March 6, 1881
Chaos had come again to the Scotland Yard (which is a more frequent occurrence than any casual supporter of the forces of law and disorder would realise) by the time I reached it this morning. Evidently the sergeant on duty had been warned against allowing me access to the office area, for it took all of fifteen minutes and a good deal of persuasive threatening to get me past him in order to see Gregson.
Did the lazy old grizzly in the Zoological Gardens possess the temper that Inspector employed upon seeing me, the keepers would be able to charge people to enter the Gardens to view the animal. It was all I could do to extract my fee from Gregson (only five minutes and one more snide remark away from simply picking his pocket, to be exact), so incensed was he over the press conference from which he and his rat-faced counterpart had just emerged.
It was with a breath of deep relief that I left the harsh atmosphere of the Yard for the warm, fetid air of spring London – airborne toxins were certainly much preferable to choking on the jealousy dripping about that place.
I spent the day doing miscellaneous and trivial errands that had lain undone for the last two days thanks to this interesting little case, and then I decided to stop by Whitehall during the course of my brother's lunch hour (though with his appetite he really should have been allotted three or four), to forestall a summons certain to arrive when he saw my name in the papers connected to the Jefferson Hope case.
He was quite displeased – one, to see me at all; two, that my boisterous entrance caused his secretary no amount of dismay; and three, that he dropped a portion of his sandwich upon the floor when I startled him (a trio of annoyances, no doubt, but the latter obviously the chiefest of those three).
I flourished the Echo in his face with a grimace, and he pushed my hand away impatiently.
"I have no time for trivialities, Sherlock. If you are wanting an advance from me to cover some unforeseen expense you must take your mendicating elsewhere," he growled, going back to his eating.
"I am anticipating your telegram this time, brother mine; no doubt you would have sent one once you saw this," I retorted, stabbing the article in question with the small wooden pick that had held his (enormous and fast-disappearing) sandwich together.
"What is it then?" he sighed, glaring at me over a mound of meat and pickle.
"My latest case – typically distorted and inaccurately portrayed in the press as always," I snorted, indicating the paper.
"The Brixton Road murder?"
"Yes, quite. Criminal died this morning, unfortunately for the two glory-hounds who were hoping to gain a promotion from the publicity of the trial," I replied with undisguised glee.
"Oh?" My brother fastidiously cleaned his fingers with an oversized napkin and leant over to cursorily scan the paper with the practiced eye of a man who does nothing but paperwork all day every day. What a horrible and mundane occupation (and to think that he offered a similar job to me and had the stupidity to believe I would jump at the chance!).
"Apprehended in your house?" he asked suddenly, cocking a questioning eyebrow at me.
I nodded with a (well-deservedly) self-satisfied air, leaning back in my chair and stretching my legs out in front of me after plucking an errant slice of pickle from his nearly empty plate.
"I cannot imagine your esteemed landlady being too enthusiastic about that, though judging from the weight you have gained she does not appear to be venting her frustrations upon your meals at least."
I scowled, for no one could ruin a perfect smug complacency with such alacrity as my brother could. I snatched the newspaper from under his nose and rose to depart. "I was merely informing you that, unfortunately for your finances, I am still in the land of the living, Mycroft. Not that my death would alter your habits in the slightest," I growled, folding the paper and shoving it into my coat pocket.
"Alter my habits, no," he replied pensively. "Though it would most certainly be a dreadful bother, having to deal with the formalities; most awkward that I should have to divert my attention from Africa and the East at the moment."
"My dear elder brother, you of all people should not show so much open sentiment; it is quite unbecoming to a man of your status."
A small chuckle rippled through his massive frame as he waved me toward the door. "Regardless of the aforementioned inconveniences, that does not mean I want you getting yourself shot any time in the near future, brother."
"I shall do my best to oblige you, then," I said airily, waving off the flurrying secretary who was hovering annoyingly round me to show me out.
"Good afternoon, Sherlock," my brother chuckled. "Give my regards to your friend the Doctor."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," I retorted with a shudder, abhorring the very idea of discussing my family with an outsider; besides, surely he thought that one of us were strange enough as it was.
I still have absolutely no idea why Mycroft's bulbous face morphed itself into an enormous smirk as I left – what had I said or done out of the ordinary?
I scowled and barked a curt order for a cab, thanking whatever Deity may control my circumstances that I only had one sibling.
After ten minutes of aimless soliloquizing, going over the case and scanning the accounts in the papers, I began to realise that my rumination would be considerably more illuminating if I were to converse with someone intelligent (other than myself, that is); and as it was mid-afternoon I told the cabbie to turn toward Paddington. Perhaps the Doctor would be finished by now, he was scheduled until 3:00 by his appointment-book.
I knew this not through any feat of deduction or any great interest in his affairs, of course; he left the book upon my desk. Items left on my desk apportion me the inherent territorial right to inspect said items to my satisfaction.
It was nearly three when the cab pulled up outside the modest office and I descended. The waiting-room appeared deserted (thank goodness, for I do despise having to make aimless conversation and especially with hypochondriacal people who enjoy detailing the intimate personal details of their various life-threatening illnesses to unsuspecting trapped listeners), and I lounged idly against the wall, attempting to occupy my mind by theorizing about the patients who had recently left their traces in the room.
Once I had exhausted that avenue of mental distraction, I was about to pick up an old and outdated copy of the Lancet from the nearby table but thought better of it, distractedly wondering if physicians ever considered just how many germs and pathogens could linger on the material handled by ill patients in their waiting-rooms.
I was not kept waiting long, for not ten minutes later the little Acheson fellow scuttled out from the back, showing out a young man whose medical complaint was quite obviously red, inflamed eyes and a puffy face. I shrank back well out of harm's (and infection's) way as the chap exited, and I then nodded to the physician. He bobbed his head in greeting and then bellowed back into the consulting-room with a force that made the table shiver on its legs, informing Watson that I was waiting for him.
It only a few minutes later occurred to me to wonder how the man remembered me (we met for a total of five seconds in Baker Street); either he has an extraordinary memory for faces and names or else my fellow-lodger talks about me, which idea I do not much care for.
Said fellow-lodger was rather surprised to see me, but his face lit up as he poked his head round the door while drying off his hands with a towel.
"Why are you here, Holmes?" he asked with a curious look.
"Bored," I replied succinctly.
"Already?" He disappeared for a moment and then reappeared, sans towel and buttoning his frock-coat.
"Quite. Scotland Yard expelled me into the street after I bled Gregson for my fee, and I've been performing mundane errands all morning. I purchased another bottle of ink and had it sent back to Baker Street; didn't you need some as well as I? The papers carry a decently exaggerated account of the affair; have you seen them? Did you eat luncheon?"
He blinked twice at me as he flipped his collar straight and shook out the tails of his coat, wincing at the motion of his bad shoulder. "Yes, I needed ink, and so thank you. No, I've not seen the papers; and no, I did not eat and am in consequence quite famished. Why?"
"Because I don't fancy facing Mrs. Hudson again just yet about the broken tea service, do you?"
He laughed and disappeared from sight once more, emerging with his hat, stick, and bag, and calling a good-bye over his shoulder to his colleague. He followed me out the door and down the pavement for a moment before speaking.
"If you're wanting to go out for luncheon, I wouldn't mind – but I need to change out of this suit first; it smells of iodoform," he said, pulling a face.
"So I noticed," I replied dryly.
"I dropped the bottle," he muttered in some embarrassment. "Blasted shoulder…the strain of yesterday, my arm is not as steady as it should be." His face grew pensive and distressed, and it took no mental leap of deduction to perceive from his features and expressions, together with his glances down at his black bag, that he was wondering if he would ever be able to be a competent surgeon again.
I artfully turned the conversation into a less uncomfortable direction. "I've all the newspaper accounts of the case, if you want to see them over luncheon."
"Splendid! And I've been thinking about it all morning – I've a few questions for you if you don't mind," he replied eagerly.
"Not in the least," I answered, more than happy to have pre-planned dinner conversation already in the workings; this eliminated the necessity of my scrambling to cogitate small talk.
"Mrs. Hudson was much calmed when she brought my breakfast up this morning," he informed me after a moment's pause, grinning at my wary glance.
"Much calmed as in no longer furious, or much calmed as in not going to burn the toast on purpose?"
"She burnt your toast?" he inquired in amused incredulity.
I scowled without answering him and consequently set him off into a peal of laughter at my expense. "Surely not purposely," he protested at last.
"I've no idea and would rather not push my luck by mentioning the fact," I grumbled, glancing up the road as we turned onto Baker Street.
"Well, if you think she is still angry with you…wait." He tugged on my arm, gesturing to a vendor puttering along the side of the road, hopefully accosting passers-by with his wares.
"Flowers," he pointed out pithily. "Ladies like flowers."
"Erm…I shall take your word on the matter." I twitched in some discomfort.
"They go quite a long way toward placating an angry woman," he informed me further, shrugging with his good shoulder at my aversion.
"I am not about to walk down Baker Street carrying a bundle of blossoming spring weeds!"
"Oh, for heaven's sake. I shall carry them, then," he said with a tolerant sigh. "But I for one harbour no wish to become the recipient of burnt toast by guilty association with the world's only private consulting detective."
I spluttered for a moment as he fished in his pocket for the appropriate change, and then he traded the coin for a bunch of disgustingly sweet-smelling blooms. I had and still have no idea what they were, though he apparently knew (why does that not surprise me?).
Upon our returning to the flat, however, I was forced to concede to his superiour experience with the weaker sex; for he took advantage of our arrival in the hall to mash the things into my hand just as Mrs. Hudson emerged from her rooms to greet us. Our venerable landlady appeared far more calm than she had been last night but still eyed me with some (well-deserved, I admit it) wariness.
I somehow received a small shove and found myself pushing the bunch of plants at the woman with some inane and vaguely apologetic explanation, along with an encouraging glance delivered from the Doctor who was already on his way up the stairs. He threw me the most smug leering smile that I have seen yet from him before vanishing in the dimly-lit hall and leaving me to face the tigress without even a rifle with which to defend myself.
However the woman, to my abject shock, blushed and accepted the weeds, thanking me for them in a tone out of which I could detect absolutely no animosity whatsoever. Apparently the Doctor is correct (unfortunately, he appears to be so rather more often than I would prefer in certain matters), and there really is some bizarre quality about spring flowers that makes the female of the species less antagonistic toward the well-meaning male.
A strange enigma, and one to which I have no desire whatsoever to attempt the discovery of a solution.
I extricated myself from my predicament as soon as I politely could and then bolted up the steps to the sitting room. The broken window had been replaced whilst I was out annoying my brother and the Yard, and save for a bit of chipping along the wall (from airborne pieces of shattered china) no traces remained of our little escapade of yesterday. I bundled the afternoon papers together to take with us to our early dinner, and a moment later the Doctor pattered down the steps as quickly as he could with that bad leg and we were off, after the customary motherly admonishing from Mrs. Hudson to "bundle up because it looked like rain."
I did not think it prudent (or safe) to remind her that this was London, and it always looked as if it were going to rain, save for the few times when it looked as if it were going to snow.
We discussed the case at length over dinner, in such detail and interest that the constant flapping of newspapers and the flipping pages of the Doctor's notebook (in which I was completely dumbfounded to note that he had carefully and painstakingly written down every single one of my deductions verbatim) kept drawing the annoyed attention of a very fat, very bald old fellow sitting at the next table.
"Did you take notes over the entire affair?" I asked incredulously, lifting one of the pages of his notebook with my unused salad fork.
"Of course," he replied, puzzled. "Very thorough ones, too."
Note to self: Given that his handwriting is considerably more legible than mine and his note-taking considerably less haphazard, perhaps I should acquire a copy of his notes instead of attempting to reproduce my own scrawl for my files.
"But this is a complete fabrication!" my companion exclaimed with some heat, casting down the Echo onto the table. I carefully picked a corner of soggy newsprint out of my soup-plate as he continued, completely oblivious. "Those two police detectives had nothing whatever to do with Jefferson Hope's capture, and this account gives them the credit for the entire affair!"
"I distinctly remember prophesying that exact eventuality, Doctor, if you will recall," I pointed out dryly.
"But this is ludicrous!"
"This is reality," I retorted bitterly.
Our bald neighbour shot us both a disapproving glare as our voices rose. I merely scowled back at him while my companion flushed in embarrassment, hastily turning his face back to the papers.
But it was too pleasant an evening to remain irritated for long, either with the world in general or with specific individuals like Lestrade and Gregson. The instruction gained from the simple little affair was more than ample reward for the work (though the acclaim would have been a welcome addition, I will not deny). I said as much to the Doctor, and he stopped with a spoonful of soup halfway to his mouth to stare at me incredulously.
"Simple!" he exclaimed.
"Well it could hardly be described as anything but, since within three days – more like two, actually – I was able to lay my hands upon the murderer," I pointed out, reaching for another breadstick.
"It usually does not take that long, then, for you to do so?"
"Oh, heavens no. The more difficult of cases may extend over a week or possibly two, but the majority of crimes can be solved by a competent investigator in no more than forty-eight hours," I contemplated, absently tapping my plate with the breadstick and watching with curiousity as he scribbled down my words verbatim.
"It was merely a matter of reasoning backwards," I went on, watching carefully to see if he followed my train of logic. "In this day, there are fifty men in the world who can reason synthetically for every one that can reason analytically."
My companion set down his spoon in a gesture of complete absorption, frowning in obvious deliberation. Finally he looked interestedly at me. "I must confess to finding myself in that group of fifty, then, for I am afraid I don't quite follow you," he admitted quizzically.
"Let me see if I can make it clearer to you…many people, if you were to tell them the steps of a process, could tell you in return what the end result of said process would be. However, there are few people who, if given only the result, are able to successfully deduce what the steps would be to produce said result," I explained.
His eyes suddenly illuminated with the connection of logic. "Similar to performing an autopsy: diagnosing what killed the man and why when one is presented only with the body and no other details?"
"Precisely," I agreed appreciatively, for he had with his usual quickness grasped the concept remarkably well.
"All mysteries and cases brought to me are of that type, Doctor," I continued. "I am presented with the end result – a body found, a house burgled, a paper stolen, a man missing – and I am required to find out everything else for myself."
"Which you did quite beautifully, but I am still at a loss to explain some of your reasoning processes," he interjected, scribbling furiously in that ever-present notebook, his soup completely forgotten at his elbow.
I leant back in my chair and began an attempt at putting into logical sequential sentences the thoughts and deductions that had so rapidly flitted through my mind during the course of the case, occasionally augmented by a pertinent question from his evidently flawless notes. Thinking and knowing certain facts is one thing; voicing them in a convincing manner to a second party is quite another. Every child knows that two and two make four, but if asked to explain why that fact is indeed fact most adults would be completely at a loss to so elucidate.
But I managed the feat somehow, and the conversation ended with my companion's hand cramping as he scribbled too quickly and in my laughing at his absolute and unmitigated enthusiasm. This fellow does not bestow praise or respect lightly, and upon very few people as I have observed – 'tis something of an honour to have such wholehearted and obviously sincere admiration for my methods; quite a pleasant change from the indifference or the criticism (or typically a combination of both) I am so accustomed to receiving for my pains in this profession.
"But this is wonderful!" cried he as he put away his notebook with a last admiring glance. "Your merits should be publicly recognised, not those of the fellows in the official force!"
I shrugged, endeavouring to prohibit myself from showing visibly the keen pleasure the honest praise had given me.
"You should publish an account of the case," he went on earnestly as I returned my attention to my now-tepid soup.
"Pshaw," I muttered uncomfortably, fidgeting slightly in my chair. No, I had not the patience to write up a case in its entirety; monographs were one matter but long cases were quite another entirely. For another, I doubted that enough of the literate populace would care enough about the thing to purchase a lecture on criminology, brilliant though it would be, to justify the time and effort and money involved.
"And if you won't, I shall do it for you," the Doctor announced calmly, going back to his soup with renewed vigour.
I nearly choked on my spoon (earning me another disapproving look from the cranky dotard at the next table), but apparently the man was entirely serious. Those sharp eyes glanced quizzically over me as I finally succeeded in clearing my windpipe of split-pea, no doubt completely unaware of why my reaction had been quite so surprised.
"What? You deserve to be recognised, and if you do not have enough of a care for your getting the acclaim you deserve then someone else shall have to care enough to do it for you," he stated calmly, spooning up the last of his soup.
Why the devil would he want to publicise one of my cases? I am of course aware that the man enjoys writing, but wanting to publish a case is more than a bit bizarre. He has some ulteriour motive and I cannot for the life of me fathom what that motivation might be. No doubt the novelty of defeating our common enemy of monotony has something to do with the idea, but still it is rather an extreme reaction to a very inconsequential affair.
"Erm…you may do just as you like, Doctor," I managed to mutter at last, bending my head low over my soup plate to avoid having him see that my face was turning red – it was so infernally hot in this café; I must remember to never again go there on a warm afternoon for I felt half-stifled.
"Then I shall," he declared emphatically, draining the contents of his water glass with energy. "And I've a good mind to go right down to Scotland Yard and set those two blundering idiots straight on whatever this tripe is they fed to the press-hounds!"
He plunked down the glass to punctuate the finality of this sentiment with a visual period, and I felt my mouth widen in a grin despite myself. He really is quite entertaining in those rare bursts of righteous anger, which flare up like flash powder to blind the one at whom the ire is directed but remain harmless to those standing by watching the pyrotechnics.
"Let the Inspectors have their moment of glory, Doctor – heaven knows they need all the testimonials they can get," I said, smiling at his zeal.
"Hmph," he snorted, moving his empty soup plate to the side. A white-coated waiter suddenly materialized to take the item and then promptly melted away again, and my companion was left with only the newspaper.
"And someday when Europe recognises you for the genius you are, then they will be left with nothing but that testimonial," he added darkly, flipping the paper open to the sporting page and further leaving me staring at him in surprise…and also leaving me actually smiling (even more surprising).
The headline of the entertainment section caught my eye as he shuffled over to the financial page – apparently Les contes d'Hoffmann is being performed at Covent Garden next weekend. I have been wanting to see that anyhow, for I heard from Le Villard (insufferable scoundrel; I do wish he would desist from sending me correspondence that is fit for nothing more useful than starting the fire of a morning) that its premiere in Paris last month was stunningly superb.
I wonder if Watson enjoys opera as much as he does Shakespeare?
And so it ends...or does it begin?
Thank you very much for reading!