Author's Note: This is a completely AU examination of the notion that instead of Mr Carrisford, Sherlock Holmes might have been the one to seek out Sara Crewe when her father died. Please note that there are many changes to the canonical timeline: Watson's wife Mary did not die while Holmes was "dead" but survived and by 1895 had five children, so, naturally, Watson did not move back in with Holmes when he returned; the cases described after Holmes' return in 1894 mostly did not take place because of other events which this story will elucidate. Aspects of the "Little Princess" stories have changed as well, but you will find those out. Other than that, I hope you will find your Holmes still Holmes-y and your Little Princess still Little Princess-y.
It had been touch-and-go with Holmes' life for some time, but we succeeded in saving it, just in time for Christmas that year of 1895. My wife and children were pleased to finally have me back, but we were all more deeply pleased at the survival of my friend. How he had survived that fortnight's voyage back from India already in the grip of brain fever (which we now call meningitis), whether it was thanks to his own iron will, or to the nursing skills of the lascar called Ram Dass who had attached himself to him, or whether we ought to attribute it to a miracle, I will never know, but survive it he did, and survive the long fight at St. Bart's he did as well.
Whether he would survive the following months was less certain. With brain fever, or meningitis, comes certain dangers. The first and most common is death. But worse, in Holmes' opinion, is the possible loss of mental faculties, the delirium, confusion, and weakening of the brain. Of all the illnesses to beset Holmes on his case in India, brain fever was the worst that could happen. He found his usual acuity gone, found himself struggling between equally valid choices, found himself unable to sustain for very long a single train of thought without wandering away. In vain I comforted him that it was likely to be temporary, while the brain fever was still upon him, but it cast him into a depression. He had other reasons for his depression as well, which I did not know then but very soon came to know intimately.
Meanwhile, we brought him back home to 221B Baker Street. He no longer occupied the two bedrooms and sitting room alone but had taken over the lease for all of B some year ago, thinking he would want more room for experimentation and freedom to indulge the odd whims that Mrs Hudson had often complained of. My own home and surgery, somewhat to my own astonishment at the time, had ended up being just around the corner; I shared it with my beloved wife Mary and five children. I could only hope that the school for girls in 220 Baker Street next to Holmes would not disturb his convalescence.
Holmes was a sad, pathetic sight as we brought him home very early in January of 1896. My wife Mary, who had known him well, wept to see him, though she did not let him see, because she knew what he would think of it. His long form was hunched over as we led him slowly up the steps, his jaundiced skin stretched far too tightly over his fine bones. He looked twenty years older than he was. There was even suddenly a touch of white at his temples, where the hair had always been the most perfect raven black. His eyes, too, were dull and haunted.
I paid no attention to the crowd watching us, his nurse and me, as we helped him into the house, or I might have seen the little girl in scanty black watching with a hungry look in her eyes. Holmes says he saw her and thought nothing of her, beyond an automatic note that the once-fine, now-bedraggled state of her clothing indicated that she was not a beggar. If he had had his full faculties about him, the whole case might have been solved then and there. As it was, he saw nothing but a little girl who was not a beggar and promptly forgot about her in the fevered haze he was under.
Ram Dass, at a loss for something to do while Holmes was in hospital, had completely furnished the nearly empty house in a style that suited him, the rich, Anglo-Indian style of many newly-returned British officers. I wasn't quite sure what Holmes would think of that, but in his state he hardly cared. For several days after we moved him from St. Bart's, he could not stir from his bed. It was only when at last he was ensconced in his old wingback chair before the fire days later, more enervated than I had ever seen him even at his most bored, that I learned the full tale of what had drawn him to India and what caused so much of the depression and the wild anxieties that had attended him in the fever.