holmes chuckled before getting serious. “I have done nothing except to ask that your correspondent was Captain Watson, I swear. The rest was your doing.”
“And it seems that it was… fruitful.” Mycroft added with a little smile as he looked around at the evidence of last night.
“What! It worked!”
Sherlock replied reluctantly. “Doctor Watson is now in London and we… we are now acquainted .”
Hugging her son with joy, she nearly dropped her tea, “I am so happy!”
Turning discreetly to look at the clock, Sherlock rise, “I need to go now Mother, Doctor Watson is waiting for me.”
“Of course, of course,” Mrs Holmes nodded, happy that her scheming with Doctor Stamford worked, completely oblivious to the curt break of the conversation. “Go, go!”
“The wagon and two capable men you asked for are going to be at Doctor Watson’s place at 3 o’clock, brother mine,” Mycroft added, with a mischievous smile.
“HE’S MOVING IN!!”
Rolling his eyes at his brother, Sherlock flew away before he received another load of maternal love.
Unable to stay mad on such a glorious day, he grinned as he walked toward his lover. Yes, this is going to be a long day. Long but lovely… to be followed by thousands of lovely days and nights.
And... here you go, The End! Happily ever after!
I can imagine that Doctor Hooper is going to fall in love with Somerset ;-)