He went to her. I was not there to witness it; years later I would only have part of the story from Holmes, but even in my imagination the colours are so vivid that I must allow them to flow from my pen. My feelings for Holmes, however one may want to classify them, are exemplified by his actions in seeking out Julia. It is something he would not have done ten years earlier. It is something he would not have done for anyone else.
Sherlock Holmes stood in the shadows of a porch, waiting. He was dressed as himself in evening attire, though the remains of a false beard and nose were tucked away in a pocket. He had been to a production of a drama he had never heard of, something called Petals on the Breeze. In his seat in the small theatre, he sat through two and a half of the most horrendously boring, mind-numbing hours of his life. A badly lit stage of bumbling actors, clichéd dialogue and ludicrous costumes had him wondering if the entire thing was meant to be a farce. If it was, no-one laughed.
The only saving grace was a tall, lovely young woman whose red-hair flowed over her bare shoulders. She drifted across the stage in a way that personified the title of this atrocity, her voice clear, inviting. Holmes could sense the general approval of the Cousin Maribel character when she was onstage. The woman clucked about her costume—only a whore showed off more skin. The men applauded her back on stage for a second bow.
Kirkarran rarely saw such a spectacle. It was a small hamlet, just outside Dumfries. There was little to recommend it, save a few quiet beaches and a rather nice open air market that was home to circuses, fairs, speeches, games of all sort and the occasional keek show1. It also had a small theatre, run by a troupe that offered one of the few cultural opportunities to the locals. They performed everything from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan. Admission was inexpensive and expectations were low. It was not a place one would think of to hide, but that would pre-suppose that one was hiding.
Holmes had quickly determined where Miss Findlay (as she was going by) was most likely staying. Kirkarran offered no hotels and it was unlikely she could afford both the rates and travel costs to and from Dumfries. One boarding house advertised rooms to Unmarried Christian Gentlemen only. Another would rent to women, but given the suspicious demeanour of the proprietress, he thought it unlikely that an actress would meet her qualifications for admittance. Therefore, with options limited, she would have to rely on the charity of friends. The most likely candidates would be the other women employed by the theatre, and of these limited numbers, one, a Mrs. McKay seemed the most similar to Julia Hudson in age and temperament.
Her flat was above a dry-goods store that a bachelor brother owned. Holmes could hear the squeal of the floorboards, the loud boorish laughter emanating from an open window. When he desired it, he found it easy to conceal his presence. Right at that moment, he felt as though he could be standing in the very bedroom of this fellow and still not be noticed. The darkness enveloped him that night; he may as well have been invisible.
His body leaned dangerously against the rotting rail. There would be approximately seven minutes until the lady appeared, and he had only his own thoughts to occupy him till then.
He closed his eyes.
As usual, the pictures flooded his brain like a wave washing over a million grains of sand. October—a rather bleak day, some rain and mist, a heavy stench roaring in from the river. Watson, with his unshaven face and tightly tied boot-laces, a map of despondence painting every misfortune upon his face. He can read that face.
He had known for some time that Watson wished to be back at his side once again. Perhaps he missed the adventure, the unending days spent untangling the wicked webs that men and women trapped themselves in. He had become a bit more complacent as he aged, but Holmes knew his soldier's bones longed to be sent on assignment. For years he had found fulfilment as the great detective's human side.
Holmes was vain enough to think that Watson may even miss him.
Because he did. He would never admit such a weakness, he denied it even to himself, but he knew it was so. For some nights he would fold himself into his wicker chair and stare at the creases in its twin across from him. He had endured decades of silence in his youth. From the time he lost his sister until manhood there was hardly a whisper. Once, he would have preferred it as such. Now it was maddening.
Strong teeth bit down hard on his pipe. No amount of staring was going to make that body appear in the chair where it belonged, however much he might wish it.
He snapped his eyes open. It would not do to think of such things now. He must force his mind to the present, he must not allow the emotional cracks that had been breaking in his constitution for a decade now to further flood his body. Men should always have the ability to navigate a conversation—even a confrontation—down the intended route. But he would shortly be dealing with a woman. And their emotions were libel to take one down any sort of untamed river of thought, leaving one back-peddling against the tide to try and restore logic and order. This was a point of fact he could not give in on. Mycroft or Watson or the whole of London could think him a misogynist if they liked, but the fact remained women as a whole could not go from point A to point B without a lot of emotional or pointless detours, both in action and thought.
And if there was ever a more pointless, emotional act than this undertaking of Julia Hudson, he could not recall what.
With a grunt of displeasure, he crossed his arms and pressed down against his ribcage as hard as he could. He was trying to cause pain. Better to focus on physical pain than mental.
Down the street, the sound of footfalls reached his keen hearing. A hand immediately went to the railing and gripped it tightly. The weather was fair for late autumn but he could feel the night breeze on his face. It carried the smell of rhododendron bushes, old paint chips, manure. And just a subtle amount of narcissus flower and vanilla. Her very distinctive perfume was the first piece of data he had stored away upon meeting her. That, and the noticeable effect upon the doctor's pulse.
It remained too dark for him to see as yet, but he could hear that the footfalls were two women (high, sharp footfalls) one tall, agile (quick, longer strides) the other shorter, not heavy, but more out of training (the shoes dragged against the pavement slightly). But the heavier steps were slightly ahead of the other, she was leading her companion who clearly did not know the way well enough yet. Holmes checked his watch under the dim gas light—almost two minutes ahead of schedule. He frowned. And that was why there must be no grit in the instrument of the mind. But soon enough he could see the red hair that on a dark night looked like a torch. Impossible not to notice it, impossible to maintain much anonymity whilst possessing it. How fortunate for the male sex, he thought. Most males, that is.
They were nearly at the door before they saw him. Mrs. McKay started, gripping her companion's arm. "My God, there's a man just there!"
Holmes had the pleasure of witnessing Mrs. Watson's reaction. Her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped. But just as quickly, the jaw firmed up as if the bone had been replaced by a steel rod.
"I'll deal with this, Nan. You go inside."
Mrs. McKay looked reluctant, but she disappeared into the store. Although not very far inside, judging from the lack of footsteps. He pushed away a smile and turned to his adversary whose words flew at him with a fury he had fully expected.
"What are you doing here? This is absurd, Mr. Holmes! How dare you track me down like I was...I was some common criminal!"
Holmes believed he had reason to be satisfied. He had struck the appropriate emotional chord. He bowed slightly. "My apologies for having distressed you. Rest assured, common is never a word I would attribute to you, madam. As to my presence, I believe you are aware of my professional services? I was asked to employ them in regards to a missing wife and mother." Not a complete truth but true enough.
Her face blanched. "Where is John?"
"I believe he is in London. At least, I have no knowledge of his being elsewhere."
This statement seemed to calm her. Her eyes closed for a moment, and the detective bit back his distaste at her cowardice. Afraid to face her own husband! And rightly so, in his opinion. When she spoke again, she was far more composed. "I wonder if you would be so good as to take a brief stroll with me, Mr. Holmes? Just there, down to the main road, perhaps?"
Sherlock Holmes acquiesced with another cold bow, and, folding his arms behind his back, carefully fixed his expression to one of detached ambiguity. As for the lady, still in her absurd costume and a long black coat, she looked like some Dickensian spectre sent to lead him down the path of charity and love for his fellow man. The hiss of the gaslights seemed to disapprove of them from above. That alone, save for an occasional dog's angry bark, was all the noise they encountered. It was a noiselessness that he knew he must soon satisfy himself to. London's all-hours would be behind him forever. "If you are concerned about Mrs. McKay overhearing, I should think we are far enough away now. Now, what have you to say for yourself?"
"Only to ask why you are here. Have you come to browbeat me into returning to London? Is that why John sent you instead of coming himself?"
Sent him. As if he were a messenger boy. His distaste for the lady was growing by leaps and bounds. "I can assure you that my purpose in coming here was most definitely not to force anyone to do anything against their will." He paused. He knew the real reason. To find out the truth. Looking her directly in the eye, he said, "Pray, do you even imagine I would want you to return to him, Mrs. Watson?"
And so he knew. He knew by the acidic expression that splashed across her face. A look of poison. By the way her gloved hand immediately took aim at his face. He caught it and held it in his powerful grip. "That will not do. We are both civilised adults and will behave accordingly."
She pulled away. "You are a vile, disgusting man and hardly civilised, Mr. Holmes."
"I will not deny you have the right to think so. No doubt were I in your place, I would think much the same." He walked on, feeling an intense need to move. He didn't care if she followed him or not. He realised now that he was the reason she had left. His inability to control himself had cost Watson a chance at happiness. And more so, he had cost a child her mother. Having never known a mother's love himself, it was a pain he knew can well shape one's future.
But it was then that she said something unforgivable. He heard her call after him. "It was Josh who gave you away. I would never have suspected if not for he—but now I wonder, Mr. Holmes—was it you who told him to tell me? Surely you would have more motive than the boy. I must tell you that I think it completely repulsive that you could use him that way. For your own sordid need to...to keep John to yourself."
His hand twitched. Slowly, he turned around. His mouth opened.
She backed up, her eyes widening. Even in the solid dark, the white sparks were clear. She knew she had said too much.
But when he spoke, it was with complete equanimity. He would not give in to anger, even on this point. "If you wish to accuse someone, it must be me. But you will leave the boy out of this. He is innocent, completely so. Whatever he may have told you was against my explicit wishes. You and I do not know each other well, few in fact know me, regardless of how I am portrayed to the public. But I would never"—he paused. "I would never sacrifice him. Not toward any end."
They had reached the end of the pavement. Kirkarran, like many small to medium-sized Scottish hamlets, still had not found the means of paving its roads. It was a sad sight—worn nearly to ruin by deep ruts, the lack of rain and a thick growth of vegetation peaking through every slit and crack. Holmes stopped, stared. Beyond the road there was nothing. A vast empty field. A few stunted trees perhaps. Crickets, birds, the occasional fox and squirrel, other rodents. One could walk for days and not meet another person.
That was his childhood. Vast amounts of emptiness. Days spent gazing out of wet glass, studying, until he knew every crack in the frame, every splinter out of place. Could name every type of fauna or flora that grew within his field of vision. No-one came to see him, save his sister. He could hear how loud his own breathing was. The sound of his boots on the floor was deafening.
Soon, it would be so again. But with one important difference. This time it was his choice. He had told Julia Hudson that few knew him, but that was a lie. No-one did. Not even Watson. Not even the boy. They might think that they did, but like the great masses that eagerly devoured tales of the Master, they were deceiving themselves. He had been acting a part for so long that he felt like two people—except in a rare twist of fate, it was the true self that was in danger of taking over the character.
And after all these years, he was looking forward to allowing it to take place by burning the script.
He turned to Julia. She could fool these strangers quite easily. She could fly across a stage and chirp like some happy canary, laugh as if life were some merry bowl of cherries. But he could see the faint black lines that cosmetics didn't cover under the eyes. Subtle irregularities on the teeth indicative of grinding. A slight tremor of the fingers. Constant lip-licking.
She was quite the actress. And she was lost.
He offered her his arm. She looked at it blankly for a minute, as if unsure of his intention. His gaze remained steady. Slowly, she placed her hand on his elbow. Holmes cleared his throat and led her carefully across the scarred street. They were about halfway back to 'Bellamy's Dry Goods' before either spoke.
"If it is my presence that is discouraging you from returning to London than you will be delighted to hear that I am retiring. Leaving forever. If you wish to return to him," he paused. "I will not stand in your way."
"May I ask—why are you really here, Mr. Holmes?"
His eyes narrowed.
"Don't think me impertinent. It is just...if John is not with you and you are not going to drag me to the station and throw me on a train, than why bother coming? I don't understand."
It was a fair question. He realised that. But sometimes it was the reasonable questions that one had the hardest time finding reasonable answers to. "I think," he began and then stopped. Sometimes he wished that his bones were rotting at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls. Sometimes he wished that he had never mentioned to Michael Stamford that he would be a hard fellow to find a flatmate for. "I think I came to assuage my guilt."
It was as hard a sentence as he had ever uttered. He did not like to admit weakness, particularly of an illogical nature. But ironically it was the logical thing to do.
"Do you love John?"
He could feel his spine harden to ice. "Do you?"
"John is...a good man."
"I was not aware that fact was under dispute."
"It is not. I think him...the kind of man a woman is lucky to marry. I thought so when he asked me. I still think it so. But"—
"But...you do not love him." He said this quite matter-of-factly. Coldly. The way the air had turned, burrowing into every bit of bare skin.
"No. But I respect him. He was very good to me." Her hand moved ever so slightly on his elbow. Holmes forced himself still. "You needn't feel guilty, Mr. Holmes," she continued, her voice uncharacteristically softened. "There is only one person to blame for my actions. I thought I could play the rôle of wife and mother. I thought I could garner favourable reviews for it." She laughed sadly. "I should have known I was fooling myself. I am sorry for John. And I am very sorry for my little girl. But I must do this. I must be free. I am sure that you—a man—cannot understand how it is for a woman. To feel as though she should not aspire to anything but a man's wife or a child's mother. To never have a life of her own."
Holmes considered this. He did not understand, she was correct. But that was only because he chose not to. He still thought that women who did not do their duty to their children were among the top of his list of blackguards.
But he could understand the feeling of being a prisoner. And risking everything—honour, reputation, perhaps life—to be free.
"Sometimes we are forced to make difficult decisions. Sometimes we have to choose what we need from life, rather than what others need from us." He paused. "In my line of work I see it all too often. But—I don't always consider it a crime."
Julia's expression changed. Her mouth dropped, her eyes shifted away from her escort. Her entire demeanour took on something of the overly theatrical Cousin Maribel character she had spent the better part of the night portraying. Somehow, though, Holmes thought he may have been seeing the true woman for the first time. Not the actress. "Thank you for saying so," she whispered.
The detective knew he could never like Julia Hudson. Mary Morstan he could appreciate as an appropriate wife for Watson. She had been what a wife and mother should be. But this lady reminded him of his own mother. The self-serving, if not the cruelty. But he could appreciate that she hadn't betrayed John Sherlock to his father. That she hadn't attempted to blackmail him, hadn't gone to Scotland Yard or to some unscrupulous journalist.
Because he realised that on some level, she was disgusted. Dismayed. Much like Watson's sister. Just like his own mother would be.
But she had given them the gift of silence. And he thought that gift should be re-paid.
They had reached the flat again. The lights had all been extinguished, as if Mrs. McKay and her family had gone asleep. Holmes highly doubted that was the case. The bird of dawning singeth all night long2, he thought. He released Miss Hudson's arm from his own before focussing his aging, but still masterful gray eyes into her youthful blue ones. "I will not tell Watson where you are."
"Would he come after me if you did?"
"Perhaps," he lied.
Julia nodded. "Might I ask a second favour of you?"
"Wait a moment." Silently as a cat, she dashed through the shadows and into the building. Holmes watched, though he could see nothing but the growing chill of midnight. 'Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart3. The smile that flashed across his colourless lips was so rapid that it was gone before he realised it had appeared.
When Julia appeared, Holmes could clearly see that her eyes were puffy but he made no mention of it. She wordlessly handed him a letter. The name of her daughter was written on it, in a shaky hand. Holmes tucked it into his waistcoat.
"You will judge when she is ready to read that."
She may never be ready. He would not tell her that, however. "Perhaps Watson is a better candidate," said he.
She shook her head. "It must be you. It must be someone impartial. Whatever else you may be," She hesitated. "You are a complicated man. But the world is still a better place for your presence. I believe this. Even knowing what I do."
He realised that he should say thank-you. His mouth opened to do so. But the words would not come out. So instead, he turned up the collar of his frock coat against the night air and tipped his brim. "Good-night, Miss Hudson."
She nodded. "Good-bye, Mr. Holmes."
He felt the need for exercise. Despite the plummeting temperature, he walked most of the way into Dumfries. A cab caught up to him a mile from the station, and he engaged it more from habit than need. The burn in his legs and the hammering in his chest that would have been damaging to most was relaxing to him. He lit a cigarette and tried to ignore the pounding of the poorly padded seats.
He had missed the last train to London and would have to wait until morning. That was fine with him. He bought a ticket and went in the waiting room. A dying fire provided just enough heat to make the room slightly warmer than outside, he could no longer see his breath at least. Holmes took the chair nearest to the flames and closed his eyes:
Just as he'd been arriving in Dumfries early that morning, he'd observed a peddler wandering around outside the station. He noticed everyone, but this one elderly man imprinted in his mind. He allowed his brain to make notes. His stomach told him he had cirrhosis of the liver, his mouth told him he probably had a few months to live. He was Scotch but had lived abroad for many years—Australia. But not a convict. He had served in the military. The New Zealand Wars, probably. But his collar told him he had been learned—he had served one of the local Universities. An assistant. He had been married. She had died. He still wore his ring, but it was tarnished. It was the only thing of value he owned. Now he was a drunkard. An old man dying on the streets.
He was peddling books.
He looked so much like a costume he had once donned that Holmes flinched.
"G'day, sir," the old man's garbled voice said when he approached him. "You look like a man who would appreciate a bargain."
"Well, who does not?" Holmes smiled. "I would be a fool to pass up a bargain."
"And you are not a fool, kind sir. I have an eye for such things. You have a very fine occipital lobe. Now, many men praise the frontal, say that it is our development in that reason that separates us from our ape cousins, but I have always been partial to the occipital myself."
"I see," said Holmes.
"Precisely, sir. And no doubt you see very well, indeed4." The old man gave a phlegmy laugh. "No doubt you dream as well. We are the stuff as dreams are made of, as the Bard says."
" 'Dreams are made on, actually. The Tempest. I have always preferred the Prince of Denmark myself."
"Aye? And what did he have to say on dreams?"
"Well much, if memory serves."
"I do believe that he mentioned having bad dreams, Prince Hamlet. The Germans are making that particular subject something of a vogue I hear. I have a copy here somewhere, it is unfortunately not in our tongue yet, young man.5"
Holmes knew his deduction of the old man having been an academic was correct. Very few book peddlers read German, the language of doctors. He smiled. Perhaps he should buy a copy of something for Watson, as a Christmas gift.
But the old Scotch-Aussie was digging in one of his piles and pulled out a small, red-leather bound edition. "Ah! I thought I had stored this away. They say it is bad luck to speak of the Scottish play, sir, but what I really consider mis-fortune is to not have at least something of our friend from Avon upon my person. How fortunate that it would be the drama you prefer."
Holmes took it in his hands, a little astonished. It was exactly the same. "I had a copy of Hamlet in my youth. Bound in red leather, published by Smith and Elder. Just as this is." He opened the cover, half expecting to see his name written in faded blue ink on the title page. It was not, of course. The original had been thrown away by his mother when he was fifteen. She tried to blame it on a careless servant. He knew better. It had been the last birthday gift from his sister. Slowly, he closed it.
The old man had a dark glint in his rheumy eyes. " 'Now I am alone/ Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I6. '"
Holmes blinked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins, dropping them in front of the peddler. He could hear the old man still muttering lines under his breath as he walked away. He carefully placed the book in his overcoat pocket. He would have liked to give it to Watson, but he could not. Perhaps a few years ago he could have. Perhaps the boy. Not now, of course, but later. The significance would be lost on him. But Holmes knew that eventually he would come to appreciate it.
Christmas is such a soothing time for one's soul. I have memories of snow-ball fights and new sleds from my youth; a romantic fire and my wife in my lap in my adult years. My son finally out of danger in the year of his birth, my wife and I both forgoing gifts that year, so happy are we that our boy is so improved. I have memories of a missing blue stone, and one of my favourite cases with Holmes. There are memories of family, fatty geese half-eaten, my mother's short bread, my wife's mince pie, Mrs. Hudson's fabulous mulled wine. I cannot recall a single unpleasant memory on that holy day.
The year '03 was a black one in my life. I lost Julia to the stage, I was about to lose Holmes to the Sussex Downs. But it would end with hope. Perhaps a bit like the Christmas sugared plums I can still see Cook feeding my children—bittersweet.
Behind me, the fire warmed my back. A delicious rum punch, tasting heavily of orange peel and red wine, slowly dripped fire from my belly down to my toes. Despite the snow roaring across my chimney, the weather nary caused a twinge in my old wounds.
The candles of our small tree flickered against the wall; they created shadows on the eager faces of my children, both sitting on the carpet with tinsel covered boxes at their knees.
I am taken back to another Christmas nine years earlier. Holmes, Josh and I had sat in a lonely room in Switzerland, the Hellish roar of the Reichenbach audible from our window. Or at least I remembered it as such. The innocence of that atmosphere was a temporary haven to the inferno we would soon find ourselves burning in.
We three were together once again. My son, now a young man, Holmes and I were all thrust through another decade and into a new century. We had not emerged unscathed. But for that one day, we were not thinking of the obstacles life has laid before us. The great detective was more relaxed than I have seen him in years. He sat across from me in an identical chair, legs crossed, his smoking jacket crumpled and one of the very fine Cubans he had just unwrapped hanging from his mouth. Puffing merrily, he was laughing at my son, holding up something shiny made of metal.
"Roller skates!" I ejaculate. "What on Earth?" I had imagined the large box with the silver ribbon to contain some obscure book—he had received some tome with a name I daren't even try to pronounce for his birthday. It being too big for his trunk he had left it here. I thought about using it as a paperweight. Or perhaps a cure for those nights when sleep eluded me.
"Well and why not roller skates?" Holmes was saying. "You know what they say happened to poor Jack when he got no play."
"I never realised you did, though."
Holmes had a slight twinkle in those steel gray eyes. He puffed a ring of smoke in my direction.
"They're first rate, Uncle!" Josh immediately began trying to fasten them to his boots. "May I try them, Papa?"
"What, in the house?"
But there was something in his voice—something of the child I so rarely saw. He had an affectation of near boredom as a habit and I would have given all that I had to see my son be able to enjoy childhood. And because I knew that it was my fault he was not—my fault and Holmes—that he felt this tremendous weight to conform to a mould that had been set in marble for him at such a tender age, I could not deny him on Christmas.
"Try not to break anything." I begged.
He whooped and rushed to his feet, only to have the contraptions clamped to them knock him on his rear. His sister had been watching him with large eyes, ripping handfuls of shiny paper and throwing them into the air. Josh giggled and grabbed her, skittering across the highly polished floor. Soon the pair of them were clobbering in the hall, Lily's shrill infantine voice screaming in excitement, her brother crashing every third or fourth glide. So much for the sportsman, I thought, chuckling to myself.
"After all, Watson," Holmes said as he reached for an ashtray. "He should be a child while he still can."
I raised my eyebrows. "My dear fellow, are you quite alright?"
The mantle clock struck the hour just then, seven metallic 'tings' echoing behind us. My friend pulled out his watch, gave a slight grunt of surprise as he glanced at it. His fingers clicked the fob closed and I could just make out the inscription on its carefully polished silver surface.
"I feel I have laid too many adult pressures on your son. It is a decision I now regret, to not encourage him to enjoy these years more. He will not get them back."
Your son. I had never heard him refer to Josh thusly. It was always 'my godson' or simply 'the boy.' Those times he was in a particularly introspective mood, he may even be called 'our boy.' It seemed as though he no longer wanted to take responsibility for him. "You were doing what was necessary to prepare him for his future career. I don't fault you."
"Have I?" He said innocently. "Well. Perhaps."
I blinked a few times. There was something in his inflection that made me think he nearly wanted to say 'perhaps not.' Turning to him, I opened my mouth to question him, but was silenced by a massive crash that rivalled the eruption of Vesuvius. A quiet swear followed.
"Alright, what's all this then? Are you bringing the house down on us?"
The baby came crawling in, all smiles and laughter, her little white gown ripped at the bodice and her wee bonnet and a ribbon from some package trailing after her. John Sherlock followed, looking something like a drunkard with arms askew and legs splayed.
"Balance on the balls of your feet," said Holmes, ever full of helpful suggestions.
"What sort of disaster are you inflicting on my entry way? I say it's lucky for you the maid is on holiday."
"Aw, nothing...just Martie knocked that end table over. I've set it right." He dove to his knees next to the baby and began tickling her, distracting her as if she could blurt out the truth to me.
I laughed. "And what will you do when Lily is old enough to defend herself?"
"Papa doesn't call my sister proper, Uncle," he said, ignoring my question. "She prefers to be called 'Martie' but he calls her 'Lily.' I think lilies are better flowers than names."
" 'Martie' for a girl?" I shook my head. "It sounds like the name of a person quite familiar with Dorset Street.7 If it's all the same to you, I would prefer my daughter to grow up to be a lady."
"Like..." the boy's eyes shifted to the left.
Whatever comment he was going to make was instantly stifled by a furious shake of Holmes's head. I glanced over, seeing my small writing desk covered with bills and unanswered correspondence. Yesterdays Times and Daily Sketch. A few old Medical Journals. But on top of the mess was a framed photograph. The very same left behind in my wife's room just two months previous.
I had neither heard nor seen anything of Julia in that time, and in truth no longer expected to. Holmes had given me her destination. What she was most likely doing to earn her way and how she had financed her escape. The real question—why—remained unanswered. If I had asked, he would have brought her back to me, bound and gagged if necessary. Or I could have charged across his Majesty's land and dragged her back myself like some enraged primate. Occasionally, I waffled between both options.
But as I sat in my library of a night, a whisky in one hand and pen in the other, I could see my bonnie lass playing on the rug before the fire. She deserved her mother. Did I deserve my wife? Well. Perhaps, given what had happened, we each deserved each other.
Of course, as you are no doubt aware, dear reader, that not only do we not always get what we need, we often do not even get what we deserve.
Holmes had risen to his feet. "Now, now, chaps, that will not do upon Christmas Day." He made his way over to a bowl of fruit placed on my sideboard and helped himself to an apple. Wiping it on his waistcoat, he added, "Especially in the presence of a lady." And then leaving me nearly stupefied, he picked the baby up, settled her onto his lap and munched on the fruit.
I stared at the unlikely pair of them for some seconds, eyebrows raised, completely surprised. Up until that moment, he had ignored Baby and she him. When Josh was about, she rarely paid anyone else any mind. Never had I seen a child so enraptured of an elder sibling. But unlike her brother at that age, she was not the least bit bashful. She didn't cry. She gazed at Holmes with the same wide-eyed awe that evidently ran in the Watson blood line.
I had rung my old friend last week knowing that he was leaving shortly—"I will not see the new year at Baker Street"—was how he had put it. I invited him to pass the holiday with me. The truth of it was, I myself had spent the last two months in a fog.
Once I had dropped in on him. It was some weeks after Julia's departure, and I was desperate that he may have something, anything, that I could assist him with. Happily, I was rewarded and spent several days at his side as he cleared up the startling business of Professor Presbury.
It was to be his last case in London.
He did not ask me about recent events and I did not offer details. Once he had told me that work is the best antidote to sorrow and indeed he was quite correct. Between the thrill of that last adventure, my practise and my daughter, my plate was kept quite full. But as the Christmas season approached, and I refused one invitation after another addressed to 'Dr and Mrs Watson,' I felt a melancholy streak resurface. The weather turned particularly bitter as I recall that year, and my patients seemed to go into hibernation, not wanting to venture into the elements and spend funds earmarked for the holiday.
I began to ache with loneliness. I couldn't bear that I would never see Holmes in London again, for I knew that once gone, he was unlikely to return.
"Well, I intend to catch an early train on Boxing Day," he said, his voice sounding uncertain on the telephone. "Perhaps you will not want your holiday so interrupted."
"My dear fellow! I don't mind in the least! And you really must not be alone on Christmas." Though I think I intended I did not want to be alone for Christmas.
He paused. "Given what has recently occurred, are you certain you do not want to be alone with your family?"
I smiled genuinely for the first time in days. "Holmes...when will you learn that you are family?"
When he spoke again, his normally authoritative voice had softened noticeably. "I will be there. Thank you."
The baby was soon asleep on my friend's lap and I put her to bed, having given Nurse a few days off to visit her family. When I returned, Holmes had piled the fire so that the library glowed like Shadrach's furnace and he and Josh were furiously combating in Crambo. Smiling at their vigour, I poured myself some of the fantastic single malt from the bottle Holmes had presented to me. Crambo gave way to Similes, then to Dictionary, then to stories that further illustrated their brilliance.
Resting in my armchair, I acted the part of the spectator. I was there to savour their small verbal victories, consoling my son when his mentor came up with a word he could not rhyme, match or guess, and occasionally referee a dispute.
The wind continued to howl down my chimney. Such a bone-chilling noise could only rival in my mind the moors of Dartmoor and the memories of giant hounds trained to rip out a man's throat. But my heart was light. Joyous even. It may have been temporary, but at last I had my family complete once again.
Around midnight, my son fell asleep on the sofa, the roller skates still strapped to his boots. My friend and I left him there, covered with an old blanket. We did not speak. Indeed, for much of the day we had not spoken directly to one another, but rather to our through the children. This was not particularly odd. Children have a way of directing all the energy and attention in a room to themselves. But I sensed in the way that Holmes was fingering the rim of his glass, folding, stretching and re-folding his legs and cocking his head in my direction that there was something he wished to say. I knew what it was. But I wanted to enjoy a few more minutes of the perfect peace I felt before shattering it. But at last, taking a long swig of whisky, I asked him:
"When did you see her?"
In my reluctance to speak on the subject of Julia, it hadn't even occurred to me that the question may surprise him. So rare was my opportunity to do so, I wish now that I could have delighted in the moment a bit more.
He choked on his drink. Eyebrows thrust in the air, I took him completely. Probably for the first and only time.
"However did you know?"
I had to smile. "Why, you know your methods, Holmes. Deduce."
We exploded in laughter, guiltily, trying to buffer the sound with our hands so as to not awaken the boy. He was thankfully a heavy sleeper and the noise did little but cause him to grunt and subside.
I looked at my friend. When was the last time we had laughed like that? Quite awhile. I should think it was long overdue. All the pressures and expectations we had levelled on one another over the last decade seemed to melt away in that moment. My fears for my children, the worry that I had let down both Julia and Holmes, the anger at myself, my inability to fix our lives melted away. Laughter can have quite the cathartic effect it seemed.
Briefly, he explained to me in a low voice how he had traced her. He spoke as if he were afraid of being overheard. For Holmes, it had been all too simple. But I would have had a deuced time of it, even knowing as I did that she had brought a ticket for Dumfries.
What he had not said, however, was why he had gone there.
I decided not to ask.
"She thought herself a poor wife and mother. And she was dissatisfied with not being able to parade about on stage, or some such. Who really understands the motivations of women? They can be so inscrutable." He glanced at me. "The point, though, is that you have nothing to feel guilty about. She left of her own accord."
My spine seemed to melt into the back of the chair. A breath that had been trapped in my lungs for the past two months exited.
For I believed him. Whole-heartedly.
I would not have been actor enough to pull off such a lie. But Julia Hudson was a fine creature of the stage and I always thought Holmes could have easily manufactured a career as another Sir Henry Irving.8
"What will you do in Sussex?" I asked him after a long, drowsy pause.
"Well. I hope to devote some time to writing. I would like to pen the definitive text on the art of deduction. Alas, I fear I may prove unequal to the task." His eyes were merry as they met mine. "James Boswell you may well be, doctor, but time will tell if there is anything of Johnson in me."
I chuckled, sipping my whisky.
"Of course, mostly I am hoping to devote my time to bee-keeping."
"Bee-keeping?" I would not have been more surprised if he had said he was interested in taking up tribal dancing or sock darning. "Why the devil bee-keeping?"
He gave a non-committal shrug. "Why not? Bees are a fascinating creature. Perfect order, perfect structure. I find that appealing. Perhaps something to aspire to."
"It seems an odd sort of hobby for you. Or perhaps it does not. But a full-time occupation? I cannot imagine you not involving yourself in crime somehow. Your brain rebels at stagnation as you have told me before."
"I have told you my reasons for retiring."
"You have told me. I do not know that I accept them."
He snorted. "Do you think I have so little control of myself that I will immediately plunge back into a vial of cocaine? Come now, doctor."
I gripped the armrest of my chair and leaned my head against the cushion, studying the dancing shadows the fire cast of us on the ceiling. We both moved, flickered in shades of grey. We both refused to commit to one single shape. We are more alike than unlike.
"I worry about your being alone. That is all." I did not remove my sights from the softly glowing lights.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my friend blink. His lips flattened into a long line. "I wish it did not have to be."
Did it have to be?
The whisky settled like a glowing ember into my mind. "This really is a good single malt, Holmes."
"Scotland is the only place for whisky. As well you know."
"I will enjoy the Cubans immensely. It is always nice to know that one will be able to fill a hole in one's coal scuttle. I have already engaged a local woman to look after me, by the way. So you needn't worry about my becoming a total recluse. She reminds me of Mrs Hudson," He chuckled. "I dare say she may have been the only one in Christendom who would have put up with my strong tobacco and er, untidy habits."
I was picturing the chalky white cliffs. The green hills, the sand-swept beaches. A little cottage—stone with dark brick inlays. A tin roof. I could hear the rain hammering against it. There would be a small wood just beyond, a thick grove of elms, I should think. An area to the south hoed for gardening. I had grown vegetables (potatoes mostly) myself as a lad. Perhaps even a stable for a horse.
Inside, a large stone fireplace. Two desks, or even davenports for us to write at. A bookcase full of the novels and journals I never had time for. Plenty of room for Holmes's crime library and indexes. I could live off of the proceeds of my scribblings—the Strand was practically on its knees for more stories. Holmes could tend his bees, write his tome.
We would be away from London, away from the suspicions wrought in that city that were hopefully gaining the same well-earned rest as Mr. Wilde had been for the last three years.
Finally, I could withhold the words no longer. They burst from me like the bullet that grazed my subscapular artery more than twenty years previous. "I could come with you."
He was looking straight ahead. The implications of my words hung in the air, seemingly for an eternity. So much time passed that I thought he may not respond at all. May choose to ignore me. Slowly, he brought his whisky to his lips and drank. When he spoke, the word was directed at his glass.
It was the answer I was expecting. I nodded. "I understand."
He turned to me. "Did you know that the societal structure of the bee is among the most complex of any animal? You probably did. It is well established in everything from Aristotle to Shakespeare. But what many people do not realise is just how intricate their interactions can be. They do not vocalise of course, but they have other ways of expressing themselves to one another. Through scents and signs that only individuals in their own hive can interpret. And they are very adept at reading these subtle codes. But when they have problems—say a disease or a decrease in food—they are vigilant about protecting the colony. About the greater good. All of the drones, for example, are turned out as the weather grows cold in order to protect resources. They are left to die. But the new generation is stronger for it. And that is what is important..."
It was an odd speech. I've known him to monologue on a subject when he was of a mind—usually on some topic related to his profession. But occasionally he was want to show off some esoteric knowledge that was of interest to few—the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus is the first one that comes to mind.
That is not to say that I didn't find the talk intriguing. Indeed, Holmes's voice and affect alone had the ability to make me a captive audience. But this speech had a distinct air of idiom. And though occasionally I felt the idiot when around this man, I could see through his dodge.
"I've never thought of, er, bees that way before." Smiling, I brought the glass to my mouth. Whisky has a very distinct smell. Woody, smoky, a warm smell. It filled my nose and mind. I recalled it as the smell of my father, even when he was sober. My brother as well. It was the smell of many a cold evening at Baker Street, discussing a case. It was my heritage, though I had avoided making it my future.
"Perhaps it is time to resurrect me from the dead," said he. "For your lurid overly-romantic writings, I mean."
"I had thought to do so. With your permission."
Josh snored, his fat fingers clutching at the blanket as he rolled over. I watched as my friend's gaze fell on him. "It will make no difference to me if you continue writing once I am in Sussex. But your children will have no opportunities outside of London. And it will be," he paused.
"I know, Holmes."
"The problems that occurred six years ago will continue."
They, too, could be resurrected from the dead. Though these problems as he called them had never properly been laid to rest. Those issues of trust. My doubts as to Holmes's past. The fears of our reputations, honour, even lives ruined.
But he was right. Mainly it was my son. Now my children. If I chose to destroy myself that was one thing. It was my choice to make. But a man should put his family above his own needs. And it was damn time that I did so. Even if it cost me my own happiness.
"Think you'll make that train tomorrow?" I asked.
He thought about it for a few seconds. "Another day or so would not interrupt my plans."
"Good." I stretched out my legs, the fire feeling quite delicious. I was tired, but too comfortable to retire. "Merry Christmas, Holmes."
Holmes yawned lazily. "It was indeed, my dear fellow. It was indeed."
On the second of January, Holmes and I took a cab to Victoria. Outside his carriage, he took my hand tightly and shook it. I wanted to say something. I think he wanted me to tell him not to go. But I didn't. And he would have gone anyway.
"Will you have the boy up this summer?" I asked.
"Of course." He paused. "His father should come with him."
Yes. He should. "I will try," I said. He nodded. "Good-bye, Holmes."
He didn't reply. Simply turned and stepped onto the train, swinging his valise through the opening. His hard gaze remained on me. The steel-colour of his eyes always seemed more appropriate when on one of the marvels of our great empire.
I watched until the smoke enveloped him and I could no longer see. Then I turned and walked out into the new year.
Ten more would pass before I would see him again.
The following is added by John S. (Josh) Watson at a later date
Sherlock Holmes and his godson sat in the Blue Owl pub across from each other. The boy sat on the back of the chair, feet planted firmly on the seat. He possessed a general disregard for propriety that only a young male or a brilliant eccentric can get away with. A bottle of lemonade sat in front of him, dripping on to the sticky table. But his attention was clearly focused on the dirty windows of the establishment. Or rather, what was directly outside of them. His pale eyebrows formed a heavy crease on his forehead, his lips pursed into non-existence.
"How do you know you can see anything from here? You were outside when it happened."
The man flashed him a quick smile, and took a sip of his pint. To his disgust, it had gone warm. "If all the world is a stage, each man must choose his part," said he, rather cryptically. "Would you prefer to be cast as myself, foolhardy and emotional, the catalyst of the crime? Or would you rather step into the dispassionate shoes of perpetrator?"
Thinking, he took a long draught of his beverage. The day was burning hot and his lips were sticky. His nose was filled with the stink of unwashed men and pickled eggs. Ale. Old cheese. His vision was going a bit spotty from glaring out of the window for the last quarter hour. He felt alive. He felt glorious. "Let's go outside," he finally decided, not committing himself to either of his Uncle's scenarios.
The sun was punishing, but the boy squinted happily at the rusted tin roofs. The order that they had appeared nearly 40 years ago was carved into his mind. He knew that order was important. But his Uncle wanted him to play act. One must step into the shoes of the criminal and then correct for the human equation.
He knew what that meant. Most people were thick.
But he was not and was about to prove it. His Uncle had presented him with this problem the end of the previous summer. He had been about ten, the same age as Sherlock Holmes when he lived it. The man had waited until he was stepping onto the train to head back to school (probably so there would be no time for questions) to hand him a sheaf of paper, coroner's notes, a geography of Horseshoe Alley and some of his own scribblings. "Study this when you have the time," he had said. "Next summer, we will put your skills to the test."
He had studied. He had memorised. At night, when the other lads fought, kicked, laughed and generally acted beastly toward one another, he lay on his hard cot and worked out the geometry of ballistics on his pillow with his finger.
They were standing at the exact spot. Young Josh tried to imagine his Godfather at his age, but he could not. It seemed impossible to picture anything but tall, peering, twitchy.
"The sign is no longer here," said the boy. "The one for Wimbeley's Dry Goods."
The detective raised an eyebrow. A sign to continue.
"The gunman was close enough to you to spray gunpowder upon your face. This is where you stood, so he did as well. The bullet exited the gun, ending up in your...um, the victim's neck. Geometrically speaking, unless it defied the laws of gravity, it would have been impossible to hit her at that angle from here. Unless it came into contact with something and ricocheted."
Sherlock Holmes's mouth twitched upward.
He had never been particularly fond of mathematics. He preferred the hands-on minutia of a laboratory or the fantastical imaginings of a good book. But there was something to appreciate in the exactness of angles. "The sign was the interference. The bullet travelled in a straight line, hit the edge of the metal sign and deflected into her body." He paused. He had been rehearsing this speech for some little time, and he was proud of it. But there was a twinge in his chest even as he spoke. He tried to imagine the person he loved the most exploding in front of him. The lemonade in his belly sloshed around a bit.
A year ago, he would have been rewarded with a hand pounding on his shoulder or his hair tousled. But he was older now and the prizes had to be fought for.
"So we know how it happened," his mentor said. "That does us very little good unless we have a suspect, gun in hand. I am generally engaged to find out the how, but to the victims, it is usually the why that has the greater impact."
The boy stood silent for several minutes. The sweat dripped into his eyes. There was a black shape in front of the Blue Owl's dirty windows and he was trying desperately to mould it into something human.
His Uncle folded his hands behind his back. "I expect too much from you."
"No." The boy said certainly. Pleadingly.
His hand brushed the boy's collar. "Let us walk this way." His voice immediately lost its stern edge. "I didn't mean to suggest you'd failed. Quite the contrary."
The sun at their backs, the two shuffled slowly north along the broken cobblestones of Horseshoe Alley. They walked leisurely, as if on a guided tour. The streets were not as crowded as they once had been, in this new age of promise and prosperity. Edward preferred to force both impoverished and everyman together rather than draw the boundary lines his mother represented. "In a hundred years, poverty will be a thing of the past," Sherlock Holmes had once said to the boy. He had paused. "What an unfortunate situation for the aristocracy when their noble blood no longer means anything."
It was the only instance in his mind the boy could recall his Uncle remarking on politics. He was usually completely indifferent. "A Tory or a Liberal's all the same to him," his father had said to him quite recently when he had begun to show an interest in politics. "They all commit crimes."
Still, he couldn't be certain that the looks the fruit peddlers and dirt-covered labourers gave him as they passed were because they recognised Sherlock Holmes from the Strand magazine or because their cleanliness, clothing and comportment marked them as interlopers.
They walked past where the sign had hung, past the spot where the detective's young life had diverged, and past Horseshoe Alley altogether. A stained sign on some indeterminate, crumbling building proclaimed them to be on Buck's Row. The man started humming "Rule, Britannia!" under his breath, keeping time with his stick, nodding to anyone they happened to pass. Josh blinked, his mind humming. His Godfather liked to provide him with clues.
"Did you know that there were 26 pawn shops on Buck's Row and Whitechapel Alley in 1865? Second only to Tottenham Court."
Josh frowned, not sure how to process this. He walked over to an abandoned store, the glass busted out and thin, dilapidated boards nailed to some of the empty areas. He studied his reflection as best he could see it. The likeness was disturbing. His pale skin was black, his eyes empty holes. He might have had the Black Death. With the cuff of his shirt, he wiped a section clean and his mother's face returned to him. He had a good memory—he could still remember all of his lines from Julius Caesar, and that was more than a year ago. But he did not have the eidetic memory of Sherlock Holmes. He had to work at remembering the type of bullet and the black...the black powder.
"I read a book about guns," he said, turning. "I thought that it may help. In your notes, you said that your cheek was stained with powder. Some types of guns spray more powder than others. I'm trying to remember the kinds"—
"One of the worst is the Adams revolver. A military revolver issued mainly during the '50's."
"During the Crimea!" Josh practically shouted. He jumped off the curb and slapped the man's arm. "I read about that. The gun had no powder shield. That's why you were whistling Rule Br...wait, I still don't understand the pawn shop. But it's a soldier, right? That's who would have such a gun. And then"—
"Calm down, lad," Sherlock Holmes laughed heatedly. "You're losing yourself. Keep your thoughts in order."
But he could tell the way the gray in his eyes turned from steel to silver that he was right. They always betrayed his pride, even when the rest of his body was rigid and stern. Josh smiled to himself. Like all English lads, he had at least a passing interest in all matters military. Although he no longer played with toy soldiers, he felt a patriotic duty to keep them lined up and dusted atop his wardrobe at home. He had enjoyed reading of the careers of Chinese Gordon and the Duke of Wellington, among others. He liked for his father to tell him stories of his time in the army. Perhaps because of that, he had an unchangeable mindset when it came to perceptions of military men. And drunken officers who fell so low as to shoot innocent women did not figure in.
He looked at his Uncle. "I wouldn't have thought a soldier could be such a villain."
"Yes." Holmes's voice was firm again. "And if you have fixed perceptions of people, you will never see beyond your nose."
Such a mild scolding would have bothered him a few years ago, but after being thrashed and chased by large boys for the last four years, one learned adaptability. The pawn shop. That had been a clue. "If a soldier had his sidearm still, that means he left the army honourably. Why would he shoot it outside a pub, in a crowd of people?"
"So says the son of John Watson."
"Does that mean the soldier...didn't do it?"
Holmes narrowed his eyes. "Can we draw that conclusion?"
The pawnshop. "A soldier would never pawn his sidearm." He paused. "I don't think." Mustn't think of all soldiers as like Papa. He sighed. Perhaps he was not meant to be a detective. He looked up through the waving heat at the face hidden in the shadow of a straw boater. "I don't know, Uncle," he mumbled.
The shadow seemed to smile. "It is alright to admit so."
The boy and the man continued walking along a cracked, weed-infested road. To their left, a moss-eaten gate opened onto a small churchyard. The gray letters that had once named it were no longer legible—even visible. To Josh's surprise, his Godfather tapped his arm with his stick and turned in, head bowed.
The church was no longer any colour. Perhaps once it had been painted, just as perhaps once the tombstones had been cared for. Now the only worshippers were thistles and dandelions. Only a very few looked as though they were tended to—one they passed had a bunch of white daisies tied with a piece of string leaning against it. He swallowed. It was a very poor gesture when he thought of the immaculate condition of his mother's resting place. This little grave had no name, just the words 'aged 4, 1858.' He quickly walked on.
Sherlock Holmes seemed to know where he was going, deftly weeding his way through row after row of crumbling stone, moving steadily farther and farther from the remains of the little building. When he stopped, it was suddenly, unexpectedly. The boy, who had a hard enough time walking on flat ground, tripped on a rock, landing under a large shade oak. "Ow," he said, rubbing his knee. But he was used to his lack of coordination and immediately became far more interested in the solitary grave in front of his face. It was an old limestone cross. There was a carving, but he could not make it out. It might have been a date. But maybe it just said RIP.
"What is it? I mean, whose is it?"
His uncle was settling himself onto the piles of dead leaves next to him. The sun now blocked, both took a moment to enjoy the shade on their burnt skins. The smell of manure and filth was replaced by dirt and stone—a calming, natural smell. Josh closed his eyes. He would have liked to dig a hole in the leaves and rest forever.
"You've done very well. As well as I could have hoped. I do not give praise easily and never when it is unearned, but I mean what I say. I am proud."
His ears burned. He had never said that he was proud of him before. But it was embarrassing to be embarrassed. He picked up a crispy brown leaf and reduced it to dust in his hand.
Sherlock Holmes pointed a long finger toward the grave.
"This is the wife of the soldier who killed my sister. Names really mean nothing so I will not bother. It is the story that is everything and six days of non-stop questioning, pestering and reasoning when I was fifteen years old led me to a small room on Buck's Row where this woman lay dying. A victim of years of poverty. She had given birth to six children and buried all of them, mostly due to circumstances preventable by food, clean water and warm clothing. Her husband was once a decorated veteran of the Crimea, and he destroyed his family and his demons in a bottle. She watched her children's bodies and her hopes shrink. Taking the only thing of worth she could find, this lady and an Adams made 44 calibre tried to go to one of the many pawn shops near her. Unfortunately, she had to pass what used to be the Cock and Crow, what is now the Blue Owl, on the way. She was seen. A confrontation ensued—mere yards away from another that I myself was embroiled in—and in the process of a husband accosting his wife's treachery, a weapon was discharged. Neither realised that it had a bullet in the chamber. You correctly deduced the path of the bullet. The damage it inflicted was permanent."
John Sherlock looked at the leaf crumbs on his hand. His fingers were short and plump. He frowned at them. He would have liked to have said something. Something helpful. But he was already too old to think of anything.
"The soldier then abandoned his family, fled for fear of a reprisal that probably would never have come," the man continued. "Justice was not to be satisfied. I looked in the dead eyes of that unfortunate woman and I knew that to be true." He turned to the boy. "If you are to follow in my dubious footsteps, it will be the same for you. You will have your faith smashed, your belief in strongly held convictions shaken. You will have to see things you wished did not exist, do things that will haunt your sleep. Just having the ability to reason and deduce is not enough, my dear John Sherlock."
He shuddered as a warm breeze cackled through the few solitary leaves that remained on the branches. An image of his Godfather shooting a man—of a head exploding—flashed through his mind. Sometimes he saw that in the dark. Sometimes he saw the dispassionate look on the man's face as he had done it. At school, he had been called "Mouse." Partly because of his short statute, and partly because he once refused to join in on a group of boys throwing their boots at a mouse in the dorm. He'd never asked, but he was willing to bet that his Uncle's nickname at school had been better than Mouse.
"I'm not fifteen yet," he said. "Perhaps I'll be more prepared by then."
Holmes looked at him curiously. "I mean to tell you the absolute truth. I do not mean to discourage you. But I had rather you be completely prepared."
Josh rested his head on his knees. The older he got, the more seriously he was treated. When he had been small, he thought he would have preferred it that way. There was nothing so frustrating as everyone treating you as if you are some brilliant, adorable lap dog. But now he rather missed his father reading to him, his Uncle bouncing him on his knee. He had been begging to be treated like an equal for so long that now he wished he could be just Mouse for awhile. His eyes met Sherlock Holmes's. "But I am constant as the Northern Star, of whose true fixed and resting quality, there is no fellow in the firmament."9
The man stared at him for some time. "If you are Caesar, then you must realise how you ended up."
"Yes. But I could never be stabbed to death by my friends, sir. I only have one, and he's even shorter than I am."
Sherlock Holmes laughed and then almost immediately grew serious. "Well. Sometimes one is enough. What say you to a trip to the British Museum? I wager it will get us out of this swelter, if nothing else, and I did want to see that new Egyptology collection before I leave the city."
The boy jumped to his feet. "Oh, yes, please, Uncle!"
As he eagerly led his Uncle out of the dilapidated little cemetery, a realisation hit John Sherlock. He had been so anxious about proving his worth, displaying his intelligence to interrupt facts and his ability to become a detective, it suddenly occurred to him that the man had been trying to prove something to him as well. And it was not that he could not follow in his footsteps. It was that he should not.
1 Scottish for peep show. Can be any exhibition or menagerie but especially freak shows.
2 Hamlet I.i
3 Also I.i
4 A really bad joke. The visual cortex is located in the occipital lobe.
5 Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams came out in 1899, but would be another decade before an English version was released.
6 II. ii
7 Dorset Street was once called 'the worst street in London' and famous for whores and doss houses. Also the street of Mary Jane Kelly's murder by Jack the Ripper.
8 Probably the most famous actor in the Victorian era—the first to be awarded a knighthood.
9 From Julius Caesar III.i.