A/N: My first Holmes fic. I apologise if I do anything to upset those more familiar with the canon than I. I have tried to come to know these characters before daring to write for them. I have blended book canon with the events of the 2002 adaptation of the Hound of the Baskervilles; this story is something of a sequel, but can stand alone. I hope that you enjoy it. I do not have a beta reader; all mistakes are my own, so please forgive any inaccuracies.
The sitting room of 221b Baker Street had numerous advantages, foremost amongst which was the perfect view that it afforded of the streets below, and the opportunity for a casual observer at the window to take in all of the comings and goings, virtually unnoticed – so few people ever raised their eyes heavenwards when going about their daily business. Sherlock Holmes, however, had decided against availing himself of this particular observational activity, and was instead ensconced in his armchair, near to the fire, his eyes half-closed as his fingers absently plucked at the strings of his violin. After all, it was a cold January night, and there were frequent flurries of snowfall; it was also approaching a fairly late hour, and there were few people wandering the streets given the inclement weather combined with the approaching midnight hour.
Holmes paused in his music only long enough to remove the pipe from his mouth. It was one of his favourites, and he studied it carefully. It was made of cherry-wood, exquisitely crafted, and it had been a gift from Watson several Christmases ago. Speaking of whom… Holmes heard the click of the latch of the front door, the distinctive creak of the hinges. There was a slight pause; Holmes visualised Watson brushing snow from his boots, removing his coat and hat, and then he heard the familiar tread on the stairs. Holmes frowned, ever so slightly – the soft, but unmistakeable tapping noise with each step told him that Watson was using his cane to climb the stairs, rather than simply carrying it up. No doubt his war-injured leg was aching in the cold weather. Counting the steps, he waited until Watson was level with the door.
"Come on in, my dear doctor," he called, amiably, "there is a warm fire going, and I am sure a medicinal brandy would not be amiss."
"Good evening, Holmes," Watson smiled, tiredly, as he came through the door, unsurprised to see the detective still awake, "sorry, old chap; I hope I didn't disturb you."
"Nonsense," Holmes waved his hand dismissively, "I take it that the seasonal 'flu is still upon us? I can take it from your extremely wet and muddy shoes and trousers that you must have walked over half the city to visit on your rounds this afternoon… but that is beside the point!"
Holmes clapped his hands down on the arms of his chair, and launched himself to his feet. Watson, used to the sudden energetic outbursts of his fellow lodger, simply stood back.
"Sit, Watson, do sit down," Holmes indicated towards the other armchair, with the footstool already aligned facing the fire, "I have it here somewhere… ah, yes, here it is. This arrived for you this morning. You left rather early – I take it that you had a morning clinic."
"Yes," Watson nodded, distantly, settling himself into the armchair, "several ice-fall related injuries, mild seasonal illnesses, and a case of hypothermia, nothing too serious… ah, thank you."
He accepted the brandy that Holmes held out towards him, and then frowned as a second item was forthcoming; "A letter?" he noted.
"Addressed to you," Holmes nodded, retaking his seat in front of the fire, "tell me; Watson, before you open it – what can you deduce from it?"
Watson shifted slightly in his seat, lifting and resting his legs comfortably on the footstool as he examined the envelope.
"Let me see," he said, quietly, "and you'll forgive my tired eyes, I hope… the envelope is fairly standard, I believe, available from any stationer. The handwriting on the address is neat, and educated, though slightly shaky – either the writer is infirm, or he wrote it in a great deal of hurry or excitement. It is postmarked from Dartmoor, and had clearly travelled some distance given the rumpled state. What else?"
"Does it have any… distinctive aroma?" Holmes asked, with a half-smile tugging at his lips.
Watson, playing along, knowing that Holmes had already deduced everything there was to learn from the document, lifted the envelope to his nose and inhaled slowly. He closed his eyes and inhaled again.
"Tobacco," he said, his voice slightly distant; "mixed with… hum… what is that? Camphor oil, I think, and… laudanum? From a doctor, or at least from a surgery… but then you have deduced all this already, I suppose."
Holmes pounced on the opening, nodding quickly.
"It is indeed," he said, "from the watermark smudges along one edge; I would say the letter was carried in a pocket for some time, with one edge exposed slightly to inclement weather. It has indeed come from Dartmoor, and the scent of the tobacco is one I am familiar with. I would go so far as to deduce that the letter has come from our mutual friend, Dr. Mortimer. Being more overtly acquainted with you, my dear Watson, he naturally addressed the correspondence to yourself, although from the excitement indicated b the handwriting, I would wager he has a case that may interest us both."
"If you have quite finished, I should like to open it," Watson smiled.
Holmes held out the letter opener he had secreted into one of his dressing-gown pockets, and Watson carefully slit the envelope, removing the letter. He scanned it quickly, and then read it again, more thoughtfully. There was a slight frown creasing his brow when he looked up.
"It is, of course, from Dr. Mortimer," he said, at last, "and he does indeed seek our mutual assistance."
"Let me hear it in his words, Watson," Holmes said, imperiously, taking a seat, leaning back in the chair and lacing his fingers together.
Watson cleared his throat slightly, and read the letter aloud; "My dear Dr. Watson. How long it seems since we last corresponded, and longer still since that dreadful incident with Sir Charles Baskerville and the hound! But still, I fear I write not to reminisce, much to my chagrin. I hope you will forgive me for imposing upon you once more, but I hope that you would be good enough to come and join us for a few days at Baskerville Hall, when you can spare the time. Sir Henry is at his wits' end, and I fear his nerves and health are frayed to breaking point. He was all but recovered from the Hound's foul bite, when the most unnerving things began to happen – howling and screaming surround the Hall at night, and disturbing portents surround. My dear Watson, you may think me quite mad, but I say to you with certainty – Sir Henry is haunted by the ghost of Beryl Stapleton! I have seen the spectre myself; the local priest has been unable to exorcise it, and my wife holds nightly séances, beseeching the creature to speak to her. I implore you, Watson, and the great Mr Holmes, please, come if you are able, and put an end to this nonsense as you did with the hound. I write at Sir Henry's behest, and I hope that you will accept his hospitality once more. We remain, in your debt and in hope, yours, Dr. James Mortimer."
Holmes was silent for a long moment, digesting this information. Watson took a sip of the brandy, leaning back in the chair, content to let Holmes do the thinking. Wordlessly, the doctor held out the letter, and Holmes took it eagerly. Truth be told; they had no cases demanding their attention at present, and though Watson's surgery was busy, any one of the neighbouring practices would gladly pick up on his case load – it was a favour he returned often enough, and abundantly.
"Dr Mortimer writes in a state of extreme excitement," Holmes noted, dryly, "the writing is rushed, frequently smudged, and the letter lacks decorum, even more than one would expect when writing to a familiar friend. I cannot fault the pen, ink or paper – all of which are common, unremarkable brands – the shake is in the writer's hands. Yet he believes everything that he says – that a ghost now haunts Sir Henry Baskerville! A ridiculous notion, worse than that of a spectral hound."
"You proved that the hound was flesh and blood," Watson pointed out, sleepily, knocking back the rest of the brandy quickly.
"As I am certain that this spectre is, or at least the cause of it," Holmes said, quickly, his interest clearly piqued, "Watson, if you are not too tired, I suggest that you pack your valise before retiring tonight; we shall leave early tomorrow for the village of Grimpen. I shall wire Dr Mortimer to meet us at the station. Sir Henry needs our help; and we shall provide it!"