"One moment, Holmes. I am nearly finished! Only one more."
I threw down my pen, rubbed my eyes, and sighed as I looked at the neat stack of papers to my right.
"You know this is your own fault, old boy."
"Yes, Holmes, I am fully aware of that, and I am not complaining."
"You see that there is a price for philanthropy."
I opened my eyes to glare at him where he stood by the fire.
"We had to give those boys some sort of education. You were helping them by giving them a job now and again, but now they will be ready to take on real jobs—to climb out of the gutter."
"Real jobs! My dear Watson, by educating those boys, you have permanently disbanded the Baker Street Irregulars!"
"I am quite certain that you will be able to find some other little street arabs to help you, Holmes."
"Perhaps. But that does not alter the fact that you are now teaching these boys, and it does not seem that you are enjoying it."
Holmes did have a point. I had talked him into sending the Baker Street division of the detective police force to school for several years, so its members could better themselves. At the time I had not counted on being approached by Wiggins to teach him "and the lads" to write stories "loik them wot you write about Mr. 'Olmes."
"'Like those which I write,' Wiggins."
"Yes, Dr. Watson, o' course. But could you?"
Holmes had taken that moment to look up from his paper and make an offhand remark about "the hypocrites one reads about these days. It's shocking, Watson. Truly shocking." There was little I could do.
I told Wiggins that if he and any of the other boys wanted to learn to write fiction, they were to bring me a story that they had written. I would read and comment on the stories, and then decide how to proceed from there.
Now I was sitting, having read all but one of the seven stories, (of varying quality—I was quite certain that Wiggins had forced two of his cronies to participate, based on the quality of their work) and I was beginning to regret my offer. It was hard to comment on the stories. It took much longer than I thought it would, and then I had to explain somehow the ways in which they might improve. Their works included a few moments of humor, and one or two felicitously worded sentences, but I was quite sure that I was not looking at any future Collinses or Dickenses, and it did not seem to me that I could do anything to change that.
Still, I only had one more to go. Jamie had written it. I had high hopes for Jamie's work. He was the youngest of the boys that Holmes had put through school, but I remembered reading several of his compositions, and they were quite good.
"Holmes, let me read this story, and then you will have my undivided attention." He was never a patient man, but I could not fathom what was making him so very impatient at the moment. When I began reading Jamie's work, though, I forgot all about Holmes's idiosyncrasies.
Jamie had a gift. There was no other way to put it. His story was simple. In it, he described a little boy as he stood on a bridge and daydreamed about the boats that sailed beneath him, until he realized that it was late, and he returned to the tiny garret apartment that he lived in with his widowed mother. The descriptions were imaginative, and perfectly captured the voice of the boy as he looked out onto a world that he would never enter, except in his mind, because of his poverty. It actually brought tears to my eyes to read.
How could a fourteen year old boy have written this? Wiggins's friend Barney had written a rollicking pirate story. It wasn't terrible, but it was the stereotypical stuff of a fifteen year old boy's imagination. Wiggins had attempted to write a Sherlock Holmes story of his own…and it was terrible, though not as dull as the other Holmes story by one of the boys who forgot to put his name on the paper. There were a few sensational murder stories, and one story about a dog. No one else had even considered that a story might be a simple vignette, or anything other than an adventurous plot stuffed with melodrama. Jamie's story was so far above the rest. What could I teach him? He was looking to me for help, and I might just as well go to him! I turned back to my friend.
"One of the boys, Holmes! This is incredible! He—"
"No, Watson! I will deduce the name of the author, when you have described the strengths of the work. It is a way to pass the time between cases. Though, as I know these boys well, it should be all too easy."
"Well, then, here it is: His writing is detail oriented. It is precise and careful. It is creative. It is related to his real life—not a fantastic romance. The writing style is impeccable. So much so that I do not know if I can teach him at all. He also—"
"Watson, that is enough. I believe I can tell you the name of the boy. Or rather, the lack of name." He had that supercilious look that always indicated the dramatic conclusion of a mystery.
"You did not notice, my boy, that there were eight stories in total, when only seven boys gave you a story?"
I had not, and I said as much. And suddenly, my mind had made a few deductions of its own. I knew where Holmes's train of reasoning was running, but since Holmes had irritated me, I allowed him to continue on his erroneous track.
"One of those had no name on it?"
"That is the story you are discussing."
"No, Holmes, that is not the story. In fact, that was the worst of the stories. It was horrible—as if someone had tried to write one of my own stories, and didn't know what to do. It was dull and factual. It didn't play on the emotions, the way the story I am so impressed with did."
Holmes looked abashed for a moment, but shook it off, looking superior once again.
"Yes, it was clear that I had written the nameless story, was it not? And now you are twitting me because you can."
"On the contrary, Holmes: I had no idea that you wrote it when I decided it was the worst. You can see the comments to prove it. You are a great man, Holmes, but you cannot write fiction. This marvelous story is by Jamie."
Holmes stared at me icily for a moment. And then he said, "You cannot appreciate my story, for you do not understand my art. I want it back."
I handed him the horrible work about a soldier with leprosy, before turning back to Jamie's masterpiece. As I reread the wonderful story, I realized that I could help him by encouraging him, and helping him when he was stuck. And if I could not, I would learn from him.
I could not teach unless I had the humility to learn, and I would learn a lot from Jamie.
Being a teacher might not be so bad after all.