|Side Effects of Popularity
Author: coniferae PM
Xpost from AO3. Warning for PTSD. Not dark, though, and not really graphic.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Adventure - J. Bell & A. Doyle - Chapters: 5 - Words: 9,368 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 09-04-12 - Published: 09-02-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8489376
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
For some reason night always disturbs me. The closer is an evening to a night-time, the lower are my spirits. Really, I often think that it has something to do with the fears of childhood, the time when it is an act of great bravery to go to a cemetery, and almost every boy pretends that he has no wish for his mother to stay in his room after the lights are off.
I was standing on the steps of a morgue, looking in the darkening Edinburgh streets. The majority of the window frames were full of a sweet, honey light, slightly dimmed by the dirt on the glass. At the foot, however, right above the roadway, the deathlike darkness reigned, creating an impression of some mythical deep river.
Our last joint autopsy was finished successfully, and – queer thing – to this day I remember every little detail of these two or three hours, my last hours in Auld Reekie. I remember the scalpel, from which cold thick blood was draining slowly and thoughtfully, being laid on the operation table, Bell's long fingers drumming the table's corner, sweet-foul scent of the dissected body, dusty scent of the mortuary walls. This dusty scent – I enjoyed it, because somehow it has always reminded me of deep, cold basements with sacks of potatoes and lots of jam jars.
Our verdict was "infarctus myocardii acutus", which in plain English means heart attack, so there was nothing particularly interesting about this autopsy. It was pretty dull, to be honest.
- Pretty dull, isn't it, Doyle?
The Doctor managed to approach me noiselessly, so I flinched at the sound of his deep voice.
- If ye keep appearing this suddenly, I'll jolly well get a heart attack myself, - said I surly and then sighed. – Well, in our case the more ordinary the better, I guess. But it wasn't very exciting as a medical experience.
He was now standing next to me, looking in the same direction. I watched him sideways; blue long shadows made his austere face somewhat mysterious.
- Hope you will have enough of exciting medical practice soon in London, – for a moment I seemed to hear regret in his tone.
I smiled weakly and shivered from the cold, which was gradually deepening.
- I'll certainly try to.
- Farewell then. - Now he sounded dry. After a pause, though, when I already stepped towards the gates, he added: "Take care of yourself".
And I left, walking away to the streets. Vague sadness filled my heart. This evening seemed to invoke all my loneliness and self-doubt. "Yet", - said I to myself reassuringly, - "future promises me so much at the moment: my very own medical practice in the capital, new relationships with new people, perhaps even love; don't go self-pitying, you're actually a lucky one".
This consolation hardly improved my mood. Although I was young, my life had never been light and easy. Of course, I knew that I couldn't deny my hapless existence and turn over a new leaf: there, in Edinburgh, remained my family, my unfortunate father was enclosed in the local asylum, and, to be honest, I was extremely attached to Bell, despite all the asperities of his temper.
I only hoped that fresh air of London would cure and strengthen me, and that being away from Bell's dark world and hurting meetings with Charles Altamont Doyle would do me some good. Also if my practice would start well enough, I'd be able to help my mother, who had severe financial difficulties at the time. My only big regret was that I had to abandon my younger brother Innes, the prospect which neither I nor he liked.
And so I said goodbye to my family and left from the Waverley station at 10 PM in the darkness of dull countryside fields and complete uncertainty. The black locomotive was sighing heavily like some huge and calm animal; sitting in a half-dark compartment thinking how to describe its look (I was a writer, after all) I could come up with the only suggestion, and probably quite a ridiculous one: "noble". Honestly, a unicorn can be "noble", not some strange sooty engine of our century. Apparently, my thoughts were already confused by all the fuss of the previous day, so I decided that I should try to sleep, the more so that the reality which I was looking at bore striking resemblance to dreams.
Our train arrived in London ten hours later, at 8 AM. I sat, yawning convulsively, looked in the mirror on the compartment door and saw my own pale, tired face with eyelids somewhat pinkish due to lack of sleep. For some weird reason I could never make myself sleep properly in night trains, though the rhythmical sound of the wheels was quite relaxing. Well, for everyone else it was. So, feeling completely exhausted, I left the train without looking at the fantastic pink morning sky, shivered in the wet cold of crispy air and took a two-shilling cab to the house of my friends, who suggested that I should stay with them during the beginning period of my practice. They were McIvor family, McIvor Hamish, his wife Heather and their only daughter Liz.
Half an hour later I walked along the narrow path with crunchy pebbles and stepped inside the house, where I was greeted by McIvors cheerfully. From their family name one could erroneously conclude that they were Scottish farmers who by some twist of fate happened to move in London; in reality, the head of this family looked more intelligent than most of the British aristocrats. By a lucky coincidence he was also modest, which made him a cherished company for any of his acquaintances. Hamish McIvor descended from a long chain of Edinburgh zoologists, had been teaching Parasitology at the University, then retired; he also had a nodding acquaintance with Bell, and I was rather surprised when it appeared that the latter actually disliked poor Hamish. It was not like the Doctor to dislike someone so open-minded and unobtrusive – but is it, after all, so uncommon among people to feel unreasonable aversion for each other?
I, in my turn, certainly liked McIvor and was very pleased to stay in his house. The very sight of this somewhat nervous yet nice face and attentive hazel eyes watching you from behind the semicircular glasses, heartened me a great deal. He had always had some interesting issues to discuss and he knew when it was time to be silent; then his sharp cheekbones would quiver, as if he was going to yawn, and he would stare away from you a bit lazily, indicating that there was no need to fill the pause unless you wished to. Even war, which made him lame, didn't manage to embitter his heart. I had no sense of hierarchy in his presence, though Hamish was older than me for twenty four years and had been a professor in my university for a considerable time – and I had called him by his Christian name. It was absolutely unimaginable with Bell: surely I could never dare call him "Joseph", the very thought seemed wild to me. However, I admit that behind his back those who sympathized with the Doctor quite warmly and unceremoniously referred to him as "Joe Bell".
I have not much to say about Heather - only that she was a very good woman and a loyal and loving wife to her husband. The reason is that she almost never talked to me, and nor did she to any strangers: poor thing had had an abusive family, which left some oddities in her character. She was still pretty, though a little plump, and had beautiful red hair, deep green eyes and a lot of freckles, varying in colour from purple red to lemon yellow. But most importantly, I'm still convinced that McIvor loved her dearly, and that has always been all that mattered.
The girl, who appeared to be only eleven years old, was winding her red hair shyly, not daring to look at me; apparently, the very appearance of the stranger in their house embarrassed her. She reminded me of Innes, which was quite painful. After all, I wasn't even sure if I would be able to see him any soon.
- Hello, little one, - said I, trying to sound reassuring, - Your name is Liz, isn't it?
- 'es, sir, - she blushed and looking downcast. – Liz, 'es.
- It is nice to meet you. I'm Doctor Arthur Doyle, you can call me Arthur, if you wish.
It didn't encourage her, as I slightly hoped; in fact, my proposal embarrassed little Liz even more. She nodded speechlessly and ran away, chestnut ponytails fluttering behind her.
I sighed and looked around. Warm colours suited this Scottish family, the more so that the entire house was full of warm and dark shades. Stone fireplace in front of me casted yellow and red gleams in the gloom of the huge living room, and everything seemed so calm and peaceful that I almost immediately felt sleepy. McIvor showed me into my room, where I undressed and lay down, intending to doze for half an hour or so. And, well, suddenly slept away about twenty hours. Was it the train insomnia or the nervous tension? Still don't know, but it surprised me a lot when I woke up in the dead of night. Deciding that there was most certainly no point in getting up at this hour, I returned to bed. Not that I managed to go to sleep, of course, so it was a fairly boring pastime.
It is now necessary to mention that in those days I had already been publishing my stories, and, though I had not been paid very well yet, my popularity was growing. Which, of course, hadn't been pleasing the Doctor, who was determined to keep his incognito in the forensic work and overall. He had never been a public sort of person. Quite the opposite, in fact. I only hoped that nobody would make a connection between the great detective and my mentor, for I didn't make them similar in every possible way. In some stories the resemblance was striking; but that usually applied to the way of thinking, not to the man's character. As a rule, Doctor was, first, more emotional than my creation (though he had always disliked showing his emotions, and rare it was when I could catch a glimpse of his strange inner world and guess about his true feelings); and, second, surprisingly, more unsociable. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, he had a big circle of acquaintances and even friends, but none of them was allowed to be close enough to him to see anything beneath the facade of a brilliant medical man and university teacher admired by many students. There was some disturbing controversy between his outward vigorous and friendly demeanour and deep melancholy which one could sometimes see written on his face. So far I was the only man in the University who knew about his participation in criminal investigations and, as a result, the only one with whom he could share his victories and failures. Sometimes in his presence I felt myself being utterly stupid and ignorant. Truly I have never understood why he singled me like that; there were times when I wished so desperately he never did! And yet long-lasting acquaintance with Joseph Bell, being my curse, was at the same time my blessing.
Next morning after getting up, wishing a good day to my friends McIvors, shaving and having breakfast (one of the tastiest one in the last month of my troubled life, I should admit. There was some tea, eggs, ham and jam buns, which I adore since childhood) I quite reluctantly decided to finally unpack my things. Honestly, I felt so relaxed and lazy in this warm homely atmosphere that I had no wish to deal with all this mess of objects pushed into the suitcase helter-skelter. But it was inevitable, after all. I opened the thing, intending to finish with this unpleasant necessity as soon as possible.
And then I saw it. Bell's glove. I stared at it in great astonishment, wondering how on earth the thing could turn out in my suitcase. Surely the Doctor himself wouldn't put it there. I even thought that the glove was not his, but an identical one; however, I saw my mistake after a brief examination: it smelt with medicine, and, more important, was worn-through in exactly the same place where the Doctor's silver cane would meet the leather. I admit with no great shame that I was extremely puzzled by this riddle.
It was only then that I noticed a piece of paper which was uncovered when I removed the glove. I lifted it with some vague anxiety, for Cream trained me to see menace in such seemingly unimportant yet symbolical things; it appeared to be a note, which I read attentively. It said as follows:
"Dear Dr Doyle,
I took the trouble of finding the real prototype of Sherlock Holmes, and I'd really like to know if Dr Bell actually has those amazing skills pictured in your books. We shall see whether he will be able to save you some trouble."
And there was no signature.