The Doctor's Daughter
Five months later
I stood upon step five of seventeen in the hallway of 221B Baker Street, grinning broadly at the form, still-thrilling, of Sherlock Holmes, standing upon the landing. My friend mirrored my grin, his prominent canines, the left slightly crooked, glinting in a slightly feral fashion.
"Ah, Watson, thank you for coming. Now tell me, does anything about this hallway strike you as different?"
I ascended to join Holmes.
"The wardrobe is new. Or new to you, I should say. It looks rather worn."
"Yes, doesn't it? It is supposed to. New furniture can be so obtrusive, and this blends in so perfectly." He ran his hand down the mellow wood, then opened the door, to reveal a miscellaneous collection of coats, wraps, hats and mufflers within. He turned to me with a mischievous expression, his entire being seeming to spark and bubble with suppressed excitement.
"Now tell me, friend Watson, does this appear to you to be an ordinary wardrobe?"
"What are you up to, Holmes?"
"Scheming. Plotting. All aimed at discovering a respectable compromise whereby my biographer can once more become my house-mate."
Sherlock Holmes had been back in London for over six weeks at this point, and, as I have expressed, I was still basking in the joy of having my dear friend returned to me. He could not have come at a better time – my shock at losing Mary had begun to transform into a quiet desolation, only exacerbated by my lack of companionship.
I had remained superficially friendly with Anstruther, but an awkwardness had entered our intercourse, whether real, or imagined by myself, I could not be certain, but I found myself avoiding the man whose illness may have indirectly led to my beloved wife's death. Thurston and Dobbs at my club were no better company, as they were both evidently prostrated with embarrassment surrounding what one could say to a widower in deep mourning. I had had a quiet beer or two with Lestrade, and idly chatted with Mrs Hudson whenever she came to call, and Ruth was pleasant to be around, but these interactions were no replacement for those of a long and intimate relationship.
The children were a bright spot, but I found myself craving adult companionship, the kind where I did not need to complete my sentences, and did not have to justify my opinions. Like Mary. Like Holmes.
I continued to work. I confess I rather overdid it at first, throwing myself into the practice with fevered zeal – although my lunch hour was sacred, for spending with my daughter. Many of my patients had heard or read of my sad bereavement. Some of them were a source of comfort to me – the calm-eyed two years widowed solicitor who wrung my hand, and quietly ensured me that, although it would never, should never, go away, it would become easier in time. Others were less salubrious, and came, on the narrowest of pretexts, to gawp, until I felt like a bird of some drab plumage hunched over a label reading "Widower" at the zoo.
It was in an attempt to shake off this maudlin self-consciousness that I had headed to Park Lane, clutching eagerly at a mystery that I hoped would preoccupy me with external stimuli, to interest myself in the murder of the unfortunate Ronald Adair. It had not been a successful venture, serving only to remind me of the absence of Holmes, and to draw attention to all the loss in the world. My steps homeward had been heavy indeed, and, as I had sagged into my consulting-room chair, I had felt that even the air I breathed was weighted and leaden. I had scarcely been able to summon my habitual mask of courtesy when the elderly bookseller was ushered into my presence.
Then had come that moment which I still count amongst the greatest moments of my life – not the very first instance of seeing Holmes standing before me; shock had predominated there, as evidenced by my unfortunate weakness. It was the regaining of my senses, and seeing him, still there, not a phantom or a figment of my imagination, but real and solid and vital. I believe my depression was lifted away and I grasped the implications of his return that very instant. No more loneliness! Nothing could fill the aching hole left by Mary, but Holmes fulfilled that much longed for role of intimate companion. I believe my imagination had leaped ahead to sharing rooms in Baker Street again before I had even asked him how he came to be alive.
Holmes had heard of Mary's death.
"I am deeply sorry, my friend," was what he said, but his face and movements spoke louder. He then briskly declared that work was the best antidote for sorrow, and would I care to join him on a notable piece? I thrilled at the prospect, whilst still appreciating the caressing softness of his voice, and the reflected grief and sympathy in his eyes. He declared that we had three years of the past to catch up on, until the adventure was to commence.
"In which case, Holmes, I must introduce you to the lady in my life," I said, rather shyly, as I was uncertain what Holmes' reaction to babies would be. A look of bewilderment bordering on shock crossed his face, and I stared at him.
"You did not know about Elsie, Holmes?"
"Elsie?" he echoed in puzzlement, and I wondered how it was he did not know, as I had assumed his source of information would be Mycroft, and Mycroft had been present at Mary's funeral. Perhaps the elder Holmes brother had decided this was news I should be given the opportunity of imparting myself, as I had missed so many other important moments with the younger.
"Come with me." I led the way up the stairs, and I turned to see dawning understanding in Holmes' eyes. I entered the nursery. Ruth was downstairs, and Elsie was lying awake in her cot. She turned her head as she heard me, one of her newest tricks, and cooed delightedly.
"Hallo, my girl," I said tenderly as I scooped her up. "Oof! Quite a weight you're getting."
If Elsie had been appealing as a newborn, she was preternaturally delightful as a four-month old – at least, so her Papa considered. Her face creased in her wide smile, and enormous blue-grey-green eyes looked all around her at the exciting world she inhabited. She waved her chubby fists and let out a trilling cadence of giggles. I think she knew she was on show, and she rose to the occasion.
I turned almost nervously to Holmes, expecting his usual mask-like expression when in the presence of sentiment. It was absent. In its place was an expression of genuine, heartfelt delight.
"Watson! I had no idea! I can't believe I had no idea! I assumed the rattle and stuffed mammal at the foot of the stairs were left by a young patient – just goes to show one should never theorise with insufficient data! She certainly is bonny. May I?" Somewhat to my astonishment, he held out his hands. I quickly recovered myself.
"Of course. She likes men. Actually, she likes almost everybody, except the vicar's wife, insufferable woman, and poor Mrs Anstruther, whom we tell she only likes men."
Holmes laughed, and I settled Elsie in his arms. She reached up and patted his face; he solemnly offered her his watch-chain, and she clutched it in her little hand, a beatific smile upon her face, kicking her legs energetically. He inspected her features with the minute attention to detail I expected of him, and I covertly inspected his own features, scarce able to believe he was returned to me.
"Good Day, Miss Watson. You have a strong look of your father."
"That's a relief."
"You have inherited many of your mother's features also. The pinna are exactly Mrs Watson's, as are the nares."
I smiled. "I am glad she has, Holmes. As you can imagine, that has been a great source of comfort to me". Again, the kind reply was conveyed more by small actions than words.
Holmes held Elsie for several moments more, talking to her as if she were an intelligent adult, which fascinated her. Ruth then returned to the room with Sam and Isobel, and I elatedly and dramatically introduced Holmes. Her astonished response was all I could have desired, and Isobel too exclaimed that she thought he had gone to Heaven.
"Not yet, Miss Brown," he had answered, with a twinkle.
Then came the dramatic adventure of the Empty House, and the conclusion of three very difficult years for my friend. As we sat together in Baker Street, following the denouement, I felt more utterly at home than I had done since Mary had died. It occurred to me that it takes more than bricks and mortar to make a home, and the heart had left the house in Kensington when Mary died. I felt a powerful longing to return to my old chamber, and to spend my evening smoking my pipe in my old chair in front of the fire. It would not do though. 221B Baker Street was no place for a baby girl. It would be neither respectable, nor safe.
Holmes appreciated this opinion when he sounded me out about moving back in, but he could not have missed the wistfulness I was unable to conceal.
"If it were not for Elsie and my practice, I would love to move back in, Holmes, but you will allow that they are two very substantial objections."
"Of course, old fellow. This is not a suitable abode for a young lady. Mrs Hudson would have apoplexy."
"Mrs Hudson would never allow it. She would say it was not respectable, and inappropriate. I am afraid she would be right. Besides, it is too dangerous for a child to live here – you would be the first to admit some of your clients are less than savoury, and I have taken great pains to protect her from publicity. Mary wished it."
"Quite so. You kindly do not mention my smattering the place over with arcane acids and poisons. I suppose I must regretfully believe that Elsie is a tenable bar to reanimating our comfortable bachelor existence." I could not quite conceal my wince at Holmes' thoughtless use of the word "bachelor", and the unuttered alternative, "widower", that clattered through my mind. Holmes, of course, observed it, and his face briefly drew tight with mortification. To spare both our feelings, he rapidly carried the conversation forwards. "Your practice, on the other hand – do I detect its delights are paling?"
I sighed, complying. "You do. I would sell it if I could. It has lost much of its appeal. If I could sell it, I would sell the house also, and move back closer to Baker Street, find a smaller practice, perhaps shared with a partner."
"Well, why not do so, Watson? It seems an excellent compromise, and I would, as ever, be happy to receive you whenever you needed a port in a storm."
I contemplated the fire for a long moment. The practice had been my pride and joy, and it was with energy and passion that I had built it up. I had to confess that the passion had gone, and the entire venture seemed tainted by the death of the woman who had shared it with me.
"You may be right. I shall certainly give the matter serious consideration."
"Excellent!" Declared he, rubbing his long hands together.
Six weeks later, and I was obediently inspecting the back of what appeared to be a perfectly ordinary wardrobe upon the landing of 221B.
"Holmes, I am sure it must seem to you that I have achieved new realms of density since your return, but I fail to see the connection between an old wardrobe and our cohabiting."
"Actually, you have failed to see. The connection is hiding behind old mackintosh, out of your line of vision. "
I moved the garment to one side. There was a barely visible ring etched upon the wood. I ran my fingers over it, and felt the surface yield slightly. Intrigued, I pushed downwards, and a small disc of wood, mounted upon a spring, slid inwards, allowing me to slip my fingers behind the centre of the ring. Experimentally, I gave it a tug, and it swivelled outwards.
"Twist it." Said Holmes, a strange little smile upon his face. As I obeyed, I felt the latch mechanism click, and the back of the wardrobe opened outwards. Astonished, I stepped through the opening, and found myself in the corresponding landing of 219. Holmes followed me, looking uncharacteristically anxious. Wordlessly, but with a little clearing of his throat, he opened the landing door, and gestured for me to step through.
The little sitting room was simply and tastefully furnished, but my attention was captured by a smart rocking horse standing by the window. Numbly, I walked up to it, and placed my hand upon its mane. It was real horse hair.
Still nervous, still not speaking, Holmes then opened the door which would correspond with his own bedroom, and waved a hand at the interior. By now, I knew what I would find before I entered. A cot with a wooden mobile hanging above it stood in the centre of the room. Books and trinkets stood upon the shelves, a cheerfully painted toy-chest stood in one corner, and the walls were painted a delicate blue. It was unmistakably a little girl's room, and I stared about me, the hairs on the back of my neck prickling as my stunned brain began to absorb the implications of all this.
"Mrs Hudson and Mrs Brown were responsible for the decor and furnishings, and Miss Brown apparently took most enthusiastically to her role of choosing the rocking horse and the china doll. The Browns, incidentally, are very pleased with their upper chambers." Holmes was attempting to speak casually, but I knew him well enough to detect the hoarse note in his voice. "I hope this arrangement will be agreeable to you? Mrs Hudson suggested it, knowing that it was vacant, although I confess the further adaptations were my own idea. Now you have a buyer for your practice, I hope you will be able to support me with half the rent in 221B; call this extension an investment."
I could not answer him; my heart was too full. My knees began to tremble, and I sank down upon the toy chest, and covered my face with my hands, breathing heavily. I felt Holmes sit next to me, and lay a hand briefly upon my shoulder.
I concentrated upon breathing, until my whirling mind began to slow back to functioning level, and I was able to compose myself. I then turned to face my friend, and looked into the grey eyes, hooded yet intense.
"I cannot thank you enough, Holmes. I do not know what I have done to deserve such kindness in my life; all I can do is wholeheartedly appreciate it. I would be overjoyed to move back in with you, and this arrangement is perfect."
" The outside world need never even realise there is any connection between the houses, as we need never use the same front door. Elsie need never be threatened, even if you are followed home." Stated Holmes, unnecessarily.
I looked around me, and shook my head in wonderment. "I will never get your limits, Holmes."
"Well, I am an odd chap, and I daresay I shall change them often enough." He declared flippantly, relief at my acceptance blossoming into sparkling high spirits and lending him a lightness I associated with dinner at Simpsons and the successful conclusion of a case.
"When do you wish to show your Goddaughter her new quarters?" I asked, and was delighted to see the blush of surprise and pleasure colour to his thin cheeks. I had not had Elsie Christened yet, and had been wondering if Holmes would accept the role. "If, that is, you don't mind..."
"...I would be deeply honoured," he answered, as he had done when I had asked him to stand as groomsman, yet this time with more evident sincerity. "And, in answer to your other question, how about after we have celebrated our new living arrangements with dinner at Simpsons?"
I surveyed my old room, newly furnished with my belongings, and looking as if I had never left it. There was one important addition to make. Carefully, I extracted from its box the framed photograph, and placed it reverently upon the bedside table. From it, my wife smiled out at me, our newborn daughter in her arms.
"I could not stay in our own home without you, Mary. But you are very welcome here, you know." I told her. She smiled understandingly. As I studied it, I was sure her face showed her approval. I lightly kissed both occupants of the frame, and replaced it upon the table. I then took up the photograph of my little family of three, and slipping it under my arm, proceeded on my way to find a space for it in my daughter's new bedroom. I would then tuck her into her new bed, before retiring to smoke a companionable pipe in my old chair in front of the fire with my dearest friend.
*********************** The End ... For Now **************************
Well, thank you for sticking with me. Hope it wasn't too horribly sentimental for you. I felt I could get away with Elsie – after all, she doesn't have to get in the way of the canon – I wouldn't write about my daughter in the Strand if I lived with a best friend who foiled murderers for a living! I hope nobody is too annoyed with me for not killing her!
Had to give her a blue bedroom after Stephen Fry explained on TV recently how blue used to be associated with girls and pink with boys. I love useless trivia!
Please do review! And if anyone wants to make suggestions for Elsie's future, I'm listening...