The next day dawned clear and cold, a welcome respite from the hard rain we'd experienced for the better part of three weeks. Holmes had risen quite early considering he did not have a case, and helped Mrs. Hudson move the linens to an unused closet at the top of the stairs near my room. The room to be used by the boy was not very large, however it was big enough for the need at hand. It had, of course, no window, being in the middle of the house, but the walls were bright white, making the room seem larger than it actually was. After running armful loads up and down the steps, Holmes dismantled the shelves in the room, leaving only one shelf which to use as a bookshelf. I had not known he had even a passing knowledge of hardware and tools, and was impressed with his work. Mrs. Hudson busied herself cleaning the walls and floor of the room while Holmes and I went to nearby furniture shops until we found a few items which would suit the space. Though Holmes never showed much interest in the value of money, he spent freely in the purchase of a child's size bed, a small desk and a handsome oak chair which matched the ensemble perfectly. We stopped by a bookseller's, where Holmes bought a few volumes he felt no child's library should be without and put a generous amount on account at one of the better clothing shops which sold clothes for children. We arrived home just as the furniture was being delivered, and as we hoped, everything fit inside the room, albeit a bit snugly. After a light lunch served by a thoroughly exhausted Mrs. Hudson, we set out towards Amberson Street.
Holmes had not yet met the child personally, as he had not known what arrangements he'd take, and as we walked the length to orphanage in question, he was strangely quiet.
"Don't tell me you have apprehensions about this, Holmes?" I asked.
"On the contrary, nothing could dissuade me," He paused. "But this is rather a leap, is it not? Why is it when one is on the threshold of a new chapter in one's life, one has so very little to say about it?"
"Do you see it that way?"
"A nephew, Watson, and one I would have never met if it hadn't been for that foul-mouthed ogre, Thurgood Scott. What strange things chance encounters lead us to, and what to happen if they didn't?"
"You're quite philosophical this morning, my dear fellow. Do you mean to say you don't think you would have ever discovered your nephew had it not been for the case of the silver coin?"
"I find it difficult to believe."
"Perhaps, Holmes, you simply didn't want to know, as the truth would have been too painful to pursue on your own."
"Now there I think you are mistaken. I make my living by pursuing the truth."
"Other people's truth, Holmes. Rarely your own."
A strenuous walk later, we arrived in a questionable part of London as we turned onto Amberson Street. The orphanage, St. Mary's Orphan Asylum, loomed on the horizon; it was a ghastly structure in every sense of the word. Decrepit, run down, and surrounded by shoeless children running amuck in the yard attached to it, I felt my first stab of apprehension; would this child be some sort of a ruffian, one so used to a life of hardship that the bad habits of the criminal class were already buried deep in his psyche? Would he be the holy terror of our lives for the next several months? Indeed, by looking at the children in the yard, I could not altogether convince myself this had been a good idea. It is a child, I reminded myself sternly. And not just any child; the blood of Sherlock Holmes runs through the veins of this boy. Looking at the children, I almost found it hard to believe. I could sense without looking at Holmes that his face was taut, his mouth a grim line, and his brow wrinkled, perhaps his thoughts echoing my own. No doubt many thoughts were running through his agile mind as we announced ourselves and waited in the foyer to catch a glimpse of the face that would be so well known to us both from that moment on. Holmes tapped his walking stick impatiently on the flagstone floor in an absent-minded rhythm as we waited, another sure sign that deep down he was as anxious as I.
"This is intolerable! What could be taking so long?" Holmes muttered tersely under his breath.
"We've not been waiting more than two minutes," I reminded him gently.
"How many McCallivers could there be in this place?" he kept on, ignoring me completely. It was, I knew, a front for the nervousness we were both experiencing.
About twenty feet in front of us, a small face suddenly appeared around a pillar in the foyer, peeking at us hesitantly. I was struck immediately by the child's eyes, for they nearly mirrored my friend's. Holmes froze. I, however, sensed a kind of sweetness in the child's face, and immediately my own worries were washed away. I walked towards him a few steps, bent down at my knees, smiled, and beckoned him forward. His brow wrinkled in concentration and disappeared behind the pillar again. I laughed softly. "No need to fear us," I said gently, for though I could not see him, I knew the child was still there, listening. "You can come out. We'd like to see you."
It took a long moment, but eventually I saw a small, unclad foot attached to a diminutive body step away from the pillar, and the child emerged slowly. Holmes had said the boy was eight, but if one had to judge by his size, I would have sworn he was no more than five. He had a mop of unruly dark-brown hair crowning his head and deep, trusting brown eyes. The rags he wore clung to his small frame, and his hands and neck were filthy. He was the picture of a malnourished child, and I suddenly felt a piercing pity for the boy. I smiled broadly and held out my hand to him, urging him towards us. "Come along now," I said softly. "We're taking you to Baker Street."
A slight spark in the child's eye sent him forward a few more steps. "Baker Street?" he nearly whispered.
I nodded with a smile. "I am Dr. Watson, and this is your uncle, Sherlock Holmes."
Holmes tipped his hat, but still did not move. It occurred to me that a certain shyness must be a specific trait in the Holmes bloodline and I suddenly understood why he insisted I come along. The child looked upon his uncle with large eyes, taking him in slowly and studying him closely. When the child did not move for close to a minute, I thought the shock of suddenly realizing he still had family had been too much for the boy. But ever so slowly, the boy reached around to his back pocket and pulled out a sheaf of papers loosely bound. I nearly gasped when I recognized an old copy of The Strand magazine clutched in his small hands.
"Baker Street?" he repeated in a quiet voice.
We cut quite a sight, the three of us: two respectably dressed men walking beside a bedraggled looking urchin. Phillip McCalliver, as the boy was called, was released from St. Mary's shortly after our informal introduction and entrusted to our care. The boy had no possessions of his own save the magazine tucked neatly in his back pocket; it seems it was the only thing he could call his own. The boy was exceedingly shy, and only after endless questions which received monosyllabic replies, I managed to gather that an older, literate boy at the orphanage named Jacob had read my story in The Strand to the small boy repeatedly. Phillip once had as many as seven editions of the magazine, all containing different stories of mine, which had been purchased by Eleanor whenever she could scrape together enough money, but they had little by little been stolen from under his mattress at the orphanage until only a singly copy remained. From the shape it was in, I was proud to think it must have been thumbed through and read aloud many times, and felt some small sense of pride that I had inadvertently introduced Phillip to his uncle long before they realized they were related. I can say this now, when old age has softened my heart somewhat, that all of the letters of praise I've received about my stories from well-known authors, heads of state, law enforcement officials and prominent members of society seem very humble when compared to what those scribblings meant to a small orphan in those bleak, lonely days of his early life.
Holmes admitted to me, many years later, that he and his nephew's introduction was perhaps made easier by the fact that Phillip was already well aware of many of his habits and inclinations. After Mrs. Hudson scrubbed the boy thoroughly, he was dressed in one of Holmes' old bed shirts (which fell below the boy's knees) and a tattered robe Holmes did not wear much anymore and which dragged behind the boy a good two feet. A tailor came by the same afternoon and measured young Phillip for a wardrobe which would arrive the next afternoon, and the boy spent a glorious two hours devouring any food that was put in front of him. I warned Phillip good-naturedly not too eat too quickly, for starved stomachs such as his were likely to kick back too much eaten in haste, but it was difficult to enforce when the child was so clearly in need of nourishment. Holmes was very quiet the rest of the night, trying to study the boy unnoticed, which never seems to work well for anyone, while I tried to converse with Phillip.
"So that's the long and short of it," I said. "You'll stay here at Baker Street until your rudimentary studies are completed and then go on to school with your peers in the autumn." I smiled. "How do you feel about that?"
The boy continued to look deeply into his umpteenth cup of tea. "I should very much like to learn how to read like Jacob," he said in a small voice. "Shall I be taught how to read?"
"Yes, of course," I answered.
"Shall I be able to read books on my own, without anyone having to read them for me?"
His gaze met mine. "Then I should very much like to go to school."
I beamed. "I'm sure you'll be a first-rate student," I assured him. He rewarded me with a small smile.
Mrs. Hudson bustled in and cleared the table. "All right, young Mr. McCalliver, it's seven thirty," she said as she placed his cup of tea on a bussing tray. "It's time for bed."
Phillip didn't move for a moment, but finally turned his eyes to his uncle for the first time that evening. Holmes, who sat motionless in his armchair smoking a pipe, seemed to sense he was being watched and did not move. Phillip got up from the table slowly and made his way with trepidation to Holmes. He stood looking at the carpet and almost whispered, "Thank you for your kindness, Uncle."
Holmes finally fixed his eyes the boy and gave him a slight smile. "You will do your mother proud, I'm sure."
Phillip nodded and hesitatingly held out his hand. Just as hesitatingly, Holmes took the small boy's hand in his and shook it. Phillip bounded out of the room, followed closely by Mrs. Hudson, who seemed to have taken affectionately to the boy in such a short time. I pulled the evening edition out from under the dishes Mrs. Hudson hadn't had room on her tray to take – as Phillip had spent most of the evening eating – and shook it out into my lap.
"Eleanor must have known what she was doing," Holmes said in a voice that suggested his thoughts were far away from Baker Street. "She must have bought those copies of The Strand for the boy, not for herself. Undoubtedly the widow of a criminal wouldn't revel in stories of crime. Had I known…"
I waited for Holmes to finish the sentence, but he did not. "What?" I prodded gently. He threw me a tight, mysterious smile.
"Nothing, Watson," he finished quietly. He stood up and placed his pipe on the mantle, not taking his gaze from the fire. "Nothing at all."